FDA finalises voluntary rules on phasing out certain antibiotics in livestock

The Washington Post – Wednesday 11th December

The US government is taking action to stem the use of antibiotics as a growth hormone, though there is controversy over how effective their actions will be. The aim is to phase out the use of certain antibiotics for farm animals and make sure that antibiotics are prescribed by a veterinarian to treat illness and not as a growth enhancer to create bigger animals.

However, as you get into the nitty gritty of what they’re doing, it’s not as stringent as might be hoped. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is asking drug manufacturers to voluntarily re-label their products. While that’s all well and good, there aren’t any penalties imposed if farmers continue to use them for growth. Farmers will have to get a prescription from a veterinarian to get the antibiotics but there has long been a conflict of interest issue for vets, because they profit from the drugs they sell.

Voluntary measures in the US are not as wishy-washy as they may seem. The FDA has ways of making it difficult for companies that don’t comply with their recommendations. The argument is that implementing voluntary measures is a quick way to make a change, as implementing legislation can take years. However, given what’s at stake – in a worse case scenario, that’s the disappearance of antibiotics from 21st century medicine because of anti-microbial resistance – there must be more binding legislation to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming.

The UK has a similar issue with the overuse of antibiotics, in particular prophylactic use as a means of controlling disease outbreaks in factory farming. At present, use is governed only by a set of government recommendations, which are left up to the industry to regulate. No surprise, either, that the UK is far behind European neighbours that have imposed much more rigorous restrictions and reduced antibiotic use. It’s time to act!

Marks and Spencer to assess dairy farm antibiotic use 

The Grocer – Saturday 7th December

The increased awareness of the dangers of antibiotic overuse in farming is playing itself out in the retail sector. Marks & Spencer will be monitoring antibiotic use on the farms which provide its dedicated milk supply, adding more standards to its Milk Pledge Plus Sustainable Dairy Scheme.

Other retailers are likely to follow suit, as recognition of consumer concerns over the issue, take hold. Sainsbury’s has already started looking at antibiotic use among its supply base.

The overuse of antibiotics in the milk supply, and in farming generally, is well worth being concerned about. There is evidence that resistant bacteria, especially in things like E coli and MRSA, can transfer from animals to humans. This is a problem we must get on top of, before it gets on top of us and we return to a medieval world where minor infections can kill us.

Exercise your consumer voice by buying organic milk and dairy products. Organic standards guarantee that antibiotics are used responsibly and only to treat illness.

Food banks: the unpalatable truth

The Telegraph – Saturday 14th December

Robin Aitken’s intelligent and thoughtful commentary on food banks offers a nuanced and complex analysis of their role in the food chain between affluence and poverty. Aitken, herself, helps run an Oxford-based food bank, so she knows what she’s talking about. While she comes dangerously close at one point to the dubious argument that the need for food banks is inherently linked to the availability of food banks – i.e. the more food banks there are, the more people will use their free services – most of what she has to say is sound.

Her main point is that drive to donate mostly canned and processed food to food banks, only increases the profit line of supermarkets where people go to purchase them. However, there is another food problem to address that if alleviated will help to solve our hunger issues – food waste. ‘The equation really is… simple: food poverty plus food waste can cancel each other out. All that’s needed is to match need with surplus,’ Aitken writes.

What food banks need to be doing – and it’s not that hard – is working with retailers, and the food industry, to capture some of the vast amounts of waste that the system produces and redirecting it into food banks. It’s a win-win venture that alleviates the waste costs of businesses while providing fresh foods like bread, fruits and vegetables and dairy products to the food banks. This is what the Oxford Food Bank, that Aitken helped found, does.

It’s not that food poverty is a ‘national scandal’ – the ‘national scandal’ is that there is food poverty in a country that wastes so much food.

UK’s first ‘social supermarket’ opens to help fight food poverty

The Guardian – Monday 9th December

What a brilliant idea! A tangible example of how food ‘waste’ – much of it in perfectly edible condition – can help address food poverty. The Community Store, a new venture in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, sells on ‘residual products’ – food and drink that has labelling mistakes, packaging damage and other minor defects the supermarkets have deemed not fit for sale – at significant discounts. You must be a member and you must live in a designated postcode and be on benefits. Membership also allows you access to programmes of social and financial support in cooking, household budgeting and debt management.

It a great example of innovative, creative thinking. The Community Store is part of The Company Store, a commercial company that redistributes surplus food and goods. It is working with major retailers and manufacturers – Tesco, Asda, M&S and others – to use what would otherwise be wasted. Another project connecting the dots between food waste and food poverty – yeah!

Fleeced by wool: Sheep farmers face Victorian levels of poverty

The Independent – Sunday 8th December

The number of sadly depressing stories on the poverty of the nation’s farmers is a disgrace. Here’s yet another. Sheep farmers are in focus this time. They are facing ‘Victorian levels of poverty’, despite a boom in the wool trade, which is benefitting everybody else. The price of lamb is down, while feed and energy prices are up. It all leaves upland farmers making about £6,000 a year, with the industry losing farmers year on year.

The financial security of farmers is directly linked to the food security of the country. If we can’t make farming a viable enterprise in the UK, which at the very least supports the livelihood of the farmer, we will become increasingly dependent on imports for our food. When somebody else controls your food supply, you are vulnerable in the extreme. When access to food breaks down, there is social unrest as desperation drives people to riot, violence and crime – not to put too fine a point on it.

Think about what’s at stake, support British farmers in your purchasing and lobby for a fairer deal for them in the economic market.

Photograph by Ryan Thompson

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