Saturday, June 4, 2011


Open Letter to President Barack Obama from E.coli 0104:H4

June 3, 2011
Dear President Obama:
My name is E.coli 0104:H4. I am being detained in a German Laboratory in Baveria, charged with being "a highly virulent strain of bacteria." Together with many others like me, the police have accused us of causing about 20 deaths and nearly five hundred cases of kidney failure--so far. Massive publicity and panic all around.
You can't see me, but your scientists can. They are examining me and I know my days are numbered. I hear them calling me a "biological terrorist," an unusual combination of two different E.coli bacteria cells. One even referred to me as a "conspiracy of mutants".
It is not my fault, I want you to know. I cannot help but harm innocent humans, and I am very sad about this. I want to redeem myself, so I am sending this life-saving message straight from my Petri dish to you.
This outbreak in Germany has been traced to food--location unknown. What is known to you is that invisible terrorism from bacterium and viruses take massively greater lives than the terrorism you are spending billions of dollars and armaments to stop in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Malaria, caused by infection with one of four species of Plasmodium, a parasite transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes destroys a million lives a year. Many of the victims are children and pregnant women. Mycobacterium tuberculosis takes nearly three million lives. The human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) causes over a million deaths. Many other microorganisms in the water, soil, air, and food are daily weapons of mass destruction. Very little in your defense budget goes for operational armed forces against this kind of violence. Your agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control, conduct some research but again nothing compared to the research for your missiles, drones, aircraft and satellites.
Your associates are obsessed with possible bacteriological warfare by your human enemies. Yet you are hardly doing anything on the ongoing silent violence of my indiscriminate brethren.
You and your predecessor George W. Bush made many speeches about fighting terrorism by humans. Have you made a major speech about us?
You speak regularly about crushing the resistance of your enemies. But you splash around so many antibiotics (obviously I don't like this word and consider it genocidal) in cows, bulls, chickens, pigs and fish that your species is creating massive antibiotic resistance, provoking our mutations, so that we can breed even stronger progeny. You are regarded as the smartest beings on Earth, yet you seem to have too many neurons backfiring.
In the past two days of detention, scientists have subjected me to "enhanced interrogation," as if I have any will to give up my secrets. It doesn't work. What they will find out will be from their insights about me under their microscopes. I am lethal, I guess, but I'm not very complicated.
The United States, together with other countries, needs more laboratories where scientists can detain samples of us and subject us to extraordinary rendition to infectious disease research centers. Many infectious disease scientists need to be trained, especially in the southern hemispheres to staff these labs
You are hung up on certain kinds of preventable violence without any risk/benefit analysis. This, you should agree, is utterly irrational. You should not care where the preventable violence comes from except to focus on its range of devastation and its susceptibility to prevention or cure!
Well, here they come to my Petri dish for some more waterboarding. One last item: You may wonder how tiny bacterial me, probably not even harboring a virus, can send you such a letter. My oozing sense is that I'm just a carrier, being used by oodles of scientists taking advantage of a high profile infectious outbreak in Europe to catch your attention.
Whatever the how does it really matter to the need to act Now?
E-cologically yours,
E.coli 0104:H4 (for the time being)
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.


Duped by the Bottled Water Industry

The bottled water business has become a multi-billion dollar industry. But bottled water isn't the pristine elixir you've been told it is.
Consider the following:
  • Studies show that 40 percent of bottled water is actually regular tap water with possibly no additional filtering treatment.
  • The EPA standards that apply to public water supplies do NOT apply to bottled water. Overall, bottled water is less regulated than tap water.
  • There are no restrictions preventing a source of bottled water from being located near industrial facilities or waste dumps.
A recent EWG report uncovered 38 contaminants in 10 brands of plain bottled water, including DBPs, nitrate, caffeine, arsenic, Tylenol, bacteria and industrial chemicals. There is every reason to expect that, if tested, these new flavored bottled waters would be found similarly contaminated with hormone disruptors and industrial waste chemicals. Not the type of "enhancement" you thought you were paying for!

The High Cost of Plastic Water Bottles

In the time it takes you to read this one short sentence, over 8,000 empty water bottles are being thrown into the trash worldwide. According to the Container Recycling Institute, in the U.S. alone, more than 67 million plastic water bottles are discarded each day. That's enough plastic water bottles to fill 5,500 garbage trucks each day or wrap around the Earth 149 times each year.
Plastic bottles have become an enormous problem for humanity due to the following four problems:
  1. The sheer volume of plastic waste they create
  2. The lack of adequate recycling capability for plastics
  3. The amount of oil required to manufacture these millions of plastic bottles
  4. The adverse health problems caused by the plastic itself
As good as it feels to haul your plastic bottles to a recycler, realize that 86 percent of plastic bottles never get recycled, leaving a massive number of them sitting in landfills and floating like massive plastic islands in our oceans. In fact, the enormous plastic "stew" of bottles discarded into the Pacific Ocean is currently twice the size of Texas and growing steadily. Only 5 percent of all discarded plastic waste is currently recycled in the U.S.
And the plastic bottle you toss out today will not finish biodegrading until the year 3011.
But waste isn't the only problem. It takes a lot of OIL to manufacture those plastic bottles.
According to the Sierra Club, the United States alone uses 1.5 million barrels of oil to create the water bottles we toss into those landfills every year, releasing toxic by-products like nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene into the environment. 1.5 million barrels is enough oil to fuel 250,000 homes or 100,000 cars for a year!
And to compound the issue, drinking from plastic water bottles can pose serious health risks from industrial chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which leach from the plastic itself into the contents of the bottle.
BPA (or Bisphenol A) is an estrogen-mimicking chemical linked to reproductive defects, learning and behavioral problems, immune dysfunction, and prostate and breast cancer. Phthalates are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to a wide range of developmental and reproductive effects, as well as liver cancer.
There is an excellent 2009 documentary called "Tapped," about the high cost of plastic water bottles to human health, as well to as the environment, which can be watched online for free
Another excellent film is the recently released "Waste Land," which poignantly illustrates the sheer volume of our plastic waste. This award-winning documentary tells the uplifting story of how New York artist Vik Muniz teams up with Brazilian locals to artistically turn waste into money at the world's largest landfill near Rio de Janeiro. You can watch the trailer here.

Your Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The answer to all of this is to minimize your use of plastic water bottles (and plastics in general) and refrain from buying plastic-bottled waters, enhanced or otherwise. Why not make plain, pure water your beverage of choice?
You can filter you own water at home, inexpensively and easily, and take it with you in reusable glass water bottles, which have a much smaller ecological footprint. The very best water, however, comes from a natural spring.
If you want to jazz it up with something, why not add natural ingredients that are actually GOOD for you? By avoiding the sugar, chemicals and caffeine in so-called energy drinks, you'll be able to truly rehydrate while avoiding the energy "crash" that inevitably follows.
Here are a few suggestions for spiffing up your water without sacrificing your health:
  • Add fresh lemon or lime juice (or peels) to your water, whole gingerroot, or even slices of cucumber can add a refreshing twist. If you want it sweet, you can add natural stevia, which is an herb that has no downsides for your health.
  • Try adding a drop or two of natural peppermint extract or a few crushed mint leaves from your herb garden.
  • If you're adventurous, there are mint-flavored chlorophyll drops on the market that can be added to a glass of water. Chlorophyll may help flush toxins out of your blood and improves your breath.
  • If you want an electrolyte type "sports drink," try coconut water, which is a rich natural source of potassium and electrolytes. Look for one that has no additives. Or choose a fresh, young coconut and harvest it yourself!
  • If you want the ultimate refreshing vitamin-rich drink, make up some green juice from fresh, organic veggies. Avoid adding fruits due to their high sugar content when juiced. Add a pinch of sea salt and some lemon juice for a very refreshing beverage that is heavy on nutrition and light on calories.
  • Iced green tea is also a great pick-me-up that's high in antioxidants. Although green tea contains caffeine, it also contains a natural protein called theanine, which actually mediates caffeine's adverse effects.
  • Here's a recipe for a refreshing homemade fruit drink that's actually good for you. You can even throw in frozen berries, instead of ice cubes.


  Men’s Journal October 23, 2009

Thursday, June 2, 2011

AG GAG BILL??? Not so fast.......

Factory Farms‘Ag-gag’ bills face tough row to hoe 8

As you were saying?Big Ag is having trouble installing its Iron Curtain. I am referring, of course, to the various "ag-gag" laws proposed in Florida, Minnesota, and Iowa that would make it illegal to produce (and, in some cases, possess) undercover videos from within factory livestock farms. The latest state legislature to pursue this dubious goal is New York's -- but the fate of ag-gaggery in other states makes success in the Empire State seem unlikely.
Florida's bill died a few weeks ago when legislators withdrew the bill from consideration as the legislative session ended. And now the Humane Society of the United States reports that the Minnesota bill -- in some ways the most egregious, not to say ridiculous -- has suffered the same fate. Perhaps this will teach state legislators that self-dealing isn't the best way to approach their jobs; several cosponsors of the bill stood to personally gain from the protection the bill offered factory farm operators.
As for Iowa, its legislative session is still going on and passage of the bill is considered a priority with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad on record as believing that such undercover videos represent "a problem that should be addressed." According to this report in Iowa's Globe Gazette, the major problem isn't finding a majority to back the bill, but rather trying to get around sticky constitutional issues, specifically the concept of "prior restraint." In America, at least, it's very difficult to stop someone from doing something they haven't done yet, especially when we're talking about First Amendment issues. Iowa legislators are rewriting furiously as we speak -- and I wouldn't be surprised if they pass something just to see if it sticks.
At the same time, we also now have new evidence of the importance of this battle. A recent (and truly horrific) undercover video produced by Mercy for Animals depicting unspeakable cruelty perpetrated against calves by workers at a large-scale dairy cow breeding facility in Texas has spawned a criminal case. According to the Plainview Herald, the district attorney in Castro County, Texas (where the facility is located) has arrested not only the workers involved but, miraculously, the operation's owner, Kirt Espenson. According to the Herald, "Investigators don't think Espenson personally harmed any animals, but authorities say he'll be charged for neglect."
Indeed, the prospect of a perp walk is no doubt a major motivation for Big Ag bigwigs to back legislation that would make these kinds of undercover videos illegal. While we still don't know what the outcome will be in Iowa, it does appear that hiding the reality of what goes on in factory farms has turned out to be a bit harder to pull off than industry executives had expected.
Tom covers food and agricultural policy for Grist.

Groups sue FDA to stop Big Ag antibiotic abuse—and it just might work

avatar for Tom Laskawy
A growing weight of research links routine antibiotic use on factory farms to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- which are showing up in more and more places worldwide (including, according to recent studies, in your local supermarket). Doctor groups, from the American Medical Association to the American Society of Microbiology, have appealed to the government and industry to restrict the practice, lest critical antibiotics become useless for human treatments.
Over the past couple of years, the FDA changed its tune and has finally begun to respond to the threat. Top officials at the FDA have testified of the dangers to Congress. The agency itself is developing "voluntary guidance" that would restrict the practice -- which currently sees 80 percent of all antibiotics used in this country given to food animals.
Sadly, though, the FDA is still whistling when it should be belting its song to the rafters. In fact, the meat industry has successfully resisted, and in the case of the antibiotic Cephalosporin, turned back via "midnight regulations" by outgoing Bush administration FDA officials, specific measures meant to address this threat to public health.
As a result, a coalition of environmental groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has decided to sue. According to a blog post by the NRDC's Executive Director Peter Lehner, the goals are simple:
We want the FDA to follow its own safety findings and withdraw approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed. We also want the agency to respond to the petitions to withdraw approval of non-therapeutic uses in animal feed of other antibiotics important to human health.
This lawsuit will have no bearing on the use of antibiotics for treating sick animals. We simply want to end the practice of giving these critical disease fighters to healthy livestock when it's not medically necessary.
While this may cause eyerolls among some who look at this as "just another lawsuit," there's something very important going on with the courts and contested science right now. As it happens, one of the main roles of a judge is as "finder of fact." In practice, this means that judges determine whether scientific evidence is compelling enough to force government action.
In several recent cases, the courts have decided that environmentalists and reformers were right -- and industry was wrong. It was, after all, the Supreme Court that ultimately forced the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (however fitfully the agency has done it). More relevant to this case, it has been the federal courts -- including the Supreme Court -- that have forced the USDA to consider things like gene flow and economic harm from contamination of organic crops by genetically modified seeds. Indeed, the courts are currently holding the USDA's feet to the fire on its entire regulatory process surrounding genetically modified seed -- much to the consternation of the biotech industry (not to mention senior administration officials). Oh, and the courts recently determined that, yes, milk treated with artificial growth hormones is worse than regular milk -- as activists have claimed for decades.
And so, it may be that the courts hold the key to forcing the FDA to finally act on antibiotics in livestock. It's one thing to ignore industry pressure -- which is something the FDA is utterly unable to do. It is another thing to ignore a court order by a federal judge. It's a shame that our politics and our regulatory environment are now so toxic to reform that even commonsense changes like preserving life-saving drugs for human use can be controversial. For the moment, judges, who are forced to treat peer-reviewed scientific evidence with the respect it deserves, may be the only hope.
Tom covers food and agricultural policy for Grist.


  Decades of antibiotics in farm animals lead to deadly superbugs 

When cows kill. This article was syndicated with permission from OnEarth.
Stuart Levy once kept a flock of chickens on a farm in the rolling countryside west of Boston. No ordinary farmer, Levy is a professor of molecular biology and microbiology and of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. This was decades ago, and his chickens were taking part in a never-before-conducted study. Half the birds received feed laced with a low dose of antibiotics, which U.S. farmers routinely administer to healthy livestock -- not to cure illness, but merely to increase the animals' rates of growth. The other half of Levy's flock received drug-free food.
Results started showing up almost instantly. Within two days, the treated animals began excreting feces containing E. coli bacteria that were resistant to tetracycline, the antibiotic in their feed. (E. Coli, most of which are harmless, normally live in the guts of chickens and other warm-blooded animals, including humans.) After three months, the chickens were also excreting bacteria resistant to such potent antibiotics as ampicillin, streptomycin, carbenacillin, and sulfonamides. Even though Levy had added only tetracycline to the feed, his chickens had somehow developed what scientists now call "multi-drug resistance" to a host of antibiotics that play important roles in treating infections in people. More frightening, although none of the members of the farm family tending the flock were taking antibiotics, they, too, soon began excreting drug-resistant strains of E. coli.
When Levy's study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1976, it was met with skepticism. "The other side -- industry -- could not believe that this would have happened. The mood at the time was that what happens in animals does not happen in people," said Levy, who serves as president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, in a telephone interview from his office at Tufts. "But we had the data. It was obvious to us even then that using antibiotics this way was an error and should be stopped."
During the intervening 35 years, study after study has confirmed Levy's findings and shown that the problem of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" is even worse than anyone could have imagined. Each year, 70,000 Americans in U.S. hospitals die from bacterial infections that drugs are unable to kill. And even as the number of infectious diseases is on the rise, more antibiotics are administered to livestock than ever before, from 17.8 million pounds per year in 1999 according to the Animal Health Institute (a trade organization of companies, like Bayer, Novartis, and Pfizer, that manufacture livestock drugs) to 29.8 million pounds in 2009, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Fully 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to livestock, and the vast majority are administered to promote growth and stave off potential infections, not to treat illness.
From his perspective of more than three decades as a resistant-microbe watcher, Levy sounded almost weary when he said, "Proponents of growth promotion keep asking for more data, and we scientists provide them. But then the findings have never led to removal of the practice."
Getting serious
Last month, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists joined forces to file a lawsuit against the FDA. The groups want the agency to withdraw its approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed. They say that it's something regulators should have done decades ago.
The FDA first approved the use of low-dose antibiotics in the 1950s. Concerns about the drugs began appearing within a decade, and by the time Levy's paper was published, the FDA was aware the practice posed a serious risk to human health. The agency proposed to withdraw its approval in 1977, saying that new evidence showed that penicillin- and tetracycline-containing products had not been "shown safe for widespread, sub-therapeutic use."
The proposal drew howls of outrage from two of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, agribusinesses and drug manufacturers. Both the House and Senate ordered the FDA to "hold in abeyance any and all implementation of the proposal" until further studies had been conducted. "It was the power of the lobby and the money behind that lobby," Levy recalled.
As requested by Congress, the FDA commissioned three studies during the 1980s, all of which supported initial concerns about the risks of feeding farm animals antibiotics on a daily basis. The FDA received petitions urging it to act from coalitions of scientific and environmental groups in 1999 and 2005. Such respected bodies as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization all identified low-dose antibiotics as the reason antibiotic-resistant bacteria were proliferating in humans and animals. And the FDA -- which is charged with protecting the health of Americans -- failed to act, only going so far as to issue a "Draft Guidance" [PDF] report and a draft "Action Plan" proposing voluntary guidelines. These suggestions have done nothing to stem the deluge of unnecessary antibiotics through the spigot of agribusiness.
"We've been fighting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock for more than 30 years," Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. "And over those decades the problem has steadily worsened. We hope this lawsuit will finally compel the FDA to act with an urgency commensurate with the magnitude of the problem." (Siobhan Delancey, a spokeswoman for the FDA, declined to comment on the suit.)
The trouble with antibiotics
Bacteria are evolutionary dynamos. Untold trillions of them can live in one confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO -- the technical term for a factory farm. They breed rapidly and mutate readily. Exposure to even miniscule levels of drugs equips bacteria with the genetic resilience to fend off higher levels of the same drugs.
From the dawn of modern antibiotics, researchers have been aware that the seeds of the wonder drugs' destruction had already been sown. In his 1945 Nobel acceptance speech for his discoveries related to penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming said, "There is a danger that the ignorant man may easily under-dose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant." Fleming's prediction was prescient -- except the problem wasn't an "ignorant man" but politicians and business executives whose priorities lay elsewhere.
During the decades that the FDA dithered, a mountain of scientific research accumulated showing that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can not only evolve in the guts of farm animals, but can spread from animals to the humans who tend them, and then be passed on to people who have never been anywhere near a chicken house or hog barn.
In 2004, Dutch doctors discovered a strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a 6-month-old baby. Often fatal, MRSA is the original "superbug" because it can survive treatment by the most powerful antibiotics in modern medicine's arsenal. At first, the doctors were puzzled. MRSA was primarily known as a hospital-acquired infection. But the child, who carried the germs but never became sick, as is often the case with the asymptomatic carriers of bacteria, had never been in a hospital. Her parents were pig farmers, and subsequent investigations showed that the MRSA had been passed from the pigs to the parents and on to the baby. (Most bacteria are non-infectious, although they may carry resistance genes. The problem is that they can pass their resistance traits to infectious bacteria.)
Three years later, J. Scott Weese, a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph near Toronto, found an identical strain of MRSA in Canadian pigs and their owners. The superbug had somehow leapt over the Atlantic Ocean. Further research by Weese revealed that the swapping of resistant bacteria between animals and humans can be a two-way street. Not only were the farmers affected by MRSA that had originated in pigs, but the pigs carried MRSA that until then had only been found in humans.
For a year or so, American agribusiness continued to claim that MRSA was a problem that couldn't happen here -- a myth they were able to perpetrate because no government agency was routinely testing hogs for MRSA. But during the summer of 2008, Tara Smith, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa and the deputy director of the university's Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, found that seven out of 10 pigs she and her students tested on farms in Illinois and Iowa carried MRSA.
A graduate student working with Smith recently uncovered a strain of S. aureus associated with hogs and the people who tend them in a day-care worker who had never been near a hog farm. Fortunately, that particular strain was not antibiotic resistant. But the discovery showed that humans do not have to work with infected animals to pick up the bacteria they carry. "Whether the pig bacterium was passed on via another human or via contaminated food products, we can't tell right now," Smith said in an email.
Making the case
In fact, there are any number of ways antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from farm to fork. A recently published study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that 47 percent of the beef, chicken, pork, and turkey sampled from grocery stores in five U.S. cities carried drug-resistant S. aureus. Superbugs are literally blowing in the wind. According to a 2006 report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, multi-drug-resistant bacteria were found in the air downwind of a confined hog operation. Nearly 90 percent of the E. coli in liquid manure pits associated with pig farms are resistant to drugs, according to Kellogg Schwab, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health. Manure ponds frequently burst their banks and contaminate nearby streams, rivers, and wells.
Pharmaceutical companies dispute the assertion that treating animals with low-dose antibiotics is dangerous to humans. "A lot of people want to talk about antibiotic resistance as if it is a big amorphous issue," said Ron Phillips of the Animal Health Institute, in an interview. "It is, in fact, a series of discrete issues where you have to look at specific bug/drug combinations and figure out what are the potential pathways for antibiotic-resistant material to transfer from animals to humans. Studies have been done, and have come to the conclusion that there is a vanishingly small level of risk."
Smith of the University of Iowa says that the specific studies that the industry suggests are necessary simply cannot be done -- it would be the equivalent of having to have an eyewitness to prosecute any crime. "But we have DNA from the crime scene that matches that of the suspect. At some point you have to accept that he is responsible. The bulk of evidence is overwhelming."
One area where solid scientific evidence is lacking, astonishingly, is on whether changing the industry-wide practice of giving low doses of antibiotics to livestock would actually make that much of a difference. The experience of farmers in the European Union, where dosing animals with sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics was banned in 1998, suggests otherwise. Denmark is the world's largest pork exporting country, and most of its hogs are raised in large confined operations much like those used by the U.S. pork industry. In that country, the overall use of antibiotics fell by 37 percent [PDF] between 1994 and 2009, according to a study by Denmark's National Food Institute. Correspondingly, levels of resistant bacteria in animals and people plummeted, but production levels of meat either stayed the same or increased: The average daily weight gain per pig was actually higher in 2008 than in 1992 when antibiotics were routinely administered.
It's easy to understand why drug companies react so forcefully to any attempts to cut back on sub-therapeutic antibiotic use -- FDA figures show that 60 percent of the antimicrobial drugs they sell are fed to farm animals to promote growth, an enormous chunk of their business -- but given the success of farmers in Europe who've stopped using antibiotics to promote growth, why is the farm lobby so vehemently against change? Would it spell the end of the huge CAFOs upon which American agribusiness has come to depend? Steven Roach, the public health program director for the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the FDA, has a straightforward answer to that question: No, CAFOs would not go away. European pig farms are as large as those in the U.S., according to Roach. Some of the E.U.'s chicken operations are even larger than those in this country. (And if American farmers feel uncomfortable with examples from foreign countries, he suggests that they look at Tyson, one of the United States' largest poultry producers, which had no problems raising chickens without antibiotics in ways that the suit aims to stop.)
"There are two parts of production where there are small economic benefits to using low-dose antibiotics," Roach said in an interview. "Particularly on young pigs. The challenge for the beef cattle industry is that when you feed a high-corn diet, cattle have some heath problems, and one way they manage that is using the antibiotics in the feed. But even so, some producers are raising them without antibiotics in feedlots now." Roach said that European farmers have gotten around these problem areas by weaning piglets later. Barns are kept cleaner for all animals. And altering diets allows CAFOs to raise cattle without antibiotics. Of course, says Roach, some farmers simply won't want to change. He believes they are afraid that if they allow outside forces to impose even small changes, then other changes are bound to come.
After 35 years on the frontlines in the battle to keep antibiotics effective, though, Levy believes there's cause for optimism. "The mood is now 180 degrees better than it was for getting rid of this practice," he said. "There are more and more scientists and lay people who are urgently asking for an end to this use of antibiotics."
It helps that one of those "science people" is also a representative. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat who represents upstate New York, was a microbiologist before going into politics. In 2009, she introduced a bill called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which calls for the FDA to withdraw its approval of the practice within two years unless there is reasonable certainty that the low-dose antibiotics cause no harm to human health. "We are witnessing a looming public health crisis that is moving from farms to grocery stores to dinner tables around the country," she said in an email. "As the only microbiologist in Congress, I feel it's my duty to bring public attention to this."
Although Slaughter's bill has yet to pass, it had 127 cosponsors in the last congressional session, more than double its support in the previous Congress. It looks as though even more legislators will sign on this time, and many are hopeful that the combined forces of looming legislation and an active lawsuit will finally lead the FDA to act. "If we don't address it," Slaughter continued, "we risk setting ourselves back to the time before antibiotics, when even common infections could kill a person. That's not any kind of world I want my children and their children to inherit."
A former contributing editor to Gourmet magazine, Barry Estabrook is the author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit and blogs at


Bad news for Americans who eat food
By Steve Benen   June 01, 2011 9:55 AM  

In December, Americans who eat food received some very good news. A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system, approved by both chambers with large, bipartisan majorities, cleared Congress, and was quickly signed into law by President Obama.
The long-overdue law expands the FDA’s ability to recall tainted foods, increases inspections, demands accountability from food companies, and oversees farming — all in the hopes of cracking down on unsafe food before consumers get sick. This was the first time Congress has approved an overhaul of food-safety laws in more than 70 years.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is, the Republican-led House is fighting to gut the law.
Budget cuts proposed by House Republicans to the Food and Drug Administration would undermine the agency’s ability to carry out a historic food-safety law passed by Congress just five months ago, food safety advocates say. […]
To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million for food safety at the FDA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Last week, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA pared back that amount to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the figure the agency is currently receiving for food safety.
“This subcommittee has begun making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship,” said Chairman Jack Kingston, (R-Ga.).The full committee was scheduled to vote on the proposed cuts Tuesday, and the budget proposal was expected to pass.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved the cuts yesterday, which are severe enough to prevent the FDA from implementing the new law. Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety programs at the Pew Health Group, part of a coalition of public health advocates and food makers, said this week, “These cuts could seriously harm our ability to protect the food supply.”
Boy, those midterm elections really set the country on the right path, didn’t they?
It’s also worth appreciating the fact that these cuts to food safety were made in the name of fiscal responsibility, but it’s a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Indeed, cutting funding on food safety is likely to cost us more money, not less.
I realize this may seem counter-intuitive. I can even imagine some Fox News personality telling viewers, “Those wacky liberals think it costs money to cut spending! What fools!”
But this just requires a little bit of thought. When we cut spending on food safety, we save a little money on inspection, but end up paying a lot of money on health care costs when consumers get sick.
The GOP approach is misguided as a matter of public health, public safety, and budgeting.
Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


10 Reasons to Label GMOs Tell Your Friends, Food Companies, & Politicians!

World Food Day is October 16, 2011. That means there are only 4 months left to get 1,000,000 people to sign our petition to label GMO foods and organize 435 Millions Against Monsanto demonstrations nationwide.
Getting everyone you meet to join the Millions Against Monsanto campaign should be easy - upwards of 90% of the public already agrees that foods made with genetically modified organisms should be labeled - but if you need some ammunition and inspiration to inspire you to spread the word, look no further than these 10 scary reasons to label GMOs:
#1 Monsanto's Bt-toxin, in its Bt-producing GMO corn and cotton (used in food in the form of cottonseed oil), was found by Canadian doctors in the blood of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of the umbilical blood of their babies.
#2 The authors of the Canadian study conclude that the women and their babies were exposed to Monsanto's GMO Bt-toxin through a "normal" non-organic Canadian diet, including non-organic (so-called "natural" and "conventional") meat, egg, and dairy products from animals fed Bt corn.
#3 Monsanto's GMO "Bt" corn and cotton plants are engineered to produce a insecticide in every cell of the plant that kills insects by breaking open their stomachs.
#4 Mice fed Monsanto's Bt corn had elevated levels of immune system substances that are also higher in humans who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, allergies, Lou Gehrig's disease, autoimmune disease, and colitis.
#5 Young mice in the same study had elevated T-cells, which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases.
#6 Monsanto's GMO Bt-toxin has properties of known allergens - it actually fails the World Health Organization's allergen screening tests.
#7 Monsanto's GMO Bt-toxin has been found to bind with the small intestines in mice and with intestinal tissue in rhesus monkeys.
#8 In addition to its GMO "Bt" crops which are engineered to produce insecticide, Monsanto also produces GMO "RoundUp Ready" crops, engineered with a bacterial DNA that allows it to survive otherwise deadly doses of its herbicide RoundUp.
#9 In the only human feeding study ever published on GMOs, Monsanto's GMO "RoundUp Ready" soybeans were found to transfer Monsanto's "RoundUp Ready" DNA to the bacteria living inside human intestines.
#10 According to Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology, the transfer of Monsanto's GMO Bt DNA to human digestive bacteria could create a "living pesticide factory" that could be responsible for the "increase in gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and childhood learning disorders - since 1996 when Bt crops came on the market."
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Image: Health Authorities Seek Clues To EHEC OutbreakLONDON — June 2, 2011. An entirely new super-toxic bug is causing the frightening food poisoning outbreak that has sickened at least 1,600 people and killed 18, researchers and global health officials said Thursday.

...The DNA of the new E. coli strain, believed to have contaminated salad vegetables, was analyzed by Chinese and German scientists. It contains several genes that cause antibiotic resistance and is similar to a strain that causes serious diarrhea and is found in the Central African Republic, according to a statement from the Shenzhen, China-based laboratory, BGI. Those scientists were working together with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.
"This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization, said. The new strain has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the many E. coli strains people naturally carry in their intestines.
Preliminary genetic sequencing suggests the strain is a never before seen combination of two different E. coli bacteria, with aggressive genes that could explain why the outbreak appears to be so massive and dangerous, the agency said.

Researchers have so far been unable to pinpoint the food source of the illness, which has now spread to at least 10 European countries and fanned uncertainty about eating tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. The germ has caused 499 to develop a kidney failure complication. Germany is hardest hit. New cases continue to be reported:
On Thursday Britain's Health Protection Agency says 7 people in the U.K. have been confirmed with the new strain. All of the infected had recently visited Germany.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A lab technician holds a bacteria culture that shows a positive infection of enterohemorrhagic E. coli, also known as the EHEC bacteria, from a patient at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.
Fearful of the outbreak spreading east to Russia, the country extended a ban on vegetables to the entire European Union from just Germany and Spain, a move the bloc quickly called disproportionate.

Animal source? Kruse said it's not uncommon for bacteria to continually mutate, evolving and swapping genes. It is difficult to explain where the new strain came from, she said, but strains of bacteria from both humans and animals easily trade genes, similar to how animal viruses like Ebola sometimes jump into humans.
"One should think of an animal source," Kruse said. "Many animals are hosts of various types of toxin-producing E. coli." Some scientists suspect the deadly E. coli might have originated in contaminated manure used to fertilize vegetables.

In a statement on WHO's website Thursday, it said 10 countries in Europe had now reported patients with two diseases related to the bacteria: haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC).   It said that as of May 31, nine of the patients in Germany had died of HUS and six of EHEC.

"There are many hospitalized patients, several of them requiring intensive care, including dialysis," the statement said. NBC News reported that according to doctors, two-thirds of patients in Hamburg, Germany, were suffering from severe neurological problems such as language difficulties and seizures.

Women hard hit:  Previous E. coli outbreaks have mainly hit children and the elderly, but the European outbreak is disproportionately affecting adults, especially women. Kruse said there might be something particular about the bacteria strain that makes it more dangerous for adults.

But she cautioned that since people with milder cases probably aren't seeking medical help, officials don't know just how big the outbreak is. "It's hard to say how virulent (this new E. coli strain) is because we just don't know the real number of people affected." Nearly all the sick people either live in Germany or recently traveled there. British officials announced four new cases, including three Britons who recently visited Germany and a German person on holiday in England.
Two U.S. residents who recently traveled in northern Germany are also thought to become ill because of the outbreak, federal health officials said Tuesday. WHO said it was keeping countries informed and added that it was not recommending any trade restrictions relating to the outbreak.

The WHO recommends that to avoid food-borne illnesses people wash their hands before eating or cooking food, separating raw and cooked meat from other foods, thoroughly cooking food, and washing fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw. Experts also recommend peeling raw fruits and vegetables if possible.
.Russia had earlier this week banned fresh imports from Spain and Germany, but it expanded the ban Thursday to include the entire EU. The United Arab Emirates issued a temporary ban on cucumbers from Spain, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Lyubov Voropayeva, spokeswoman for the Russian Agency for the Supervision of Consumer Rights, told the AP the Russian ban has been imposed immediately and indefinitely. No fatalities or infections have yet been reported in Russia. "How many more lives of European citizens does it take for European officials to tackle this problem?" the agency's chief Gennady Onishchenko said to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for the EU's Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli, said Thursday that the European Commission would write to Russia to demand further clarification. The Italian farmers association Coldiretti criticized the ban as "absurd."
One expert said the fact the strain is new may have complicated the response to the outbreak. "Officials may not have had the correct tests to detect it, which may explain the initial delay in reporting," said Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England. He said the number of new cases would likely slow to a trickle in the next few days. The incubation period for this type of E. coli is about three to eight days, and most people recover within 10 days.
"Salads have a relatively short shelf life and it's likely the contaminated food would have been consumed in one to two weeks," Hunter said. But Hunter warned the outbreak could continue if there is secondary transmission of the disease, which often happens when children are infected. The disease can be spread when infected people don't take proper hygiene measures, like bathing or hand washing..

Phil Tarr, a professor of molecular microbiology at Washington University, said the discovery of a new strain wasn't particularly significant scientifically.
"Every strain is a mutant, if you define mutant as an organism that has picked up DNA from another source," he said. He said more analysis was needed to find out more about the strain's origins, how long it's been around and its ability to make people sick.
Meanwhile, Spain's prime minister slammed the European Commission and Germany for early on singling out the country's produce as a possible source of the outbreak, and said the government would demand explanations and reparations.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Spanish National Radio that the German federal government was ultimately responsible for the allegations, adding that Spain would seek "conclusive explanations and sufficient reparations."
Spanish farmers say the accusations have devastated their credibility and exports. In Valencia, protesting farmers dumped some 300 kilos (700 pounds) of fruit and vegetables — cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other produce — outside the German consulate.
The outbreak is already considered the third-largest involving E. coli in recent world history, and it may be the deadliest. Twelve people died in a 1996 Japanese outbreak that reportedly sickened more than 9,000, and seven died in a 2000 Canadian outbreak.
The Associated Press and staff contributed to this report.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Tell the White House:
It's Time to Side With Consumers and Family Farmers!

Can You Help Get Some Calls in to President Obama for Fair Food?

June 1, 2011

President Obama:
Stand up for Farmers and
Good Food!

Sign up to help generate phone calls for fair food on June 22nd!

As you MAY know, corporate interests have been dictating food policy in this country for decades. You've taken a stand against the status quo and signed on to our vision in support of better policies that will protect small farmers and consumers. Now, we need your help again. Will you take the next step and sign up to help generate phone calls to the White House on June 22nd?

These days, more and more family farmers are being pushed out of business, and consumers are facing fewer choices because of unfair rules that benefit big agribusiness. In February, we generated thousands of calls to the White House in support of Fair Farm Rules — a set of common-sense rules from the 2008 Farm Bill that would help level the playing field for small farmers in the face of pressure from the industrial farming industry. Despite our efforts, the Obama Administration has failed to implement these long-overdue protections.

June 22nd marks the one-year anniversary of the introduction of the Fair Farm Rules. It's absolutely ridiculous that it's been a year and the USDA and the Obama administration still haven't implemented these rules — so we're organizing a National Day of Action on June 22nd.
Can you help generate phone calls to the White House and ask President Obama to stand up for consumers and fair food?

Corporate control of the food system is not a new problem. For the last two decades, the government has looked the other way while a few big companies have trampled on our local farmers and ranchers, paying them unfairly low prices or forcing them to sign exploitative contracts in order to sell their animals. Now we have a chance to change the policies that have benefitted the big guys for the past two decades, and shift more power back to small farmers and consumers. Sign up to help deliver this message to the White House.

The proposed Fair Farm Rules will:
- Stop secret preferential contracts granted to cattle and hog factory farms
- Prohibit retaliation against poultry growers who speak out about abuses
- Prevent companies from requiring poultry growers to make expensive upgrades to their facilities if they are in working order

Small farmers have waited long enough for policies that will protect them against blatant abuses by corporate agriculture. We need President Obama to finalize these long-overdue rules on June 22nd.

Sign up to join us here:

Thanks for taking action,

Katy Kiefer
Outreach Organizer
Food & Water Watch


Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.


Organic Agriculture's Resilience Shows Untapped Potential

New analysis highlights organic agriculture as an eco-friendly means of improving livelihoods and preserving natural resources.

WASHINGTON - June 1, 2011 - Despite the crippling effects of the recent economic slowdown on many industries, the organic agriculture sector not only sustained itself during this period but also showed signs of growth. "In 2009, organic farming was practiced on 37.2 million hectares worldwide, a 5.7 percent increase from 2008 and 150 percent increase since 2000," writes policy analyst E.L. Beck, in the latest Vital Signs Online release from the Worldwatch Institute.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) defines organic agriculture as: "a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment."
Although organic agriculture is practiced around the world, certified organic agriculture tends to be concentrated in wealthier countries. The Group of 20 (G20), comprising both developing and industrialized countries, is home to 89 percent of the global certified organic agricultural area. But nongovernmental organizations, including Slow Food International and ACDI/VOCA, are working with farmers to promote organic agriculture in developing countries as a means of bettering livelihoods and rejuvenating the land.
In western Tanzania, organic agroforestry practices have helped rehabilitate some 350,000 hectares of desert land over the span of two decades. And in Ethiopia, coffee farmers are learning how to protect wild coffee plants, fertilize them using organic compost, and process them in a manner that retains the quality of the crop, without damaging the environment.
Although the global organic market has shown growth in the past few years, the rate has slowed since 2000, and there are several challenges that impede large-scale expansion of organic practices. The price premium on organic foods, for example, may dissuade many consumers from buying organic products, despite the potential environmental, ethical, and health benefits these products provide.
Two other challenges are the lack of organic standards and the scarcity of equivalency agreements. An equivalency agreement between two countries acknowledges each other's organic standards and allows for a smooth flow of certified organic goods between the two countries. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation finances the Global Organic Market Access (GOMA) project, which facilitates the trade of organic products by establishing organic standards and negotiating equivalency agreements, but more progress is needed in this area.
Rising farmland prices are putting a further strain on organic agriculture. Research by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that foreign investors have spent up to $20-30 billion on land purchases since 2006. These price hikes are threatening global food security and are especially detrimental to small-scale farmers' ability to enter the organic agriculture field.
Despite all these challenges, organic agriculture holds untapped potential for helping farmers and consumers alike build resilience to food price shocks, climate change, and water scarcity. By turning to organic agroforestry and switching from synthetic to organic fertilizers, farmers are not only raising their incomes by reducing input costs, but also adapting to the effects of climate change and helping to protect the environment.
"In order to keep feeding humanity for generations to come, and to feed people better, farming must reinforce conservation goals by adding diversity to the food chain and by healing ecosystems," said Danielle Nierenberg, Worldwatch senior researcher and co-director of the Institute's Nourishing the Planet project.
Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet ( project has traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, shining a spotlight on communities that serve as models for a more sustainable future. The project is unearthing innovations in agriculture that can help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment. These innovations are elaborated in the recently released report State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.
The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Its mission is to generate and promote insights and ideas that empower decision makers to build an ecologically sustainable society that meets human needs.