Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

Kiera answers your green questions every week in her Econundrums column. She was a hypochondriac even before she started researching germ warfare.

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Kiera has written about the environment, arts and culture, and more for Columbia Journalism Review, Orion, Audubon, OnEarth, Plenty, and the Utne Reader. She lives in Berkeley and recently planted 30 onions in her backyard.

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Drug-Resistant E. Coli - Now Available in the Arctic, too!

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 10:37 AM PST

arctic%20birds150.jpgBecause I know you just can't get enough bad news about the prevalence of drug-resistant E. coli, kindly direct your attention to the latest bit of terrifying news: Those hearty little bacteria have now been found in Arctic birds...who have never been anywhere near a hospital, poultry plants, or anywhere else one might expect E. coli to lurk.

The birds are exposed to the bacteria during migration, when they cross paths with other birds who carry the bacteria—specifically, when they step in their acquaintances' feces (yeah, gross, but you know, they're birds). The takeaway lesson: Our actions (overusing antibiotics, in this case) have far-reaching consequences. As microbiology professor Dr. Roy Steigbigel told Newsday:

"We live in a world of migration of all sorts of animals, birds and humans," Steigbigel said. "We had an example recently of multi-drug-resistant TB. I see all of it as a continuum: as birds migrating on wings to humans migrating in airplanes."

As if Arctic birds don't have enough problems.

Huxley's Brave New World Led to Bush's Stem Cell Decision

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 2:29 PM PST

brave75.jpgA high school English class classic helped Bush make up his mind about stem cells, according to a former Bush adviser. From a Commentary Magazine piece called "Stem Cells and the President: An Inside Account" by Jay P. Lefkowitz, who worked as general counsel in the Office of Management and Budget under Bush:

A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room. "We're tinkering with the boundaries of life here," Bush said when I finished. "We're on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there's no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time."

H/T Think Progress.

Drug-Resistant E. Coli Rampant Among Poultry Workers

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 2:02 PM PST

poultry200.jpg
If you needed yet another reason to be grossed out by the American meat industry, consider this tantalizing tidbit: U.S. Poultry workers are much more likely than the average American—32 times more likely, in fact—to carry antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria, according to a Johns Hopkins study.

With the recent news that drug-resistant staph infections are on the rise, most people I know have become vigilant about germs in public places. Flip-flop use in gym locker rooms, I'd bet, is on the rise. But actually, we should be feeling squeamish about big ag: "One of the major implications of this study is to underscore the importance of the non-hospital environment in the origin of drug resistant infections," says Eileen K. Silbergeld, one of the study's lead authors, in the study press release. Growth-stimulating antibiotics are just another part of the daily grind (ugh, sorry) at mega-farms. In fact, it's thought that the majority of antimicrobials produced in the U.S. are used in the meat industry. And unfortunately, unlike at the gym, flip-flops probably don't offer much in the way of protection at the slaughterhouse.

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