Wednesday, 26 August 2009
BioLargo Delivers First $100,000 in Odor-No-More Products to E. T. Horn, Introduces New Package Design, Launches National Ad Campaign, Showcases Products at World’s Championships of Saddlebreds in Kentucky and Prepares to exhibit at SuperZoo 2009
IRVINE, California (August 26, 2009) - BioLargo, Inc. (OTCBB: BLGO) today announced it had fulfilled the opening orders of products exceeding $100,000 to its master distributor, The E.T. Horn Company, who recently kicked-off its national launch of BioLargo’s Odor-No-More™ products (www.OdorNoMore.com).
Additionally, in September BioLargo will exhibit its products at SuperZoo2009, the National Show for Pet Retailers™. Its Odor-No-More products are also being exhibited at the Kentucky State Fair World’s Championship of Saddlebreds. In concert with the national product roll out, the company recently introduced new packaging and launched its national advertising campaign in the following publications: Horseman’s News, Equestrian News, Saddle Horse Report, Horses Magazine, Horse Trader, Southern California Equestrian Directory, Ride Magazine, Horse Finders, and Next Day Jumps. The company has also launched an online social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
“Odor-No-More™ products have created a buzz around the industry because of their high performance while actually saving our customers time and money. We are pleased with the sell-through and re-order rate from our initial retailers and look forward to increasing traffic to the retailers with our marketing and advertising efforts. We also look forward to continued expansion of our distribution network to better serve our customers,” stated Joe Provenzano, VP & Product Manager for BioLargo.
About BioLargo, Inc.
BioLargo’s business strategy is to harness and deliver Nature’s Best Solution – free-iodine – in a safe, efficient, environmentally sensitive and cost-effective manner. BioLargo’s proprietary technology works by combining micro-nutrient salts with liquid from any source to deliver “free-iodine” on demand, in controlled dosages, in order to balance efficacy of performance with concerns about toxicity. BioLargo’s technology has potential commercial applications within global industries, including but not limited to agriculture, animal health, beach and soil environmental uses, consumer products, food processing, medical, and water industries. BioLargo’s strategic partner Ioteq IP Pty Ltd. was named a “Top 50 Water Company for the 21st Century” by The Artemis Project; BioLargo markets Ioteq’s iodine based water disinfection technology, the Isan™ system. The company’s website is www.BioLargo.com.
Safe Harbor Statement
The statements contained herein, which are not historical, are forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, BioLargo’s filings and future filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including those set forth in the BioLargo’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2008.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
The frigid January air seeps through their clothing and stings their skin. Fatigue settles in their arms and legs.
It's been 30 hours, but the two women and a man standing in a Huntington Beach stable manage to ignore basic human needs for things like food and sleep.
They must keep a suffering horse on its feet.
"You're amazing," one of the three, Susan Peirce, whispers to the horse.
The filly has colic, a sometimes fatal ailment that causes intense cramping in a horse's intestinal tract. The condition can be caused by either feeding a horse too much – or too little.
In this horse's case, the problem is the latter. Her ribs protrude and her gray coat is dull, signs of undernourishment and malnutrition.
The filly tries to collapse but Peirce coaxes her to her feet. If the horse lies down, she will die.
Thirty-two hours pass and hope keeps them going. Peirce's husband, David, and their friend, Marcy Roberts, try to get the horse to eat and drink water.
Thirty-four hours in and the horse seems close to taking a turn for the better. Peirce seizes on this, and gives the horse a name - Gracie.
"I just kept thinking of the song 'Amazing Grace'," Peirce says. "She deserved to have a name."
Finally, 36 hours pass and the three horse lovers collapse with fatigue. It is over.
Three months later, Susan Peirce, 46, makes her way through other stables, in Huntington Beach and places her hands on a dusty metal fence. A stunning chocolate-colored gelding approaches. Peirce holds her hand out for the horse to sniff and plants a kiss on his nose.
A placard on the front of the stable has a name – "Robin" – scrawled in permanent marker.
The horse nuzzles Peirce's chest and gently tugs at her light pink vest.
"He's looking for treats," Peirce says. "He's so spoiled now."
Robin wasn't always spoiled. Just a few months ago Robin's coat, like Gracie's, was matted and dull; his shoulder blades almost poked out of his skin.
"When he first came here he would just stand in the back of the stable with his head down," Peirce says. "He wouldn't even approach his feeder. That's how we know he wasn't fed."
In a few months, Robin has gained 250 pounds and is strong and sleek. His coat glistens; his hooves are healthy.
Robin throws his head back and his ebony mane swishes from side to side. It's as if the thoroughbred knows he looks good.
He flashes what seems to be a smile, displaying a missing front tooth. Then he goes back to nudging his owner for a treat.
"Now, there is such a light in his eyes," Peirce says cradling Robin's face in her hands.
Peirce continues down the row of stables and greets eight more horses. Some are doing better than others, but all are in various stages of recovery from abusive, near-death experiences.
"They just need to be loved," Peirce says.
Robin is one of nine horses Peirce has rescued over the past three months that now has a home at the Huntington Beach Central Park Equestrian Center.
And although Robin is safe, his home is just temporary.
A horse lover
Peirce was 8 when she had her first trail ride, in Arizona, and she was smitten by horses.
Then she got lucky. Her family moved to Kentucky. And horses are to Kentucky what surfing is to her current home, Huntington Beach.
She was 12 when she rescued her first two horses – a pair of neglected Tennessee Walkers she found abandoned near a Kentucky pasture.
"I fattened them up. I trained them. And I used to ride them bareback.
"They were just wonderful best friends."
About 30 years ago, Peirce's family moved to California. And while she has stayed involved with equine culture in California – caring for and riding horses – she didn't practice her old habit of finding and helping, down-on-their luck horses until last summer.
Peirce and husband David were on one of their regular trips to the Inland Empire, where David practices his hobby, training border collies. As David worked with dogs, Susan was a regular visitor to a nearby stable to check out the horses.
In July, she found an espresso filly with a white smudge on her head – cowering in her stall.
"She was so skinny," Peirce says. "And she was terrified."
Peirce had developed a cordial relationship with the stable owner on her visits, and, that day, she convinced him to let her take the horse home. Since then, she's nursed the horse to health, trained her to be suitable for riding, and given her a name – Harlow.
A Mission Defined
Peirce won't say what city Harlow lived in before she came to Huntington Beach. She says that'll embarrass the stable owner and, worse, make it tougher for her to rescue other horses.
She started doing that in January, when she took a call from the stable owner. He had a horse with colic but, apparently, not enough money to hire a veterinarian. Would Peirce help?
Peirce knew she had to rush to the horse's aide. But, if the horse lived, Peirce didn't know where she could take it. Boarding a horse costs nearly $500 a month, and that's before food and grooming and training.
Peirce took a chance. She told Mary Behrens, owner of the Equestrian Center, about the sick filly, and Behrens didn't hesitate.
"Go get her," she told Peirce.
Peirce and her husband drove an hour to the Inland Empire stable, loaded the nameless horse into their trailer, and drove her to the Equestrian Center. That's where the couple and their friend, Roberts, stood knee-deep in hay in a 36-hour fight to save the filly they named Gracie.
At hour 34, Gracie's fight started to change. Though they thought they were winning, they called in a vet for help. The life was draining from Gracie's eyes, and anguish was taking its place.
"She is in so much pain," the vet told Peirce two hours later. "There is nothing more we can do."
As Peirce left the barn she heard the gut-wrenching sound of putting a horse down — a sound that makes her wince and cry.
"You just hear this 'boom'," she says. "It is the worst sound you will ever hear in your life."
So Peirce made a promise to herself: "Never again," she said that night. "Not another horse will die."
Tomorrow: A community of horse lovers comes to the rescue, again and again.
714-445-6692 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Peirce pulls at the horse's upper lip.
She's in the Inland Empire stable again, the place where she found Harlow, her own horse. The last time Harlow was here she was sick and emaciated and afraid of people. Now she's healthy and trained and living at the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center, near Peirce's home in Huntington Beach.
This is also the stable where Peirce picked up Gracie, the horse sick horse Peirce couldn't save.
Now she's back, checking out yet another horse – a thoroughbred gelding – that, like the others, looks near death.
Under the horse's lip Pierce sees the tattoo she figured she'd see, the one that indicates he was a racehorse. She soon names this horse Robin, and takes him with her to Huntington Beach, where, over the next three months, he'll transform back into a beautiful, sassy creature.
At the moment of Gracie's death, Peirce made a promise. "Not another horse will die."
But even when she's in the stable, looking at the lip, Peirce knows that keeping that promise won't be easy.
The horse rescuer
In all, there were seven troubled horses at the stable.
Some were thoroughbreds, like Robin, that used to run the race circuit. When they were no longer fast enough for racing, their owners had dumped them at the stable.
Peirce believed the next step would be grim.
"The owner told me that he would take them to auction, even if he could only get $50 a horse," Peirce says.
That may have been code. Although slaughtering horses is illegal in the United States, it's legal in Mexico. Horses there are killed and their meat sold.
"A lot of kill-buyers go to these auctions and buy the horses for cheap," Peirce says.
"There is no doubt in my mind that these horses would have ended up at an auction."
Peirce won't reveal the name of the stable, or the names of the horse owners, because she believes it could hinder her rescue efforts in the future.
"If you become a vigilante," she explains, "they won't call you."
But Peirce's good intention carries a price – literally. Boarding, food and supplies can run about $1,200 a month for one horse.
"I'm just a regular person," she says. "I can't really afford that."
So, just as she did when she tried to save Gracie, Peirce sought the help of Mary Behrens of the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center.
"She told me that she wanted to help and to go get those horses," Peirce says.
Behrens' employees said they were not surprised by her generosity. Behrens has run the public facility for more than 20 years and jumps at any opportunity to help an animal in need.
"Someone has to be a voice for the animals," says Equestrian Center manager, Allison Hathaway. "(Behrens) just has a huge heart."
Building a Foundation
Stables at Huntington Beach Equestrian Center were set aside, free of charge, which included feed and water, for the horses Peirce brought in. Behrens has even paid out of pocket for some medical and dental expenses to get the horses on the way to recovery.
And two more horses – two fillies that were neglected in a man's backyard – brought the rescue list to nine.
"The man thought he could raise these horses to be race horses," Peirce says. "He just had no clue."
As others at the Equestrian Center learned of the rescues, volunteers stepped in to help with feeding, grooming and training. Some donated food and supplies.
Children at the stables even held a yard sale to help pay for a week's worth of food and care for the animals.
"The support from the community has been fantastic," Peirce says. "There is just no way I could've done this alone.
"Right now, these people are truly giving."
Peirce calls the operation Red Bucket Equine Rescue, a name inspired by the red treat buckets taken to the horses each day. Each bucket is marked with the horse's name in bold black letters.
After the horses began to make progress, Peirce opened the program to children ages 8 to 17 who wanted to be involved in equine culture.
Children and teens can take training classes with their parents and then enter the stables and help with cleaning and grooming.
Certified trainers have volunteered their time to get the horses ready for riding again. They are hand-walked at least once a day and taken to a large pen where they can run around.
The ultimate goal, Peirce says, is to adopt the horses out to worthy owners.
"We want to save them, rehabilitate them and find them a loving home," she says. "This is really about what is best for the horses.
"The training here prepares them for a very different life."
Although the goal is altruistic, Pierce can't fight her sentiment.
"I want them to get adopted, but I know I'm going to cry when they are," she says. "I get attached to these horses."
The road ahead
The Red Bucket Equine Rescue is still new and Peirce will be met with many challenges as she looks to expand the operation.
She is looking to get nonprofit status to help bring funding to the program.
"Some people don't want to donate yet because we are not an official nonprofit," she says. "We're still trying to figure everything out."
The Red Bucket Equine Rescue is looking to get some volunteer help from lawyers and accountants to help with the paperwork.
Although the project has been somewhat of a financial strain, Peirce says they will push forward until the funds start filtering in.
"I will keep going until we get that nonprofit filing," she says. "This will not fail. These horses depend on us."
The organization is also partnering with the Equestrian Center in August to throw a fundraiser for the program. Riders from all over the county are expected to participate in the Extreme Cowboy event, an exhibition competition for riders with proceeds benefiting the Rescue.
The Rescue is also looking for foster parents, called Guardian Angels, who will spend time with the horses until they can find a good home.
Eventually, Peirce hopes to build a freestanding building near the center dedicated to rescue horses.
As she and the volunteers continue to prepare the nine horses for family life, Peirce can't help but think of Gracie, the one she couldn't save.
"Every time I see these horses I wonder what she would look like today.
"It's sad but I know what happened to her, in turn, will bring about so much good."
Click here to read Day 1
Contact the writer: 714-445-6692 or email@example.com
Around the Final Turn and Heading Home - What Happens to Racing Horses After Their Career Winds Down?
LInk to Article
August 24, 2009
Around the Final Turn, and Heading for a Home
By JOE DRAPE
GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Tour of the Cat looks at home here in this prime patch of Kentucky bluegrass. Among about 50 fellow retirees are some of the most revered names in horse racing, like Sunshine Forever and Ogygian. These horses won tens of millions of dollars on the racetrack.
Tour of the Cat belongs with them. He is a multiple graded-stakes winner who earned more than $1.1 million over a nine-year career. Still, he is lucky to be here.
Just last month, Tour of the Cat, 11, was at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., competing at racing’s lowest levels. He had at least one sore ankle and raced for the 79th time, managing to beat only one other horse.
His odyssey from bottom-level horse to unlikely stakes champion and back again illustrates how many in the racing industry routinely overlook their responsibility to aging animals.
Tour of the Cat might have made an 80th start if not for a group of racehorse devotees who know one another mostly through the Internet and who share a conviction that old horses should be retired with dignity. The group found a sympathetic horse owner, Maggie Moss, who claimed Tour of the Cat for the rock-bottom price of $5,000 on its behalf.
She then shipped him here to Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm.
“It was like finding Babe Ruth sleeping under a bridge,” said Michael Blowen, the farm’s president and founder. “They breed 36,000 of them every year, and three years later only one of them is going to win the Kentucky Derby. The question is, What happens to the rest of them?”
At least 3,000 racehorses come off the track annually in need of homes, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation estimates, and only about one-third of them are as fortunate as Tour of the Cat. Many more are abandoned, euthanized or slaughtered. Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, wound up slaughtered in Japan in 2002 after failing as a stallion. Even though the federal government closed the last United States slaughterhouse in 2007, horses are regularly sold at auction and trucked to slaughter in Mexico or Canada.
In fact, it was the appearance this year of racehorses belonging to the prominent breeder and owner Ernie Paragallo in a New York kill pen, one step from being slaughtered, that led to an investigation and subsequent charges, on 35 counts of animal cruelty. Paragallo pleaded not guilty, but nearly 100 of his horses were taken from his Center Brook Farm, south of Albany.
“The bottom end of the rung can be hideous for a horse,” said Hal Handel, chief operating officer of the New York Racing Association. “Collectively it’s the responsibility of the industry. That’s the racetracks, the breeders, the owners, you know, everyone who makes a living off or touches the animal owes the animal something back.”
The Derby dreams of Tour of the Cat and his owner, Susan Gannon, ended in the spring of 2001 when he finished a well-beaten second in the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Park. Even though Gannon was new to the racing game, she understood that Tour of the Cat, a gelding she had claimed for $25,000, was developing too slowly to be a Derby horse.
She instead chose a diet of modest stakes races in Florida. Her plan worked, and by the time he was 6, Tour of the Cat was a consistent stakes winner and even ran in a $2 million stakes in Dubai. “I was blessed to have him,” Gannon said, her voice cracking. “He took me all over the world.”
But his long decline began late that year, when Tour of the Cat injured his right front foot and was turned out to pasture to heal for 17 months. Now, Gannon wishes she had left him there.
Tour of the Cat was 8 — an advanced age for an American thoroughbred to be racing — when he returned to the track in 2006. He was no longer a stakes horse but a durable and popular claiming horse on the Florida circuit. In claiming races, which are staples of everyday racing, any licensed owner can buy any horse running at an established price. On Nov. 29, 2008, that price was $16,000.
“It was supposed to be his last race,” said Gannon, who lives on a small farm with a handful of mares in Ocala, Fla., “and then I was bringing him home.”
Instead, Tour of the Cat was claimed by David Jacobson, who had had success with older accomplished horses in New York.
“They are professional, seasoned,” Jacobson said. “If you put them in with cheaper horses, their back class shows.”
Jacobson’s subsequent campaigning of the horse was noticed by horse rescue advocates. In a span of 36 days in January, Tour of the Cat raced three times in New York and once in Maryland. He won twice and finished second and fourth at the lowest level of the sport.
“I was seeing things on the message boards about this 10-year-old horse with a wonderful record that deserved better than getting the last bit of juice squeezed out of him,” said Beverly Strauss, executive director of Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue, which usually buys slaughter-bound racehorses.
In June, Strauss became more concerned when she heard from Dr. Margaret Ohlinger, the veterinarian at Finger Lakes racetrack in upstate New York, that Tour of the Cat was on the grounds and no longer fit to race. Ohlinger is also co-founder of the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program, which is run in collaboration between horsemen and the track’s management.
Ohlinger scratched Tour of the Cat hours before a June 27 race, although he was the favorite.
“His left front tendon was swelled, hot and sore to the touch,” Ohlinger said. “He was too thin, and his muscle condition didn’t look like he was in racehorse condition. It was a disservice to the horse, the rider and the other riders to let him run.”
She discovered that Tour of the Cat had been scratched in the spring by the track veterinarian at Aqueduct, and that Jacobson intended to send him to run at Presque Isle Downs. Strauss orchestrated a $2,500 offer for the horse to be retired, but Jacobson declined.
“I believed he was in good condition, and had some races left,” Jacobson said.
Strauss contacted Moss, an Iowa-based lawyer who has a large stable of horses, who made the claim with money from Internet supporters.
“We had hoped the industry would take care of cases like this,” Ohlinger said. “But it’s really the fans who do not know much about horses who are doing right by most of these horses.”
Some in the racing industry have recently increased the focus on finding second homes for retired thoroughbreds. The New York Racing Association, for example, raised $125,000 to work with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to try to find homes for all former racehorses in New York State.
Tour of the Cat, meanwhile, has put on 50 pounds and is getting used to ranging at his leisure. It will cost Old Friends about $2,000 a year to keep him at the farm, said Blowen, its founder. He remains mystified why a multibillion-dollar agribusiness does not do better by its stars.
“Without them, there’s nothing,” Blowen said. “There is none of this bluegrass, no horse business, no racing, no jockeys, there’s nothing. There’s no feed people or veterinarians or anything. It’s all because of them that everyone’s here. And at the end of the day, we can’t just treat them like trash and throw them to side of the road.”
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Friday, 14 August 2009
Link to Article Here from Wall Street Journal
By GORAN MIJUK and ANITA GREIL
Nestlé SA, the world's largest food and drink producer by sales, reported a drop in first half profit and revenue Wednesday as consumers scaled back purchases of items like bottled water, prepared meals and dairy products.
But the company did a lot better with animals than it did with humans.
The same focus on premium, higher-margin products that may have put a damper on overall sales growth paid off in the company's big pet-care division, as recession-stressed consumers still found ways to spend more on their dogs and cats.
The strength of spending on pets has caught the eye of companies across the world economy.
The main beneficiaries are companies selling pet food, but the growing market is drawing increasing interest from players in sectors ranging from health care to insurance.
"Growth in pet care remains resilient," said Nestlé Chief Financial Officer Jim Singh. The company, Mr. Singh said, is scaling back underperforming and mainstream products in favor of premium offerings "that are delivering improved nutritional benefits for pets."
Overall, the Swiss owner of brands such as Nescafé and Perrier said first-half profit fell 2.7% to 5.1 billion Swiss francs ($4.7 billion), while sales dropped 1.5% to 52.3 billion Swiss francs.
The company said organic growth, which measures the change in sales after stripping out divisions that were recently bought or sold as well as currency moves, came in at 3.5% in the first half.
Nestlé said it would do better in the second half, but ditched its target of growth approaching 5%. The company, however, said performance in its pet-care business was "excellent."
The American Pet Products Association, a trade group, estimates U.S. spending on pets will rise to $45.4 billion this year, from $43.2 billion in 2008.
The total includes $17.4 billion for food and more than $22 billion for over-the-counter medicine and veterinary care.
Nestlé, one of the biggest producers of pet food following its 2001 acquisition of Ralston Purina Co., is in a good spot to tap into that market.
The company said sales at its pet care division posted organic growth of 9.1% in the first half, better than all but one of the company's seven main food and beverage product areas. The division's sales came in at 6.4 billion Swiss francs, 12% of the company's total.
Despite the tough economic times, consumers weren't deterred by Nestlé's price increases, which helped lift the pet-care division's profit margin by more than a percentage point to 15.7%.
Purina and Friskies are among Nestlé's fastest growing brands, with sales of each up by more than 6% in the first half. Dog Chow, which saw sales jump by more than 16%, had the second-fastest growth among Nestlé's major products, outstripped only by coffee system Nespresso, which has a growth rate above 20%.
Drug companies also are chasing after pets. Sanofi-Aventis SA put $4 billion on the table last month to buy the 50% of animal-health company Merial it didn't already own from U.S. peer Merck & Co. The deal includes an option to buy the veterinary business of Schering-Plough once the two U.S. firms complete their pending merger.
Sanofi Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher said sales at Merial have grown 50% over the past five years to nearly $2.7 billion in 2008, while delivering an operating margin of close to 30%.
Eli Lilly & Co. Chief Executive John Lechleiter has also expressed interest in building up his animal-health business.
The bright outlook for pet products is also luring insurers into the market in search of growth rates faster than those for traditional car and life plans. Swiss property and casualty insurer Mobiliar earlier this year launched Switzerland's first pet insurance product.
Every third household in Switzerland owns a cat or a dog, a potential customer base of around 1.8 million, said Stephan Guenther, product manager at MobiCasa, Mobiliar's household unit.
—Martin Gelnar contributed to this article.
Write to Goran Mijuk at firstname.lastname@example.org and Anita Greil at email@example.com
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
From the Los Angeles Times
Eating with the enemy
Modern food production gives salmonella, E. coli and Listeria an advantage in causing food-borne illnesses. But Congress and the FDA are fighting back.
August 10, 2009
Ground beef, romaine lettuce, cilantro, Anaheim peppers, granola nut clusters, alfalfa sprouts and a seeming host of products featuring nonfat dry milk, including yogurt, chai tea, shake mixes, frosting packets, drink powders and cocoa, gravy and sauce mixes -- all have been recalled in the last two months because of possible salmonella contamination.
The year's earlier, massive recall of peanut products, one of the largest in history, may have faded from the headlines and public consciousness, but the organism responsible for that recall hasn't been banished from the processes we use to grow, manufacture and distribute food. Nor will it be.
Some of the damage will be relatively contained -- one lot of cilantro here, a couple of types of frosting packets there, all recovered before illness is reported. But sometimes consumers will become ill, as happened this past week with beef from a packinghouse in Fresno. It could just be a matter of time before the next widespread contamination. Even if salmonella isn't responsible, another organism may be. E. coli O157:H7 is a frequent culprit (responsible for large-scale spinach and beef recalls and, earlier this summer, cookie dough), as is Listeria (responsible for usually smaller recalls of cheese and produce).
Against that end, federal policymakers and regulators are assessing how best to improve the nation's food supply.
Late last month, the House passed a bill that would overhaul U.S. food safety laws, increasing the Food and Drug Administration's authority to inspect food manufacturers, requiring it to craft a better way of tracing food-borne illnesses and giving it greater recall powers. Farmers and food processors would be required to do their part as well. The Senate is expected to consider a similar measure after its August recess.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA are forging ahead on their own. The former will ramp up inspections of ground beef components in an effort to protect against E. coli contamination. The latter has announced guidelines meant to ensure the safety of tomatoes, leafy greens and melons.
The hurdles are enormous. Food-borne illnesses have always been with us, but outbreaks of food poisoning are no longer confined to a select few who ate improperly cooked antelope or who chose unwisely at the company picnic. The sheer complexity of modern food production gives the bacteria responsible for food-borne illnesses almost infinitely greater range.
To showcase just how much work is ahead, we take a closer look at the organism responsible for this year's recall of peanut products, plus the recent recalls of beef and other foods.
-- Health staff
Sunday, 9 August 2009
The Photo and Caption Above Come from the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine and Highlight the Critical Nature of Hoof Care for Horses.
Another reason our Clean and Dry = Safe and Healthy products are so important to this industry.
LInk to Article Here
August 9, 2009
You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster
By DAN BARBER
IF the hardship of growing vegetables and fruits in the Northeast has made anything clear, it’s that the list of what can go wrong in the field is a very long one.
We wait all year for warmer weather and longer days. Once we get them, it seems new problems for farmers rise to the surface every week: overnight temperatures plunging close to freezing, early disease, aphid attacks. Another day, another problem.
The latest trouble is the explosion of late blight, a plant disease that attacks potatoes and tomatoes. Late blight appears innocent enough at first — a few brown spots here, some lesions there — but it spreads fast. Although the fungus isn’t harmful to humans, it has devastating effects on tomatoes and potatoes grown outdoors. Plants that appear relatively healthy one day, with abundant fruit and vibrant stems, can turn toxic within a few days. (See the Irish potato famine, caused by a strain of the fungus.)
Most farmers in the Northeast, accustomed to variable conditions, have come to expect it in some form or another. Like a sunburn or a mosquito bite, you’ll probably be hit by late blight sooner or later, and while there are steps farmers can take to minimize its damage and even avoid it completely, the disease is almost always present, if not active.
But this year is turning out to be different — quite different, according to farmers and plant scientists. For one thing, the disease appeared much earlier than usual. Late blight usually comes, well, late in the growing season, as fungal spores spread from plant to plant. So its early arrival caught just about everyone off guard.
And then there’s the perniciousness of the 2009 blight. The pace of the disease (it covered the Northeast in just a few days) and its strength (topical copper sprays, a convenient organic preventive, have been much less effective than in past years) have shocked even hardened Hudson Valley farmers.
Jack Algiere, head vegetable farmer at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture (where I have a restaurant that purchases from the farm), lost more than half his field tomatoes in three days. Other organic farmers were forced to make a brutal choice: spray their tomato plants with fungicides, and lose organic certification, or watch the crop disappear. Even for farmers who routinely spray, or who reluctantly spray precautionary amounts, this year’s blight lowered yields. (Fungicides work only to suppress the disease, not cure it.) As one plant pathologist told me, “Farmers are out there praying and spraying.”
Of course, farmers aren’t the only ones affected. If you love eating flavorful organic field tomatoes, good luck — they’ll be as rare this summer as a week without rain. And those that survive will cost you; we’re already seeing price increases of 20 percent over last year.
So what’s going on here? Plant physiologists use the term “disease triangle” to describe the conditions necessary for a disease outbreak. You need the pathogen to be present (that’s the late blight), you need a host (in this case tomatoes and potatoes) and you need a favorable environment for the disease — for late blight that’s lots of rain, moderate temperatures and high humidity.
Does that last bit sound familiar? It has been the weather report for the Northeast this summer, especially in June. Where we saw precipitation fit for Noah’s Ark, late blight found something akin to a four-star hotel. Those soggy fields and backyard vegetable plots? Inviting, and all too easy to check into.
But weather alone doesn’t explain the early severity of the disease this year. We’ve had wet, cool summers in the past, but it’s never been this bad. Instead we have to look at two other factors: the origin of the tomato plants many of us cultivate, and the renewed interest in gardening.
According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens. Perhaps this is why the Northeast was hit so viciously: instead of being spread through large farms, the blight sneaked through lots of little gardens, enabling it to escape the attention of the people who track plant diseases.
It’s important to note, too, that this year there have been many more hosts than in the past as more and more Americans have taken to gardening. Credit the recession or Michelle Obama or both, but there’s been an increased awareness of the benefits of growing your own food. According to the National Gardening Association, 43 million households planned a backyard garden or put a stake in a share of a community garden in 2009, up from 36 million in 2008. That’s quite a few home gardeners who — given the popularity of the humble tomato — probably planted a starter or two this summer.
Here’s the unhappy twist: the explosion of home gardeners — the very people most conscious of buying local food and opting out of the conventional food chain — has paradoxically set the stage for the worst local tomato harvest in memory.
So what do we do?
For starters, if you’re planning a garden (and not growing from seed — the preferable, if less convenient, choice), then buy starter plants from a local grower or nursery. A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate. It’s an effective way to help local growers, who rely on sales of these plants before the harvest arrives. It’s also a way to protect agriculture. If late blight occurs in a small nursery it’s relatively easy to recognize, as straightforward as being able to see the plant, recognize its symptoms and isolate it before it has a chance to spread.
This is less of an option on a farm that’s spread out over dozens of acres, nor is it likely once the plant gets to a large retailer. A plant pathologist from Cornell told me she visited one such store and noticed the tomato plants were infected with blight. She immediately reported it to the manager, who said he couldn’t remove the plants without approval from his superiors (which would take time). The pathologist returned a week later to find that the plants were still there.
In fact, this late blight outbreak appears to be a classic example of what Charles Perrow, a sociologist, calls a “tightly coupled” accident. With tight coupling — lots of tomatoes grown in one place, say, or distributed by one large retailer — failures in one part of the system can quickly multiply. The damage cannot be as readily controlled. The recent spike in food-borne illnesses is another example of the problems associated with an overly consolidated food chain. E. coli’s been around for a long time; what’s new is how quickly and widely it spreads when there are only a few big meat producers.
There’s another lesson here for the home gardener. When you start a garden, no matter how small, you become part of an agricultural network that binds you to other farmers and gardeners. Airborne late blight spores are a perfect illustration of agriculture’s web-like connections. The tomato plant on the windowsill, the backyard garden and the industrial tomato farm are, to be a bit reductive about it, one very large farm. As we begin to grow more of our own food, we need to reacquaint ourselves with plant pathology and understand that what we grow, and how we grow it, affects everyone else. (Potato farmers in the Andes, for example, plant disease-prone varieties at high altitudes where the cold keeps pathogens in check — to protect themselves and their neighbors. They don’t get as big a harvest, but they decrease the risk of an epidemic.)
Government can help. For all the new growers out there, what’s missing is not the inspiration, it’s the expertise, the agricultural wisdom and technical knowledge passed on from generation to generation. Congress recognized the need for this kind of support almost 100 years ago when it passed the Smith-Lever Act, creating a network of cooperative extension services in partnership with land-grant universities. Agricultural extension agents were sent to farms to share the latest technological advances, introducing new varieties of vegetables and, yes, checking the fields for disease.
The cooperative extension service is still active, but budget cuts have left it ill equipped to deal with a new generation of farmers. The emphasis now is on reaching farmers through mass e-mail messages and Web-based dialogues, with less hands-on observation. That’s like getting a doctor’s check-up over the phone. More agents in the field during those critical weeks in June might well have resulted in swifter, more effective protection of the plants: early detection of any disease requires a number of trained eyes.
The food community has a role to play, too — by taking another look at plant-breeding programs, another major fixture of our nation’s land-grant universities, and their efforts to develop new varieties of fruits and vegetables. To many advocates of sustainability, science, when it’s applied to agriculture, is considered suspect, a violation of the slow food aesthetic. It’s a nostalgia I’m guilty of promoting as a chef when I celebrate only heirloom tomatoes on my menus. These venerable tomato varieties are indeed important to preserve, and they’re often more flavorful than conventional varieties. But in our feverish pursuit of what’s old, we can marginalize the development of what could be new.
That includes the development of plants with natural resistance to blight and other diseases — plants like the Mountain Magic tomato, an experimental variety from Cornell that the Stone Barns Center is testing in a field trial. So far there’s been no evidence of disease in these plants, while more than 70 percent of the heirloom varieties of tomatoes have succumbed to the pathogen.
Mountain Magic is an example of regionalized breeding. For years, this kind of breeding has fallen by the wayside — the result of a food movement wary of science and an industrialized food chain that eschews differentiation in favor of uniformity. (Why develop and sell 20 different tomato varieties for 20 different microclimates when you can simply sell one?)
Breeders in regions vulnerable to late blight should be encouraged to select for characteristics that are resistant to it, in the same way that they select for, say, lower water demands in the Southwest. While they’re at it, breeders could be selecting for flavor and not for uniformity, shipping size and shelf life. The result will mean not just tastier tomatoes; it will translate into a food system with greater variety and better regional adaptation.
Healthy, natural systems abhor uniformity — just as a healthy society does. We need, then, to look to a system of food and agriculture that values and mimics natural diversity. The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it’s really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.
What does the resilient farm of the future look like? I saw it the other day. The farmer was growing 30 or so different crops, with several varieties of the same vegetable. Some were heirloom varieties, many weren’t. He showed me where he had pulled out his late blight-infected tomato plants and replaced them with beans and an extra crop of Brussels sprouts for the fall. He won’t make the same profit as he would have from the tomato harvest, but he wasn’t complaining, either.
Sometimes giving in to nature can be the biggest victory of all.
Dan Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Saturday, 8 August 2009
Link to Article Here
April 17, 2009
To Fill Food Safety Gap, Processors Pay Inspectors
By ANDREW MARTIN
HURON, Calif. — Clipboard in hand, Debra Anderson spent three hours one recent sunny morning trooping through a field of romaine lettuce looking for trouble.
She searched for animal tracks at the Church Brothers field, watched picking crews wash their hands and sampled rinse water to make sure it had enough chlorine to kill germs. Though she is a California state employee, Ms. Anderson was working on behalf of the food industry, part of the latest experiment in improving safety.
With huge losses from food-poisoning recalls and little oversight from the federal Food and Drug Administration, some sectors of the food industry are cobbling together their own form of regulation in an attempt to reassure consumers. They are paying other government agencies to do what the F.D.A. rarely does: muck through fields and pore over records to make sure food is handled properly.
These do-it-yourself programs may provide an enhanced safety level in segments of the industry that have embraced them. But with industry itself footing the bill, some safety advocates worry that the approach could introduce new problems and new conflicts of interest. And they contend that the programs lack the rigor of a well-run federal inspection system.
“It’s an understandable response when the federal government has left a vacuum,” said Michael R. Taylor, a former officer in two federal food-safety agencies and now a professor at George Washington University. But, he added, “it’s not a substitute” for serious federal regulation.
Nonetheless, the approach is spreading. After two salmonella outbreaks earlier this decade, the almond industry developed a pasteurization program that is overseen by the federal Department of Agriculture. The Florida tomato industry, implicated in several salmonella outbreaks, persuaded the state to take on the task of regulating food safety on farms and at packing houses.
In California, the “leafy greens” industry, which grows spinach and lettuce, was desperate after a 2006 outbreak of a harmful strain of Escherichia coli, the intestinal germ. As Americans stopped eating spinach for weeks, the industry suffered $100 million in losses. It now pays the state money so that auditors like Ms. Anderson can inspect farm fields for safety. The arrangement is called the Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement.
Arizona created a similar leafy greens agreement, and plans are afoot to expand it nationwide. Other food industries have expressed interest in the leafy greens model.
“They realize they can’t sit back and wait” for an outbreak to occur, said Thomas A. Nassif, president and chief executive of the Western Growers Association, who recently outlined the leafy greens program to representatives of the peanut industry, subject of another recent recall. “It will be expanded.”
The leafy greens agreement and others like it are an outgrowth of the nation’s hodge-podge food safety system, which roughly splits oversight between the Department of Agriculture — responsible for meat, poultry and some egg products — and the FDA, which is supposed to monitor the remaining 80 percent of the food supply. But where the Agriculture Department employs a field force of 7,800 to inspect all the cows, pigs and chickens that are carved into packaged meats, the F.D.A.’s 1,307 inspectors rarely lay eyes on the vast majority of the products they are entrusted with keeping safe.
For many years, the food industry lobbied against initiatives that would have strengthened the F.D.A.’s oversight. But industry attitudes are changing as food-borne pathogens turn up repeatedly in foodstuffs once regarded as safe, like peanuts and pistachio nuts, costing those industries millions in lost sales.
With public confidence in the food supply on the line and little appetite for new regulations during the Bush administration, industries went looking for other government agencies that might provide a semblance of oversight.
California’s leafy greens industry turned to 1930s-era laws, passed at the national level and by some states, that allow produce sectors to work together to solve marketing problems. Called marketing agreements or marketing orders, they allow industry to create regulations that are then enforced by government auditors.
Historically, such programs were used to set minimum quality, size and grade requirements for fruits and vegetables and to standardize packaging. But now, they are being adopted to impose safety requirements.
While lauding the recent impulse to act, several food-safety experts said they were troubled leaving safety to industry discretion.
“Industry self-regulation didn’t protect our money, and industry self-regulation won’t protect our food,” said Carol L. Tucker-Foreman, a safety advocate with the Consumer Federation of America, in an e-mail message. “We want every inspector to be paid by and owe their loyalty to the people who eat, not to the owner of an unsanitary produce packing operation. You can’t work for both.”
But defenders of the programs said they were the best option available in lieu of tougher federal regulation, especially given chronic shortfalls in government budgets. Besides, the new approach is working, said Scott Horsfall, chief executive of the leafy greens program. In the two years since it started, there has been no new outbreak tied to California leafy greens.
Dr. David Acheson, the F.D.A.’s associate commissioner for foods, said he believed the marketing agreements were a positive step by industry to improve the safety of their products. But he said the new administration was taking a more proactive approach that he hoped would include new food safety standards and more inspectors.
“I do see us in a new environment,” he said. “Clearly the direction we are headed, and we need to head, is the government setting the right standards and holding industry to it.”
Under the agreement, the produce industry pays the California Department of Agriculture about $1 million a year to perform about 500 inspections, a fifth of them unannounced. Participation in marketing agreements is voluntary, but in California, more than 95 percent of the leafy greens industry signed up, in part because major processors like Dole and Fresh Express agreed to participate. Produce growers had little choice but to follow.
While critics maintain that marketing agreements are not tough enough, Ms. Anderson’s audit the other day of the Church Brothers’ lettuce fields appeared to be painstaking. (It was announced in advance, and she had a newspaper reporter and photographer in tow.)
Sporting a deep tan and a hairnet, Ms. Anderson, 55, inspected the perimeter of the romaine lettuce field for tracks, because animals can spread germs on produce. She inspected the workers’ toilets. When a field test suggested the water used to rinse lettuce might not be killing germs, she briefly halted the operation. (It turned out a worker had used the wrong test strip.) After completing her field inspection, Ms. Anderson combed Church Brothers’ records.
The problems she discovered were minor. Nonetheless, Mr. Horsfall said the company was expected to fix them, and auditors would check again. If violations are serious, a grower can be tossed from the program. So far, six participants have been thrown out, mostly because they repeatedly failed to solve minor problems.
“We want them to be successful,” said Steve Thomas, Ms. Anderson’s supervisor. “But the facts are the facts.”
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Got milk? Munroe does
10:49 AM EDT on Monday, August 3, 2009
By Alisha A. Pina
Journal Staff Writer
Begun in 1881, Munroe Dairy’s processing plant in East Providence is the oldest business in the city at 128 years old.
The Providence Journal / Frieda Squires
Geovanny Hernandez pulls fresh half-gallon containers of milk off the line at Munroe Dairy’s processing plant in East Providence.
The Providence Journal / Frieda Squires
Munroe Dairy cows in Brooklyn, Conn., have waterbeds to rest on, which reduces stress on joints and hips and decreases a cow’s chances of getting arthritis, according to Lindsay Armstrong. The dairy’s cows are kept at five family farms in Connecticut.
Photo courtesy of Monroe Dairy
EAST PROVIDENCE — Happy cows are productive cows, say the folks at Munroe Dairy, the city’s oldest business.
So the Connecticut bovines that supply 11,000 customers in Rhode Island now sleep on waterbeds.
Less stress for the animals increases their production of milk, says Lindsay Armstrong of the Munroe sales department.
The beds consist of thick rubber bladders filled with water and covered with hay that reduce the strain on joints and hips and decrease the cows’ chances of getting arthritis, Armstrong says.
The happy cows — which are housed and milked on five family farms in Connecticut — can produce 40 to 80 quarts a day each and 500 of them are needed to supply the Munroe customers.The 128-year-old business is doing well despite the nation’s financial woes. Owner Robert Armstrong Jr. says it has 11,000 customers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, a thousand or so off its peak a few years ago.
“I would say we are doing good, but we could be better,” Armstrong said. His grandfather, Robert Armstrong Sr., bought the business from the Munroe family in 1936. “Within the last two months, we have dropped a bit.”
General manager Andrew Yaghjian said the dairy, which employs 63 people, has about $10 million in annual gross sales. It sells an average of 20,000 gallons of milk — chocolate, coffee, low-fat, fat-free, whole and others — a week. It also home-delivers a host of other products, such as eggs, juices, poultry, fresh breads and baked goods. North Brow St. plant to be upgraded, enlarged
After 128 years, Munroe Dairy has decided to stay put in its production plant on North Brow Street, overlooking the Seekonk River.
But the plant — particularly the maintenance garage for itssignature cow-spotted delivery trucks — needs improvements.
The doors of the garage, which is part of the original building from 1881, are smaller than the height of all the dairy’s newest trucks.
Munroe got zoning clearance from the City Council in July for a new four-bay, 5,000-square-foot garage, costing $350,000. “With this economy and businesses looking to move out, it’s heartening to hear [the business doesn’t have any plans to leave East Providence],” said Mayor Joseph Larisa Jr.
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
LInk to Retail Site Here
BioLargo and ET Horn Secure Leading World-Wide Retail Outlet -- Jeffers Equine -- for Odor-No-More(TM) Products
Source: BioLargo, Inc.
On Tuesday August 4, 2009, 8:07 am EDT
Companies: BioLargo, Inc.
IRVINE, CA--(Marketwire - 08/04/09) - BioLargo, Inc. (OTC.BB:BLGO - News) today announced that Jeffers Equine had begun selling its Odor-No-More(TM) products, including its popular Animal Bedding Additive.
"We are pleased that our products were evaluated, approved and selected by an industry leader like Jeffers. This outlet provides world-wide consumer access to our products," stated Joe Provenzano, VP & Product Manager for BioLargo.
Jeffers is one of the largest and most well known privately owned catalog and eCommerce animal health supply retailers in the industry. It is known for its commitment to customer service, hard work, and dedication to ensure the customer receives the highest quality products at the most reasonable price. Jeffers was founded in 1975 and currently markets through Pet, Equine and Livestock catalogs which are distributed with each change of season. Additionally, there are three eCommerce sites, one for each brand along with an online community page. For more information, go to JeffersEquine.com, JeffersPet.com or JeffersLivestock.com.
About BioLargo, Inc.
BioLargo's business strategy is to harness and deliver Nature's Best Solution� -- free-iodine -- in a safe, efficient, environmentally sensitive and cost-effective manner. BioLargo's proprietary technology works by combining micro-nutrient salts with liquid from any source to deliver "free-iodine" on demand, in controlled dosages, in order to balance efficacy of performance with concerns about toxicity. BioLargo's technology has potential commercial applications within global industries, including but not limited to agriculture, animal health, beach and soil environmental uses, consumer products, food processing, medical, and water industries. BioLargo's strategic partner Ioteq IP Pty Ltd. was named a "Top 50 Water Company for the 21st Century" by The Artemis Project�; BioLargo markets Ioteq's iodine based water disinfection technology, the Isan(TM) system, and works with The ET Horn Company as Master Distributor for its Odor-No-More(TM) products. The company's website is www.BioLargo.com.
Safe Harbor Statement
The statements contained herein, which are not historical, are forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, BioLargo's filings and future filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including those set forth in the BioLargo's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2008.
Sunday, 2 August 2009
Full Article LInk Here
August 1, 2009
2 Agencies Take Steps to Improve Food Safety
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Strengthening its efforts to keep a deadly strain of E. coli out of meat sold to consumers, the Department of Agriculture said Friday that it would begin regular testing of meat trimmings used to make ground beef.
At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration said it was working to develop mandatory standards for growing, harvesting and processing fruits and vegetables, going well beyond the rules in place today.
The announcements were the latest signs that Washington was moving forward with efforts to overhaul the food safety system. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to strengthen the F.D.A.’s oversight of food safety by giving it added powers and mandating more frequent inspections of food processing plants. The Senate is expected to take up similar legislation this autumn.
The Agriculture Department said it would begin regular testing of “bench trim,” the fat and meat trimmed from cuts like steaks and roasts as they are prepared in processing plants. Bench trim is normally added to other meat used in ground beef.
Government inspectors perform tests for E. coli in the slaughterhouse on most meat used in ground beef, before it goes to the processing plant. But the bench trim had not previously been tested by the inspectors, creating a potentially dangerous hole in the government’s food-safety regimen.
The bacterium Escherichia coli is common in the human intestine and is usually not dangerous. But a virulent strain known as O157:H7 has been the source of numerous outbreaks of serious food-borne illness — and many recalls of tainted ground beef — in recent years. The strain can cause fatal illness, and ground beef poses a special risk because the germ gets mixed deep into the meat, where it may survive cooking.
Jerold R. Mande, deputy under secretary for food safety at the Agriculture Department, said the government tests of bench trim were to begin in about a month. They are intended to verify testing for E. coli in hamburger that is already being done by plant operators, and many of the operators already test bench trim for the bacterium, he said.
The new rules apply to about 600 meat processing plants, where government inspectors perform a variety of tests every day the plants operate.
On average, the bench trim at an individual plant will be tested two or three times a year, for a total of 1,500 samplings nationwide over 12 months, Mr. Mande said. Those tests should enable the government to determine whether there is a pattern of E. coli contamination in bench trim.
“If it turns out in the course of doing 1,500 samples in a year we see that there is contamination coming from this,” he said, “then we’ve got to go back further up the stream and find out how they’re handling this bench trim and treat it differently.”
Scott J. Goltry, vice president of food safety and inspection services of the American Meat Institute, a trade association representing meat processors, said the industry supported the added government testing. He said plants already conducted their own tests of bench trim, in addition to doing many other tests to ensure processed meat was safe.
Bill Marler, a lawyer in Seattle who specializes in food poisoning cases, said that bench trim was suspected as a source of E. coli in many ground beef recalls. He said the new testing represented an important change. “You’re adding an additional layer of assurance that the ultimate product, the hamburger, is less likely to be contaminated,” he said.
Also on Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued voluntary guidelines for the growing and processing of tomatoes, leafy greens and melons, three types of crops that account for the greatest number of cases of illness from eating tainted produce. The guidelines were a first step toward creating a system of mandatory regulations for the handling of produce.
They are similar to procedures that have been worked out by the produce industry and the food agency after highly publicized food scares in recent years. As a result, officials said that a large number of growers and processors already followed many procedures set out in the guidelines, including steps to improve the hygiene of workers picking crops and testing for contaminants in processing plants.
Michael R. Taylor, a senior adviser to the F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, said it would take the agency about two years to issue standards, including requirements for food-safety plans, that it could enforce in farms and processing plants.
He said that effort would be greatly strengthened if the bill passed on Thursday in the House became law. The bill would give the agency additional power to enforce standards like those contained in the produce guidelines.
March 12, 2009
Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The late Tom Anderson, the family doctor in this little farm town in northwestern Indiana, at first was puzzled, then frightened.
He began seeing strange rashes on his patients, starting more than a year ago. They began as innocuous bumps — “pimples from hell,” he called them — and quickly became lesions as big as saucers, fiery red and agonizing to touch.
They could be anywhere, but were most common on the face, armpits, knees and buttocks. Dr. Anderson took cultures and sent them off to a lab, which reported that they were MRSA, or staph infections that are resistant to antibiotics.
MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) sometimes arouses terrifying headlines as a “superbug” or “flesh-eating bacteria.” The best-known strain is found in hospitals, where it has been seen regularly since the 1990s, but more recently different strains also have been passed among high school and college athletes. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that by 2005, MRSA was killing more than 18,000 Americans a year, more than AIDS.
Dr. Anderson at first couldn’t figure out why he was seeing patient after patient with MRSA in a small Indiana town. And then he began to wonder about all the hog farms outside of town. Could the pigs be incubating and spreading the disease?
“Tom was very concerned with what he was seeing,” recalls his widow, Cindi Anderson. “Tom said he felt the MRSA was at phenomenal levels.”
By last fall, Dr. Anderson was ready to be a whistle-blower, and he agreed to welcome me on a reporting visit and go on the record with his suspicions. That was a bold move, for any insinuation that the hog industry harms public health was sure to outrage many neighbors.
So I made plans to come here and visit Dr. Anderson in his practice. And then, very abruptly, Dr. Anderson died at the age of 54.
There was no autopsy, but a blood test suggested a heart attack or aneurysm. Dr. Anderson had himself suffered at least three bouts of MRSA, and a Dutch journal has linked swine-carried MRSA to dangerous human heart inflammation.
The larger question is whether we as a nation have moved to a model of agriculture that produces cheap bacon but risks the health of all of us. And the evidence, while far from conclusive, is growing that the answer is yes.
A few caveats: The uncertainties are huge, partly because our surveillance system is wretched (the cases here in Camden were never reported to the health authorities). The vast majority of pork is safe, and there is no proven case of transmission of MRSA from eating pork. I’ll still offer my kids B.L.T.’s — but I’ll scrub my hands carefully after handling raw pork.
Let me also be very clear that I’m not against hog farmers. I grew up on a farm outside Yamhill, Ore., and was a state officer of the Future Farmers of America; we raised pigs for a time, including a sow named Brunhilda with such a strong personality that I remember her better than some of my high school dates.
One of the first clues that pigs could infect people with MRSA came in the Netherlands in 2004, when a young woman tested positive for a new strain of MRSA, called ST398. The family lived on a farm, so public health authorities swept in — and found that three family members, three co-workers and 8 of 10 pigs tested all carried MRSA.
Since then, that strain of MRSA has spread rapidly through the Netherlands — especially in swine-producing areas. A small Dutch study found pig farmers there were 760 times more likely than the general population to carry MRSA (without necessarily showing symptoms), and Scientific American reports that this strain of MRSA has turned up in 12 percent of Dutch retail pork samples.
Now this same strain of MRSA has also been found in the United States. A new study by Tara Smith, a University of Iowa epidemiologist, found that 45 percent of pig farmers she sampled carried MRSA, as did 49 percent of the hogs tested.
The study was small, and much more investigation is necessary. Yet it might shed light on the surge in rashes in the now vacant doctor’s office here in Camden. Linda Barnard, who was Dr. Anderson’s assistant, thinks that perhaps 50 people came in to be treated for MRSA, in a town with a population of a bit more than 500. Indeed, during my visit, Dr. Anderson’s 13-year-old daughter, Lily, showed me a MRSA rash inflaming her knee.
“I’ve had it many times,” she said.
So what’s going on here, and where do these antibiotic-resistant infections come from? Probably from the routine use — make that the insane overuse — of antibiotics in livestock feed. This is a system that may help breed virulent “superbugs” that pose a public health threat to us all. That’ll be the focus of my next column, on Sunday.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
Gail Collins is off today.
January 24, 2009
Pig-to-Human Ebola Case Suspected in Philippines
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
In the first known case of what may be transmission of the Ebola virus from a pig to a human, a pig handler in the Philippines has tested positive for a strain of the virus, world health officials and the Philippine government announced Friday.
But the strain — Ebola Reston — is not known to be dangerous to humans, and the worker, who was infected at least six months ago, is healthy, officials said.
The development is worrying, because pigs are mixing vessels for other human and animal viruses, like flu, and because it shows that pigs may also be able to transmit the lethal strains of Ebola. Far more humans are in regular contact with pigs than with apes, monkeys or bats, the other known hosts.
But Dr. Juan Lubroth, chief of animal health at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, said that there was “more need to investigate than to worry” and that many unanswered questions remained.
Ebola Reston, normally a monkey virus, was first found in pigs last year in the Philippines. Health authorities closed two farms and took blood samples from 6,000 pigs and 50 workers on the farms and in slaughterhouses. Only four pigs and the one worker tested positive, the Philippine health secretary, Francisco Duque, said at a news conference in Manila.
Dr. Lubroth said the first pigs tested were very sick, but turned out to have more than one infection, including a virulent reproductive and respiratory syndrome. The Reston virus may not have been what sickened them.
“But farmers, of course, would prefer to have pigs without Ebola,” he said. “So we want to do more testing to see what they can do to protect them.”
Broader sampling will determine, among other things, whether the disease is more common in pigs and humans than is known, whether it causes fever and how long its incubation period is.
Ebola Reston was first found in monkeys from the Philippines that died after arriving at a laboratory in Reston, Va., in 1989. Antibodies to it were found in more than 20 workers in several labs, but it is not known to have caused more than a mild flu.
By contrast, the Zaire, Sudan and Bundibugyo strains of Ebola, found in African apes, cause fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans.
It is not known how the pigs were infected, but Dr. Lubroth noted that studies in Africa found Ebola viruses in fruit bats. Similar bats live in the Philippines, and fruit bats are thought to have transmitted the deadly Nipah virus to pigs, possibly through their droppings or dead bodies.
Even if the Ebola Reston virus can be shared between pigs and people, there is little chance it will mutate to become more lethal, said Dr. Pierre Rollin, acting chief of special pathogens for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who also visited the Philippines for the investigation.
“This virus is very stable, not like flu or H.I.V.,” he said. “Previously, when the virus went from primates to humans, it did not change. The identical virus was found in both.”
Also, humans do not carry other members of the filovirus family that could mix with it, the way that influenza strains from birds, pigs and humans can swap parts of genes.
The infection does suggest that pigs could transmit lethal Ebola, which inspired germ-terror movies like “Outbreak.” Fortunately, Dr. Rollin noted, there are no large pig-farming operations in Sudan, a Muslim country, in rural Congo or in most other places where the fatal strains flourish.
“It’s probably a rare event that pigs get infected,” said Dr. Thomas G. Ksiazek, a pathogens specialist at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston. “It hasn’t led to a past catastrophe. We’d know about a catastrophe.”
Link to Article Here