Congressional briefing by meat industry provides no new information

The Meat Industry* hosted a Congressional briefing on Tuesday (2/23/2010) in Washington D.C. on antibiotics in livestock and poultry production. The purpose of the briefing was to uncover, in the moderator’s words, the ‘true science’ on antibiotics. Contrary to his assertion, there was very little science presented.

Instead, the briefing featured anecdotes from two veterinarians (Dr. Craig Rowles and Dr. Leon Weaver) who each spoke on how they responsibly manage their own farms. I’m curious as to how representative this is of most farms. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a live-in veterinarian on every farm to diagnose diseases and prescribe medication on a day-to-day basis? Rowles admitted that typically veterinarians visit swine farms only once a month.

A third speaker (Dr. Timothy Cummings) who focused on poultry provided no scientific findings that supported his anecdotal recollections of flock health management with antibiotics in feed – I found this surprising, given his affiliation with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University. It would be reasonable to assume that he would have some interesting published data on antibiotics use in poultry to share.

The final speaker was a DVM/PhD researcher from West Texas A&M University (Dr. Guy Loneragan) who discussed antibiotic use in beef cattle. This was the first speaker to engage the audience with any sort of science, though his slides with data were not cited.  I appreciate Loneragan responding to my email with three citations for his slides.  His characterization of the science behind antimicrobial resistance as a black-and-white issue was misleading and polarizing, though I did appreciate his discussion of a risk benefit approach that implicitly acknowledged that there were risks to using antibiotics. Read More >

Fish and Health: More to the Story

I’d like to expand a little on my recent interview for a CNN piece by Elizabeth Landau entitled “Farmed or wild fish: Which is healthier?

At face value, this question can partialy be answered by comparing the nutritional content in farmed and wild fish and weighing the health benefits of fish consumption against the risks of pollutants present in fish. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has expertly covered this topic in Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks, and authorities like Dr. Charles Santerre, have produced an excellent seafood consumer guide (Fish for Your Health wallet card) based on Omega-3 fatty acids, mercury and PCBs in fish. These comprehensive benefit-risk analyses and consumer-friendly information are useful and important contributions, though focus solely on human health.


In any discussion of seafood, it is also important to consider the negative impacts of fish farming or wild-caught fishing can have on the environment. These environmental impacts are considered as the basis for progressive fish certification schemes (examples: Friends of the Sea or Marine Stewardship Council) and consumer recommendation lists (example: Monterey Bay Aquarium wallet card) (read more). Sustainability should be an important consumer consideration, though in these certification schemes and consumer guidance materials, human health considerations are often absent.

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Is Smithfield Decision Not to Replace Gestation Crates Ethical?

alan-goldbergAlan Goldberg, Ph.D., is a former commissioner of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and is a guest blogger today for Livable Future.

The largest pork producer in the world, Smithfield Foods Inc., says it can’t afford to go through with one of its much-ballyhooed animal welfare improvement plans. The company said that it must delay plans to replace its “gestation crates” for pregnant sows with more humane “group housing.” Frankly, the decision comes as no surprise to me. Back in 2007, when the company announced that its 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be converted within 10 years, the executives refused to admit that the crates were inhumane. Rather, they said their decision was based on consumer preference. If Smithfield were truly concerned about growing consumer awareness and/or preference concerning how animals are raised for food, it would have also required that all of its contract facilities convert within the same 10-year span.

These gestation crates truly are appalling, and some have used the word cruel.  A sow living in a typical industrial facility will spend the majority of her life confined in these metal and concrete stalls that are so small that she can barely lie down, let alone turn around. I won’t belabor how awful gestation crates are – they are awful. Chances are you’ve heard a great deal about them as the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare organizations campaigned across the country in efforts to legally have them banned.  So far, six states have laws on the books that ban producers from using gestation crates. The European Union was ahead of the curve, requiring farmers to replace all gestation crates by 2013.

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Poultry Run-off, Antibiotics Use Must Be Addressed

The recently-released report from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (“Experts Urge U.S. to Bar Drugs in Animal Feed,” The Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2008) not only sheds further light on issues that should concern everyone in the Chesapeake Bay Region, but also offers some achievable recommendations to help improve our state’s resources for generations to come.

The comprehensive 2-1/2 year study by the Pew Commission, which focused on the effects of industrial farm animal production on public health, the environment, animal welfare, and rural America, found the routine use of antibiotics, along with poor-to-nonexistent waste handling procedures, of particular concern. These findings should resonate with Maryland residents who have witnessed the dramatic degradation of the Chesapeake Bay. Read More >

Where’s the Grain?

Note: This is a response to an editorial posted in the New York Times.

Thursday’s Editorial (“The World Food Crisis,” New York Times, April 10, 2008) questioned the environmental and ethical impact of corn ethanol production. The question is: With more people and less grain, should we put the food in our gas tanks or in our stomachs?

It’s a good question. Here is another one: With more people and less grain, should we put so much grain into cows?

In the United States 70 percent of the corn harvest is fed to livestock.

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What Would Brian Roberts Eat?

An alarming trend will be making an appearance at many of America’s baseball parks on Opening Day this year. Along with the usual festivities synonymous with this rite of Spring-the first pitch of the season, the crack of the bat, kids sitting in the stands with glove in hand, hoping to catch a foul ball-comes the prospect of a not-so-obvious threat to our nation’s health: the compounding of our already out-of-control obesity epidemic. And the marketing geniuses behind America’s big league parks are the culprit. In their quest to fill empty seats of under performing teams, they have embraced a new tool: offering unlimited food and drink for a price. At most participating parks, fans paying an extra premium can consume unlimited hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, soda and water. (Beer and desserts are extra).

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