by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Animals

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  • Draft Guidance for Industry aimed at assisting drug companies in voluntarily removing from FDA-approved product labels uses of antibiotics for production rather than therapy,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In June 2010, FDA released a draft guidance document explaining its recommendations for change and in the interim period sought and received input from various stakeholders, including the animal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.

Dec 13 2010

FDA says 29 million pounds of antibiotics used in food animals last year

I was interested to read FoodSafetyNews this morning and learn about the FDA’s new count of the number and pounds of antibiotics used to promote the growth of farm animals used as food.

Because this is the first time the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has produced such a count, it is not possible to say whether the numbers are going up or down.  But the agency is now requiring meat producers to report on antibiotic use so we now have a baseline for measuring progress.

The FDA has been concerned about the use and misuse of animal antibiotics for some time now, so much so that in June it issued guidance on The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals.

In the Federal Register notice announcing the guidance, the FDA explains:

Misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs creates selective evolutionary pressure that enables antimicrobial resistant bacteria to increase in numbers more rapidly than antimicrobial susceptible bacteria and thus increases the opportunity for
individuals to become infected by resistant bacteria. Because antimicrobial drug use contributes to the emergence of drug resistant organisms, these important drugs must be used judiciously in both animal and human medicine to slow the development of resistance. Using these drugs judiciously means that unnecessary or inappropriate use should be avoided….

In regard to the use of antimicrobial drugs in animals, concerns have been raised by the public and components of the scientific and public health communities that a significant contributing factor to antimicrobial resistance is the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in foodproducing animals for production or growth-enhancing purposes.

The overuse of antibiotics in farm animal production was a key focus of the 2009 report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Our conclusion: the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is an enormous risk to public health and should be stopped.

The FDA report may be short and issued without comment, but it is a sign that the FDA is taking steps to address this serious public health problem.

Aug 17 2010

UK beef producers demand approval for cloned meat

According to a report in Food Chemical News (August 17), Britain’s National Beef Association wants the country’s beleaguered Food Standards Agency to allow sales of meat from cattle with a cloned grandparent.

Why?  Since the rest of the European Union and the United States allow sales of meat, milk, and other food products from animals with cloned grandparents, it’s not fair to Britain’s beef industry to prevent such sales.

The British public now knows that meat from imported cloned animals has entered their food supply.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal says those cloned animals came from Wisconsin.

This is possible because the U.S. allows cloning.  It just wishes producers of cloned animals would hold off a bit until the international regulatory situation is clarified. They have not held off.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate milk or meat from offspring of cloned animals, and doesn’t require labeling. Two years after the agency concluded those food products were safe, they’re in the American food supply.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requests that the industry continue a voluntary moratorium on placing products from original clones in the food supply to allow trade partners in other countries to pursue their own regulations.

Offspring of clones – including the animals that are the focus of British news reports – are not subject to the voluntary moratorium, and are not identified through a U.S. program that tracks clones. The clone offspring linked to the United Kingdom’s food supply were identified by the UK’s Food Standards Agency.

The British regulations distinguish between selling meat from cloned animals (banned) and meat from children or grandchildren of cloned animals (murky).

Our FDA doesn’t care one way or the other.  It says cloned meat is safe, which it well may be.  But if you prefer not to buy it, too bad for you.  The FDA does not require cloned meat to be labeled in any special way.

Organic, locally grown meat, anyone?

Jul 21 2010

Be green and healthy: eat less meat?

How can food producers become more sustainable? Use less meat in their products.

Rita Jane Gabbett writes today on Meatingplace.com, a meat industry site, about a talk given by Cheryl Baldwin of Green Seal at a recent meeting of the Institute for Food Technologists.

She told Meatingplace that meat producers should better understand “the production methods used to feed and raise animals, making sure they are treated humanely and looking for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of processing methods.” She also said that “grass-fed animals created a lower carbon footprint than those that were grain fed.”

One can only imagine the reaction of meat producers to her comments.

Meatingplace noted:

Earlier this year, however, a study by the University of New South Wales published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology indicated beef produced in feedlots had a slightly smaller carbon footprint than meat raised exclusively on pastures. (See Feedlot beef could be “greener” than grass-fed: study on Meatingplace, Feb. 8, 2010.)

More recently, Washington State University scientists concluded that improvements in U.S. beef industry productivity have reduced the environmental impact of beef production over the past decade. (See Better beef industry practices have reduced carbon footprint on Meatingplace July 15, 2010.

This follows soon after the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report’s advice to:

Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

To the meat industry, advice about health and sustainability must come as a serious challenge. Keep an eye on the “eat less meat” theme. My guess is that we will be hearing a lot more about it.

Jul 16 2010

Food safety roundup

I’ve been collecting items on food safety for the last week or two. Here’s a roundup for a quiet Friday in July:

Antibiotics in animal agriculture

     USA Today does great editorial point/counterpoints and here is one from July 12 on use of antibiotics as growth promoters or as  prophylactics in farm animals and poultry.  This selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   If we get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, too bad for us. 

     The paper’s editors think that use of antibiotics for these purposes is irresponsible:  Our view on food safety: To protect humans, curb antibiotic use in animals.

     Dr. Howard Hill, a veterinarian who directs the National Pork Producers Council, defends these uses of antibiotics: Don’t bar animal antibiotics.

The source of the 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in California spinach

     USDA and UC Davis investigators are still trying to figure out how the toxic E. coli O157:H7 got onto the spinach. Investigators did not find the bacteria on the spinach field itself, but they did find it in water, cattle, and cattle feces at a cattle crossing over a stream one mile away. Leading hypotheses: runoff from that stream or wild boar.

     Subsequent studies showed low levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in wild animals and birds.  A new study confirms that just under 4% of wild boar harbor the bacteria. 

     The investigators say the spinach outbreak of 2006 was the result of a combination of circumstances: “Everybody is starting to realize that maybe unusually heavy rainfall prior to planting could be an issue in terms of where water is routed.”

     Dairy farming is moving into California’s Central Valley in a big way.  Runoff from those farms will not be sterile and growing vegetables along water routes may be risky.  Compost, anyone?

The chemical behind Kellogg’s cereal recall

     Kellogg recalled 28 million packets of breakfast cereals last month because people reported funny smells and getting sick from something in the packaging.  At first, Kellogg would not say what the chemical contaminant might be.  

     Then it said the chemical is methylnaphthalene. Mothballs! (Are they still making mothballs?  Their smell is unforgettable)

     Tom Philpott’s comments on Grist.com point out what’s really at stake: “And of course, the real scandal is what Kellogg’s is marketing to kids: a tarted-up slurry consisting mainly of sugar, corn products, partially hydrogenated oil, and food colorings. But that’s a whole different story.”

Salsa and guacamole are sources of foodborne illness

     The CDC reports that salsa and guacamole are becoming more frequent sources of contaminants leading to illness.  CDC started collecting information on sources of outbreaks in 1973.  Its first outbreak due to salsa or guacamole occurred in 1984.  Since then, there have been 136 such outbreaks.  Restaurants and delis were responsible for 84%.  Between 1984 and 1997, salsa and guacamole outbreaks accounted for 1.5% of total foodborne outbreaks.  But the percentage rose to 3.9% from 1998 to 2008.

     Moral: make your own!

China deals with melamine in milk powder

     China is taking creative steps to prevent melamine from getting into milk powder and infant formula.  To discourage fraudulent producers from boosting up the apparent level of protein in milk with melamine, it simply reduced the amount of protein required.

The latest on food irradiation

     FoodSafetyNews.com presented a two-part series on food irradiation (part 1 and part 2), both of them quite favorable to the technology. As I discuss in my book, Safe Food, I don’t have any safety ojections to food irradiation, but I consider it a late-stage techno-fix for a problem that should never have occurred in the first place.

     I conclude with my favorite quote from former USDA official Carol Tucker Foreman: “sterilized poop is still poop.”

Enjoy a safe weekend!

May 25 2010

The Slaughterhouse Problem: is a resolution in sight?

After years of hearing sad tales about the slaughterhouse problem, it looks like many people are trying to get it resolved.  A fix no longer seems impossible.

The slaughterhouse problem is what small, local meat producers have to contend with when their animals are ready to be killed. The USDA licenses so few slaughterhouses, and the rules for establishing them are so onerous, that humanely raised (if that is the correct term) animals have to be trucked hundreds of miles to considerably less humane commercial facilities to be killed (see added note below).  Furthermore, appointments for slaughter must be made many months or years in advance — whether the animals are ready or not.

Perhaps because the USDA has just announced guidelines for mobile slaughter units, lots of people are writing about this problem. Here, for example, is what I ran across just last week:

  • Joe Cloud, who works with Joel Salatin, writes about the need for small-scale slaughterhouses in The Atlantic.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle reports Joe Cloud’s concerns that USDA regulations will put small slaughterhouses out of business.
  • Carolyn Lockwood has a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the worries of operators of small slaughterhouses about safety requirements for microbial testing.
  • Christine Muhlke writes in the New York Times magazine about her experience observing a mobile slaughterhouse developed by Glynwood’s Mobile Harvest System.
  • Marissa Guggiana, president of Sonoma Direct Meats in Petaluma, CA, says in Edible Marin & Wine Country that “in Northern California, the lack of local slaughtering options is at a crisis point.”

If enough people complain about this problem, the USDA might get moving on it.  The guidelines are a good first step.

The guidelines, by the way, are up for public comment.  For comments (or attached files with lengthier comments), go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal.   Be sure to include the agency’s name, USDA, and docket number FSIS-2010-0004.  Comments must be filed within 60 days.

Added note: the USDA has a new study of “Slaughter availability to small livestock and poultry producers — maps” that tells the story at a glance.  Many large regions of the country have limited or no access to slaughterhouses small enough to handle animals from small producers.