Report chides animal ag policy


Fresh from the garden
Government has made ‘appalling lack of progress’ since 2008, center says; animal groups see bias

Des Moines Register – October 23, 2013

A new report blames U.S. leaders for failing to take stronger action to remedy what the group says are public health, environmental, animal welfare and rural community problems created by the industrial food animal production system.

A new analysis from the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future finds that the Obama administration and Congress have acted “regressively” in policy-making following the release in 2008 of a report from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, the groups said Tuesday.

Tuesday’s analysis looks at what has been done since release of the Pew Commission report five years ago.

“There has been an appalling lack of progress,” said Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “The failure to act by the USDA and FDA, the lack of action or concern by the Congress, and continued intransigence of the animal agriculture industry have made all of our problems worse.”

But the National Pork Producers Council said groups like the Center for a Livable Future and the original Pew Commission are spreading misinformation because they oppose “modern livestock production.”

“Just as it was five years ago, the charges against animal agriculture made in the CLF report bear little resemblance to the truth. The report is wrong in every aspect,” said Randy Spronk, a pork producer from Edgerton, Minn., and president of the National Pork Producers Council.

The Center for a Livable Future initiated “Meatless Monday” and has ties to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the “poster boy for the food police,” in light of his efforts to ban large sodas from being sold at restaurants and other businesses in his city, the Pork Council said.

The Center for a Livable Future is part of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, named for Bloomberg.

Bob Martin, executive director for the Pew Commission, said residents in states like Iowa should be the most concerned about problems identified in the report, given the concentration of hogs, cattle and other animals in the state.

Martin said “routine low-level use of antibiotics” is undertaken to compensate for overcrowding of livestock operations. That routine use is tied to antibiotic resistance in people, Martin said in an interview.

But Scott Hurd, an Iowa State University professor who participated in an Animal Agriculture Alliance news conference said, “Farmers are not overusing antibiotics.” Most of antibiotics used for animals are not used by medical doctors, he said. The Animal Agriculture Alliance is a nonprofit group made up of farmers, ranchers and processors, among other groups.

Hurd said it’s the safe, high-quality livestock production in states like Iowa that helps provide nutritious, low-cost food to Americans.

Five years ago, the Pew Commission made these recommendations:

  • Ban the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in food animal production to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance to medically important antibiotics in humans.
  • Define nontherapeutic use of antibiotics as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure.
  • Treat industrial farm animal production as an industrial operation and implement a new system to deal with farm waste, especially liquid waste systems, and to require permitting of more operations.
  • Phase out production practices such as gestation crates within a decade to improve animal well-being.
  • Aggressively enforce the existing antitrust laws applicable to food animal production and where needed, pass additional laws to provide a level playing field for producers.

“If the last five years has shown us anything, it is that the public is more engaged than ever in the food system,” said John Carlin, former governor of Kansas and chairman of the Pew Commission. “The results of this analysis show that our policymakers are really not listening to their constituents.”

The Pew Commission included members from Iowa: Frederick Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and president of Stone Barns, New York; and James Merchant, former dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health.