Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Trouble with Antibiotics

The World Health Organization published an admonishment in 2012, called ‘The evolving threat of antimicrobial resistance – Options for action.’ It’s been largely ignored by policy-makers in the United States, but it’s time we start paying attention, because our behavior is contributing in a big way to this threat, and it will affect people all over the world, including ourselves.

A recent study by the CDC (who is also being ignored by the policy-makers, by the way) found that there is a link between use of antibiotics in livestock and antimicrobial resistance in human infections. The study also put a number on them for the first time – more than 23,000 deaths and well over 2 million antibiotic-resistant infections in one year. You can read an article on the report here.

You may have heard people talking, perhaps on the news, about how we need to scale back on our use of antibiotics for our own ailments – true, they are over-prescribed, but that tactic completely misses 70% of the antibiotics used the U.S., which go to livestock. The way animals are raised in feedlots is bad bad bad for a number of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with animal rights. It’s bad for us, too.

Pile_of_manure_on_a_field

So how did E. coli, which grows in the guts of some animals, like cows, get on your spinach? I’ll give you a hint…

Animals raised in crowded conditions are far more likely to get sick, so they’re fed a constant low-level stream of antibiotics, some of which are also used to treat human infections. That constitutes the perfect condition for bacteria and other microbes to rapidly (in evolutionary terms) develop resistance to the antibiotics. The reason they can develop resistance so quickly is partly because they can pass on resistant genes within a generation via plasmid exchange (i.e. direct cell-to-cell contact). This is a quote from the article linked to above:

“The link between overuse of antibiotics in livestock and microbial resistance has been suspected since the 1960s, but Congress, at the behest of the pharmaceutical and livestock industries, has blocked efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to scale back their use.”

click to enlarge

I’d say that’s far too long a time to allow this dangerous behavior to continue, and we’re now reaching a moment in history that could have devastating effects for future generations, and even during our own lifetimes.  Here are a few of the recommendations that the WHO makes in their document:

4. USE OF ANTIMICROBIALS IN FOOD-PRODUCING ANIMALS
4.1 Require obligatory prescriptions for all antimicrobials used for disease control in food animals.
4.2 In the absence of a public health safety evaluation, terminate or rapidly phase out the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion if they are also used for treatment of humans.
4.3 Create national systems to monitor antimicrobial usage in food animals.
4.4 Introduce pre-licensing safety evaluation of antimicrobials with consideration of potential resistance to human drugs.
4.5 Monitor resistance to identify emerging health problems and take timely corrective actions to protect human health.
4.6 Develop guidelines for veterinarians to reduce overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in food animals.
5. NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS AND HEALTH SYSTEMS
5.1 Make the containment of antimicrobial resistance a national priority.

(The evolving threat of antimicrobial resistance – full text pdf of the WHO document)

click to enlarge

If we look at the big picture, we can easily see how devastating it will be if bacteria and other microbes that infect humans and animals develop resistance to multiple antibiotics (what we call ‘superbugs’). It would set medicine back significantly – the risk of infection would be far too high, making routine surgeries and other invasive procedures, down to the simple catheter, fraught with danger.

That is not the world I want to live in. One more reason to support local, organic, and rethink our entire food system. One more reason to be vegan. One more reason to be active in voicing opposition to a corrupt Congress.

Advertisements

The Monsanto Protection Act

We’re Not Done Fighting.

The Farmer Assurance Provision, as it’s titled in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, was passed by the Senate in March 2013, and remains in effect for 6 months. That means it’s set to expire this month (September 2013). Do you think Monsanto is going to let it expire? Do you think they want another public outcry against their provision? I’m guessing no, and no. It’s rational to expect that they’ll try to sneak in another provision somewhere without too many people finding out about it.

Guess what: they already have!

Good thing we have the Center for Food Safety to inform us, but even they only found out after the fact. On September 10th, the House passed a 3-month appropriations bill which included an extension of the Monsanto Protection Act. Shame on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The good news is, it’s only for 3 months, and we can continue to voice dissent and try to ensure that this doesn’t continue.

As the CFS website puts it, “the rider represents an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review, which is an essential element of U.S. law and provides a critical check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods.” This provision essentially grants immunity to Monsanto, regardless of decisions by the judicial system that would otherwise impair the company’s ‘right to profit.’

You can read about the 5 Terrifying Things to Know about the Monsanto Protection Act, and get involved. Join the March Against Monsanto that will be taking place on October 12th, call your state representatives, and inform others about this vitally important issue! Click on the image below to learn more.

Sustainable Universities

The university system does a lot to shape our world. It molds young people into citizens. The best of universities allow young people to mold themselves within a healthy and supportive environment, but most of them simply engage in indoctrination. I could write quite a long critique regarding that, but it’s not my purpose here,  so I won’t get into it just now.  There are some colleges and universities that have developed a focus on sustainability, but not nearly enough. We need to push for three different areas of change in our university system. This can be done by almost anyone – students, faculty, staff, alumni, prospective students. The areas of change: sustainability of the school itself, courses of study that focus on sustainability and application of knowledge in related areas, like engineering, to problems of sustainability, student organizations and focus groups that engage in discussion and action.

Unless we teach people what it actually means to be sustainable, we can’t attain a level of sustainability that will carry us into the future.

Student body & organizations

Students. The most important part of any school. The raison d’etre of any school. There are so many things that students can do to promote sustainability and to bring the topic into focus for the school’s administration, faculty, and other students. First: make some noise. Start an organization and make yourself noticed. Issue challenges to the entire school and everyone in it, or to other schools, like the “do it in the dark” challenge, in which houses and/or dorms compete for the biggest reduction in energy usage for a month. Have seed-bombing and guerrilla gardening campaigns. Petition the school for an area where you can have a vegetable garden on campus to produce cheap food for students – you can even have a little students-only farmer’s market to raise funds for the organization. Give out free BPA-free water bottles to encourage students not to buy throw-away plastic bottles of water. Ask the school’s bookstore to sell notebooks, flash drives, pens, binders, clothing, etc. made out of recycled and eco-friendly materials. Get involved in boards and committees of the institution in which you have a voice, and can push for change. There are so many things you can do.

Programs of study

This one is trickier. Students, along with staff and faculty with experience in related fields can push for the development of programs focused on sustainability and/or for a focus on sustainability in each related field. It’s really when people come together with experience in different fields and from different parts of the world that we can progress in leaps and bounds and make a huge difference. Look at the programs already available at other universities to see how they’re doing it, and try to improve upon them. If you’re a prospective student, even asking about whether schools have a sustainability program, or have plans to develop one, will help. An increasing interest from the general population can push things in the right direction. If you are a current student, you can aim for this within your own program, and you can encourage all your classmates to study together in the same place, which will collectively reduce the amount of electricity you’ll use by quite a lot over the course of a year. Think of how much more you’d use if you were each studying in a separate room or building all the time.

University & its policies

There are several areas to look at here. Alumni might consider telling your alma mater that you will make donations or donate more if it only makes investments in sustainable businesses and if it implements programs to increase its own sustainability, or you can earmark your donation for sustainability projects, renovations etc. Prospective students should keep this in mind, too. Choose the schools that are most environmentally friendly and that are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. See what you can do in your own department if you’re currently a student. Can you turn in your assignments via email or dropbox rather than on paper? Are all those hand-outs really necessary, or can they be sent to your email or posted on a virtual blackboard? Some students may need a paper copy, but most don’t. Again, there are many things you can do to try to make a difference, especially if your classmates join you.

%d bloggers like this: