Environmentalists Greet New Tyson CEO Dean Banks With “Welcome” Protest on First Week of Work 

NWA citizens rally at Tyson HQ as CEO starts job, calling for fulfilled promises, transparency, regenerative agricultural practices and community health 

Springdale, AR – As Dean Banks arrived at the Tyson Foods headquarters for his first week as CEO, he was greeted by over two dozen protestors telling him “Keep Your Promise.” In 2018, Tyson pledged to implement sustainable farming practices on 2 million acres by this year. However, just months away from the deadline, Tyson has provided no details on how the company will meet that goal. The activists showed up to the headquarters with a 15’ contract renewal, calling on Banks to sign. 

“After years of expanding the Dead Zone in the Gulf, emitting dangerous levels of greenhouse gases, and dirtying drinking water sources, Tyson cannot expect local communities to trust them in blind faith” Mighty Earth activist and University of Arkansas undergraduate Caroline Crawford said. “I came out to protest today so that Banks knows upfront that there’s a strong mandate for him to follow through on company promises and provide full information on how goals will be met.”  

“Regenerative agricultural methods that focus on soil health and micro-biology have been shown by academia and scientific trials to provide higher yields than Tyson's current grain operations that are dependent on the chemical fertilizers that leach into our watershed” permaculture designer and CEO of Biodesic Strategies Tas Zinck said. “The partnerships between these chemical companies and big agriculture and their influence on policy makes it nearly impossible for smaller farmers to transition to these healthier systems. Tyson must lead the way in this transition”  

The demonstrators called on Tyson to clean up the company’s supply chain by implementing a suite of sustainability measures, and specifically demanded that Tyson mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, protect soil health and reduce runoff and drinking water contamination. 

In February, dozens of citizens from Northwest Arkansas converged on the Tyson shareholder meeting calling on company executives to follow through on their commitment. Tyson responded to the protest by re-stating an intention to meet the goal, yet still refused to provide detail.

See Muskogee Phoenix and KNWA and Fox24 coverage

Local Groups Sign Open Letter Calling on Tyson CEO to Fulfill Sustainability Promises

October, 2017- Over 230 local business, farmer, environmental, and community groups from across the country have joined the nation-wide campaign to hold America’s largest meat company accountable for the water pollution affecting their communities. The groups, whose members represent communities from the Heartland to the Gulf, have released an open letter calling on the CEO of Tyson Foods to fulfil sustainability promises by making a clear commitment to reduce water pollution caused by the company’s supply chain.

“Americans should not have to choose between producing food and having healthy clean water” said Lucia von Reusner, Campaign Director for Mighty Earth. “Our nation’s largest meat companies shape our food system on a massive scale, and can implement the solutions needed to keep our waters clean.”

The coalition launch comes in response to a report released earlier this summer from Mighty Earth linking America’s biggest meat companies to the largest Dead Zone on record in the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to a variety of other environmental and public health issues in the U.S. A recent analysis of America’s tap water quality found that over 17 million Americans are exposed to unsafe levels of carcinogens from agricultural pollution in their drinking water.

The meat industry is the main source of water pollution in the United States. The bulk of this pollution comes from growing the vast quantities of animal feed used to raise meat, and the pollution washing off poorly managed fields is “one of America’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problems,” according to a report from the EPA.

Mighty Earth’s report identified Tyson Foods as the company most responsible for driving the practices causing this pollution, given its dominant position as America’s largest meat company and expansive footprint in all regions of the country most affected by agricultural run-off pollution. Tyson’s new CEO Tom Hayes has pledged to ‘show how much good food can do’ and ‘place sustainability at the center of the company’s future plans’. The letter is calling on Tom Hayes to fulfil those promises with a clear commitment to reducing water pollution.

The full letter and list of signatories is included below. Local news outlets covered the release of the letter- for example, coverage in ABC Local news in Iowa includes CEO of Des Moines Waterworks, which has attracted national attention for the high levels of agricultural pollution it has been forced to treat.


Tom Hayes, Chief Executive Officer
Tyson Foods, Inc.
2200 W. Don Tyson Parkway
Springdale, AR 72762

Dear Mr. Hayes,

As representatives of organizations whose members are affected by the pollution driven by Tyson’s meat production here in the United States, we are writing to encourage your company to adopt more sustainable practices throughout its supply chain that reduce water pollution and protect our natural landscapes. In its position as the nation’s largest meat company, Tyson Foods has a unique opportunity to reduce the environmental consequences of meat and lead the industry towards better farming practices.

There is a need for rapid action: the meat industry, including its feed supply, is the main source of water pollution in the United States. Pollution from raising meat is contaminating drinking water across the Midwest, and flowing downstream along the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico where it causes a massive dead zone every summer- an area so polluted that marine life cannot survive. The bulk of this pollution comes from the vast quantities of animal feed produced to raise meat, and are a result of practices driving high soil erosion rates, loss of natural landscape buffers, and excess fertilizer application.

This year, the runoff pollution reached such levels that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest on record, due in large measure to Tyson and other companies’ continued tolerance of substandard practices in their supply chains. Fortunately, solutions are available to reduce meat’s environmental impact through better feed sourcing practices, which need to be rapidly implemented to prevent this disaster from recurring.

We hope you will immediately announce a sustainable agriculture policy that ensures all of your suppliers adhere to the following best practices for responsible feed production and sourcing:

  •    Cover cropping and conservation tillage practices to prevent soil erosion,
  •    Protecting and restoring natural landscape buffers to absorb runoff,
  •    Optimizing fertilizer application to prevent excess runoff,
  •    Incorporation of rotationally-raised small grains into the feed rotations
  •    A moratorium on further clearance of native ecosystems such as the iconic American prairie

You have pledged to “place sustainability at the center of the company’s future plans” and show “how much good food can do.” We applaud these statements, and believe a commitment to ensuring feed is sustainably sourced is crucial for demonstrating the company’s ambition.

As the nation’s largest meat company, Tyson Foods has a key role to play in keeping our waters clean and our soils healthy. Please advise us by November 17, 2017 on how Tyson Foods will address the urgent environmental and public health impacts from its supply chain, and lead the industry towards a more sustainable path forward.


Dallas, TX
Be Raw
Dallas Sierra Club
Texas Campaign for the Environment
Bois d'Arc Meat Company
Chelles Macarons
The Caribbean Cabana
Taboo Tattoo
Armoury D.E.
First Unitarian Church Climate Action Team
R. C. Rogers
Dragon's Snacks
Sureshort Visuals
Push Yourself Through
Heat Roc Nation
Made With Love Market
White Rock Granola
MaDear's Jellies
Yiayia's Greek Bakery
Williams Farm
Texas Hill Country Olive Country
Rockin Jr Ranch
Good Water
Simple Splendor Sauces
Samco World Imports
Tilly's Old Fashion
Meat Maniac
Perky Pickles
Energy Gardens Terrariums LLC
Reclaimed Wood Designs
The Plain Ole Salsa Company
Brags Farms
Jordan Cordori Industries
Paisley Farms
Companion Roasters
Kaitlyn's Styles
SMU Environmental Society
Garden Cafe
Noble Rey Brewing Company
UTD Sustainability Club
GROW North Texas
Heddin Family Farms
The Green Room
Hide Bar
Piney Woods Farm Alliance
Indigenous Roots
Timothy's Tasty Organic Lemonade
Native Trashion
Elliott Grows LLC
Hartrickson Family Farm
Arlington Conservation Council
Society of Native Nations
Systems Change not Climate Change
Helping Hands Medical Clinic

Chicago, IL
Phayes Men
Cloud Vapor Lounge
Chicago Honey Co-op
Wolf Bait and B-Girls
Crate Free Illinois
Patch Work Farmes
Mint Creek Farm
Closed Loop Farms
Prairie Rivers Network
Midwest Pesticide Action Network
Environment America
Sandbox Organics Farm
Chillinois Young Farmers
Modern Grill
Ricci Kapricci Salon
North Halsted Dental Spa
Horizon Cafe
Anton's Barber Shop
Nearly New Bikes
Klein's Bakery
Bourgieous Pig Cafe
Sir and Madame
Sip and Savor
The Silver Room
Jefferey Dollar
Jojayden Handmade
Rajun Cajun
The Silver Umbrella
350 Chicago
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Community Dining
Sagano Sushi
Spilt Milk Pastry
George's Restaurant
L!VE Cafe
Citrine Cafe
Geppetto's Oak Park
2 Amigos
Furious Spoon
Damn Fine Coffee Bar
El Condor
Hairitics Dye for Your Beliefs
Sugar Beet Co-op
The Urban Canopy
The Wright Way Farm, LLC
Nichols Farm and Orchard
Family Farmed

New Orleans, LA
The Bike Shop
Midway Pizza
Good Bird
Freret Beer Room
Piccola Gelateria
St. Lawrence
Earth Odyssey
J and M Jewelry
Tulane Green Club
The Daily Beet
LA Shrimper's Association
Drip Affogato Bar
Freda New Orleans
Southern United Neighborhoods
Allie's Natural Hair Community
Harley London
New Orleans Food & Farm Network
Kaya Swamp Tours
GrowOn Urban Farm
9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development
A Community Voice
350.org - NOLA chapter
Fair Grinds Coffeehouse
ACORN International
Gulf Restoration Network

Fayetteville, AR
Omni Center
NWA Labor Council
Arkansas Sierra Club
White River Waterkeepers
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders
Ozark River Stewards
Puritan Coffee & Beer
Dirty Apron Bake House
French Metro Antiques
Morning Star Zen Center
Nomads Fayetteville
Heart and Wrench
Nu Fangled Images
Sun Sugar Farms
Barkansas Life
Flora & Fauna
Hustlewood LLC
Ozark Apothecary
Peacock Pigments
Mountain Greenery
Huddle on Forest

Omaha, NE
GC Resolve
Nebraska Communities United
Nebraskans for Peace
Omaha Together One Community – Environmental Sustainability Action Team
Indivisible Omaha
Omaha Permaculture
Douglas County Farmers Union
Pharmacy Express, Omaha
The Gourmet Granola
Nolis Pizzeria
Barley Street Tavern
Star Deli
Jake’s Cigars
Full House Bar
Clifford Cycles
Krug Park
Burrito Envy
Premier Therapy
Benson Brewery
The Sydney
Omaha Bicycle Co.
Drastic Plastic Clothing
13th Street Coffee
Ted & Wally’s Ice Cream
Krazy Woman Orchard
Lauren Beths Popcorn
Copin Designs

Kansas City, MO
Exploring Roots
Red Ridge Farm
Sacred Sun Cooperative Farm
Mama Linda'a LLC
Syntax Land Design, LLC
Inkwell Cafe
ReRuns Vintage
Mid Coast Modern
Frame Works
Pink Pony Farms
MM Farms
Heartland Conservation Alliance
Green Room Burgers and Beer
Midwest Cyclery
Novus Escape Room
Automan Autoplaza
Endicott Salon
Westport Hookah
Design in the City
5B&Co Candlemakers

Des Moines, IA
Optimal Lifeservices (Plain Talk Books)
Fontenelle Supply Co.
Artisan's Jewelry Designs
Blue Planet Groupe
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Des Moines
HOQ Restaurant
Bruce Owen Jewelry
American Plumbing Supply
Porch Light
Locally Grown Clothing Co
Green Goods
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Grade A Gardens
Lost Lake Farm
Nomad Farm & Gardens
Boone County Organics
Peep Toe
Teresa Kitchen Collage
The Continental Inc
Urban Ambassadors

#CleanItUpTyson campaign kicks off across the country

Last week, communities from Des Moines to New Orleans met in town halls across the country to build the call for Tyson’s CEO to #CleanItUpTyson. Community members gathered to share ideas and brainstorm strategies for urging America’s largest meat company to clean up pollution from its supply chain that’s contaminating local drinking water and causing a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

The local campaigns are part of Mighty Earth’s national effort to hold the meat industry accountable for reducing its vast environmental impact, which is driving widespread water pollution, clearance of natural landscapes, high rates of soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions. Local communities from the Heartland to the Gulf are among those most affected by the meat industry’s impacts, and pay billions each year in clean up costs.

Participants got creative with ideas for media outreach, petitioning, coalition building, and grassroots organizing in their communities., and drove from up to three hours away to attend.

In Chicago, Illinois:


In Dallas, Texas:


Des Moines, Iowa:


Fayetteville, Arkansas


Kansas City, Missouri


New Orleans, Louisiana


Omaha, Nebraska

Mighty Earth partners with Green Corps to Clean Up America’s Meat

Tyson Foods needs to step up and make a clear commitment to cleaning up pollution from its meat that is contaminating waters across the country. That’s the core message that Green Corps organizers will be bringing to communities most affected by this pollution as part of Mighty Earth’s campaign for cleaner meat.


Mighty Earth has partnered with Green Crops to place seven grassroots organizers in communities across the Midwest and Gulf, including Des Moines, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska; Fayetteville, Arkansas; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Dallas, Texas. Green Corps is the nation’s leading training program for environmental organizing, and partners with environmental campaigns across the country as part of a year-long training program.


“Green Corps gets the job done,” said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz, himself a graduate of Green Corps’ organizing fellowship. “With the nation’s most talented young environmental organizers on board, we’re building a powerful movement that will end the meat industry’s out-of-control pollution.”


The meat industry is the main source of water pollution in the United States. Pollution from raising meat is contaminating drinking water across the Midwest, and flows downstream along the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico where it causes a massive dead zone every summer- an area so polluted that marine life cannot survive. This year’s dead zone was the largest on record. The pollution comes primarily from producing the vast quantities of corn and soy required to raise meat, although manure is also a source.


An investigation by Mighty Earth into the specific companies responsible for this pollution found Tyson Foods to be at the forefront. Tyson Foods is America’s largest meat company, producing one out of every five pounds of meat in the country, and its vast footprint can be found driving the agricultural practices in all the regions experiencing the worst pollution from meat.


However, Tyson’s new CEO recently stated he wants to ‘place sustainability at the center of the company’s strategy’. Mighty Earth has partnered with Green Corps to make sure Tyson lives up to its word and adopts a clear commitment to cleaning up pollution from its vast meat supply chain. Green Corps organizers are taking the findings of our investigation to communities across the country most impacted by the meat industry’s pollution in order to build the call for Tyson to Clean It Up.


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Interested in getting more involved? Click here to sign up to volunteer for the cause in your community.

Flash Mob Infects Pharma Conference with Spirit Of Change

Hey, hey, ho, ho, pharma pollution has got to go!

Draped with artificial bacteria that have been known to show resistance—purple balls of MRSA, yellow fuzzy tassels of E. coli—a flash mob of dancers helped kick off a day of action to stop pharmaceutical manufacturing pollution. The activists started at Philadelphia City Hall, then marched to the Conference Center where CPhI North America, one of the largest pharmaceutical conferences in the world, was taking place.

Photo: Cameron Harris

Activists and pharmaceutical executives met on the sidewalk. Signatories of the Industry Roadmap, which promises action by 2020 on this issue, handed activists their card; various conference attendees stopped to watch the dance. It was an opportunity to engage directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers on manufacturing pollution, which they have in their power to eliminate.


Photo: Kristen Tomokowid/Little But Fierce
Photo: Cameron Harris

After the dance, we asked Philadelphians to show their support by tweeting at the conference and jamming their social media feed with calls to stop #pharmapollution. We were delighted by the volume of love our cause received, not just on Twitter but on Facebook and Instagram. Side note: there’s still time to sign our petition.

Read more about the action in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Within the last ten years, pharmaceutical manufacturing pollution has been recognized as a contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” Bacteria overexposed to the antibiotics in factory effluent can develop resistance to those antibiotics and then proliferate.

Though most of these polluting factories are in India and China, where the bulk of antibiotics taken in the U.S. are produced, resistance grown abroad can easily pass over our borders. In the past year, a patient in Pennsylvania was diagnosed with the first Colistin-resistant infection in the U.S. (a strain commonly found in China). A patient in Nevada died after an India-acquired infection failed to respond to 26 different antibiotics.

The Philadelphia action is part of a broader campaign to stop pharmaceutical pollution that drives the development and spread of superbugs. The goal is to encourage major US retailers like CVS Health to eliminate serial polluters from their supply chains. Aurobindo, an Indian manufacturer, has been identified as one of the worst actors on antibiotic manufacturing pollution. The manufacturer has relationships with CVS Health, Walmart, and McKesson.

Photo: Cameron Harris

We’d like to thank all the dancers and activists that supported us on Wednesday, whether in person or online. If our grassroots action didn’t catch pharma’s attention, this definitely will: right now, Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York is circulating a sign-on memo calling attention to this issue. Together, we can help close the back door to resistance and stop superbugs NOW.

Featured photo Kristen Tomkowid/Little But Fierce

Tell CVS: Stop Superbug Pollution

Antibiotic pollution contributes to antimicrobial resistance, but little is being done to stop it.

Brenda, pictured above, suffered from a drug-resistant infection back in 2007. Luckily, she recovered. But as long as we allow any cause of AMR to go unchecked, infections like hers will become more and more common, and harder and harder to treat.

Sign the petition to tell CVS Health, one of the largest buyers of antibiotics in the United States, to make sure it's not adding to the problem by ridding its supply chain of known polluters like Aurobindo.

After you've signed, catch up on our antibiotics campaign:

  • Unfamiliar with AMR? Read about the problem and its major causes here.
  • Multiple reports support the idea that active pharmaceutical ingredient pollution by antibiotic manufacturers can exacerbate the development of superbugs. Read Bad Medicine, Resistance through the Back Door, and Superbugs in the Supply Chain to learn the extent of the problem.
  • Public health leaders recognize the problem, too. Read Henry Waxman and Bill Corr's op-ed in STAT.
  • Read our letters to pharmaceutical companies and the FDA demanding action on the issue here.

Campaign for Action on Pharmaceutical Pollution

In partnership with Waxman Strategies, Mighty helped coordinate a series of letters to the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies to encourage action on antimicrobial resistance caused by pharmaceutical pollution. Pollution of active pharmaceutical ingredients by antibiotic manufacturers creates the perfect conditions for antimicrobial resistance to develop and spread. Our letters, echoing an op-ed published in STAT, pressed for change on three fronts:

  1. U.S. drug makers should require their suppliers to stop polluting.
  2. The FDA and other relevant agencies should pressure their counterparts in India and China to toughen pollution regulations and crack down on violators.
  3. Major pharmaceutical retailers should pressure their manufacturers to ensure their supply chains are not contributing to this problem.

Pharmaceutical pollution that contributes to antimicrobial resistance is a multifaceted problem that requires action on multiple fronts to be adequately addressed. Some pharmaceutical companies have made commitments on the issue. Others, like Mylan and McKesson, have not. Read samples of the letters below.

waxman-letter-to-hhs-fda-1    others-1    13-signees

Antibiotic Factories Compounding Superbug Spread

New tests reveal lethal drug-resistant bacteria in water found near multiple production sites in India

‘Dirty’ factories supply U.S. drug retailers

Washington, D.C.—A new report by campaigning organization Changing Markets published today reveals, for the first time, the presence of drug-resistant bacteria at pharmaceutical manufacturing sites in India. The report also casts light on the supply chain that links the factories investigated to companies, public health services and hospitals in the United States and Europe.

On-the-ground research by investigative agency Ecostorm, and subsequent analysis of water samples under the supervision of Dr. Mark Holmes from the University of Cambridge, found high levels of drug-resistant bacteria at sites in three Indian cities: Hyderabad, New Delhi and Chennai.

Out of 34 sites tested, 16 were found to be harboring bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At four of the sites, resistance to three major classes of antibiotics was detected, including antibiotics of ‘last resort,’ those used to treat infections that fail to respond to all other medicines.

Click to enlarge

Detailed examination of publicly available supply chain data, and evidence obtained through Freedom of Information requests, has uncovered how antibiotics manufactured at or near these sites are being exported to foreign purchasers, including pharmaceutical majors like U.S. distribution giant McKesson and French company Sanofi’s generics arm Zentiva, as well as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) and French hospitals.

Click to enlarge

Growing antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is a matter of particular concern in the case of antibiotics, is one of the gravest threats to human health. Global deaths as a result of drug-resistant infections are projected to reach 10 million per year by 2050, with cumulative economic losses of $100 trillion. Medical experts warn that in the near future, drug resistant infections could once again make common illnesses, minor surgery, and routine operations such as hip replacements a life-or-death gamble.

Natasha Hurley, Campaign Manager at Changing Markets said:

“The dumping of antibiotic manufacturing residues poses a grave threat to human health in light of the growing AMR crisis. The discovery of drug-resistant bacteria at Indian factories supplying European and U.S. markets also raises serious questions about pharmaceutical supply chains.

 “Major buyers of antibiotics, such as the NHS, must immediately blacklist suppliers that are contributing to the spread of AMR through industrial pollution and ensure that all drug companies take action to clean up their supply chains. NHS doctors and nurses are working around the clock to tackle AMR; it is shocking that the pharmaceutical industry is undermining their lifesaving efforts through shoddy and dangerous practices.”

One company in particular, Hyderabad-based Aurobindo Pharma, emerges as one of the worst offenders. A recidivist polluter at its own production sites in India, it also imports the raw materials used for making antibiotics from dirty factories in China. With clear links to McKesson, whose biggest customer is U.S. drug retailer CVS Health, and an international network of subsidiaries affording direct access to European markets, Aurobindo is fast becoming a significant global presence.

Click to enlarge

Reacting to the report, Bill Corr, Senior Advisor at Waxman Strategies and former Deputy Secretary of HHS said:

This report joins a growing body of evidence that makes it impossible to ignore pharmaceutical industry pollution as a source of antimicrobial resistance. We need U.S. drug makers, pharmaceutical retailers and relevant regulatory agencies to work together to eliminate this contributor to resistance. If any cause of AMR remains, our health systems continue to be at risk.

Superbugs in the supply chain: How pollution from antibiotics factories in India and China is fuelling the global rise of drug-resistant infections by Changing Markets is available here.

Notes to editors:

  • Freedom of Information requests were submitted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to NHS trusts in summer 2016 and partial results shared with Changing Markets for inclusion in this report
  • Antibiotic resistance is a complex phenomenon with multiple interlinked causes, including the rampant misuse of antibiotics in human medicine and farming. But environmental pollution from the production of antibiotics is also recognised as a serious threat. Many factories in China and India, which supply most of the world’s antibiotics, are failing to treat manufacturing discharges appropriately, resulting in the contamination of rivers and lakes and fuelling the proliferation of drug-resistant bugs. The substantial quantities of antibiotics released from polluting factories, which frequently combine with runoff from farms and human waste in water bodies and sewage treatment plants, provide a perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria.

About Changing Markets:

Changing Markets is a campaigning organisation formed to accelerate and scale-up solutions to sustainability challenges by leveraging the power of markets. Working with NGOs, companies and foundations, we create and support campaigns that shift market share away from unsustainable products and companies to environmentally and socially beneficial solutions. www.changingmarkets.org / @ChangingMarkets

About Waxman Strategies

Built on the legacy of Henry Waxman’s storied Congressional career, Waxman Strategies is a progressive-minded public affairs firm. Our core practice areas are health, the environment, technology, telecommunications and media. By harnessing advocacy, communications and campaigns, we’ve successfully improved access to health care, slowed the scourge of deforestation and helped democratize access to technology. To learn more, visit www.waxmanstrategies.com.

Contact information:

Natasha Hurley
Campaign Manager
Changing Markets
[email protected]
+44 7585 663648

Nuša Urbančič
Campaigns Director
Changing Markets
[email protected]
+44 7479 015909

Casey Farrington
Account Coordinator
Waxman Strategies
[email protected]
(202) 899-2634 ext. 105

Waste From Pharmaceutical Plants in India and China Promotes Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

STAT First Opinion by Henry Waxman and Bill Corr

Pharmaceutical pollution of any type can be deadly, threatening habitats and poisoning drinking water. But antibiotic pollution doubles down on the dangers. The release of antibiotics into soil, streams, rivers and lakes creates a perfect storm for antimicrobial resistance to develop and spread.

This isn’t just a local disaster, because superbugs have no respect for national borders. Microbes travel freely through air and water. Bacteria are carried in livestock and agricultural products, which move across countries and continents as part of the global food system. And the ubiquity of international aviation means that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people can travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours.

No physical barrier can be erected to prevent the spread of superbugs. Instead, they must be stopped at their source. Four vital steps can help reduce, if not eliminate, antibiotic pollution due to drug manufacturing.

Read more on STAT.

Public Health Leader Responds to Pledged Commitment to Address Superbug-Producing Waste

The following is a statement by Bill Corr, Senior Advisor at Waxman Strategies and former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, on the announced commitment by thirteen major drug makers to reduce pollution from antibiotic factory supply chains which can contribute to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and superbugs:

“It is encouraging to see these thirteen companies acknowledge that this is a problem and map out a path to protecting public health and the environment. When it comes to AMR, it’s all or nothing. As long as any source of resistance is allowed to persist, so does the risk to our health. To date, major pharmaceutical companies are contributing to antimicrobial resistance by failing to protect their supply chains. This failure creates a risk to the public health that can be easily addressed.

“While it is still too early to validate the approach outlined by the thirteen drug makers including Pfizer, Novartis, and Merck, public health advocates like myself remain committed to focusing on this issue to see that others connected to antibiotic pollution like Aurobindo, McKessen and Mylan follow suit. Mylan is the company testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee tomorrow on its practices around pricing of the life-saving EpiPens.

“Drugs from Mylan end up in store shelves across the country, as they are a major supplier to retail giant CVS. Retailers like CVS have remained silent on the issue of supplier conduct. Retailers have an important role to play in this and should move to suspend their business relationships with laggards.”

Pharmaceutical Companies Exposed as Contributors to Antimicrobial Resistance

Washington, DC—Ahead of the first-ever United Nations high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in New York on Wednesday, a coalition of environmental and public health organizations released a major report connecting specific major pharmaceutical companies to the development of superbugs.

Drug resistance through the back door” sheds light on how industry heavyweights like Pfizer, Teva and McKesson contribute to the AMR crisis through commercial ties with serial polluters in China and India. Careless waste management by factories producing antibiotics contaminate local water supplies, leading to the kind of interaction between antibiotics and bacteria that fosters resistance. Ironically, many of the same companies fuelling resistance by failing to protect their supply chains are demanding investment from governments to develop new antibiotics to fight resistance.

Speaking ahead of the UN meeting, Bill Corr, Senior Advisor at Waxman Strategies and former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services said, “When it comes to AMR, it’s all or nothing. As long as any source of resistance is allowed to persist, so does the risk to our health care systems. Major pharmaceutical companies are contributing to antimicrobial resistance by failing to protect their supply chains. This failure creates a risk to the public health that can be easily addressed.”

Growing drug resistance is one of the gravest threats to human health this century. In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that at least 2 million people are infected with resistant bugs each year, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result. Globally, annual deaths are projected to reach 10 million per year by 2050, with cumulative economic losses of $100 trillion. Medical experts warn that in the near future, common illnesses, minor surgery, and routine operations such as hip replacements could become high risk procedures.

A 2015 report on AMR from the UK government states that pharmaceutical manufacturing pollution is “a supply chain problem that pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers need to solve together.” However, most companies display a shocking lack of concern about pollution in their supply chains by failing to implement, or demand that their suppliers implement, environmentally sound manufacturing and waste treatment techniques.

Natasha Hurley of UK-based Changing Markets said “Big Pharma’s role in fuelling drug resistance is all too often overlooked when policies to curb the spread of AMR are being discussed. Our research has shown that the industry is failing to take the necessary action to address the threat of a looming environmental and public health crisis in which it is playing a key part. This is why we are calling for major purchasers of antibiotics to blacklist the worst offenders and send a message to the market that failure to bring antibiotic manufacturing discharges under control will directly impact companies’ bottom line. With drug supply chains shrouded in mystery, we also need more transparency on the origin of our antibiotics.”

The report recommends major buyers of antibiotics stop purchasing from pharmaceutical companies contributing to the spread of AMR through irresponsible manufacturing practices. One company it scrutinizes is Aurobindo, a Hyderabad, India -based drug manufacturer with numerous international subsidiaries, including Auromedics Pharma LLC in the United States. Aurobindo has been involved in many pollution scandals in India, and also has commercial ties with antibiotics factories operated by some of China’s largest drug companies, including NCPC, the country’s biggest State-owned pharmaceutical group.

For more information on pharmaceutical pollution and antimicrobial resistance, consult the following resources:

  • Bad Medicine: Sum of Us exposes antibiotic pollution hotspots in China (2015)

Featured photo from Dr. Graham Beards.

Bad Medicine

It’s likely that antibiotics sold in the US are products of factories that pollute antibiotics into the atmosphere in China and India. 2015’s Bad Medicine report from SumOfUs and Changing Markets connects the dots.

Even as some major players in the pharmaceutical industry make commitments to stem the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by developing new antibiotics or reforming prescribing recommendations, many are likely aggravating the crisis in their supply chains. According to Bad Medicine, pharmaceutical pollution is a driver of AMR, along with overuse in humans and livestock. The report connects major companies like Pfizer, McKesson, Teva and Aurobindo to factories that have repeatedly been sanctioned for environmental infractions and likely polluted antibiotic active ingredients into adjacent waterways, poisoning local populations and opening the door to a global health crisis.

Read the jaw-dropping report here.

Action on AMR Can't Wait

The CDC estimates at least 2 million people in the US are infected with resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 people die from those infections. This isn’t a crisis to worry about someday—it’s happening now, and without action, the frequency and severity of AMR will only get worse.

Antimicrobial resistance is an existential threat to modern health care. It has been since shortly after penicillin was discovered. Alexander Fleming had his eureka moment in 1928. By 1940 bacteria were already exhibiting resistance to the drug.

The development of superbugs is evolution we can track in real time. When bacteria come into contact with an antibiotic, most are killed off. But some bacteria survive and develop resistance to that antibiotic, like the microbial version of a flu shot. Fighting these stronger bacteria with the same antibiotic as before won’t be as effective. After enough mutations, a strain completely resistant to that antibiotic—a superbug—could emerge and pass its immunity on to others.

The Evolution of Bacteria on a “Mega-Plate” Petri Dish (Kishony Lab)

Thankfully, people are speaking up. Last year, President Obama introduced the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and laid out clear goals for our country to fight back the threat of AMR. In September 2016, the UN will host a High-Level Meeting on the issue. From health care professionals to animal rights activists, people are advocating against the practices that exacerbate AMR, like over-prescription, the lack of research into new alternatives, and misuse in livestock. Too many people are taking antibiotics incorrectly or unnecessarily. For too long, pharmaceutical companies have failed to develop new antibiotics, or other alternatives to fighting bacterial infections. And too many farms rely on antibiotics not to heal their keep, but to fatten them up before they go to market.

Polluting manufacturers, however, have flown relatively under the radar in attempts to address the AMR crisis. Waxman Strategies and Changing Markets have identified factory locations primarily in India and China that are linked to massive environmental degradation in the form of pharmaceutical pollution. Independent studies of regions in India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan have found extremely high concentrations of antibiotics (at times surpassing their maximal therapeutic concentrations) in water sources downstream of antibiotic manufacturers. There are also numerous examples of manufacturers that have been sanctioned for environmental malfeasance, yet continue to produce antibiotics for a mass market without proper waste disposal methods in place.

The effects of this contamination are already public health crises in the factories’ locales, effectively poisoning local populations. In the context of antimicrobial resistance, however, this local injustice is also an international one. High concentrations of antibiotics released into the environment from factories create reservoirs of antimicrobial resistance. The impact is similar to that of human and animal waste, but without having been diluted by the digestive process. Superbugs, cultivated in China and India by careless waste disposal and lack of oversight, can then be exported worldwide.

We need action on all of these issues—discovery, over-prescription, misuse in livestock and pollution—to keep the devastating effects of AMR at bay. With any contributor to AMR out there, the efficacy of antibiotics is threatened, and with it modern medicine.