After Monsanto did an end run around the law by convincing regulators to approve its genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa without the mandatory environmental review, consumer groups hauled them to court and won a ban on the GE seed until the review was completed. Now the USDA has ruled that the GE alfalfa seed meets standards and can be put on the market—despite acknowledging that the seed is almost certain to contaminate normal, non-GE (you know, natural) seed. This is especially dangerous for organic farmers, who have no defenses against their organic alfalfa becoming contaminated with Monsanto’s GE seed. It could cost them their organic certification. It could cost you control over what you eat if contamination decimates organic supplies.
It was two years ago today that the U.S. saw its largest meat recall in history. The USDA recalled 143 million pounds of beef distributed by Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company and said that the meat had been used in school lunches and food assistance programs. On January 18 of this year, Huntington Meat Packing Inc. of Montebello, CA recalled 864,000 lbs of beef because it may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This past weekend the recall was expanded to more than 5 million lbs of meat. Some of the products made from this meat appear to have been distributed through the USDA National School Lunch Program. Happy anniversary of the Hallmark recall, America! You were expecting flowers?
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.
RESPONSE TO KATIE COURIC'S RECENT CBS NEWS STORIES Scientists have known for many years that bacteria can mutate to become resistant to antibiotics or pick up genetic material from other bacteria that have survived the antibiotic use, and then further spread this within the bacterial population. And this is exactly what has been happening on intensive farms across the U.S. over the last few decades. Part of the problem with this overuse of low-dose antibiotics is the fact that while the low dose kills off the more susceptible bacteria first, it leaves behind those bacteria that aren’t susceptible – in other words, the ones that show resistance. And because the farmers generally use the same antibiotics over and over again, in the end the only bacteria left are those that are resistant. Without anything to control them, these resistant bacteria can multiply and easily spread from animal to animal, and then from farm to farm.
Most people have heard the old saying “a bit of dirt never hurt anyone.” When my kids were little and they dropped a piece of apple on the floor, I would run it under the tap for a second or two before passing it back to them for a (usually unsuccessful) second attempt to eat it. I did it almost without thinking--instinctively perhaps. And I remember my parents doing the same for me--and no doubt my grandparents did exactly the same for my parents when they were young. Of course, the underlying principle here arguably has its roots in basic human biology: the more germs we are exposed to when we are younger, the stronger our immune systems are in later life. And this very same principle extends to the way many of us choose to farm.
Tyson Foods’ recent agreement to settle a lawsuit for falsely advertising its “raised without antibiotics” chicken brand has received limited media coverage – no doubt to the relief of the company’s boardroom. And with an annual turnover of nearly $27 billion, they probably won’t sweat too much over the $5 million that the company must now shell out as compensation to unhappy customers. In falsely marketing its chicken meat as produced from birds “raised without antibiotics” while still feeding them antibiotics, Tyson Foods was shamelessly exploiting the growing public concern over the excessive use of antibiotics in industrial farming, particularly in the form of non-therapeutic growth promoters. But while the intensive meat industry continues to vigorously oppose any attempts to reduce antibiotic use in farming, the irony is that Tyson Foods may well have inadvertently shot itself in the foot by publicly admitting that the overuse of certain antibiotics in industrial farming really is a threat to human health.
Animal Welfare Approved, the nation’s leading certification label for family farmers raising their animals with high welfare standards, is hosting Jeanette Orrey, the United Kingdom’s famous “Dinner Lady” (that would be a lunch lady on this side of the pond) the week of January 11th. Orrey is a leader in the U.K.’s efforts to provide school lunches made of fresh, local organic food. She will be visiting with school officials, farmers and proponents of healthy school lunches in New York City, Baltimore, Maryland and Arlington, Virginia. Accompanying Orrey on her journey will be Animal Welfare Approved staff, Bill Telepan, chef/owner of Manhattan’s Telepan Restaurant, and Nancy Easton, a New York City teacher for 20 years. Telepan is a long-time Animal Welfare Approved supporter and a board member of Wellness in the Schools. Wellness in the Schools is a grassroots organization that promotes children's environmental health, nutrition and fitness within the New York City public schools. Easton co-founded Wellness in the Schools and serves on its board. The New York City school system serves approximately 1.1 million students.
In a recent post we discussed the ruling currently under construction at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which would allow certain state-inspected slaughter plants to perform federal inspections on meat and poultry. The comment period has been extended, and we invite anyone who has an interest in this to add your two cents to the discussion (read full post for instructions). This ruling could have tremendous implications for livestock farmers using independent, state-inspected plants who are now limited to selling product within state lines, and could dramatically expand their marketing capabilities. Cooperative inspection has the potential not only to benefit independent farmers and slaughter plants, but could have positive animal welfare implications through reduced transport time.
A recent newspaper article brought home once again the extraordinary reality of industrialized food production – and lengths that some in the US food and farming industry will go to in the pursuit of "efficiency." This time, it was an article in the LA Times about the currently legal practice of feeding US cattle so-called "poultry litter." An unlikely sounding cattle feed, poultry litter is actually made up of industrial chicken feces, spilled chicken feed, feathers and other poultry waste collected from the floors of factory farms across the US. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which is responsible for protecting public health and is at the center of this current situation for continuing to permit poultry litter as a feedstuff – estimates that US farmers currently feed between one and two million tons of poultry litter to their cattle each year.
Kids can be the pickiest eaters around, rejecting anything that smells, looks, or feels “weird,” an all encompassing term with a highly flexible definition. Rather than seeing this as an obstacle to a well-rounded nutritional experience, why not harness a child’s natural tendency to be suspicious of food and use it for good? Michael Pollan is doing just that with the release of The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. Just released in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions, The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids uses plenty of photos, graphs and charts—and a fun format—to encourage kids, tweens and teens to think about what they are eating, how it was produced and what that means for their future and the planet.
The October 4, 2009 New York Times story, “E. coli Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection,” is a chilling reminder to the public that we gamble unknowingly with our health every day, even when safer, viable options to the current systems are readily available. The Times story follows a convoluted and widespread chain of production that ended with hamburger contaminated with the virulent E. coli strain O157:H7 being sold to the public, leaving one young woman paralyzed and more than 900 others ill. The story recounts the secrecy, obfuscation, and duplicity that processors engage in to avoid testing beef for E. coli and to protect a system that gives rise to tainted beef.
In response to a recent press release announcing that La Cense Ranch has become the first grassfed beef producer to be certified under the USDA “Grass Fed” standard, Animal Welfare Approved Program Director Andrew Gunther made the following statement: “I am seeing a re-emergence of the arguments that surrounded initial discussions about the USDA’s ‘Grass Fed’ definition. The USDA standard only partially addresses buyers’ expectations for grassfed meat. We are concerned that consumers may assume that a USDA Grass Fed certification means that ruminants are raised on pasture for the duration of their lives, without confinement or feedlots.”