Friday, December 21, 2007

MRSA - honey bees - and a new riddle

"Our Decrepit Food Factories" is the title of the New York Times article by Michael Pollan published Dec. 16/2007 which highlights how dangerously far we have wandered from the sustainability path.

He compares two important news stories that have cropped up this past decade which may have profoundly serious impact on our future. He begins with the first, discussing an urgent subject that really hasn't received the attention it deserves -- namely community-acquired MRSA:
...the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Back in June of this year I wrote a draft copy of a very detailed article on the subject of MRSA, complete with links, but never had time to complete it. I'll bring it to you early in the new year.

What does MRSA have to do with food factories (aka CAFOs)?

According to the article:
No one is yet sure how or where this strain evolved, but it is sufficiently different from the hospital-bred strains to have some researchers looking elsewhere for its origin, to another environment where the heavy use of antibiotics is selecting for the evolution of a lethal new microbe: the concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.
More specifically, pig operations are receiving the closest scrutinity after a recent "European study found that 60 percent of pig farms that routinely used antibiotics had MRSA-positive pigs (compared with 5 percent of farms that did not feed pigs antibiotics)."

On December 13/2007, the CDC also published a study showing that a strain of “MRSA from an animal reservoir has recently entered the human population and is now responsible for [more than] 20 percent of all MRSA in the Netherlands.” The study stated:
The density of NT-MRSA isolates corresponds to the density of pig farming, whereas the density of typable strains corresponds to the density of the human population. The density of cattle farms is more or less identical to the density of pig farms.
Further study is underway.

For the record, Michael Pollan admits:
Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not.
Meanwhile, what about the honey bees?

I had another post about the colony collapse disorder affecting honey bee populations around the world but never had a chance to publish it. However, I did mention the subject here.

Michael's article focusses more on how we're treating bee populations rather than the full background story on CCD.

It is the second news item that Michael Pollan draws our attention to with respect to the unsustainable methods growing within Big AG practices today.
We're asking a lot of our bees. We're asking a lot of our pigs too. That seems to be a hallmark of industrial agriculture: to maximize production and keep food as cheap as possible, it pushes natural systems and organisms to their limit, asking them to function as efficiently as machines. When the inevitable problems crop up — when bees or pigs remind us they are not machines — the system can be ingenious in finding "solutions," whether in the form of antibiotics to keep pigs healthy or foreign bees to help pollinate the almonds. But this year's solutions have a way of becoming next year's problems. That is to say, they aren't "sustainable."
I'm just the messenger, bringing attention to the story. How you choose to take the message is entirely up to you.

And now... the new riddle.

QUESTION: What are scientists watching closely as we near January 30/2008 that is: big (about 50 meters in diameter), flies at a speed of 1.2 km per second (8 miles/second) and carries the potential to unleash energy equivalent to a 15-megaton nuclear bomb?

ANSWER: coming tomorrow.

Until then, stay safe and be healthy!

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