Americans eat less meat — Agribusiness still increases use of antibiotics on farms

Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock

Despite recent efforts by health experts, doctors, and the Food and Drug Administration to pull the meat industry away from its heavy use of antimicrobials, livestock producers seem to have dug in their heels.

From 2009 to 2014, the amount of antimicrobials sold and distributed for use in livestock increased by 22 percent, according to an FDA report released Thursday. Of the antimicrobials sold in 2014, 62 percent were related to drugs used in human health, also called medically important. From 2009 to 2014, sale and distribution of medically important antimicrobials used on farms also jumped—an increase of 23 percent.

That brings the 2014 total of antimicrobials sold for US livestock to 15,358,210 kilograms, including 9,475,989 kilograms of medically important drugs, according to the report.

In 2013, researchers estimated that agriculture and aquaculture take in about 80 percent of all antibiotics…sold in the US.

The new data comes amid calls for responsible use of antimicrobials and antibiotics—in clinics as well as farms. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics called on livestock producers to curb overuse of drugs on farms. Much of the tonnage of drugs go to illness prevention on factory farms rather than treatments for sick animals. And producers sometimes use the drugs because they help animals fatten up. Such overuse, the doctors argued, is fueling the development of antimicrobial resistance among microbes, which in turn can cause difficult-to-treat infections in people, particularly vulnerable children…

But the FDA’s guidelines appear to have had little to no impact so far. Sale of animal antimicrobials increased by four percent from 2013 to 2014, while use of medically important antimicrobials increased by three percent, according to the new report.

In a statement, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said, “This report demonstrates what I have been saying for years: that FDA’s policies have been toothless in the face of the continued, widespread misuse of life-saving antibiotics in factory farms…The increased use of antibiotics over the last year is particularly disgraceful.”

The Congresswoman, a microbiologist by training, called on the FDA to immediately prohibit the use of medically important antimicrobials on farms…

The Animal Health Institute, like their favorite employers in agribusiness, lied and denied on behalf of profiteers who are assured they can get away with stuffing just about anything that increases cheap fast weight in meat on the hoof. Or claw. Or fins.

Guaranteed to encourage the universe to look askance at the animal protein we consume, here’s the report from the FDA.

The world wonders why a climate debate persists in the United States

conservative view of science
Conservative politicians’ view of science

At the U.N. climate summit in Paris, the U.S. has a big footprint. Cabinet officials scurry from meeting to meeting, trying to get a binding deal that would help some 200 countries slow the planet’s warming. Yet in some ways, the United States is an outlier.

“Everybody else is taking climate change really seriously,” President Obama said during his visit to Paris at the start of the summit. “They think it’s a really big problem.”

As the president acknowledged, he leads one of the few advanced democracies in the world where climate change is still the subject of political debate.

As the summit began, House Republicans in Washington were debating a bill to gut the Obama administration’s clean energy plan…

This is not just small-ball domestic politics that the rest of the world ignores. The debate in Washington shapes the perception of the United States in Paris. Some countries at the summit accuse the U.S. — which, in the 20th century, has emitted more carbon than any other — of trying to have it both ways: emitting more carbon per capita than almost any other country, while wagging fingers at the rest of the world…

Hanging over all of this is the fact that the U.S. has walked away from global climate deals before — most notably, the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The question now is whether the hot political debate in Washington is tying the hands of American negotiators in Paris. U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says it isn’t.

“The programs that have been put forward will be executed,” he said in an interview this week in Paris. “They are based on existing authorities, whether it is efficiency standards for vehicles or the clean power plan for power plants…”

“I think the phrases that you hear here are that everybody understands that the American delegation is negotiating in good faith,” says Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change.

They also understand that Congressional conservatives – Republicans in particular – can’t be trusted to support a principled, informed position on any issue.

Uranium contaminates water across the West

Uranium, the stuff of nuclear fuel for power plants and atom bombs, increasingly is showing in drinking water systems in major farming regions of the U.S. West — a naturally occurring but unexpected byproduct of irrigation, of drought, and of the overpumping of natural underground water reserves.

An Associated Press investigation in California’s central farm valleys — along with the U.S. Central Plains, among the areas most affected — found authorities are doing little to inform the public at large of the growing risk.

That includes the one out of four families on private wells in this farm valley who, unknowingly, are drinking dangerous amounts of uranium, researchers determined this year and last. Government authorities say long-term exposure to uranium can damage kidneys and raise cancer risks, and scientists say it can have other harmful effects.

In this swath of farmland, roughly 250 miles long and encompassing major cities, up to one in 10 public water systems have raw drinking water with uranium levels that exceed federal and state safety standards, the U.S. Geological Survey has found.

More broadly, nearly 2 million people in California’s Central Valley and in the U.S. Midwest live within a half-mile of groundwater containing uranium over the safety standards…

Everything from state agencies to tiny rural schools are scrambling to deal with hundreds of tainted public wells — more regulated than private wells under safe-drinking-water laws.

That includes water wells at the Westport Elementary School, where 450 children from rural families study outside the Central California farm hub of Modesto.

At Westport’s playground, schoolchildren take a break from tether ball to sip from fountains marked with Spanish and English placards: “SAFE TO DRINK.”

The school, which draws on its own wells for its drinking fountains, sinks and cafeteria, is one of about 10 water systems in the farm region that have installed uranium removal facilities in recent years. Prices range from $65,000 for the smallest system to the millions of dollars…

The uranium gleaned from the school’s well water and other Central California water systems is handled like the nuclear material it is — taken away by workers in masks, gloves and other protective garments…

It is then processed into nuclear fuel for power plants…

Meanwhile, the city of Modesto, with a half-million residents, recently spent more than $500,000 to start blending water from one contaminated well to dilute the uranium to safe levels. The city has retired a half-dozen other wells with excess levels of uranium…

In California, as in the Rockies, mountain snowmelt washes uranium-laden sediment to the flatlands, where groundwater is used to irrigate crops.

Irrigation allows year-round farming, and the irrigated plants naturally create a weak acid that is leeching more and more uranium from sediment, said Miranda Fram and Bryant Jurgens, a fellow researcher at the federal agency’s office in California’s capital.

Groundwater pumping pulls the contaminated water down into the earth, where it is tapped by wells that supply drinking water.

California is now experiencing its driest four-year span on record, and farmers and other users are pumping groundwater at the highest rates ever, helping to pull yet more uranium into areas of aquifers tapped by water wells…

“This has been a decades-long process that has occurred,” Jurgens said.

And even if authorities were to intervene to somehow curb uranium contamination — and no such effort is under way — “we expect that it’s going to take many decades to reverse this,” Jurgens said.

RTFA. Please. Especially if you live in or around the farming valleys of California.

It is clear that the problem ain’t going away on its own. It is only going to get worse. State authorities are so drawn to other problems of the drought they’re not dealing with this much at all. And no one’s certain what they can do about it – anyway.

Hospitals starting to listen — dramatic downturn in hospital-acquired illness

The rate of hospital-acquired conditions has dropped by 17% over a 4-year period…The rate of HACs dropped from 145 per 1,000 discharges in 2010 to 121 per 1,000 discharges in 2014, according to the report, which was issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Over a 4-year period starting in 2011, “a cumulative total of 2.1 million fewer HACs were experienced by hospital patients … relative to the number of HACs that would have occurred if rates had remained steady at the 2010 level,” the report noted. “Approximately 87,000 fewer patients died in the hospital as a result of the reduction in HACs, and approximately $19.8 billion in health care costs were saved from 2010 to 2014.”

These results represent real people who did not die or suffer infections or harm in the hospital,” said Patrick Conway, MD, chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a conference call with reporters. “The data continue to show … that we are on our way to achieving the results in improving the quality of care in the hospital setting while investing our health dollars more wisely…”

Several factors account for the decreases, AHRQ director Richard Kronick said, “for example, the widespread implementation and improved use of electronic health records at hospitals, the Partnership for Patients effort was launched … and Medicare payment reforms were implemented.”

“Progress was also made possible by investments made…in … producing evidence about how to make care safer, investing in tools and training to catalyze improvement, and investing in data and measures to be able to track change,” he said…

…Overall, the officials were pleased with the results. “As a practicing physician in the hospital setting, this work in improving patient safety is one of, if not the most important, thing we could do for patients,” said Conway. “Patients want to avoid infections and adverse harm events, and we need to have health system that’s as safe as possible for all patients.”

Kronick agreed. “Having been involved in this business for much longer than I care to remember … To see the progress here — 87,000 fewer people dying over the last 4 years than would have died if the 2010 rates remained in place — is very heartwarming for me.”

Say “amen”.