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FDA finally addresses problem of antibiotic overuse by meat industry — sort of

Back in September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report connecting the use of antibiotics in livestock to antibiotic resistance in humans. It was an important step in turning science into action. Although human use and misuse of antibiotics and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals are important parts of the puzzle of antibiotic resistance, the massive use of antibiotics by the agricultural industry also plays a key role. In fact, the vast majority of antibiotics used in the United States are used by animals. (Reasonable estimates range as high as 80%.)

What's more, the vast majority of that antibiotic use has nothing to do with the health of the animals. The antibiotics have the side effect of promoting weight gain. Important drugs like penicillin and tetracycline are regularly doled out to cows and pigs and chickens as part of their daily feed in order to make them fatter — a practice which has been shown to directly reduce those drugs' effectiveness at treating actual illness in humans. Today, the FDA announced that it plans to change this ... but there are problems.

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The laissez faire world of dietary supplements

Every year, more than 2000 Americans experience a serious negative effect (either death or illness) from taking over-the-counter dietary supplements. Since 1994, it's been legal to sell supplements without prior safety testing. Even when someone gets sick, the burden of proof is on the FDA to prove the supplement caused it, rather than on the supplement company to prove it didn't. The Dallas Morning News reports on the lack of oversight and what it costs us. Maggie 27

Poop transplants meet FDA bureaucracy

The good news: Fecal transplants work well enough as a treatment for patients with Clostridium difficile infections that the Food and Drug Administration has decided to take them out of the grey area of legality in which they were previously being performed. Poop transplants for C. difficile will be legal, and the doctors doing the transplants will have to be approved by the FDA, to make sure they're getting the donor poop through safe means and not prescribing poop transplants for things that poop transplants don't help. The bad news: The approval process turns out to be ridiculously arcane and time-consuming — featuring a 30-day waiting period and requirements that are apparently secret. Maggie

Corporate executives indicted for willfully endangering public health

Officials from the Peanut Corporation of America are being indicted for their roles in a 2009 salmonella outbreak that killed at least nine people. It's rare for this kind of prosecution to actually happen, writes Maryn McKenna at her Superbug blog. But, in this case, there's mounds of evidence that executives circumvented safety testing, ignored positive salmonella results, and pressured their employees to send out product even though it might be tainted. Here's the money quote, from PCA's former president, revealed in an email recovered by the prosecution: "Shit, just ship it." Maggie

What the FDA doesn't want to tell you about livestock antibiotic use

Short version: There is LOTS the FDA doesn't want to tell you about livestock antibiotic use. And that matters. As I reminded you yesterday, the antibiotics we use to keep ourselves alive and healthy are rapidly losing their effectiveness against a whole host of diseases. Antibiotic resistance to disease is driven by overuse of antibiotics — both in humans and in animals. And there are lots of antibiotics being used on animals. The trouble is, public health researcher know very little about that use. Because the FDA refuses to release more than the bare minimum of data. For added fun, last year, they stopped even trying to regulate antibiotic use on livestock — opting instead for voluntary self-control systems. Maggie

Does sunscreen actually prevent skin cancer?

It does successfully prevent sunburn, but what about the evidence for sunscreen protecting you from skin cancer later in life?

The answer: Nobody is really sure. Last year, I wrote a short piece for BoingBoing that looked at this a little bit. The key point: Cancer takes a long time to happen and we haven't been using sunscreen long enough to have much evidence about it.

But, at Discover's The Crux blog, Emily Elert expands on some of the other problems in play. One of the key things—and something that will hopefully be fixed by this time next year—there's nothing on the sunblock you buy to tell you how protective it is against skin cancer. SPF is all about the burn. So even if some sunscreens do protect against cancer, you don't have a good way to know whether or not you're using one of them.

First of all, the way sunscreen’s effectiveness is measured—its SPF rating—basically only describes its ability to block UVB rays. That’s because UVB is the main cause of sunburn, and a sunscreen’s SPF stands for how long you can stay in the sun without getting a sunburn (a lotion that allows you to spend 40 minutes in the sun rather than the usual 20 before burning, for example, has an SPF of 2).

UVA rays can cause cancer but not sunburn, so they don’t factor into the SPF calculation. That means that if you slather on a high SPF sunscreen that only protects against UVB, you’d still absorb lots of UVA radiation, potentially increasing your long-term cancer risk.

Soon it will be easier to tell which sunscreens include ingredients that block or absorb UVA as well as UVB. According to FDA regulations passed last year, products that pass a “Critical Wavelength” test—meaning that they block wavelengths across the ultraviolet spectrum—will carry the label “Broad Spectrum” alongside the SPF, while sunscreens that don’t pass the test will be forbidden from claiming they have such capabilities. However, those regulations don’t go into effect until December, so for this summer, you’re still stuck with SPF. And, by the way, you probably need to apply twice as much sunscreen as you think to actually get an SPF as strong as that marked on the bottle: manufacturers test their products’ SPF with the assumption that you will slather on obscene amounts. This discrepancy could be contributing to the fact that the NIH, when looking the connection between sunscreen use and skin cancer in large populations, doesn’t see clear evidence that sunscreen is effective in reducing the risk of skin cancer. (It’s worth pointing out, too, that there is a clear genetic component in some skin cancers, so just avoiding sun or using sunscreen regularly are not the only factors that determine whether someone gets it.)

Read the rest of the story at The Crux

Image: Beer, cigarettes and sun block: Roskilde Festival 2009 essentials., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wouterkiel's photostream

Hitting 52.5 mpg won't require major tech advancement

By 2025, US automakers will have to have an average fleet fuel economy of 52.5 miles per gallon. That standard is 27.3 mpg today, so it sounds like a great, big, scary leap. But not really, say vehicle technology experts. In fact, there's enough room for improvement in things like auto-body design, that we can meet the new goal without needing any major technological breakthroughs.