Chef Tom Colicchio Shines Spotlight on Antibiotic Use in U.S. Meat Industry
By Sasha Lyutse
Tom Colicchio is best known as a celebrity chef, but it’s his role as a good food advocate that brought him to the set of Morning Joe yesterday morning. Colicchio was there to talk about a new scorecard released last month by Food Policy Action, the first ever effort to rank members of Congress based on how they vote on food policy. As Colicchio explained, if you care about food issues, you now have a tool to hold your local politicians accountable, be it on issues related to hunger, food safety or local farming systems. In other words, we can now not only vote with our food dollars, but also with our votes.
As a big fan of accountability, I say hooray! But that’s not where the conversation ended. Asked what the biggest challenge on food safety is, Colicchio went straight to the issue of antibiotics use in the U.S. meat industry. Here’s his answer in full:
“One of the biggest problems right now is antibiotics in animals. It’s causing a major problem. I see it in hog growing regions. There’s huge outbreaks of things like MRSA, of bacterial infections we can’t control anymore. A majority of the antibiotics that are out there, that are used, aren’t in humans—it actually goes to animals. That’s one of the biggest problems.”
Asked why this is the case, Colicchio continued:
“When you take animals and you put them in confined feedlots to grow them indoors and in closed quarters, you have to pump them with antibiotics or they’ll die. So this is done in advance of infection. It’s not done once the animal is infected. It’s done in advance.”
Asked how we regulate the practice, here’s Colicchio one last time:
“It’s policy, good food policy.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Today, 3-times more antibiotics go to chickens, pigs and cows that are not sick than to people who are, a practice that now ranks amongst the key culprits in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as "superbugs."
Drug-resistant infections are harder for doctors to treat, lead to longer illnesses, more hospital stays, and even death when treatments fail. They are also estimated to cost Americans up to $26 billion dollars per year in additional healthcare costs. Multi-drug resistant infections, such as the life-threatening disease MRSA that Colicchio referred to, are on the rise while the development of new antibiotics is coming to a standstill.
Medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, public health groups such as the American Public Health Association and scientific groups such as the American Society for Microbiology all agree that such use must stop to protect public health and have sounded the alarm. Yet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—the federal agency charged with regulating the use of antibiotics in the livestock sector—has not stopped the practice, despite knowing for more than 30 years that mixing antibiotics essential to human medicine into animal feed poses a risk to human health.
Ignoring the science and calls to action by the nation's leading scientific and health-focused organizations? Not very good policy.
But even though the agency was ordered—twice—by a federal court to act on the widespread misuse of antibiotics in animal feed, it remains focused on a false solution—an unenforceable recommendation list to industry they call a “voluntary guidance.” With the voluntary guidance, FDA is allowing the industry to police itself—to “opt-in” or “opt-out” as it wishes. That’s a virtual guarantee of the status quo, which we already know does not work. After all, FDA has essentially been operating under a “voluntary” model since 1977, yet the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick has expanded exponentially over the years.
An industrialized meat system that breeds superbugs cannot be called safe and preserving life-saving antibiotics cannot be optional for industry and the government. We deserve better.
FDA has appealed the court's ruling, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to overturn both decisions. Here at NRDC, we remain fully engaged in the litigation and are moving forward with making our case before the court. And as Tom Colicchio made clear, the new National Food Policy Scorecard will now give us—and all interested Americans—an important additional tool to hold our lawmakers accountable should any Congressional votes on the issue arise. So here's to accountability and to Tom for being a champion on this issue.
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By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.
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Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.
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