Forgive me if you don’t see me jumping for joy at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent announcement that it intends to limit the use of a specific group of antibiotics in livestock production. For while the FDA’s decision to curb the use of cephalosporins in food animal production beginning April 2012 has been hailed as positive step in the right direction, I’d say it’s more a shuffle forwards – and a very reluctant one at that. “We believe this is an imperative step in preserving the effectiveness of this class of important antimicrobials that takes into account the need to protect the health of both humans and animals,” pronounced Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, in the FDA press release. Now, as regular readers of my post will already know, I am passionate about the urgent need to curb the misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming systems. So what’s my problem with the FDA’s recent actions? After all, surely this is good news?
McDonald’s has just discovered bigger isn’t always better. McDonald’s – one of the nation’s largest egg purchasers - has just dropped Sparboe Farms, one of the biggest egg producers in the U.S. after undercover filming showed abuse of chicks and hens at facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. McDonald’s is finding out that there is a price to be paid for dealing with industrial egg producers like Sparboe. By their very design these industrial systems fail to meet the needs of the hens, fail to protect the consumer from health problems such as Salmonella and fail to provide farm workers with a safe and positive working environment. However, McDonald's Europe boasts a much more sustainable supply chain - in fact, over 95% of all eggs used by McDonald’s across 21 European countries are either free range or cage free “barn” eggs. Why then can McDonald’s in the U.S. not learn from its European operation?
Animal Welfare Approved has an annual tradition of taking a moment to thank the family farmers who work so hard to produce healthy and environmentally responsible food for our communities. Farming is not an easy job, and we want to encourage AWA friends and followers to take this opportunity to appreciate farmers you know for their contribution to our holiday tables and to our tables every day. As the only national nonprofit organization that audits, certifies and supports farmers raising animals on pasture, we are fortunate to have become the most highly regarded food label for sustainability and outdoor farming systems. With an ever-growing family of certified farms, AWA helps consumers find sustainable, pasture-raised products and connect with the farmers that produce them. We encourage you to seek out AWA farms and purchase their products this holiday season as a way to support pasture-based farms. Please also use this forum and social media to share your thanks. USE THE COMMENT BOX BELOW TO SHARE YOUR THANKS TO FAMILY FARMERS. OR… to use Twitter to thank family farmers, use the hash tag #ThankAWAFarmers. On Facebook, use @Animal Welfare Approved to tag your message. We will share all of these messages with AWA farmers! Food is a central focus of any holiday, but it has impacts far beyond the table. While the majority of farm animals are raised in extreme confinement, numerous studies have shown that pasture- and range-based farming is better for the environment and brings a wide range of benefits to both animals and consumers. Our farmers are providing good, healthy food from animals raised according to the highest standards and are moving us all towards a more sustainable future. Every animal we raise outdoors on pasture brings an environmental benefit to us all – in responsible nutrient management, soil conservation and lower environmental impact. Join us in celebrating these farmers who work so hard to feed us and who are truly stewards of our planet.
When a government’s independent advisory agency on human health publicly objects to proposals for a new industrial hog operation because of the risks it poses to human health, people tend to take heed. This is exactly what has happened in a small but very significant planning battle taking place in Great Britain. Midland Pig Producers (MPP) has applied to build a state-of-the-art indoor hog production unit in Derbyshire, which would hold 2,500 sows and produce around 1,000 hogs a week for slaughter – one of the biggest industrial hog farms in the country. But in what might prove to be a fatal blow to MPP’s plans, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) – the U.K. government’s independent advisory body on health – has raised a number of human health concerns about the proposal, including the fact that “recent research has found that those living up to 150m [165 yards] downwind of an intensive swine farming installation could be at risk of adverse human health effects associated with exposure to multi-drug resistant organisms.”
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.
Is presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) attack on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) settlement with African American farmers racist? Bachmann is coming under increasing fire for characterizing a settlement to black farmers who were discriminated against as mass “fraud.” For years, black farmers alleged that they were being denied USDA farm loans or that they were forced to wait longer for loan approval than other non-minority farmers. Some contended that they endured foreclosure and financial ruin as a direct result. Following a class action lawsuit that was initiated back in 1997 – the so-called Pigford Cases – a U.S. Court has established that between 1983 and 1997 the USDA discriminated against black farmers who applied for farm loans and other assistance on the basis of their race, and that the USDA also failed subsequently to investigate or properly respond to complaints. Following this unequivocal ruling you would think that all efforts would now turn to addressing this injustice as swiftly as possible for the thousands of individuals and families who were wronged.
A recent press release issued by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) may have caught your eye. The press release heralds an “historic” new agreement on future egg production between HSUS and UEP, an industry body which represents 80% of all U.S. egg producers. A strange union, you might think, for two organizations normally at odds. So what exactly is this agreement about? In his blog, HSUS president Wayne Pacelle says that the “landmark agreement” will “help millions of hens.” HSUS has been calling for cage-free egg production for years, so an agreement to end all caged egg production would represent an enormous advancement in welfare. Sadly for the hens, that isn’t the basis of this agreement. In defiance of common sense, and all previously expressed opinion, HSUS has achieved nothing more than an agreement to work with UEP towards new legislation which will move hens out of one type of battery cage into a another slightly larger cage. An historic welfare advancement? I think not.
Monsanto Canada recently reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has granted approval for its latest GM offering, the intriguingly named “refuge in a bag” Bt corn. With all the hype surrounding GM crops, it would be easy to dismiss this announcement as just another piece of press puff from the GM giant. But unfortunately this new development is actually something we need to keep a close eye on. As we have come to expect, the government has let the GM community police itself, leaving the companies that are peddling the new technology to regulate its use. First, it is important to understand what a “refuge” is when it comes to GM crops. Despite the fact that Animal Welfare Approved has blogged extensively on the many drawbacks and dangers of GM technology, the concept of “refuge” actually relates to a problem that we haven’t covered in detail before – namely the inevitable development of pest resistance to GM crops.
Arsenic – that well-known poison made notorious by historic murder cases–was first added to poultry feed in 1944 and pretty much since that time there have been warnings of its potential to cause various cancers and contribute to other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. Until now the FDA has maintained incorrectly that there was no basis for the warning as all the arsenic would be excreted by the chicken before you and I ever ate the meat. Now the FDA has admitted that arsenic does indeed remain in the body of birds fed this dangerous element. This discovery that arsenic persists in the livers of meat chickens has caused Alpharma, a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., to voluntarily remove its arsenic containing feed additive Roxarsone from the market… You might ask why arsenic is in poultry feed at all…
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.