Return to the Fruit & Orchards Forum | Post a Follow-Up

 o
Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Posted by harvestman 6 (My Page) on
Tue, Jan 28, 14 at 6:29

Nights are still long so I thought this might make for interesting reading for a few of you. It is about the development of pesticides that are species specific, which is the dream of practitioners of integrated pest management. Also of pesticide manufacturers, as you'd need a separate formulation for every pest.

Also, I'm sure, a nightmare to some.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/business/energy-environment/genetic-weapon-against-insects-raises-hope-and-fear-in-farming.html?hp

Here is a link that might be useful: genetically engineered pesticides


Follow-Up Postings:

 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

The backwardness of the EPA is astounding, which is what I get from the article. But no surprise there!


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

I have a question for you guys. I saw this awful movie a few years ago called Locusts (or something like that) where these giant locusts were killing people that had eaten non-organic food (and some guy and his ex-wife were the only ones that could save humanity). The locusts were impervious to pesticides so they ended up killing them with organic pesticides.

What would constitute an organic pesticide and can a fruit still be labeled organic if it has been treated with an organic pesticide? It seems to me that nature has created some pretty nasty & toxic stuff so if plant/fungus/whatever-derived pesticides are considered organic, I'm concerned.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Also, maybe I can buy the idea of doing this for bees--say a spray or a sugar syrup supplied to infected hives to treat them; but Monsanto wants to make a spray for roundup-resistant weeds so you can spray them a second time w/roundup just sounds like a bad idea. They want to sell you a GMO crop so you can buy their herbicide so you can buy their anti-resistance spray so you can buy their [insert-next-product]. Interesting business plan.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Tue, Jan 28, 14 at 21:06

"What would constitute an organic pesticide and can a fruit still be labeled organic if it has been treated with an organic pesticide?"

Rhino,

For a product to be labeled "organic" in the U.S. it must conform to USDA organic practices. Farms are certified by any of numerous USDA accredited public or private agencies (like OMRI). Very small farms are exempted from certification but can still sell their products as organic.

The USDA has lists of approved products and practices for organic growers.

Yes products can be sold as organic if the farm is certified and uses only the approved products.

For the most part organic pesticides must occur naturally and not too environmentally damaging, or highly toxic to people. For example, the old insecticide lead arsenate is organic, but not approved for organic growers by the USDA (or the EPA for that matter) because if its significant impact on the environment. Likewise Rotenone is natural, but because of potential health concerns, is not currently on the approved list. Mostly approved pesticides are things like copper, sulfur, oil, spinosad, etc.

Occasionally, organic producers can use synthetic chemicals (like antibiotics for fireblight-thru 2014) because of undue hardship on the grower. This chaps conventional growers like me a bit. Heck, of course it's hard (or impossible) to raise fruit without synthetics. That's precisely why I use them.

Organic growers establishing orchards can use all the herbicide they desire, since the certification rules stipulate organic farms must be synthetic free only for the last three years. As long as they don't sell their fruit as organic before the three year period, they get a pass on orchard establishment.

I think it's fair to say approved organic sprays are more benign to people (and to pests as well) than all of the conventional sprays allowed. However, there are also synthetic compounds safer than organic.

I'll never forget a story told to me by a former researcher at Bayer Crop Science (One of their research farms is about 5 miles from my house).

He told me, when he worked for Bayer, they had testing equipment much more sensitive than the USDA's equipment. One research project required produce which had never been sprayed with synthetic chemicals, to use as a control. He said his team tried all kinds of "organic sources" of produce, but their equipment kept detecting synthetic chemicals on it. He finally found one source that was truly organic.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Olpea, that was a very thorough answer but I'm wondering if SFR's question was serious. Is it?

SFR, are you telling us that you are unaware of the points of debate between the believers of organic materials only agriculture and those that believe synthetic chemicals are as useful and of no more risk when used in agriculture as when used in industry?

If you put organic produce in a plastic bag it is immediately contaminated with very detectible levels of a synthetic compound with possible impact on ones health. Plus you can't stop breathing the polluted air on your way to the Whole Foods emporium. But my organic only friends (besides the fruit they gladly eat from my trees) will say you have to start somewhere. Logical enough.

For organic fruit, best to start in the West Coast.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Organic has turned into more of a religion in regards to its stance on pesticides and GMO's, but its other practices are good for the environment like developing the soil and using biologic (insects) to control pests.

Organic pesticides are (except currently for Entrust) less effective and break down faster so need to be used in larger amounts more often which negates most of the beneficial aspects of them. The only really effective bactericide and fungicide they have is copper, which builds up in the soil over time killing everything there (and it never goes away). The exclusive use of Entrust for SWD (Pyganic is no longer effective) will rapidly cause resistance to develop destroying this material for everyone, which is also not a sustainable practice.

People are always whining that if you spray round up on a frog it kills it (due to the detergent in roundup), but all organic herbicides are the same or worse (can you imagine being sprayed with clove oil?).

Organic fertilizers cause phosphorus (and sometimes Potassium) pollution because you have to add these chemicals every time you need nitrogen due to the "natural" fertilizers having NPK values which are similar (ie compost is 1:1:1). Here much of the phosphorus pollution in the lakes is being blamed on erosion from farmers fields which have high P levels due to having manure spread on them for many decades. Organic Potassium supplements are contaminated with NaCl (salt) because they are not allowed to recrystallize it to remove the sodium.

The vast majority of commercial organic fruit is grown in the deserts (or dry regions) out west using water from dammed rivers for irrigation. Its much easier to with no rain to cause fungal and bacterial problems, and bug pressure is much lower, but its about as natural as hydroponics since fruit trees would not grow there without artificial assistance.

So soil development, biologics, and many other parts of "Organic" are good, but other aspects require "Faith" to believe in.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 29, 14 at 9:45

"Olpea, that was a very thorough answer but I'm wondering if SFR's question was serious."

Hman,

Well, I thought it was a genuine question, but I suppose it could be satire/sarcasm. Genuine scientific types seem to me to recognize their limits of expertise and freely ask questions outside their field. That the questions seem obvious to those within the field makes no difference.

Either way, I'm glad Rhino asked. Plumhill offered a few snippets of perspective I'd never considered before, even though (like Hman) I've heard this debate a hundred times.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Thanks, guys that is all very informative/interesting.

I did mean it as a legitimate question although in general about 90% of what I say has some level of sarcasm. I realize it is something I could look up for myself but I've generally found that when I have knowledgeable people that I can ask it is often a better way to get introduced to a subject. I figured it is a hotly debated topic so looking it up would mean having to wade through a lot of opinion disguised as fact.

I personally do not have any particular fear of the use of "chemicals" as a whole in daily life, nor do I specifically believe organic is necessarily best. Since having a kid I certainly make more effort to feed him organic/hormone free meat & dairy and I try to avoid some specific fruits & vegetables, but for my own consumption I don't particularly care. Life is all about managing relative risk and mitigating damage. I see a lot of people here in the city that eat only organic & gluten-free food but still smoke and run red lights.

Anyway, I guess my question about the organic pesticides was more because I didn't know what would make a pesticide "organic" or not. I still get hung up on the definition of organic as containing carbon. In the sense of "organic" in food I tend to think it means non-synthetic, but I certainly don't think non-synthetic is synonymous with "safer". I had this mental image of people spraying "organic" lettuce w/methylmercury (biochemically organic) or a-amanitin (natural product and biochemically organic).

In other news, I also wonder about what "no-antibiotics" mean in terms of milk & meat. I don't want to support the bulk use of antibiotics in animal feed, but I would hope that a cow with a bacterial infection would be properly treated...

ryan

This post was edited by sf_rhino on Wed, Jan 29, 14 at 13:27


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

> In other news, I also wonder about what "no-antibiotics" mean in terms of milk & meat. I don't want to support the bulk use of antibiotics in animal feed, but I would hope that a cow with a bacterial infection would be properly treated...

I think your question is really much more of a two-way street than simple answers would suggest. Yes, there's the question: If individual cow A is sick should it receive antibiotics? But (to say nothing of the reality that cows that don't receive antibiotics sometimes recover just fine and cows that do receive antibiotics sometimes die anyways) that question only comes about in a broader context: an individual cow isn't going to receive antibiotics except in a farm context of antibiotic use. So there's the question: are cattle healthier on farms where farmers don't use antibiotics or where they do (and then to what degree and with what thresholds)? Do brood cows live longer on farms that use antibiotics or not? Implied in these questions is the understanding that antibiotics enable farmers to keep cattle in ways they couldn't or wouldn't otherwise. If you dig down to this level to where you're looking at big picture questions I don't think you'll get answers that will correlate to the easy answers you get with the abstract, reductionist question of "should sick cow A be given antibiotics." Then one can dig down yet another level and ask the question of whether using antibiotics is leading farmers to breed for cattle that more often develop the sicknesses that antibiotics treat (kind of the opposite of "survival of the fittest") that may soon be faced with antibiotic-resistant bacteria (to say nothing of the possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance in human pathogens.) Or does antibiotic use facilitate feeding cattle feeds that promote more virulent human pathogens in their digestive tracts? Or does antibiotic use lead to cattle being kept in ways where pathogens in manure are less likely to be safely "recycled" on the farm and instead create food safety problems on a produce farm downstream? I certainly haven't said anything to prove that antibiotic use is bad, but I hope this is enough to prove that the simple arguments for antibiotics are entirely insufficient to make their case.

As far as actual practice and the law, I'm pretty sure there aren't any antibiotics that can be given to lactating cows without separating their milk from what goes to human use (to the extent the law is obeyed and testing is adequate to confirm compliance.) My minimally educated guess would be that antibiotic use would technically preclude milk use for human consumption for 30 days and that antibiotic use would preclude slaughter for meat for human consumption for, depending on the particular antibiotic, 1 week to 30 days. I would expect failures of full compliance would be more common with meat animals than dairy.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

CF, I take your point and it does make a lot of sense. My concern with bulk antibiotic use is (was) mainly your penultimate question about cattle feed and antibiotic resistant pathogens. However, now I'll add an appreciation for the other issues of antibiotic use influencing breed fitness and potentially less ideal/healthy ranch conditions.

As far as the actual practices you lay out, those are along the lines of what I was thinking should be the case from the reductionist standpoint (an otherwise healthy cow at a responsibly run ranch that gets a bacterial infection as part of normal daily life)--reserve the milk for X days during & after the administration, but the single course of administration shouldn't 'sour' the cow's milk for the remainder of it's lifetime (in my opinion).


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

My sister is a vet who usually buys only organic food with the exception of dairy. She believes the organic dairy farmer has an incentive to let his animals suffer illness until it is a life or death issue. She considers this conflict a source of inhumane treatment of dairy cows.

I buy organic food when it tastes better, which used to be the norm back in the '70s because it was all grown on small farms by people who cared about what they sell. Now it's hit and miss but if you want fresh greens in NY in Feb, the organic stuff from Whole Foods will probably have a lot more flavor than conventional produce from Hannafords.

I judge the heath of foods by taste which I believe is as good a test as any. It annoys me that chefs and people paid to write and talk about food now speak of organic food as being synonymous with healthy food as if it's an established fact.

I've yet to see any research that demonstrated the harmfulness of legal amounts of synthetic residue in food. Even applicators who are exposed to hundreds X more pesticide then you could get from eating conventional food have health profiles that provide no red flags about the danger of pesticide.

Here is a link that might be useful: health data on pesticide applicators


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

H'man, it seems like you're being very selective in the scientific information you're willing to recognize. Surely you don't believe that anything of this nature is so black and white.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Cous, I'm guessing you are referring to the study link. I have the entire study in my files but also have seen a couple others, including a similar one done by the Canadian gov. with the same general results.

If you've any studies that contradict the general gist of the one I've provided please come forward. I'm not talking about dosing mice or rats either or even a tendency of getting a specific type of cancer because of one specific type of exposure. What I'm interested in is mortality and general health as consequence of real world type exposures.

Imagine a farmer on a tractor pulling a mist blower spewing out pesticide in a fog that he lives in all the work day. Typical workday for the average small farmer. Then there's the diesel smoke, solvents and everything else in daily life on the farm.

When you study the health data of this large a population for this many years the data doesn't likely lie.

I figure if you want a long life, be born to the right parents, get lots of exercise, eat a balanced diet, and cultivate nurturing relationships. Don't worry too much about the synthetics in your mattress or the smaller exposure you might get from food.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Thu, Jan 30, 14 at 1:31

"My concern with bulk antibiotic use is (was) mainly your penultimate question about cattle feed and antibiotic resistant pathogens. However, now I'll add an appreciation for the other issues of antibiotic use influencing breed fitness and potentially less ideal/healthy ranch conditions."

Rhino,

Most of the "regulars" on this forum, including Cousin, know that I used to be a livestock farmer (confinement pigs).

I think Cousin knows I respect his perspective, but differ in view on some of these farming issues.

I don't accept the antibiotic resistance via animal feed argument quite as much as most. Feed grade antibiotics are early generation antibiotics (like penicillin, tetracyline, etc.). My understanding is the real resistance issues (like mersa, tuberculosis) are with the latest (and greatest) antibiotics. Products almost never seen on a farm.

You may read of high powered antibiotics used on farms but I think it's rare. As a pig farmer, we'd never considered giving high power late generation antibiotics for the simple reason our livestock were not that valuable compared to the cost of the drug vs. other cheaper drugs.

All that said, I think a fair compromise might be to eliminate sub-therapeutic antibiotic use in animals and to restrict later generation antibiotics in animals to be administered only by a licensed veterinarian. Currently late generation antibiotics are labeled such that it can only be administered "on the order of, or by", a veterinarian. Although a seeming small change, if the wording changed to eliminate "on the order of" then the vet would have to come out to the farm and administer the shot himself. Much more expensive, resulting in even more selective use of the product.

I think later generation antibiotics should still be available to animals because there are times when they are appropriate (a unique $20,000 breeding bull, or a $200,000 race horse). But to completely forbid antibiotics in animals seems to me to throw the baby out with his wash water.

Selective breeding livestock to perform better under artificial farming conditions is a common argument. Generally it's applied to pasture vs. feedlot systems (That is, part of the reason pasture systems can't compete as well with feedlots is because modern cattle are bred for feedlots and consequently don't perform as well on pastures.)

I'm somewhat skeptical of those arguments. If we had been breeding livestock for confinement or antibiotics for 1000 years, it may hold more more water for me, but the technologies haven't been around very long (relatively speaking).

There are still breeds around which have been relatively untouched for confinement or antibiotics. You can still purchase rangy Texas Longhorns.

One could make the argument newer breeds are more resistant to bacteria because they are exposed to more in a confinement operation. I'm not saying that's happened, just that it has as much possibility as the converse.

Animals have been no more selectively bred to be dependent on antibiotics than people. My uneducated guess is there hasn't been enough time to significantly affect the gene pool of either in this regard.

I think your first intuition is correct, just as with people, more livestock suffer and die without antibiotic treatment.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

> I don't accept the antibiotic resistance via animal feed argument quite as much as most.

To put your response to me in perspective, your comments focused heavily on a point about which I said merely "to say nothing of the possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance in human pathogens." Your comments are fair enough, but their narrow focus could be misleading.

To the question of whether animals have been selectively bred to be dependent on antibiotics, there's a close parallel in milk fever and dairy cattle, especially Jerseys. Jersey dairy farmers depend on treatments for milk fever that surely never could have gotten to be such a frequent problem apart from the use of the treatments.

> Animals have been no more selectively bred to be dependent on antibiotics than people. My uneducated guess is there hasn't been enough time to significantly affect the gene pool of either in this regard.

I'd note here that cattle typically give birth for the first time at under 3 years old, and swine must be under 2. Artificial insemination is also very common with both cattle and swine, which opens up the possibility for relatively fast, dramatic changes in the gene pool. Even traditional livestock breeding allows one select (although not so narrowly and quantitatively selected as with AI) male to breed a whole herd of females. Compare that to 25 years to birthing for the average American human (just guessing) with no special selection of the male population -- a lot of human antibiotic use also takes place after the end of child bearing, thus having no potential to effect human genetic selection -- and I'd say there's a lot more potential to breed in a shorter time period for livestock that develop the problems that antibiotics treat.

> just as with people, more livestock suffer and die without antibiotic treatment.

It would be difficult to make a good comparison with swine, because even USDA organic producers use conventional pharmaceuticals on their breeding animals (just not in the last trimester). I think brood cattle would have similar limitations for comparison, and even conventional brood cattle are still raised in fairly traditional ways. So the most distinct comparison I can think one could scientifically examine would be dairy cattle. Of course, the end of productive life for a dairy cow doesn't necessarily mean illness or suffering, but productive life of cows has certainly dropped as antibiotic use has increased, and I'm sure the same holds for differences in productive life between antibiotic-using dairies and antibiotic-avoiding dairies, not directly because of the antibiotics, of course, and not because of selective breeding (because the two systems interbreed extensively) but because of the model of farming that goes along with antibiotic use/avoidance.

> just as with people, more livestock suffer and die without antibiotic treatment.

Even the human case isn't so straightforward, especially not at the margins. I'm sure one could isolate demographics that for various reasons tend to use antibiotics less frequently for reasons other than their medical condition. I bet those same demographics would score better on fitness tests at 60 years old. They might be less likely to spend those last/extra 10 years in a nursing home, but that kind of longevity can mislead on questions of health.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Thu, Jan 30, 14 at 12:59

"To put your response to me in perspective, your comments focused heavily on a point about which I said merely "to say nothing of the possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance in human pathogens." Your comments are fair enough, but their narrow focus could be misleading."

Actually Cousin, I wasn't responding to something you wrote, but a concern of Rhino, when he wrote: "My concern with bulk antibiotic use is (was) mainly your penultimate question about cattle feed and antibiotic resistant pathogens."

Cousin wrote:"To the question of whether animals have been selectively bred to be dependent on antibiotics, there's a close parallel in milk fever and dairy cattle, especially Jerseys. Jersey dairy farmers depend on treatments for milk fever that surely never could have gotten to be such a frequent problem apart from the use of the treatments."

To me that statement sounds like conjecture. If one believes animals are bred selectively for antibiotics, then they surely come to the conclusion the problems are the result of the treatments.

"I'd note here that cattle typically give birth for the first time at under 3 years old, and swine must be under 2. Artificial insemination is also very common with both cattle and swine, which opens up the possibility for relatively fast, dramatic changes in the gene pool."

That's true AI or traditional livestock breeding occurs faster than with humans, but there has been no selection criteria to breed animals that succumb to disease faster. I understand your argument that supposed antibiotic dependency is it's own sort of natural selection criteria, but again one could argue with reasonable assurance that livestock in confinement operations are exposed to more pathogens (as people are in cities, vs rural sparsely populated people) putting selection pressure the other way. Animals which don't hold up in confinement are not selected for breeding stock (at least in the swine industry).

" Of course, the end of productive life for a dairy cow doesn't necessarily mean illness or suffering, but productive life of cows has certainly dropped as antibiotic use has increased, and I'm sure the same holds for differences in productive life between antibiotic-using dairies and antibiotic-avoiding dairies, not directly because of the antibiotics, of course, and not because of selective breeding (because the two systems interbreed extensively) but because of the model of farming that goes along with antibiotic use/avoidance. "

I would disagree for the most part. Farm animals have shorter productive lives because knowledge has produced a sort of "fine tuning" in maximizing monetary returns. The most profitable route turns out to keep breeding stock for a shorter period of productive time.

Take swine for example, a breeding gilt can be taken off the floor or sold for meat. Her cost is the market meat cost plus a genetic premium. When her productive life is over, she is still sold for meat. The price per pound is less, but by that time she may weigh 600 lbs. (a lot more meat) so the price received for her in the end is frequently as much or greater than her purchase price. In a sense owning her really doesn't cost anything (excluding feed, housing, etc). Money for her purchase is simply delayed until her sale (I know money has time value, but overall it's nominal in this case, on a per gilt basis). It follows, replacement cost is very low.

The very nature of the numbers mean that it's most profitable to keep her only in her most productive time of life (which is relatively short for any mammal). Once the gilt starts to drop off only slightly in fertility, it makes more economic sense to replace her.

Sure there are farmer's who keep livestock longer, but generally not for economic reasons. Farmers have always held on to, or used husbandry practices which are not the most profitable - and I don't fault them for that.

In my own peach orchard, I am fully aware a higher density irrigated planting generates more returns. But I went with a lower density dry planting. Why? Because I'm not out to make the most money, just trying to make a decent wage for my labor. Maybe an age thing. When I was in the pig business in my 20s and 30s I tended to run things like a race horse - maximum profitability. I'm 48 now, and life (and the value you place on your time) start to look a little different. Nevertheless, higher density orchards (and higher livestock replacement rates) generally make more economic sense.

"Even the human case isn't so straightforward, especially not at the margins. I'm sure one could isolate demographics that for various reasons tend to use antibiotics less frequently for reasons other than their medical condition. I bet those same demographics would score better on fitness tests at 60 years old. They might be less likely to spend those last/extra 10 years in a nursing home, but that kind of longevity can mislead on questions of health."

Yes I'm sure that's true, poverty being one of the reasons. But it sounds like you are making the beginnings of a suggestion that humans might be better off without antibiotics, else I missed your point. For myself, I can't even begin to go there. My son would probably be dead without antibiotics. Scarlet fever, Syphilis, tuberculosis, leprosy, bubonic plague, these things were horrible diseases, which have been virtually eliminated by antibiotics. There are some resistant strains now, but the level of resurgence has been no where near the pandemics these diseases have caused in the past.

This post was edited by olpea on Thu, Jan 30, 14 at 13:09


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

>> Jersey dairy farmers depend on treatments for milk fever that surely never could have gotten to be such a frequent problem apart from the use of the treatments."
>To me that statement sounds like conjecture. If one believes animals are bred selectively for antibiotics, then they surely come to the conclusion the problems are the result of the treatments.

As common as milk fever is in Jerseys and as deadly as it is without treatment it doesn't take a big leap to come to the conclusion that the trait of milk fever susceptibility couldn't have become so common in Jersey genetics without treatment keeping that trait from self-regulating. (This is similar to what someone else was saying about the most virulent strains of viruses eliminating themselves by killing their hosts, although milk fever is only genetically "contagious.")

> there has been no selection criteria to breed animals that succumb to disease faster.

Not on purpose, of course, but traits are inadvertently selected for all the time. Milk fever, for example, is correlated with high milk production, especially relative to body weight. Jersey farmers certainly haven't selected for milk fever, per se, but they've selected for traits that are linked to milk fever. Similarly, low varroa mite levels in honeybees are linked most closely with brooding patterns that mean low honey production. Bee breeders have selected for low varroa levels and inadvertently found themselves selecting for poor vigor and production.

> Animals which don't hold up in confinement are not selected for breeding stock (at least in the swine industry).

Sure, but that misses the point of whether they hold up with or without antibiotics. How much selection is there against animals that depend on antibiotics to hold up well, but hold up well all the same? The point is that treatments can be effective enough that breeders (and natural selection) stop breeding against underlying genetic causes of the problems.

> Farm animals have shorter productive lives because knowledge has produced a sort of "fine tuning" in maximizing monetary returns.

That may be true with swine, but, like I said, there's not much contrast with swine to start with. I don't think it's true with dairy cattle. The cull value of a dairy cow doesn't hardly change from a first calf heifer to an old cow, and production doesn't normally drop off very early or very fast in the life of a cow, so I think dairy farms do show a correlation between the lack of antibiotics and longevity that can be credited specifically to better cow health.

> But it sounds like you are making the beginnings of a suggestion that humans might be better off without antibiotics, else I missed your point.

I was responding to your point that "as with people, more livestock suffer and die without antibiotic treatment." My point certainly wasn't that mankind would be better off without antibiotics. My point was that for individuals, at the margins, antibiotic use probably correlates, even after statistically detaching from medical correlations, with poorer health (as measured by fitness at 60 years old) rather than improved health. In other words, I bet people that use antibiotics less than average in the same medical situations have better than average fitness. Modern medicine is full of such paradoxes.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

CF, I agree that antibiotics are probably detrimental to our health beyond the treatment of the bacteria they are being used to control. Our digestive systems contain an extremely complex biotica that is disrupted by ingesting antibiotics- this seems to be an established fact. The consequences of these disruptions is in early stages of research but there is reason for concern.

Antibiotics are like an all purpose insecticide that kill the good bugs along with the bad. IPM standards are even more important when managing the human body than when managing an orchard.

I won't take antibiotics unless I'm pretty sure my body won't heal on its own- half the time a doctor prescribes them I don't take them. I'm glad my mother always had the same theory. A lot of mothers run to doctors every time their child has a fever and aren't satisfied if they don't go home with a bottle of pills to treat it.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Fri, Jan 31, 14 at 12:41

Cousin,

The reason I spoke about swine is because that's where my experience is. I'm not near as familiar with dairy practices, even though my wife works in that industry.

I suppose it's possible antibiotic issues could apply to one area of livestock farming and not another.

I think our discussion is winding down because we are repeating discussion points.

Regarding dairy cattle, you maintain Jersey cattle are more prone to milk fever because of antibiotic selection. The proof is that Jersey cows wouldn't have gotten that way without antibiotic selection. That seems like a leap to me.

There are so many questions. How long have Jersey's been more prone to milk fever? Are there any studies indicating differences in facilities, or husbandry practices reduce milk fever in Jerseys or other dairy cows? Is there any rise in milk fever in other breeds like Holsteins, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, etc.? Jerseys produce milk with higher butterfat vs. Holsteins (which make up 90% of dairy cattle) could that play a role?

Earlier I wrote:"Farm animals have shorter productive lives because knowledge has produced a sort of "fine tuning" in maximizing monetary returns."

You responded: "That may be true with swine, but, like I said, there's not much contrast with swine to start with. I don't think it's true with dairy cattle. The cull value of a dairy cow doesn't hardly change from a first calf heifer to an old cow, and production doesn't normally drop off very early or very fast in the life of a cow, so I think dairy farms do show a correlation between the lack of antibiotics and longevity that can be credited specifically to better cow health."

Again I'm less familiar with the dairy industry, but I think the model holds. Dairy cows start out at 800 lbs. and mature to 1500. They gain twice the weight but are sold at half the price (per lb.) so I can't see there is much replacement cost.

You credit the shorter productive life span in modern dairy herds to antibiotics, but facilities and husbandry practices are probably the culprit. It's known cows don't do as well on concrete, which has become more predominate.

" My point was that for individuals, at the margins, antibiotic use probably correlates, even after statistically detaching from medical correlations, with poorer health (as measured by fitness at 60 years old) rather than improved health. In other words, I bet people that use antibiotics less than average in the same medical situations have better than average fitness. Modern medicine is full of such paradoxes."

Yes but that's a spurious correlation, and sort of makes my point in this discussion about animals. In other words, simply because you can find data showing a correlation of poorer health and antibiotic use doesn't mean the antibiotic use caused poorer health. It could very well mean the +60 group which used less antibiotics, did so because they exercised more, ate healthier, as can be inferred from your statement.

Correlation doesn't equal causality. Crime rates are higher among black people, but I'm sure you would agree it has nothing to do with skin color. There are a whole host of causal factors which do or could account for that statistic (income, education, loss of nuclear family, prejudice in the criminal system, etc.)

This post was edited by olpea on Fri, Jan 31, 14 at 13:30


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

These conversations are interesting, but I would love to see studies more when people try to make a point.Hard to know how factual arguments are without some backup.
When Hman presented health data on pesticide applicators, now that was informative otherwise all is just conjecture.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Drew, if there's statements you'd like back up for, specify the statements. Sometimes things are stated as fact because it is assumed that others are aware of research and sometimes people are just stating opinions.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Wow, I didn't realize I was kicking over a can of worms with the whole livestock antibiotic use question. Minimally it seems like everyone is on the same page in terms of avoiding low dose antibiotics for non-therapeutic uses. Personally I avoid antibiotics unless I need them and I've very careful about taking the entire course.

I'm not at all familiar with any of these livestock diseases or the economics of raising swine/cattle. This certainly gives me some stuff to read about over the weekend.

I haven't read HM's epidemiology paper yet, but the abstract seems pretty reasonable. I guess my continued concerns (again having not yet read the paper) are that while these may be safe, I don't want to extrapolate to assume all insecticides/herbicides are safe/not safe (including future ones that haven't be developed yet)... much like GMOs. The consumer doesn't get much if any info about which specific products are used on their product, thus can't make educated decisions (assuming they would) on what they'll buy. The other concern is that babies/children/pregnant women have much different sensitivities/tolerances to various chemicals and it doesn't look like this study includes any of that although I bet that has been looked at (similar study from kids growing up on farms?). Anyway like I said before, I eat what I like and I buy more organic stuff for my little kid.

When I go to the supermarket I wish they had complete info about all the groceries and what their sources are. I'd like to see a code I could look up if I wished to see that this apple came from Famer John's north field in X county, harvested X date, trees planted X date, X variety on Y rootstock, treated with XYZ chemicals...

This post was edited by sf_rhino on Fri, Jan 31, 14 at 19:10


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

> I suppose it's possible antibiotic issues could apply to one area of livestock farming and not another.

Dairy cattle aren't just some random example; dairy cattle provide the example with the most contrast where the broad effects of antibiotic use can be expected to be most readily apparent, because there are two pretty distinct and contrasting dairying models to examine. The reason swine don't tell us much is because organic sows are medicated the same as conventional for all but their last trimester (as determined by NOP rules). The reason dairy cattle are most revealing is because organic restrictions against antibiotics affect every stage in the life cycle of dairy cattle. And, in fact, there's a negative correlation between farms that use antibiotics and the health/longevity of the cows in those herds. I made this point in response to your assertion that "more livestock suffer and die without antibiotic treatment." I think we can see that that's not true with dairy cattle. It's very hard to say how true it is of swine, because there isn't really a control group for comparison, but we can ask why it's true for cattle and then ask why those same reasons wouldn't apply to swine. The example of dairy cattle (the clearest example) provide a reasonable basis for doubting that other livestock would be any different.

> Regarding dairy cattle, you maintain Jersey cattle are more prone to milk fever because of antibiotic selection.

I'm not sure what you mean by "antibiotic selection," but I'll tell you what I know about milk fever. Milk fever is fairly uncommon in most cattle breeds, even most dairy breeds. Jerseys, for whatever the reasons, are an exception. Cows get milk fever right around the time they give birth. First calf heifers don't normally get it, but a very substantial proportion of Jersey cows get milk fever with subsequent births. Without treatment milk fever is normally deadly. If you combine normally deadly and substantial percentages you've got a problem that would be a huge financial and competitive burden to Jersey farmers (and a major strike against simple fitness for survival of the cows) if it weren't for a very effective treatment. That treatment makes the cost of milk fever negligible, but if it weren't for the treatment Jersey farmers would surely have to do something else. They'd have to do something like switch to another breed or find genetics within the Jersey breed without the susceptibility or bring those genes in from somewhere else.

The treatment for milk fever isn't an antibiotic, by the way. That's why I called it a close parallel and not an example. The point is that treatments that solve problems also tend to perpetuate susceptibility to problems that would otherwise somehow or another have to be regulated or would wind up self-regulating (i.e. they would die out or die back to sustainable levels.)

> Dairy cows start out at 800 lbs. and mature to 1500. They gain twice the weight but are sold at half the price (per lb.) so I can't see there is much replacement cost.

If by "start out" you mean how much they weigh at freshening, they start out at about as much as they ever weigh. Obviously, they weigh more before calving than immediately after, and like a sow, they normally lose some weight when they're milking heavy which they regain before they freshen again, but a cow is basically as big as she's ever going to get by the time she first freshens. In other words, slaughter weight is pretty much constant over the milking life of a dairy cow. Therefore, the beef value provides no particular incentive to butcher a cow after one lactation or two lactations or ten. Therefore, there's no reason to suspect that's the reason for differences in productive life.

> You credit the shorter productive life span in modern dairy herds to antibiotics, but facilities and husbandry practices are probably the culprit. It's known cows don't do as well on concrete, which has become more predominate.

That's almost what I'm saying. It's not exactly that antibiotics shorten productive life; it is, as you say, the facilities and husbandry practices that are the culprit, and antibiotics make those facilities and practices viable/profitable. That's why I said, "an individual cow isn't going to receive antibiotics except in a farm context of antibiotic use. So there's the question: are cattle healthier on farms where farmers don't use antibiotics or where they do (and then to what degree and with what thresholds)? Do brood cows live longer on farms that use antibiotics or not? Implied in these questions is the understanding that antibiotics enable farmers to keep cattle in ways they couldn't or wouldn't otherwise [concrete, etc.]. If you dig down to this level to where you're looking at big picture questions I don't think you'll get answers that will correlate to the easy answers you get with the abstract, reductionist question of 'should sick cow A be given antibiotics.' Then one can dig down yet another level and ask the question of whether using antibiotics is leading farmers to breed for cattle that more often develop the sicknesses that antibiotics treat (kind of the opposite of "survival of the fittest") that may soon be faced with antibiotic-resistant bacteria..."

> simply because you can find data showing a correlation of poorer health and antibiotic use doesn't mean the antibiotic use caused poorer health.

But I never claimed simple causation, just as it wasn't my point that antibiotics as an isolated variable would shorten productive life of dairy cattle. Antibiotics don't have to cause problems to be a critical component of a system that causes problems (with people or with livestock.) Immigrant laborers certainly aren't to blame for poor working conditions and general undesirability of farm jobs, but finding ways to break out of that labor market and do without immigrant labor will nonetheless result in better jobs.

> It could very well mean the +60 group which used less antibiotics, did so because they exercised more, ate healthier, as can be inferred from your statement.

And if they exercise more and eat healthier because they don't want to rely on antibiotics (and doctors, etc., etc.) isn't that the point? Even setting aside the valid concerns that H'man expressed, if antibiotics enable unhealthy lifestyles, in either case the result of real world antibiotic use is poorer health, right?


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 1, 14 at 18:42

"These conversations are interesting, but I would love to see studies more when people try to make a point."

Drew,

I can appreciate that. I like concrete evidence too. However, for me it just takes too much time to footnote everything. I try to make it clear when I'm speaking opinion vs. fact. That's not to say my facts are always right, but I believe my facts to be correct to the best of my current knowledge.

For example, I mentioned Jersey cows have higher butterfat content in their milk than Holsteins. My only source is my wife. She works with milk testing and pricing. Farmer's are paid a premium for milk with higher butterfat, so I think she would be accurate on that fact. I could try to Google all the statements I assert as facts, as a check, but it would take more time than I am willing to give for a causal internet conversation. My statements regarding swine are generally general knowledge known to those who have been in the industry for several years.

"The reason dairy cattle are most revealing is because organic restrictions against antibiotics affect every stage in the life cycle of dairy cattle. And, in fact, there's a negative correlation between farms that use antibiotics and the health/longevity of the cows in those herds."

Cousin,

Assuming this is a conclusive fact, again this is probably related to the system. Organic livestock farmers would probably have a larger percentage of low tech systems (i.e. pasture). I understand you are saying antibiotics enables housing systems/practices which in which there is higher turnover, but my point about the system was in response to your point that cows are bred to be more antibiotic dependent, a conclusion I don't hold.

Antibiotics perpetuating a certain system which produces higher turnover is a different issue. Regarding that issue, it is conjecture on your part and mine whether a ban on antibiotics would result in a substantial change in livestock housing systems. Personally, I don't think it would have much impact.

Modern facilities are so much more cost efficient and higher turnover a minimal cost, I don't think it would make a difference. Again, my experience is with swine but in this regard the facilities are similar enough to make that reasonable conclusion (concrete, climate controlled buildings, with higher density populations).

My old farming partner now raises pigs on contract for a large commodity company (Still a good friend, talked with him yesterday.) He's told me before, the company he now contracts with has gotten onto him for not having a high enough replacement rate. They want higher turnover.

I think if the company announced tomorrow they were going antibiotic free, it wouldn't change anything but increase death loss and turnover. It would increase costs, but not enough to change housing paradigms.

"The treatment for milk fever isn't an antibiotic, by the way."

I didn't know that. As I said, I'm more familiar with pigs. It's been a long time since I've even set foot on a dairy farm. All this time I thought you were trying to claim milk fever was a result of antibiotic selection pressure. An honest mistake really since the word "parallel" is synonymous with likeness, match, duplicate, etc.,which have broad definitions.

Since that's the case, I think for the discussion, it's fair to point out you haven't given any examples of animals being bred to be more antibiotic dependent. It's all conjecture at this point. We've spent a lot of time discussing something for which there is no proof. I understand it can happen in theory, but just as you've proposed a theory why it could happen, I've proposed a theory why it's unlikely (i.e. "livestock in confinement operations are exposed to more pathogens (as people are in cities, vs rural sparsely populated people) putting selection pressure the other way.")

" In other words, slaughter weight is pretty much constant over the milking life of a dairy cow."

When I made the statement, " Dairy cows start out at 800 lbs. and mature to 1500.", it was not from personal experience of dairy cattle. I simply got the information off a seemly respectable Website. I can't find the Website now, but found a couple from which the same conclusion can be drawn.

This Website http://www.holsteinusa.com/holstein_breed/breedhistory.html says, "Holstein heifers can be bred at 13 months of age, when they weigh about 800 pounds."

This EPA fact sheet http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/printdairy.html#life says, "They usually calve, or give birth, at about 24 months of age. However, they do not reach mature size until at least 4 years of age."

According to the EPA, dairy cattle do continue to gain weight once in production, as do pigs. Either way my point is replacement cost isn't that significant in the scheme of things. Higher replacement rates are driven by the model not antibiotics. If anything I think antibiotics reduce turnover (via lower death loss) not increase it.

"And if they exercise more and eat healthier because they don't want to rely on antibiotics (and doctors, etc., etc.) isn't that the point?"

An important distinction is that's it's not an "either/or". Your arguments imply it is. I think the best of both worlds is to exercise more, eat healthier and use antibiotics when you're sick. Applying this to dairy cows, if the goal is to reduce turnover (which I suspect isn't a primary concern for most dairy herds, but this is simply conjecture on my part based on my experience in the swine industry) then you use low density pasture systems and antibiotics.

Even setting aside the valid concerns that H'man expressed, if antibiotics enable unhealthy lifestyles, in either case the result of real world antibiotic use is poorer health, right?"

You will never get me to agree to that. Real world antibiotic use has not only significantly added to our lifespans and reduced suffering, but also increased health, if only based on the few diseases I listed above. Leprosy causes fairly poor health until it kills you. Severe bacterial infections, even if they are cured, can cause long term health consequences (brain damage, hearing loss, paralysis, organ damage, loss of limbs). Antibiotics have practically eradicated some of the more terrible diseases, as a collective people it's easy to forget what life was like before penicillin.

I think it's also easy for Americans to miss because we have enough wealth to pay for antibiotic treatment when we get sick. In poor countries, like Bangladesh, which can't afford antibiotics, I strongly suspect, not only are infant and general mortality rates higher (in part due to antibiotics) but even poorer health could be attributed in part due to lack of antibiotic medicine. I have no studies to demonstrate this at my fingertips, so this is conjecture on my part.

Regarding animals, I think your real beef (pun intended) is with modern livestock systems. You say antibiotics facilitate the use of these systems. I maintain from my arguments mentioned above, there would be little difference in the systems if antibiotics were completely banned. People using pasture systems would continue to do so, as would people using confinement. I don't think the antibiotic issue would create enough economic pressure to drive it one way or another, but I do think there would be more death and sickness without antibiotics in both systems. Personally, I've seen some pretty sick/suffering animals and can't imagine not treating them, and simply waiting to see if they come out of it on their own.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

Olpea, you were a pig/hog farmer (don't know if this is the right way to call it) in your previous life, really? !

I would have thought you were a professor because whenever you make your point you are always very scholarly:-)

I appreciate the help you(and the others) have given to me over the years.


 o
RE: Now, genetic engineering in pesticides to save bees and crops

  • Posted by olpea zone 6 KS (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 2, 14 at 10:03

Thank you Sara. Very kind.

It's true I was a pig farmer. We raised pigs off 600 sows. I loved the business. Pigs are such interesting animals. I got hurt and had to sell out.

Not to sound too melodramatic, but for all of my adult life I've been involved in agriculture and felt a calling to grow food. Sort of my way to serve mankind, feeding people.

This will be my last post on this topic. Someone I respect personally emailed me and told me this topic really doesn't belong on the fruit forum. I think he's right. The discussion has mostly been between Cousin and I.


 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!


Return to the Fruit & Orchards Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.


Learn more about in-text links on this page here