As if we needed any more evidence that pesticides are bad for human health, three independent scientific papers have provided some of the strongest evidence yet of the link between exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides and lower IQ levels among children. Published in the latest Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the results suggest that prenatal exposure to OPs can have a lasting and damaging effect on our children. Researchers from the University of California, Columbia University, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine all found that children exposed to higher levels of OP while in the womb were likely to have significantly lower intelligence scores by age seven than children who were not exposed.
As we enter Earth Week 2011, millions of people across the U.S. and the world are looking for ways to minimize their impact on the environment. It might surprise you to know that one of the best places you can start is the food you eat. Did you know that at least 30 percent of our annual carbon footprint is made up of our daily food choices? Choosing the right food – such as Animal Welfare Approved meat and dairy products – is one of the most important, everyday activities that can reduce our individual environmental impact and help to improve the well-being of farm animals at the same time. So, why not use this opportunity to reduce your consumption of unsustainable, low-welfare, intensively reared feedlot meat and dairy – and choose high-welfare, pasture-based meat and dairy products instead? Animal Welfare Approved’s online directory makes it easy to find AWA-certified farms and products in your area and to support sustainable farming. Pasture-based farming can bring real benefits to us all, not only through healthier products but by helping to protect the planet for future generations.
A recent press release from the American Humane Association (AHA) on a “historic piece of legislation that will significantly improve animal welfare in commercial egg-laying chicken operations” has clearly captured the attention of hacks looking for a quick and easy story. The AHA news release, which has now appeared ad verbatim across several news sites, trumpets the “ground-breaking vote” by the Washington state House of Representatives to introduce new legislation which will bring about “dramatic” animal welfare improvements. The AHA news release claims that this new legislation will “phase out the use of battery cage housing for egg-laying hens and instead mandate use of an approved American Humane Association housing system, requiring more space and the use of what is known as the enriched colony model.” Sounds like a giant step forward for chicken welfare and good news for ethical consumers, right? Wrong. While the legislation may phase out the use of standard battery cages for egg laying hens in the state of Washington, it does not ban cages—and you’d be sadly mistaken if you thought that the birds in these systems will now run free in a high-welfare farming system. The reality is that AHA’s “enriched colony model” actually embraces the use of enriched cages. No amount of clever wording or media spin will change the fact that an enriched cage is still a cage.
When you buy organic meat and dairy products, you probably have certain expectations about how they were produced and how the animals were raised. You may expect that animals on organic farms would be raised with the highest welfare in mind, with lots of space and free access to pasture. You may expect that all organic farmers would be caring and conscientious enough to allow organic animals to exhibit their natural behaviors. You may expect that organic farms would be far superior to industrial farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Sorry to dash your hopes, but all organic farmers do not necessarily raise their animals with even Big Ag’s welfare standards as a base. It might surprise you to know that the United States National Organic Program (NOP) – the federal regulatory framework that governs organic food and farming in the U.S. – has no specific rules on the amount of space that organic farmers are required to give their animals whenever they are housed indoors. This obviously raises questions about animal welfare.
Did you know that a number of U.S. states have introduced a draconian law that effectively bans photography at certain designated sites? And that two other states are apparently proposing to introduce it? You might wonder what state secret or national asset these new laws are designed to protect, or which high-powered individuals will be shielded from prying eyes? The truth is that this legislation is nothing more than a prohibition of unapproved photography of farms. Yes, believe it or not, farms! Big Ag is protecting its interests again, stealthily promoting legislation that effectively makes it illegal to take unapproved photographs of industrial farm animal production. This is the same Big Ag which has lied to us all for years--trying to persuade us that GM is safe, that pesticides are not polluting our watercourses, that feedlots do not add to greenhouse gas, and that all industrial farm animal production is both safe and humane.
Two starkly different reports have come out recently on the future of farming. A recent series in the Economist touts industrialized farming as the only way to feed the world as our population swells beyond nine billion people by 2050. But a new report from the United Nations says farmers can meet growing demand using ecologically sound agricultural methods. The world body has released a study that calls for a fundamental shift towards what it calls agroecology as a way to boost production. “To feed nine billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report. “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live --especially in unfavorable environments.” De Schutter is right. Farming that relies on inputs that destroy the atmosphere, pollute our drinking water, make our antibiotics ineffective and treat workers, communities and animals as garbage, is not a viable option for the future.
Many people are unaware that 80% of all antimicrobial drugs are administered to animals. Unfortunately, this fact shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; the Union of Concerned Scientists provided the same stat ten years ago in the 2001 report, Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Use in Livestock. Of course, industry has since ignored and/or rejected this figure every chance they’ve had. But despite the best efforts of Agribiz, as this week’s press release from Congresswoman Louise Slaughter reports, the FDA has officially confirmed the 80% figure; check it out. I should note that our friend Ralph Loglisci of the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future contacted the FDA back in December and was given the same numbers (he wrote an excellent post about this, which is absolutely worth reading). Nonetheless, it seems significant that the antibiotics stats have been released to and publicized by a congressperson. Very official, we think – and hopefully capable of capturing the nation’s attention.
The story that grabbed my attention last week was a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell challenging the actual beef content in the chain's beef tacos. Taco Bell responded with what appeared to be an example of public relations crisis management at its best, but with one major flaw: in rebutting the lawsuit Taco Bell appears to have trashed its product. The false advertising lawsuit claims that the “seasoned ground beef” in Taco Bell’s crunchy taco, beefy ground burrito and other products doesn’t actually meet the minimum requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be labeled as "beef.” Taco Bell responded quickly with its “thank you for suing us” ads stating that the filling was indeed beef with added seasonings.
The news that scientists think it is possible to genetically modify a chicken to make it resistant to avian influenza--also known as “bird flu”-- had me spitting feathers. Talk about treating the symptoms and not the cause! A BBC news piece on January 13 highlights the gallant efforts of scientists to cure the scourge of bird flu using GM technology. Researchers from a joint project between Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities have inserted an artificial gene into chicken cells that would make a chicken resistant to bird flu. The scientists go on to say that they think the potential to protect any farm animal from any viral disease is now only a test tube away. Professor Helen Sang said, “This is really exciting because bird flu is a real challenge to poultry production and if it were introduced to poultry breeding it would protect our large scale production flocks from avian influenza.”
Recently John Stossel of FOX Business Channel has aired a number of segments disparaging sustainable agriculture. His issues have included the use of herbicides and pesticides, grainfed vs. grassfed beef, genetically modified salmon and food safety. Is Stossel going out of his way to be outrageously provocative? To what end? And for whose benefit? Certainly we are not the only ones to condemn these reports as being inaccurate, unbalanced and biased, as the many comments to the reports attest. Stossel would no doubt accuse me of being unrealistic and only supporting small scale farms. However, the reality is that to keep the planet healthy and fed we will need to employ a wide range of solutions. Sadly, the last 40 years of ”big ag’s” version of the solution has shown chronic failure in the form of antibiotic resistance, tainted water and some of the largest food recalls in history. Too bad Stossel doesn’t recognize that we have to stop using the planet – a finite resource – as “big ag’s” test tube.
An article which first appeared on the web back in January is doing the rounds again. This time it’s being used by the National Beef Packing Company to promote its “natural” beef. The National Beef Packing Company has a lot to say about the benefits of its feedlot-raised, grain-fed beef versus grassfed beef, and is currently using an edited version of an article by James E. McWilliams, entitled “Beware the Myths of Grassfed Beef,” to support its argument. I’m not sure if the editing of this newer version was done by McWilliams himself, or if National realized that if they printed the original article in its entirety they would at the very least find themselves promoting the animal welfare and health benefits of grassfed over feedlot beef. Because in his original article, McWilliams states that “the comparative health benefits of grass-fed beef are well documented” and that “scores of studies indicate that it's higher in omega 3s and lower in saturated fat.” He also says that grassfed systems are “kinder to the animals” – all points which have miraculously disappeared from the National Beef Packing Company’s current version. But let’s not worry about that now, and go straight to the “meat” of the article.
Animal Welfare Approved program director Andrew Gunther is pleased to announce that AWA has partnered with the U.K.'s Soil Association to publish a new report, "Lies, Damn Lies." This report casts doubt on two frequently quoted statistics that say that globally we need to increase food production by 50% by 2030 or that it needs to double by 2050. Lies, Damn Lies CoverAnimal Welfare Approved program director Andrew Gunther is pleased to announce that AWA has partnered with the U.K.'s Soil Association to publish a new report, "Lies, Damn Lies." This report casts doubt on two frequently quoted statistics that say that globally we need to increase food production by 50% by 2030 or that it needs to double by 2050. "This report clearly demonstrates that the figure currently used to illustrate future demand for food is inaccurate. Many of those using these inflated claims are justifying the need for more intensive agricultural practices and, in particular, the need for further expansion of GM crops," remarked Andrew Gunther. He continued, "At AWA we believe that it is possible to feed the world without confining animals and destroying the very planet we rely on to nourish us. The AWA program represents a very real option to feed the world without making medicines redundant and making our rivers and oceans dead zones." The report is available for download.