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E. coli and stupid businesses


Warning: This article is a screed, and some readers may find the ideas herein challenging to their assumptions and therefore upsetting.
I sometimes have to remind myself that I am “pro business” when writing for the business press, as I do, though I think that’s a pretty empty phrase. I mean, would I be pro-business if I owned a cottage on a lake that was fouled by the effluent of a pulp mill or acid mine drainage? Certainly I wouldn’t be “pro business” at that moment. Would you?
It’s all relative.
I’d say I’m “pro business” in the general sense that I’m not an “anti-” — meaning I’m not routinely and predictably on any kind of anti-business “team.” I’m not identifiably a political conservative or liberal; I’m neither wholly left or right leaning, and agree with comedian Chris Rock that it’s insane to not look at issues one at a time. Sometimes I agree with economic policies that might align with a small “c” conservative philosophy (or classical liberal, if you prefer).
I’m actually a great believer in markets and their power. I think it’s very fair to want regulation of free enterprise, but silly to confuse the need for regulation with being “against markets”. And opponents of “capitalism” need reminding that even socialism is “state capitalism.”
We’ll never get rid of markets, nor should we wish to.
With this in mind, I’ll state without reservation that there are certain industries that, to my mind, are working against their own interests and even compromising their long-term viability by being incredibly stupid and small-minded.
I’m all for business and free markets, or at least the free-est markets possible, wherein the environment is protected and the public interest is advanced.
I’m a believer in intelligent business; businesses that innovate and re-invent and evolve and improve. I think the best businesses are the ones that serve the needs of the public and truly improve the world.
The businesses I oppose (the place where I am, indeed, an “anti-”) are the unethical ones that drive cost savings for themselves at the expense of the well being of others, including human beings but also animals.
Though some are winning in the short term, I hope and pray that over time they’ll be supplanted by new businesses that provide clothing, shelter, energy and cater to all our other needs in a progressive and enlightened way.
From this perspective I won’t hesitate to say that I despise the current industrial food system, its hog barns, cattle feeding stations, and slaughterhouses and meat processing facilities.
The recent case of E. coli contamination in meat processed at the XL Foods plant in Alberta typifies what I dislike in “stupid” businesses. And in their stupidity they’re aided and abetted by stupid governments that, not surprisingly to my jaundiced eye, removed adequate oversight and inspection of the plants, and allowed them for the most part to inspect themselves.
The E. coli contamination was 100 per cent predictable, as we look back at the facts of the case. Most disturbing of all, it was American authorities who detected the contamination and sounded the alarm. Our own inspection system failed, and even failed to take action in a timely manner after the E. coli was reported from south of the border.
So, with all that said, I give you the following article reproduced here from the trade publication Food Safety News. As you read this article, about a vaccine that reduces E. coli something like 80 per cent in cattle, which was recently approved for use in cattle, think upon the fact that this Canadian vaccine (yes, it came from here!) was not adopted in this country due to a cost of (wait for it…) five dollars per animal (!) and from resistance from cattlemen for various competitive reasons.
I can only draw one conclusion: We’re at the place with the industrial food system where that the system’s owners and managers and regulators would rather risk people getting horribly sick and even dying than cut into their profits by a few pennies per pound.
If Charles Dickens or Jonathan Swift were alive today, what would they make of it? What would they write?
Read this article, and then think to yourself, “There is something I can do.” And that is: stop eating meat, or at least, start buying from local producers and at farmers markets. Ask your supermarket where they get their meat from, and insist that you’ll only buy meat from them when it can be shown that this meat is from an animal that had a life, felt rain, saw sunshine, was humanely transported and slaughtered.
If enough of us start changing our buying habits and asking questions, we can effect real change in this dismal industry. They won’t make changes until they’re hit in their pocketbooks. But until that happens, and as long as we mindlessly buy their crappy products, we’re the ones who are stupid.
Here’s the article:
UK Approves E. coli O157:H7 Vaccine for Cattle
BY GRETCHEN GOETZ, AUGUST 10, 2012
A Canadian vaccine designed to reduce E. coli O157:H7 shedding in cattle has become the first drug of its kind to be approved for use in the United Kingdom.
The medication — manufactured by Bioniche Life Sciences, Inc. — was granted a Special Treatment Certificate (STC) by the UK’s Veterinary Medical Directorate, a branch of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. An STC is issued when no treatment for a given animal disease has been approved by the European Union, but one is available in a country outside the EU.
Although cattle cannot get sick from E. coli O157:H7, their intestines serve as a reservoir for the bacteria, which is shed in their feces and can be passed on to humans, in whom it can cause serious and sometimes fatal infection.
“I am very pleased to see an STC issued for this application,” said Dr. Chris Low, Director of One Health at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Veterinary Studies in a Tuesday press release. “On-farm vaccination is a logical preventative measure to reduce the risk of human exposure to E. coli O157 and this initiative by Bioniche Life Sciences adds to the armoury of those involved in livestock agriculture to ensure that, in the many contexts where country meets city, human illness is not a result.”
The first application of the drug is likely to be on farms where the public risks exposure to cow feces, according to Low.
The STC allows UK veterinary surgeons to use the foreign drug until an equivalent one, or that same drug, is approved for use in the EU.
Before it can be approved across the European Union, the Bioniche drug — Econiche — must meet EU’s Good Manufacturing Practices, a process that’s expected to take anywhere from a year to a year and a half.
Econiche was approved for use in Canada in October of 2008. However, it has not yet received a green light from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the agency responsible for licensing and regulating Shiga toxin-producing E. coli vaccines in the United States.
In the U.S., another drug designed to prevent E. coli shedding in cattle — Pfizer’s E coli Bacterial Extract Vaccine with SRP® Technology — has been approved by USDA, but has yet to find the funding it needs to be put to widespread use.
That vaccine got a boost this week, however, when Kansas State University released a study showing that an “E. coli Vaccine,” presumed to be the Pfizer drug, reduces shedding of E. coli O157:H7 from cows by more than 50 percent, and that less of the drug is needed to achieve this effect than originally thought, meaning that the cost to farmers would be lower than expected.
© Food Safety News


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