December 20, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Poultry, Big Pharma, Safeway and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

2013-happy-hol-clfBefore we begin, here’s a little holiday cheer from our CLF family to yours.

FDA on drugs for animals. Last week, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA and a controversial figure in public health circles, visited the Bloomberg School and spoke fairly candidly about what FDA can and cannot do. The big topic of the day was FDA’s recent finalization of a voluntary guidance (#213) to phase out the misuse of important antibiotics in livestock production. Read more about his talk here. Taylor feels good about the action, which he describes as the first concrete step on this issue that his agency has been able to take in 35 years. Those of us who worry about the misuse of antibiotics in industrial food animal production are skeptical that Guidance 213 will really reduce the risk. The action calls for the drug companies to voluntarily change their labels over the next three years to ban use of antibiotics for growth promotion or feed conversion (so called production uses). But, and this is a big but, the same resistance-inducing low-dose antibiotics administered through feed or water over long periods of time will still be permitted for disease prevention if authorized by a veterinarian. So, “same problem, different name” is the outcome we fear.

Bittman on FDA. In his latest essay, Mark Bittman calls out FDA on their new voluntary guidance. He contends that the agency prefers to play nice with Big Pharma and Big Food, rather than taking on the tedious, painstaking work of formally banning every drug that is used in livestock production for the wrong reasons. As our own Bob Martin is quoted in the story, “[FDA has] the authority to make these guidelines mandatory; the problem is that it’s regulation by the consent of the regulated.” Representative Louise Slaughter (D–N.Y.), a four-time sponsor of PAMTA (Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act), cuts to the chase and gives Bittman her no-nonsense take on the issue.

The cost of chicken. This Consumer Reports story breaks down how we’re really paying for all that cheap chicken we, as a nation, love to eat—one million chickens per hour, 24/7, 52 weeks per year for a grand total of more than eight billion. Aside from the more obvious concerns with food safety (remember the recent Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak?), this lengthy article delves into the issue of how we produce chickens, and how that creates a risk of nurturing antibiotic-resistant strains of common bacteria. There are also some helpful guides to the labels we see on packaged chicken (For example, Is “cage-free” meaningless?) and some pound-for-pound cost comparisons, which don’t include the externalized costs of industrial poultry production.

Calling out USDA chicken policy. This Washington Post story refers to the Consumer Reports story as well as a Pew Charitable Trusts report to point out “serious weaknesses” in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s oversight of poultry plants.

Good news from supermarkets. In this Tuesday story, the Baltimore Sun reports: “Workers for Giant Food and Safeway stores in the Baltimore-Washington region voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ratify a three-year labor contract that preserves health benefits and raises wages over three years. Leaders with the United Food and Commercial Workers characterized the contract as one of the best in the grocery business at a time when companies are scaling back benefits and offering one-time bonuses instead of wage increases.” And then on Thursday, we read a report from the Humane Society that Safeway announced it has begun eliminating gestation crates from its pork supply.

Farmworkers and food banks. Read this NPR The Salt story to find out why farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley have to rely on government aid and food banks to feed their families.

Farm Bill and food insecurity. In this Huffington Post story, Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, urges leaders and citizens to “reach out to Congress and ask that they use the Farm Bill to support health equity for all of our citizens.” Mayor Taveras name-checks several of the Farm Bill programs we support, such as SNAP-Ed and the Fresh Fruit and Veggies Program (FFVP).

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