Lat’n America be Peaceful again

Be 26 years old. Home is 2200 miles away. You’ve spent the last 9.5 years of your life in a country that’s not yours. Before you left home, half your relatives had already done so. Be a stranger to your family and your people. You can’t count the times you’ve cried yourself to sleep in desperation, anger, fear and frustration for your country, for your friends, for yourself. How can I help my country? Why is life so unfair? Why is social injustice left unpunished? I hate war, it asphyxiates my people.

I am Colombian, as Colombian as a Colombian can get. My country was in civil war for 52 years until last Wednesday. I can’t speak for all Colombians, but I can speak for myself and what this peace agreement means to me.

For those Americans who like to clarify their origins, I’ll be precise: I am at least 13th generation Colombian. My generation is very different from my parents’ generation. I often joke that my parents’ generation suffers of post-traumatic stress disorder. They had a beautiful infancy, but then, the whole Colombian society collapsed into chaos and war and corruption, and the faith they had in life and the trust they had in destiny turned against them and took away their dreams. To give you a personal example, take my father. My father is insecure and emotionally disturbed because he saw how his future became uncertain and could not do anything about it. He is in general pessimistic, scared and frustrated. Despite being a pious catholic, he has no real faith on destiny and lives in fear. He is always afraid he won’t attain happiness, and when he does find himself in a happy place, he can’t believe happiness will last.

My generation is not afraid or frustrated. Take me for example. I am overall astray and somewhat deranged. It’s not that I don’t get scared, I just don’t respect fear. I don’t respect anything that society tries to impose on me because I hate the system. A system that perpetuates a war that destroys lives deserves no loyalty. I don’t hide behind others, I question everything, I don’t hold back, I don’t concede. I am stubborn and to some extent spoiled.

Why? Because, unlike my father, I got screwed over before I was even born. I am full of anger and rage, and I don’t respect the society that brought me into life. I hate the putrid state that raised me. I hate its war. I hate its hypocrisy. I hate that it hurts the weak, the poor, the lonely, and the vulnerable. I am angry and sad and I want the world to change. I want peace. I do.

Be 26 years old. Find yourself in the kitchen on a Thursday morning getting ready to leave for school. Stop. Feel a strong current taking over every cell in your body. Look down on your coffee. You are a human waterfall. Laugh uncontrollably and at the same time weep. Weep like you haven’t in your life. This time it’s different, you are crying of happiness. You taste your happiness in your tears. We will have peace. My people want peace. It is certain. My country will be beautiful. Peace will rule. It is absolutely liberating. I wish that feeling for everyone.

The night of August 24th, a final peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces put an end to a war that began 52 years ago and has killed perhaps 220,000 people and displaced 7 million more [1]. The peace deal is not a perfect agreement, and there are contentious points over which Colombian citizens will vote in October of this year. I believe the deal deserves our endorsement.

It is an interesting time in world politics for Colombian citizens to speak up and stand for mercy and tolerance and forgiveness. This year we have seen the British vote out of jealousy, doubt and ignorance for the Brexit. Also, I have found myself totally depressed, infuriated and disappointed by the state of the American presidential race. It is simply ridiculous and just plain sad to see how so many people want to either instigate or feel fear and hatred so that they can say they are survivors of a “pretend war”. They know nothing about fear and hatred and actual misery and what war does to a society.

Colombians have a chance to end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. This October, all Colombians residing abroad who register the citizen ID’s in the Consulate will be able to vote and I hope support the peace agreement. Let’s take this opportunity! Maybe America and Europe, the “developed” nations, can learn a thing or two about the value of compassion when it comes to community building. Let’s stand for peace and hope and forgiveness.

References: [1] The Economist. “Colombia and the FARC: Ending a half-century war”. August 27th, 2016.



Does it come with antibiotics?

“I am writing to express my serious concern about the excessive use of medically important antibiotics in McDonald’s supply chains”. This is the start of a mass e-mail being sent to McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbook. The charity ShareAction is organizing consumers and investors to put pressure on the fast-food giant to prohibit the use of products from animals treated with antibiotics [0].

When it comes to antibiotics regulation, it seems that the power to change the world order will not come from citizens pressuring their governments but from teaming up vocal consumers and powerful companies.

Antibiotics are widely used in cattle, pigs and poultry farming. They are important for curing disease and providing “humane” care of animal illness in livestock as they reduce the suffering of a sick animal or help control the spread of an infection.

In addition to curing diseases and preventing infections, antibiotics are key in boosting output. Several antibiotics have side-effects that increase the growth speeds of farmed animals and improve feed efficiency in intensive animal rearing practices. Furthermore, according to the World Organization for Animal Health, the use of antibiotics is essential in securing the global supply of animal protein for humans [1].

However, the practice of antibiotic use has become so routine that scientists and consumers are increasingly becoming concerned about the links between antibiotic resistant infections in humans and the overuse of antibiotics in the meat supply chain.

Antimicrobial resistance is a public health problem of growing urgency, and the use of antibiotics in agriculture may play a significant role in aggravating the problem. Recent estimates by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggest that much more antibiotics are used each year on healthy animals than on sick humans in the US–as much as 8 more times [2]. According to the Center for Disease and Control Prevention and many scientists around the world, his misuse of antimicrobials in the agricultural sector may be leading to a rise in drug-resistant superbugs and the world may be fast approaching what the World Health Organization has described as a “post-antibiotic era,” an era where routine operations will no longer be possible [3].

Some countries are more proactive than others in regulating the use of antibiotics in animal farming. Several European countries have banned the use of some drugs for preventive use. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently updated its regulations to try to begin reducing the use of antibiotic use on factory farms, and numerous senators and members of congress have showed support for acts proposing limits on the use of antibiotics. However, none of the proposed bills survived in congress. More generally, there are few legal instruments and little political support around the world to impose limits on the use of antibiotics for growth enhancement rather than disease treatment.

Excessive antibiotics use has global consequences, and is not bound by territorial borders. As citizens who directly suffer the increased risk of becoming exposed to drug-resistant bugs, we turn to our political representative bodies for an answer. However, when it comes to concrete changes in the antibiotic use in meat supply chains, local governments and politicians may be paralyzed. This topic confronts many powerful economic and political groups with special interests on public health, agricultural production practices, animal rights, international trade, and global food security. With so much lobbying pressure from so many directions, it appears that governments and politicians will be endlessly running into legal and financial obstacles.

However, there is an alternative for those of us concerned with antibiotic overuse and its link with super-bugs. As consumers of animal products from animals treated with antibiotics who want to feel confident that the food we purchase has been responsibly sourced and isn’t contributing to antimicrobial resistance, we can turn to the market for an answer.

That is exactly what ShareAction, a charity, is doing by encouraging people to e-mail McDonald’s CEO and demand he bans from McDonald’s menu all products from animals treated with antibiotics.

McDonald’s is a powerful player. It is the world’s largest chain of fast food restaurants, operating in over 100 countries and playing important roles in multiple global supply chains. A company of the size and reach of McDonald’s is uniquely placed to seize any opportunity for change in the restaurant sector. McDonald’s is an important buyer of products that go into their hamburgers, nuggets and fries. Thus, a small change in what it requires from beef and poultry producers is likely to have significant and substantial impacts in agricultural production practices across the globe.

Moreover, McDonald’s has a reputation of being responsive to changes in consumer tastes and a front-runner in sustainable practices. McDonald’s entire US chicken supply is now raised without the use of medically important antibiotics, and the company aims to phase out the use of the highest priority critically important antibiotics within the European poultry supply chains by 2018. Also, US dairy products, such as low fat white milk will some from cows that have not been treated with rbST–an artificial growth hormone [4].

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the lesson seems to be that for this particular case, rather than engaging in long and tedious political process to have our voices heard by our political representatives, it may be much more efficient–and tasty– to simply ignore the political process and use your consumer power to turn the world around. If you are concerned with the routine use of antibiotics reducing the effectiveness of drugs on humans, next time you go to McDonald’s simply ask for one McCombo without antibiotics.








Beefy Brazilians

Now that the summer Olympics are starting, everyone wants to go to Rio. Going to Rio is a bit more complicated for US citizens than people from other nationalities, since they are required a Brazilian visa regardless of the purpose of their visit. However, on August 1st, traveling to Brazil was just made easier for Americans… well, for American cows at least.

Last week, the US and Brazil sealed an agreement to allow access to each other’s beef market. The bilateral flow of beef is expected to start in 90 days. For the first time since 1999 American beef will be exported to Brazil and the US will allow imports of fresh and frozen Brazilian beef.

I you have been following stories on the Rio Olympics you may have one idea on your mind: hygiene and health safety standards–or, more precisely, lack of them. According to a recent story [1], swimmers need to ingest only 3 teaspoons of water to be almost certain of contracting a virus. A report revealed that the water in Rio’s Olympic venues hold viral levels 1.7 million times what would be considered alarming in the US and Europe.

If Brazilian authorities do not control the safety of their water, what guarantee is there that their food safety system meets its purpose? The American National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has questioned the rigor of the risk-evaluation protocols conducted before the agreement took place. The most important concern expressed by the NCBA regards the Foot-and-Mouth Disease [2]. The FMD is highly infectious and its containment demands considerable efforts in vaccination, strict monitoring, quarantines, and occasionally, the killing of animals. The US cattle herd has not been exposed to FMD since 1929; hence, new exposure of US herds to the FMD could devastate the industry.

Nevertheless, these are just concerns expressed by a group that is coincidentally directly impacted by increased competition from Brazilian beef producers. The Food Safety and Inspection Service has rendered the Brazilian food safety system governing meat products equivalent to that of the US. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture recognizes in Brazil an excellent economic opportunity for US beef exporters.

The US is the largest producer of beef in the world followed by Brazil. Together, they account for roughly 35.5 percent of the world’s beef production, with the US producing 19 percent and Brazil 16 percent [3]. Yet, Brazilians are larger beef consumers, in per capita terms, than Americans. In a given year, the average Brazilian consumes around seven more pounds of beef than the average American [3]. Thus, gaining access to a market of around 200 million beef eaters does not sound too bad for American exporters after all.

Furthermore, beef consumption by volume in the US seems to be in decline largely due to the increased popularity of substitute leaners meats such as fish and poultry [5]. In 2015, beef and veal consumption in the US fell by 3 percent relative to 2014.

Overall, it seems that public awareness of the environmental impacts associated with red meat production, together with harmful effects on health associated with too much beef consumption is driving this downward trend.

It appears that red meat production is disastrous for the environment. One third of global greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, half of that coming from livestock herding with beef production accounting for a heavy share of that portion as it uses 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork of chicken production [6].

Calls for people to eat less meat in order to help the environment are ubiquitous and controversial. The UN has urged the environmental assembly to consider recommending a tax on meat producers and sellers so that beef price reflects these harmful impacts [7]. Meanwhile, health experts say the US could cut heath care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars if people ate less meat [8].

Food safety standards aside, American beef producers may be very welcoming of this new trade deal with Brazil. After all, lately, it seems that the only really reasonable excuse to eat red meat in America is that it is gluten free.