Tag Archives: growth

Animal advocates, farm workers sue FDA over animal growth drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of several ractopamine-based animal drugs is being challenged by animal advocates and farm workers. The groups are suing the FDA for failing to take into account the drugs’ cumulative effects on animal behavior, worker safety, wildlife or the nation’s waterways.

The lawsuit focuses on ractopamine, a drug fed to farm animals to promote rapid weight gain. The drug has been banned in dozens of countries and is said to cause death, lameness, stiffness, trembling and shortness of breath in farm animals.

The groups are suing because FDA has allowed millions of pigs, turkeys and cows to be fed ractopamine-based animal drugs without considering the cumulative impacts of the agency’s actions. The drugs include new combinations of ractopamine with controversial antibiotics and steroids. These drugs remain active in animal waste, and when sprayed on fields, or spilled from manure lagoons, they can wreak havoc on habitat, wildlife and endangered species.

“The FDA’s actions have far-reaching impacts on millions of animals, millions of acres of habitat, and thousands of farm workers throughout the United States,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, who works in the Animal Protection Litigation department at The Humane Society of the United States. “America’s animal factories are pumping out uncounted tons of ractopamine-laced animal waste into the environment each year, and the FDA has no idea what the long-term environmental effects might be.” 

Ractopamine can make animals severely stressed and difficult to handle, increasing the likelihood of injuring or killing farm workers. Workers’ exposure to antibiotics like Tylosin also endangers them and their families because exposure to the antibiotics can leave them more vulnerable to dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

“The wide-spread use of these drugs adds another layer of risk for farm workers, who are already doing some of the most dangerous jobs in America on factory farms, and puts farm worker communities at increased risk of illness and disease” said Erik Nicholson, national vice-president for United Farm Workers of America. 

“Consumers are increasingly demanding humane treatment of farmed animals and the U.S. should be at the forefront of animal protection rather than lagging behind the international curve,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in San Francisco by The Humane Society of the United States, The United Farm Workers, and The Animal Legal Defense Fund, asks the Court to set-aside FDA’s approvals of the drugs at issue while the agency performs the environmental review required under federal law.

From the plaintiffs in the case:

• Ractopamine is fed to between 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. pigs, cattle and turkeys.

• Tylosin is an antibiotic given to livestock to promote growth and FDA considers it “critically important” to human medicine. Tylosin-resistant bacteria has been found in the soil and air downwind of factory farms.  

• Monensin is a livestock antibiotic administered to promote growth. Even in low doses it has direct toxic effects on soil animals and presents a potential ecological risk.

• Melengestrol is a synthetic steroid hormone used in dairy and beef cattle. The European Union prohibits the use of melengestrol because of the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat.

• The FDA has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment of the cumulative and combined effects of its approvals of Ractopamine and Ractopamine-based combination drugs on the vast majority of the pigs, cattle, and turkeys raised for food in the United States, nor even presented its decisions to the public for review or comment by outside experts.

Study: Red squirrels cause evolutionary change

When most people think about Yellowstone National Park and animals, the big ones come to mind: bison, wolves or grizzly bears.

They’re the species that draw tourists from around the globe. They’re also the ones that raise controversy and debate. But when it comes to actual impact on the forest, scientists recently discovered a much smaller, much more common creature is causing large, evolutionary changes to the park: the red squirrel.

“It’s pretty remarkable what squirrels do,” said Craig Benkman, a zoology and physiology professor at the University of Wyoming. “It’s just spending the time to figure out how it manifests itself.”

In the rebuilding of forests, Benkman and Matt Talluto, a recent UW doctoral graduate, found squirrels drastically change how forests regrow after fire. The pair recently published their work, “Conflicting selection from fire and seed predation drives fine-scaled phenotypic variation in a widespread North American conifer,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their research started formally about four years ago, but Benkman has wondered about squirrels and forest growth for more than a decade, he said.

He noticed striking differences between forests with and without squirrels. Those lodgepole pine forests without squirrels regrew quickly after fires; those with squirrels grew back in much more of a patchwork way with many more open meadows and sparse mountainsides. He also noticed that forests with squirrels had fewer serotinous pine cones — pine cones that need fire or extreme heat to open — versus other cones that open to seed every fall.

Lodgepole pines with serotinous cones are generally common in forests prone to fire. Trees wait to seed until a fire moves through, opening millions of cones and regrowing hundreds of thousands of trees in relatively small areas. Forests without closed cones take much longer to regrow because no seeds have accumulated over the years.

“You end up with much more open habitat, which in turn influences everything,” Benkman said. “It must influence the bird communities, mammal communities and others organisms working in Yellowstone.”

He wondered then if squirrels, and their affinity for eating serotinous cones, could be stopping trees with those cones from reproducing, which keeps the population of trees from regenerating.

Benkman then met Talluto who arrived for graduate school at UW, and they turned their sights on Yellowstone.

As Yellowstone continues to regrow after the massive 1988 fires, trees have appeared in patches, Talluto said. Biologists knew the differences were due to areas with more and less closed cones, but didn’t understand the cause of the variation. Yellowstone also made the perfect study area with relatively untouched wilderness and had large amounts of previous research.

Talluto, who now works as a postdoctoral researcher with the University of Quebec, spent three summers in Yellowstone tracking squirrel numbers and serotinous cones. The pair also used past research and modeling to reach their conclusions.

Unlike feral pigs on the east coast or zebra or quagga mussels in lakes and reservoirs, red squirrels are not an invasive species in the Rocky Mountains. Nevertheless, as fires become more frequent and more intense across the West, Talluto thinks the squirrels could play an even more important role in changing the landscape.

“In terms of using this information for actual decision making, we’re not there yet,” Talluto said. “We’re getting closer to helping make decisions. There are still unanswered questions about how will things change with climate change, or will we see a change in the number of fires. Everything you find asks more questions.”

What the team does know is that squirrels, one of the smaller, and certainly less talked about mammals in the Yellowstone ecosystem, are making substantial changes with tangible results.

Study: Species going extinct at much faster rate

The current rate of species extinctions is more than 1,000 times greater than the background rate calculated from the fossil record and genetic data, spanning millions of years, according to a new study published in the journal Science. The primary cause of this dramatic rise in the loss of species is human population growth and increased consumption.

“This important study confirms that species are going extinct at a pace not seen in tens of millions of years and unlike past extinction events, the cause is us,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The loss of species has drastic consequences for us all by degrading ecosystems that clean our air and water and are a source of food and medicine, and by making our world less interesting and a more lonely place. This study underscores the importance of laws like the Endangered Species Act and the need for swift action to reverse the disturbing trend of extinction.”

In likely the most comprehensive assessment of species extinction rates yet, the study led by acclaimed conservation biologist Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke University found the rate at which mammals, birds and amphibians are moving toward extinction over the past four decades would have been 20 percent higher were it not for conservation efforts.

The study uses newly available data on species distributions and imperilment to quantify the current extinction rate, which was estimated to be at least 100 extinctions per million species-years. The researchers then analyzed extensive data on rates of speciation and extinction over millions of years to estimate a background or natural rate of extinction of .1 extinctions per million species-years, leading to the new estimate that we have increased the rate of extinction by at least 1,000 times.

This estimate is considered conservative because of the large number of species still unknown to science, the fact that a majority of such species are likely to be rare and at risk and uncertainties in predicting future extinctions given increased habitat destruction, spread of invasive species and diseases, and global warming.

“The findings of this study are alarming to say the least,” said Greenwald. “But it also shows we can make a difference if we choose to and should be a clarion call to take action to protect more habitat for species besides our own and to check our own population growth and consumption.”

The study further notes that some groups of species are going extinct at even greater rates.

North American freshwater fishes, for example, were found to be going extinct at a rate of 305 extinctions per million species-years, or more than 3,000 times greater than the background rate, and the continent’s snails and slugs are going extinct at a rate nearly 10,000 times background. These high rates reflect the degree to which we have degraded rivers and lakes in North America with dams, pollution, spread of non-native species and direct destruction.