Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Archive for the ‘Antibiotics and Arsenic’ Category

A CAFO Intends To Be Our New Neighbor

After transitioning our farm from industrialized chicken production to an Animal Welfare Approved certified pasture based egg farm 3 years ago, a CAFO now plans to be our neighbor!  We’ve learned from the prospective buyer of the property neighboring us that he has plans to build a chicken CAFO.

It is unfathomable as to why any company would allow their chickens to be put next to a pasture raised farm with chickens on it.  The industry claims that strict bio-security is a mainstay of their operations and necessary to its survival.

Bio-security is the practice of measures taken to prevent the spread of disease on poultry farms.

Looking at the situation from an independent farm, raising hens in a pasture based system one has to question the rights of an individual farm.  What about the right of that farm protecting its chickens from viruses and bacteria’s spread by industrial chicken CAFO’s?

All appearances indicate that the independent farm has no rights and that the highly potential risk created to that farm by the chicken industry is of no concern.

Industrial chickens are vaccinated for many diseases.  Introduction of live viruses into an area where no viruses exist or introducing a bacteria or disease where none exist is a recipe for disaster.  That is basic 101 bio- security for any poultry producer.

In 2008, Johns Hopkins researchers found that poultry trucks driving to processing plants spread harmful bacteria into the environment, exposing other drivers, pedestrians, and rural communities to these bacteria.  Researchers consistently detected drug-resistant bacteria in the air and on surfaces inside vehicles while driving with their windows down behind poultry trucks (Rule et al. 2008).

In our case, a right of way from the county road will be mutually used.  Harmful bacteria will exist in the environment spread from the industry trucks entering and leaving the CAFO.  It’s reasonable to expect that our vehicles will pick up bacteria’s not only harmful to ourselves but also harmful to our disease free hens.  Walking to our mailbox could be harmful to our health!

Drug resistant bacteria spread by industry vehicles will not be the only concern.  County regulations allow for building of chicken houses to be 20 feet from property lines.  These huge buildings can hold up to 60,000 chickens in one house.  Air exchange is accomplished through fans only.  It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the same drug resistant bacteria’s that are found in feathers and dust blowing from trucks will also be exhausted into the air from housing.

Less than ½ mile down the road from the farm is a YMCA.  Joggers and bicyclist use the area for recreational activities and for YMCA sponsored events.  Schools use the sports fields at the YMCA for practices.  Are public and school activities to be discontinued just to accommodate a CAFO that wants to move into the area?

Clearly, the chicken industry has no thought or care of potential risks to human health nor any respect for the neighbor that their CAFO’s want to go next to.

Illogical Reasoning Behind VCPr?

A very disturbing, to me at least, bit of news crossed my desk and I have to say I’m perplexed! New rules are now being proposed to dis-allow all farmers from using any antibiotics to treat sick animals without having what is known as a “Veterinary-Client-Patient relationship” (VCPr).

A little bit of history here folks! In the U.S. we use more antibiotics in animal food production than any other nation. Roughly, over 80% of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in industrial animal production. Notice I said “industrial”! Almost all concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFO) administer sub-therapeutic antibiotics routinely whether the animals need them or not.

There are several reasons behind the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics two of which come to mind are for the purpose of rapid weight gain and because the animals are raised in confinement in very large numbers in their own urine and feces. The drugs are not used to treat individual sick animals they are an attempt to correct the consequences of industrial confined animal production.

Mind you, corporations make these decisions not the farmers who contract to raise company animals. Going back to the time when I raised chickens under contract I can remember feed delivered by the company, before baby chicks were delivered, had antibiotics in it. I used to think to myself that the company knew that the chicks would be sick before they arrived on the farm!

This abuse of antibiotics used in industrial animal production which are medically important and resistance of bacteria to medically important antibiotics is a rising public health crisis. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has legislation, “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” (PAMTA), a vitally important piece of legislation which would ban the use of 8 major classes of antibiotics on healthy livestock with exceptions to treat sick animals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also working on plans to phase out the overuse of some classes of antibiotics given to animals in feed and water. However FDA’s plan is voluntary. Not the magic bullet but it’s a beginning.

For many years, I’ve been a strong proponent of ending the overuse of antibiotics in industrial animal production, working with several organizations and the public health sector, to this end. Unfortunately, I have to part ways on this latest proposal, VCPr. It appears as if there is illogical reasoning behind the proposal. In other words, it lacks “common sense”!

VCPr requires that a vet have sufficient knowledge of the animals in question to be able to diagnose the medical condition and that the vet must be personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the animals to be treated. A timely examination of the animals by the vet or medically appropriate and timely visits by the vet to the operation where the animals are managed is required. This sounds good and will work for industrial animal production as all large companies have vets on staff. A perfect solution for industrial agriculture!

As a small independent farmer there are several reasons why I oppose the proposal. Firstly, I don’t have a vet on staff, as a matter of fact, I don’t have any staff! In my area of the country which is nothing but concentrated industrial chicken production, there are no independent poultry vets. This is the case in most areas of the country. A knowledgeable poultry vet is rare and is a specialty field of veterinary medicine. I could ask for a Sate Veterinarian but who knows if one would be available, if there is any such person, or if the vet could arrive in a timely manner to treat my sick chicken.

Small independent farmers don’t routinely feed antibiotics to their animals. It’s a fact! In my operation, I’ve never had the need for antibiotic treatment because the chickens have plenty of room, fresh air, sunshine, and indoor/outdoor access at will. However, should I have a sick chicken that I was unable to give treatment on my own, as proposed under VCPr, I would have to let the animal suffer and die or immediately euthanize an otherwise recoverable animal, not being able to meet the requirements of the proposal. I find that highly disturbing and I’m not alone in this thought.

Given the choice between treating a sick animal or letting it die will induce farmers to find antibiotics from other sources whether it be legal or not. A black market for animal antibiotics in the making!

Lastly, each year I spend up to $500 for a vet to come to the farm. Routine checkups are conducted on my 2 horses and 3 cats as well as any vaccinations they are due. Although I don’t know where I would find one, if I had to have a vet come and give routine checkups on each of my chickens I can’t imagine what the bill might be. Suffice it to say it would cost me right out of business. In addition I’m curious to know how the vet would know which chicken was which. I mean really, for the most part they all look alike!

The thoughts behind the proposed VCPr may have been well conceived in the world of “think tankers” however it’s readily seen that no thought was given or input solicited from small farmers. If the aim of the proposal is to endorse industrial animal production, it will. They have vets. If the thought was to not support and encourage small sustainable farms with high animal welfare practices the proposal accomplishes it. I can’t say what the thought process was however I can say that the proposed VCPr needs to be re-thought!

Further Information

The Makings of A Toxic Waste Dump

Arkansas rice growers don’t mess around! They’ve gone for the jugular asking the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Arkansas for a jury trial to decide the merits of their claim that chicken industry practices are responsible for high levels of arsenic being detected in their crops.

The lawsuit follows on the heels of Consumer Reports, November Issue, revealing data that white rice grown in Arkansas as well as Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas may contain arsenic levels that are too high. Named in the lawsuit are Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, George’s Farm, George’s Processing, George’s Inc., and Peterson Farms Inc. along with drug company czar, Pfizer.

The short version of the story is that Pfizer is the drug dealer, selling arsenic compounds such as 3-Nitro to the drug using poultry companies!
It’s a well-known fact that for decade’s arsenic has been fed to chickens raised in industrial poultry production.

Industry addiction to arsenic comes from the need to feed for rapid weight growth and control intestinal parasites, coccidiosis (cocci). Although both arsenic and cocci are naturally occurring in the environment in small amounts, the excessive levels in this case are said to be a result of heavily concentrated industrial chicken production.

Normally, cocci can be controlled through pasture management and rotational grazing of farm animals. When animals are raised in a totally confined space year after year cocci can’t be controlled through allowing that space to “rest”. As an intestinal parasite cocci becomes a problem. Chickens don’t convert feed to pounds of meat efficiently and that means slower growth and higher production costs. Enter arsenic.

The arsenical compounds added to chicken feed are consumed by the chicken and passes through the animal into its waste. That waste is then spread on farm fields as fertilizer for crops. Ironically, chicken manure has been touted as an asset by some industry leaders because of its value as a fertilizer. Arsenic is a heavy metal and doesn’t break down in the environment. Where is the value in a continual buildup of arsenic in farm fields and the environment?

Because chicken companies control every aspect of chicken production and retain title of the chickens, feed, and medications – the buck stops there. Known as “vertical integration”, chicken companies contract with farms to “raise” the chickens to a marketable age. Feed that those chickens eat is formulated, mixed, and delivered to contract farms by the companies. Under contract terms the farmers must use the feed formula delivered as dictated by the company.

The lawsuit should come as no surprise. Recent years have seen mounting evidence of residual arsenic at levels higher than normal from concentrated chicken production. The state of Maryland went so far as to ban the use of one arsenical, Roxarsone, in chicken feed this past year. Roxarsone is a product acquired by Pfizer in its acquisition of Alpharma and was voluntarily withdrawn from the market by Pfizer. Good idea!

On the flip side – Tyson denies any wrong doing. According to Food Safety News, spokesperson for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, says that the company is still reviewing the lawsuit and that “it appears to be an example of creative lawyers trying to use frivolous litigation to extract money from companies that have done nothing wrong”…… Really, are you kidding me? One of my Facebook friends wondered if this was the best they (Tyson) could come up with.

In my last blog post, Food to Die For, I said that “I for one am sick and tired of continually hearing about evidence of arsenic in our food supply and it’s not because the evidence is uncovered and keeps mounting”. I’m also sick and tired of hearing industry denials of any wrong doing. It’s like a bunch of little kids who get into trouble and they all say “I didn’t do it”. I say “man up and own it”!

While poultry companies have reaped the benefits (dollars) of the use of arsenic they were also turning a blind eye to the consequences of their actions. They straight up just didn’t care. It brings to mind a discussion that I had with an industry trade union representative about contract growers having a right to know that arsenic was in the company feed and what they were being exposed to. The reply from this joker was “did you ask”. Another one of those creative and frivolous industry answers!

Some poultry companies are claiming that they don’t feed their chickens any additives containing arsenic. While that may be true at the present time, all of the arsenic that they used in the past hasn’t magically disappeared. My husband has often remarked that “we should put a chain link fence around the Delmarva Peninsula, and call it a toxic waste dump” because of all “the company toxic waste from their chickens that is dumped on our farm fields”. No one knows how much toxicity is in our soil and required government soil testing is only for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium levels. It is not mentioned or recommended that soil testing should be done for heavy metals or toxic waste such as arsenic.

Chicken feed formulas are considered to be a “trade secret” and therefore companies don’t have to reveal what is in their feed. That being the case, secretive testing of feed would have to be done for anyone to get an idea of what is actually being fed to chickens, and of course that could be considered to be a “theft” because the chicken companies own the feed. Creative government regulations and laws make it impossible to verify any claims by chicken companies about what is or isn’t being fed to their chickens.

History will repeat its self! In the end I can imagine that the battery of defense lawyers will come up with some fancy foot work and legal maneuvering to either keep this lawsuit going for many years to come or go for a settlement which will be gag ordered! The arsenic will remain in our soil and we will more than likely read or hear about future discoveries of arsenic in our food supply.

Maryland Becomes First State to Ban Arsenic In Poultry Feed

Proponents and advocates of banning the use of arsenic in poultry feed in Maryland are celebrating a hard won victory. On May 22, 2012, Maryland Governor, Martin O’Malley, signed into law, legislation banning arsenic in poultry feed. The bill goes into effect January 23, 2013. Maryland is the first state in the country to pass such a bill.

The legislation is a hard won victory for Environmental, Public Health, and Food Safety advocates and three long years of work is worth a celebration. Organizations such as Food and Water Watch, a Washington DC based non-profit appear to have their sights set on other states as well.

The use of arsenic in poultry feed has been a practice since the late 1940’s. Its use was intended for killing coccidiosis an intestinal parasite found in chickens. Referred to as “cocci” in the poultry industry the parasite reproduces in the intestinal tract of chickens and interrupts positive feed conversions raising the cost of production. Side benefits discovered by industry were faster weight gain (growth promoter) and added color. Arsenicals became more important for faster growth rather than killing intestinal parasites.

Mostly unknown to the outside world, arsenic is a routine feed additive for industrially produced chickens no matter if cocci is present or not or diagnosed by a veterinarian. Thinking back to my days of industrial chicken production there was a time when the higher ups of the company we contracted with told us we had a cocci problem. This went on for several months until we asked for a visit from the company vet. After having that visit and the company vet telling us we didn’t have a cocci problem feed conversion issues disappeared. Arsenic in the feed delivered by the company didn’t disappear as it continued to arrive in the company feed.

Banning the use of arsenic in poultry feed and specifically mentioning Roxarsone, is a great first step. I worry about this piece of legislation because there are ways around it. Loopholes!

Arsenicals are available in liquid form and can be delivered through the drinking water. Since the Maryland legislation specifies “feed”, industry in its infinite wisdom could use water administration of arsenic.

The legislation also specifies “commercial feed” and one wonders what the definition is for those words. Theoretically, there is no buying or selling of feed within the relationship between a poultry company and the farmers it contracts with. Although feed usage is used in the complicated formula administered by the company to pay farmers at the end of the flock there are no actual cash transactions when the company delivers feed to the farm. Technically, the company owns the feed.

Secondly, feed formulation is a “trade secret” and is proprietary information of the company. How will any government agency have authority to test feed ingredients? Claiming TOP SECRET will be a way out for poultry companies.

I have to applaud Maryland legislators in their efforts. However after the applause dies down, there are issues left in the dust.

I was particularly surprised with concerns listed over the use of arsenic and concerns excluded. The law specifies that it will be “abrogated and of no further force and effect if a specific arsenical additive receives approval by the US Food and Drug Administration if it includes evaluation of human food safety, impact on the environment, safety to animals, effectiveness of drug for its intended use, and chemistry and manufacturing procedures”.

Nowhere is there any mention of the effects on the farmers who are forced to be exposed to arsenic on a daily basis having no choice or say in what the company delivers to the farm. I gave testimony before the Maryland Senate committee hearing asking legislators to pass the bill for the sake of the farmer who has no choice in the matter. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that legislators are informed or had delved into the company/farmer contract relationship or how that system works.

The tangled web of how the poultry industry operates is nearly impossible to figure out unless one has operated within it. I look for future battles over the current law and judiciary proceedings over the loopholes that the Einstein’s within the poultry industry will use.

Independent Contractor – to be or not to be?

My last post about Waterkeeper Alliance vs. Perdue and Allen and Kristin Hudson brought out many issues associated with the case. The saga continues………..

The lawsuit is about pollutants finding their way to drainage ditches surrounding a chicken CAFO owned by the Hudson’s into a tributary of the Pocomoke River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. It also questions ownership and responsibility of the waste discharged from the farm naming Perdue as the legal owner of the chickens that produce the waste.

On November 17, 2011 both sides in the case filed a motion for summary judgment and in doing so many legal documents in the case were made available to the public. Public perusal of these court records brings to light many other issues.

It’s hard for me to decide which of the other issues to start with.

Independent contractor status is a good place to begin. Contract poultry growers (chicken farmers) are classified as independent contractors by the companies they contract with to raise company owned chickens. The job of the farmer is to receive company chickens and raise them to a marketable age – PERIOD.

Not to put the chicken before the egg we have to look at where these contract chickens originate. It’s a complex web to untangle and there are many company steps involved before ever getting to the chicks placed on farms and grown. What is known is that the company designs, through genetic selection and engineering, what the final chicken will be. When placed on contract farms, the farmer has no choice or idea about the genetics, performance in growing of the chicken, or how much manure that chicken will produce.

Prior to chicks being placed on contract farms feed is delivered to the farm. This feed is formulated, mixed and delivered by the company. Feed ingredients are unknown to the famer and are a closely guarded secret claimed by companies to be a “trade secret”. The amount of feed delivered to the farm is unverifiable by the farmer and (s)he has to accept on “good faith” that the feed is what the company says it is. There are no options for contract farmers to acquire feed from another source because the contracts stipulate that feed comes from the company. This feed delivery process continues throughout the entire life cycle of the flock.

I have to insert here a few facts about the feed. Most people don’t understand that feed ingredient’s such as antibiotics/antimicrobials and arsenic isn’t the farmer’s choice to use or not use. This pertains to animal by-products in feed as well. Everything that goes into feed is decided by the chicken company and must be accepted and used by the farmer. Should a farmer decide to acquire feed from another source the farmer’s contract will be terminated.

The chicks delivered to contract farms derive from company owned hatcheries where the eggs are hatched into chicks. During the process at the company hatchery certain procedures could be performed such as in ovo injections of vaccines and antibiotics. In ovo is a process of injecting eggs before hatching and it’s anyone’s guess as to what is injected. Another company secret of which the farmer has no control over!

It could be assumed that the independent contractor, the farmer, comes into play once the chicks are on the farm for growing. That theory might hold water if the company only delivered the chicks and disappeared out of the raising process and returned to pick up the grown chickens for processing.

Throughout the flock company employees routinely come to the farm and manage the methods in which the farmer is raising the chickens. Court documents in the lawsuit revealed a company employee went so far as to leaving written instructions saying “need to work on these things ASAP’ and then listing things to be done. Some “notes” left by Perdue gave deadlines on work to be done and many notes referred to telling the farmer to do “heavy culling” (kill many chickens). If that is not telling the farmer what work to do, I’m at a loss to say what it is!

Other notes revealed that a Perdue employee set or adjusted equipment within the chicken house, moved fans around, culled chickens, and preformed many other tasks required in raising the chickens to a marketable age. These things are the job of the independent contractor not a company employee.

Again, I have to stop here and raise a question. Suppose some disaster should occur inside the chicken house because of the Perdue employee making a mistake in equipment adjustments such as ventilation and all of the chickens die (smother) – who would be responsible for the disaster? It’s my guess the blame would be laid at the farmer’s feet and income loss would be the farmer’s bitter pill to swallow. Having been a contract farmer I say this with ease because everything is always the farmers fault according to the company and there is no recourse for the farmer.

Reading court documents revealed that Perdue routinely performed farm operations inside of the chicken houses. It’s argued that the Perdue employee and Mr. Hudson had an understanding about this. The only time that I’m aware of the company coming on the farm, performing the daily tasks of the farmer, and caring for the flock would be if the company declared that the farmer was not doing his job and that the company was taking over. There is a clause in the contract that says that the company has the right to do that. However there are no supporting documents that say that Perdue made any such declaration or decision to take over the raising of the chickens on the Hudson farm.

Farmers have argued for a very long time that they aren’t independent contractors in their relationship with chicken companies. Independentsomebody or something that is free from control, dependence, or interference. Looking over court documents it’s clear that Perdue has some other definition of “independent”.

I remember a time in the early 1990’s Perdue declared all of its chicken catchers to be independent contractors. In the late 1990’s a lawsuit was filed against the company claiming that the chicken catchers were employees of the company not independent contractors. The lawsuit prevailed and a Federal Court found in favor of the chicken catcher’s. If memory serves me correctly, the court found Perdue willful in dealings with the chicken catchers.

Might Perdue also be willful in dealings with contract farmers?

Relevant legal documents and court pleadings

Ask Dr. Oz What’s In The Chicken You Eat

The Dr. Oz show yesterday looked at what is fed to industrial chickens that eventually end up in our grocery stores. Focusing on antibiotics and arsenic Dr. Oz zeroed in on antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is not a new issue! Over the past several years individuals and organizations have been demanding a halt to the practice of poultry companies unnecessarily feeding antibiotics to their chickens. Does everyone know that approximately 75% of antibiotics used in this country go to animals feeds?

Little help has come from FDA in regulating the practice and some say it’s because of the massive power and influence the poultry industry has over those who would initiate and enforce regulations. Looking at the other side of the coin, the drug industry is making a fortune selling the antibiotics to the poultry industry. Add the power and influence of the drug lobby and it’s not hard to figure out why nothing gets done.

Going back to the subject of continually feeding antibiotics and arsenic to chickens. Why is it necessary to do this? Renowned experts explain it from a scientific point of view on Dr. Oz’s show.

Having been trapped in the world of contract poultry farming for most of my adult life the explanation is more simplistic coming from the Old Farmer Lady’s point of view.

Cramming animals into an enclosed building with less than a square foot of living space each is a sure way to create a gazillion bacteria and parasites. Adding fuel to the fire, these animals live on top of their own urine and feces for their short-lived life. What can anyone expect from this type of living condition?

The poultry industry creates its own health issues through the method described above and then takes the route of let’s feed drugs to combat it. What is more disheartening is that while I was contract poultry farming, feed would be delivered to our farm containing antibiotics before a new batch of baby chicks arrived.

Don’t go blaming the farmers for using the antibiotics and arsenic. A little known fact is that the poultry company that the farmer is under contract with formulates, mixes, and delivers the feed to the farm.

Under the contract the farmer is required to perform the duty of raising the chicken to a marketable weight. The farmers must perform their duty under the guidelines, practices, and in accordance with the company policies. Simply put, the farmer has no say in what is fed to the chickens. Should the farmer not comply with company dictates the contract is terminated.

Consumers are the deciding factor in what they want to eat. If you want chicken on your plate like Dr. Oz describes then keep on buying it. If you want to know what’s in the chicken you eat then find a local farmer who is raising real free range, antibiotic and arsenic free, under the best humane guidelines, and who isn’t afraid to open up the farm gates and let you come on in for a visit!

Relavent Links:
Dr. Oz – What’s In Our Nations Chickens
Food INC