Posts Tagged ‘Food Safety’

Posted on July 7, 2011 - by

Cultivating Infection: the dangers of antibiotic overuse on animal farms

Antibiotics revolutionized healthcare when they were introduced in 1946. Now, overuse in industrial feedlots may make them obsolete.

Since 1976, studies have repeatedly demonstrated a connection between dosing healthy livestock with low-level antibiotics and the development of drug resistant bacteria. These “superbugs” cause infections that are nearly impossible to treat. In spite of mounting evidence that antibiotic use in livestock constitutes a serious threat to human health, the FDA continues to shy away from regulating the use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes due to pressure from agricultural and pharmaceutical industry interests.

There’s only one way to prevent factory farms from abusing antibiotics in livestock. Tell Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.

Drug Stuffing

According to the FDA, 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are administered to animals, not humans. In fact, more antibiotics are used on animals in the state of North Carolina than on humans in the entire United States.  In 2009, 29.8 million pounds of antibiotics were pumped into livestock across the country.

In most cases, those vast quantities of antibiotics aren’t given to sick animals. They’re administered preventatively in feed and water at sub-therapeutic levels to help livestock grow faster, and to keep disease from spreading through overcrowded feedlots. Young cattle are fed antibiotics to control the health problems caused by corn-based diets. Piglets are drugged to compensate for early weaning.

Feeding drugs to livestock has been routine practice in agribusiness since the FDA legalized the use of low-dose antibiotics in the 1950s. Antibiotics make it possible to raise animals in unsanitary conditions and with poor nutrition—in other words, they enable the system that brings us cheap food. But the hidden costs are rising.

Farming Superbugs

Feedlots are an ideal breeding ground for resistant microorganisms. Bacteria mutate rapidly, and adapt quickly. Exposing bacteria to non-lethal doses of antibiotics gives microorganisms the opportunity to develop genetic resistance, which protects them from even high doses of the drugs. By feeding animals antibiotics we are facilitating the development of resilient new pathogens.

These superbugs can then be passed from livestock to humans. Farmers are particularly susceptible to infection, but even people who never come into contact with a live pig or a chicken are at risk. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are found in the air and soil around farms, and in meat and produce in grocery stores. A recent study from the Netherlands published in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found the same strain of drug-resistant E. coli in chickens, chicken meat, and humans, leading the researchers to suggest that resistant bacteria were passed to humans who ate infected poultry. A previous study supported their conclusion.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria can spread to vegetables when feces from infected animals leech into surface and groundwater or are used to fertilize produce. The recent lethal E. coli outbreaks in Europe, which killed over 40 people, were caused by tainted bean sprouts.

Hog farms have also come under scrutiny, thanks to studies showing a high prevalence of a strain of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in employees and pigs on hog farms. In the United States, more people die from MRSA each year than from AIDS, although the hog barn variant is one of MRSA’s more benign forms.

What to Do?

While a more rigorous food and farm inspection system and proper handling of raw meats and vegetables can diminish some of the threat from contaminated food, the best way to slow the development of superbugs is to halt the prophylactic use of antibiotics. Medical professionals recognize the dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics in humans. Why don’t the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, which lobby hard against any effort to regulate the use of antibiotics in livestock?

With such a huge percentage of the demand for antibiotics created by agribusiness, drug companies have an obvious incentive to promote overuse. And it’s easy for Big Ag to claim that the dense, high-volume feedlots that keep the costs of meat down would be impossible to maintain without antibiotics. But experience shows that antibiotics might not be necessary to produce affordable meat.

The European Union banned the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock in 2006, and some countries are already reporting a decline in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Meat prices, however, haven’t risen. In Denmark, the world’s largest pork exporter, pigs are kept in similar conditions as those in American hog farms. Danish hog farmers have made a few modifications to feed and housing density to account for a 37 percent decrease in overall antibiotic use between 1994 and 2009, but production levels have remained consistent.

With 325,000 Americans hospitalized from food borne illness and 70,00 dying from antibiotic resistant infections each year, it’s time to reconsider our reckless use of precious medicines. In May, a group including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animals Concern Trust and Public Citizen, filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the government to prevent the routine addition of antibiotics to animal feed. And a new piece of legislation, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), is gathering steam in Congress.

Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York who holds degrees in microbiology and public health, introduced the bill. PAMTA would force the FDA to reconsider its approval of the use of seven classes of antibiotics in livestock in light of the dangers of resistance within two years of enactment. The bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Public Health Association, among others. It is opposed by the National Pork Producers Council.

You can help to limit the dangerous overuse of antibiotics by asking Congress to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become. Sacrificing the power of our medicines for the sake of maintaining the cruel living conditions of American livestock isn’t a worthwhile trade. Our food should make us healthy, not weak.


Posted on May 20, 2011 - by

Moo-ved to Action on the Right to Raw Milk

Photo: James Buck/The Washington Post

If you happened to walk by the Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill this Monday morning, you might have noticed an unusual guest: a Jersey cow named Morgan munched on the lush grass while volunteers passed out cups of still-warm milk, direct from her teats.

Members of the Grassfed on the Hill buying club, who purchase meat and raw milk of pasture-raised animals from DC-area farmers, brought the farm to Washington to protest the FDA’s attempt to file a permanent injunction against Pennsylvania farmer Dan Allgyer, who sells raw milk to buying club members. If the federal court approves the injunction, Allgyer would be forced to stop selling unpasteurized milk across state lines.

The sale of unpasteurized milk is legal in many states, either in stores or on the farm. Other states allow herd sharing, whereby consumers pay farmers a fee to keep and care for “their” cow, and in return receive a supply of milk. (Use this interactive map from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to learn more about the legality of raw milk in your state.) However, federal law prohibits interstate sales of raw milk, citing safety concerns about bacteria that may be present in “uncooked” milk, including E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.

Consumers who seek out raw milk do so for a variety of reasons: the fuller taste,  health benefits such as gastrointestinal support, a desire to support local economies, or just for making cheese. Protesters gathered at Monday’s rally carried signs demanding the freedom to choose unpasteurized milk.

Are you a raw milk drinker? Why or why not? How should consumer choice and concern for public health be reconciled in this case? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Posted on June 24, 2010 - by

David and Goliath Battle on GM Alfalfa and How the Media Got it Wrong

By Guest Blogger: Lisa J. Bunin, Ph.D.

The media got it wrong and let the public down when it erroneously reported Monsanto’s wholesale victory in its Supreme Court appeal of the GM alfalfa case — the first-ever Supreme Court case on GMOs (Monsanto Co. v Geertson Seed Farms). Despite claims and headlines to the contrary, Monsanto is still prohibited from selling and planting its Roundup Ready GM alfalfa. The true victors in the case are farmers, consumers and environmentalists who have argued that planting GM alfalfa would contaminate conventional and organic crops and lead to spraying noxious pesticides in regions where over 90% of alfalfa farmers do not use or need them.

So, why did the press get it so wrong? Monsanto hit the press early and convincingly and the press failed to do its due diligence by corroborating Monsanto’s facts with both sides in the case. It should have known better and acted more carefully despite the rush to get the first story published, but it didn’t. Monsanto’s Goliath PR machine succeeded in framing the Supreme Court decision as a slam dunk in its favor, to head off a drop in its stock market price. The real news — that it still can’t sell its patented GM alfalfa — would surely have driven impatient investors to sell their stocks.

Not surprisingly, shortly after the publication of multiple stories announcing Monsanto’s unequivocal win, an alternative narrative began to circulate on the web and people started asking questions about whether Monsanto actually “won” the case and what it meant to “win” the case anyway. Fulfilling the role of David against Goliath, bloggers exposed how the rightful victors had been unfairly slain by the press due to the unsavory alliance between the Goliath biotech giant and the major media.

The answer to the question of “who really won the case,” requires examining on what grounds Monsanto appealed to the Supreme Court. Specifically, Monsanto asked the court to reconsider the lower court decision in the GM alfalfa case by:(1) lifting the injunction on GMO alfalfa, (2) allowing the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa, and (3) not allowing contamination from GMO crops to be considered “irreparable harm.”

In truth, the Court only ruled on Monsanto’s first request, which it affirmed by stating that the injunction was too broad to be allowed to remain in place. However, it ruled in favor of the farmers and Center for Food Safety on the two other remaining issues, which in many ways are even more important. First, the Court did not overrule the lower court’s ban on the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa and, therefore, the ban remains intact. Moreover, the Court’s decision to set aside the injunction was based, in part, on the fact that a prohibition on GMO planting was already in effect, due to the lower court’s ruling and, therefore, the injunction was duplicative overkill. Second, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that the threat of GMO contamination was a sufficient cause of environmental and economic harm to support future challenges on GMOs. Unfortunately, these critical details about the Supreme Court’s decision were omitted in early press accounts, making it look as though Monsanto prevailed in its quest to deregulate GM alfalfa.

Two and three days later, the real story about the outcome of the GM alfalfa Supreme Court case has emerged in some press accounts. Yet, any analysis about the need for civil society to demand greater corporate accountability in the face of government inaction to halt threats of GMO contamination has yet to surface in the mainstream media. Clearly, the greatest significance of this case is that it shows how Goliath corporations, like Monsanto, BP and the rest, can be held accountable for their actions by members of civil society who have the courage to take on the role of David in the battle to protect our environment and food supply.


Lisa J. Bunin, Ph.D. is the Organic Policy Coordinator at the Center for Food Safety, a national, non-profit, membership organization, founded in 1997, that works to protect

human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at:


Posted on June 22, 2010 - by

Don’t Let Monsanto Spin The Story

It comes as no surprise that Monsanto’s PR machine managed to spin the Supreme Court decision on June 21, 2010 (Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms) as being a ‘big win’. While the decision is complicated, the decision is by no means the victory that Monsanto was hoping for (and claimed through media outlets who didn’t do their homework).  The bottom line is that it is still illegal to sell or plant GMO alfalfa.

“The Justices’ decision means that the selling and planting of Roundup Ready Alfalfa is illegal. The ban on the crop will remain in place until a full and adequate EIS is prepared by USDA and they officially deregulate the crop. This is a year or more away according to the agency, and even then, a deregulation move may be subject to further litigation if the agency’s analysis is not adequate,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “In sum, it’s a significant victory in our ongoing fight to protect farmer and consumer choice, the environment and the organic industry.”

Genetic contamination from GMOs are still considered harmful under the law, both from an environmental and economic perspective. We will keep you updated on any changes regarding the efforts to deregulate GE alfalfa. In the meantime, share this blog and make sure that you help your friends, family and social networks see past Monsanto’s PR campaign and maintain our fight against GE alfalfa!

Please consider donating just a few dollars to help FRESH continue our outreach and educational efforts. Donate today:

Eat Safe,

Lisa Madison
Distribution & Outreach Coordinator

Photo from flickr user dbking


Posted on June 16, 2010 - by

Letter from a raw milk producer

This is a guest post from FRESH supporter Evan Sayre

I had been considering trying raw milk for a few months. Not only are my food decisions based on how the food is raised but also how it tastes. Through The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund I found a farmer, Kalish Family Farms, in Southern Minnesota that delivers raw milk to the Twin Cities. I had been considering ordering from him so that I could at least try raw milk and see how it tastes. I had signed up for the farms e-mail list to try to get more info from them before I purchased. They also raised beef, pork, chicken and sold eggs.

Last month there was an E-Coli outbreak that has allegedly traced back to a different raw milk producer in Southern Minnesota. Soon after this e-mail came:

To all my dear customers:

Thank you for all the kind emails and voice messages you have left me this week. Sorry I could not reply to every individual email and voice mail, as I received hundreds, and you all mean a lot to me. My decision to pack it in is due to the e-coli breakout down in southern Minnesota, and the way the government is putting the fear of God into all local farmers with threats and machines guns (ok I just threw the “machine gun” part in for kicks).

The dairy farm where I have my guersney cows is quitting with all the raw milk production and I have been backed into a corner as a result, with no other options. I cannot do just the meat and eggs and still be able to provide for my family. If I can’t farm with the quality and high standards that I set for myself, I do not want to do it at all. I refused to take shortcuts like my previous partners do.

I would happily like to keep going, but getting the finances to do so is out of the question at this time (unless any of you are venture capitalists and want to invest?)

It has been said that big government is pushing away all the small farmers. I now have experienced this first hand. I may not have been the best businessman, but I have always been an honest, hardworking individual, who loves what he does.


Jay Kalisch

As someone who wants to begin small-scale farming my biggest fear is regulation designed to kill a fly with a shotgun. More small farmers go out of business and we let more and more consolidation of our food sources. Minnesota is a large agriculture state but we import about 90% of our food.

Also, the E-Coli strain is the famous O157:H7 which only emerged when we stopped allowing cattle to eat grass and started making them eat corn.

Please call and e-mail your government representatives and make sure they understand that people do care where their food comes from and want to know the people that produce it for them.

Evan Sayre

Photo from Chiot’s Run on Flickr


Posted on March 1, 2010 - by

Inspired by “Fresh”?

By Liz Reitzig, Secretary of National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association

Take action by serving a Local Foods Feast to Congress and Join in Grassroots Lobbying to Protect Local Food

Presented in conjunction with the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association Fourth Annual National Small Farm and Ranch Grassroots Lobby Day & Legislative Reception Wednesday, March 10, 2010.

You’ve seen Fresh and it taught you the importance of a local, safe food supply, but most in Congress haven’t seen the movie yet. Remind Congress about the importance of fresh Local foods and direct farmer-to-consumer trade.

Join farmers and consumers from around the country as we converge on DC on March 10 to lobby our legislators so they understand how certain bills will affect local food. Then enjoy a local food feast at the reception. If you cannot make it to DC on March 10, please call your legislators anyway; your voice is important and effective! You can schedule a phone meeting with your legislator’s office.

Need help? There will be a training call with all the info you need to have an effective appointment with your legislator’s aide.  More information about the training calls can be found here:

See to learn more about March 10, lobbying and for updates. Please sign up for future action alerts.