On April 29, 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) released the findings of a two-and-a half-year examination of the food animal industry to the nation. Their conclusion: The current system of raising animals posed unacceptable risks to public health and the environment. Five years later, an in-depth analysis by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) determined that instead of getting better, the problem has actually gotten worse since the commission released its seminal report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. Read more
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Today, together with Causes.Com, I’m launching a new petition to take on what government officials and medical experts are increasingly calling a growing threat to public health: The overuse of antibiotics on animal farms. The petition is expected to reach as many as a half million Internet viewers this week. Petition signers are asking Walmart’s CEO, Mike Duke, to demand that its meat suppliers only use medically necessary antibiotics when an animal is sick, rather than to prevent sickness because animals are crammed in conditions that breed infection. Read more
For decades, livestock producers have used low doses of antibiotics to expedite animal growth. The practice, dubbed sub-therapeutic antibiotic therapy (STAT), lowers feed costs while increasing meat production, and nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are for this purpose. Because STAT can encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” it’s banned in many countries, but remains common in the U.S.-despite recent public pleas to stop it by two former FDA commissioners. Although STAT has been in use since the 1950s, how it works has long been a mystery. But evidence is mounting that it might be due to antibiotics killing microorganisms that populate animals’ guts. Read more
On April 8, the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center stepped into the debate about antibiotic use in animal agriculture. Under the guidance of physicians and foodservice staff alike, UCSF’s Academic Senate unanimously approved a resolution to phase out the procurement of meat raised with non-therapeutic antibiotics and urged all ten University of California campuses to do the same. This resolution is not just a symbolic decision – serving over 650,000 meals per year to patients, staff, and the community, and with a food budget of close to $7 million, UCSF and its food purchasing choices have the power to send a strong message to the market and to policymakers. Read more
The independent product testing organization Consumer Reports, which regularly tests and rates a raft of consumer products—from lawnmowers, to washing machines, to baby monitors, to cars—recently focused its meticulous consumer product testing methods on America’s turkey burgers, releasing the results of their new study of ground turkey samples from around the United States. The findings were simultaneously unappetizing and encouraging. Read more
In the latest report by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, out today in May/June issue of Eating Well magazine, looks at the growing issue of antibiotic resistance due to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock production. Reporter Barry Estabrook, author of the New York Times bestselling book Tomatoland, details how livestock are fed a diet laced with low “sub-therapeutic” doses of antibiotics, not to cure illness, but to make the animals grow faster and survive cramped living conditions. Read more
The latest round of tests by federal scientists, quietly published in February, has documented startlingly high percentages of supermarket meat containing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a new Environmental Working Group analysis.
EWG’s analysis of data buried in the federal government’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System has found that store-bought meat tested in 2011 contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of raw ground turkey, 69 percent of raw pork chops, 55 percent of raw ground beef and 39 percent of raw chicken parts. Read more
Jack Jones (who asked that his real name not be used) takes care of a small organic pear orchard for a farmer south of the San Francisco Bay Area. This spring, as the trees have begun to blossom, he’s been spraying them with a small amount of the antibiotic tetracycline to prevent a disease called fire blight.
Last year, when the perfect storm of warm, wet air first brought the bacteria to the farm, he tried removing infected branches and getting rid of cover crops, which were providing nitrogen that fed the disease. But to no avail—the disease had established itself in the trunks.
“It just devastated the orchard. We lost 80 percent of our trees in one season,” he recalls. Read more
In the livestock industry, heroes don’t always get their due. Perhaps that’s because the story of our modern animal agriculture system is so often so bleak—for farmers, animals, our health and the health of our environment.
In the U.S. pork sector, two-thirds of hog production comes from producers working under contract with mega-processors like Smithfield and Cargill. Processing is increasingly automated and farmers feel the pressures of high volume, low cost meat production. In confined animal feeding operations or “CAFOs”, pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in superbug-breeding warehouses, crowded with pens and gestation crates as far as the eye can see. Hogs are raised for maximum weight gain and routinely given antibiotics to speed up growth and prevent the very kinds of diseases that spread when so many animals live in such close, unsanitary and stressful quarters. Read more
Yesterday, Rep. Louise Slaughter, Congress’s lone microbiologist and a long-time leader on the issue of antibiotic resistance, reintroduced an updated version of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA as it is better known. Read more