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How Congress Is Moving to Crush Protections for Small Meat and Poultry Producers (And Why You Should Care)

As comedian John Oliver said last week in his much-watched primer on net neutrality, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” Big Ag has known this strategy for years and perhaps no one does it better than the meatpackers and poultry companies—companies like Tyson, Smithfield, and trade organizations like the American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council. Read more

Ask Walmart to Support Healthier Animal Farming

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

Controversial Animal Drug at the Heart of International Trade Dispute

According to recent numbers, 80 percent of antibiotics on the market today are being administered to animals, much of which is given non-therapeutically to promote growth. A new report today on msnbc.com by Helena Bottemiller reveals that ractopamine hydrochloride, a growth promoting drug, has become the focus of an international trade dispute concerning its potential effects on human health.

“Although few Americans outside of the livestock industry have ever heard of ractopamine, the drug is controversial,” Bottemiller writes. “Fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the United States, it has sickened or killed more of them than any other livestock drug on the market, Food and Drug Administration records show. Cattle and turkeys have also suffered high numbers of illnesses from the drug.”

According to the story, USDA meat inspectors have reported an increase in “downer pigs”–livestock that is unable to walk–who have been fed ractopamine. On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously voted down a California ban on “downer” livestock being used in the food supply, on the basis of a federal preemption. Read more

Killing the Competition: Meat Industry Reform Takes a Blow

 

One of the least-discussed but most promising attempts at food system reform was dealt a serious blow the other day. The USDA itself eviscerated its proposed reform to a set of rules which would have given a government division with a wonky name–the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA)–authority to crack down on the way large corporate meatpackers wield power over small and mid-sized ranchers.

To say this was a lost opportunity is a vast understatement. After all, the top four companies control 90 percent of all beef processing. In the case of pork, four companies control 70 percent of the processing, while for poultry it’s nearly 60 percent. When you get that kind of market power,* abuse becomes rampant. Indeed, ranchers all around the country now agree that it’s impossible for them to get a fair price for livestock. Read more

Senate Bill Addresses Antibiotics in Animal Feed

A bipartisan group of senators re-introduced a bill late last week aimed at preserving the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by limiting their use in food animal feed. In the face of the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, public health experts and activists have pushed for regulation to limit the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

Recent estimates indicate around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to food animals.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the primary sponsor of The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, otherwise known as PAMTA, reintroduced the measure to address “the rampant overuse of antibiotics in agriculture that creates drug-resistant bacteria, an increasing threat to human beings.” Read more

GIPSA Under Attack by… A Pro-Consumer Group?

It is countdown time for the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA’s proposed rule that would protect small family livestock farmers and ranchers from the historical monopolies of the big four meat packers who control the market. You’d expect that pro-citizen groups and all enlightened meat consumers would be united in hot pursuit of fair market access for small farmers, pushing the USDA to allow the GIPSA rules to be enforced after the comment period ends on November 22nd. You’d be wrong. Read more

When Small Fails

With news of Wal-Mart shifting their purchasing priorities to attract proponents of local food and the mainstream agriculture industry launching a $30 million PR campaign to fight against their rapidly corroding image, it seems like we should be glowing in triumph… the people have spoken and the corporations are responding in fear! But it isn’t that simple.

The risk of green-washing will certainly cloud the judgment of most citizens (and Wal-Mart shoppers) rather than inspire understanding of the complex layers of contradictions “sustainable food” issues present.  Even those of us who have pledged most of our lives, and finances, to supporting and promoting the small food businesses that actually do adhere to ethical, fair, small scale practices have a hard time sorting through it all.  But what hurts the most is, even in a time when terms like “sustainable” or “artisan” or “local & organic” seem old hat and cliché, the hard facts remain that the real people working so hard to produce these foods for us still can’t always succeed. Read more

New Livestock Rules Cause House Ag Committee, Industry to Blow a Fuse

On Tuesday, a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry held a meeting in the lead up to the 2012 Farm Bill that descended into a contentious complaint session by Democrats and Republicans alike over the new rules proposed by the USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). Many Ag Committee members take campaign donations from the industries that would be affected (in the 2010 cycle, House Agriculture Committee members have taken a combined $236,500 from the poultry and egg industry, and $281,611 from the livestock industry), and their reaction makes clear then that these rules could hold the potential for real reform. Read more

How to Get the Most Out of a Farm Apprenticeship

I had my first apprenticeship the summer before my senior year of college. I had just returned from a tumultuous year abroad in South America and was ready to get back to “the simple life.” Map in hand, I scrolled through description after description of idyllic farms that participate in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners apprenticeship program. I dreamed of crates of blueberries, bundles of fresh cut flowers and baskets full of newly laid eggs. Needless to say, the excitement and possibility of a new adventure completely ran away with me. Read more