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Hotline Launched for Reporting Cruelty, Neglect of Farm Animals

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has launched a hotline that offers a reward for whistleblowers who report cruelty and neglect on factory farms, at livestock auctions, and in slaughter houses.

The organization is offering up to $ 5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who have committed acts of cruelty to farm animals.

The hotline was created after Idaho became the seventh state to put an “ag-gag law” on the books to criminalize undercover investigations of agricultural facilities.

Animal cruelty laws vary among states, but punching, kicking and other overt acts of violence are usually illegal. Denying adequate food, water, shelter and veterinary care to animals may lead to prosecution.

“The bleak conditions endured by animals on factory farms are often made worse by overt violence and neglect,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for HSUS. “Pigs are often beaten. Chickens are stomped on. Lame cows are left for dead. We want whistleblowers to know that help is just a phone call away.”

Food Safety News

Study: Antibiotics May Help Spread Salmonella Between Animals

An estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to livestock, which raises concerns among some scientists about the fostering of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. But a study on antibiotics just published by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine might introduce a whole new concern to the equation.

Mice given antibiotics to treat Salmonella infections have been found to grow even sicker and start shedding more pathogens afterward. In fact, they begin to shed the same levels of bacteria as so-called “superspreaders,” the small minority of infected mice in the population who exhibit no signs of illness but spread large amounts of bacteria.

“We’ve shown that the immune state of an infected mouse given antibiotics can dictate how sick that mouse gets and also carries implications for disease transmission,” said Denise Monack, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford and the study’s senior author. “If this holds true for livestock as well — and I think it will — it would have obvious public health implications. We need to think about the possibility that we’re not only selecting for antibiotic-resistant microbes, but also impairing the health of our livestock and increasing the spread of contagious pathogens among them and us.”

It’s not entirely clear why some animals — and humans — are superspreaders while others are not. Approximately 10-30 percent of mice are superspreaders who will shed large amounts of Salmonella while exhibiting no signs of illness, while the remaining 70-90 percent shed only small amounts and sometimes develop symptoms.

In the Stanford study, mice given antibiotics went from shedding small amounts to much higher levels of Salmonella. Within days, they also became very ill and several died. But, when given the same antibiotics, the superspreaders continued shedding large amounts of bacteria without any ill effects.

The researchers found that, compared to the normal mice, the superspreaders had dampened immune responses, which explained why they didn’t get sick. Instead of fighting off the infection, their immune systems tolerated it.

“Their immune cells have been rewired and aren’t responding to the inflammatory signals in the intestines the same way,” said Smita Gopinath, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.

And with the mice who do experience symptoms of illness, the antibiotics do exactly the opposite of what they’re intended to do.

These same conditions have not been observed in humans, but it’s an area worth studying, the researchers said.

Food Safety News

Documentary Explores Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.

Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.

The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.

Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as PorkCares.org — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”

The second half of the FRONTLINE documentary revisits their October 2013 story about an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in 2011. The new 2014 segment includes an interview with the parents of a young man who died from KPC a year after the outbreak when he was admitted to the hospital because of complications from a bone marrow transplant.

Food Safety News

Documentary Explores Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.

Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.

The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.

Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as PorkCares.org — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”

The second half of the FRONTLINE documentary revisits their October 2013 story about an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in 2011. The new 2014 segment includes an interview with the parents of a young man who died from KPC a year after the outbreak when he was admitted to the hospital because of complications from a bone marrow transplant.

Food Safety News

Documentary Explores Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.

Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.

The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.

Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as PorkCares.org — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”

The second half of the FRONTLINE documentary revisits their October 2013 story about an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in 2011. The new 2014 segment includes an interview with the parents of a young man who died from KPC a year after the outbreak when he was admitted to the hospital because of complications from a bone marrow transplant.

Food Safety News

Documentary Explores Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.

Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.

The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.

Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as PorkCares.org — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”

The second half of the FRONTLINE documentary revisits their October 2013 story about an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in 2011. The new 2014 segment includes an interview with the parents of a young man who died from KPC a year after the outbreak when he was admitted to the hospital because of complications from a bone marrow transplant.

Food Safety News

Documentary Explores Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.

Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.

The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.

Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as PorkCares.org — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”

The second half of the FRONTLINE documentary revisits their October 2013 story about an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in 2011. The new 2014 segment includes an interview with the parents of a young man who died from KPC a year after the outbreak when he was admitted to the hospital because of complications from a bone marrow transplant.

Food Safety News

New increase in antimicrobial use in animals in Denmark

Antimicrobial usage in animals in Denmark continued to increase in 2013 — mainly due to an increased use in pigs. However, antimicrobial use in pigs is still 12% lower than in 2009. In general, livestock received very little of the critically important antimicrobials, which are used to treat humans. These findings appear in the annual DANMAP report from Statens Serum Institut and the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. DANMAP is the Danish integrated antimicrobial resistance monitoring and research programme.

In 2013, the total use of antimicrobials in livestock and pets in Denmark was 4% higher than the previous year when measured in kilograms. The increased consumption is mainly attributed to a 6% increase in the consumption of antimicrobials in pig production, which accounts for about 84% of meat production in Denmark. But the consumption in poultry and pets has also increased.

Distributed by species, pigs account for around 78% of antimicrobial use in 2013, cattle 10%, aquaculture 3%, poultry 1%, fur animals 4%, and pets, horses and other companion animals the remaining 3%.

Increased use in pigs and poultry

Antimicrobial consumption in pigs measured in doses has increased in all three age groups: sows / piglets (9%), weaners (5%) and finishers (5%). This is primarily due to an increased consumption of pleuromutilins and tetracyclines, which are used for group medication. However, the consumption in pigs is still 12% lower than in 2009, when the highest consumption was recorded since Danish farmers stopped using antimicrobial growth promoters.

“It is crucial that we reverse the increase in consumption, if we are to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistant bacteria,” senior researcher Yvonne Agersø from the National Food Institute says.

In 2013, antimicrobial consumption in poultry increased by 57% compared to the year before. This is partly because of the wet winter, which led to more illness and — as a result — an increased consumption of tetracyclines in turkeys. An increased occurrence of diarrhea in broilers in 2013 can partly explain the increased consumption of penicillins, which are an effective treatment against diarrhea.

“Antimicrobial consumption in poultry is generally low compared to other species. It accounts for only 1% of the total use. For this reason, a few outbreaks of illness can cause significant fluctuations in the annual consumption data,” Yvonne Agersø explains.

Continued low consumption of critically important antimicrobials

Consumption of critically important antimicrobials in animal production is still low. For a second consecutive year, the use of fluoroquinolones in pigs was very low in 2013 at less than 1 per mille of the total consumption in pigs. The use of 3 kilos of cephalosporins in pig production is also low. However, it does represent a significant increase compared to the year before when total consumption of cephalosporins was 1 kilo. There has been a significant drop in consumption in cattle.

“It remains important that Danish pigs and cattle are treated with critically important antimicrobials only when absolutely necessary to help ensure these agents continue to be effective when treating seriously ill people,” Yvonne Agersø says.

In 2010 Danish pork producers introduced a voluntary ban on the use of cephalosporins where other effective treatment options are available. In August 2014, the Danish Agriculture & Food Council encouraged cattle farmers to only use cephalosporins where this is the only effective treatment option. Cephalosporins are not used in poultry production.

Companion animals and horses

Overall, the consumption of antimicrobials in the treatment of companion animals and horses increased in 2013 compared to the year before. This increase was not due to an increase in the use of critically important antimicrobials, as the consumption of both cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones in 2013 was lower than the year before. However, companion animals account for nearly 40% of the combined veterinary consumption of fluoroquinolones.

“While it is unfortunate that we continue to see an increase in the total use in companion animals, it is encouraging to see a drop in the use of antimicrobials that are critically important to humans. This suggests that the treatment guidelines put out by the Danish Veterinary Association in November 2012 has had some effect. The guidelines call for critically important antimicrobials to be avoided as much as possible,” Yvonne Agersø says.

Facts about antimicrobial resistance

Treatment with antimicrobials is intended to kill pathogenic bacteria. Unfortunately, antimicrobials also cause the bacteria to protect themselves by developing resistance to the type of antimicrobials that are used to treat them. Resistant bacteria can be transmitted between humans, and bacteria can infect each other with resistance. However, resistant bacteria are poor at surviving if antimicrobials are not present. Therefore, it is important to have an overall focus on using as few antimicrobials as possible for the treatment of both animals and humans.

Bacteria know no borders, therefore antimicrobial resistance in one country can cause problems outside of its borders. As such the use of antimicrobials in both animals and humans is a global problem.

Not all antimicrobials are the same. Some are narrow spectrum and affect only individual groups of bacteria. They are used when you know which bacteria are causing the disease. Others are broad spectrum and affect numerous groups of bacteria at the same time. They can therefore be used to treat a disease before knowing which bacteria are the cause. However, they often also kill useful and harmless bacteria such as bacteria from the intestine, which may lead to the emergence of resistant bacteria.

Not all antimicrobials are equally important in the treatment of humans. WHO has declared a number of antimicrobials to be ‘critically important’, because they are the only or one of only a few antimicrobials, which can be used to treat serious or life-threatening infections in humans. These types include carbapenems, third and fourth generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and macrolides.

Find the DANMAP report on DANMAP’s website: http://www.danmap.org/

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Domesticated animals provide vital link to emergence of new diseases

Research at the University of Liverpool suggests pets and other domesticated animals could provide new clues into the emergence of infections that can spread between animals and humans.

The study showed that the number of parasites and pathogens shared by humans and animals is related to how long animals have been domesticated.

The findings suggest that although wild animals may be important for the transmission of new diseases to humans, humanity’s oldest companions — livestock and pets such as cattle and dogs provide the vital link in the emergence of new diseases.

Using data sourced from existing studies and information collected together in the Liverpool ENHanCEd Infectious Diseases (EID2) database, the researchers cross-referenced all known cases of parasites and pathogens in domestic animals with the length of time they have been domesticated by man.

In dogs, which have been domesticated for over 17,000 years, there were 71 shared parasites and pathogens, and in the 11,000 year association between humans and cattle, 34 have accumulated.

Epidemiologist, Dr Marie McIntyre was part of the study team. She said: “We don’t have enough knowledge of how new diseases get from wildlife into humans.

“This study shows that domesticated animals can play an important role in that process and that diseases have been shared in this way for thousands of years.”

The research examined ‘centrality’, to determine which domestic animals are in the middle of a web of shared infections. These animals are most active in spreading disease to other domesticated species. This ‘centrality’ linked directly with the length of time since domestication.

The EID2 database used in the study was created by University researchers in the Institute of Infection and Global Health to bring a ‘big data’ approach to emerging diseases. It contains information from more than 60 million papers, pieces of electronic reference material and textbooks on the spread and emergence of pathogens around the world, and can be cross-referenced with data on climate change, which also affects the spread of some diseases.

Dr McIntyre said: “Using data in this way can help us address the major threat of new diseases and the spread of existing diseases caused by climate change.

“Vast amounts of research are being carried out in this field, yet it isn’t easy to search or draw patterns from it. As with this research into domestic animals, a database can help by bringing huge amounts of evidence together in one place.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Liverpool. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

The story of animal domestication retold: Scientists now think wild animals interbred with domesticated ones until quite recently

Many of our ideas about domestication derive from Charles Darwin, whose ideas in turn were strongly influenced by British animal-breeding practices during the 19th century, a period when landowners vigorously pursued systematic livestock improvement.

It is from Darwin that we inherit the ideas that domestication involved isolation of captive animals from wild species and total human control over breeding and animal care.

But animal management in this industrial setting has been applied too broadly in time and space, said Fiona Marshall, PhD, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. It is not representative of the practices of the Neolithic herders who first domesticated animals nor — for that matter — of contemporary herders in nonindustrial societies.

Together with Keith Dobney, PhD, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland; Tim Denham, PhD, of the Australian National University; and José Capriles, PhD, of the Universidad de Tarapacá in Chile, Marshall wrote a review article that summarizes recent research on the domestication of large herbivores for “The Modern View of Domestication,” a special feature of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published April 29.

Recent research on the domestication of donkeys, camelids (which includes dromedaries, Bactrian camels, llamas and alpacas) pigs, cattle, sheep and goats suggests that neither intentional breeding nor genetic isolation were as significant as traditionally thought, the scientists said.

“Our findings show little control of breeding, particularly of domestic females, and indicate long-term gene flow, or interbreeding, between managed and wild animal populations,” Marshall said.

Why is it important to get domestication right? “Our livestock is losing genetic diversity even faster than some wild animals, because of management practices like artificial insemination,” Marshall said. “We took only a bit of the diversity from the wild for domestication, and what we’re looking at now is lopping it off really fast so we’ll be left with little diversity to survive all the climate and disease issues we’re facing. It really is a crisis situation.

“If we don’t understand what it is we might be about to lose, then we don’t count the cost of loss accurately or know how to plan for the future,” she said.

A walk on the wild side

For most of history, artificial selection on large herbivores was probably weak, Marshall said. “Herders could not afford to kill many animals, particularly large-bodied animals with long gestation periods. To keep herd size stable, herders probably culled or castrated males surplus to the growth needs of the herd, allowing all females to breed,” she said. These management practices placed only light selection pressure on the herd’s gene pool.

Paradoxically, environmental selection may, in many instances, have been stronger than artificial selection. Early herds were vulnerable to disease, droughts and storms, disasters that would have forced pastoralists to replenish herds from wild populations better adapted to harsh local conditions.

Sometimes domesticated animals were intentionally bred with wild ones, Marshall said. “Wild animals are generally faster, stronger and better adapted to the local conditions than domesticated ones. So, for example, Beja herders in Northeastern Africa intentionally bred their donkeys with African wild asses in order to produce stronger transport animals.”

“And sometimes interbreeding was accidental,” she said. “Even today in the Gobi, researchers report that domestic camels sometimes join wild herds after becoming separated from their own. Wild and domestic camels meet at shared oases, and wild males also can become extremely aggressive and may collect domestic females to the dismay of pastoralists.”

In the Andes, Capriles said, wild and domestic camelids have interbred in such complex ways that alpacas are maternally related to both wild vicunas and guanacos, and the same is true for llamas.

Artificial selection was probably weakest and gene flow highest in the case of pack animals such as donkeys or camelids. But even in the case of pigs or cattle, interbreeding between domestic and wild animals has created long and complex evolutionary and domestication histories that challenge assumptions regarding genetic isolation and long-held definitions of domestication.

The curl in the pigs’ tails

The domestication of pigs is one of these stories. Dobney, Greger Larson, PhD, and their team have shown that pigs were domesticated at least twice, in eastern Anatolia and in central China. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (DNA in a cell organelle that is inherited from the mother) shows that early herders took pigs with them from Anatolia to western Europe. And analysis of ancient DNA shows that, once in Europe, the domesticated pigs interbred with the wild boars. These hybridized populations then rapidly replaced the original domesticates, first in Europe and then, later, across Anatolia itself.

In China, the story is somewhat different. There is little evidence that the domestic herds in central China interbred with wild boars. But early agriculturists took their pigs to southeastern Asia and there, deliberately or accidentally, recruited local wild boar lineages into their domestic stock.

All of the New Guinea domestic pigs and those of the islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean carry DNA from those southeast Asian wild boar populations.

The interesting question is why the pigs in central China didn’t interbreed with wild boar populations in central China. Dobney suggests that management practices may have made a difference. It is possible that in China where settlements were dense, people started keeping pigs in pens, whereas in Europe, even in medieval times, people took their pigs to forage in the forests, where they might encounter wild boars.

The pig story illustrates how much our understanding of domestication events has changed. The anomaly is the isolated domestic population, not the prolonged interbreeding among domestic and wild animals, which in most domesticated species seems to have continued to recent times.

What would Darwin say?

“The research is really exciting because it is making us completely rethink what it means to be domesticated,” Marshall said. “The boundaries between wild and domesticated animals were much more blurred for much longer than we had realized.”

“To untangle the history of domestication,” Denham said, “scientists will need to bring to bear all of the evidence at their disposal, including archeological and ethnographic evidence, and the analysis of both modern and ancient DNA.”

“We must also investigate sources of selection more critically,” Marshall said, “bearing in mind the complex interplay of human and environmental selection and the likelihood of long-term gene flow from the wild.”

It’s probably fortunate the Darwin had clear examples of animal breeding to consider as he thought about evolution. The first chapter of “On the Origin of Species” discusses the domestication of animals such as as pigeons, cattle and dogs, and Darwin then uses artificial selection as a springboard to introduce the theory of natural selection.

It turns out that animal domestication is more complex, and the role of natural selection more important than Darwin thought. It is also the case that the people who first domesticated animals valued wild ones more than did Darwin’s Victorian neighbors.

“The Modern View of Domestication,” a special issue of PNAS edited by Greger Larson and Dolores R. Piperno, resulted from a meeting entitled “Domestication as an Evolutionary Phenomenon: Expanding the Synthesis,” held April 7-11, 2011, that was funded and hosted by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (National Science Foundation EF-0905606) in 2011.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

In grasslands remade by humans, animals may protect biodiversity: Grazers let in the light, rescue imperiled plants

A comparative study of grasslands on six continents suggests there may be a way to counteract the human-made overdose of fertilizer that threatens to permanently alter the biodiversity of the world’s native prairies.

The solution is one that nature devised: let grazing animals crop the excess growth of fast growing grasses that can out-compete native plants in an over-fertilized world. And grazing works in a way that is also natural and simple. The herbivores, or grazing and browsing animals, feed on tall grasses that block sunlight from reaching the ground, making the light available to other plants.

That’s the key finding of a five-year study carried out at 40 different sites around the world and scheduled for online publication March 9, 2014 in the journal Nature. More than 50 scientists belonging to the Nutrient Network, a team of scientists studying grasslands worldwide, co-authored the study.

“This study has tremendous significance because human activities are changing grasslands everywhere,” said study co-author Daniel S. Gruner, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maryland. “We’re over-fertilizing them, and we’re adding and subtracting herbivores. We have a worldwide experiment going on, but it’s completely uncontrolled.”

Gruner, a member of the Nutrient Network (which participants have nicknamed NutNet) since its founding in 2006, helped plan the worldwide study and analyze its results. Elizabeth Borer of the University of Minnesota was the study’s lead author.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that grasslands cover between one-fifth and two-fifths of the planet’s land area and are home to more than one-tenth of humankind. But like all plant communities, grasslands are suffering from too much fertilizer.

As humans burn fossil fuels, dose crops with chemical fertilizers, and dispose of manure from livestock, they introduce extra nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil, air and water. The excess is a special problem for grasslands, where many plants, like annual wildflowers and others, have adapted to low nutrient levels. They often struggle to compete against grasses that use the extra nutrients to grow faster and bigger.

At the same time, grasslands worldwide are being converted to pastures for domestic animals, with native grazers like elk and antelope giving way to cattle and sheep.

Ecological theory asserts that grazers can counteract the effects of over-fertilizing in most cases, but the theory has never been broadly tested, Gruner said. To do that, the NutNet scientists ran essentially the same experiment worldwide, marking off test plots in groups of four at each of 40 sites. In each group, one plot was fenced to keep grazing animals out. One was treated with a set dose of fertilizers, to mimic the effect of excess nutrients from human sources, but was not fenced so the animals could graze. One was both fenced and fertilized. And one was left alone.

The researchers did not try to alter the test sites’ animal populations. In some places native animals were abundant. At others they’d been mostly replaced by domestic animals like cattle, goats and sheep. And still others were former pastures where livestock had browsed in the past, but were no longer there.

In general, where fertilizer was added and grazing animals were kept out, the variety of plants in the experimental plots decreased. Where animals were allowed to graze in the fertilized plots, plant diversity generally increased. The researchers’ data analysis concluded that the grazers improved biodiversity by increasing the amount of light reaching ground level.

Grassland plants have evolved a variety of strategies to take advantage of a setting where nutrients are in short supply and inconsistently available. They may be ground-hugging, or ephemeral, or shoot up when they capture a nutrient pulse, Gruner explained. These differing strategies create a diverse grassland ecosystem.

In the human-altered world where nutrients are always plentiful, plants that put their effort into growing tall to capture sunlight have an advantage. They block the sunlight from reaching most other plant species, which cannot grow or reproduce. But grazing animals cut down the light-blocking plants and give the others a chance to bloom.

“Where we see a change in light, we see a change in diversity,” said Borer, the lead author. “Our work suggests that two factors which humans have changed globally, grazing and fertilization, can control ground-level light. Light appears to be very important in maintaining or losing biodiversity in grasslands.”

The effect was greatest where large animals, wild and domesticated, grazed on the test plots: cattle, pronghorn and elk on North America’s Great Plains; wildebeests and impala on Africa’s Serengeti; and horses, sheep and ibex in rural India. In places where the only grazers were small animals like rabbits, voles and gophers, the grazers’ effect was weak and variable.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Clean living is a luxury wild animals can’t afford

Oct. 20, 2013 — Domestic animals will choose to steer clear of dirt — but their wild cousins can’t be so picky and may be at increased risk of disease as a result.

A study of wild mice has shown that they prefer to sleep and eat near to used nesting material and droppings left by other mice.

Choosing a safe place to sleep and taking the opportunity to eat outweighs an increased risk of disease from other animals’ dirt, the findings suggest. The study is significant because it could help improve scientists’ understanding of how disease spreads among wild animals.

Scientists say the wild mice’s behaviour contrasts with that of clean-living domesticated animals, which tend to develop an aversion to dirt. Pets and domestic animals have plentiful food and are less at risk of being targeted by predators, and so they can be choosy about where they eat and sleep, researchers say.

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and California Santa Cruz studied two types of wild mice in Virginia. Animals were collected from woodland and placed in a box for a few hours, with the option of being close to mouse droppings or not. A similar experiment was conducted with new and soiled nesting material.

They found that the animals preferred being near droppings and second-hand nest material, regardless of whether there was an increased risk of contracting parasites in either case.

Dr Patrick Walsh of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: “Domesticated animals generally avoid faeces to reduce the chance of parasitic infection, but this study shows that wild animals are more concerned with the risk of starvation than with table manners, taking any opportunity to feed. They may even associate faeces with safety — a spot where a mouse has lived long enough to nest and poo is probably pretty safe — and that is worth the risk of disease. This helps us learn more about how diseases spread in the natural world.”

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

USDA Steps Up Enforcement for Humane Treatment of Animals

USDA’s meat inspectors are stepping up enforcement for humane treatment of animals, especially by smaller plants.

In its last quarterly enforcement report for the second quarter of the federal fiscal year, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) called out more than a half dozen small meat plants for non-compliance in inhumane treatment and/or slaughter.

That’s probably a list a small meat plant does not want to be on, according the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP), which last week warned itd members attending the group’s annual meeting that FSIS wants only “robust” humane handling plans and practices by those operating small slaughtering facilities.

Inhumane treatment of animal is a food safety concern because handling that results in stress or pain is a factor contributing to sickness and disease, according veterinary science.

FSIS can find meat processor in non-compliance (NCs) for improper sanitation practices, inhumane treatment, and for incidents of interference with government inspectors, including assault. Plants generally handle NCs fairly quickly, but they can result in suspension.

FSIS reported NCs for inhumane treatment earlier this year by Southern Pride Meat, Goldsboro, NC; Rowena Meat, Rowena, TX’ Petaluma Livestock’s Newman Plant, Newman, CA; Central Valley Meat, Hanford, CA; Mountain Meadow Corp., Denver, CO; Gold Medal Packing, Rome, NY; Creston Valley Meats, Creston, CA; and Bright Oak Meats, Springfield, OR.

AAMP told its members they need to implement human handling plants that are consistent with USDA guidance. A humane handling plan needs to include internal audits and a structure for taking corrective action, companies were told.

Doug Hankes with Thrushwood Farms Quality Meats, an AAMP member from Galesburg, IL, said humane handling violations are “big deals.”

Food Safety News