We Need The Scientific Juice To Save The Nation’s Citrus Industry

Much of New Age airy-fairy ideation about food invokes buzzwords such as “natural” and “organic.” Seductive as those concepts may be (to some), it is clear that preserving the future of a staple of the American breakfast table will require reliance on the best technologies available. There is no “natural” or “organic” solution to preserving commercial citrus production in the face of citrus greening, any more than there are effective “natural” solutions to treating cancer or multiple sclerosis.

In the long term, genetic engineering will rescue America’s citrus industry, but in the meantime, we will need neonicotinoid pesticides. To those naïfs who would ban them and condemn our citrus industry to extinction, I have a piece of advice: Go suck a lemon.

Don't miss this careful, nuanced analysis of the global citrus industry by Henry I. Miller. The activists have the capability to kill the growers. You can help by educating your friends and relations.

 

The Trouble With ‘Scientific’ Research Today: A Lot That’s Published Is Junk

A number of empirical studies show that 80-90% of the claims coming from supposedly scientific studies in major journals fail to replicate.

Henry I. Miller surveys the wreckage of sloppy medical research.

…Another worrisome trend is the increasing publication of the results of flawed “advocacy research” that is actually designed to give a false result that provides propaganda value for activists and can be cited long after the findings have been discredited.

Dr. Miller is referring to the Gilles-Eric Séralini scandal:

(Séralini has made a specialty of methodologically flawed, irrelevant, uninterpretable — but over-interpreted — experiments intended to demonstrate harm from genetically engineered plants and the herbicide glyphosate in various highly contrived scenarios.)

Re-Examining the FDA Antibiotics Decision: Banning Growth Promoters Won’t Be Enough

Denmark weaner pigs experience

Chart via Hagan Vigre, Danish Technical University, 2009

Further to the Denmark experience, Maryn McKenna has a new essay at Wired

The object lesson in changing antibiotic patterns is Denmark, which in 2000 made farm antibiotics prescription-only, and banned nontherapeutic uses altogether. It’s often pointed out, on the ag side, that Denmark had an increase in deaths among weaner pigs immediately after that ban was rolled out; but within 3 years, weaner pig survival improved and returned to where it had been before the ban.

What reversed the trend was Danish farmers’ understanding that it wasn’t enough just to remove antibiotics from meat production. What was necessary was to change the conditions in which meat animals were raised, so that the welfare threats which the antibiotics had addressed no longer existed.

That seems to me to be the lesson that meat production in America needs to learn, if the FDA’s intention to remove growth promoters is going to be meaningful. Simply reducing antibiotic use (if that does indeed happen) isn’t adequate; by itself, it may even be a threat to welfare. Changing the livestock practices that made antibiotic use necessary will improve animal and human health both.


How to protect effective antibiotics: a conversation with Doc Ricky

MRSA

I believe that the rapid spread of antibiotic resistance should be recognized as an urgent public health priority – possibly the #1 priority. E.g., CRE [1].

After reading Betsy McCaughey [2] “U.S. Lacks Will to Fight Superbugs” [3] I tweeted the citation for her op-ed

CRE the “nightmare bacteria”: U.S. Lacks Will to Fight Superbugs j.mp/1au0EbR

Shortly Doc Ricky replied:

@stevedarden I’m kind of perplexed by the media repetition of “fighting superbugs” – what do ppl expect anyway? Some secret weapon?

What an excellent framing question! I replied with some suggestions:

  1. Transparency of hospital performance on sanitation standards.
  2. No excuses policy on resistance cases e.g. Israel
  3. Strict limitation of agriculture use to disease, no routine NTA dosing
  4. Transparency on physician prescribing by doctor

Shortly Doc Ricky replied:

“@drricky: @stevedarden but problem is most of these are preventative, what is expected when MDR {Multi Drug Resistance} is detected?”

I replied over several tweets: By #2. what I meant is that the CDC publishes “best practice” on procedures to execute upon every identified case of MDR[4]- beginning with effective quarantine and decontamination. The “best practice” level of response is mandated to be the minimum response. It should be the top priority of the hospital to eliminate the detected microbe from the institution. I appreciate that is a statistical goal, as we have no way to validate that “we killed it”.

For examples of such best practices consider the 2011 NIH Clinical Center response to a CRE outbreak [5], and of Israel 2006 (from Betsy McCaughey):

When CRE invaded Israel’s hospitals in 2006, public health authorities launched a military-style campaign requiring reports from all hospitals, which were ordered to test patients and undergo rigorous cleaning efforts. This reduced CRE by 70 percent in one year. Israeli researchers just announced a drug that may protect patients exposed to CRE from becoming infected.

My personal bias is that regulation is a blunt and ineffective tool in complex, fast-changing domains like this one. My question: How to incentivize hospitals to succeed?

Suggestion: first try transparency. E.g., if the Johns Hopkins data, such as MDR cases, hand hygiene and infection-control scores are published on the web every month – that is a powerful incentive to improve – to be ranked among the very best institutions globally.

Meanwhile Doc Ricky tweeted a critique of my first try on agriculture:

@stevedarden The agriculture issue is more nuanced than that, after all, how does one exactly limit the use?

Exactly:

@drricky Legislating detailed Rx rules not practical. How about transparency of farm usage per animal-KG? Is public shame effective?

I am thinking of the Denmark experience beginning 1999 where they succeeded to eliminate NTA use in agriculture. See my 2010 Denmark: results of stopping NTA (non-therapeutic antimicrobials)

Doc Ricky moves the discussion to the next level, biology:

@stevedarden only skirts around the real problem, which is biology. We culture animals with similar physiology to ours

The microbes shared by humans and pigs, chickens, beef are why we are so concerned about agricultural applications of antibiotics. Agriculture uses roughly 80% of the antibiotics effective in the human population – but in vastly larger quantities. If we were all vegetarians that would eliminate the whole worry about agriculture.

Doc Ricky is truly the expert in this topic – I’m looking forward to learning from him. We agreed to shift the conversation from Twitter to a long-form-friendly fora.

@stevedarden clearly a complicated topic, and hope you’ll continue to discuss.

NOTES:


  1. The CDC on CRE Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae.  ↩

  2. Betsy McCaughey founder of Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths  ↩

  3.  (…snip…) CRE was first uncovered in North Carolina in 1999. By 2008, it had spread to 24 states and was “routinely” seen in certain New York and New Jersey hospitals. But hospitals kept quiet. Now it’s in at least 43 states.
    (…snip…) Two months ago at a press conference, CDC Director Thomas Frieden dubbed CRE the “nightmare bacteria,” warning that “without urgent action now,” superbugs like CRE will prevent patients from getting joint replacements, cancer therapy and other treatments. The risk of incurable infections will make these treatments too dangerous. Yet, where’s the urgent action?
    The CDC doesn’t even have accurate data on how many CRE infections are occurring and where, because according to the director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance, Steven Solomon, the government agency has never reached out to state officials to make CRE a reportable disease. Only 12 states require hospitals to report cases. Astoundingly, New York State did not require reports until July 2013, despite CRE menacing some of its hospitals for a decade.  ↩

  4. I am using the shorthand MDR to represent all the emerging multi-drug resistant microbes.  ↩

  5. This is what happened at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Maryland in 2011. A 43-year-old woman known to have CRE was admitted from a New York City hospital. The NIH treated her, using CDC infection-control precautions, but three weeks later, a male cancer patient who had had no contact with her came down with CRE. Week after week, more and more patients contracted the infection introduced by the New York woman. Six of those patients ultimately died, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy. To stop the outbreak, NIH investigators double-cleaned rooms with bleach and misted hydrogen peroxide in measures far beyond what the CDC recommends.  ↩

Climate change will make it increasingly difficult to feed the world. GMOs could help

MIT Technology Review:

(…) One advantage of using genetic engineering to help crops adapt to these sudden changes is that new varieties can be created quickly. Creating a potato variety through conventional breeding, for example, takes at least 15 years; producing a genetically modified one takes less than six months. Genetic modification also allows plant breeders to make more precise changes and draw from a far greater variety of genes, gleaned from the plants’ wild relatives or from different types of organisms. Plant scientists are careful to note that no magical gene can be inserted into a crop to make it drought tolerant or to increase its yield—even resistance to a disease typically requires multiple genetic changes. But many of them say genetic engineering is a versatile and essential technique.

“It’s an overwhelmingly logical thing to do,” says Jonathan Jones, a scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the U.K. and one of the world’s leading experts on plant diseases. The upcoming pressures on agricultural production, he says, “[are] real and will affect millions of people in poor countries.” He adds that it would be “perverse to spurn using genetic modification as a tool.”

 

FDA restricts antibiotic use in livestock

This is the best news in a long time.

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday put in place a major new policy to phase out the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for meat, a practice that experts say has endangered human health by fueling the growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

This is the agency’s first serious attempt in decades to curb what experts have long regarded as the systematic overuse of antibiotics in healthy farm animals, with the drugs typically added directly into their feed and water. The waning effectiveness of antibiotics — wonder drugs of the 20th century — has become a looming threat to public health. At least two million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections.

“This is the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years,” said David Kessler, a former F.D.A. commissioner who has been critical of the agency’s track record on antibiotics. “No one should underestimate how big a lift this has been in changing widespread and long entrenched industry practices.”

The change, which is to take effect over the next three years, will effectively make it illegal for farmers and ranchers to use antibiotics to make animals grow bigger. The producers had found that feeding low doses of antibiotics to animals throughout their lives led them to grow plumper and larger. Scientists still debate why. Food producers will also have to get a prescription from a veterinarian to use the drugs to prevent disease in their animals.

Federal officials said the new policy would improve health in the United States by tightening the use of classes of antibiotics that save human lives, including penicillin, azithromycin and tetracycline. Food producers said they would abide by the new rules, but some public health advocates voiced concerns that loopholes could render the new policy toothless.

Health officials have warned since the 1970s that overuse of antibiotics in animals was leading to the development of infections resistant to treatment in humans. For years, modest efforts by federal officials to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals were thwarted by the powerful food industry and its substantial lobbying power in Congress. Pressure for federal action has mounted as the effectiveness of drugs important for human health has declined, and deaths from bugs resistant to antibiotics have soared.

Under the new policy, the agency is asking drug makers to change the labels that detail how a drug can be used so they would bar farmers from using the medicines to promote growth.

The changes, originally proposed in 2012, are voluntary for drug companies. But F.D.A. officials said they believed that the companies would comply, based on discussions during the public comment period. The two drug makers that represent a majority of such antibiotic products — Zoetis and Elanco — have already stated their intent to participate, F.D.A. officials said. Companies will have three months to tell the agency whether they will change the labels, and three years to carry out the new rules.

Additionally, the agency is requiring that licensed veterinarians supervise the use of antibiotics, effectively requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain prescriptions to use the drugs for their animals.

“It’s a big shift from the current situation, in which animal producers can go to a local feed store and buy these medicines over the counter and there is no oversight at all,” said Michael Taylor, the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

 

Average is Over in farming

While Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Alice Waters continue to argue that we need to turn back the clock on technology in agriculture, much of the world is moving in a quite different direction.

Via Tyler Cowen, an excerpt from Missouri farmer Blake Hurst:

Most combines traveling across fields in the Midwest this fall had a GPS receiver located in the front of the cab. Although agriculture has been experimenting with this technology for a decade or so, only now is the industry starting to consider all the uses of this transformative technology. For several years, farmers have had the ability to map yields with global positioning data. Using that information, firms can design “prescriptions” for the farmer, who uses the “scrips” to apply seed and fertilizer in varying amounts across the field. Where the yield maps show soil with a lower yield potential, the prescription calls for fewer seeds and less fertilizer. This use of an individual farmer’s data to design a different program for each square meter in a field spanning hundreds of acres could replace a farmer’s decades of experience with satellites and algorithms. What we have gained in efficiency and by avoiding the overuse of scarce and potentially environmentally damaging inputs, we may be losing in the connections of the farm family to the ancestral place. Precision technology will allow managers to cover more acres more accurately and will likely lead to increasing size and consolidation of farms.

The advantages of cheap and ubiquitous drones to monitor crop conditions and forecast yields will be too valuable to ignore.

Big data on farming will also likely affect the private-public partnership that brings us subsidized crop insurance. In the present system, insurance rates are set to maximize enrollment in the subsidized program, because encouraging participation by producers is seen as a public good. Insurance rates in marginal areas are lower than they would be if prices reflected only actuarial risk. But with access to the data about individual farms, insurance companies will be able to identify the least risky, most productive farms, which will likely buy less costly private insurance. This will end the ability of the present crop insurance programs to spread risk and will increase costs for farmers in more marginal areas, if the government doesn’t increase subsidies further.

If a farmer can manage one machine guiding itself across a field by satellite, applying inputs and measuring outputs, reporting by-the-minute data on yields, oil temperature, and a gazillion other data points, what is to stop that same farmer from managing dozens of machines on farms the size of New Hampshire? Tyler Cowen argues that we’re about to see an even wider disparity in incomes between the 10 to 15 percent of the population that can relate well to computers and the vast majority of us who will deliver services to the computer-savvy class. Farming may be one of the first industries to explore the validity of Cowen’s thesis. All of us involved in agriculture will soon have to decide whether we want to occupy the nostalgic niche providing artisanal beets and heritage pork to Cowen’s 10 percent, or whether we’ll roll the dice on surviving the transition to a data-driven agriculture. Farming will be more efficient, more environmentally responsible, and easier to regulate and measure. But it won’t be the same.

 

EPA’s New Overseer Of ‘Scientific Integrity’: The Blind Leading The Blind

Henry Miller's UCS thumbnail is just perfect:

If you needed to hire a person to head the financial integrity division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, how about someone who had held that position in Bernie Madoff’s investment firm? In effect, that’s what EPA has done by choosing Francesca Grifo as its “scientific integrity official.”

Grifo previously oversaw the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists – an oxymoron if there ever was one. UCS is well known for exploiting every opportunity to distort science to further its radical, anti-technology agendas. In particular, the organization’s “experts” have been consistent, irresponsible and mendacious critics of genetic engineering and nuclear power, among other technologies; and they have been advocates for the kinds of shifts to “renewable energy” that would send energy costs to consumers and companies into the stratosphere.

UCS’ view of genetic engineering applied to agriculture is especially indefensible and hypocritical: “Genetic engineering in agriculture has failed to deliver on many of its promised benefits, and has produced some serious unintended consequences.” The facts argue otherwise. Because of its advantages – higher yields, less spraying of chemical pesticides, and greater food security and an improved bottom line for farmers — genetic engineering has been hugely successful and the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in history. The major factor preventing the realization of even more of the “promised benefits” is the overregulation and nuisance lawsuits promoted by UCS and similar groups! UCS’s carping about lackluster progress is reminiscent of the story about the man who kills his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan.

More…

 

The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science

NewImage

Distrust of GMOs has increased in recent years from initiatives to label, ban, or warn the public. The Lowdown on GMOs features contributions by public scientists, authors, farmers, science writers and journalists answering the hard questions with elegance, ease, and evidence. This is a book for those who want to know what the evidence says and the implications of our actions regarding GMOs. 

This is a very important new book The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science, compiled by Fourat Janabi. There are many contributors, including University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta. Kevin’s Q&A chapter is an excellent place to begin your exploration. Here’s a tidbit:             

(…snip…)The regulatory hoops are too difficult and expensive. Only the big companies can play in that space. Even little companies like Okanagan Specialty Fruits have to deal with the nonsense from those that hate the technology. Opposition to the science keeps the big guys in business, because nobody else can compete.

Who loses? The farmer, the consumer, the environment, the academic scientist and most of all the people around the world that don’t get enough food and nutrition. Who gains? Big Ag. 

I liked the blurb by Mary Mangan – it is very difficult for anyone outside the biotechnology field to access the science:

“It’s hard to find this level of quality discussion on this topic around the internet, where murky misinforming fear-mongers overwhelm the discussions.” ~ Mary Mangan, PhD, President and co-founder of OpenHelix LLC

African Farmers Reap Gains Of Biotech Cotton

Via @EcoSenseNow Patrick Moore and TruthAboutTrade.org


By Ronald Njoroge

Date – 1 Dec 2013

Website – http://www.coastweek.com

OUAUDOUGOU — Burkina Faso small scale farmer, Sanu Sibiri, took up planting of Genetically Modified Cotton in 2009. Four years later, his life has improved dramatically as a result of embracing biotechnology in one of world poorest continent.


“For the first time I was able to make a return on my investment thanks to the Bt cotton,” he said when African farmers went on study tour of his farm on Sunday that is located 400 km away from Burkina Faso’s capital city of Ouagadougou.


Sibiri, who has planted three hectares of biotech cotton, added that yields have improved from 400 kg per ha to at least one tonne per ha. However, scientists have been able to achieve two tonnes per ha.

The transgenic cotton that is widely grown in Burkina Faso was developed by inserting a gene on one of the locally available high yielding varieties.

The GM cotton is highly resistant to the Bollworm pest that is responsible for most of harvests losses.

The father of four, now only has to spray his cash crop twice per season down from the nine that was required with conventional cotton. The two sprays are against the sucking insects that are common in Africa.


The pesticides are also one of the biggest costs of production for any cotton farmer. “I have channeled the savings to improve the living standards of my family,” the farmer said.


“I now also have more time to do social activities instead of applying the dangerous pesticides,” he said. The West African nation was one of the few countries that have taken the bold step of commercializing Bt cotton.