Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Resist it, it persists

At a news conference in October 2010, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, citing the "distressingly low" number of new antibiotics in development, proposed providing a "financial incentive" to drug companies to increase their research and development of such substances. She said that this action is important and necessary in view of the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant strains of "superbugs" that have evolved from harmless, as well as infectious, strains of bacteria.

In other words, Dr. Hamburg of the FDA wants to pay, or otherwise financially compensate, the wealthiest (and arguably the most ethically-challenged) companies in the world to invent more antibiotic drugs to kill bacteria that have evolved into drug-resistant "superbugs" due to abuse of the drugs these companies have made already to kill less deadly "bugs". Apparently, when Dr. Hamburg's political appointment expires, she will be looking for a really good-paying job in the pharmaceutical industry.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified antibiotic resistance as "one of the world's most pressing health problems". The World Health Organization says that the main causes of the emergence of the resistant bacteria are the overuse of antibiotics in feed animals for non-therapeutic reasons and indiscriminant prescribing of these drugs by doctors.

So, let's have more antibiotics?

It is common practice on large factory farms to add antibiotics to livestock's feed to promote growth and protect against infection. The prophylactic use is necessary due to changes in the bacterial species in the digestive tract of livestock fed mostly grains instead of grasses, and to control mastitis, udder inflammation.

In June 2010, the FDA issued a recommendation to farmers to abandon the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. The problem was identified, however, as early as 1969 in the UK by a group whose "Swann Report" stated:
It is clear that there has been a dramatic increase over the years in the numbers of strains of enteric bacteria of animal origin which show resistance to one or more antibiotics. This resistance has resulted from the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and other purposes in farm livestock.

Why did FDA drag its feet for 40 years? A reason may be found in this example: recall that Margaret Miller, Deputy Director of New Animal Drugs at FDA in the early '90's, approved a report from Monsanto attesting to the safety of Monsanto's growth hormone for cows, rBGH. (rBGH, by the way, is known to increase the incidence of mastitis in milk cows.) Later, Miller approved increasing by 100 times the legal limit of antibiotics that could be given to cows. And, by the way, the aforementioned report verifying the safety of rBGH was written by Miller, herself, when she was a researcher at Monsanto, before she worked at FDA.

The following is a summary of legislation that has been proposed in congress every year (with minor additions) since 2003. It hasn't passed yet.
Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2003 - Amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide for a phased elimination of the nontherapeutic use in food-producing animals of critical antimicrobial animal drugs. Defines "critical antimicrobial animal drug" and "nontherapeutic use." Requires manufacturers of a critical antimicrobial animal drug or an animal feed for food-producing animals containing such a drug to report annual sales information.
In addition to 55 congressional supporters, a 2003 report by the "Keep Antibiotics Working"" campaign listed over 300 endorsements for "The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2003" including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, dozens of health and consumer groups, animal protection organizations, religious groups, and sustainable farming and agriculture organizations. The American Farm Bureau was conspicuous in its absence from that list.

See the list here

The Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health's website lists the following about antibiotic resistant micro-organisms:
Quick Facts

•Increasing use of antimicrobials in humans, animals, and agriculture has resulted in many microbes developing resistance to these powerful drugs.
•Many infectious diseases are increasingly difficult to treat because of antimicrobial-resistant organisms, including HIV infection, staphylococcal infection, tuberculosis, influenza, gonorrhea, candida infection, and malaria.
•Between 5 and 10 percent of all hospital patients develop an infection, leading to an increase of about $5 billion in annual U.S. healthcare costs.
•About 90,000 of these patients die each year as a result of their infection, up from 13,300 patient deaths in 1992.
•People infected with antimicrobial-resistant organisms are more likely to have longer hospital stays and may require more complicated treatment.
Ninety thousand hospital patients die each year from superbug infections developed while in the hospital, compared to 13,300 in 1992. Remember, Monsanto researcher Margaret Miller, at FDA, approved increasing the legal limit of antibiotic use in cows by 100 times in the early 1990's.

Robert Cohen, who petitioned FDA to reconsider its approval of rBGH, wrote in May 2000:
The consequences of her [Margaret Miller]  action were that new strains of bacteria developed in dairy cows that were immune to existing antibiotics, which no longer worked when they were needed. People drank milk containing increased amounts of antibiotics and new species of bacteria with immunities to those antimicrobials.

On its website, Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology follows-up Cohen's article with this comment:
Leading experts have emphasized that powerful measures are required to reduce the use of antibiotics. There are clear evidence linking antibiotics resistance in salmonella and other bacteria to the use of antibiotics in farm animals. In a situation, feared to cause the resurgence of intractable lethal infectious diseases, an FDA official, Margret Miller, has acted so as to further increase the risk of the emergence of dangerous bacteria all over the USA by allowing a considerable increase of antibiotics use on cows. The only obvious reason for such a decision appears to have been to promote the use of rBGH.
If we connect all the dots....we find that industrialized farming practices....which have persisted for several generations in spite of evidence indicating it's harmfulness to humans and farm animals....(because of  short-sighted objectives and intentional ignorance with regard to environmental considerations on the part of proponents of these practices)....have caused the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria....which find their way into food....and wind up in the bodies of people....causing illness and death.

What is referred to here by the phrase "industrialized farming practices" includes: administering recombinant bovine growth hormone to cows to make them produce more milk than their bodies want to; giving feed animals antibiotics to fatten them and to combat infection caused as unwanted side-effects of rBGH; grain feeding instead of grass grazing; fertilizing vegetable crops with manure from cows that harbor antibiotic resistant bacteria having emerged due to their being subjected to abuse of antibiotics.

Presently, controversial Senate Bill 510 is being considered by our lawmakers. The bill would grant FDA considerable power to regulate the production and processing of food. With Monsanto operative, lobbyist, and lawyer Michael Taylor acting as "food safety expert" within FDA at this time, one can imagine in whose favor FDA food safety policy will be placed. Meanwhile, the bill to control use of antibiotics in feed animals, first proposed in 2003 and well-supported throughout the health community, can't get out of committee.

Senate Bill 510, if passed into law, would jeopardize small farms' ability to sell directly to consumers. A paragraph added to the bill in the interest of protecting small farmers from the burden of federal regulations  was received with protest from big agriculture lobbyists. Following is an excerpt from their letter to Senators Reid, Harkin, McConnell, and Enzi concerning the amendment proposed by Montana Senator Tester:

...we are writing to express our opposition to latest “compromise” on Senator Tester’s amendment to exempt small farms and business operations from basic federal food safety requirements.

Comments from Senator Tester and supporters are now making it abundantly clear that their cause is not to argue that small farms pose less risk, but to wage an ideological war against the vast majority of American farmers that seeks to feed 300 million Americans. We are appalled at statements by Senator Tester reported today in the Capital Press that “Small producers are not raising a commodity, but are raising food. Industrial agriculture, he said, takes the people out of the equation."

The undersigned produce organizations strongly oppose inclusion of the Tester amendment in S. 510. If this language is included in the bill, we will be forced to oppose final passage of the bill.
The "undersigned" is a list of groups represented by The Produce Marketers Association and United Fresh Produce Association. Regarding the latter, its board of directors lists representatives from Dole, Kroger, McDonalds, Dupont, and Bayer, among others. (Noteworthy in this letter is the use of the phrase "wage an ideological war": where do these small farmers get off bucking the system by wanting to control their own farming methods and by selling directly to consumers?! The nerve!)

To reiterate, the primary causes of the evolution of antibiotic resistant superbug microorganisms, according to researchers and public health officials, are 1) the over-use and abuse of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes in food animals, and 2) over-use and abuse of antibiotics, for health problems not affected by antibiotics, in humans. And it is widely acknowledged that the "food contamination problem" is inherent in industrialized food production.

When used appropriately, antibiotics are very important drugs and can save lives. In any case, however, they cause unwanted side-effects in the human body. Still, these side-effects are considered a fair and necessary trade-off for stopping a dangerous bacterial infection.

An analogous situation has emerged in agriculture: "superweeds" resistant to conventional herbicides, especially Monsanto's glyphosphate Roundup, are appearing as another sign that Nature is pushing back.

A December 2008 report in "The Delta Farm Press" exposed the following:

The epicenter of glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed is Macon County, Ga. That site is now 70 percent to 80 percent resistant and over 10,000 acres were abandoned in 2007.

Palmer amaranth is suspected to be resistant on 300,000 acres in 20 counties in Georgia; 130,000 acres in nine counties in South Carolina; 200,000 acres in 22 counties in North Carolina.

The same online newsletter posted the following article on November 2010:
Are we running out of herbicides? The answer, I believe, is yes — for three reasons.

The first is the continued development of herbicide-resistant weeds. We have no less than seven glyphosate-resistant weeds in the Mid-South now. They include giant ragweed, common ragweed, johnsongrass, Italian ryegrass, Palmer amaranth and common waterhemp.

Many folks tend to forget that in the early 1990s, we were beginning to have major issues with herbicide resistance with these same weeds. Roundup Ready crops came on in the mid- to late-1990s and bailed us out of that mess.
...out of the frying-pan "mess" into the fire "mess".... The Roundup Ready bail-out was temporary. (The other 2 reasons indicated by the article's author had to do with pressure from environmental groups and diminished development of herbicides from chemical companies.)

And now we need more herbicides?

"Roundup Ready" is Monsanto's name for its genetically engineered crop seeds modified to resist its glyphosphate herbicide, "Roundup". The idea is that if farmers plant Roundup Ready seeds they can spray their fields with the herbicide Roundup and not worry that the herbicide will kill Roundup Ready plants - it kills only the nasty, unwanted weeds.

Monsanto's response to the emergence of superweeds to farmers, as early as 1997, was to recommend more glyphosphate, more Roundup Ready seeds, and avoid crop rotation using traditional crops and methods. Meanwhile it worked internally to maintain its position: by 2001 Monsanto obtained a patent on mixtures of its glyphosphate and other herbicides to target resistant weeds.

From Iowa State University's Department of Agronomy in May 2003, the following summarizes what weed scientists knew, and about which Monsanto lied:
Almost all weed scientists agree that the evolution of resistant biotypes is inevitable with the current use pattern of glyphosate. Increased adoption of rotations relying solely on RR crops will greatly enhance the rate that resistance evolves. Because of this, we feel it is best to develop long-term weed management plans that reduce the selection pressure placed on weeds by any single herbicide, including Roundup.

An October 2010 report published on the website of the Organic Consumers Association says:
Environmental scientists warned even before Monsanto's "herbicide tolerant" GMO crops were approved that they would hasten the evolution of resistant weeds. For these scientists, the issue was obvious: introduction of high doses of a single chemical year after year would result in the exact conditions needed to breed resistance: weeds with resistance genes would be the only weeds that could survive and breed, leading to superweeds that are unaffected even by massive herbicide spraying.

As the industrial model of farming and the industrial model of conventional medical practice fail, the people suffer the fallout. The solution that arises from within these industries is to "just keep doing more of the same". With  minds set this way, breakthrough is not likely. And, unfortunately, the  "...government by the people, for the people..." has become "...the government by the corporations, for the corporations..."

Intentional ignoring of adequate warning because commerce was the priority, a blind faith in the infallibility of the technology, and silly human error caused the unsinkable Titanic to sink, too.

A definition of insanity, attributed by different sources to the likes of Gandhi or Einstein or Twain or Socrates, goes something like "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results". A variation of this is the observation that "you can't solve a problem using the same logic that created the problem in the first place".

Obesity is recognized as a predisposing factor in heart disease, type II diabetes, and cancer - the top three health problems in America. Farmers know that feeding antibiotics and grains to livestock fattens them quickly and shortens their lives. Choose your doctor and your food carefully. And, if at all possible, stay out of the hospital.

December1, 2010