BLAME it on the federal government: A new analysis by the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future (CLF) claims that the Obama Administration and Congress have acted "regressively" in policy-making on industrial food animal system issues.
The analysis, a five-year retrospective on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food & Drug Administration and Congress for essentially ignoring the commission's 2008 report and its claims of "myriad problems caused by the present industrial food animal production model."
CLF spent nearly a year examining the effects of the commission's report, focusing on six of the 24 policy recommendations originally highlighted as "priorities": phasing out nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials, improving disease monitoring and tracking, improving environmental regulation of large-scale animal producers, phasing out intensive confinement systems, increasing competition in the livestock markets and improving animal agriculture research.
"There has been an appalling lack of progress," CLF director Robert Lawrence said. "The failure to act by USDA and FDA, the lack of action or concern by the Congress and continued intransigence of the animal agriculture industry have made all of our problems worse."
The original Pew commission report was a two-year study funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Its charge was ostensibly to review the "industrial" farm animal production system and to develop consensus recommendations to solve any problems found.
Soundly criticized by the agriculture community upon its release, the 2008 report was authored by commissioners described as being already opposed to modern livestock production. The updated CLF analysis was not received with any additional warmth from the industry.
"Just as it was five years ago, the charges against animal agriculture made in the CLF report bear little resemblance to the truth," Randy Spronk, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said. "The report is wrong in every aspect, and CLF ignored the extensive steps animal agriculture has taken over the last decade or more to address various industry challenges."
Indeed, the Animal Agriculture Alliance spearheaded its own analysis into industry improvements made during the past decade in the areas of animal welfare, environmental impact and overall sustainability. The report, also released Oct. 22, was a collaborative effort of the several food animal producer organizations and marketing programs that comprise the alliance.
"We have continuously made improvements in animal care, including protecting them from diseases, and we always have been good stewards of the land, air and water we use," Spronk concluded.
The alliance report points out that U.S. illness rates from Escherichia coli infection have dropped to fewer than one case in 100,000 people, meeting the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' "Healthy People 2010" goal.
Additionally, in terms of sustainability, the alliance claimed that the U.S. is a "model" for sustainable livestock production, with less than 3% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions attributed to livestock production.
The report also explains that agriculture continues to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, embracing technologies to improve animal well-being and food safety while enhancing productivity to feed a global population that is expected to increase 30% before 2050.
The two reports paint a starkly different picture of U.S. livestock production. With one side claiming that the modern food system is less sustainable than it was five years ago and the other saying that it is more sustainable by far, it is perhaps not surprising that federal authorities have not acted as aggressively on the Pew commission's original policy priorities as the commissioners might have wished.