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Government Medicine The Courts United States

FDA Sued To Stop Antibiotic Abuse On Factory Farms 298

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Medical groups from the American Medical Association to the American Society of Microbiology have appealed to the government and industry for years to restrict the practice of providing sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics for livestock, lest critical antibiotics become useless for human treatments. Now Tom Laskawy reports that a coalition of environmental groups has decided to sue the Federal Drug Administration to follow its own safety findings and withdraw approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed to healthy livestock when it's not medically necessary. 'While this may cause eyerolls among some who look at this as "just another lawsuit," there's something very important going on with the courts and contested science right now,' writes Laskawy. 'As it happens, one of the main roles of a judge is as "finder of fact." In practice, this means that judges determine whether scientific evidence is compelling enough to force government action."'"
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FDA Sued To Stop Antibiotic Abuse On Factory Farms

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  • Trouble (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:29PM (#36276452)

    We're running out of antibiotics that there aren't any bugs resistant to, and no new ones are in development because the pharmaceuticals don't see any profit in it.[*] Estimates say it would take a decade to get a new one on the market.

    Meanwhile, we use antibiotics so heavily that environmentalists find them in places like rivers and streams, and public water supplies. It has become a pollutant, but one with a particularly insidious effect.

    [*] Such is the folly of leaving public health dependent on the profit motive.

  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @08:12PM (#36276648) Homepage Journal

    It horrifies me kind of on the same level as the whole Silence of the Lambs scene where what's his name from Goodfellas has the top of his head cut off and a part of his brain fried and served to him.

    That's from the sequel, Hannibal. The best part about the "brain scene" is how Hannibal prepares the brain for consumption. In classical cooking, brains are chilled overnight so that they don't fall apart into mush at dinnertime. Hannibal sliced off portions of Krendler's brain and poached them in lemon juice, kinda like shrimp in a ceviche, denaturing the proteins and stiffening the appetizer to make it fit for instant consumption. Here's a quote from that novel, which pertains to the father of the meatpacking antagonist, that is relevant to this discussion:

    Molson Verger...adulterated the pigs' diet with hog hair meal, mealed chicken feathers and manure to an extent considered daring at the time. He was regarded as a reckless visionary in the 1940's when he first took away the pigs' fresh drinking water and had them drink ditch liquor, made of fermented animal waste, to hasten weight gain. The laughter stopped when his profits rolled in, and his competitors hurried to copy him.

  • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by St.Creed ( 853824 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @08:18PM (#36276694)

    We have 10 casualties in the last 3 days in Germany because of EHEC, a superbug resistant to most antibiotics. About 1000 people are sick, and a handfull in critical condition. Cause: cucumbers contaminated with the strain. Likely contaminated with dung from a farm using antiobiotics as growth enhancer.

    Two weeks ago, in The Netherlands, research was published showing that 100% (yes, 100% - every single last sample) of tested chicken meat in supermarkets was contaminated with resistant bacteria. These bacteria are now being found on tomatoes and cucumbers as well - a main ingredient in salads and usually consumed raw (cleaned, but raw). Oh yeah - this was also happening with eco-tomatoes. Apparently contaminated by using the cow dung from a non-biological farm.

    It sounds like a pun, but we're in deep shit already. And you know what? If my kid were to die from this, I'd kill every meatfarmer I could find before they could stop me. And the veterinarians as well: only recently they are introducing laws banning vets from also selling antiobiotics. I mean: wtf? These people are supposed to make cows better, right? Not sell as much antibiotics as possible to shore up their income and damn the consequences.

    And did you know that it is now standard practice to isolate farmers that enter the hospital? They are so often carriers of resistant strains (and die more of that as well) that they are a healthrisk to everyone.

    People are dying already. Only the ones who stand to lose money are denying this - and then only because they thing they won't be affected.

  • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @08:34PM (#36276776)

    Oh yeah - this was also happening with eco-tomatoes. Apparently contaminated by using the cow dung from a non-biological farm.

    Possibly, but not necessarily. Bacteria get around without trucks, after all. For just one example, there are these amazingly efficient biological product dispersion systems called "birds." Directly implicated in at least one widespread episode of salmonella contamination -- of peanut products, as I recall.

  • by DurendalMac ( 736637 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @08:38PM (#36276798)
    There is no problem with the IDEA of genetically modified foods, but the reality of it may not be so innocuous. For example, Japan has been pretty damned opposed to GM foods. Monsanto tried to market GM soybeans in Japan, but Japanese law made Monsanto publish far more material that was accessible to the public than most other countries. As a result, some poking found that Monsanto seriously cooked the results. They claimed a certain protein in their GM soybeans that was NOT present in regular soybeans would break down into harmless compounds when cooked. Sure...when you cooked the beans far hotter and far longer than anyone ever would. The protein itself may be harmless, but they pointed out that there was serious potential for allergic reactions to it in people who would have no problems with regular soybeans. There is a shitload of controversy over Monsanto, and it isn't just due to their filthy business practices. They push this stuff out to market before it has been tested. I think we can agree that if someone wants to make GM foods, they'd damned well better test the living piss out of it before it comes to market and be accurate and honest with the public in regard to the results of that testing.
  • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @09:13PM (#36276936) Journal
    Whatever is or isn't contested by scientists and researchers, I can confidently say that farmers don't understand the issue: I heard a representative farmers being interviewed on NPR or PBS discussing the routine use of antibiotics for "growth promotin" (the farmer's words) -- he stated that the use of antibiotics in animal feed wasn't a problem because they only used low doses of antibiotics. He seemed to think that the issue was that the antibiotics might get into the food chain, rather than the problem of bugs developing resistance.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 28, 2011 @09:16PM (#36276946)

    Well... Just so everybody knows:

    Those holes in cows stomachs are usually only in research settings (and generally at universities) and not regular operations on farms. What they're looking at is how well they are digesting the foliage we're feeding them, and if we should give them more or less.

    On dairy farms, which is what I'm familiar with, we spend a lot of time and money to make sure our cows are as healthy as possible. In fact, we do this not only for their well being, but because every incentive we have is to keep them healthy, comfortable, and happy. The better a cow feels, the more milk she produces, and the more milk we have to sell. She will also produce better quality milk, which we may be able to sell at a higher price. We carefully control their feed rations, measuring every ingredient that goes in to a batch of feed. Each cow can eat well over 100 pounds of feed per day, which at our farm, is mainly a combination of alfalfa silage (moist chopped hay), corn silage (the whole plant chopped up), dry hay (for fiber), ground corn (energy), cotton seeds (for protein, which ends up in your milk), and supplements (vitamins and minerals). The fibrous hay and silages make up the majority of the weight we feed and almost all of the volume.

    For comfort, we have free stalls filled with sand (kind of like a sand box) that they lay and sleep in during the night and between milkings. When it's dry enough, we have open pasture they're allowed to lay and graze in. Although, they don't even eat much grass any more due to high tech diet they're being fed. When it's hot, we have many, many fans to cool them off with. When it's really hot, we have water sprinklers to get them wet while the fans blow on them; just imagine getting out the the shower and standing in front of a big fan and you may start to shiver.

    As for antibiotics, we use them. But, you see, we don't like using them, at all. When a cow is sick, we may have to treat them with antibiotics and other medicine. It costs time and money to treat a cow, AND we can't sell the milk because it ends up in the cows milk. It's the law that no milk can be sold with antibiotics, so we're living with a double-wammy of sorts every time we're forced to use antibiotics.

    I have little affiliation with meat production, so I won't comment on that. But people have lost touch with where their food comes from, and they get scared. They should care; it's just that it's a lot easier to scare a population than to educate them, and that has probably been true since the beginning of civilization. So, I'm not saying that mis-use of antibiotics isn't happening by farmers (particularly with meat production), or that things shouldn't be done about it. In todays specialized economy, farming is business just as every thing else. As such, there are a few cheaters, frauds, and generally people being selfish.

    My dad and uncle work between about 12 to 16 hours every day of the year to make good food for people and a good living for themselves, but then people turn around and accuse them of mistreating their animals and not working to create wholesome milk. As such, I just wanted to try to give them a little credit and describe what they do and a bit about how a dairy farm works.

  • Re:Trouble (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 28, 2011 @10:05PM (#36277166)

    Pharmacist here. That happens all the time. I think the drug you are referring to is Xyzal, which is purified enantiomer of Claritin, I believe (I don't have the paperwork in front of me).

    The drugs that get something added and re-patented are called designer drugs. These don't prevent the original from going generic. Take Zegerid for instance, it's just omeprazole (Prilosec) with sodium bicarbonate. It went for a couple hundred bucks a month when you could get baking soda and prilosec OTC for under 30/month. Doctors, pharmacist and insurance companies know this, and adjust accordingly. I used to change Zegeric Rx's to sodium bicarb tablets and omeprazole 20mg or 40mg all the time. Don't think for a second that my patients aren't happy when their copay for one Rx goes from $40 to $10.

    Unfortunately, this bullshit happens all them time. All I can do is roll my eyes. Zegerid is OTC now, by the way.

  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @10:11PM (#36277192)

    I can't help but think you're biased. You may have your reasons, but the arguments you put forth may stem from said bias and doesn't really address GP.


    1. No, GMOs do not create monocultures. Is it possible that a single genetically modified supercucumber sweeps the world because every farmer wants to grow it as it's cheap and resistant and whatnot? Yes, that's a possibility. On the other hand, there might be 20 new supercucumbers genetically engineered. Not all farmers might accept a singular supercucumber (for a variety of reasons). In the event that a singular supercucumber does sweep the world and some supercucumberfungus destroys the world's supply of cucumbers, we might have been sane enough to keep a few 'ordinary' cucumber strains left for just such a scenario.
    Regardless of the above scenarios, it's not GM in itself that produces them.

    2. You've got me there. Patents on food (and medicine, imho.. probably software too, but I digress) are stupid. But who is to say that if you spent your life combining cucumbers until you get a supercucumber, you can't patent that? In fact - you can; [] . So this is not limited to GMO.

    You make a second remark here that rather harks back to the first. Here you suggest that e.g. a cucumber that is a derivative of the supercucumber falls under their patents and so forth and so on. If derivatives are made, how does that gel with the whole monoculture argument? Doesn't a monoculture by definition require there to be only a single strain?
    Now, yes, I understand that the diversity in the strains is dependent on the number of generations and actual combinatorial and mutation rates and so forth and so on meaning that the second generation is just about as likely to succumb to the supercucumberfungus as as the first generation - but what about 10 generations down? If 'contamination' occurs naturally, then how is a monoculture ever to be established, globally?

    3. If they're built to require -more- pesticide, then don't claim the GMO process in and of itself. Blame the engineer who decided that was a brilliant thing to do. Maybe they hold stock in pesticide producing companies or something; otherwise, producing a supercucumber that is not only resistant to regular cucumberfungus but also doesn't require quite so much pesticide as commoncucumber, sounds like a good idea and more likely to take off among farmers (pesticides and all the regulations that come with them aren't cheap).

    And finally the bit where I suspect your bias... "tasteless product". I'm not sure if you meant 'morally offensive' when you said 'tasteless', or literally "not being very flavorful". If the former, carry on. If the latter.. well, tastes differ between crops, seasons, years, and persons of course.. but I wouldn't really try the whole "tasteless product" thing, given that - just for example - research has shown that you can genetically modify a tomato to taste better than the run-of-the-mill standard tomato, in part because said standard tomato has been bred to be bigger, have better shelf life, take less nutrition from the soil, etc. (not so successful in terms of 'taste', there). []

    Note that the researcher does point out that home-grown tomatoes, or those at the farmer's market, may also taste better. This says nothing of the mass-production tomato in your local grocer's/supermarket/thing, though... regardless of whether the label states GM or not, which was your argument.

    I'm not too keen on eating GM stuff myself (mostly due to point 2), but then I do still eat beef and oh boy is that a rotten industry (cornfeed, antibiotics as per the article, etc.). I suppose I could switch to soy-based meat replacement products.. but then I'd just be supporting the deforestation of Brazil's rainforests. Time to grow my own food and stick to chikun? :)

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday May 28, 2011 @11:38PM (#36277518) Homepage Journal

    Jamie Oliver demonstrated by switching a school's menu that a poor diet causes the masses to become brainless. (The improved diet, once accepted, caused exam scores to skyrocket and absence to plumet. After that, both media and schools started taking his views a bit more seriously - except in LA, where he was banned.)

    It follows that you've a self-perpetuating cycle. People on heavily-processed, factory-farmed diets will, in general, be too stupid - as a direct result of those diets - to change.

  • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:29AM (#36278048)
    The strain currently causing trouble in Germany shows indeed multiple resistances. Interestingly, in the case of EHEC, this is somewhat moot, as antibiotic treatment is not even the best choice. The enterotoxin causing the the haemolytic-uraemic syndrome gets released when you kill the bacteria, so antibiotics can make the symptoms even worse, to the point that you can't use them.
  • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @04:39AM (#36278350)

    You know, you hit a nerve here. Phage treatment is known and applied successfully in the former USSR for well over 50 years. There was this Horizon episode [] that said it all.

    WHY this treatment has been neglected by the so-called first world countries? Oh, you cannot patent a phage that evolves by itself. The horror! Nature provides the cure but, by the gods, we will never use it because it is FREE! This is the road to communism!!

    The people behind this outrage should be removed from society for life!

  • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kaliann ( 1316559 ) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @09:55AM (#36279138)

    1. The number one most common anti-microbial in cattle feed is monensin, an ionophore. This entire class of drugs is nearly exclusively used in animals as a coccidiostat (anti-protozoal). (Some antifungal use in humans, I believe.) The reason it's so useful as a feed additive is that it reduces parasitism by a class of organisms that affect the GI tract. GI tract works better and the animal isn't expending energy to fight the organism.
    2. In the real world, as you say, reducing stock density puts producers out of business. You are saying we should just not use a tool that prevents disease and improves feed efficiency, then further reduce efficiency by reducing throughput. The viability of this option is questionable. It would be lovely, but it would have to be paid for, either subsidized directly by the government or by an increase cost to the consumer. Increasing the cost to the consumer may not even work, because people will find out very quickly how easy it is to reduce meat consumption if it becomes very expensive. I'm comfortable with reduced meat consumption, and comfortable with large sections of the industry going under to reduce stock density, but let's not pretend that this is an easy sell and an obvious solution. It's a grand-scale industry overhaul.
    3. "It's never been shown not to". You realize how unhelpful that phrase is, right? All I would like is for there to be an evaluation of actual risk. It doesn't have to be 100% accurate, but a good estimate would be nice. Reasonable evidence of feed antibiotics significantly contributing to the resistance of a human pathogen - or even an economically significant veterinary pathogen - should be explored. After that, it's pretty much a cost/benefit thing.
    4. While I admit that other causes of resistance does not mean this one should not be investigated, the scale of human antibiotic abuse is a valid reference point when trying to prioritize resources. It also should be considered for perspective.
    5. Listed as a counterpoint because there is a valid economic benefit to the current practice, and changing the status quo should be based on evidence of risk or cost that outweighs benefit. Perhaps it's venal and idiotic to want cheap animal protein, but what are the benefits? I could digress into the benefits of early childhood nutrition on brain development and school performance, but I bet you're familiar with the talking points.

    I just want there to be evidence brought forth and thoroughly evaluated. Antibiotics aren't necessarily evil, and abolishing the low-level prophylaxis has actual costs. The kinds of bugs that grow in animals that aren't feed-treated may pose a higher risk to human health, as they are often bacteria that can transmit to humans more easily, and they get treated after the infection is established, bumping up the likelihood of developing resistance.

      Personally, I don't eat much meat; I try to find humanely raised stuff when I do. I think improving the quality of life for animals in the agricultural industry should be a goal of responsible consumers. I agree that reducing stock density would both improve quality of life and reduce the rate of infectious disease, and I'm willing to pay more for the meat from those situations. All I want from this discussion is for people to rely more on data and actual, demonstrated risk rather than FUD.

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama