Category Archives: Health

Horrific Conditions for Factory-Farmed Chickens Exposed

Originally published on Care2.

Kreider Farms is hell on earth for egg-laying chickens. The Humane Society of the United States released a mercifully short video summarizing its investigation of the conditions at Kreider.

According to HSUS, the investigation revealed:

  • Birds were severely overcrowded in cages more cramped than the national average; each hen received only 54–58 square inches of space on which to spend her life.
  • Injured and dead hens, including mummified bird carcasses, were found inside cages with living hens laying eggs for human consumption.
  • Hens were left without water for days when a water source malfunctioned, causing many to die.
  • Hens’ legs, wings, and heads were found trapped in cage wires and automated feeding machinery.
  • A thick layer of dead flies on the barn floors caused a crunching sound when walking on it.

Nicholas D. Kristof reports in The New York Times that Kreider produces “4.5 million eggs each day for supermarkets like ShopRite” — it is no fly-by-night operation, and its policies condemn millions of chickens to lives of unrelenting suffering.

Kristof reports that Kreider crams so many birds into small cages that they can hardly move for their entire lives. According to Kristof, HSUS’s investigator reported that the stench and filth in the barns are so repulsive that workers spend as little time in them as possible. Sadly the birds don’t have the option of walking out the door.

Kristof quotes Ron Kreider, president of Kreider Farms, as saying, “The reality of food processing can be off-putting to those not familiar with animal agriculture.” Not exactly reassuring words for those who care how animals raised for food are treated.

Since there is no government regulation guaranteeing that any label (like “organic” or “cage-free”) guarantees humane treatment for fowl, the best way to ensure that no birds were tortured in the production of your eggs is not to eat any.

Photo credit: Ethelred

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Superbug Meat: Factory Farms Weaken Antibiotics

Originally published on Care2; Open Salon Editor’s Pick

We’ve all heard about the antibiotic crisis: overuse has led to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, opening the door to superbugs for which we have no cure. Those superbugs cause infections that are fatal in 30-60 percent of cases.

What we haven’t heard as much is that the biggest abuser of antibiotics isn’t human patients and their doctors: it is factory farms, which are responsible for 80 percent of antibiotic use. They spike livestock feed with the medications to make “meat animals” grow faster. Seven million pounds of antibiotics are sold for human use every year, while 28.8 million pounds go into cows, pigs, turkeys, sheep and chickens.

Lawsuit Against the FDA

Recently the government moved a couple steps closer to ending this lunacy. First, in a lawsuit called Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. vs. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, federal Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz ordered the FDA to reintroduce a draft rule it first proposed 35 years ago but never acted on.

The rule would require that “an antibacterial drug fed…to animals must be shown not to promote increased resistance to antibacterials used in human medicine.” The rule would not prohibit giving animals medication to treat disease. The Court’s order would obligate the FDA only to give the public (i.e. agribusiness) a chance to contribute its two cents (i.e. big fat political donations) on whether the proposed rule should be adopted. Legally, the Court can’t make the administration adopt the rule.

The FDA Asks Agribusiness, Pretty Please, to Take Antibiotics Out of Feed Voluntarily

Second, the FDA announced after Magistrate Judge Katz’s ruling that it is “proposing a voluntary initiative” to end the use of antibiotics to speed the growth of animals raised for meat, while permitting the use of the medications to treat disease under a veterinarian’s supervision.

The new initiative, being voluntary, is toothless. The Center for Science in the Public Interest called it “tragically flawed” because it relies “too heavily on the drug industry and animal producers to act voluntarily in the best interest of consumers.”

The FDA practically boasted in its press release that it had worked “to ensure that the voices of livestock producers across the country were taken into account.” These are the same producers who have dictated the government’s non-action on this issue for three decades and it is no surprise that they are still running the show.

Agribusiness Pretends to Play Along; Nobody Buys It

Agribusiness is trying to ward off meaningful government intervention with a charade that it is voluntarily slashing its use of antibiotics. For instance, as Reuters reports, “the poultry industry [says] it already has ratcheted down ‘by a large margin’ its use of antibiotics.” But agribusiness has been on notice since 1977 that the government disapproved of its massive overconsumption of antibiotics and didn’t try to fix the problem until now. It is awfully convenient to claim that it can self-regulate just when a federal lawsuit shines a light on its long-term failure to do just that.

The same Reuters article reports that the “director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, noted voluntary efforts to reduce antibiotic use and said, ‘We believe additional steps are necessary to have a real impact on this problem.’” In other words, the FDA admits that agribusiness is not and will not do enough to solve the problem voluntarily. Still, it chose to address the problem with a brand new voluntary initiative. That is an agency working hard to have no impact on anything.

The Science Says: Global Public Health Crisis

Contrast this sluggish inaction with the magnitude of the problem: the FDA itself told the Court that antibiotic resistance is “a mounting public health problem of global significance” and that dosing livestock with antibiotics “for production purposes…is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.”

There is no doubt that factory farms’ use of antibiotics is directly causing the rise of superbugs. The science is clear that feeding animals antibiotics just to make them grow larger faster threatens human health. In 1997, for example, the World Health Organization recommended a ban on feeding animals antibiotics for growth if the same antibiotics are used to treat humans. In 2010, the FDA reviewed this and other studies and concluded, as it had back in the ’70s, that factory farms shouldn’t feed antibiotics to animals. And just like in the ’70s, the FDA once again didn’t do a thing about it.

Why it has been necessary to sue the FDA to make them do what they already know they should do is a mystery. And this lawsuit isn’t even the first effort to roust the administration to action. In 2009 and subsequent years, as reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “hundreds of…health, consumer, environmental, agricultural, and humane organizations” supported a bill in Congress to address the problem. It didn’t pass.

Doctors Want to Protect Antibiotics

Doctors are on the front lines of the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and they have taken sides in the struggle to get antibiotics out of factory farm feed. Three antibiotics doctors commonly prescribe, penicillin and two forms of tetracycline, are at issue in the lawsuit. The American Medical Association endorsed the 2009 bill to reduce the amount of these medications fed to animals raised for meat.

The AMA’s newspaper quoted Dr. Brad Spellberg, associate professor of medicine at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, as saying, “I’ve seen patients die of treatable infections. I’ve told their family, ‘I have no medicine to use.’ This is a catastrophic public health crisis. I don’t know how else to put it.

Our health is far more important than some extra profit for factory farming conglomerates. Please help convince our government of that by signing the petition to the Obama administration calling for an end to agribusiness’s abuse of antibiotics.

Photo Credit: NDSU Ag Comm

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New Technology is More Reliable and Ethical Than Animal Experiments

Originally published on Care2.

If you want to know how to cure diseases in humans, you want to test experimental treatments on whatever else is most similar. For years scientists have tested their hypotheses on non-human animals, like mice and rats. But extrapolating the results of medical and other scientific research from non-human animals to humans is a dubious undertaking at best. Other animals’ biologies are not the same as ours. They have similarities, often more than we like to admit, but not enough to draw reliable conclusions about the safety of medical interventions in human beings.

As reported by the American Anti-Vivisection Society, “Acetaminophen, for example, is poisonous to cats but is a therapeutic in humans; penicillin is toxic in guinea pigs but has been an invaluable tool in human medicine; morphine causes hyper-excitement in cats but has a calming effect in human patients; and oral contraceptives prolong blood-clotting times in dogs but increase a human’s risk of developing blood clots. Many more such examples exist.”

Not only are the results of animal experiments of limited use (if not downright dangerous), they are also cruel, painful and kill most of their subjects. 95% of the over 100 million animals who suffer and die in laboratories — this includes not just medical tests but food, cosmetic, chemical, and purely academic experiments — have no protection from cruelty. The federal Animal Welfare Act, which ostensibly protects animals in laboratories, doesn’t cover mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals. As long as a lab-affiliated committee approves an experiment, the experimenter can do whatever he or she wants to these living, feeling creatures.

Happily, some scientists have turned their attention towards creating more effective and ethical alternatives to vivisection, like computer models and tissue cultures that have more in common with human physiology than any animal does. The Harvard Crimson reports that researchers recently developed a device that “simulates the microenvironment of the human intestine by creating a miniaturized three-dimensional scaffold that supports growth and development of a patient’s own cells—even including microbes essential for digestion and normal physiology.”

The lead researcher, Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering Director Donald E. Ingber, said that one motive for his work is “the problem that animal testing really doesn’t accurately predict what happens in humans.” According to The Crimson, Ingber believes the new technology may allow scientists “to pursue a more comprehensive understanding of cellular pathways and medical prognoses.” It could be especially valuable for research into Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Harvard’s Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies in Biomedical Engineering, Sujata Bhatia, said that the new device “does such a nice job of mimicking the actual environment of the intestine, it could be an amazing tool for both biomedical students and biomedical engineers.”

Ingber anticipates more devices that will improve upon and replace animal research, including technologies replicating human lungs and hearts and even the interactions among multiple organs. This is good news for animals and humans alike.

 

 

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