On June 28, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a draft Guidance to Industry document for the use of antibiotics in farm animals. It’s the first time in over 30 years the FDA—the agency charged with regulating drugs in the U.S.—appears to be taking steps to limit the use of important antibiotics in food animal production. Good news? Sadly, the draft guidance contains only two recommendations, both so weakly worded they would allow the agricultural industry to carry on just as it is has. Even more distressing, once the document is finalized, it only represents the FDA’s current thinking on the topic; it doesn’t carry any regulatory power whatsoever. In what appears to be a saving grace, the guidance summarizes many reports dating back to 1968 showing the link between antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. In fact the best part of 10 of the 19 pages is used to demonstrate this very point. In fact the FDA press release announcing the release of this guidance states “that the overall weight of evidence available to date supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes (i.e., non-therapeutic or sub-therapeutic uses) in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.” However, the rest of the world has already acknowledged this link and has acted to reduce the very real risk of indiscriminate antibiotic use in the livestock industry. In the U.S. we have listened to Big Ag, allowed the powerful agricultural and pharmaceutical lobbies to have their way, and continued to put tons of antibiotics into farm animal feed and water. There are estimates that as much as 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used to promote growth in farm animals, not to treat animals that are sick or ailing.
Britain has spurned the American model of intensive livestock farming for many years. More recently the so-called science-based CAFO models have traveled the globe, leaving trails of toxic poison behind them. Who would have thought that Britain, with a rich tradition of being one of the first countries to embrace organic, humane farming systems, would be contemplating intensive dairy farming as the way of the future? Thankfully, a much-lauded report issued by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production is being used to support the groups opposed to the feedlot dairies. The local residents in the U.K. town of Lincolnshire are vehemently opposing plans just submitted for a 3,000 cow intensive dairy farm, only weeks after scuttling the first attempts for an 8,000 cow intensive dairy farm in the same area. The Pew Commission’s 2008 report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, has been one of our most potent weapons in up-ending a loathsome business where profits depend on the inhumane treatment of animals, and where unsustainable, unsafe health and environmental practices are the norm.
On May 4 Animal Welfare Approved hosted an expert panel of writers, farmers and representatives of sustainable livestock production. Entitled, “Green Pastures, Bright Future: Taking the Meat We Eat Out of the Factory and Putting it Back on the Farm," the discussion centered on the need for truly sustainable livestock farming that takes into account animal welfare and the health of our environment - and ourselves. Panelists included investigative journalist and author of Animal Factory David Kirby; author of the bestselling Righteous Porkchop Nicolette Hahn Niman; chicken farmer and whistle-blower in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” Carole Morison; and rancher, veterinarian and president of the American Grassfed Association, Dr. Patricia Whisnant.
A couple of opinion pieces that appeared within days of each other have recently caught my eye. First was “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment” by Dr. Gidon Eshel on the Reuters Blog, swiftly followed by “The myth of green beef,” in the Atlantic Blog, by Helene York. Both pieces swim rather vigorously against the scientific tide on the issue of the environmental impact of beef and grassfed cattle systems in particular. The issue of environmental impact and meat production is a complicated one and open to misinterpretation and confusion. With my obvious interest in grassfed and pasture-raised production I am always looking to see what new evidence is being presented. After reading both pieces, however, I was left feeling rather disappointed. These articles are interesting, but they are interesting for all the wrong reasons. While they appear to put forward a strong argument, with independent studies mentioned, if not always actually referenced, they actually expose the problems of scientific reductionism and a general lack of academic rigor.
“The truth will out” – no matter how hard you try to discredit or disregard it. That’s certainly what the industrial meat lobby is finding when it comes to the human health implications of the overuse of antibiotics in intensive livestock farming. For while they desperately fight a rearguard action to counter growing public concerns over intensive livestock production, yet another independent scientific study has proved that resistance to antibiotics is on the increase in intestinal bacteria in animals as a direct result of antibiotic treatments. In her doctoral research at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Anne-Mette R. Grønvold looked at the impact of antibiotic treatments on bacteria in the intestines of animals. Grønvold found that resistance to antibiotics is on the increase in intestinal bacteria in animals as a direct result of antibiotic treatments. She found that antibiotic resistance can spread between ordinary intestinal bacteria and disease-producing bacteria, and between bacteria from animals and bacteria from humans.
An article in the Washington Post on March 1 caught my attention. Entitled, “Manure becomes pollutant as its volume grows unmanageable,” it focused on a topic that really gets up my nose. The article is one of an increasing number of investigative pieces which have highlighted the massive pollution problems caused by intensive livestock farming systems – and the fact that we, as taxpayers, are the ones who are currently picking up the bill.
Some of you will hopefully have read my previous blogs on the benefits of grassfed beef. In particular, the fact that grassfed beef is not only good for animal welfare and the environment, but that it is also better for our health. While scientists have now shown that cattle from feedlots are much more likely to carry the deadly E. coli O157:H7 (along with other unsavory food poisoning bugs), they have also conducted studies which found that cattle fed forage and grass diets did not carry E. coli pathogens that are known to be harmful to humans. So supporting grassfed beef operations – as championed by Animal Welfare Approved – is a great way to help ensure that America’s beef supply is better for the environment, as well as safer and healthier for you. But here at AWA we are often asked if other naturally farmed products, such as pasture-raised eggs, are also better for our health. The good news is that scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports our argument that pasture-raised is better for you.