by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Animals

Nov 22 2013

Weekend reading: Deer Hunting in Paris (Maine, that is)

Paula Young Lee.  Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat.  How a Preacher’s Daughter Refuses to Get Married, Travels the World, and Learns to Shoot.  Solas House, 2013.

The topic of this cross-cultural memoir—game hunting—would not ordinarily interest me but once I starting flipping through its pages I found myself reading it cover to cover.  For one thing, Paula Lee sounds like someone anyone would enjoy having as a friend. She’s easy to be with as she tells the story of her Korean-American background as a Maine preacher’s daughter, and her partnership with a stuffy but warm-sounding guy in Wellesley, Massachusetts who spends every free moment hunting on his family’s property in Maine.  Paula, a trained chef,* cooks what they shoot.    She also casts an affectionate eye on the backwoods hunting culture.  I can’t say it’s a culture I’d care to adopt (I’m not much for killing animals and Maine winters are cold), but I was fascinated to learn about it from a companion who writes well and tells a good story.

*Addition: Paula informs me that she is not, in fact, a trained chef.  She “just cooks” [I'd say she writes about food like a trained chef].  She says she “started out as an academic historian, migrated into the cultural history of meat via a study of slaughterhouses…and am now mostly a food writer focusing on wild meat.”

 

Oct 23 2013

Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production: Update

I was a member of this Pew Commission, which produced a landmark report in 2008: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

Our report’s conclusion: The current system of raising farm animals poses unacceptable risks to public health, to communities near Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and to the environment.

Our key recommendations:

  1. Ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production.
  2. Define nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure.
  3. Implement new systems to deal with farm waste.
  4. Phase out gestation crates, restrictive veal crates, and battery cages.
  5. Enforce the existing environmental and anti-trust laws applicable to food animal production.
  6. Expand animal agriculture research.

Recently, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) did an in-depth analysis of what has happened with these recommendations.  Its dismal conclusion: The problems have only gotten worse.

Many hoped the release of the report, which occurred within a year of a change in the administration, would help trigger a sea change in the federal government’s approach to regulating the food animal production industry…Early administrative appointments to top regulatory posts held promise for meaningful changes.

CLF’s review of the policy-landscape changes in the five years since the release of the report paints a very different picture. Contrary to expectations, the Obama administration has not engaged on the recommendations outlined in the report in a meaningful way; in fact, regulatory agencies in the administration have acted regressively in their decision-making and policy-setting procedures.

In addition, the House of Representatives has stepped up the intensity of its attacks on avenues for reform and stricter enforcement of existing regulations, paving the way for industry avoidance of scrutiny and even deregulation, masked as protection of the inappropriately termed “family farmer.”

The assaults on reform have not been limited to blocking policies…Instead, the policy debate…has shifted to the implementation of policies such as “ag-gag”, agricultural certainty, and right-to-farm laws, all of which are designed to further shield unsavory industry practices from the eye of the public and the intervention of regulators.

This week, some of the Commission members answered questions from ProPolitico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.  Ralph Loglisci reports in Civil Eats on that meeting and his conversation with former Pew Commission director Robert Martin, who is now the Center for a Livable Future’s Director of Food System Policy:

I think issues are going to drive change at some point. You’ve got this big group of people who want to see change. The problems of antibiotic resistance are worsening–the problems of 500 million tons of (animal) waste we produce each year are worsening and the ground in many areas of the country is really saturated with phosphorous. You can’t transport the material, so you’ve got to disperse the animals. So, the problems are reaching really a crisis point. So that could really force action too.

Is there any hope?  It sounds like things will have to get worse before they get better.  But how much worse?

I wish there were better news.  Food safety, animal welfare, and environmental advocates: get together and get busy!

Sep 26 2013

CDC’s thoroughly convincing report on the threat of antibiotic resistance

The CDC has produced a major study on antibiotic resistance and how it works. 

The report provides convincing evidence that use of antibiotics in farm animals must be restricted to therapeutic purposes—and not used to promote growth.

Apr 29 2013

Happy 5th Birthday: Pew Commission

Five years ago today, The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released its report: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

I was a member of the commission, put together by Pew  Charitable Trusts in partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and chaired by John Carlin, a former governor of Kansas.

The commission met for two years to investigate the effects of the current system of intensive animal production on public health, the environment, the communities housing confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and on the welfare of farm animals.

As a member, I had the opportunity to visit huge dairy farms, feedlots, pig farms, and facilities housing 1.2 million chickens.  This was, to say the least, quite an education.

The big issues? Overuse of antibiotics and the shocking environmental impact of vast amounts of animal waste.

The big surprise? Plenty of adequate laws exist to protect the environment and communities; they just aren’t being enforced.

A New York Times editorial noted that farm policies have turned “animal husbandry…into animal abuse,” and need rethinking and revision.

Indeed they did and do. 

As with all such reports, this one made too many recommendations but the most important ones had to do with the inappropriate use of antibiotics in farm animal production:

Restrict the use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics.

Another key recommendation:

Fully enforce current federal and state environmental exposure regulations and legislation, and increase monitoring  of the possible public health effects of IFAP [industrial farm animal production] on people who live and work in or near these operations.

And my sentimental favorite:

Create a Food Safety Administration that combines the food inspection and safety responsibilities of the federal government, USDA, FDA, EPA, and other federal agencies into one agency to improve the safety of the US food supply.

What good do reports like this do?

The report established a strong research basis for the need for policies to clean up industrial farm animal production and better protect the health and welfare of everyone and everything involved: workers, communities, the environment, and the animals themselves.

This is a good time to take another look at the report and consider how its basic—and absolutely necessary—recommendations can be put in place, and the sooner the better.

Aug 24 2012

Weekend reading: Food Addiction and Animal Agriculture

Kelly Brownell and Mark Gold.  Food and Addiction: A Comprehensive Handbook.  Oxford, 2012

I blurbed this one:

Brownell and Gold have produced an instant classic.  Food and Addiction presents a comprehensive, authoritative, and compelling case for considering whether food is addictive.  Its chapters raise serious questions about our current laissez-faire attitude toward food marketing, especially to children.  This book is a must read for everyone who cares about the causes and consequences of obesity and the need for food policies that better promote health.  It is a game changer.  Readers will never look at food the same way again.

The book is a collection of edited pieces by a variety of authors with distinctly different approaches and viewpoints, ranging from the seriously scientific (“is food addiction real?” to to the thoroughly anecdotal (“I am a food addict”).  The editors deserve much praise for casting so wide a net and for their cautious interpretation of the available science.  Is food addictive in ways similar to alcohol or cocaine?  In some ways yes, maybe, and no.  Read it and decide for yourself.

Martha Rosenberg.  Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health.  Prometheus, 2012.

This book is better than it’s flashy, misleading title would suggest.  It doesn’t seem to be at all about McDonald’s or soft drinks.  Instead, the first half is about Big Pharma and the marketing of drugs that don’t do much good but cause plenty of harm.  The second half is devoted to the same kind of analysis of Big Food, but mostly focuses on animal agriculture: bovine growth hormone, antibiotic resistance, salmon farming, mad cow, and the safety of animal foods.  I liked the cartoon illustrations by the author.

Apr 12 2012

The FDA takes action on animal antibiotics, at long last

Yesterday, the FDA proposed long-awaited action against use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes in animal agriculture.

From the outside, this might look more like inaction.  The agency is asking drug companies to voluntarily cut back on producing antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes and to require veterinary oversight of use of these drugs.

The announcement comes in the form of three documents in the Federal Register.

  • Final Guidance for Industry: The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals.
  • Draft Guidance for Industry aimed at assisting drug companies in voluntarily removing from FDA-approved product labels uses of antibiotics for production rather than therapy, and voluntarily changing the marketing status to include veterinary oversight.  This is open for public comment.
  • A draft of a proposed Veterinary Feed Directive regulation,  also open for public comment, outlining how veterinarians can authorize the use of antibiotics in animal feed.

In an FAQ on the announcement, the FDA answers some obvious questions:

4. What is “judicious use” and what are FDA’s recommendations?

“Judicious use” is using an antimicrobial drug appropriately and only when necessary;

Based on a thorough review of the available scientific information, FDA recommends that use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals be limited to situations where the use of these drugs is necessary for ensuring animal health, and their use includes veterinary oversight or consultation.

FDA believes that using medically important antimicrobial drugs to increase production in food-producing animals is not a judicious use (my emphasis).

5. Why did FDA decide to do this now?

FDA has worked with many stakeholder groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a strategy that will be successful in reducing antimicrobial resistance while minimizing adverse impacts on animal health and disruption to the animal agricultural industry.

In June 2010, FDA released a draft guidance document explaining its recommendations for change and in the interim period sought and received input from various stakeholders, including the animal pharmaceutical industry, animal feed industry, veterinary and animal producer communities, consumer advocacy groups and USDA.

Translation: this has been in the works for a long time and is the result of extensive discussions with the relevant industries.

As Food Safety News explains, the reaction of just about everyone to this announcement has been tepid.

  • Food safety advocates object to voluntary, because it never works.
  •  The meat industry insists that non-therapeutic antibiotics are essential for producing cheap meat under crowded conditions.

For example, the National Pork Producers make the usual industry arguments:

Harm to small farmers: The guidance could eliminate antibiotics uses that are extremely important to the health of animals…And the requirement for VFDs [veterinary oversight] could be problematic, particularly for smaller producers or producers in remote areas who may not have regular access to veterinary services.

Voluntary equals regulation: The guidance, which does not have the force of law but may be treated as such by FDA, is a move to address an increase in antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans, which opponents of modern animal agriculture blame on the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production.

The science is “junk”: But numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments, including at least one by FDA, show a “negligible” risk to human health of antibiotics use in food-animal production.

My interpretation:

The FDA’s position on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is quite clear.  The agency recognizes that based on the science, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animals poses a serious risk to human health.

I’m guessing this is the best the FDA can do in an election year.

This move looks to me like a direct challenge to drug companies and meat producers to clean up their acts and take some responsibility for the effects of their misuse of animal antibiotics on public health.

It’s also a challenge to food safety advocates to make sure that the FDA monitors the effects of its voluntary guidance and, if the industries don’t cooperate, that the FDA gets busy on real regulations.

Addition: The account in today’s New York Times explains why the FDA is starting with voluntary efforts:

The reason for the reliance on voluntary efforts is that the F.D.A.’s process for revoking approved drug uses is lengthy and cumbersome, officials said. The last time the F.D.A. banned an agricultural use of a medically important antibiotic against the wishes of its maker, legal appeals took five years. In this case, hundreds of drugs are involved, each with myriad approved uses in various animals.

“You and I and our children would be long dead before F.D.A. could restrict all of these uses on its own,” Ms. Rogers [of the Pew Foundation]said.

Feb 22 2012

The infamous Chipotle video: will it help get rid of gestation crates?

In an op-ed in the New York Times this week, Blake Hurst takes on the Chipotle video that got national attention when played during the Grammy Awards. 

If you have not seen this advertisement for Chipotle Mexican Grill, it is well worth a look

Coldplay’s haunting classic “The Scientist” is performed by country music legend Willie Nelson for the soundtrack of the short film entitled “Back to the Start.” The film, by film-maker Johnny Kelly, depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system.

The video has had immediate effects.  Hurst, a former hog farmer who is now president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, notes that “The day after it ran, McDonald’s announced that it would require its pork suppliers to end the use of gestation crates.”  Unfortunately,  as Grist points out, this announcement could just be “porkwashing” since the company neglected to say by when. 

And then Bon Appétit  Management Company announced a comprehensive animal welfare policy that phases out gestation crates by 2015.

Hurst defends the use of sow gestation crates. 

These crates do restrict pigs’ movements, but farmers use them to control the amount of feed pregnant sows consume. When hogs are grouped in pens together, aggressive sows eat too much and submissive sows too little, and they also get in violent fights at feeding time. The only other ways to prevent these problems are complicated, expensive or dangerous to the pigs.

Really?  I was a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.  Our report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, came out in 2008.

During the course of the investigations that led to this report, we visited an industrial hog farm in Kansas where I got a first-hand look at sow gestation crates in (in)action. 

I knew about sow crates, of course, but even so was completely unprepared for the sight of a pregnant sow confined between bars that allowed her only to stand up, lie down, and eat—during the entire 115 days of her pregnancy. 

When we asked why this was necessary, we got this answer: it is easier for the managers. 

  • Workers do not have to be trained in animal husbandry.
  • Cleaning chores are easier. 
  • Feed can be measured.
  • The sows cannot fight.
  • The sows cannot kill their babies.

Seeing my evident distress, Bill Niman, who was also on the Commission, offered an antidote.  The next day, we drove 100 miles or so and visited Paul Willis’s hog farm.  This is featured in another Chipotle video

Willis claims that his relatively free-range sows (confined in fields by electric fences) are nearly as productive.  His animals get to roll in the mud.  They do not fight and do not kill their piglets.

Yes, their meat ends up on the plate no matter how the animals are raised.  But means matter as much as ends. 

Kindness to animals is a  mark of humanity. 

Getting rid of sow crates is a good idea, and the sooner the better.       

Apr 13 2011

Let’s Ask Marion: Does Factory Farming Have a Future?

This is one of a series of occasional Q and A’s from Eating Liberally’s Kerry Trueman.

Submitted by KAT on Wed, 04/13/2011 – 9:12am.

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat, aka Kerry Trueman, corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Pet Food Politics, What to Eat and Food Politics :)

KAT: We talk a lot about the factory farms that provide most of our meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, but most Americans have no idea what really goes on inside a CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.

You, however, saw a number of these fetid facilities firsthand when you served on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production a couple of years ago. And industrial livestock production’s role in degrading our environment, undermining our health, abusing animals and exploiting workers in the name of efficiency has been well-documented, most recently in Dan Imhoff’s massive, and massively disturbing, coffee table book CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories.

Given all the problems inherent in industrial livestock production, do you see a future for factory farming?

Dr. Nestle: I do not think factory farming is going away. Most people like meat and want to eat it, and do so the minute they get enough money to buy it.

I think a more realistic question is this: Can factory farming be done better? The interesting thing about the Pew Commission’s investigations was that we were taken to factory farms where people were trying to do things right, or at least better. Even so, it was mind-boggling to see an egg facility that gave whole new meaning to the term “free range.” And these eggs were organic, yet. The hens were not caged, but there were thousands of them all over each other. This place did a fabulous job of composting waste and the place did not smell bad. But it did not in any way resemble anyone’s fantasy of chickens scratching around in the dirt.

Factory farming raises issues about its effects on the animals, the environment, the local communities, and food safety. As someone invested in public health and food safety, I care about all of those. The effects on the animals are obvious, and those will never go away no matter how well everything else is done.

But the everything else could be done much, much better. The first big issue is animal waste. It stinks. It’s potentially dangerous. Most communities have laws that forbid this level of waste accumulation, but the laws are not enforced, often because the communities are poor and disenfranchised.

The second is antibiotics, particularly the use of antibiotic drugs as growth promoters. This selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and is, to say the least, not a good idea.

The factory farming system could be greatly improved by forcing the farms to manage waste and restricting use of antibiotics. This will not solve the fundamental problems, but it will help.

I’m hoping that more environmentally friendly meat production will expand, and factory farming will contract. That would be better for public health in the short and long run.

NOTE: If you’re in the NYC area, please join Eating Liberally and Kitchen Table Talks this Thursday, April 14th at NYU’s Fales Library, 6:30 p.m. to hear Dr. Nestle, Dan Imhoff, and Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss address the question “What’s the Matter with Mass-Produced Meat?” The discussion will be moderated by Paula Crossfield of Civil Eats. Event details here.

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