Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why does everyone hate animal industry?

Okay, not everyone -- just the radicals. The ones who want to convince us that animals are worse for global warming than SUV's. Yes, scientifically, that is correct -- feedlots contribute more to greenhouse gas production than autos (at least, if we only count the driving -- I wonder about production and transport of autos and fuel, mining, the steel industry, etc.). That is a problem in our livestock industry.

Is veganism the answer? I don't think so. Before I'm written off as a carnivore apologist: I was a vegetarian for 4 years, and I rarely eat meat. My point is the difference between complete abstinence and sensible moderation: I eat meat (and dairy products, and eggs) in small amounts from local, mostly organic, farms. Local being upstate NY, these farms are in an appropriate place (I'd probably eat less dairy if the only local source was a mega-farm in AZ, for instance), more appropriate, in fact, than most organic produce. In other areas, there is no other agriculture option -- what do you expect the people of Karamoja, for example, to do with their land? It's only appropriate for livestock. The problem comes more from large feedlots full of corn-fed cattle being turned into triple cheeseburgers for consumers that live thousands of miles away. That system is the problem -- producing enough meat to feed the American appetite for it has led to an environmentally draining, non-sustainable industry standard.

There is a good lesson here: eat less meat. As a matter of fact, Al Gore's official response to this criticism is along the lines of 'I told people to eat less meat.'

I'm a little more peeved at this than I normally would be because of a conversation last night. Several intelligent, educated friends tried to claim that dairy was just bad for a person. I know the one person has no background in nutrition and gets information from misleading and plain wrong internet sources. The other was just railing against fat and environmental issues, and claimed that, since you couldn't expect people to be sensible about buying local, sustainable dairy products, we should ban all cheese as an environment-killing weapon of mass hunger. Sorry, but no. Eat less. Eat responsibly. Don't eat at all if you don't want to. But don't blame me for my choice to support (and work for) appropriate livestock production.

Alternative antibiotics

Yes, you could get a cilantro film on your chicken that blocks antibacterial growth, to go with the cranberries! Someday, at least . . . I love this idea. No excess chemicals to safety-test, no antibiotic residues and resistance, no scary-scary radiation, just some spices and safer products.

Then again, as they say, we can't replace best management practices with fancy films -- basic food safety principles are still optimal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Risk, from the Street's view

This is a bit long for an article on my daily trawl (NYT Sunday magazine, I think), but it does give a fascinating explanation of risk, insurance, and what to do with the tails of a distribution.

Also, it confirms why I don't like the stock market.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Epi 101: Diagnostic Bias

Other than not giving it a name, this NYT article gives a great overview of something called diagnostic bias. If we start looking harder for something, we'll see the prevalence increase. If we look harder for diabetes in men, we're going to find more diabetes in men. If we find the same amount of diabetes in men as in women, but we tried to find it in men about twice as hard, chances are there is more diabetes in women than in men.

Just think about the math: if men have a 20% true prevalence and we find 75% of cases in a population of 100 men, we identify 15 cases for an apparent prevalence of 15%. If women have a 30% true prevalence and we find 50% of cases in a population of 100 women, we identify 15 cases for an apparent prevalence of 15%.

Real world example? Ever heard of the diagnosis disparity between men and women with heart disease?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We can do without them

Hurrah for CARE! They have chosen to phase out US-donated food aid, focusing instead on local production systems. After the Farm Bill has gone through Congress with subsidies still in place, it makes me glad to see someone is going to break the connection between over-subsidized crops in the US and low-balled markets in the developing world. Helping local farmers produce and sell the commodities needed is always the better way to develop.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Any relation to what's going on in the UK?

The USDA is going to start up their committee on foreign animal diseases (again). Wait, why did we stop having one? Anyways, anybody think there's a relationship between this and the FMD outbreak in Pirbright?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Yes, our development money is being well spent

Of course, the US needs a military base in Africa.

Sorry, but I agree with the Africans -- I want to know why!

Monday, August 13, 2007

What will be the next local?

Looking critically at the idea of 'food miles' and greenhouse gas production, some people are starting to think that eating locally isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Well, it depends on how you eat locally.

For instance, I could eat locally by demanding the same level of aesthetic perfection in the same variety of foods, willing to pay extra for the fruit or vegetable that wasn't meant to grow in my region. In that case, the extra water, pesticides, energy, etc. used to grow that produce could outweigh the resources needed to ship it from South America or New Zealand.

On the other hand, I could eat locally by paying attention to growing seasons and regional specialties, willing to eat in-season, local varietals that may have a few blemishes. In that case, well, I'm eating like one of my ancestors, who would never have considered demanding California strawberries in December when they lived in New York. In other words, I'm decreasing my footprint the old-fashioned way.

What's that? You can't give up your exotic tastes? Then don't. But buy the exotic stuff from the places it's meant to be grown.

You want more variety in your diet, and less seasonal clumping? Shut up and eat your zucchini!

With little power comes . . .

From today's Promed digest:
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: Thu 9 Aug 2007
From: ProMED-mail <>
Source: Pressgazette [edited]

Two journalists covering the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Surrey
have been arrested after breaching a cordon inside a protected zone close
to Wanborough.

The 2 freelance male journalists were today [9 Aug 2007] charged under
Section 27 of the Animal Health Act and are facing prosecution by Surrey
Trading Standards.

They were arrested, disinfected, and their equipment was seized on Sat 4
Aug 2007 after breaching a cordon inside the protected FMD zone close to

Peter Denard from Surrey Trading Standards urged journalists to act
responsibly. He said: "This is a virulent disease spread on contact and
proximity. The idea that anyone not wearing protective clothing and taking
no bio-security measures is trampling through a potentially contaminated
area of the countryside is beyond belief. The media performs an absolutely
vital role in ensuring that information is made available to the public and
that everybody is kept informed of events as they unfold, and responsible
reporting is absolutely key. The local needs of the community must also be
respected, and we have been exceedingly disappointed that various members
of this rural community have been repeatedly contacted by different media
outlets and at inappropriate times of the night. We want the media focus to
remain here, and we are delighted by the professionalism shown by the
majority of the journalists; we would hope that the minority would follow

Surrey Police assistant chief constable Mark Rowley added: "These
restrictions are in place to protect contaminated sites and prevent the
possible spread of the disease. We all want to avoid the terrible situation
in 2001, and officers will not hesitate to arrest anyone who enters these
sites. So far, 2 photographers have been arrested for breaching cordons
despite the obvious need to protect the area and clear signs prohibiting
entry. No members of the public have tried to get inside contaminated
areas, and, unfortunately, the only attempted breaches have been by some of
the media. I'm sure all the responsible journalists working at the scene
and the public would be shocked to think that a very small minority of
media representatives are risking the further spread of the disease for the
sake of a photo or video from inside a contaminated site."

[byline: Sarah Lagan]

- --
communicated by:
ProMED-mail <>

[We saw this kind of behavior a number of times in 1967-68, usually by
young and inexperienced journalists. The usual response was to immediately
send them back to London with a letter of reprimand for their files and a
suitable comment to their editor to not let it happen again. On the other
hand, the older journalists (foxes) knew how to talk and charm their way in
with official permission and therefore gained much more information. The
Agricultural Correspondent at the Daily Mail and I got to know each other
to our mutual advantage. I say mutual because he did give me an important
"heads-up" when the farmers in a village north of Oswestry noted that new
outbreaks seemed to be following 4 days after a certain veterinary officer.
He gave me a call at 0930, and I immediately told the RVO. By lunchtime,
the officer had been pulled in for office duties for a week or so. It was,
in reality, one of those statistical coincidences of no epidemiologic
relevance. Normally, I talked with him with a senior officer listening in
on the phone call. - Mod.MHJ]
What is to blame for this kind of behavior? I think the important difference, between the photographers arrested and the moderator's friend, is the position of the journalist. Note that it was freelance photographers who were arrested, whereas the useful journalistic contact was a correspondent from a major paper. If we pay the freelancers only for what they can give us, we'll have to expect some level of shenanigans to get the story/photo/scoop.

That does NOT excuse this behavior, though! Responsibility is not limited to those with power, regardless of how we want to interpret Uncle Ben. People need to take responsibility for their actions, especially when they could affect many others. These people? They could have caused a repeat of the epidemic of bankruptcy and suicide that followed the last FMD outbreak in England. I'm sure they wouldn't have considered self-quarantine, if they were ignoring security barriers.

Really, what more can I say?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Answer: No.

The New York Times is asking if raw milk should be legal. Asking with every intention, it appears, of convincing us that it should. Although they cite a few of the health risks, they focus on the 'brave' families breaking the law (or bending) to get raw milk in NYC. 'It tastes better!' 'It may have health benefits!'

Let me make this absolutely clear: there are no health benefits to drinking raw milk. It does not have any enzymes or bacteria that you need in order to drink milk. It is not enriched, like commercial milk, with vitamins A and D. It does not guarantee a better source, being closer to nature, environmentally-friendly farming, or any other advantage.

Not that it is universally unsafe -- I must admit that I drank raw milk as a child living on a dairy farm. I came out healthy, with a strong immune system. I was lucky.

However, now that I know what I know about food safety, I would never, ever give a child raw milk. Bad bacteria, people! Death! I have a feeling that the woman who said she drank raw milk while pregnant also gave up cold cuts -- Listeria lives in both! It causes abortions! Bad!

Trust me on this: you have no reason to drink raw milk.

Should it be illegal, though? Plenty of thinks I don't like are perfectly legal, and I'm not going to petition for their illegality. Raw milk, however, is a public health concern. When you get sick from drinking raw milk, you cost the health care system money. You cost our economy your work time while you're out sick. In the military, they refer to this as rendering yourself unfit for service. Gray area, in civilian affairs, but, if nothing else, we should be protecting these children. Right? Any law is okay if it protects children . . .

Monday, August 06, 2007

If you're curious about GB and FMD:

As usual, ProMed has the best information. Very curious -- apparently, it's a leak from a vaccine production facility. For those who told me they thought Plum Island could be moved to the new BSL3 lab at K-state: this is why that would be a bad idea!

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: 4 Aug 2007
Source: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [edited]

Foot and mouth disease confirmed in cattle, in Surrey
- --------------------------------------------------------
The foot and mouth disease (FMD) strain found in Surrey is not one
currently known to be recently found in animals. It is most similar
to strains used in international diagnostic laboratories and in
vaccine production, including at the Pirbright site shared by the
Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, a
pharmaceutical company. The present indications are that this strain
is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 Foot and Mouth Disease
outbreak in Great Britain.

This strain is present at the IAH and was used in a batch
manufactured in July 2007 by the Merial facility. On a precautionary
basis Merial has agreed to voluntarily halt vaccine production.

In response to this new information Debby Reynolds, chief veterinary
officer, has instructed that a new single protection zone be created
encompassing both the infected farm premises and the Pirbright site,
with a single 10-km [6.2-mile] radius surveillance zone.

Immediate action is being taken with an investigation led by the
health and safety executive at the Institute for Animal Health and Merial.

In addition an urgent independent review into biosecurity
arrangements at both sites has been commissioned led by Professor
Brian Spratt of Imperial University. It will report to Hilary Benn
and Debby Reynolds.

This incident remains at an early stage. It is too soon to reach any
firm conclusions. All potential sources of the virus will continue to
be investigated. All other precautionary measures announced yesterday
[3 Aug 2007] remain in place.

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: Sun 5 Aug 2007
Source: Defra news release Ref 070803F/07 [edited]

The culling of the cattle on the infected enterprise in Surrey was
completed yesterday [Sat 4 Aug 2007]. This included the 38 cattle
known to be infected and the cattle on the 2 additional sites, which
together make up this same farming enterprise. The cattle on these 2
sites, both within the Surveillance Zone, showed no clinical signs of
Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) but were culled in line with normal
procedure and tested. Results today have revealed that of the
additional animals slaughtered, one of them tested positive for FMD.

In line with normal procedures, Debby Reynolds, Chief Veterinary
Officer has instructed that an additional 3-km radius Protection Zone
and wider 10-km radius Surveillance Zone be placed around the 2nd
part of the farm. In addition, as a precaution because of potentially
dangerous contacts, susceptible animals on one farm located next door
to the field are being culled.

All procedures are being applied in line with the agreed contingency
plan, and intensive work is continuing to be done around the infected
area to eradicate the disease. We are grateful for the cooperation of
the local community.

Notes to editors

1. The Defra public helpline is currently operating from 6 am-10 pm.
The public should call: 08459 335577.

2. Advice from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is that Foot and
Mouth Disease is not a direct public health threat. The Food
Standards Agency considers that foot and mouth disease has no
implications for the human food chain.

3. FMD is a disease of cattle, and very few human cases have ever
been recorded, even though the disease is endemic in animals in many
parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South
America. Foot and mouth disease only crosses the species barrier from
cattle to human with very great difficulty. The last human case
reported in Britain occurred in 1966. The disease in humans, in the
very rare cases that have occurred, is mild, short-lived and requires
no medical treatment.

4. The exact details on the measures that apply in Protection and
Surveillance Zones can be found on the Defra website at:

- --
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail <>

Date: Sun 5 Aug 2007
Source: BBC News [edited]

Health and safety inspectors have arrived at the laboratory complex
identified as a possible source of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey.

The strain of the disease found is identical to that used for
vaccines and testing at a Pirbright research site.

Inspectors will 1st be examining Merial Animal Health, a private
pharmaceutical company on the site. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said
the efforts were to "contain, control and then eradicate this
disease." He also said the disease's "transmission mechanism" had
still to be discovered. "I'm determined that we do everything to
ensure that the biosecurity that we want to see is properly in place
and we can be assured of that," he said.

Mr Brown said the inspectors' report would be completed in the next
48 hours and that the ban on the movement of cows, sheep and pigs
would remain in place.

There have so far not been any further outbreaks, but Environment
Secretary Hilary Benn has urged people to remain vigilant, as the
source has not been confirmed.

Following the arrival of the inspectors at the site, Merial's
managing director David Biland said "our initial investigation shows
no breach of our procedures."

Defra has widened the size of the protection and surveillance zones.

Mr Biland stressed that the company's Pirbright centre had produced
millions of vaccine doses in the past 15 years without any problems.
"It is too early in the investigation for anyone to determine the
source of the outbreak," said Mr Biland.

As well as Merial Animal Health, the Pirbright site houses the
Pirbright Laboratory, a research facility of the government's
Institute for Animal Health (IAH). The institute's director,
Professor Martin Shirley, said there had been limited use of the
strain at the institute within the past 4 weeks but insisted there
had been "no breaches of our procedures." He said that the facilities
at Pirbright were being redeveloped following a report made in 2002
as a result of the foot-and-mouth outbreak the previous year, which
had criticisms of the institute.

The strain of the disease identified at Wolford farm, near Guildford,
was also used in a batch of vaccine manufactured on [16 Jul 2007] by
Merial. When the strain was identified, Merial voluntarily halted
vaccine production as a precaution.

Mr Benn said earlier that safety inspectors would 1st examine the
Merial part of the site, "because we know that vaccines were being
produced last month [July 2007] using the particular strain." As well
as the health and safety inspection, an urgent review of biosecurity
would be carried out at the site, he added.

Staff are also expected to be questioned on management procedures,
particularly in relation to biosecurity issues.

Mr Benn told BBC News "24 Sunday" the link to the Pirbright site was
a "promising lead," but he added: "We don't know for sure, and
therefore it's very important that people continue to be vigilant."

Conservative leader David Cameron said that if the virus was found to
have been released from the Pirbright site, then it would be
"astonishing news, because the organizations responsible for stopping
things like foot-and-mouth will effectively be responsible for starting it."

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
has increased the size of the protection and surveillance zones
covering farms in the area to 10 km.

The strain of foot-and-mouth identified is not one normally found in
animals but is used in vaccine production and in diagnostic laboratories.

In a statement, Defra said: "The present indications are that this
strain is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 foot-and-mouth
disease outbreak in Great Britain."

BBC science correspondent David Shukman said that if the virus did
escape from the Pirbright site, the question to ask was how. He said:
"Experts speculate that either it escaped through the ventilation, or
possibly an employee carried it out accidentally on a boot or clothing."

The review of biosecurity measures at Pirbright will be led by
Professor Brian Spratt of Imperial College London, who will report
back to Mr Benn.

A ban on the movement of all livestock is in place in England,
Scotland and Wales.

Northern Ireland has imposed a ban on all cattle, sheep and pigs from
Britain, but there are currently no restrictions on the movement of
livestock within NI and across the border.

Britain has also imposed a voluntary ban on exports of all animals
and animal products, Defra said, and the European Commission said it
would ban live animal exports from the UK, as well as meat and dairy
products from the area affected by the outbreak.

Some 64 cattle have since been culled at Wolford farm, and another
herd at an adjacent farm were also culled as a precautionary measure.

The outbreak in 2001 led to between 6.5 million and 10 million
animals being destroyed and cost as much as GBP 8.5 billion [USD 17
326 400 000] .

Defra has set up a helpline in response to the latest outbreak on 08459 335577.

- --
Communicated by:
Keith Marshall <>

[The FMD virus which caused the 1967-8 outbreak in the UK was
designated FMDV-O1 BFS 1860/UK/67; its detailed sequencing data and
references are available in the table "Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus
O" at IAH's website

Experimental data during the 70's showed that this particular strain
was characterized by its capability for a relatively long-distance
air-borne transmission. To infect a susceptible animal, a minimal
infective dose is required. The number of airborne FMD virus
particles which may reach the respiratory system of the target animal
depends upon several factors, particularly their number at the
emission source (virus output), as well as wind speed and direction,
weather conditions such as relative humidity, cloud cover and
precipitation in the region of the outbreak, and latitude and
topographical features of the area.

A computer program for the analysis (and prediction) of airborne FMD
virus spread was developed by researchers of IAH and the UK
Meteorological Office in 1981; it was based upon data pertaining to
the BFS 1860/UK/67 virus strain (see references 1, 2).


1. Gloster J, Blackall RM, Sellers RF & Donaldson AI (1981).
Forecasting the airborne spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Vet Rec.

2. Gibson CF & Donaldson AI (1986). Exposure of sheep to natural
aerosols of foot-and-mouth disease virus. Res Vet Sci. 41(1):45-9.

Or you could just irradiate it . . .

Well, what won't they think of next? Cranberry concentrate apparently slows bacterial growth without altering meat flavor. Of course, irradiation would do even better . . . but radiating your meat would make you radioactive, right? And cranberries -- it's like you get a serving of fruit in your hamburger!

Sometimes, I just . . .

Cranberries shown to prevent bacteria growth in hamburgers without affecting taste
By Ann Bagel Storck on 8/6/2007 for

Building a better burger usually involves ingredients like lettuce, tomato and cheese, but new research shows cranberries might be the most important addition of all.

Dr. Vivian Chi Hua Wu at the University of Maine led a study that found cranberries can help reduce the growth of bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli in beef patties without affecting how burgers taste.

In a study presented last year at the Institute of Food Technologists show, researchers added cranberry concentrate to samples of raw ground beef tainted with several types of bacteria that frequently cause food-related illness. After observing the ground beef over several days, scientists discovered that the cranberry concentrate significantly reduced the growth of salmonella, E. coli and other dangerous bacteria in the beef.

In the new study, Wu and her colleagues reproduced these results with a strain of pathogenic E. coli and tested the effect of different amounts of cranberry on the taste of burgers. "We focused on taste and found that it wasn't sacrificed," Wu said. "This is great news for consumers who are seeking natural alternatives to chemical additives in food."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Would it kill us?

Yes, subsidies are absolutely necessary for the survival of the American farmer. Promise.

That's what they thought in New Zealand, too, but apparently they were wrong.

Another Farm Bill has almost passed (just the Senate and a signature to go) with subsidies almost completely intact. Sorry, developing world, but our family farms would go bankrupt otherwise.

Except, wait, who actually gets most of the subsidies again? Oh, right, producers of corn, cotton, soy, sugar -- commodities like that. What do most family farmers grow? Vegetables (unsubsidized), fruits (unsubsidized), meat (unsubsidized), dairy (okay, they get a little help). So who's getting the subsidies? Corporate farmers. Now you have US officials saying that ending subsidies would bankrupt our family farms and force them to sell out to corporate farms. The ones who would sell out either have already or are on the verge of it! The family farms we want to protect are the ones we're not helping.

No, we're not the next New Zealand. We can't raise our dairy cows on grass (at least not if we want affordable milk). We're bigger and more corporate to begin with. But maybe we could be the next Australia . . .