High-speed pig slaughter will be disastrous for everyone involved | Deborah Berkowitz and Suzanne McMillan

A new rule in the US would eliminate food inspectors and lift limits on how quickly animals can be killed. The impact on workers, animals and consumers would be disastrous

The Trump administration has proposed a radical change in food security protection. They’re misleadingly calling it the” Modernization of swine slaughter inspection rule”, but what it actually does is roll back progress on protecting the public from serious and sometimes fatal cancers such as salmonella.

The proposal drastically reduces the number of trained government food inspectors in pork plants, turns over food security functions to untrained plant managers, and by allowing for an unlimited increase in carnage line speeds, sets public health, employee safety and animal welfare at risk.

Over the past few decades, the public has increasingly relied on the government to assure that, when it comes to food safety, the meat-packing industry won’t cut corners and imperil the health of our children, our families and our communities. But the Trump administration has a different position of how much protection we all deserve.

The new proposal, which seeks to privatize the pork inspection system, would eliminate more than 140 food inspectors who now work in the nation’s swine massacre plants. Most of the remaining government inspectors would be removed from the production lines. In their place, the proposal allows a smaller number of company employees- who are not required to receive relevant develop- to conduct fewer inspections. In other words, it allows the industry to police itself, like the fox guarding the proverbial hen( or swine) house.

Of critical fear, the proposal removes any maximum limits on line velocities in animal slaughter plants. Pigs are already slaughtered at an astonishing rate of approximately 1,100 per hour. With this new rule, those speeds could reach up to 1,300 or even 1,500 pigs per hour. This will directly harm the health and safety of the nation’s tens of thousands of meat-packing employees, make it harder for the limited number of meat inspectors to do their jobs, and threaten the welfare of more than 100 million swine per year.

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The proposed increase in line velocities will result in higher injury rates for employees in our nation’s packing houses. Scores of studies show that pork employees already face serious injury rates three times higher than “the member states national” median, and illness rates that are 17 times higher. The pork processing industry is one of the most hazardous for employees. The already breakneck line speeds, coupled with the forceful and repetitive nature of the jobs in meat-packing plants, lead to high rates of devastating traumata and illnesses.

Faster lines and fewer inspectors won’t only have disastrous impacts on employees but also the animals they are tasked with processing. The removal of line velocity caps has been shown to increase the chances for rough animal managing as employees feel the pressure to move pigs quickly through the massacre. This increased speed can result in improper stunning that leads to animals being slaughtered while conscious. Fast line velocities may leave plant employees unable to detect signs of consciousness, or unable to stop the line in time to intervene.

Pigs
‘ Pigs are already slaughtered at an astonishing rate of approximately 1,100 per hour. Those speeds could reach up to 1,300 or even 1,500 animals per hour .’ Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer

Reducing the number of inspectors at pig carnage plants will make an already precarious animal welfare situation worse. More federal oversight , not less, is needed to ensure adequate animal handle, welfare, and compliance with federal statute and regulations.

Finally, the proposal will not even lead to safer food. A review of five plants that served as a pilot for this proposal reveals there were more food security violations in these plants than in others. Additionally, a recent review by the USDA’s own office of inspector general found that relevant agencies failed to provide adequate oversight of those plants, and the pilot plants may have a higher potential for food security risks.

Adding insult to injury, the USDA issued this proposal without any final review of the impact on public health. The bureau has not released all the data that supposedly supports the proposal, yet the public is merely being given a few months make a few comments on this new system. How can stakeholders be expected to comment on a proposal without find the final scientific analysis on which it is based?

Clearly, the real goal of this proposal is to allow the meat-packing industry to increase its profits. It’s all about lining the pockets of a few corporate executives- at the expense of customer health, worker safety and animal welfare.

We urge the USDA to consider the millions of lives- customers, workers and trade animals- they are placing at incredible peril. They should reject any increase in line speeds and withdraw the so-called modernisation of swine slaughter inspection rule.

  • Deborah Berkowitz is a senior fellow for worker safety and health at the National Employment Law Project and the former chief of staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; Suzanne McMillan is the content director for ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Campaign .

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Antibiotic apocalypse: doctors sound alarm over drug resistance

The frightening prospect that even routine operations will be impossible to perform has been raised by experts alarmed by the rise of drug-resistant genes

Scientists attending a recent session of the American Society for Microbiology reported they had uncovered a highly disturbing trend. They revealed that bacteria containing a gene known as mcr-1- which bestows resistance to the antibiotic colistin- had spread round the world at an alarming rate since its original discovery 18 months earlier. In one area of China, it was found that 25% of hospital patients now carried the gene.

Colistin is known as the” antibiotic of last resort “. In many parts of the world physicians have turned to its use because patients were no longer responding to any other antimicrobial agent. Now resistance to its employ is spreading across the globe.

In the words of England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies:” The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse .” Unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread and routes are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life, she warns.

That scaring prospect is likely to be the main points of a major international conference to be held in Berlin this week. Organised by the UK government, the Wellcome Trust, the UN and several other national governments, the session will be attended by scientists, health officers, pharmaceutical chiefs and politicians. Its undertaking is to try to accelerate measures to halt the spread of drug resistance, which now threatens to remove many of the major weapons currently deployed by doctors in their war against disease.

The arithmetic is stark and disturbing, as the conference organisers make clear. At present about 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections. However, this global figure is growing relentlessly and could reach 10 million a year by 2050.

The danger, say scientists, is one of the greatest that humanity has faced in recent times. In a drug-resistant world, many aspects of modern medication would just become impossible. An instance is provided by graft surgery. During operations, patients’ immune systems have to be inhibited to stop them rejecting a new organ, leaving them prey to infections. So doctors employ immunosuppressant cancer drugs. In future, however, these may no longer be effective.

Or take the example of more standard operations, such as abdominal surgery or the removal of a patient’s appendix. Without antibiotics protecting children during these procedures, people will die of peritonitis or other infections. The world will face the same dangers as it did before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928.

” Routine surgery, joint replacings, caesarean section, and chemotherapy also depend on antibiotics, and will also be at risk ,” says Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the UK Medical Research Council.” Common infections could kill again .”

As to the causes of this growing threat, scientists point to the widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotics and other drugs and to the failure of pharmaceutical companies to investigate and develop new sources of general medicines for the future. Western doctors are over-prescribing antibiotics to patients who expect to be given a drug for whatever complaint they have. In many countries, both land and fish farmers use antibiotics as growth promoters and haphazardly pour them on to their livestock. In the latter case the end outcome is antibiotics leaching into creeks and rivers with alarming results, particularly in Asia.

” In the Ganges during pilgrimage season, there are levels of antibiotics in the river that we try to achieve in the bloodstream of patients ,” says Davies.” That is very, very disturbing .”

The creation of these soups of antibiotic-laden water and banks of drug-soaked clays is ideal for the development of “superbugs”. Rare strains that are resistant to antibiotics start to thrive in farm animals that are raised in these artificial environments and emerge as highly potent infectious agents that then spread across the planet with startling speed. Instances of this involves tuberculosis, which was once easily treated but which, in its modern multi-drug-resistant form, known as MDR-TB , now claims the lives of 190,000 people a year.

Another even more uncovering instance are offered by colistin.” Colistin was developed in the 50 s ,” says Matthew Avison, reader in molecular biology at Bristol University.” However, its toxic side-effects built it unpopular with physicians. So it was taken up by vets and used in animals. But as resistance- in humen- to other antibiotics has spread, doctors have returned to colistin on the grounds that it was better than nothing .”

Levels
Levels of antibiotics in major rivers such as the Ganges are cause for alarm, says England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies. Photograph: Alamy

But the antibiotic’s widespread employ as a growth promoter for poultry and swine in Asia had- by this time- encouraged the evolution of resistant stress and these have now spread to humen.” Colistin was a drug we disposed and devoted to the veterinarians and now, all of a sudden, we expect that we can take it back again ,” said Avison.” However, the genie is already out of the bottle .”

The position is summed up by Lance Price, an antibiotic researcher at George Washington University in Washington DC.” Superbugs are gaining strength because we continue to expend these precious medications through overuse in human medication and as cheap production tools in animal agriculture .”

Bans on the agricultural use of antibiotics like colistin are being imposed in Asia but have come far too late to be effective, a number of problems acknowledged by Lord Jim O’Neill, whose report to the UK government on antimicrobial resistance was published last year.” When we were putting our report together, colistin resistance was considered to be a problem that would not affect us for some time. Now we find it has already spread all over the place .”

The report that was overseen by O’Neill- who will be speaking at this week’s seminar in Berlin- put forward a number of proposals to stop antibiotic resistance from overwhelming health services. In particular, it argued that narcotic companies should now foot the bill for the drafting of new antibiotics and that patients should not be allowed to get them without a test to ensure they are needed.

” I find it incredible that doctors must still prescribe antibiotics based only on their immediate assessment of a patient’s symptoms, just like they used to when antibiotics first entered common use in the 1950 s ,” O’Neill said in the report, adding that the development of rapid diagnostic tests on patients- which would establish whether an antibiotic was necessary and, if so, which kind- must now be an urgent priority.

The proposal- to be debated at the conference the coming week- is popular, although Professor Alastair Hay of Bristol University advised caution.” It is a very good notion, but we should note that a new type of diagnostic exam like this will also add period and work for our already overburdened health service ,” he points out.

Then there is the issue of travel, one of the biggest problems we face over the spread of antimicrobial resistance, according to Davies, who has spearheaded Britain’s part in the battle to fight its spread around the world.

” One Swedish analyse followed a group of young backpackers who went off on holiday to different parts of the world. None had resistant bacteria in their intestines when they left. When they returned a quarter of them had picked up resistant bugs. That shows the permeating nature of the problem we face ,” she said.

Tourism, personal hygiene, farming, medical practice- all are affected by the issue of antibiotic resistance, and it will be the task of the conference to highlight the most effective and speedy solutions to tackle the crisis.

” In the end, the problem posed to the planet by antimicrobial resistance is not that difficult ,” says O’Neill.” All that is required is to get people to behave differently. How you achieve that is not so clear, of course .”

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France faces worst wine grape harvest since 1945

Wine production to fall by 18% on 2016 after spring frosts ravage vines, but hot summer could deliver top vintages

France is expecting its poorest wine grape harvest since 1945 after an remarkably mild March and a frosty April, experts have said, although the hot summertime promises to deliver excellent quality.

” At harvests everywhere, in places where we gues there would be a little less, there’s a lot less ,” Jerome Despey, head of a governmental wine advisory board, said on Friday. This year’s harvest will be the smallest since 1945, he told a news conference.

The French agriculture ministry said output was expected to total 37.2 m hectolitres- 18% less than 2016 and 17% below the average over the past five years. The 2016 harvest was one of the poorest in 30 years.

Despey said the ministry figures were based on appraisals made in early August, before the beginning of the harvests, which have now begun in the south-east about two weeks earlier than usual.

Despey, who is also secretary general of France’s biggest farmers’ union, the FNSEA, said last week he expected a 40% drop in output in the prime wine-growing region of Bordeaux, the country’s largest. Vineyards in north-eastern Alsace, which produces mainly white wine, is likewise hit hard.

This year’s drop in production is” principally attributable to the severe springtime frost that affected all the wine-growing regions to differing degrees at a sensitive period for the vine “, the agriculture ministry said.

The bitter cold struck twice within a week in April, ravaging the fragile shoots and buds that had emerged prematurely after mild temperatures in March. To combat the frost, winemakers in Bordeaux set flames in petroleum drums, then positioned them carefully between the rows of grapevines. Giant fans were also deployed to battle the cold, damp air settling on the plants.

Some loss are also anticipated in the Burgundy region, where vines have been repeatedly hit by hail in recent years.

Vineyards in the south, Beaujolais and the Rhone valley suffered during an exceptionally dry summer that they are able to further depress yields, agricultural purposes ministry told. But one advantage of drought is that it reduces the impact of diseases on the vines.

The maturity and good health of the grapes pointed to a year that” will stand out for quality, blithely”, Despey said.

In the five years to 2016, hail knocked out half of Burgundy’s harvest, according to the Global Wine Risk Index. The index encompasses 110,000 wineries in 131 countries producing about 26 bn litres every year.

Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Hungary also experienced frost this year that could diminish harvests by 30% and even up to 60% in some areas.

Wine, one of France’s biggest exports, is” a highly vulnerable industry”, told researcher James Daniell, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. About 10% of wine production was lost to natural hazards every year at an estimated cost of $10 bn, he said.

At the Vinexpo wine fair in Bordeaux in June, winemakers brainstormed over how to mitigate challenges to their subsistence were imposed by climate change. Producers have found that global warming can cause grapes to ripen earlier, which changes their sugar and acid levels, leading to lower-quality wines with higher alcohol content.

Some are using low-tech approaches to delay harvesting hours and increase soil moisture, and are experimenting with pruning afterwards or employing grape assortments that take longer to ripen, thrive in warmer climes or are resistant to drought. But these grapes are not yet ready to be turned into great wines, experts say.

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