December 31, 2009

It Bears Repeating

It's hard not to feel like a broken record. Keep reading and writing about these same issues over and over and over again. But that's because they are so important, and they bear repeating.

And it seems, miraculously, that those in a position to help to improve the situation on a more global scale -- that is, members of Congress and in the federal and state agencies that oversee areas like agriculture and food safety -- appear to be finally paying some attention. We'll see, however, how long that lasts.

To the news. First, this excellent article from the Associated Press about the overwhelming use of antibiotics in agriculture and how it is significantly exacerbating the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs went to pigs, chickens and cows. (emphasis added) Worldwide, it's 50 percent.

"This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's knocking at our door," said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University. "It's here. It's arrived."

And we're actually hearing the right things from those in a position to affect some change!

"If we're not careful with antibiotics and the programs to administer them, we're going to be in a post antibiotic era," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was tapped to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year.

Also this year, the three federal agencies tasked with protecting public health — the Food and Drug Administration, CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture — declared drug-resistant diseases stemming from antibiotic use in animals a "serious emerging concern." And FDA deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein told Congress this summer that farmers need to stop feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals.

December 23, 2009

Farm Subsidies and Massive Hypocrites

It's my firm belief that everybody is a hypocrite. We all say one thing and do another at times. The most important point about the universality of hypocrisy is the extent and severity of it with respect to each individual.

And as this article drives home, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (Bats@#$t Insane-Minn.) has the high dishonor of being among the hypocritical elite. Rep. Bachmann profits from a family owned farm that has received $250,000 in government subsidies. This is, of course, the same Rep. Bachmann who has railed against the threats of "socialism" that could be brought on by the inept... oops, used my own adjective there... dangerous Obama administration

Bachmann’s financial disclosure forms indicate that her personal stake in the family farm is worth up to $250,000. They also show that she has been earning income from the farm business, and that the income grew in just a few years from $2,000 to as much as $50,000 for 2008.

Do go read the whole thing. There are other elected hypocrites of the highest order mentioned in there as well, all of whom love to rail against socialism and excessive government spending and welfare, blah, blah, blah, but don't mind if some of that welfare lines their own pockets.

Perhaps these people need a little visit from a one Jacob Marley, eh? Although I suspect Marley might actually be scared off by Bachmann...

December 21, 2009

Brewing is Back on da' North Side

Tom Pastorius has offered a cordial invitation to the public to partake in the first batch of Penn Pilsner of "the new era" at Penn Brewery.


Wednesday, Dec. 30
4:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Penn Brewery
800 Vinial St.
Da' North Side

Pastorius has said he'd like to expand their offerings a bit, possibly offering some "American-style" beers. I'm not sure what that means, exactly. I hope it doesn't mean macro-brew King of Beers/Less-Filling Tastes Great type brews. Rather, I hope that he means, among other things, hop-infused pale ales that are favored by many U.S. microbreweries, even if their origins are not necessarily American.

Either way, this is a great thing to see for this city and for beer. Hopefully the risk Mr. Pastorius is taking will pay off. The challenge, in many respects, will be to win patrons from -- or back from -- Hofbrahaus, which, from my experience, is doing quite well. That will indeed be a significant hurdle.

Good luck, fellas. Welcome back.

December 11, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Twitter Style

I'm pretty much addicted to Twitter, although I am not a "Watching '30 Rock' & Tracy Morgan is freakin' hilarious" kind of tweeter. I tweet mostly to learn about and share information/news on cancer research and food policy issues.

I was alerted to much of the content of this digest via Twitter. For example...

Why is this not a surprise?

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants,

Then there was this tidbit of good news about sugar in cereal:

General Mills, one of the big 4 cereal manufacturers, including brands such as Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Trix, and Wheaties, announced yesterday that it will reduce the added sugar in its products. More specifically, the sugar in cereals advertised to kids will be reduced to “single digit” levels...

But apparently General Mills has math issues, because the company said by the spring of 2010 it will reduce the sugar content of its cereals to 11 grams or less. I could swear 11 was two digits, but maybe I'm looking at it wrong?

Genetically modified (GM) food is something I've been trying to read more about. A contention many critics of GM food products have held is that they have not been studied carefully enough. What does it mean, for example, to be introducing these genetically modified products -- that is, vegetables such as corn that have had foreign genes inserted into them so that they develop desirable traits, such as resistance to a pesticide produced by the same company that makes the GM seed -- into the larger ecosystem? Will they somehow affect other plants? How about animals or insects? Nobody really knows. Because it hasn't been very well studied.

GMO products got the go ahead from policy makers and regulatory bodies with very little of these data. To require such research would have meant "stifling innovation" or some such garbage like that.

So is it any wonder then when somebody does some research on just what is happening to the plants and bugs and animals around fields of GM corn finds this:

...we identified the cp4 epsps transgene [Fillippelli here: "transgene" = foreign gene introduced into the seed] in bulk soil microarthropods, nematodes, macroarthropods, and earthworms sampled within the corn cropping system. We found evidence of the transgene at all dates and in all animal groups. Transgenic DNA concentration in animal was significantly higher than that of background soil, suggesting the animals were feeding directly on transgenic plant material.

The authors admit that they can't say whether what they are detecting are functional genes, but personally I find it a little disturbing that these products may be unnaturally altering the genetic makeup of plants, insects, and animals. I find it hard to believe that's a good thing.

Speaking of gee-whiz technology and food, this doesn't seem like the right cure for the problem:

Jason Timmerman coaxed a balky calf into a chute on his feedlot one recent afternoon and jabbed a needle into its neck. He was injecting the animal with a new vaccine to make it immune to a dangerous form of the E. coli bacteria. ...

While studies have shown varying degrees of effectiveness, many researchers believe E. coli vaccines can reduce the number of animals carrying the bacteria by 65 to 75 percent. That may be enough to prevent the surge of E. coli that typically occurs each summer, when the germ thrives and reports of illness increase.

How about not jamming a gazillion cows into feed lots so they can wallow in their own pooh, stepping up inspections at slaughterhouses, and ensuring safer slaughterhouse work environments? Nah. Just jab 'em all with vaccines. Maybe the taxplayer can help pay for the vaccines, too, since we're already paying for their feed. Then it's a win-win.

I'm pretty sold on the data I've seen about our overly clean environment being linked to the rise in children with allergies, asthma, etc. So we've pretty much been doing this for a while now:

McDade hopes that one day we may be able to safely expose babies to the protective elements of germs without incurring the risks that come with infections. In the meantime, he is taking a less high-tech approach: "If my 2-year-old drops food on the floor, I just let him pick it up and eat it."

After that lovely image
, I'm sure you're ready to eat, no? This approach for oven-smoked ribs from Mark Bittman sounds like it might work. Hopefully I can give it a try some time soon.