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Factory Farms Face Reform Pressures
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by Craigs Weatherby

A few years back, some fast food chains promised to force their suppliers to raise their beef, pork, and chicken more humanely.
While we applaud those steps, they were limited, and most of the meat and poultry Americans consume is still being produced under crowded, often inhumane conditions.
Last month, even the industry-friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted to a clear link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and drug resistance in humans.
In testimony to a House committee the Agriculture Department confirmed that science shows a link between use of antibiotics in livestock and human health.
Antibiotics are fed to chickens mostly to accelerate their growth dramatically, although it remains unclear exactly why that happens. Antibiotics are fed to pigs more for disease control, but also to enhance growth modestly. Beef cattle are not normally fed antibiotics.
As USDA chief veterinarian John Clifford told the committee, “[The USDA] believes that it is likely that the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antimicrobial resistance among humans and in animals themselves.”
The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed to end the use of many drugs as growth promoters in chickens, hogs, and other livestock. Only antibiotics that have no human uses would still be permitted in animal feed, to speed their growth.
Clifford’s testimony was echoed by officials from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Studies of salmonella food poisoning indicate that giving antibiotics to livestock causes bacteria in the animals to develop resistance and that resistant bacteria in food can be transmitted to people.
Despite 20 years of research, agribusiness representatives and their allies on the committee predictably called for more research.
Close confinement of livestock… a slowly vanishing practice?
Today’s edition of The New York Times included a very surprising report that some Ohio farmers have agreed to sharply restrict the close confinement of hens, hogs, and veal calves.
As the Times wrote, “A recent agreement between farmers and animal rights activists here is a rare compromise in the bitter and growing debate over large-scale, intensive methods of producing eggs and meat, and may well push farmers in other states to give ground… The rising consumer preference for more ‘natural‘ and local products and concerns about pollution and antibiotic use in giant livestock operations are also driving change.”
The article goes on to note that this is part of a trend:

In a 2008 referendum, California voters banned use of tiny, crowded “battery cages” for hens by 2015.
A 2010 California law will also imports of eggs produced in crowded cages from other states.
Similar limits were approved last year in Michigan and looser restrictions have been adopted in Florida, Arizona, and other states.
You can add your voice by contacting your state’s Congressional representatives, and your local state legislators.
  • Brasher P. Antibiotics in livestock affect humans, USDA testifies. Des Moines Register, July 15, 2010. Accessed at
  • Eckholm E. Farmers Lean to Truce on Animals’ Close Quarters. The New York Times, August 11, 2010. Accessed at

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