News Feature | October 25, 2013

Pew Commission Thrashes Livestock Industry

Source: Food Online
Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis

Stricter policies regarding food animal production are still just a distant hope

A report titled, “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America,” was released five years ago by The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health attacking the systems and procedures of the animal agriculture industry. It also laid out plans for the industry to make improvements. Years later, there seems to be very little progress, in fact, things might have gotten worse.

At least that’s what the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future concludes. Earlier this week, the center released another report again criticizing how the industry has performed since the original report was created. “From a regulatory, or legislative, standpoint, we have actually regressed on many of these issues in the last five years,” say Bob Martin, program director at the Center for a Livable Future. Martin served as executive director for the Pew commission when the original report was released.

While Pew is not a name that is well-known in the food community, its original report has molded consumer views of how animals raised for food are produced. In 2008, the commission named the most troublesome issues of yielding nearly 10 billion animals for food production every year in the U.S. The excessive use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock was pointed out in the report, along with systems of removing animal waste from big animal facilities. The report also blasted the industry’s standard practice of confining animals in crates and cages. Finally, the report suggested that laws be created and enforced that restrict the industry’s “big players” from having an excessive amount of influence over the food animal market.

Now, the Center for a Livable Future is examining how the original Pew report has impacted the industry. On Tuesday, Oct 22 the results were released and are again condemning the industry, along with its governing bodies, for not following the original report’s suggestions. While some companies have made improvements to animal care, Martin says the issues continue to get worse. More specifically, Martin notes the industry has failed to reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics — although the FDA has limited the use of certain drugs and has issued some voluntary guidelines.

On the other side of the coin, the meat industry is arguing that it has made progress to improve the health of animals and the impact the industry has on the environment. A report countering the Center for a Livable Future’s was made by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and was also released this week. The alliance’s report proclaims advances in animal care, safety, sustainability, reduced antibiotic use, and research for the industry’s future endeavors. In fact, the president of National Pork Producers Council, Randy Spronk, went as far to say, “The [Johns Hopkins] report is wrong in every aspect.”

According to the Hopkins’ research, the food animal industry has resisted reform through hard lobbying against firm regulations. “I think that the power of the industrial animal agriculture sector is almost overwhelming,” claims Martin. “These are very powerful private companies that give large campaign contributions and can influence legislators.” The opposing sides still have a lot of ground to cover if they want to reach a middle ground in acceptable practices of animal care, responsibility, and sustainability in the livestock industry. The new report also notes that economic constraints will prevent long term solutions for both sides from being reached quickly.