The US Food and Drug Administration has said it wants to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in livestock raised for human consumption. (,0,4918781.story?track=rss)

A spokesperson for the pork industry says it will compromise the health of the poor animals.

These are animals who never see the sun, who exist in spaces so small they can't turn around. Producers clip their tails because they suffer such stress they bite each other's tails off.

Their "producers" are not people who care about the well being of animals. Chickens are raised in windowless, incredibly crowded warehouses. Cows stand shoulder-to-shoulder, knee-deep in feces.

If antibiotics are eliminated, the animals would have to be kept in better conditions. Agribusiness doesn't care about the welfare of animals; it only cares about the bottom line.

Studies have shown again and again that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock causes resistance to these same drugs in humans and breeds antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Get rid of the growth hormones and antibiotics in meats. Yes, meat will cost more. That's OK because we Americans eat way more meat than we should anyway. We might actually see rates of heart disease decline. We'll certainly see rates of salmonella and e.Coli decrease.

Wel, almost, anyway.

We finally have a computer dedicated to Life o' Mike. Now all we need is software, which we'll get as time goes on.

I set up the computer myself, with only one call to a lifeline. It made me remember the first home computer we had back in 1991. It had 16 MB of RAM and the friend who helped us set it up said, "Wow, you'll never use all the memory on this baby!"

Six months later, it was pretty much out of date.  I was so afraid I would hit the wrong key and  blow the thing up, but as I became more proficient, I realized that wasn't likely to happen. Besides, I had Mike.

Mike was great with computers. He and James used to build them for people who were just getting sober and needed one. It was what they did for fun, and either of them could fix a computer faster than a professional.

I remember the moment Mike's impending death became real to me: I was in a computer store looking at a scanner and I wasn't sure how to hook it up if I bought it. I thought that Mike could figure it out in a snap, then realized he wouldn't be with us more than a few more weeks.

I'm proud that I can set up  a computer almost unassisted, but it was a lot more fun when Mike was cussing over it.

This week, the US departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury released the foundation for a Patients' Bill of Rights under the new health reform law. These rules will help children (and eventually all Americans) with pre-existing conditions gain coverage and keep it, protect all Americans’ choice of doctors and end lifetime limits on the care consumers may receive.

Here's a look at the rules that kick in Sept. 23.
  • Insurance companies will not be able to deny children coverage because of a pre-existing condition (a birth defect or allergies, for example); they will be prohibited from rescinding or taking away coverage based on a mistake on an application;  they will be banned from setting lifetime limits on your coverage; and their use of annual limits on coverage will be restricted.
What this means is if your baby is born with a heart defect, he or she will be able to get lifesaving surgery -- under the old system, insurance companies could -- and did -- deny coverage in such instances.

A patient with cancer no longer will discover that that have reached their lifetime limit on coverage in the middle of chenmotherapy, nor will he or she discover insurance has been cancelled because of a failure to report being treated for depression decades earlier.
  • For plans starting on or after Sept. 23, the rules ensure that you can choose the primary care doctor or pediatrician you want from your plan’s provider network, and that you can see an OB-GYN without a referral. Insurance companies will not be able to require you to get prior approval before seeking emergency care at a hospital outside your plan’s network. These protections apply to most health plans, although some are grandfathered.
Imagine being pregnant and finding out you have to go back to your primary care physician several times to get referrals to see your obstetrician. Or having diabetes and discovering you can't get permission to see a specialist.

Worse yet, imagine being thrown from a horse and being near death from  head injury and having your insurance company say the trauma center you've been flown to isn't in their network, so you're not covered. That happened to Kelly Ariannes in Arkansas. The insurance company wanted her flown to another hospital before she even was stabilized. Under the new rules, that won't happen.
  • Starting Sept. 23, people under age 26 will be allowed to stay on their parent’s family policy, or be added to it. Some group plans can limit this option to adult children who don’t have another offer of employment-based coverage.  Many insurance companies and employers have agreed to implement this program early.
These new rules won't make our system all it should be, but it's a start.

If you think the US has the best health care system in the world, think again. A Commonwealth Fund study, released  today, shows we're not at the top, even though we spend twice as much on health care.

The United States ranked last when compared to six other countries -- Britain, Canada,Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

For all that money, we get get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to the report (read the Reuters story here:; read the report at

To those who say we have the best health care system in th world, I'll say it again: We only have the potential for the best system in the world. We don't become the best until everyone has access to that system. Until then, all we have is technology and bad outcomes for all but the wealthiest or best insured.

But fewer jobs come with insurance, and when they do, premiums and copays increase every year and fewer things are covered. For those in the private market, rates are expected to increase by about 20 percent again this year.

A conservative talking point is that people who are diagnosed with cancer in the US are more likely to survive than anywhere else in the world. I think I've found the study they're talking about. It was based on numbers from 1990-1994, when only 16 million Americans were uninsured. I haven't found any comparative studies done since then.

The Commonwealth Fund is a nonprofit that studies and advocates for improvements to the American health care system. The study was one using uses data from nationally representative patient and physician surveys in seven countries in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

According to Reuters, the study looks at five measures of healthcare -- quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.

"On measures of quality the United States ranked sixth out of seven countries," the group said in a statement.

U.S. patients with chronic conditions were the most likely to say they got the wrong drug or had to wait to learn of abnormal test results.

Overall, Britain, whose nationalized health care system was widely derided by opponents of our reform, ranks first.

The president of the Comonwealth Fund, Karen Davis, told reporters she hopes the new health care reform law will help close the gap.

What's a little gowth hormone, after all?

Well, many scientists believe the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) that's injected into cows to mke them produce more milk can cause cancer.

The Oregon chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility has studied the issue and has come to the conclusion that the hormones increase cows' risk for painful infections in their udders and it shortens their lives. It also increases levels of the natural growth hormone IGF-1, which in excess amounts increases the risk of cancer in humans.

While IGF-1 is necessary, increased levels of it are associated with increased risk of breast, prostate, lung, colon and other cancers, and some studies have shown it survives digestion and enters the human bloodstream.

Most other countries don't allow the use of these hormones in dairy cows, says Rick North, project director of Oregon PSR's Campaign for Safe Food. It adds nothing of value to the milk, and before Monsanto Corp. devloped it, there was no milk shortage.

Cows injected with rBGH produce 5-15 percent more milk, but they stop producing at a younger age, and are slaughtered when they no longer can produce milk.

Since the cows who are injected with rBGH are more likely to have infections, they use a lot more antibiotics, which contribute to the growth of so-called super germs that resist all known antibiotics. These antibiotocs also are in the milk, and are passed along to humans who consume the milk, contributing to our likelihood of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Manufacturers do NOT have to put rBGH on their labels, so a lot of people aren't even aware their dairt products contain it.

So, how can you tell? Check the label of any dairy product you buy. Dairies that don't use rBGH will say so on the label because they want people to know. So, if the label contains no information it's likely not rBGH-free. Look for "no artificial hormones," "rBGH-free," or "rBst-free."

Organic products always are rBGH-free, they are antibiotic-free and their feed is pestcide-free.

Big agribusiness wants to use rBGH because it increases profits, not because it's safe. In today's poorly regulated market, we consumers have to look out for ourselves.

Look for dairy products that don't contains rBGH (Breyer's "all natural" ice cream DOES have it), and vote with your wallet. If we don't buy it, they'll stop using it. It's as simple as that.

For more information and a copy of the Consumer Guide to Dairy Products, visit or the Center for Food Safety at

Today was Day 2 of the Activist Summit sponsored by Consumers Union, and I'm fired up.

The highlight of the day was getting a hug from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

We spent the morning on Capitol Hill and I met with staff members of both North Carolina senators. I started with Richard Burr and asked his health care ataffer to thank him for supporting the safe food bill. I asked whether he was in support of another bill that would grant federal oversight of health insurance rates.

"I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but that's not going to happen," she said. "Not this year, and probably not next."

I told her I will continue to fight for more regulation of big insurance whether Sen. Burr supports it or not.

People said health reform was dead and we got it passed. Our work isn't done until huge corporations no longer control access and policy. We have a ways to go, but we have a foundation now.

Sen. Kay Hagan's people knew me already and were happy to talk about strengthening reform and about making our nation's food supply safer.

We heard from Nancy Pelosi at lunch, and I got to thank her in person for her work in keeping reform alive and getting it through. I gave her a photo of Mike and asked her to remember him the next time she knows she needs to get life-saving legislation passed. The lives her efforts save are real, and although Mike didn't benefit from the new law, millions of other Americans will.

I love strong women who accomplish things people say can't be done.

I spent Tuesday in Raleigh, talking to legislators and the state secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services about issues surrounding nonprofits and health care.

I talked about how the states are going to have a great deal to do with how well reform cares for people as they set up their exchanges.

They all knew me during my newspaper days, but now they know me for my activism. I have to say, I really, really love being able to do this.

As a reporter, I couldn't explain why I thought their views mght be wrong about an issue; I could only ask why they held it. I could only say, "Opponents of the bill say..."

Now I can say that tort reform isn't the answer because it usually denies people the recourse of suing for something that someone did wrong or neglected to do right.

Mike was neglected. Attorneys in Georgia said we had gounds for a lawsuit. But the value put on his life by tort reform was so low ($350,000), the doctors' and hospital's lawyers could easily keep it going long enough so that no one would profit by it but them. The insurance companies have effectively shut down lawsuits with tort reform and they haven't lowered the rates doctors and hospitals pay.

I don't want that to happen here in North Carolina, and one legislator who had supported so-called reform has promised to take another look.

I asked another legislator about a bill in the House that would require nonprofits pay no more than 15 percent of their annual buget for administrative costs.

That would kill any new nonprofit. Our budget right now is about $5,000 a year and we pay almost half that in rent for this little office. I would be in violation of the law. Few nonprofits start off with enough money to fill that requirement.

I also reminded a couple of people that I still have their cell phone numers from when I was a reporter, so if they don't call me back when I have questions now, I can still track them down.