A recent study from University of Canterbury in New Zealand shows that glyphosate (Roundup) and other commonly used herbicides can make bacteria quickly adapt and resist antibiotics like ampicillin and tetracycline. Glyphosate, 2,4-D (dioxin) and dicamba (recently approved by the FDA) appear to disable the antibiotics and trigger bacterial resistance to them.
Researchers tested E. coli and Salmonella, two of the most deadly and widespread bacteria in the world, and consistently replicated their results
The dosage required to induce antibiotic resistance was small, comparable to the concentration found in household use or agriculture, but higher than the concentration of incidental residue found in food. However researchers cautioned that people could easily reach this threshold by consuming large quantities of food with small amounts of residue, through children and pets exposed to weed killers used on lawns or via livestock pastured in spray drift zones.
Growing antibiotic resistance is already increasing the death rate from untreatable infectious disease. Epidemiologists estimate drug resistant bacteria kill roughly 23,000 Americans annually.
Given established links between glyphosate, dioxin, dicamba and cancer, this new evidence linking them to antibiotic resistance will only increase global pressure for them to be banned.
Farmageddon is about the false economy of industrial meat production. While the corporations that promote factory farming applaud themselves for producing “cheap meat” for poor people, when societal costs are counted, industrially produced meat costs society approximately 25 times the sticker price. So as not to infringe on corporate profits, the excess costs (for environmental clean-up and a myriad of health problems) are transferred to the taxpayer.
Lymbery, a long time organic farming proponent, provides an extremely thorough and compelling expose of the numerous drawbacks of raising livestock in concrete warehouses. The side effects of living adjacent to a factory farm include air and water pollution by toxic herbicides and pesticides, nitrates, pathogenic bacteria and arsenic; loss of songbirds, bees and other insect species; reduced life expectancy,* increased exposure to disease carrying mosquitoes, loss of earthworms (due to fertilizer-related soil acidification), increased incidence (by threefold) of childhood asthma; increased antibiotic resistance (due to routine feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed cows, pigs and chickens); reduced sperm counts and increased breast cancer and renal tumors related to Roundup, the herbicide used with GMO crops.
Lymbery also includes a section on industrially farmed fish and they risks they pose to the health of wild fish populations.
His final chapter includes a variety of policy recommendations that could facilitate a move away from industrial farming to safer, less environmentally destructive traditional farming.
*Individuals who live adjacent to intensive dairy farms have a ten year decrease in life expectancy.
The Problem with Chicken is a PBS Frontline documentary about a year-long Salmonella Heidelberg epidemic in 2012 that infected more than 600 people in 29 states.
Salmonella Heidelberg is a particularly virulent form of salmonella that is increasingly prevalent in factory farmed chicken, as well as increasingly antibiotic resistant. Salmonella Heidelberg infection frequently results in hospitalization and occasionally death.
The film examines a hopelessly corrupt regulatory system in which the USDA* inspectors test whole birds, but not chicken pieces (the most common source of salmonella infections) and in which the USDA couldn’t compel Foster Farms to recall their contaminated chickens until they located an an unopened pack of Foster Farms chicken with the specific strain of Salmonella Heidelberg that had infected a specific chicken.
This obscure legal technicality meant that despite clear DNA evidence identifying Foster Farms as the source of contamination, an outbreak that could have been stemmed in a few weeks went on a full year and officially sickened 634 people.
The Problem with Chicken also explodes the chicken lobby myth that chicken-related infections can be prevented by proper cooking and handling of chicken. Studies show that thorough cooking doesn’t kill either salmonella or campylobacter, another human pathogen commonly carried by chicken.
The main shortcoming of this documentary is its failure to examine why potentially deadly pathogens are increasing in factory farmed chicken: namely the process in which battery chicken are raised in a cesspool of feces in tightly packed cages and continually fed antibiotics (the main source of increasing antibiotic resistance). See Food Inc.
Surely these are the practices that need to be banned by regulation. It’s ridiculous to expect that a few hundred USDA inspectors are going to protect us from food-borne illnesses by spot checking hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens for pathogenic organisms.
*The US Department of Agriculture is the federal agency responsible for guaranteeing food safety.
Photo credit: איתמר ק., ITamar K. (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Obama Disregards Court Order on Antibiotic Use in Livestock
Nothing exemplifies more clearly the corporate takeover of democratic government than the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approach to Food Inc’s routine use of antibiotics in animal feed. Thirty-six years after their 1977 finding that this practice jeopardizes human health, the FDA has given feed manufacturers three years to voluntarily remove antibiotic supplements from feed. What you won’t hear on the six o’clock news is that the the FDA move directly violates a March 2012 court ruling ordering them to ban the practice outright
Farm animals consume approximately 80% of antibiotics produced in the US. No one knows why routine consumption of antibiotics makes animals grow faster. Following this discovery in the 1950s, adding them to feed became standard practice on the gigantic factory farms that steadily replaced family farms. Producing animals that grow bigger and faster translates into higher profits. Especially in the overcrowded sheds and feedlots where fecal contamination creates the perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
Death by Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug
Pumping antibiotics indiscriminately into the environment turns out to be even more effective in breeding deadly antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” which are subsequently transferred to people through their food. This was confirmed by an April 2013 FDA finding revealing that more than 80% of raw turkey, pork, beef and chicken contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 2 million Americans a year contract drug-resistant infections every year, resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths. Prior to the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s, people routinely died of pneumonia brought on by flu and the common cold. It’s frightening to even think of returning to that era.
The 1998 EU Ban
To curtail the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, the EU banned antibiotics in animal feed in 1998. In the US, meanwhile, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) launched petitions in 1999 and 2005 demanding the FDA launch a similar ban. On learning of the FDA’s intention to opt for a voluntary ban, they, along with Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, filed suit in federal district court. In March 2012, the judge ruled that the voluntary program violated the FDA’s statutory duty (i.e. was illegal) and ordered them to enact a total ban like the EU.
“[T]he statutory scheme requires the Agency to ensure the safety and effectiveness of all drugs sold in interstate commerce, and, if an approved drug is not shown to be safe or effective, the Agency must begin withdrawal proceedings. The Agency has forsaken these obligations in the name of a proposed voluntary program, Guidance # 209, and acted contrary to the statutory language.”
“[FDA] must evaluate the safety risks of the petitioned drugs and either make the finding that the drugs are not shown to be safe or provide a reasoned explanation as to why the Agency is refusing to make such a finding.”
So why, you might ask, is the Obama administration ignoring this obvious public health crisis, proceeding with a voluntary program and wasting taxpayer dollars on appealing the ruling? Obviously it has a lot to do with the Food, Inc lobby, which spent $71 million on campaign contributions and $95 million on lobbying in 2012. When our elected leaders place the wishes of their corporate benefactors over the welfare of their constituents, human life becomes very cheap.
I’m happy to report Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) is an exception. Slaughter, 84, has been in Congress since 1987. In March 2013, she introduced her Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act bill for the fourth time. The bill would ban non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production.
How the Public Can Help
My initial reaction to this total disregard for human life (are they trying to kill us all or what?) is to go for the pitchforks. It’s clear from her interview with Food Safety News that Slaughter herself is pretty angry with the Obama administration.
However she proposes a more moderate approach, namely a public boycott of hormonally and antibiotic treatment animals.
“Food babe” Vani Hari, who also thinks the new FDA rule is a joke, recently appeared on CNN (which would lose their broadcast license for promoting insurrection) with recommendations on how consumers can avoid tainted meat.
Buy direct from farms. Hari provides links on her website to connect online with farmers markets and CSA buying clubs.
Stick with USDA certified organic foods that also meat the highest standard Animal Welfare Rating Standards (i.e. that aren’t produced by factory farms).
Cut back on meat and dairy by substituting other healthy high protein foods, such as nuts, peanuts, and dried beans.
Follow Mark Bittman’s advice in a recent New York Times oped, and lean on your local supermarket to stock and label antibiotic-free meat and dairy products.