Obama administration lags on farm drivers of antibiotic resistance

Posted September 14, 2011

Used under creative commons license from Microbe World.

Microscopic image of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA)—and emerging superbug as antibiotic resistance increases in the United States.

Antibiotics are waning in effectiveness, and as a result more and more Americans are getting sick and dying of hard-to-treat—and hugely expensive—infections. The names of these superbugs, like MRSA, are becoming known to all.
Driving resistance is the use of antibiotics. And last year, the FDA revealed that 80 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are used in agriculture, the vast majority as additives to animal feed for healthy animals. No feed antibiotics have ever been taken off the market, despite proposals to do so appearing as early as 1977.
Today, a new report by the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises alarms about the inadequate government response. Its title says it all: Antibiotic Resistance: Agencies Have Made Limited Progress Addressing Antibiotic Use in Animals.
As the report makes clear, the problem is not simply one of the feed antibiotics continuing to be sold. It is also that federal agencies, like the FDA and USDA, have failed to put forth a clear plan to improve their collection of farm data about how antibiotics in agriculture are being used, or to research alternatives to the squandering of precious antibiotics in animal feed.

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Big changes for school food

Posted September 6, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Schools across Minnesota are bringing fresh, local produce into their lunchrooms during Farm to School month. (Photo: Dover-Eyota Schools)

Like most parents in Minnesota, last week I received an information packet from my daughter’s school. It was the annual get-ready-for-school packet, full of various forms and fall activities for her school in St. Louis Park. Deep in the pile was a bright orange flyer from the school lunch room. This year, they will be offering grass-fed, high–omega 3, all-beef hot dogs from Thousand Hills—a small, Minnesota company. That’s right. Grass-fed beef from a company previously most likely to be found in your local food co-op or natural food store—now in my daughters lunchroom. Also, this September, during Farm to School Month in Minnesota, the school is offering apples, squash, tomatoes and potatoes all grown by local farmers. And hormone-free milk, whole grain brown rice and fresh fruit at every lunch.
These are huge changes in the lunch program since my daughter began school five years ago, and what’s happening in St. Louis Park is not unusual. IATP’s JoAnne Berkenkamp and Lynn Mader have been working with the state’s school nutrition association (a.k.a., the lunch ladies), to greatly expand Farm to School programs all over the state. Participation has skyrocketed from 10 school districts in 2006 to over 123 last year. Find out what’s happening this year at farm2schoolmn.org.

Healthy food that supports local farmers. What could be better for our next generation of eaters? 

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Honoring the hands that prepare our food

Posted September 6, 2011 by    

Used under creative commons license from National Farm Worker Ministry.

This post originally appeared September 4, 2011 on The Huffington Post.

In many cultures, it's common before a holiday meal to give a prayer of thanks for the food and the people that prepared it. At these times, we may think of our family members in the kitchen, or possibly the hard-working farmers we met at the farmers market.

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World's largest ethanol producer drops the antibiotics

Posted August 30, 2011 by    

Used under creative commons license from reddthompson.

According to IATP’s 2009 Fueling Resistance? report, more than 40 percent of U.S. ethanol plants are already using some form of antibiotic-free antimicrobial.

Good news doesn’t come often enough in this business, so when POET—the world's largest ethanol producer—announced they’d decided to phase out antibiotic use in some of their ethanol plants, we celebrated. IATP has been pushing ethanol producers hard to stop using antibiotics—a common practice that we’ve determined is not only unnecessary, but also rife with public health risks.

During the ethanol fermentation process, there’s a risk of bacterial outbreaks—bacteria love the combination of a warm, moist environment and sugary corn mash. If bacteria get out of control, they compete with the yeasts (which turn the corn sugars into ethanol) and can decrease yields. Producers have traditionally doused fermentation tanks with antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin to thwart the bacteria, but that’s problematic because along with fuel, ethanol plants also produce animal feed known as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), made up of the leftover grain mash. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing has revealed antibiotic residues in DDGS, adding them to the already high burden of unnecessary antibiotics fed to livestock.

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Governor Dayton: September is Farm to School Month in Minnesota

Posted August 29, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo   

Farm to School in Minnesota has been continually growing, and now it's been  recognized by the state for its importance to students and local farmers.

Last Thursday, Governor Dayton declared September Farm to School Month in Minnesota. The proclamation request was initiated by IATP as part of its ongoing Farm to School efforts.

Read the press release for more on Governor Dayton's proclamation.

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IATP sends fair food delegation to Trader Joe's

Posted August 26, 2011 by    

At the request of our colleagues working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy formed a delegation today that delivered a letter to the manager of the Trader Joe’s store in St. Paul, MN. The letter, which was signed by several leading agriculture and labor organizations in the Twin Cities, requested that Trader Joe’s sign onto the CIW Fair Food Agreement and use their purchasing power to help put an end to the forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses faced by farmworkers harvesting tomatoes for the U.S. retail food industry.

The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 lbs. of tomatoes picked, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday – nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago. Grinding poverty leaves farmworkers vulnerable to the most exploitative employers, often resulting in egregious labor rights abuses, and in the most extreme cases, documented cases of slavery.

Today several Florida tomato growers – including East Coast, the state's third largest producer – are implementing the CIW's Fair Food agreements with retail food industry leaders Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Bon Appétit Management Co, Aramark and Sodexo. The agreements require those retailers to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers, to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to buy only from growers who meet those higher standards.

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New science: On-farm decisions have big impact on antibiotic resistance

Posted August 15, 2011

Cattle A week after we learned that a killer Salmonella superbug spread through Cargill turkey, new science shows that on-farm decisions to go organic can drastically reduce the antibiotic-resistant bugs on meat. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), which includes IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga, has issued a press release. See more below, or download the PDF

New evidence: Changing to organic farming reduces antibiotic resistance

New science connects the farm to the hospital

Washington, D.C. – One week after the outbreak of Salmonella spread through ground turkey raised the specter of drug resistant food-borne infections, a new scientific study released this week shows that changing farm practice can help stem the spread in poultry meat of another bug that is a major cause of expensive resistant infections in hospitals. 

The study, by researchers from the University of Maryland and the FDA, compared poultry farms where antibiotics were used with organic poultry farms that had recently switched to antibiotic-free production. The new organic farms had much lower amounts of resistant bacteria than the conventional farms. 

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Go PVC-free this back-to-school season

Posted August 8, 2011 by Katie Rojas-Jahn   

CHEJ Back-to-School Guide You’ve gotten rid of BPA from baby bottles and out of water bottles, but did you know another unnecessary toxic plastic may be hiding in your children’s school supplies?

Your child’s innocent-looking pencil case or three-ring binder could contain chemicals linked to learning disabilities, obesity and asthma. That’s because many school supplies are manufactured using polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the most hazardous plastic for our health and environment.

This plastic can contain a toxic stew of phthalates, lead, cadmium and organotins—making it a recipe for disaster. As a result, some of these chemicals, like phthalates, are building up in our bodies. To the developing body of a child, even a small exposure to these toxic chemicals can be dangerous. A new 2011 study found PVC is the most widely used hazardous plastic in the world. This toxic plastic is being used in more forms than ever for your kids, from notebooks to art supplies to backpacks.

From its manufacture to disposal, PVC releases hazardous chemicals like dioxins and phthalates that are harmful to your children’s health. When incinerated (at disposal), PVC releases dioxin a potent toxic chemical linked to several harmful health effects, including cancer. Dioxin then builds up in the food chain (especially in the fatty tissue of animals) and in turn an estimated 90 percent of our exposure to dioxin is through food consumption.

The good news is there are safer and cost-effective alternatives. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) has just released their fourth-annual 2011 Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.

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Nano-pesticides and your health: Tell EPA to act!

Posted July 26, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Advancements in science sometimes boggle the mind. Take nanotechnology, for example. Researchers can now manipulate material at the atomic level to add various properties to new foods, plastics or consumer products. They can make products lighter, softer, or better able to retain moisture. There are now an estimated 1,300 products on the market that use Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs).

Just as boggling as the scientific wonders of nanotechnology is the lack of regulation for this technology. The Environmental Protection Agency, like other U.S. regulatory agencies, has no regulations to ensure the health and safety of new nanotechnology products. For more, see our new report, Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation.

In agriculture, one of the major uses of nanotechnology is in pesticides. The EPA believes that there are already unapproved and unregulated pesticides in the marketplace that contain the bio-cide nanosilver. Experimental studies with laboratory rats indicate that inhaled ENMs can have “adverse lung effects.” Experiments with rainbow trout demonstrate that ENMs absorbed through the skin or consumed orally can move through different organs with toxic effects and can contribute to decreased reproduction.

Now, the EPA has taken the first step toward regulation. It is requesting comments until August 15, 2011 on its draft voluntary guidance for gathering data on pesticides that incorporate nanoscale materials. This data is essential to determining human health or environmental risks. Submit a comment now to the EPA and help protect human health and environmental safety.

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The GMO labeling fight at the Codex Alimentarius Commission: How big a victory for consumers?

Posted July 13, 2011 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from eqqman.

Currently, labeling GMO foods for international trade is voluntary. Unless a country opts to label their GMO goods, those foods containing genitically modified ingredients will remain a mystery.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an overlooked international body with representatives of 136 governments, about 100 food industry associations, several intergovernmental organizations, and a smattering of consumer and other nongovernmental organizations. Codex food standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as authoritative, so seemingly small matters of wording in a standard often can have major international trade consequences. The Codex has a duel (and often conflicting) mandate to protect consumer health, as well as to write standards that facilitate international trade.

A standing item of contention on the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) for two decades has been whether or not to recommend to the commission the adoption of a labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients. The United States and several other exporting countries of genetically modified organisms (or “foods derived from modern biotechnology” in the Codex terminology) had opposed any labeling of GMOs as “misleading even if true.” The justification for opposition was that even though governmental adoption of any Codex standard is voluntary, the adoption of a GM labeling standard would become an unfair trade barrier. However, at a June 16 meeting, the U.S. Codex Office announced that it would not oppose the adoption of a Codex guidance on the voluntary labeling of GMOs.

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