Factory Farms as Primary Polluter




O

ver
the past 15 years, factory farms have replaced small family farms
as the primary producers of livestock for human consumption in the
U.S. These farms generate 1.4 billion tons of animal waste per year
(130 times annual human waste production). One hog farm in North
Carolina generates the same amount of waste as all of Manhattan.
While Manhattan has a fairly effective sewage system, the hog farm’s
manure ferments in an open lake, seeps into the local water supply,
creates an unbearable stench for nearby residents, and can be widely
disseminated by floods and hurricanes. As sewage from factory farms
permeates local rivers, fish die, ecosystems are disrupted, and
the growth of bacteria, which can cause human infection, is promoted.
Not surprisingly, factory farms have replaced industrial factories
as the number one polluter of American waterways.


Almost
all of the eight billion cattle, poultry, and swine raised for human
consumption in the U.S. each year receive antibiotics to “promote
growth.” The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that non-therapeutic
livestock use, primarily by large factory farms, accounts for 70
percent of antibiotic use in the U.S., an increase of 50 percent
over the last 15 years. Agricultural antibiotic use facilitates
the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For instance,
enterococcus bacteria resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin, and
only partly responsive to recently developed antimicrobials, plague
intensive care unit patients in increasing numbers; spread of this
organism was likely promoted by the use of avoparcin, a vancomycin-like
antibiotic fed to chickens. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention have declared that antibiotic use in food animals is
the dominant source of antibiotic resistance among food-borne pathogens
affecting humans.


 Campylobacter,
the most common food-borne infection in the U.S., causes 2.5 million
cases of diarrheal illness and 100 deaths annually. The incidence
of food-borne Campylobacter resistant to fluoroquinolones, the class
of antibiotic commonly used to treat this disease, rose from 13
percent in 1998 to 18 percent in 1999. Over the same period, fluoroquinolone
use in animals rose 40 percent. Two fluoroquinolones, sarafloxacin
(trade name Saraflox) and enrofloxacin (trade name Baytril), have
been widely used on factory farms. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration
declared that “the only option to protect human health from
antibiotic resistant Campylobacter is to cease the use of fluoroquinolones
in poultry.” In response to an FDA-proposed ban, Abbott Laboratories
voluntarily withdrew sarafloxacin from the market. Despite calls
from the American Public Health Association, Physicians for Social
Responsibility, and others, Bayer Corporation has refused to pull
Baytril off the market and is fighting the FDA-proposed ban. 


Of
note, outlawing the sub- and non-therapeutic use of antibiotics
in factory farms and instead focusing on disease prevention and
improved sanitation, diet, habitat, vaccination, and treatment of
specific infections is not only more humane, but would minimally
increase meat costs to consumers, while helping to lower the estimated
$4 billion spent each year on antibiotic-resistant infections in
humans. Of course, increasing the proportion of vegetables
and fruits in our diets would have direct health benefits to individuals,
and also would cut down on agricultural antibiotic-associated human
infections.



The
Checkered History of Bayer



B

ased
in Leverkusen, Germany, the Bayer Corporation employs 120,000 individuals
worldwide and boasts annual sales of $28 billion. Its largest market
is the U.S. It produces pharmaceuticals, genetically-modified crops,
is the third largest manufacturer of herbicides in the world, and
dominates the insecticide market. Following its 2001 purchase of
Aventis CropScience, it became the number one biotech company in
Europe, where it controls over half of the genetically-modified
crop varieties up for approval for commercial use. In 2001,


Fortune
Magazine

named Bayer “one of the most admired companies
in the United States”;

Multinational Monitor

, on the
other hand, labeled it one of the “Ten Worst Corporations of
the Year.”


The
company has an ignominious history of unethical practices and violations
of federal statutes. In World War I, Bayer helped to invent chemical
warfare and developed the “School for Chemical Warfare”
in Germany. In World War II it was part of the IG Farben conglomerate,
which exploited slave labor at Auschwitz and conducted unethical
human subject experiments. In the early 1990s, the company admitted
knowingly selling HIV-tainted blood clotting products which infected
up to 50 percent of hemophiliacs in some developed countries. U.S.
class action suits related to these sales were settled for $100,000
per claimant, while European taxpayers were left to foot most of
the bills for the care of these unfortunate patients. From 1995
on, Bayer has failed to follow its promise to withdraw its most
toxic pesticides from the market, and failed to educate farmers
in developing countries regarding health risks associated with exposure
to its pesticides, undoubtedly thereby contributing to the 2 million
to 10 million poisonings and 200,000 deaths per year that the World
Health Organization attributes to pesticide exposure.


In
1998, Bayer paid Scottish adult volunteers $750 each to swallow
doses of the insecticide Guthion to, according to the company, “prove
the product’s safety.” In 2000, the FDA and the Federal
Trade Commission cited Bayer for misleading claims regarding aspirin
and heart attacks and strokes. That same year, it was fined by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace safety
violations related to exposures to carcinogenic MDA, and by the
Commerce Department for violations of export laws. In 2001, FDA-reported
violations in Bayer’s quality control contributed to a worldwide
shortage in clotting factor for hemophiliacs.


Despite
these egregious violations of common law and human rights, Bayer
is seen by many as an established, caring company, known mainly
for its aspirin, which many of us have used since youth. To maintain
its public image, Bayer resorts to “greenwash,” advertising
designed to portray its products as eco-friendly (e.g., pesticides
are called “crop protection”); “bluewash,” identifying
itself with the United Nations through its status as a signatory
to the UN’s global compact (despite its ongoing violations
of this agreement); the promotion of a stealth anti-environmental
health agenda, via sponsorship of the so-called “Wise Use”
and “Responsible Care” movements and membership in corporate
front groups such as “The Global Crop Protection Federation”
(whose name belies its intent, which is not so much crop protection
as the increased use of both genetically-modified organisms and
pesticides); and harassment/SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against
Private Parties), designed to discredit (and deplete the financial
resources of) watchdog groups such as “The Coalition Against
Bayer Dangers.” Bayer is a member of numerous lobbying groups
attacking “trade barriers” (i.e., environmental health
and safety laws). The company has donated $600,000 to U.S. politicians
over the last five years, and gave $120,000 to President George
W. Bush’s 2000 election campaign.


Bayer
produces a human fluoroquinolone, ciprofloxacin (trade name Cipro,
similar chemically to the Baytril used agriculturally). Cipro is
one of the two treatments of choice (along with the much cheaper
and equally effective doxycyline) for anthrax. Bayer stands to make
large profits off of Cipro through physician prescriptions ($4.50
per pill in the drugstore) and sales to the U.S. government, for
a proposed stockpile to treat a potential 10 million exposed patients
(at $0.95 per pill, which is still twice what the government pays
for Cipro under another program and over four times the price one
generic manufacturer has proposed). Cipro’s patent was set
to expire in 2004, but it has been granted an additional 6 months
patent protection under the FDA’s pediatric extension bill,
in exchange for conducting safety and efficacy tests on children.
Cipro has been the bestselling antibiotic in the world for the last
8 years, and is currently the 11th most prescribed drug in the U.S.
(20th in sales). Gross sales in 1999 for Cipro were $1.04 billion;
sales increased 20-25 percent one month after the 2001 anthrax mailings.
Even at the reduced price, Bayer stands to make enormous profits
by providing Cipro for the government stockpile, not to mention
potential sales to all 280 million Americans.


The
U.S. government has the authority, under existing law, to license
generic production of ciprofloxacin by other companies (which could
cost as little as $0.20 per pill), in the event of a public health
emergency. The government refused to deem the late 2001 spate of
anthrax exposures, and the potential for a large scale anthrax attack,
a public health emergency. Why? Because doing so would have weakened
its case, presented to the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting
in Qatar, that the massive suffering consequent to 25 million AIDS
cases in sub-Saharan African nations does not constitute enough
of a public health emergency to permit these countries to obtain
and produce cheaper generic versions of largely unavailable anti-AIDS
drugs. The government’s stance is likely related to the record
$80 million dollars spent by drug companies on campaign donations
in the most recent national elections. Fortunately, the WTO ministers
voted in favor of the developing world.



Suggestions for Citizen Action



I

n
the case of Bayer and its fluoroquinolone antibiotics, corporate
profits and influence peddling are triumphing over public health
and rational science. Stronger regulation over agricultural antibiotic
use and pricing of human pharmaceuticals is urgently needed, as
well as stiffer penalties for corporate malfeasance (fines and prison
sentences). Concerned citizens should support locally-produced,
antibiotic-free meat from small farms (contact the Bayer Corporation,
100 Bayer Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15205-9741; 412-777-2000 to protest
Bayer’s failure to cease production of Baytril); and contact
their legislators and the White House to demand increased availability
of generic ciprofloxacin and anti-AIDS drugs, at home and abroad,
under existing law and trade agreements. 







Martin
Donohoe is staff physician at the Old Town Clinic and Senior Scholar
at the Center for Ethics in Health Care and Assistant Clinical Professor
of Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. He is also a
member or the Board of Directors of the Oregon Physicians for Social
Responsibility.