As concerns grow about antibiotic-resistant pathogens in our food, environment, and hospitals, the Agricultural Research Service is trying to figure out the best alternatives for food animal producers, who have long relied on these miracle drugs for combating diseases and boosting feed efficiency.
Though antibiotic resistance is a known consequence of antibiotic use in both humans and animals, agricultural use has come under greater scrutiny in recent years as more consumers take an interest in how their food is produced. According to the most recent estimates, around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States each year are used in food animal production. Read more
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley Tuesday signed a bill banning arsenic in poultry feed, making his state the first to have a law against the practice on the books. Read more
Back in March, Tom Philpott wrote about the “insane” practice of feeding factory-farmed chickens arsenic:
The idea is that it makes them grow faster — fast growth being the supreme goal of factory animal farming — and helps control a common intestinal disease called coccidiosis.The industry emphasizes that the arsenic is applied in organic form, which isn’t immediately toxic. “Organic” in the chemistry sense, that is, not the agricultural sense — i.e., molecules containing carbon atoms as well as arsenic. Trouble is, arsenic shifts from organic to inorganic rather easily. Indeed, “arsenic in poultry manure is rapidly converted into an inorganic form that is highly water soluble and capable of moving into surface and ground water,” write Keeve E. Nachman and Robert S. Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
Inorganic arsenic is the highly poisonous stuff — see the absurd and wonderful Cary Grant classic Arsenic and Old Lace, or the EPA’s less whimsical take here and here [PDF]. The fact that the organic arsenic added to feed turns inorganic when it makes its way into manure is chilling, given the mountains of concentrated waste generated by factory poultry farms.
One way farmers add arsenic to chicken feed is through drugs such as Pfizer’s Roxarsone. And the industry has (as with most of its worst practices) strenuously defended the use of such additives. While the USDA has by and large ignored the risks (mostly in the form of an unwillingness to look for arsenic in chicken), finally–astonishingly–the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acted. Read more
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