Tag Archives: livestock

CDC report: Drug-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to Wisconsin calves

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with Wisconsin health, agriculture and laboratory agencies, several other states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to investigate a multi-state outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg infections.

Here are some details from the CDC report:

Twenty-one people infected with an outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from eight states. A list of states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Case Count Map page.

Among 19 people with available information, illnesses started on dates ranging from Jan. 11- Oct. 24. Ill people range in age from less than 1 year to 72, with a median age of 21. Sixty-two percent of ill people are female. Among 19 ill people with available information,  eight  reported being hospitalized and no deaths have been reported.

Isolates from ill people are closely related genetically to one another. This close genetic relationship means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection.

Epidemiologic, traceback and laboratory findings have identified dairy bull calves from livestock markets in Wisconsin as the likely source of infections, according to the CDC.

Dairy bull calves are young, male cattle that have not been castrated and may be raised for meat. Dairy bull calves in this outbreak also have been purchased for use with 4-H projects.

In interviews, ill people answered questions about any contact with animals and foods eaten in the week before becoming ill. Of the 19 people interviewed, 79 percent reported contact with dairy bull calves or other cattle. Some of the ill people interviewed reported that they became sick after their dairy bull calves became ill or died.

One ill person’s dairy calves were tested for the presence of Salmonella bacteria. This laboratory testing identified Salmonella Heidelberg in the calves.

Further testing showed that isolates from ill people are closely related genetically to isolates from these calves. This close genetic relationship means that the human infections in this outbreak are likely linked to ill calves.

As part of routine surveillance, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, one of seven regional labs affiliated with CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network, conducted antibiotic resistance testing on clinical isolates from the ill people associated with this outbreak.

These isolates were found to be resistant to antibiotics and shared the same DNA fingerprints, showing the isolates were likely related to one another.

Traceback information available at this time indicates that most calves in this outbreak originated in Wisconsin. Wisconsin health and agriculture officials continue to work with other states to identify herds that may be affected.

Livestock antibiotics sales rapidly rising

Sales of medically important antibiotics for use in raising domestic animals for livestock increased 3 percent from 2013 to 2014, and an alarming 23 percent in the last five years, according to an annual report released this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This news comes on the heels of recent warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization that in order to keep antibiotics working to treat sick humans, the agricultural industry must stop misusing antibiotics by administering them to animals that are not sick for growth promotion and disease prevention.

Avinash Kar, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “Dangerous overuse of antibiotics by the agricultural industry has been on the rise at an alarming rate in recent years — putting the effectiveness of our lifesaving drugs in jeopardy for people when they get sick. We can no longer rely on the meat and pharmaceutical industries to self-police the responsible handling of these precious drugs.

He continued, “The FDA must follow the lead of California and outlaw routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick in meat production nationwide. If we want to keep our antibiotics working for people when we need them, the agency must take urgent action.”

FAILURE AT THE FAUCET | Safe, clean drinking water eludes many Wisconsinites

In this place, hundreds of thousands of people face the specter of drinking water from wells that is unsafe, tainted by one or more contaminants such as arsenic or nitrate.

In this place, for some, even brushing their teeth or cooking a meal can give pause because of the risk of lead from aging water pipes. The dangers to children, often more susceptible to pollutants than adults, and even pets and livestock, cause nagging fear.

Surely, this place — on a planet where the United Nations estimates 783 million people lack access to safe drinking water — lies in a distant nation.

But this polluted water is right here. In many parts of Wisconsin. In a state whose very name evokes the image of lakes and rivers and clean, cool, abundant water.

Lynda Cochart’s water from her private well was so poisoned by salmonella, nitrate, E. coli and manure-borne viruses that one researcher compared the results from her Kewaunee County farm to contamination in a Third World country. She suspects the problem is related to the county’s proliferation of large livestock operations, although testing did not pinpoint the source.

“Realize that we can’t drink, brush our teeth, wash dishes, wash food; we can’t use our water,” Cochart wrote in a letter last year to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking intervention in the county’s drinking water problems.

“Our water is on our mind all the time. If drinking it doesn’t kill us, the stress of having it on our mind and worrying about it all the time will.”

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents are at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found.

The problem persists, and in some areas is worsening, because of flawed agricultural practices, development patterns that damage water quality, geologic deposits of harmful chemicals, porous karst and sand landscapes, lack of regulation of the private wells serving an estimated 1.7 million people, and breakdowns in state and federal systems intended to safeguard water quality.

Studies show an increasing number of residents using private wells around the state are drinking unsafe levels of nitrate — most of it from fertilizer, manure or septic systems — which can be fatal to infants and has been linked to birth defects.

Tens of thousands of people living in homes in Milwaukee, Wausau and other cities with aging water pipes and fixtures may be exposed to lead, which can cause brain damage in children. Homes built before 1950 are likely to have lead pipes, according to the DNR. Those built before 1984 also could have lead in their fixtures or lead solder on pipes, the agency said.

The Center found that in many cases, residents are on their own when it comes to safeguarding their drinking water. Private well owners are not required to test their water, and only 16 percent do so annually, although 47 percent of private wells are estimated to be contaminated by one or more pollutants at levels above health standards. One-third of respondents to a 2008-09 state health survey said they had never tested their wells.

Even consumers of some municipal water should be wary. In 2009, after researchers found viruses in public water supplies, the state began requiring disinfection. In 2011, the Legislature rescinded the rule, with its sponsor, Rep. Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, calling it “an unnecessary and financial bureaucratic burden.”

In 2012, researchers definitively linked the presence of the viruses in 14 Wisconsin municipal water systems to acute gastrointestinal illness. More than 73,000 people use water provided by 60 municipal water systems that do not disinfect, according to DNR figures.

Last month, Doug and Sherryl Jones, of Spring Green, and Dave Marshall, a former Department of Natural Resources researcher from Barneveld who studied aquatic organisms, were among 16 Wisconsin residents who petitioned the EPA to revoke Wisconsin’s authority to issue pollution discharge permits under the Clean Water Act if the DNR does not correct deficiencies.

The discharge permits are a key mechanism by which Wisconsin limits pollutants, including manure from large farms, that reach the sources of Wisconsin’s drinking water. Both the Joneses and Marshall cited unsafe levels of nitrates in drinking water wells in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley.

Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Madison law firm representing the residents, said Wisconsin lacks an adequate regulatory program to protect water, including what flows from residents’ taps.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick countered that the DNR “takes its responsibility to protect Wisconsin’s waters seriously and does enforce the Clean Water Act. We are working within the confines of current state and federal laws and rules to do just that.” He declined to make any DNR officials available to discuss the Center’s findings.

Environmentalists are not the only critics of Wisconsin’s approach to safeguarding water.

Last year, an administrative law judge accused the DNR of “massive regulatory failure” for failing to prevent widespread contamination in the private wells used by Kewaunee County residents living near large dairy farms.

Judge Jeffrey Boldt, while granting a large farm’s permit to expand its herd beyond 4,000 cows, ordered the DNR to take several steps, including requiring Kinnard Farms to conduct off-site well testing and cap the number of cows based on “limits that are necessary to protect groundwater and surface waters.”

As of October, the agency was refusing to comply with those two requirements, saying it lacked the legal authority to impose them.

In the absence of rigorous enforcement, the Center found, residents can begin safeguarding their water by using methods including having their private wells tested for contaminants common in their areas or using safer practices when it comes to using water from aging lead pipes. Filters and water conditioners also can remove some harmful elements from drinking water.

But environmental advocates say state and federal lawmakers and regulators must do more to ensure the safety of Wisconsin’s drinking water.

Residents “think the government is protecting their water,” Wright said. “It’s not.”

Problems are statewide

Over the past year, the Center examined the state of Wisconsin’s drinking water. Major findings include:

  • Lead, dangerous especially to children’s brain development, is a threat in a projected 6,000 homes with lead pipes on municipal water systems, according to EPA estimates. And as many as 16,920 of the state’s 940,000 rural households on private wells also could be exposed to unhealthy lead levels, most likely from plumbing, according to a study by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Officials from the EPA and DNR have publicly acknowledged current federal regulations fail to protect against dangerous levels of lead in water.
  • Nitrate exceeds safe levels in the private wells of an estimated 94,000 Wisconsin households, according to state estimates. Despite these dangers, the law carves out a regulatory loophole so that private well owners with nitrate levels that could kill infants cannot qualify for financial assistance to get their wells replaced — unless the wells are used to water livestock.
  • Pesticides, some of which are linked with health issues ranging from cancer to reproductive problems, are present in one-third of the state’s private wells tested, according to the state’s 2014 Groundwater Coordinating Council report to the state Legislature. Tests for the herbicide atrazine, for example, showed 440 of 5,500 wells tested had levels above the EPA’s health enforcement standard.
  • A 2013 Department of Health Services study of 3,868 private wells statewide showed 2.4 percent of them exceeded the safe drinking water standards for arsenic of 10 parts per billion. Applied to all of the state’s private wells — a method endorsed by the study’s lead author — that percentage means residents in some 22,560 homes may be consuming unsafe levels of arsenic, which has been linked to cancer, diabetes, lower IQ and other illnesses.
  • That same study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, found an indicator of possible disease-causing organisms such as E. coli or viruses in 18 percent of the 3,868 private wells tested statewide between 2007 and 2010.
  • Wisconsin’s private wells have some of the highest levels in the United States of the heavy metal strontium, which is suspected of causing rickets and bone deformities in infants and children, according to the EPA. The naturally occurring contaminant, which is currently unregulated, was found by a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay researcher at unsafe levels in 73 out of 114, or 64 percent, of well water samples in Brown, Calumet and Outagamie counties, where the local geology has been linked to the presence of strontium.
  • Tests of municipal wells in 42 communities for radium, a naturally occurring contaminant linked to health problems including cancer, exceeded federal safety limits in 2006. As of June, two dozen communities continued to exceed the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for radium, which is found at higher levels the deeper communities drill down for water. Waukesha continues to find spikes in its water and has made a controversial, internationally watched bid to become the first community outside the Great Lakes watershed to draw its water from Lake Michigan.
  • Unsafe levels of molybdenum, a naturally occurring metal that can cause joint, gastrointestinal, liver and kidney problems, were found in 200 of 1,000 private wells tested in southeastern Wisconsin by the environmental group Clean Wisconsin in 2014. The organization found that the severity of contamination increased the closer wells were to sites with recycled coal ash from power plants. The DNR said the data are insufficient to link the contaminants to coal ash.

According to the petition filed with the EPA last month, “water quality issues permeate throughout Wisconsin and are not confined to a particular area of the state. Petitioners have arrived at a conclusion that the status of the state’s water quality warrants wide-sweeping change.”

Exposure to contaminants large

The number of people exposed to contaminated tap water is hard to come by because most studies involve a single pollutant or region where drinking water is threatened. But when those pollutants and affected regions are looked at in total, the sum of people affected escalates.

For example, statewide sampling of 3,868 private wells by state public health researchers found 47 percent of the tested wells had one or more contaminants at levels exceeding health-based water quality standards.

Lynda Knobeloch, the lead author of the paper and who is now retired from her position as a researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said she was surprised at the percentage of contaminated wells detected in the study. Researchers tested for coliform bacteria, fluoride, nitrate and a panel of 13 metals. The researchers did not test for other contaminants, including pesticides, believed to be in thousands of wells.

“Since an estimated 940,000 Wisconsin households, including more than 300,000 children, drink water from a private well, the finding that nearly half of the wells are unsafe is a major public health concern,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in 2013.

Municipal water systems fare much better than private wells, partly because they are heavily regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and must test for a broad range of contaminants.

In 2014, according to the DNR’s annual report on public drinking water systems, 95.5 percent, or 10,904 systems out of 11,420, met all health-based standards for regulated contaminants.

Ken Bradbury, director of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, said the aquifers from which most municipalities and all private well owners draw their drinking water are by and large a clean and plentiful source of water. But he added a caveat.

“We have this wonderful resource we take for granted,” Bradbury said. “And we don’t respect it enough.”

Natural threats made worse by man

Among the culprits in Wisconsin’s drinking water are natural contaminants such as arsenic and radium. And although they are naturally occurring, their presence in drinking water is often made worse by the drawdown of aquifers that comes with sprawling population growth and insufficient oversight of water use.

About 10 years ago, Bradley Burmeister’s family in Outagamie County had its private well tested for arsenic as part of a high school class project.

The results were shocking: Arsenic levels were 165 times higher than the federal health standard. Ever since, the Burmeisters have been buying bottled water by the case from the grocery store.

Tests by the DNR in the 1990s of nearly 2,000 private wells in northeastern Wisconsin showed nearly 20 percent of them exceeded the health standards for arsenic.

Some wells that once tested negative for arsenic may now be tainted because of drawdown, according to John Luczaj, a groundwater expert at UW-Green Bay.

Patrick Laughrin, who lives in the Calumet County community of Hilbert, said arsenic began showing up in his well after a large dairy operation nearby drilled high-capacity wells.

Another natural contaminant, radium, has begun to show up in the water systems of communities such as Sussex in Waukesha County, which is part of eastern Wisconsin’s “radium belt.” The radioactive substance is more prevalent the deeper communities drill into a depleted aquifer.

Rules improve water quality

Not all the news is bad.

The federal Clean Water Act was passed 40 years ago, and Wisconsin’s waters — especially its lakes and rivers — saw tremendous improvements in quality as point sources of pollution coming from industries were cleaned up.

According to the DNR, since the passage of the federal law, Fox River paper mills cut pollution from 425,000 to 22,000 pounds of solids a day. Milwaukee went from an estimated 60 combined sewer overflows a year to 2.5. Phosphorus pollution from point sources such as factories and municipalities has been cut by 67 percent since 1994, according to the agency.

Jill Jonas, head of the DNR’s Drinking and Groundwater program, called Wisconsin’s efforts to ensure clean drinking water for the state a “tremendous success story.”

One hundred years ago, she noted, Wisconsin’s State Board of Health recorded 105 cases of waterborne typhoid fever for every 100,000 people. Today, such illnesses are rare, with about 400 cases nationwide each year — and more than two-thirds of them are acquired during international travel.

Things also are looking up for neighbors of the defunct Badger Army Ammunition Plant after years of agitating by citizens for clean water. Residents there have been drinking bottled water because of private wells contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and other contaminants, byproducts of manufacturing explosives for World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Town of Merrimac resident Gene Franks described living with “gnawing doubt” about the safety of his drinking water. But soon Franks’ home will be among the nearly 400 households in this scenic area south of Baraboo to get a municipal supply of water  — courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Some regulation lax, full of loopholes

Despite the sometimes dramatic improvements in overall water quality, activists contend the state has gone backwards in recent years when it comes to enforcement of clean-water laws.

In 2011, the EPA identified 75 failings in the DNR’s enforcement of the state’s wastewater pollution permit program. Last month, after the residents’ petition was filed, the state agency announced it is working on two rule packages that will address 21 of the issues. The agency said it has resolved 36 of the issues and is working on more rule changes that will solve the 18 remaining problems.

“Our state has historically been, and continues to be, a leader in many water-related areas,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a news release.

But the residents’ petition said the agency’s actions to resolve deficiencies represent a “lack of meaningful response.” The petition also charged that the agency’s authority and staff have been whittled away, citing the loss of 600 positions in the past 20 years.

The petitioners claim Wisconsin now lacks the staff to adequately inspect and manage permits for wastewater sources, including large farms, municipalities and industries. EPA estimates show two-thirds of such facilities in Wisconsin are operating with expired waste discharge permits — the third worst rate in the nation.

Recent reorganization at the agency by Gov. Scott Walker “raises even more doubt” about its ability to carry out its duties under the Clean Water Act, according to the petition. One of those changes is eliminating a separate water division and consolidating both water and air pollution under a Business Support and External Services Division.

“The governor and state Legislature have starved the DNR’s power and robbed the agency’s experienced staff of professional autonomy to make informed decisions,” Wright said in a statement, adding, “Without effective government, we are compounding what our children and grandchildren will face in a world increasingly short of drinking water.”

Portions of the series were produced in collaboration with journalism classes participating in The Confluence, a project involving the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The nonprofit Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the journalism school. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

FAILURE AT THE FAUCET: Safeguarding your drinking water: What you can do

Wisconsin residents can take a number of steps to make sure their drinking water is safe. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you live in one of the 940,000 households in Wisconsin that rely on a private well, have your water tested or test it yourself. The state Department of Natural Resources recommends getting your well tested once a year for coliform bacteria and any time you notice a change in how your water looks, smells or tastes. Check with your county health department on what contaminants may be found in your area and for which you might also want to test.
  • You can get more information on testing from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, including details on how to obtain testing kits and the costs of various tests. The test for coliform bacteria, for example, costs $29, as do the tests for lead and nitrate.
  • For those using municipal water, get the consumer confidence report from your local water utility. Or you can access the reports on the DNR’s database of public water systems. Also, find out if your utility disinfects for viruses or uses corrosion control to help keep lead out of pipes.
  • If your home was built before 1984, consider having it assessed for lead in the water. While pre-1950 homes often have lead service pipes, some homes built before 1984 may have lead solder on the pipes or fixtures that contain lead. Consult the DNR website for safer ways to use water that may contain lead.
  • Consider a filter for your water. But make sure that the filter you choose is effective for removing the specific contaminants that are in your water. The University of Wisconsin-Extension website has advice on which to choose.

— Ron Seely

About the Failure at the Faucet series

Failure at the Faucet is part of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s ongoing Water Watch Wisconsin project, which examines state water quality and supply issues.

The series was produced for The Confluence, a collaborative project involving the Center and students and faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The investigation included reviewing dozens of studies, interviewing many of the state’s foremost water quality scientists and scouring the state to find homeowners who cannot do something most of us take for granted — cup their hand under the kitchen tap and take a long, cool drink of water.

The Confluence was supported by a grant managed by the Online News Association and funded by the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund.

Katy Culver, assistant professor in the journalism school, coordinated The Confluence. Ron Seely, a Center editor and reporter, was project editor.

The investigative reporting class that participated in Failure at the Faucet was taught by Deborah Blum, a former UW-Madison journalism professor and now director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students in the class were Rachael Lallensack, Gabrielle Menard, Tierney King, Silke Schmidt, Kathi Matthews-Risley, Jane Roberts, Mary Kate McCoy, Elise Bayer and Fern Schultz.



Report: USDA agency kills 2.7 million wild animals in 2014

New data from the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services reveals that the somewhat secretive agency killed more than 2.7 million animals during fiscal year 2014, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and other animals.

The services killed more than 4 million animals in 2013.

The latest report shows the killing of 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 580 black bears, 305 mountain lions, 796 bobcats, 454 river otters, 2,930 foxes, three bald eagles, five golden eagles and 22,496 beavers, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The program also killed 15,698 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 33,309 of their dens.

Also, agency insiders have revealed that the agency kills many more animals than it reports.

“It’s sickening to see these staggering numbers and to know that so many of these animals were cut down by aerial snipers, deadly poisons and traps,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These acts of brutality are carried out every day, robbing our landscapes of bears, wolves, coyotes and other animals that deserve far better. Wildlife Services does its dirty work far from public view and clearly has no interest in cleaning up its act.”

Many animals – especially wolves, coyotes and prairie dogs – were targeted and killed on behalf of livestock grazers or other powerful agricultural interests, according to CBD. Wildlife Services does not reveal how many animals were wounded or injured, but not killed.

The report also shows that hundreds animals were killed unintentionally, including 390 river otters, as well as hundreds of badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, muskrats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, porcupines and 16 pet dogs.  

The data show that the federal program has refused to substantially slow its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general, and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services continues to thumb its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual,” said Atwood. “This appalling and completely unnecessary extermination of American wildlife must stop.”

Just since 1996 Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 27 million native animals.

Wisconsin group exposes factory-farms and mislabeled ‘organic’ foods

A Wisconsin-based farm policy and research group is pursuing formal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations that are producing dairy, eggs and meat being wrongfully marketed as “organic.”

The group, the Cornucopia Institute, said it took action after years of inaction by the USDA and contracted for aerial photography over factory farms in nine states over eight months.

The group, in its report released on Dec. 11, said it documented “a systemic pattern of corporate agribusiness interests operating industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities providing no legitimate grazing, or even access to the outdoors, as required by federal organic regulations.”

Representatives of several companies took issue with Cornucopia’s claims, saying the report contained inaccuracies and false accusations.

Mark A. Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst with the group, said, “The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture. The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100 percent of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.”

Kastel and Cornucopia emphasized that family-scale farmers who helped grow the organic movement in the 1980s did so, in part, because agribusiness consolidation and control of the food supply was squeezing profit margins and forcing farmers off the land.

Consumers made organics a rapidly growing market sector by supporting farmers and processors willing to produce food to a different standard in terms of environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry and economic fairness for farmers.

“Shoppers, who passionately support the ideals and values represented by the organic label, understandably feel betrayed when they see photos of these massive concentrated animal feeding operations masquerading as organic,” Kastel said.

Cornucopia has created organic brand scorecards for consumers.

“Many of our dairy farmer-members have animals they truly care for, that have names, not numbers,” Kastel said.

Cornucopia filed its first legal complaints against industrial operations in 2004 and, as a result, the largest dairy supplying the Horizon/Whitewave label was decertified and the USDA placed sanctions against Aurora Dairy, which produces private-label organic milk for Walmart, Costco, Target and other retailers.

Cornucopia remains concerned with other producers and suppliers.

“The inaction by the USDA places thousands of ethical family-scale farmers, who are competing with a couple of dozen giant dairies, at a competitive disadvantage,” said Kevin Engelbert, a New York-based dairyman, milking 140 cows who, along with his family, was the first certified organic dairy producer in the United States.

He added, “Allowing … illegal dairies to continue to operate is a travesty and significantly undercuts the supply-demand dynamic that should be rewarding farmers in the marketplace and providing a decent living for our families.”

In the chicken industry, the USDA has allowed corporate agribusiness to confine as many as 100,000 laying hens in a building, sometimes exceeding a million birds on a “farm,” and substituting a tiny screened porch for true access to the outdoors.

The organics loophole, “porched-poultry,” was first allowed in 2002 in a case involving The Country Hen, a Massachusetts egg producer, to confine tens of thousands of birds in a barn with an attached porch that might, at best, hold 5 percent of the birds in the main building.

U.S. Wildlife Services killed more than 2 million wild animals in fiscal 2013

The Wildlife Services section of the U.S. Agriculture Department killed more than 2 million wild animals in fiscal 2013, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions foxes, eagles and other animals.

The increase of almost a half-million animals since fiscal year 2012 represents a 29 percent increase in the program’s killing and ends an overall downward trend since 2008.

The federal program’s latest kill report includes more than 320 gray wolves and one endangered Mexican wolf, 75,326 coyotes, 419 black bears, 866 bobcats, 528 river otters, 3,706 foxes, three golden eagles and a bald eagle, according to the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

The division also killed 12,186 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 30,000 of their dens.

“Rather than dialing back in the face of criticism, the program that has the nerve to call itself ‘Wildlife Services’ seems to be putting its foot on the pedal in its systematic slaughter of America’s wild animals,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned to reform the program. “These numbers pull back the veil on a staggering killing campaign, bankrolled by taxpayers, that’s happening every day beyond the view of most Americans.”

The new data reveal the federal program has increased its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services has long been out of step with the values of Americans, and the new figures make clear it has no interest in changing,” said Atwood. “These appalling new numbers show that Wildlife Services is simply thumbing its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual at Wildlife Services.”

Since 1996, Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 26 million native animals.

Last December, the Center and other animal welfare and environmental groups submitted a petition to the Agriculture Department calling for new rules to reform the program.

On the Web …


Report: FDA allowed harmful antibiotics in farm animals

The Food and Drug Administration allowed 30 potentially harmful antibiotics, including 18 rated as “high risk,” to remain on the market as additives in farm animal feed and water, according to records obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The data, released on Jan. 28, show the use of the drugs in livestock likely exposes humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply, the NRDC said. The FDA’s reviews of the antibiotics occurred between 2001 and 2010, yet the drugs remain approved and, in many cases, on the market for use in industrial animal agriculture operations.

“Drugmakers never proved safety. And FDA continues to knowingly allow the use of drugs in animal feed that likely pose a ‘high risk’ to human health,” said Carmen Cordova, NRDC microbiologist and lead author of the new NRDC analysis. “That’s a breach of their responsibility and the public trust.”

Cordova added, “This discovery is disturbing but not surprising given FDA’s poor track record on dealing with this issue. It’s just more overwhelming evidence that FDA — in the face of a mounting antibiotic resistance health crisis — is turning a blind eye to industry’s misuse of these miracle drugs.”

The NRDC report, “Playing Chicken with Antibiotics,” shows safety reviews of various drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline drug classes — antibiotics considered important to human medicine, which together comprise nearly half of all antibiotics used in animal agriculture in the United States.

NRDC, in the report, said FDA papers obtained through freedom of information requests, show:

• None of the 30 antibiotics would likely be approved as new additives for livestock use if submitted under current FDA guidelines, because drugmakers have not submitted sufficient information to establish their safety.

• 18 of the 30 antibiotic feed additives reviewed were deemed to pose a “high risk” of exposing humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply and of adversely affecting human health.

• Drug manufacturers never submitted sufficient information for the remaining 12 products to establish safety, meaning there is no proof of their safety for humans when used in animal feed and the products could not be approved today.

• 29 of the reviewed additives fail to satisfy FDA’s first iteration of safety requirements from 1973.

A large body of scientific work on bacterial cross- and co-resistance has established that the misuse of one antibiotic can lead to bacterial resistance to other antibiotics.

According to the NRDC, the 30 penicillin- and tetracycline-based animal feed additives could reduce the effectiveness of a range of other medically important antibiotics that are solely used to treat people.

FDA first recognized the risks from the use of antibiotics in animal feed in 1977 when it proposed to withdraw approvals for animal feed containing penicillin and most tetracyclines. NRDC won a lawsuit against the FDA for failing to follow through and address the threat posed by the misuse of penicillin and tetracyclines in the livestock industry.

The FDA appealed, and a decision is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York.

1 million gallons of manure spilled this year in Wisconsin

State officials say Wisconsin farms spilled more than 1 million gallons of manure this year, the greatest amount in seven years.

Manure handling is a volatile issue in Wisconsin as dairy farms grow larger.

An analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows about one-third of the spills since 2007 came from farms with 700 or more cows. Wisconsin has nearly 200 large-scale livestock operations.

State Department of Natural Resources records show the second largest volume in spills happened in 2008 when 905,000 gallons were released.

In the latest spill, 300,000 gallons of manure spilled from a ruptured pipe Nov. 24 at a facility in Dane County that uses farm waste to produce electricity. The break sent manure into Six Mile Creek.