In a significant win in the fight to save antibiotics, McDonald's—the largest and most iconic burger chain on the planet—announced Tuesday that it will address the use of antibiotics in its international supply chain for beef by 2021.
"This important step forward raises the bar for other burger chains and sends an unmistakable market signal to beef producers worldwide," said Lena Brook, the interim director of the Food & Agriculture program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "With Washington asleep at the wheel on this rising health threat, leadership in the marketplace is essential."
The company's new policy directs its global suppliers to reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in McDonald's beef, starting with 10 markets around the world, including the U.S. McDonald's is the first—and by far the largest—burger chain to commit to a policy like this for all beef sold at its restaurants. While the chicken industry has been proactive in changing their antibiotics policies, beef companies have taken very little action to address the issue—even though more medically important antibiotics are given to cows than humans, or any other animal.
The problem is dire: Leading medical experts have called antibiotics resistance one of our greatest public health threats. In the U.S., about 95 percent of drugs given to livestock and poultry are given routinely in feed and water—often to animals who are not sick to help them survive crowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial farms. This nonessential use of medicine contributes to the rise and spread of antibiotics-resistant bacteria, ultimately increasing the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans. At least 23,000 Americans already die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Nobody in the world sells more burgers than McDonald's, and its actions can shape the future of the industry," Brook said. "We will be watching closely to make sure this policy goes into action and that its promise is fully realized."
By Ketura Persellin
You've likely heard that eating meat and poultry isn't good for your health or the planet. Recent news from Washington may make meat even less palatable: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of the industry.
In spite of that, global consumption of beef, lamb and goat is expected to rise by almost 90 percent between 2010 and 2050. This may not surprise you, given how many kids love burgers and fries. With that in mind, here are seven reasons you and your family might want to become a vegetarian — or at least cut down on how much meat you eat.
1. Environmental damage. Industrial-scale meat and poultry production harms the environment — from the pesticides used to grow feed and the manure that runs off into waterways to the fertilizer that releases greenhouse gases and then pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans. You know the slime covering the lake where you spend time every summer? Tell your kids that large-scale meat and dairy production connects directly to the sign at the lake saying it's not safe for them to swim. And it's not just a matter of your vacation plans: That slime can cause permanent harm to people and animals and destroy marine ecosystems.
2. Climate change. Kids love fart jokes, but cow flatulence isn't just a laugh line, but a significant contributor to climate crisis. Cow burps play an even bigger role, producing 22 percent of U.S. emissions of methane, a gas with a worse effect on the climate crisis than carbon dioxide. Eliminating or reducing meat from your diet is the biggest contribution an individual can make to helping mitigate climate disaster. And because of their developing bodies, children are more vulnerable to the harmful chemicals emitted by pesticides and fertilizer, as well as disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change.
3. General health. The hormones fed to animals on factory farms can increase the chance of cancer in people who eat it. Red and processed meat have been linked to chronic disease, including cancer. Meat is a primary source of dioxins, a group of pollutants connected to reproductive and hormonal issues, and negative impacts on the developing fetus. By contrast, a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of cancer and lower the incidence of heart disease. One large study shows vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index than meat eaters and are one-fourth less likely to die of heart disease.
4. Expense. The cost of meat is coming down as demand for it grows, but a diet that doesn't include meat is easier on the wallet. For instance, as a source of protein, legumes are far less expensive than meat and poultry.
5. Sustainability. Production of meat and dairy hogs resources. It uses grassland inefficiently, and a tremendous amount of water, and that's just for starters. Cutting it out entirely, or just reducing your consumption, will benefit the environment.
6. Drug resistance. Most kids are untroubled by the abstract idea of drug resistance, but Mom and Dad should worry. Animal overcrowding in factory farms increases livestock's risk of illness. Farmers try to "solve" the problem by routinely dosing even healthy animals with antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." Over time, with the overuse of antibiotics, these bacteria, such as salmonella, become resistant to the many forms of antibiotics commonly used to treat sick children. According to a recent EWG report, 20 percent of salmonella strains found on grocery store chicken were resistant to the drug. This makes it far more difficult to treat children, who are more likely than adults to get salmonella in the first place.
7. Environmental justice. Your family's meat consumption makes an immediate impact on the people, including kids, living near the factory animal farms where most meat is produced. The stench of manure that reaches for miles is something the people who live nearby — often people of color of lower economic means — can't escape. When it rains, it's likely the ensuing runoff will flood the neighborhood with manure, fertilizer and other debris. In addition to nausea, headaches and other health problems, factory farm neighbors see increases in the cases and severity of respiratory illnesses, including asthma, to which children are especially vulnerable. Unable to spend time outside, residents feel trapped indoors. Their drinking water wells can be contaminated, and so can the rivers and streams where they fish.
Not ready to eliminate meat entirely? Resolve simply to eat less of it. Consider meat a meal's side show, for instance, instead of the star. Or make some meals completely meatless. If you eat one less burger a week, it's as if you'd taken your car off the road for 320 miles or line-dried your clothes half the time. That's the thinking behind the New York school district's decision to institute Meatless Mondays, and it's a good rule of thumb: Small changes do add up.
And there's no need to worry your kids won't get enough protein if you cut the meat and dairy. Americans eat too much meat, and too much protein in general. The average child age four to six years old needs just two small servings a day — one ounce of meat or fish, or an egg, is one serving — and age seven to 10, a slightly larger portion of two to three ounces.
Most adults eat too much protein too, so while you're at it, you may want to take a look at your own portion control. Here are the USDA's protein guidelines.
Vegan Meat Substitutes: The Ultimate Guide https://t.co/FBOSU1BMV9— Vegan Future (@veganfuture) February 4, 2019
Ketura Persellin is the editor at Environmental Working Group.
While the upfront cost of a solar water heater may be higher than traditional water heaters, the solar energy you'll harness can yield great savings and environmental benefits. Heating water accounts for 18% of a home's energy use, but a solar water heater could cut your water heating bills by 50 to 80%.
In this article, we'll explain how a solar-powered hot water heater can help you tap into a free, renewable energy source, potentially saving money and doing good for the planet. With this information, you can make the best decision about whether a solar water heater is a good investment for your home's hot water needs.
Solar Water Heater Basics
A solar hot water heater's basic function is to expose water or a heat-exchanging liquid to the sun's rays, then circulate the warmed liquid back into your home for domestic use. The basic components of all solar water heaters are a storage tank and a collector to trap the sun's heat.
Collectors are a series of flat plates, tubes or tanks through which water or a heat transfer fluid passes and absorbs the sun's heat. From there, the fluid is circulated to either a water tank or heat exchange unit.
Solar water heaters are most commonly used as energy-saving devices to preheat water before entering a conventional water heater in the home. But some solar water heaters warm and store water without the use of a conventional tank, offering totally sun-powered hot water.
Types of Solar Water Heaters
Solar hot water heaters are split into two broad categories: passive and active. The primary difference between the two is that active systems require circulating pumps to move water, and passive systems rely on gravity to move water. Active systems also require electricity to operate and may use antifreeze as a heat exchanger fluid.
In the simplest of passive solar collectors, water is heated in tubes, then piped directly to a faucet when needed. Active solar collectors either use antifreeze — which is passed from the solar collector into a heat exchanger that heats potable water for storage and household use — or just heat water directly, which is then pumped to a water tank.
Active and passive systems have subcategories that are specialized for various climates, tasks, capacities and budgets. The one that's right for you will depend on factors including:
- Available space
- Availability of sunshine
- Your capacity requirements
- Building codes and regulations in your area
- Your installation budget
Let's take a look at each type of solar hot water system and how it can benefit your home.
Active Solar Water Heaters
Though more expensive than passive systems, active solar water heaters are more efficient. There are two types of active solar water heating systems:
In an active direct system, potable water passes directly through the heat collector and into a storage tank for use. They're best suited for mild climates where temperatures rarely go below freezing.
Active indirect systems circulate a non-freezing fluid through the solar collector and into a heat exchanger, where the fluid's heat is transferred to potable water. The water is then circulated into a storage tank for domestic use. Active indirect systems are a must for cold climates where temperatures regularly dip below freezing. Without an active indirect system, pipes run the risk of freezing and bursting.
Passive Solar Water Heaters
Passive solar water heaters are the less expensive, simpler option but also tend to be less efficient than active systems. They can, however, be more reliable and last longer, so you shouldn't overlook them as an option, especially if you're on a budget.
All passive systems use pressure or gravity to circulate water, and come in two variations:
Integral Collector Storage and Batch Heaters
Integral collector storage (ICS) systems are the simplest of all solar water heating units — the heat collector also serves as the water storage tank. They're quite efficient but only work in climates with little risk of freezing temperatures. ICS systems can be as simple as a large black tank or a series of smaller copper tubes fastened to a roof. ICS units with copper tubing heat faster due to the increased surface area but lose heat faster for the same reason.
ICS systems are usually used to preheat water for conventional heaters. In such a system, when water is needed, it leaves the storage tank/collector and enters a conventional water heater in the home.
An important thing to consider with an ICS system is size and weight: Because the storage tank itself is also the collector, they're large and heavy. A structure must be strong enough to support bulky ICS systems, which may be impractical or impossible for some homes. Another drawback to an ICS system is its tendency to freeze and even burst in colder weather, making them suitable only for warmer climates or otherwise drained before cold weather hits.
Thermosyphon Water Heaters
Thermosyphon systems rely on thermal circulation. Water circulates when warm water rises and cool water descends. They feature a tank like an ICS unit but have collectors attached sloping downward from the tank to allow thermal circulation.
Thermosyphon collectors gather sunlight, sending heated water back to the tank via a closed-loop or heat pipe. While thermosyphons are more efficient than ICS systems, they can't be used where regular freeing occurs.
How Much Does a Solar Hot Water Heater Cost?
The more hot water you use, the more likely a solar water heater will pay for itself over time. Solar hot water heaters are most cost-effective for households with many members or a large hot water demand.
A typical solar water heater will cost around $9,000 before federal incentives, with higher capacity active models reaching upwards of $13,000. Small systems may cost as low as $1,500.
Prices vary dramatically based on many factors, including the materials you choose, system size, installation and maintenance costs, and more. While ICS systems are the cheapest option (around $4,000 for 60-gallon units), they won't work in all climates, so if your home sees regular temperatures below freezing, you'll have no other choice than to fork over the cash for an active indirect system, or at least use a different system only part of the year.
Weight and size of cheaper passive systems might not be appropriate for everyone. If your structure won't accommodate the weight of a passive system or you don't have the room, a more expensive active system is yet again your best option.
If you're building a new home or refinancing, you can roll the cost of a new solar hot water heater into your mortgage. Including the cost of a new solar water heater in a 30-year mortgage will cost you between $13 and $20 per month. Tack on federal incentives, and you might pay as little as $10 to $15 per month. So if you're building new or refinancing, and your conventional water heating bills are over $10 to $15 per month, you'll immediately start saving money. And the more water you use, the faster the system will pay for itself.
Aside from the cost to purchase and install the system itself, you'll need to account for annual operating costs. In a simple passive system, this could be negligible or nothing. But in most systems utilizing conventional water heaters in tandem with a solar heater, you will bear some heating costs, albeit much lower than operating a conventional heater alone.
Tax Credits for Solar Water Heaters
You don't have to shoulder the entire price of a new solar water heating system. Federal tax credits may significantly reduce the cost of installing one. Federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credits (also known as ITC, or Investment Tax Credits) can provide a 26 percent tax credit on solar water heaters. But there are some conditions to qualify:
- At least half of the energy generated from the property must come from the sun (photovoltaic systems).
- The new solar hot water heater must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) or a similar entity endorsed by the government of the state in which the system is installed.
- The solar heating system can't be used to heat swimming pools or hot tubs — it must heat water used within the home or business.
Many states, municipalities and utilities offer their own incentives and rebates for solar water heater installation. Check out the DSIRE database for more regulatory information.
Where to Get a Solar Water Heater
Solar hot water heater components are readily available in many national chain stores, such as Home Depot. Units are also available for purchase directly from producers, with Duda Diesel and Sunbank Solar offering several great residential solar water heater options. Local installers may also offer quality solar water heaters.
For solar pool heating and small-scale use, check out the heaters below:
- Duda Solar 30 Tube Water Heater Collector: This system is the perfect choice for heating pools, hot tubs and closed-loop systems. Thirty highly efficient unpressurized tubes provide excellent sunlight absorption and are rated at up to 45,000 BTUs a day.
- Sunbank Solar 40 Gallon Solar Water Heater: This solar water heater is designed for households with one to three members. This thermosyphon system offers exceptional absorption efficiency (92-96%) and keeps hot water hot all day in an ultra-insulated built-in tank. Weighing in at just 180 pounds, it can be installed on most roofs.
- Duda Solar 200 Liter Water Heater Active Split System: This full kit comes with a stainless-steel water tank, controller and submersible water pump. It's a dual-coil system, which allows you to heat the water in the tank both with solar power and a secondary electricity or heat source.
Because so many factors influence which solar water heater you should buy, it's advisable to work with a professional when choosing and installing a larger solar water heating system.
Solar Hot Water Heaters Vs. Home Solar System
Solar water heaters are less common than they used to be. This is largely due to the drastic decline in the cost of solar panels, causing many people who would otherwise install solar water heaters to forgo them and heat their water with electricity generated from their own solar panels.
Solar water heaters take up precious real estate, and for a homeowner interested in producing their own solar-generated electricity, it may make more sense to maximize the space available and nix solar water heating altogether, buying solar panels instead.
However, if you don't have the space for solar panels, solar water heaters may still be a great fit, as they take up far less room than solar panels do. Solar water heaters can also be a great option for those living in remote locations or as an environmentally friendly add-on for existing solar electricity generation. Modern electric water heaters are incredibly efficient and, when powered with solar electricity and paired with a solar water heater, will yield significant savings for your pocketbook and cut down your greenhouse gas emissions.
For many homeowners, the decision comes down to price. Solar hot water heaters can cost upwards of $13,000. To see how much a full home solar system would cost for your home, you can get a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the form below.
FAQ: Solar Hot Water Heater
Is a solar water heater worth it?
Whether a solar water heater is worth it all depends on where you live, your needs and preferences, and whether you plan on installing solar panels. Solar water heaters have been losing ground due largely to the surge of home solar: The folks that would install solar water heaters also want solar for electricity generation and often choose to eliminate solar water heaters that compete for valuable rooftop space.
If you have the space, a solar water heater will likely lower your water heating bills. Used in tandem with other renewable energies, a solar water heater is still a great choice for nearly any application.
What is the price of a solar water heater?
A typical solar water heater system will cost around $9,000, with higher-end models reaching upwards of $13,000. Small-scale use heaters will be much cheaper, running between $1,000 and $3,000.
What are the disadvantages of solar hot water heaters?
The biggest disadvantage of a solar water heater is that it won't work on foggy, rainy or cloudy days, nor at night. While this can be overcome with a conventional auxiliary heater, it is still a disadvantage all solar technologies share. Maintenance can be another turn-off. While generally requiring little maintenance, some solar water heaters need regular draining, cleaning and protection against corrosion.
How does a solar water heater work?
Solar water heaters circulate liquid through a solar collector — most commonly a flat-plate collector or tube collector — heating the liquid and sending it either to a tank for use or an exchanger, where the liquid is used to heat water for home use.
Christian Yonkers is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and outdoor junkie obsessed with the intersectionality between people and planet. He partners with brands and organizations with social and environmental impact at their core, assisting them in telling stories that change the world.
By Ketura Persellin
You probably care a lot about how your fruits and vegetables are grown. You may not think as much about where your family's animal protein comes from, but the conditions in which most meat, poultry and even dairy is produced may give you and your kids pause — even those most likely to clamor for yet another burger or hot dog.
Americans eat a lot of meat and poultry — 27 billion pounds of beef were produced last year alone, most of it in "factory farms." All those animals produce lots of manure — quite literally tons of it. The 775 animal operations in the Maumee Basin of Western Lake Erie alone produce 5.5 million tons of manure each year. The coastal plain of North Carolina has 1,500 factory farms that produce as much as 4 billion gallons of wet swine waste and 400,000 tons of dry poultry waste.
The mountains of waste smell terrible, but the stench is far from the worst problem it creates. Bacteria, such as from hog feces, can get into the homes and lawns of neighbors and endanger their physical and mental health. And the problem is getting worse. From 2005 to 2018, the amount of manure produced in the Maumee Basin rose by more than 40 percent.
All that waste has to go somewhere. Manure from large-scale animal farms runs off into groundwater, lakes, rivers and streams. It pollutes drinking water, hurts air quality and triggers tremendous stress for local residents. That may be one reason life expectancy in North Carolina communities near hog farms is particularly low, even after adjusting for other socioeconomic factors.
Kids may love poop jokes, but the production and consumption of animal protein is no laughing matter. You and your children might find the conditions the animals that you eat are raised in outrageous and disgusting — perhaps enough to drive even the most enthusiastic carnivore into the ranks of committed vegans. The animals live in crowded, dirty conditions often infested with flies and rodents. The water they drink or that's used to wash down the facility can get contaminated with any number of these pollutants.
Here are a few other things to consider – and point out to the kids when they clamor for yet another burger, hot dog or order of chicken McNuggets:
- Not all meat is produced in a factory farm. By buying certain kinds of meat, you can avoid supporting a great deal of the harm of factory farms. Look for grass-fed, pasture-raised or "free range" meat in lean cuts that have no antibiotics or hormones and are certified organic. Check out EWG's label decoder for help.
- It's not just livestock raised for meat that's raised in industrial-scale animal operations — dairy cows are too. So if you're not a fan of large-scale animal production, you'll may want to change your dairy consumption habits, too. Buying organic milk, cheese and other dairy products will be better for your family's health and for the environment.
- Crowded living conditions in factory farms make animals sick, which has driven the overuse of antibiotics for livestock. This has led to the development of strains of bacteria in animals and humans that are resistant to life-saving medicine — the last thing most parents want.
- Manure runoff contains chemicals that algae feed on, such as nitrates and phosphorus. They're responsible for the toxic algae blooms that pollute many lakes and rivers (and sometimes make them off limits for swimming and fishing). If you've seen "Do Not Swim" signs recently at the beach or your area lake, or greenish scum floating on the water's surface, you're often looking at the direct consequence of industrial-scale animal production.
- Factory farms aren't going away any time soon. The amount of red meat and poultry consumed in the U.S. fell after the Great Recession of 2008 but rebounded and was projected to reach 222.2 pounds per person per year in 2018. It's expected to go up in the rest of the world, too. Dairy consumption in this country is also on the rise. Your family can do its part to avoid adding to the problem. For starters, consider going meatless (and without dairy) once a week.
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By Erik D. Olson and Lena Brook
We live in partisan times, as anyone who had to sit through Thanksgiving dinner with distant relatives can probably attest. But even your crazy uncle would agree that the safety of our food shouldn't be a partisan issue. No one wants their child to get sick from eating a hamburger, chicken, or—in the case of the current E. coli outbreak—romaine lettuce. Yet last week's empty Thanksgiving salad bowls are a harbinger of what's to come if our federal government does not start taking food safety seriously.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's attacks on policies meant to ensure our food is safe to eat are already impacting the health of our families. In fact, 2018 has been a banner year for food-borne disease, with 22 food safety investigations undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so far. That's the most alerts in at least a dozen years, and the administration's plans to delay and weaken rules aimed at reducing the risk of produce contamination mean more outbreaks are likely.
Indeed, this latest E. coli outbreak is the second involving romaine lettuce in 2018 (and the third in the last 12 months). The current crisis, which began in October, has sickened more than 40 people in 12 states, from California to Ohio to New Hampshire. More than 20 Canadians have also been sickened, indicating that we're exporting our health threats to other nations. Romaine lettuce from California's Central Coast is at the center of this outbreak, according to the CDC.
While the cause of the latest incident remains a mystery at this time, a different E. coli romaine outbreak earlier this year—which killed at least 5 people and sickened at least another 210—was likely caused by contaminated irrigation water, possibly from a massive factory farm nearby. A cattle feedlot located next to the irrigation canal may have been the source, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did only limited testing and didn't confirm the connection. In the blunt words of one headline, "The Poop of 100K Cows May Be to Blame for That Deadly Romaine E. Coli Outbreak." Great, just what we all wanted in our salad.
The real tragedy is that produce safety rules created by the Obama administration to protect against that very thing—contaminated irrigation water—were set to go in effect in January 2018. But under substantial political pressure from corporate agriculture, Scott Gottlieb, President Trump's head of the FDA, announced in September 2017 that the agency planned to suspend testing and inspection requirements aimed at ensuring that irrigation water for leafy greens and vegetables is not contaminated with manure. Keeping manure out of irrigation water is critical, of course, to keeping food safe. The FDA not only is proposing to delay implementation of these requirements until 2024, but is also expected to relax many of its protections.
The Trump administration's efforts to weaken food safety standards do not end with greens and vegetables. Granting big meat and poultry producers' longstanding wish, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under Trump has also green-lighted industry plans to allow chicken slaughterhouses to speed up inspection lines. It has proposed doing the same for pork slaughterhouses, making it harder for inspectors to review each carcass and increasing the risk of disease outbreaks and worker injuries. In fact, under the Trump plan, USDA inspectors will be expected to inspect and ensure the safety of an astounding 175 chickens per minute and more than 1,106 hogs per hour. Don't try this at home.
Meanwhile, industrial-scale livestock operations have become a ticking time bomb for antibiotic-resistant superbugs, as the U.S. industry feeds its animals nearly twice as much medically important antibiotics as its European counterparts. Antibiotic overuse in livestock is contributing to a public health crisis in America, with at least two million people afflicted by antibiotic-resistant infections a year, leading to more than 23,000 deaths. The current romaine lettuce outbreak involves a strain of E. coli that isn't treated with antibiotics. However, numerous other food-borne disease outbreaks have been triggered by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as the recent 35-state outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella from turkey that sickened 164 people, hospitalized 63, and killed at least one person.
Additional protections for our food supply could be next on the chopping block, falling victim to Trump's executive order requiring two regulations to be revoked for every new rule. NRDC and its partners are fighting the arbitrary two-for-one order in court, noting that it creates a false choice between food safety and other safeguards.
The fact is, the tired argument made by Trump's minions that food safety and other environmental rules are too costly doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The White House's own analysis shows that environmental safeguards and other commonsense rules deliver a good return on the investment in our future, with produce safety rules yielding an estimated $900 million dollars in benefits from the avoidance of food-borne illness, at a substantially lower cost.
The Trump administration seems to be making a different calculation, betting that the public won't notice how weaker protections are making their food less safe. The budget to carry out the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, the first major strengthening of the FDA's food safety program in 70 years, falls far short of what the agency has said is necessary to fully implement the law. Neither the Trump administration nor Congress is moving to adequately fund it in 2018 or 2019.
These increasingly frequent bacterial outbreaks serve as a wake-up call that protecting our food supply needs to be a top priority. Regulatory rollbacks, lax enforcement, and inadequate food safety budgets are hurting families. Putting our children's health first—that's something we could all be thankful for.
6 Ways Trump Is Bad for Food, Health and the Environment https://t.co/27RXWYpz80 @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine @EARTHWORKS— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517972105.0
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Those bacteria were resistant to at least one of 14 antibiotics tested for by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, a federal public health partnership.
"Consumers need to know about potential contamination of the meat they eat, so they can be vigilant about food safety, especially when cooking for children, pregnant women, older adults or the immune-compromised," said Dawn Undurraga, EWG's nutritionist and author of the report.
Drug-resistant bacteria—sometimes referred to as superbugs—were detected on 79 percent of ground turkey, 71 percent of pork chops, 62 percent of ground beef, and 36 percent of chicken breasts, wings and thighs sampled in supermarkets by NARMS in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.
"Bacteria transfer their antibiotic resistance genes to other bacteria they come in contact with in the environment and in the gastrointestinal tract of people and animals, making it very difficult to effectively treat infections," said Dr. Gail Hansen, a public health consultant and veterinarian.
Despite this serious threat, the federal government still allows meat producers to give antibiotics important for human health to healthy animals. This practice aims to compensate for stressful, crowded or unsanitary conditions on factory farms.
"When one person or group misuses antibiotics, they cause resistance to the antibiotics to spread, hurting everyone in society," said Dr. Brad Spellberg, who is the chief medical officer at the Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Medical Center, and associate dean for clinical affairs at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, but expressed his own opinion. "It's not acceptable for one group of people to profit by hurting everyone else in society."
"By choosing organic meat and meat raised without antibiotics, consumers can help reduce the amount of antibiotics used in farm animals and slow the spread of drug resistance," Undurraga said.
She recommended shoppers follow EWG's tipsheet on how to avoid superbugs in meat. Among other guidance, it tells consumers which food labels accurately identify meat raised without antibiotics.
EWG's new meat and dairy label decoder also helps consumers understand the truth about labels on meat, dairy and eggs, and see through deceptive claims.
In conjunction with the release of its report and label decoder, EWG submitted a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, calling attention to the issue of superbugs in American meat and asking for proactive federal action to curtail the threat.
"The public shouldn't have to wait until 100 percent of the bacteria found on meat are untreatable with antibiotics before the FDA takes strong action," Undurraga said. "Now is the time for the FDA to get medically important antibiotics off factory farms."
Here's Why Most Most of the Meat Americans Eat Is Banned in Other Industrialized Countries https://t.co/mDMgvDrs28 @food_democracy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1499636707.0
By Christy Spees
On March 1, Denny's stopped purchasing chicken treated with medically important antibiotics for its U.S. restaurants. Many consumers might expect to see such promises at Whole Foods or their local farm-to-table restaurant, but why is a chain like Denny's (i.e., one that is enjoyed more for its assortment of inexpensive breakfast foods than its moral standards) joining the trend to reduce antibiotics in meat?
In fact, Denny's joins a growing group of major fast food and fast casual chains (McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, Chipotle and others) that have established policies prohibiting the use of medically important antibiotics in chicken. This is not the same as "antibiotic-free" claims, to be clear ("medically important" antibiotics are those used in human medicine; there are other antibiotics only used in animals), but it is a critical change that has been rippling through the food system for the past several years to protect human health. To explain the significance of this trend, a quick history of the problem that companies are trying to address is useful.
According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the top 10 threats to global public health in 2019. When antibiotic medications are overused or misused, resistant bacteria can spread, causing treatments for common (and often serious) illnesses to become ineffective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million Americans contract an antibiotic-resistant infection every year and 23,000 will die from it.
The use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is a major part of the problem. More than 70 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are sold for use in food animals. This is not because cows are particularly susceptible to strep throat; the majority of antibiotics used on animal farms are not used as treatment for diagnosed diseases in animals. Rather, most animals raised for food are raised on factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). To produce animal products cheaply and on a large scale, animals are packed together, creating crowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions. Such conditions are inherently disease-promoting for animals. To deal with the likelihood of infections and disease associated with poor conditions without actually changing those conditions, antibiotics have become a convenient Band-Aid. As factory farming has become the predominant model for raising animals for food, more farmers have resorted to practices of routinely administering antibiotics (sometimes even delivering drugs to chicks still in the egg) to keep animals "healthy" enough to bring to slaughter. As more antibiotics are used in these conditions, more antibiotic-resistant bacteria are released into the environment.
Pressure from public interest organizations, consumers, scientists, investors and government has led to significant reductions in the use of antibiotics in food animals over the past several years, though much work remains. Consumer demand for meat raised without medically important antibiotics has steadily risen as awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance has grown. According to Consumer Reports surveys from last year, almost 80 percent of Americans think meat producers should stop giving antibiotics to healthy animals and almost 60 percent of survey respondents said they would be willing to pay more for meat raised without antibiotics. Consumer Reports and five public interest groups have jointly published four editions of their Chain Reaction report and scorecard, which urges fast food chains to respond to changing consumer preferences and reduce the impacts of their meat supply chains on antibiotic resistance.
In line with growing public concern and the rampant growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, which took effect in 2017, eliminated the use of medically important drugs for the purposes of growth promotion or feed efficiency. Voluntary changes by large meat purchasers are also propelling this downward trend.
The good news is that there is momentum for shifting the industry towards a healthier, more sustainable and less destructive future. The FDA recently reported that from 2015 to 2018, sales of medically important antibiotics for use in farm animals declined by 43 percent. Consumer demand, federal regulatory trends, advocacy group pressure and shareholder action have combined to fuel this progress.
The bad news is that the uphill battle to change the food system gets a bit steeper from here. Much of the progress made so far has come from the chicken industry. While chicken producers have been able to make fairly swift changes to reduce their antibiotics use in recent years, this is not the case for other industries like beef and pork. The supply chains for those animals are more complex. So far, in the fast food industry, which has made so much progress establishing policies to avoid chicken raised with antibiotics, McDonald's is the only major company to set meaningful standards for the use of antibiotics in the beef it purchases.
Ultimately, eliminating antibiotics in the rest of the meat supply chain will require real changes in the way conventional farming works. Furthermore, the problem of antibiotic resistance is only one of many negative consequences of the factory farming system. Factory farms are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution and deforestation; and from a moral standpoint, the quality of life for animals raised in factory farming conditions is shockingly poor.
Antibiotics provide a window into the deep problems in the animal agriculture system that produces the majority of our meat. The current model is broken. At the same time, the progress in reducing medically important antibiotics in the chicken industry over just a few years sheds light on the potential for change. When consumers demand more responsibly raised meat, the market will respond.
Power to drive change comes in several forms. Consumers can vote with their dollars every time they purchase food that is safe, nutritious, sustainable and transparent. Purchasing food from companies that are working to support these values will help create a food system which prioritizes health and sustainability. Health and environmental advocacy groups voice concerns on behalf of consumers and communities, helping to drive policy change. Investors in food companies also have the ability to weigh in on the risks of poor company policies through engaging with the companies they own and voting in favor of resolutions requesting healthier, less harmful practices. When all of these advocates work toward a common goal, a better food system seems possible.
Christy Spees works to promote corporate accountability to ensure a safe and sustainable food system for As You Sow.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Antibiotic-resistance is a growing concern, and now a new study from the University of Southern California (USC) has pinpointed another way it can spread: through wastewater treatment plants.
The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology last week, found that if bacteria in wastewater treatment plants are exposed to just one type of antibiotic, they can actually develop resistance to several drugs.
"We're quickly getting to a scary place that's called a 'post-antibiotic world,' where we can no longer fight infections with antibiotics anymore because microbes have adapted to be resilient against those antibiotics," lead researcher and USC assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Adam Smith said in a USC press release published by Phys.org Wednesday. "Unfortunately, engineered water treatment systems end up being sort of a hot-bed for antibiotic resistance."
Antibiotic #resistance is spreading from wastewater #treatment plants @USC @EnvSciTech https://t.co/Y6bVb0NaRv— Phys.org (@Phys.org)1551903239.0
USC explained how antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread through the wastewater treatment process:
- Trace amounts of antibiotic end up in wastewater treatment plants via human waste.
- Wastewater is treated with a membrane bioreactor, a process by which water is both filtered and treated by microscopic bacteria that consume waste.
- The bacteria build up resistance to the antibiotics in the waste.
- The resistant bacteria enter the wider world in one of two ways. As biomass, the buildup of bacteria that is disposed of in landfills or used as fertilizer or livestock feed, or as effluent, the water that leaves the treatment plant.
The research team wanted to develop a process that would reduce the amount of resistant bacteria produced by wastewater treatment. They tested a system that used oxygen-free treatment processes and a membrane filter and then compared the drug-resistance of the bacteria in both the effluent and biomass produced by their system.
The most startling finding was that the antibiotics they introduced to the system were not the only drugs the bacteria would emerge able to resist. Instead, they developed the ability to resist multiple drugs.
"The multi-drug resistance does seem to be the most alarming impact of this," Smith said. "Regardless of the influent antibiotics, whether it's just one or really low concentrations, there's likely a lot of multi-drug resistance that's spreading."
The research team plans next to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on applying what they have learned to animal waste.
The widespread use of antibiotics in factory farming, and the resultant spreading of those antibiotics into the environment through waste disposal, is a major concern for those worried about growing drug resistance. As of 2018, around 70 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are consumed by animals, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.
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By Rob Minto
The global superbug crisis is a complicated, long-term problem. The video below explains how it starts, spreads and its impact. But there are many other—sometimes surprising—aspects to this crisis.
There is one key way in which superbugs start. Whether it is in animals or humans, the initial point is where antibiotics kill off drug-susceptible bacteria, leaving drug-resistant bacteria to multiply.
These bacteria contain drug-resistant genes. It is the spread of bacteria among both animal and human populations that then creates superbugs.
These superbugs don't respond to our available antibiotics. The end result is that many standard procedures—from caesarean sections to chemotherapy—may become too risky to undertake. It is projected that millions of people may die of what were once treatable infections.
1. Humans aren't the biggest problem.
Although overuse of antibiotics in the human population is a problem for creating drug-resistant bacteria, humans aren't the only creatures given antibiotics.
In fact, livestock is a much bigger problem. Around 70 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are consumed by animals.
The consumption of antimicrobials by animals is projected to rise by 53 percent from 2013 to 2030, according to a paper published in Science: from an estimated 131,000 tonnes to 200,000 tonnes.
As the chart below shows, the main increase will be in China, unless measures are taken to prevent the overuse.
Antimicrobial consumption in food animal production.Science
2. We aren't spending enough.
While throwing money at a problem is no guarantee of results, it is an indicator of how seriously governments and policymakers take it. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) can be prevented by simple solutions such as better sanitation and sensible use of antibiotics, measures that cost comparatively little. However, AMR and drug-resistant genes require research too—into the development of new drugs, the spread of bacteria and other measures that could be costly.
Comparing worldwide estimated deaths from diabetes, cancer and AMR-related illnesses to spending by the U.S. National Institutes of Health research from 2010–2014, there is a direct trendline. Cancer research spending of $26.5bn dwarfs the $5bn and $1.7bn spent on diabetes and AMR respectively. But should AMR's estimated deaths increase to 10 million, the current levels of spending look woefully inadequate.
Research spending and estimated deaths.AMR Review
3. Drug resistant infections are very expensive to treat.
Take tuberculosis (TB) as an example. Treating a drug-resistant strain of TB can cost nearly 30 times more than TB that responds to conventional medicine. The full treatment can also take up to two years and 14,000 pills, as well as six months of daily injections.
4. Infectious diseases isn't attracting new doctors.
According to AMR Review, the number of applicants for U.S. medical residencies and fellowships in infectious diseases (the area of medicine most relevant to combat superbugs) is below the number of places—at 0.8 applicants per place.
This is partly due to the fact that doctors in this area are paid less: according to the most recent Medscape compensation report 2017, in the U.S. doctors working in cardiovascular disease, radiology or plastic surgery are all paid around $400,000 per year; in comparison those working in infectious diseases get around $230,000.
Applicants per vacancy in different medical disciplines.AMR Review
5. Developing new antibiotics doesn't pay off.
As the chart below shows, antibiotic research doesn't start to pay off until year 23 of developing a new drug. After that point, the drug patent soon runs out and off-patent sales mean profits are much lower.
If the process is fruitless at any point before year 23, the company will make a loss.
Creating the right incentives to make new antibiotics is another crucial area for combating AMR.
Cumulative Profits from Antibiotic Research.AMR Review
6. The impact on the world will be unequal—and hit poorer regions harder.
Every area of the world will be affected by superbugs—but in terms of population impact, as the chart shows Asia and Africa will not only suffer more deaths, but more deaths per population.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
By Madlen Davies and Sam Loewenberg
Many of the world's leading drug manufacturers may be leaking antibiotics from their factories into the environment, according to a new report from a drug industry watchdog. This risks creating more superbugs.
The report surveyed household-name pharmaceutical giants like GSK, Novartis and Roche as well as generic companies which make non-branded products for the NHS and other health systems.
None of the 18 companies polled would reveal how much antibiotic discharge they release into the environment, according to the independent report from the not-for-profit body, the Access to Medicine Foundation. Only eight said they set limits for how much could be released in wastewater.
Only one disclosed the name of its suppliers—a move which is seen as important as it would make companies accountable for their environmental practices.
Commenting on the report, Dr. Mark Holmes, a veterinary scientist at the University of Cambridge, said, "Antibiotic resistance is complex but if we are to deal with this challenge every sector must do their bit. The pharmaceutical industry has been a key player in improving public health but a failure to address environmental impacts of antibiotic pollution could undo much of their good work."
Changing Markets, an NGO which has campaigned on the issue of pharmaceutical waste, said, "Pharmaceutical companies have a clear responsibility to tackle pollution in their supply chains, not least because of the considerable human health impacts associated with untreated waste from pharma manufacturing, prime among the creation of drug-resistant bacteria. From our own research in India and China, where most of the world's generic drugs are made, we know this is an ongoing problem and that very little progress is happening on the ground.
"As the report also highlights, there is a crying lack of transparency about pharmaceutical supply chains which means that we know practically nothing about where our drugs are made. This is a scandal and pharmaceutical companies will face increasing calls to do something about it."
Antibiotic waste from pharmaceutical manufacturing leaking into the environment is a neglected driver of antimicrobial resistance—or AMR—according to a global report published in 2016 by ex-finance minister Lord Jim O'Neill. This is because residues of antibiotics in the environment expose bacteria to levels of the drugs that fuel the emergence of resistance. The "superbugs" that form as a result can spread all over the world. To tackle the problem, Lord O'Neill called for regulators to set minimum standards around the release of waste and for manufacturers to drive higher standards through their supply chains.
AMR has been described as one of the greatest health problems facing the world. Without effective antibiotics, infections become more difficult to treat and common medical procedures like joint replacements, C sections and chemotherapy care for cancer—which rely on the drugs to kill infection—could become too risky to carry out.
Last year the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on a study which revealed "excessively high" levels of antimicrobial drugs—as well as superbugs—in wastewater from a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad. The quantities found were strong enough to treat patients, scientists said. This followed an earlier report of resistant bacteria in the wastewater of a factory there which supplies the NHS with antibiotics.
The Antimicrobial Resistant Benchmark 2018 report—released Wednesday at the World Economic Forum conference in DAVOS—evaluated how a cross-section of the pharmaceutical industry are responding to the threat of AMR.
It found none disclosed their actual discharge levels—information the authors said is "valuable and vital" as it could allow governments and researchers to understand the relationship between discharge and the development of superbugs.
Three generic drug companies—Cipla, Lupin and Sun Pharma—did not show any evidence of a strategy to minimize the impact of their antibiotic manufacturing on the environment, the report found, although Cipla promised to develop one this year.
Of particular concern were external companies that work for the main drug companies. Third-party companies manufacture and supply most drug firms with the key components of antibiotics, known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs); and external waste treatment plants, which many drug companies use to process their discharge from antibiotic manufacturing. Some companies have on-site wastewater treatment.
Only eight companies set discharge limits for antibiotic waste, and for half the companies these limits only apply to their own sites, rather than their suppliers' too. Only two companies—GSK and Novartis—require their external waste treatment plants to follow their limits. Sanofi and Roche, for example, do not monitor the discharge made by their external waste treatment plants, the report noted.
The Medicines Company was the only one willing to identify its third-party manufacturers, a move the report said would enable governments and researchers to assess the impact of individual manufacturers on antibiotic resistance. The report noted that pharmaceutical companies that sell antibiotics "may be able to exert considerable influence over the environmental risk management of their suppliers."
The large pharmaceuticals polled were GSK, Johnson and Johnson, Merck & Co, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi and Shinogi. The generic companies were Aspen, Aurobindo, Cipla, Dr Reddy's, Fresenius Kabi, Lupin, Macleods, Mylan, Sun Pharma and Teva.
Access to Medicine is an Amsterdam-based NGO that receives funding from the UK Government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
By David Wallinga, MD
Heading into the holidays, many of our families are planning meals centered around a delicious turkey, ham or brisket. But a new analysis from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and our partners at Food Animal Concerns Trust shows that our families' health is at significant risk from how these American meats are typically produced.
Just a week before Thanksgiving, there's news that an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, linked to raw turkey, is still spreading; it has sickened 164 people thus far, killing one. Each year, at least 2 million Americans suffer infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria, resulting in more than 23,000 deaths. Those numbers are rising according to experts.
What's that got to do with your holiday dinner planning? Plenty, says our new analysis, released just in time for Antibiotic Awareness Week.
While turkeys are given antibiotics more intensively than other livestock in the U.S., the size of the industry is much smaller than beef and pork—making those two the most problematic in terms of antibiotic consumption.
The conventional U.S. livestock industry—in particular its beef, pork and turkey sectors—raises animals with very intensive use of antibiotics that are also important to human medicine ("medically important"). Most of these precious medicines are fed to groups of animals that aren't sick, a practice commonly although inappropriately used to compensate for stressful and unsanitary living conditions. This is unnecessary—several European countries ended uses in healthy animals years ago, and the European Parliament voted last month to ban them. And it is an important driver of the worsening antibiotic resistance crisis. The World Health Organization warns that if we want antibiotics to remain useful for treating people when they get sick, we simply must use them better and more responsibly.
Fittingly, U.S. consumers increasingly show a preference for buying poultry and meat products produced with fewer or no antibiotics. But our new analysis finds that the conventional U.S. meat industry remains a stubbornly high user of antibiotics. Specifically, we find:
- Livestock consumption of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. has increased in intensity since 2009—meaning we're still using more of these drugs per kilogram of meat than we did then. That's in contrast to human medicine, where we saw a decline and then plateau in the same time period, suggesting the medical community is taking expert warnings of the looming resistance crisis more seriously than the meat industry.
- It's also a striking contrast to Europe, as the U.S. livestock industry is using medically important drugs almost twice as intensively (95 percent more) than the industries in 30 European countries, collectively. And, in the case of pig and cattle production, the U.S. industries are using these precious antibiotics far more intensively than their counterparts in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark, all of which are major livestock producers—comparable in size to major livestock-producing states in the U.S..
The good news is there's a lot of room for quick improvement. We've seen that with the right leadership, enormous changes have happened quite rapidly. The U.S. chicken industry is a one example. In just a few years, close to half the industry (and 14 of the top 25 U.S. restaurant chains serving chicken) has made some commitment to curbing unnecessary antibiotics in chicken production, by our estimates.
The United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands also cleaned up their livestock industries in a very short time frame. They reduced the intensity of antibiotics consumed in in livestock production by 34 percent, 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2016. Our analysis makes clear that right now, the conventional cattle, pig and turkey industries in the U.S. just don't measure up.
Who among us has not relied on antibiotics? It's in all of our best interest to keep them working. So as families sit down together to enjoy a meal this holiday season, let's hope the American beef, pork and turkey industries are thinking hard about how better to protect the consumers who buy their products.
David Wallinga is a physician with more than 20 years of experience in writing, policy and advocacy at the intersection of food, nutrition, sustainability and public health.
By Isabel Walston, EWG Intern
Summer is in full swing, which means many Americans are planning cookouts complete with friends, family and fresh food. Whether you're having a casual kickback or a big bash, Environmental Working Group (EWG) has you covered with tips and tricks to keep your summer cookout fun-filled and healthy.
No cookout is complete without a main course, but you should choose meat carefully. A new EWG analysis of federal data shows almost 80 percent of supermarket meat contains superbugs or antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
These bacteria can be hard to kill with common antibiotics and are particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
A whopping 62 percent of bacteria found on ground beef and 79 percent of bacteria on ground turkey were antibiotic-resistant. Despite the serious health threats superbugs pose, the federal government still allows meat producers to give medically important antibiotics to healthy animals to compensate for cramped or unsanitary conditions on factory farms.
- Tip: Check out EWG's interactive label decoder, designed to help you navigate the confusing and misleading world of meat and dairy labels. You can search for products that don't use antibiotics at all, like American Grassfed Association, Food Alliance Certified-Grassfed and USDA Organic. These labels indicate that the animals never received any antibiotics and that producers followed other humane practices. Learn more about the other labels that made EWG's Most Reliable list.
- Tip: Labels like "raised without subtherapeutic antibiotics," "responsible use of antibiotics" or "not fed antibiotics" can be misleading. They imply the animals did not receive antibiotics in order to speed growth. Animals may still have received antibiotics for other reasons, including to compensate for stressful conditions.
Whether you're not eating meat by choice or due to dietary restrictions, veggie burgers can be a delicious option for any cookout guest.
- Tip: Use EWG's Food Scores database to find the perfect meatless burger for your taste and health preferences.
- Tip: For those who prefer to do it themselves, here's a killer recipe for a homemade lentil burger by Karen Malkin.
Loading your choice of burger with vegetable toppings is a great way to get an extra dose of fresh produce. Choose from classics like lettuce, tomatoes or onions, or try mushrooms, avocados or hot peppers.
- Tip: Check out EWG's 2018 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™to see which burger toppings have the most pesticide residues. For example, conventionally grown tomatoes are on our Dirty DozenTM list, while onions are on our Clean FifteenTM list.
Whether you make yours with extra heat or extra lime, guacamole is sure to go over well at any summer hangout. Luckily, avocados sit at first place on EWG's Clean Fifteen list, with fewer than 1 percent of conventionally grown avocados testing positive for pesticides.
Sides are a great way to add flavorful, vegetarian-friendly options to your cookout menu. Coleslaw, corn on the cob, potato salad and mixed green salads are all tasty choices. EWG's Shopper's Guide has information on pesticides found in cabbage, sweet corn, potatoes, lettuce, peppers, kale and more!
- Tip: Here's a quick, easy and healthy coleslaw recipe from Kale & Chocolate.
Fruit makes for a sweet, yet light dessert—perfect for summertime. Frozen fruit can help cool you down and may be cheaper! The Shopper's Guide ranks sweet summer fruits like peaches, strawberries, cantaloupes and more.
- Tip: Strawberries are a crowd pleaser and provide a sweet pop of red for your summer dessert, but they also top EWG's Dirty Dozen list, so buy organic strawberries whenever possible.
You can learn more about crafting the healthiest menu for your guests with EWG's Food Scores, Cancer Defense Diet and our Healthy Living app. And if you're interested in additional healthy and easy recipes, be sure to check out EWG's Good Food on a Tight Budget and the EWG Eats cookbook.
More than a century ago, my grandfather left his family's farm in Sioux Center, Iowa to study medicine, and later to set up practice in St. Paul, MN—which was founded as Pig's Eye, of course.
To my Gramps, they must have seemed like very separate worlds. The farm, where people still plowed by horse, much as they had for centuries; and the newish, fast-changing world of American medicine, where the first antibiotic, penicillin, was about to be developed, forever changing the health landscape.
Eventually, widespread antibiotic use also changed the American farm landscape. Enormously. In fact, I've traveled this week to the World Pork Expo in Des Moines to see if the pork industry has yet realized how inextricably linked its future is to the future of American medicine. Despite my skepticism, I really hope the industry glimpses the window of opportunity before it.
At the Expo, between free meals of pork ribs and breakfast sausage, I plan to share copies of today's newly-released report, Better Bacon: Why It's High Time the U.S. Pork Industry Stopped Pigging Out on Antibiotics.
The reports reaches some startling conclusions. Most jarring, perhaps is this one: Sales of medically important antibiotics for pigs just about equal sales of these same drugs for human medicine.
The pork industry claims that feeding lots of medically important medicines to pigs that aren't even sick is essential, to prevent future disease. But it isn't.
A few thousand mega-farms now produce more than 93 percent of all U.S. pigs, with small pig farms dropping by 75 percent over recent decades. Under today's largely industrial model, pigs often live in close quarters and are frequently transported—giving bacteria perfect conditions in which to grow and spread. Over the years, producers developed the habit of feeding antibiotics to pigs when they aren't sick, hoping to avert illness amidst these stressful, often unsanitary conditions. The strategy has failed. The USDA reports instead that almost every major illness in pig herds is more prevalent on farms today than in 2000, despite recent yearly sales of 6.9 million pounds of these precious medicines for use in pigs.
Consolidation in the pork industry also has opened the door for rapid, more positive changes to occur around antibiotic use. Mega-producers hold outsized power over the entire industry today. They are uniquely positioned to lead their contract farmers, feed mills, and others in their supply chains to drastically reduce the overuse of antibiotics.
Look at the path blazed by the U.S. chicken industry. At NRDC, we recently estimated that more than half of the industry now practices responsible use of antibiotics, or is operating under a commitment to achieve better antibiotics stewardship. This leadership was hatched and driven by some of the largest chicken producers such as Perdue, Tyson and Foster Farms, as well as giants of the fast food industry—like McDonald's, Subway and KFC.
As a result, only about 6 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold for agricultural use are destined for chicken production. Meanwhile, 80 percent of agricultural sales of these drugs are for use in beef or pork production. Clearly, the biggest opportunity to reduce the overuse of these precious medicines on farms sits before the U.S. pork and beef industries.
Niman Ranch, Applegate and Meyer Natural Pork are U.S. companies that have already taken on this challenge. Each of them sells pork from animals raised responsibly, without any antibiotics. Their businesses, and presumably profits, have grown. Restaurant leaders, Chipotle and Panera, do not allow routine antibiotics to be used in their pork supply chain. Even mainstream producers Tyson and Smithfield Foods have started niche lines of pork from pigs never given antibiotics, though these product lines represent a tiny fraction of their overall production.
None of the largest conventional U.S. pork companies have yet committed to ending antibiotics overuse across all of their various brands of pork products, however. Given the large amount of medically important antibiotics going to pigs annually, this is a major hurdle that must be overcome if society is to succeed in preserving the effectiveness of these drugs for the future.
What happens next is important for us all. Sometime in the future, many or even most of us will suffer infections where our full recovery requires working antibiotics. What if there aren't any left? The risks of contracting certain drug-resistant, "superbug" infections are even higher for people living in communities around hog farms than elsewhere.
Will my daughters inherit a world that looks more like mine, or my grandpa's—when the uncertain resilience of a patient's own immune system held the key between life or death from a serious infection?
Experts warn we are dangerously close to the latter. I urge the pork industry to become true leaders, and do its part to ensure we don't turn back the clock.