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By Olga Naidenko and Sydney Evans

Residents of communities near industrial-scale hog farms in North Carolina face an increased risk of potentially deadly diseases, Duke University scientists reported in a study released this week.

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Kyle Spradley / MU College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources / Flickr

By Daisy Dunne

Billed as a more environmentally friendly way to rear cattle, grass-fed beef has been the red meat of choice for many a climate-conscious carnivore.

Indeed, research has suggested that grazing cattle can help offset global warming by stimulating soil to take up more carbon from the atmosphere. This process, known as soil carbon sequestration, is one way of reducing the amount of human-induced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

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Actual global methane emissions from livestock are much higher than previous estimates and could help account for the dramatic upswing in methane emissions over recent years, according to new research.

A study published last week in the journal Carbon Balance and Management updated measures used to calculate livestock methane emissions, finding that emissions in 2011 were 11 percent higher than their projected IPCC estimates.

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Television ads produced by the polluter lobbyist group "Free Market Florida" are an affront to millions of Floridians who are living with the sad reality of polluted drinking water, toxic algae outbreaks and fish kills in their favorite rivers, springs, lakes, as well as on our tourist beaches.

“Our tourism economy depends on clean water, and this group actually has the audacity to fight against that? It doesn't make any sense," said Earthjustice attorney Alisa Coe. “It is just common sense to set limits on the amount of sewage, manure and fertilizer that's allowed in our water," Coe said. “You would think that's something everyone can agree on."

The toxic algae outbreaks breaking out around Florida can cause rashes, breathing problems, stomach disorders, and worse. Health authorities have had to shut down drinking water plants, beaches and swimming areas. Toxic algae can kill fish, livestock and pets.

  • Pictures of this health threat are available by clicking here and here.
  • View Florida Slime Crime Tracker in a larger map by clicking here.

This pollution hurts people who work in restaurants, hotels, beach concessions, the fishing industry, the boating industry, the dive industry, and the real estate sales and rental markets.

After years of seeing toxic algae on Florida tourist beaches like Sanibel Island and at fishing destinations like the St. Johns River, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act federal lawsuit in 2008 in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club. In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set numeric limits for the phosphorus and nitrogen that comes from sewage, fertilizer and manure in the water.

Take action to clean up Florida's waters by clicking here.

For more information, click here.

Wildlife Conservation Society

An article released Jan. 10 in PLoS ONE, entitled "Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products," from a collaborative study led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), identified evidence of retroviruses and herpesviruses in illegally imported wildlife products confiscated at several U.S. international airports, including John F. Kennedy International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental-Houston and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International. The pilot program was initiated to establish surveillance and testing methods to uncover the potential public health risks from illegally imported wildlife products coming into the U.S. The preliminary results of the program clearly demonstrate the potential human health risk from the illegal wildlife trade at major international travel hubs as a pathway to disease emergence in animals and humans.

Lead author and Associate Director for Health and Policy at EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Kristine Smith, stated “although the findings to date are from a small pilot study, they remind us of the potential public health risk posed by illegal importation of wildlife products—a risk we hope to better characterize through expanded surveillance at ports of entry around the country.”

“The increase in international travel and trade brings with it an increased risk of unmonitored pathogens via the illegal wildlife trade,” said Dr. Denise McAloose, chief pathologist for the Global Health Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The global trade of wildlife has largely contributed to the emergence of new diseases in livestock, native wildlife and humans worldwide. Current research shows that 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases affecting people originate from contact with wildlife. These wildlife-borne diseases can be transmitted through human-animal interactions inherent in the global wildlife trade.

Items confiscated as part of the study included raw to semi-cooked animal parts, identified by American Museum of Natural History’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, Columbia University and WCS as nonhuman primates, including baboon and chimpanzee, and various rodent species using advanced genetic barcoding technologies. Pathogen analysis was conducted at the CDC National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and TB Prevention, and Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. Among the pathogens identified in the products were a zoonotic retrovirus, simian foamy viruses, and several nonhuman primate herpesviruses. These results are the first to confirm evidence of pathogens in illegally imported bushmeat that may act as a conduit for pathogen spread, and suggest that implementation of disease surveillance of the illegal wildlife trade will help facilitate prevention of disease emergence.

“Exotic wildlife pets and bushmeat are Trojan horses that threaten humankind at sites where they are collected in the developing world as well as the U.S. Our study underscores the importance of surveillance at ports, but we must also encourage efforts to reduce demand for products that drive the wildlife trade,” said W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. In fact, the U.S. is one of the largest consumers of imported wildlife products and wildlife. A previous study by EcoHealth Alliance showed that over a six-year period (2000-2006), approximately 1.5 billion live wild animals were legally imported into the U.S.—with 90 percent slated for the pet trade. Programs like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People and EcoHealth Alliance’s PetWatch encourage responsible exotic pet choices and ownership. U.S. Fish and Wildlife records show that more than 55 million pounds of wildlife products enter the country each year, with New York City the most common port of entry, followed by Miami and Los Angeles.

Beyond the public health risks of the live and non-live wildlife trade are risk of disease introduction to native wildlife and agricultural species, proliferation of non-native wildlife causing damage to U.S. ecosystems, as well as the protection of threatened and endangered species identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "These important research results highlight the value of using new DNA barcoding identification technologies to accurately monitor the wildlife trade, important for both disease surveillance and the conservation of endangered species," stated Dr. George Amato from the Sackler Institute of Comparative Genomics at American Museum of Natural History.

The pilot study is the first to establish port surveillance methodology to test for diseases associated with wildlife products. Through better surveillance of illegal wildlife product shipments entering ports around the country, authorities will have a better chance at preventing new disease emergence before it occurs. The pilot project involved a collaboration of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, EcoHealth Alliance, the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

For more information, click here.

Food & Water Watch

By Rich Bindell

There’s never a shortage of interesting and incendiary stories about food issues to choose from at the end of the year. This year is no exception. As we continue to build our campaign to improve the Farm Bill in 2012, we can see examples of why this work is so important just by taking a look at some of the most outrageous food stories of 2011…

1. Attack on Food Safety Budgets

2011 started out with a bang. Our food safety programs got banged up by threatened budget cuts. In addition, we witnessed a number of food recalls due to contamination that threatened public health with serious illness and, in some cases, even death. It’s not a surprise that a large and complex food system such as ours requires an aggressive approach to food safety. Unfortunately, federal and state governments’ ability to use that strategy was weakened when food safety budgets were slashed. While the meat and poultry inspection program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) escaped relatively unscathed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t fare as well. FDA’s budget only allotted about half of what it needed to put the newly passed Food Safety Modernization Act into action. In 2012, Congress needs to get their food safety priorities in order.

2. Fair Livestock Rule

2011 gave USDA another opportunity to level the playing field for livestock producers in a marketplace controlled by large meatpackers and chicken processing companies. But along with Congress, they blew it again. When USDA submitted the final version on the long-awaited GIPSA rule for final White House approval, they cut out the most critical parts that would have equalized competition for independent cattle and hog producers. USDA has had the authority to crack down on unfair practices meatpackers and processing companies use to put farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage since 1921. But the department has never used the authority it had. As a result, the livestock marketplace has become highly consolidated to the point where a mere four companies supply most of the meat sold in supermarkets. The 2008 Farm Bill included a provision that told USDA to finally use its authority and stop the most abusive practices in the meat industry. But as soon as that bill passed, the meat industry went to work in Washington, D.C., and three years later they succeeded in gutting the proposed rule. House republicans, Big Ag and President Obama’s lack of leadership are to blame for this failure to change agriculture policy for the better. Which is why we need to keep building a powerful movement that can take this industry on.

3. Taxpayers funding Genetically Engineered (GE) salmon

AquaBounty’s GE salmon is controversial enough on its own merit—we certainly weren’t thrilled to learn that the FDA continues to fund further research by the company that wants to bring the first genetically engineered animal to our dinner tables. The FDA themselves questioned some of AquaBounty’s claims that their GE salmon eggs were 100 percent sterile and that it would be virtually impossible for GE salmon to invade the natural habitat of wild salmon, yet they still managed to round up some money—$494,000 in a troubled economy, no less—to give to the Massachusetts-based company for further research on sterilizing the eggs. In fact, since 2003, the federal government has provided AquaBounty with $2.4 million in federal research grants. That’s taxpayer money being thrown at an experiment that most Americans have insisted they don’t want. And who would blame consumers for their concerns? AquaBounty’s egg production facility in Canada had tested positive in 2009 for what appears to be a new strain of Salmon Anaemia virus, which can be deadly to salmon. Its presence at the AquaBounty facility casts serious doubt on their production practices. Let’s hope that 2012 is the year when the FDA abandons GE salmon.

4. Arsenic in Apple Juice

According to ABC News, one of the top five health stories of 2011 was the unfortunate discovery that many of the biggest brands of apple juice products contained arsenic. This summer, Food & Water Watch and Empire State Consumer Project shared some test results with the FDA regarding the amount of arsenic that was found in several popular brands of apple juice. The amount of arsenic found was higher than the level allowed in drinking water. Moms around the country were understandably concerned and many expressed outrage over using a poisonous chemical in a food product primarily consumed by kids. Dr. Mehmet Oz from The Dr. Oz Show invited Food & Water Watch Deputy Director Patty Lovera to appear on his show and blog on his website in order to discuss how arsenic ended up in apple juice, as well as why consumers should pay close attention to where their food is coming from. In the case of apple juice, much of it comes from China, where food safety standards are not as high as they are here in the U.S. It’s time for the FDA to set a limit for arsenic in juice so there is no more confusion about how much is acceptable. In 2012, let’s get rid of the arsenic. That’s so 2011.

5. Beaver Anal Glands (A rude awakening from a former food exec.)

This year, we found out about something so horrific and so wrong that it seems to defy logic. We found out the hard way what it means to the food industry when they include “natural flavors” in the ingredients list. Thanks to the blog of former food executive Bruce Bradley, it’s clear that some natural flavorings are best left alone. Some processed food companies, somehow (I don’t want to know exactly how), extract (gracefully and gently, I hope) bodily fluids from the back door of those loveable, semi-aquatic mammals known as beavers. That’s right, we learned that beaver anal glands are a somewhat common substance found in processed food, used to replicate or enhance the flavor of raspberry or vanilla. Yuck. Advice for 2012? Use raspberries for raspberry flavor and leave the beaver butts alone.

For more information, click here.

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