It seems that the Bush Administration is trying to get a few more jabs in before heading out of office, making our nation even more unsafe and removing regulations that keep our citizens healthy.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, on October 31st, the Bush Administration signed a rule that exempts factory farms from needing permits that limit water pollution runoff. Modern factory farms, also known as concentrating animal feeding operations (CAFOs), besides being generally cruel to animals and foster antibiotic resistance through unregulated use, also generate huge amounts of untreated liquid and solid waste from livestock that are forced to live in confined areas. This rule will keep authorities from having to regulate this waste, which will contaminate waterways and other farms, and will undoubtedly lead to further public health crises similar to the E Coli outbreak that we just had in September of this year.
The recent national outbreak of E Coli O157:H7 in spinach was quickly traced back to farms in Salinas Valley, CA, and is a stark reminder of the importance of maintaining a working and vigilant public health system. It demonstrates how disease tracking and data collection is imperative as a foundation for this process, with rapid action taken by public health field workers to isolate and stop the spread of disease outbreak. Local physicians and healthcare professionals reported cases of patients with diarrheal illness consistent with a possible E. coli O157:H7 outbreak to their local public health departments. Through the national public health system network, these departments, in turn, reported the illnesses to the CDC (Grant et al, 2008). The CDC was able to quickly recognize a pattern and made a public announcement of the outbreak on September 13, 2008. A study was initiated the next day by the public health departments of Utah and New Mexico, which isolated and contained the source of the outbreak, and within 2 weeks had hard evidence implicating spinach grown in our state that had likely been contaminated by runoff from local cattle farms. Not only did the public health system discover the cause of the illness, but it then was able to help draft policy changes encouraging improved sanitation that will hopefully decrease the risk of similar contamination in the future.
Unfortunately, whatever we learned from this and similar incidents will be undone with this exemption in waste regulation. This is an excellent example of how corporate pressure influences the government to make irresponsible decisions. The economic pressure from factory farms has overcome the health risks to citizens caused by unregulated waste runoff. The state public health departments, the FDA, and the EPA must review this rule and take political action to prevent the increased public health risk that it poses.