Archive for industrial livestock

Eating the Brown Acid

Posted in Ecological resilience, Organic agriculture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2015 by rgwallace

paintingThe surrealism packed in Stephanie Strom’s piece on a new ractopamine-free label the USDA approved turns the newsprint into blotting paper.

Ractopamine hydrochloride, developed under the Dickensian proprietary name of Paylean, is a beta-agonist given to up to 80% of U.S. hogs. It mimics stress hormones, adding muscle weight on less feed.

Greenwashing amok, Eli Lilly, which originally developed the drug as an asthma treatment for humans, argues in reducing the feed used, ractopamine lowers the carbon footprint of the livestock industry.

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Pigs Do Fly! Implications for Influenza

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , on December 3, 2009 by rgwallace

The influenza genome is segmented. Eight pieces of single-stranded RNA encode for 11 proteins: PB2, PB1, PB1-F2, PA, HA, NP, NA, M1, M2, NS1, and NS2. The segmentation allows influenza of different subtypes infecting the same host to trade segments like card players on a Friday night. Most of the resulting viruses will express phenotypes for the worse, but a small subset may be transformed into strains more infectious in their usual hosts or to a new host species.

This reassortment accounts in part for the origins of this year’s pandemic. Livestock pigs have long hosted their own version of seasonal H1N1, evolutionarily related to our own. From 1930-1998 the pig version evolved only slightly. But starting in 1998, the virus was subjected to a series of reassortment events. In North America, an aggressive swine H1N1 emerged with internal genes of a human H3N2 virus and an avian influenza. That virus subsequently spread across pig populations, with limited transfer to humans, usually to farm workers, who routinely offer the influenza virus human test subjects every step in its evolution.

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A Visitation of the Influenza

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Farming Human Pathogens book, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2009 by rgwallace

DefoeIn seeping through the world’s every nook and cranny, pandemics have a way of forcing themselves into our lives as a lurking presence. Even the most insular of functionaries, who typically makes his living solving problems by ignoring them, straightens up and takes notice.

As an epidemic wave arrives, each of us faces intimate decisions we may have thought a concern only for someone somewhere else far, far away. Should my family flee, vaccinate, wear masks, scrub regularly, shun crowds, isolate itself, drink brandy-infused elderberry, or, for the jittery among us, just crawl into bed until 2011? Others, on the other hand, may ask whether we should even bother worrying.

The answers are as variable as the people who arrive at them. Over the past two weeks I’ve heard friends and family heatedly talk through their positions online and in the real world. I’ve overheard strangers in cafes, on buses, and on the street wrestle with what were months ago only abstract possibilities better left to the eggheads.

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The Agro-Industrial Roots of Swine Flu H1N1

Posted in Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2009 by rgwallace

Mexico appears ground zero for an outbreak of deadly human-specific H1N1.

Of the over 1400 people that have been reportedly infected there so far, 86 have died. Short chains of transmission of the virus have also been reported in California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio, New York City, Canada and New Zealand. The virus has been identified as a new recombinant of influenza A (H1N1).

The World Health Organization has labeled the new strain potentially pandemic and the US has declared a public health emergency. Of great concern, and perhaps a marker of the seriousness of the outbreak, the deaths in Mexico, as in pandemics of eras past, appear concentrated among the young and healthy. In contrast, the mortality associated with most seasonal influenzas falls heaviest upon infants and the elderly.

Researchers have over the past several years hypothesized that a healthy and responsive immune system may explain the greater mortality among patients 20-40 years infected with highly pathogenic influenza.

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