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.
Just when you thought the scandal surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops couldn't get any worse, breaking news of a novel pathogenic microorganism that might be linked to GM agriculture is spreading like wildfire across the internet. While you couldn't write a better sci-fi script if you tried, this research is potentially of grave concern. A senior U.S. soil scientist has written to the federal government about a novel microorganism apparently linked to GM crops that may have the potential to cause infertility and spontaneous abortion in farm animals, raising significant concerns about human health. The letter was written to the USDA in light of the then pending decision to approve Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Yet it appears that no official action was taken to investigate the research before the green light was given for commercial planting.
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.
Animal Welfare Approved is proud to be a partner on a new project with the world renowned Bristol University Veterinary School, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Soil Association, all in the United Kingdom. The “AssureWel” project will improve how animal welfare is assessed. “AssureWel” will assess the outcome of standards, rather than just judging how well a farm complies with standards. We’ll be able to see exactly how well animals do over the course of their lives. Judging compliance of animal welfare standards is simple—an auditor will look to see how much space an animal has, what kind of food they are getting, and the like. But outcome measurements, sometimes described as animal-based measures, look at things like animal behavior and health, as well as at farm records on lameness incidence and mortality. By combining both the outcome of standards and a farm’s compliance with standards, auditors will get the best picture possible of animal welfare. Using input and outcome measurements, auditors will gain deeper insight into the outcomes and overall quality of life for animals. AWA standards already do this in many areas, but “AssureWel” takes standards auditing to a new level of transparency and fact-based research. Greater use of outcome measurements in welfare programs ensure that scientifically sound judgments can be made to confirm that the animals in the programs attain real welfare benefits.
Reprinted by permission from the Organic Consumers Association In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack. In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.
Now in its third year, the AWA Good Husbandry Grants program is helping promote innovative, forward thinking farming techniques that ultimately enhance farm viability. Twenty-eight grants have been awarded to farms and slaughter plants across the nation to improve animal welfare and allow pasture-based farmers to increase productivity for their operations. The 2010-2011 Good Husbandry Grants range from $600 to $6000 and were open to current Animal Welfare Approved farmers and those who have applied to join the program, as well as slaughter plants working with or seeking to work with AWA farmers. The funding priorities included genetic improvement for pasture-based systems; outdoor access and mobile housing; welfare improvements in the slaughter process; non-lethal predator control and other innovative projects that improve the welfare of animals.
The news that scientists think it is possible to genetically modify a chicken to make it resistant to avian influenza--also known as “bird flu”-- had me spitting feathers. Talk about treating the symptoms and not the cause! A BBC news piece on January 13 highlights the gallant efforts of scientists to cure the scourge of bird flu using GM technology. Researchers from a joint project between Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities have inserted an artificial gene into chicken cells that would make a chicken resistant to bird flu. The scientists go on to say that they think the potential to protect any farm animal from any viral disease is now only a test tube away. Professor Helen Sang said, “This is really exciting because bird flu is a real challenge to poultry production and if it were introduced to poultry breeding it would protect our large scale production flocks from avian influenza.”
Watching James Bond films is for some of us a family tradition over the Christmas holiday, mostly because the stories are so big and farfetched. You know, where the bad guys are found to be secretly coercing governments – and even entire countries – to aid and abet corporate global domination, and where good old Felix from the CIA saves the day and helps Mr. Bond defeat the evildoers. But in a bizarre twist to the plot, it now looks like the real-life Felix may have actually been working for Monsanto and the Big Ag lobby all along. An article in The Guardian newspaper this week on the latest batch of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveals that the U.S. embassy in Paris advised Washington in 2007 to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified (GM) crops. It’s exactly the kind of plot that you’d expect to see in a James Bond movie. One of cables is from Craig Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France from 2005-2009. In that cable, Stapleton expresses his concern that France might soon pass laws that could hamper the expansion of GM crops in Europe, and calls on Washington to punish the EU – particularly countries not supporting the use of GM crops. “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits… "
In a side-by-side comparison of farm animal welfare standards, Animal Welfare Approved is shown to be one of the best. A leading welfare organization, Humane Farm Animal Care, has just published a comparison of standards including USDA/Organic, American Humane Certified, Global Animal Partnership (GAP/Whole Foods Market) and others, and once again, AWA’s standards are the most rigorous requiring pasture access and grass-based production. The comparison chart shows key elements of standards such as outdoor access for animals, antibiotic use, transparency and managerial conflicts of interest. Across the board, AWA was ranked the best, as it has time and again.
Apparently the 10th time's the charm. After nine previous attempts to get the Pigford vs. Glickman settlement funded by Congress, the 111th Senate has appropriated $1.15 billion to resolve the many longstanding lawsuits filed by black farmers systematically discriminated against by the USDA. "This is a huge, huge victory for myself and black farmers, many of whom have died waiting for justice," said John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association. "I have been working on this thing for 26 years. I've been hearing 'no' for so very long." The initial lawsuit was settled out of court in 1997. However Congress has since failed to appropriate the funds necessary to address farmers' claims. The legislation must now go back to the House for passage during the lame duck session in order to become law. Both President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack applauded this recent decision. Obama issued a statement Friday saying, "I urge the House to move forward with this legislation as they did earlier this year, and I look forward to signing it into law." For updates on the Pigford Settlement and upcoming legislation visit the National Black Farmers Association website.
Recently John Stossel of FOX Business Channel has aired a number of segments disparaging sustainable agriculture. His issues have included the use of herbicides and pesticides, grainfed vs. grassfed beef, genetically modified salmon and food safety. Is Stossel going out of his way to be outrageously provocative? To what end? And for whose benefit? Certainly we are not the only ones to condemn these reports as being inaccurate, unbalanced and biased, as the many comments to the reports attest. Stossel would no doubt accuse me of being unrealistic and only supporting small scale farms. However, the reality is that to keep the planet healthy and fed we will need to employ a wide range of solutions. Sadly, the last 40 years of ”big ag’s” version of the solution has shown chronic failure in the form of antibiotic resistance, tainted water and some of the largest food recalls in history. Too bad Stossel doesn’t recognize that we have to stop using the planet – a finite resource – as “big ag’s” test tube.
Animal Welfare Approved has an annual tradition of thanking the family farmers who work so hard, year in and year out, to produce healthy, safe, humane 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 this harvest holiday of Thanksgiving, and throughout the year. Please take this opportunity, by including a comment below, to share your appreciation for the farmers in your life. You may also comment via Facebook and Twitter (#ThankAWAfarmers). If you are a farmer, tell us about fellow farmer or mentor who has influenced your development or has helped you along the way. Thank you for sharing, and for supporting pasture-based farming this holiday season!