Fa℞ming 101: The Harm of Too Much Medicine

When it comes to antibiotics in the United States, it turns out that humans are not the biggest users: not by a long shot. A statistic from 2011 found that an alarming majority (80%) of antibiotics bought in the United States are used for animals involved in the meat and poultry industries. This adds up to approximately 13.1 million kilograms (almost 29 million pounds!) of antibiotics being pumped into animals each year.

With the amount of antibiotics in the food industry, it may come as no surprise that the drugs are not set aside solely for use on sick and injured animals, but instead are many times just as often used on healthy animals as well. A survey of more than 60 retail, fast food, production and grocery companies found that the majority of these companies used antibiotics unnecessarily on animals that were healthy. Additionally, the survey was able to discern a company’s level of transparency regarding their antibiotic use.

In a rather cut-and-dry table, companies under question were listed in order of their amount of disclosure (most to least) as well as the ranking of their policy (antibiotic-free to routine antibiotic use). Food companies like Chipotle and Sweetgreen received high marks for their policies, as did Whole Foods, Applegate Farms, and Coleman Natural Foods. Those that did not do so well were Panda Express, Popeye’s and Domino’s, Walmart and Tyson Chicken.

“Through my survey, the food industry has provided us valuable information, and with that knowledge we must act,” explained Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who issued the survey, on the day that the results were released. “I urge consumers to consider today’s findings when shopping, and I urge the FDA and my colleagues in Congress to strengthen our laws in order to fight the growing threat of superbugs. Until we do, the routine use of antibiotics will continue to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health.”

Superbugs, bacteria that develop a resistance to common antibiotics, can be lethal as they can transfer quickly and cannot be easily treated or cured by our otherwise “life-saving” drugs. Farms are breeding grounds for these types of diseases, as treated animals act as the perfect hosts. When humans handle or eat raw or undercooked meat that is infected the transfer is made. Until the antibiotic use declines, the threat of untreated superbugs will continue to rise.

Slaughter is looking to fix this problem through legislation she penned that would decrease the amount of antibiotics in circulation in the food industry. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) “would preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by phasing out the use of these drugs in healthy food-producing animals, while allowing their use for treatment of sick animals. The legislation also requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to apply the same tough standards to new applications for approval of animal antibiotics.”

Without a doubt, the amount of antibiotic use in the food industry is nothing if not excessive. In order to ensure the safety of the consumer, as well as the quality of food, unnecessary antibiotics must be taken out of the equation. By reducing the amount of antibiotics in the food chain, we can protect a food source that is in increasing demand and lessen the threat that a superbug formed in the slaughter house reaches and causes damage to those that consume it.

To urge members of Congress to phase out the use of antibiotics in healthy food-producing animals, and to ask your Congressperson to pass PAMTA, sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRHKvsh0QVw0fqCCXdYKHdUK3ihfnenkVN9mlVvPFwRCgacHUtS

Fowl Find: Researchers Discover Arsenic, Antibiotics, and Prozac in Chickens

As if you didn’t have your own diet to worry about, now you have to wonder what the grocery-store chickens have been eating as well.  

Originally testing for traces of banned antibiotics, researchers from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University were surprised to find the antibiotics, as well as evidence of an entire cocktail of drugs, including caffeine, arsenic, antihistamines, acetaminophen, and for chicken imported from China, even Prozac.  

The study, published in both Environmental Science & Technology and Science of the Total Environment, was conducted by testing feather meal, which is directly converted from chicken feathers. Their reason for testing feathers, rather than meat? “The potential [for antibiotics] to bioaccumulate in poultry feathers,” according to the paper’s abstract.  

While the news is disconcerting, it shouldn’t exactly come as a shock. Back in 2004, a study by The Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy revealed that as many as half of store-bought and fast-food chicken products contained heightened levels of arsenic. The source? Roxarsone, an arsenic compound used to stave off infections and parasites, increase growth, and give the poultry meat a pretty pink hue. Plus, factory farm investigations have long been warning consumers of the flurry of antibiotics given to animals, antibiotics capable of creating superbugs.  

Nevertheless, the findings are disturbing.  

“The discovery of certain antibiotics in feather meal strongly suggests the continued use of these drugs, despite the ban put in place in 2005 by the FDA,” said the study’s lead author, Bloomberg School microbiologist David Love, in a statement prepared for the press. “The public health community has long been frustrated with the unwillingness of [the] FDA to effectively address what antibiotics are fed to food animals.”    

The drug levels found “aren’t an immediate health concern,” added co-author Keeve E. Nachman of Johns in an interview with The New York Times. “But it makes me question how comfortable we are feeding a number of these things to animals that we’re eating.”    

Nachman’s comments resonate with a growing number of American consumers concerned with the ‘secret ingredients’ hiding on store shelves. In the past months, uproars have accompanied revelations on pink slime, pesticides, and even crushed bugs found at Starbucks.   

This time around, though, the news is slightly more scandalous; a test of organic brands turned up positive for arsenic, meaning that no chicken-eater is safe. And even more baffling yet, most farmers aren’t even aware of this news themselves, serving their chickens food mixes chosen by the companies to which they sell their products.    

Companies prefer to use the drugs for a variety of reasons: caffeine, in the form of green tea powder and coffee pulp, to help chickens stay awake, resulting in more time and energy to eat; acetaminophens, antihistamines, and yes, Prozac too, because less-stressed chickens grow faster and taste better.    

So, what’s a consumer to do? While Nachman doesn’t think the results are grounds to cluck at chicken entirely, he does suggest that a switch from factory-farmed poultry may be in order.    

“I’ve been studying food-animal production for some time, and the more I study, the more I’m drawn to organic.”    

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Chickens_feeding.jpg

Petition Against the Use of Gestation Crates

The issue of keeping pregnant pigs in tiny gestation crates has become more public in recent years, with consumers and animal-rights groups advocating for laws banning the use of these crates. McDonald’s buys its pork from pork producer Smithfield Foods, who is known for keeping its pigs in tight gestation crates that don’t allow the 600-pound pigs ample space to move around.

Undercover investigations conducted in 2010 by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) revealed the inadequate conditions under which pigs at the company’s farms live. In 2007, Smithfield voluntarily said that it would phase out the use of gestation crates and end the practice by 2017, but in 2009, the company retracted this goal, citing the floundering economy among the reasons it had made this decision. Smithfield, the world’s largest provider of pork and pork products, now states that it will place just 30 percent of its sows in group housing and out of gestation crates by the end of this year. While this goal is not insignificant, animal rights groups would like Smithfield to recommit to its original goal.

Gestation crates keep pregnant female pigs confined to metal stalls two feet by seven feet in dimension, housing several sows in tight quarters that can breed bacteria and do not let the pigs turn around or move. Since sows are often pregnant – a practice used by the meat industry to raise more pigs for food – they spend most of their lives in these crates and can develop infections and sores. It is estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of sows in the United States are kept in these crates during their four-month pregnancies. Pigs who live in these crates often display repetitive behaviors out of boredom, such as biting the metal bars of the cage and shaking their heads.

As McDonald’s is Smithfield’s largest client, the pork company will be affected if McDonald’s decides to stop buying pork from them. Other fast-food chains like Burger King, Subway, Sonic and Wendy’s have switched to buying pork from animal-friendly providers, and as one of the world’s largest fast food chains, McDonald’s should do the same. Consumer demands have evolved and risen to request that animals raised for meat be treated humanely, and more consumers are consciously purchasing meat that has not been abused. McDonald’s once claimed that saying no to pork raised in gestation crates was an important issue to them, but has not taken action to support that statement.

The United Kingdom and Sweden have already prohibited the use of gestation crates, and the cages will disappear from the European Union by 2013 and from New Zealand by 2015. Cargill, a major pork producer in the U.S., has also taken steps to move over half of its pigs out of gestation crates. The HSUS has campaigned enthusiastically to ban gestation crates for American farms, raising awareness of the issue and producing videos that highlight the cruelty these animals face daily. Seven states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan and Oregon – have enacted laws banning the crates, and now it is time for large meat companies to follow suit.

Since there are no federal laws governing the treatment of pigs and the use of gestation crates, consumers have to make their demands known in order to enforce change in the meat industry. Petitions on Change.org and ForceChange.com have gathered supporters to tell Smithfield CEO C. Larry Pope to recommit to his company’s original plan to stop abusing its pigs, and to tell McDonald’s to stop buying pork from Smithfield.  As large, profitable corporations, both Smithfield and McDonald’s have the opportunity to become leaders in their field by prioritizing the humane treatment of pigs. Add your name to the list and help pigs receive the protection they need.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mualphachi/3589286823

Egg Industry and Humane Society Join Forces to Support Animal Rights Legislation

In a historic announcement last week, the United Egg Producers (UEP) agreed to support the Humane Society’s efforts to pass federal animal rights legislation, introducing a bill that would bar the use of battery cages in farms nationwide and require egg farmers to replace them with larger enriched colony cages. The Humane Society stated that this monumental law would mark “historic and significant progress […] the first time that any species of animal is provided with federal protection from abuse while on factory farms, the first federal farm animal protection law in more than 30 years, and the first time that chickens used in food production are provided any federal protections at all.”

These two organizations are known to constantly disagree with each other, with one seeking humane treatment for animals and the other seeking to maintain a thriving trade that provides food for millions at a low cost, but now they are jointly seeking to reform the egg industry and provide better living conditions for 280 million egg-laying hens.

Chickens and animal rights activists aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this law, though – the UEP has wanted to push for more humane treatment of animals, but has hesitated because participation in their organization is voluntary, and feared that farmers would leave the association rather than reforming their practices. The trade association, which represents 80 percent of American egg farmers, approached the Humane Society to ask if they would co-sponsor a federal bill to prohibit the use of battery cages.  In a press release, Indiana egg farmer and UEP Chairman Bob Krouse said that the UEP believes “a national standard is far superior than a patchwork of state laws and regulations that would be cumbersome for our customers and confusing to consumers,” referring to laws that have been passed in four states and pending legislation in Washington and Oregon. California and Michigan have passed laws proscribing battery cages by 2015 and 2012, respectively, while Ohio has banned the construction of new battery cages, but indefinitely permits the continued operation of those already in existence. Arizona has also passed regulations requiring better conditions for chickens. California is the only state to bar the sale of eggs produced out-of-state from hens confined to battery cages to California consumers.

Currently, most hens raised for egg production spend their entire lives contained to 18”x20” cages, with only about 67 square inches of space, while others receive a meager 48 square inches. In these cramped cages, 250 million hens do not have space to run, walk or flap their wings, and are often confined to unsanitary conditions. The new regulations would see a gradual, widespread implementation of enriched colony cages over a period of 18 years as well as an increase of floor space to a minimum of 124 square inches. Enriched colony cages are typically 12’x4’ enclosures with structures that allow hens to express their natural behaviors, such as nesting, perching and scratching. The new cages would collectively cost farmers $4 billion to implement, likely causing the cost of eggs to rise.

The bill would also maintain airborne ammonia levels in barns, ban a current common practice in which chickens are starved for up to two weeks in order to induce a new cycle of egg-laying, and ban the sale of eggs or egg products in the United States that fail to meet the new industry standards. Euthanasia standards would be approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association and enforced for “spent” hens, who are typically killed in an inhumane manner. All egg cartons would be labeled with “made from (caged, cage-free or free-range) hens” to allow consumers to make conscious choices about where their eggs come from and how they are produced.

The Humane Society hopes that, if the bill passes in Congress, it will spark a national discussion about animal cruelty and lead to other bills banning cruel practices and regulating the meat industry. Polls show that ninety-seven percent of Americans believe that animal cruelty should be outlawed, but there are no federal animal welfare regulations placed on the farming industry. The debate has already begun across the world — the European Union is set to complete a 10-year phaseout of battery cages by 2012, replacing them with enriched colony cages, and Switzerland became the first country to ban battery cages in 1992.

Photo credit: The Humane Society of the United States (humanesociety.org) 

Undercover Investigation Exposes Extreme Animal Abuse at Dairy Farm

Warning: The video below has scenes of extreme animal cruelty. You may prefer to read the description rather than watching the actual video.

CLEVELAND, May 26 — During a four-week investigation between April and May, Chicago-based non-profit Mercy For Animals (MFA) captured on hidden camera  shocking scenes of severe animal abuse on a dairy farm. According to MFA, the video was shot by an undercover investigator at the Conklin Dairy Farms in Plain City, Ohio.

During the investigation MFA’s investigator documented farm workers:

  • Violently punching young calves in the face, body slamming them to the ground, and pulling and throwing them by their ears
  • Routinely using pitchforks to stab cows in the face, legs and stomach
  • Kicking “downed” cows (those too injured to stand) in the face and neck – abuse carried out and encouraged by the farm’s owner
  • Maliciously beating restrained cows in the face with crowbars – some attacks involving over 40 blows to the head
  • Twisting cows’ tails until the bones snapped
  • Punching cows’ udders
  • Bragging about stabbing, dragging, shooting, breaking bones, and beating cows and calves to death

MFA has shared the video with the City Prosecutor’s Office of Marysville and is pushing for employees of the facility to be criminally prosecuted for violating Ohio’s animal cruelty laws.

MFA, which is dedicated to “promoting nonviolence towards all sentient beings” stated that “the deplorable conditions uncovered at Conklin Dairy Farms highlight the reality that animal agriculture is incapable of self-regulation and that meaningful federal and state laws must be implemented and strengthened to prevent egregious cruelty to farmed animals.”