At a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday, July 14, 2010, a representative of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally caught up with the rest of the world—and his peers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and admitted that the use of antibiotics in farm animal feed is contributing to the growing problem of deadly antibiotic resistance in America. Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) read from his previously submitted testimony that the USDA believes it is likely that U.S. use of antibiotics in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of resistance in humans and the animals. Why is this news? Because the USDA has been continually playing the Three Wise Monkeys game—it sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil—when it comes to deadly consequences to humans of the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals. In fact, Dr. Clifford looked as he’d been given a choice between testifying or having his eye poked out with a stick and he lost the toss. Others, though, readily stepped up to the plate. Despite the feeble nature of the recent FDA Guidance to Industry on farm animal antibiotics (read more about this in our blog), Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Principle Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, was clear in his testimony that the overall weight of evidence supports the conclusion that using antibiotics for production purposes in livestock farming (as growth promoters and to prevent rather than treat illness) is not in the interest of protecting and promoting public health. Dr. Sharfstein also turned away a challenge from Representative John Shimkus (R-IL 19) about the soundness of the science upon which his findings rest. Mr. Shimkus, obviously unhappy with Dr. Sharfstein’s testimony, badgered him to come up with up a U.S. peer-reviewed study (which Dr. Sharfstein did—a 2003 Institute of Medicine study) and then questioned the veracity of the findings. Dr. Sharfstein assured Mr. Shimkus that the Institute has a peer-review process in place and reminded him that “the Institute is considered our nation’s leading scientific expert...”
Much to our dismay, Issue 2 has passed in Ohio. AWA will be monitoring the situation to see if other states try to enact similar Livestock Control Boards. Keep checking our blog for updates.
As Program Director for Animal Welfare Approved, a free third-party food label that certifies family farms raising their animals outdoors using high-welfare practices, I generally sit out ballot box battles over farm animal welfare. Our efforts at Animal Welfare Approved focus on supporting sustainable family farms, high-welfare production and consumer education.
So the fact that I’m going to ask Ohioans to vote against Issue 2 this coming Tuesday will seem unusual to those who know me and my organization. But the case is clear. Our farmers are telling me that Issue 2 is not what it seems and attention should be paid.
The basic problem with Issue 2 is summed up by Animal Welfare Approved farmer Dennis Adams of Cota Farms in Cardington. He says: “Issue 2 is not about farm animals, it’s about control. The measure is a fake, a sham.”
Animal Welfare Approved is proud to occupy the middle ground, a place where family farmers raise their animals using high-welfare practices without compromising quality, farm viability, price or the planet. The middle ground is built on trust, transparency and choice. Consumers get to know and trust our farmers. Consumers can trust Animal Welfare Approved to be open and honest about the work we do. It works. Imagine that openness and trust disappearing behind a non-elected panel protected by a state constitution.
Pasture-based dairy farmer Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery has become an outspoken opponent of Issue 2. “Issue 2 is about letting one group control and limit choices in the marketplace,” he states. Animal Welfare Approved farmer Phil Sherry of Nothing But Nature Farm in Oakwood, concurs. “Issue 2 is taking advantage of the fact that people care deeply about animals and want to see them treated well. But what Issue 2 will really do is take away our rights as consumers. And that won’t help farm animals.”
According to Taylor, the principles behind Issue 2 are “fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-diversity.” His concern is that the measure would further agribusiness practices without giving the public any recourse. Adams backs him up, saying, “As far as I can tell, the only thing that will change with the passage of Issue 2 is that it will be harder to change laws that benefit large, conventional agriculture. I don’t see anything in the measure that assures me animals will benefit; in fact, what I see is a measure designed to make sure nothing happens.”
Taylor believes that ensuring farm animal welfare should be driven by consumers equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions when purchasing their food. “Democracy implies that people have a right and even a responsibility to know and influence how their food is produced, processed, labeled, inspected, regulated, and subsidized. Issue 2 is asking people to give up that right.”
I agree with Warren Taylor. The Animal Welfare Approved program has experienced tremendous growth because consumers have access to information and exercise their rights. We are strong proponents of truth-in-labeling and transparency and we live our ideals by making our standards freely available on our website. Our success depends on a wealth of information, not on a lack of information. Information arms consumers with the knowledge to make choices, and they do.
Over the past year, the number of farmers’ markets has increased by 13%. The market for 100% grassfed beef has grown considerably; it’s becoming mainstream. Conversely, the market for crated veal plummeted after consumers became aware of production practices that they found unsettling and indefensible. All of these changes have greatly benefitted farm animals and none have come about by way of a hastily conceived ballot measure.
Issue 2 is the knee-jerk response of agribusiness to what it sees as an animal rights end run around their best interests. It has nothing to do with the welfare of farm animals or the protection of family farmers. What Issue 2 will really do is limit the ability of consumers to vote with their dollars by concentrating power and decision making in the hands of 13 non-elected, politically appointed board members.
Vote No on Issue 2.
Andrew Gunther is Program Director for Animal Welfare Approved. The Animal Welfare Approved program and food label promote the well-being of animals and the sustainability of humane family farms, uniting conscientious consumers with farmers who raise their animals with respect. The Animal Welfare Approved program was recently lauded by the World Society for the Protection of Animals as having the highest animal welfare standards of any third party certifier in the US. www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org