Daily Archives: August 5, 2013

From Fields to Fevers: Are Farms Breeding Deadly MRSA Infections?

August 1, 2013
Microbiologists are trying to work out whether the agricultural use of antibiotics is fueling the human epidemic of drug-resistant bacteria

By Beth Mole and Nature magazine

Pigs carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus were found on US farms for the first time in 2007. Image: DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG/GETTY

The sight of just one boot coming through the doorway cues the clatter of tiny hoofs as 500 piglets scramble away from Mike Male. “That’s the sound of healthy pigs,” shouts Male, a veterinarian who has been working on pig farms for more than 30 years. On a hot June afternoon, he walks down the central aisle of a nursery in eastern Iowa, scoops up a piglet and dangles her by her hind legs. A newborn piglet’s navel is an easy entry point for bacterial infections, he explains. If this pig were infected, she would have an abscess, a lump of inflamed tissue, just below the navel. “In human terms, she’d be an outie instead of an innie,” he says, rubbing the pig’s healthy, pink belly button.

Nearly six years ago, an outbreak of ‘outies’ at this nursery marked the first known infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in pigs in the United States. MRSA has troubled hospitals around the world for more than four decades and has been infecting people outside of health-care settings since at least 1995 (see Nature 482, 23–25; 2012). It causes around 94,000 infections and 18,000 deaths annually in the United States. In the European Union, more than 150,000 people are estimated to contract MRSA each year. Its first appearance on a US farm signalled the expansion of what many believe is a dangerous source of human infection.

Male investigated the infections with Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who has since launched one of the most comprehensive investigations yet of where MRSA lives and how it spreads into and out of agricultural settings. She has surveyed farms and grocery stores as well as people’s homes, noses and pets. Her findings could help to end a raging debate about whether farms’ use of antibiotics is contributing to the rise of drug-resistant bacterial infections in humans.
….(read more).

Environmental Justice http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre145
Environment Ethics http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre120
Food-Matters http://Food-Matters.TV

Can Farming Provide a Solution to Climate Change?

August 5, 2013
Farming is one of the few human activities that can pull CO2 from the atmosphere and store it safely

By David Biello

TO TILL OR NOT TO TILL: By leaving the soil intact and not tilling it, farmers can help reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, though soil compaction becomes an issue. Image: Rhys Asplundh / Flickr

More In This Article

When the heavy rains came to Iowa this spring, corn farmer Dave Miller tilled the rolling portions of his 255-hectare plot. Cutting into the soil slows runoff and, particularly, prevents water from gouging big gullies in the fertile but softly held land. A few years back such tilling would have cost him money, thanks to an attempt to pair farmers improving the carbon management of their soils and companies looking to reduce pollution.

“We know that raising soil organic matter is good for soil, good for society and good for climate,” says Miller, whose day job is as an economist for the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB). He once ran the nation’s largest agricultural carbon credit service. The idea is simple: The soil is one of the best places to put the carbon dioxide causing climate change, which has reached new highs in the atmosphere. Plants help put the carbon into the soil through photosynthesis—knitting CO2 and water into carbohydrates using the power of sunlight. And farmers can boost the process further by turning some of those plants into charcoal—or biochar, as advocates of the approach like to call it. …(read more)

Global Climate Change http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre130
Environmental Justice http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre145
Environment Ethics http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre120
Food-Matters http://Food-Matters.TV

Nuclear Reactors Can’t Handle Global Warming


By Harvey Wasserman, August 5, 2013

An overheated world now threatens the ability of nuclear reactors to operate at all.

Just as the sales pitch that atomic energy could help with global warming gets its biggest hype, the reactors themselves go very wrong.

And as a “renaissance” turns into a rout, a “new generation” of reactors fades ever-deeper into the realm of expensive fantasy.

The bad news on nuclear power and global warming comes most recently from Cape Cod Bay. All commercial reactors spew huge quantities of waste heat into the rivers, lakes and oceans they use for coolant.

The worst instance (so far) is Fukushima, where hot radioactive effluent still pours into the Pacific Ocean after three explosions the industry claimed could never happen.

Reactors in Alabama, France, Germany, and elsewhere have already been forced to shut because of excess heat.

At Entergy’s Pilgrim, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a global-warmed summer has heated Cape Cod’s waters beyond the legal limit for cooling a “normal” reactor. So in mid-July Entergy was forced to take Pilgrim down to 85 percent power. (read more)

Global Climate Change http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre130
Environmental Justice http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre145
Environment Ethics http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~envre120

Universal Coverage and Social Justice

E120, e145, public health,

Equity: Concepts, Requirements, Standards (cont.)

E120, e145,

CARTA: Behaviorally Modern Humans: The Origin of Us — Ajit Varki


Glenn Greenwald on Edward Snowden, Surveillance, and Secrecy

E120, media,