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.
Following a study published today on the discovery of MRSA in British milk, the Soil Association is calling for the end of routine antibiotic use in dairy farming. A new type of MRSA bacteria was discovered by scientists from Cambridge University in samples of milk taken from cows with mastitis. This is the first time that MRSA has been found in farm animals in the UK. Commenting on the research, Helen Browning OBE, Director of the Soil Association said: “In the relentless drive for increased per animal productivity, and under acute price pressure, dairy systems are becoming ever more antibiotic dependent. We need to get farmers off this treadmill, even if that means that milk has to cost a few pennies more. That would be a very small price to pay for maintaining the efficacy of these life-saving drugs.”
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 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.
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.
News is breaking that Chinese scientists have created genetically modified (GM) cattle using human genes to produce "human-like" milk in a bid to make cow's milk more nutritious. The intention is to produce it on an industrial scale to replace formula milk and breast milk, when normal breast feeding is either not possible or undesirable. The Telegraph newspaper reports that scientists at the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University have successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce what they call "human-like" cow milk. It is well known that human breast milk contains key nutrients that can help to boost the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of infections. The scientists wanted to find a way to produce an alternative to human breast milk and formula milk on an industrial scale, with the eventual aim of getting this GM "human-like" cow's milk on supermarket shelves.
Earlier this week the Public Patent Foundation filed a law suit against biotech giant Monsanto on behalf of more than 270,000 plaintiffs – including thousands of certified organic family farmers, seed-saving organizations and farmer advocacy groups. The aim of this preemptive law suit is to prevent Monsanto from suing organic farmers and seed growers if their organic crops and seeds are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s GM crops. Sounds an unlikely scenario? Well, when it comes to GM contamination I’m afraid that the “Polluter Pays Principle” flies out of the window. Monsanto has already taken aggressive legal action against hundreds of farmers across the U.S. (and beyond) for alleged patent infringements, in which the farmers are sued for allegedly obtaining GM seed illegally and planting it without paying Monsanto for the privilege. Intellectual property rights law means that Monsanto owns the genes it has inserted into its GM crops. So if Monsanto’s GM police (oh yes, they really do exist) subsequently find those genes in plants on a farmer’s field – and he or she has not legally purchased GM seed – then Monsanto can sue.
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.
When news broke last week that a leading U.S. scientist had written to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to warn of a potential new threat linked to Roundup Ready GM crops, it didn’t take long for Monsanto’s PR machine to kick into gear. Dr. Don Huber – Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, with more than 40 years experience as a plant pathologist – wrote to the USDA in January to call for a delay in the approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa. He was concerned about preliminary evidence that he had seen of a new “microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings” that could be linked to GM agriculture – and particularly the use of glyphosate herbicide (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup).