One of the things I love most about my job as program director at Animal Welfare Approved is that I get to meet people who are literally changing the world from the ground up. Ron Finley is the perfect example, except that he’s not the typical farmer or rancher whom I usually meet. He grows fruit and vegetables on an urban community garden: a 10ft by 150ft strip of land between the sidewalk and the curb in front of his house in Crenshaw, south central Los Angeles. I bumped into Finley at the recent Good Food Festival in Santa Monica, CA. We got talking and he told me about his recent successful fight with city bureaucrats over his community garden and the grassroots initiative he’s set up to help urban communities to grow healthy, organic food for themselves. From the outset I liked the man, and we were clearly fighting the same fight, just on very different fronts. His story was as inspirational as anything I had seen or heard before.
When it comes to public relations there is spin and there is downright deceit. A recent press release from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) on the potential link between antibiotic resistant bacteria and industrialized farming definitely falls into the latter category. At issue here is a statement released by National Pork Producers Council President Doug Wolf on the new Government Accountability Office report, "Antibiotic Resistance: Agencies Have Made Limited Progress Addressing Antibiotic Use in Animals." Wolf says, “Not only is there no scientific study linking antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans, as the U.S. pork industry has continually pointed out, but there isn’t even adequate data to conduct a study.” He continues, “The GAO report on antibiotic resistance issued today confirms this." Wolf’s comments are hogwash and he knows it. The truth is that the GAO report does nothing of the sort, nor was that ever its intention. Even from the report title it’s already pretty clear what the overall conclusion is: key government agencies – namely the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) which are primarily responsible for ensuring food safety in the U.S. – are not doing enough to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria to public health.
George Washington University's Urban Food Task Force, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) have joined forces by providing a platform for DC's vibrant culinary community to focus on strengthening the supply chain for sustainably raised meat.
How many more lives must be lost or irreversibly damaged before we finally accept the fact that industrialized farming is killing us? So far, the contamination from a new strain of Salmonella (Salmonella Heidelberg) has resulted in one death in California and at least 79 illnesses across 26 states. According to reports, it appears the outbreak “officially” began in March 2011, when a growing number of cases of Salmonella Heidelberg were noted. However, the FSIS didn’t issue a public warning until July 29, and even then this was a broad statement about potential links with ground turkey. Questions are already being asked about the significant time lag between the March detection of the spike in cases, the FSIS announcement in late July, and Cargill’s voluntary withdrawal in early August. But I have far graver concerns about this outbreak. While any outbreak of food poisoning is horrific, and the immediate focus must be to treat those affected and identify the source, few people seem to be discussing the larger public health issue: this particular strain of Salmonella is resistant to multiple antibiotics. Scientists around the world link this resistance to years of misuse of medicinally important antibiotics by the intensive farming industry. Virtually all intensively farmed animals in the U.S. receive low levels of antibiotics throughout their lives as growth promoters to help maximize production. While this lowers the price tag on industrial protein, the practice encourages bacteria to quickly become resistant to antibiotics – the same antibiotics we use to treat ourselves. In fact, some dangerous bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics. This means that when we get infected, there are fewer and fewer options for treatment. And we are fast running out of options altogether.
In a press statement conveniently released just before the busy holiday weekend, the USDA stated that Scotts Miracle Gro's introduction of a new GM Kentucky bluegrass seed did not require any regulation. Despite ongoing protests and legal challenges from environmental groups, land managers, federal agencies and other organizations, the USDA's decision paves the way for the unregulated use of GM lawn seed in U.S. neighborhoods - and a potentially dramatic increase in the use of a toxic herbicide that is increasingly being linked to adverse impacts on human health and the wider environment. The introduction of GM glyphosate-resistant Kentucky bluegrass will force us all to become subjects of an experiment that should have happened in the USDA’s laboratories - not in our lawns, backyards, in our local neighborhoods, and in parks where our kids play. This experiment will further increase the use of this toxic herbicide, and will inevitably lead to the cross-pollination with wild relatives and the many environmental problems this will entail. The potential human health impacts have yet to be discovered, but I know I would plow my lawn up if I thought this seed was in it. For the sake of a few weeds, are the potential risks of GM lawns really worth it?
When it comes to food and farming, unfortunately it often takes a major public health scare to bring about necessary changes in policy and practice. Unless you have been on another planet you will have no doubt heard the news of the horrific food poisoning outbreak in Europe which has killed 24 people and left almost 2,500 sick. At the time of writing the exact source of this E. coli outbreak is still not known, although almost all cases have occurred in Germany or were directly linked to travel there. But while the primary focus remains identifying the source of the outbreak and treating those affected, scientists have already expressed alarm at the fact that this particular strain of E. coli – E. coli O104:H4 – is resistant to several classes of important antibiotics. And the consensus is that one of the most likely reasons for the development of this multiple-resistant strain is the misuse of antibiotics in intensive livestock farming systems.
All of us at Animal Welfare Approved have been concerned about the seemingly endless spate of devastating weather across the country, and are doing what we can to reach out to our farmers in affected areas. Our hearts go out to all of those who have suffered the overwhelming loss of loved ones, homes, and livelihoods. As the people of Joplin, MO work to pick up the pieces and move on from the disaster in their area, we have become aware of a unique effort springing from within the AWA family and we are doing all we can to support it wholeheartedly. Jack Whisnant, the son of Patricia and Mark Whisnant (Animal Welfare Approved farmers from American Grassfed Beef in Doniphan, MO), is leading a group to Joplin to provide BBQ pork and grassfed burgers over the Memorial Day weekend and following week. This endeavor is a massive undertaking, and we want to assist Jack in being able to meet the needs of all those in Joplin who come to him for aid. If you would like to support this effort please read on for details on how you can help.
Legislators in Florida have thrown out proposals to introduce a new law which would have made it illegal to take unapproved videos or photographs of industrial farm animal production in the state. The “Ag Gag” bill, which was openly backed by the industrial farming lobby, was promoted on the basis that it would help to improve animal welfare or protect family farms. But the stark reality is that this proposed law has absolutely nothing to do with animal welfare and was nothing more than Big Ag protecting its interests again, stealthily promoting legislation that would effectively make it a felony to attempt to expose the horrific practices that are going on behind the doors of industrial farms.
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.
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.
As director of the Animal Welfare Approved program, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Arapaho Ranch, in north-central Wyoming. At 580,000 acres, it is the largest USDA certified organic ranch in the U.S. - and one of the most inspiring ranches that I have ever seen. Arapaho Ranch is actually part of its environment, working in harmony with nature, rather than trying to control it. My visit began at the front of the local high school in the town of Thermopolis, where I met with David Stoner, who manages the Arapaho Ranch on behalf of the Tribal Council of the Northern Arapaho Nation. David is one of those people who can say a huge amount with very few words, and as we drove out to the first pasture it quickly became clear that the Arapaho Tribe had struck gold by appointing him to manage their ranch.
The Raleigh News & Observer's restaurant critic Greg Cox came out with his annual recognition for local restaurants today. Topping the list as "Restaurant of the Year" is the new Bella Mia, the coal-fired pizzeria in Cary, NC. According to Cox, "Its blistery-crusted pies immediately raised the bar far above anything the area has ever seen." AWA is proud to announce that all of the beef used by Bella Mia is supplied by Rare Earth Farms of Zebulon, NC. Animal Welfare Approved farms also supplying Gold, Silver and "Best in Class" award winners include Border Springs Farm (lamb), Cane Creek Farm (pork), Captain John S. Pope Farm (lamb), Cohen Farm (eggs), Fowl Attitude Farm (eggs), and High Ground Farm (eggs).