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

Posts tagged ‘antibiotic resistance’

Fair Farms Maryland Launches

A network of nonprofit organizations, farmers, consumers and businesses launched a campaign earlier this month aiming to reform Maryland’s food system that lacks adequate fairness, transparency, and accountability. I’m happy to say that I participate on the group’s farmer advisory council.

Fair Farms Maryland, convened by Waterkeepers Chesapeake and supported by more than 40 endorsing partners, is working to create awareness about the relationship between our food systems, the environment and public health.

A sub title on the group’s press release says “Fair Farms campaign showcases sustainable farmers who “”farm against the grain””.  I guess it could be said that I’m one of those farmers.  Sending my brain into overdrive is the “farming against the grain” part.

For example, Nick Baily of Grand View Farm in Forest Hill, MD says “we set out to prove that wholesome food can be produced in a way that regenerates the land, respects nature and the needs of the animals and reestablishes a lost visceral connection between consumers and their food”.

I started thinking that the goals of Nick’s farm shouldn’t be considered farming against the grain it should be the norm in farming.  I mean really, shouldn’t we all want to produce wholesome food, regenerate the land that gives to us, respect nature and the needs of our farm animals and have a connection with those who consume our food?

Another example, “Taxpayers heavily subsidize the intensive farming norm, while also paying higher bills for related health care costs and to restore the damage done to our environment” says Bob Gallagher, in Annapolis, MD, a board member of Waterkeepers Chesapeake and co-chairman of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition.  Bob wrote a guest column “Let’s insist on sustainable food system”, in the Capital Gazette about the Fair Farms campaign.

Bob refers to intensive farming as the norm for food production. Without going into a lengthy explanation suffice it to say that I’m talking about industrialized food production utilizing methods without regard to public and environmental health, lack of respect for the land and animals that sustain us, and where the almighty dollar outweighs the inclination to produce food that sustains farms and communities.

Comparing the two farming methods, which are on opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s hard to reconcile how food production became so jumbled.  It befuddles me when thinking about the notion that food can be, and is, produced with total disregard or care of what is good for people, animals, and the environment.  It also boggles the mind to think that the goals of Grand View Farm aren’t considered as normal!

Taking it one step farther – what about just doing the right thing?  Seriously folks, I’ve seen so much denial, blame shifting, meetings behind closed doors, ambiguity, fear mongering, strong arming, influence peddling, deal making and breaking, and sometimes outright untruths from big ag proponents that nothing surprises me anymore.

I’m sure the first serve from detractors in the volley will be that the Fair Farms campaign is against farmers.  “This campaign is not about environmentalists versus farmers,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Fair Farms is about working together to reform a food system that is out of balance. We shouldn’t be rewarding farm operations that produce cheap food with steep hidden costs to the environment and public health. Instead, we need to find new opportunities to support those agricultural practices that will grow food in healthy ways for generations to come.”

Working together to reform a food system that is out of balance and growing food in healthy ways – sounds like good ideas to me!

If you would like to know more about Fair Farms Maryland   take a peek.  While you are there take the pledge to be a Fair Farms Consumer.  It’s free!

Residents Are Fed Up With CAFO Developments

On the Delmarva Peninsula the chicken industry has a presence that can be seen from major routes that visitor’s travel to visit our beaches. If one were to take a detour down any side road that presence would be highly notable. We are no longer talking about the occasional farm with a few chicken houses we are talking about huge developments of chicken houses. Thusly, what used to be farms are now classified as CAFO’s – concentrated animal feeding operations and called CAFO developments.

In today’s terms, the chicken houses are huge long buildings, 67 feet by 650 feet. That’s 43550 square feet of living space for chickens to be crammed into for six to seven weeks, 5 times per year. At best, the chickens are given three-quarters of a square foot to live on until they are sent to the processing plant. Using the figures above and giving the benefit of the doubt on exact living space per chicken, each building would house 58,000 chickens. Exact figures are hard to pin down. I’ve been told 3 different numbers the highest being 60,000 chickens.

Needless to say, there are a lot of chickens in one building, too many chickens that produce, roughly, 180,000 pounds of manure during the course of one 6-7 week period per house. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that cramming animals into a building with less than a square foot per animal and living on their own excrement for 6-7 weeks is going to brew undesirable and dangerous consequences.

The consequences are many. A constant diet of antibiotics/antimicrobials to counter diseases created by the model of cramming as many chickens into a given area comes to mind. So does ammonia emissions from the huge fans that exhaust bad air out of the buildings. Communication of disease to humans, such as avian influenza, is a scary one. Some have charged animal cruelty, environmental degradation, a huge contributor to the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay, loss of enjoyment of property and worthless property values. The list goes on……

A good example of CAFO development can be seen in Somerset County, MD where 6 residences sit right smack in the middle of 28 chicken houses. The CAFO development came long after the homes however the county never took into consideration the residents who would suffer the consequences. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is located 2 miles from the same CAFO development.

We’ve heard all of the excuses from the county and the state permitting this type of development. These excuses are the same that industry has hidden behind for years. Land zoned agriculture, Right to Farm, and county regulations for setbacks from roads and property lines. Who made up the planning, zoning, and regulations? The county and state with input from industry! Other input, if it was oppositional, went into the wastebasket!

With a burst of chicken house development suddenly occurring in the lower counties on the Delmarva Peninsula and some chicken companies offering incentives to build CAFO’s, residents are raising objections and well they should. What was once acceptable and allowed to run feral is now being resisted by local communities. In both Somerset and Worcester Counties in Maryland, residents affected from CAFO developments have raised objections and concerns to county officials. Well organized with legitimate and sound scientific concerns presented to the Somerset County, MD Planning Commission, residents have asked the county to revise CAFO regulations. Public Health concerns are at the top of the list of reasons for taking a look at permitted CAFO developments.

I’ve sat through some of these meetings and honestly have to say that it was akin to a dog and pony show on the part of the county. Other than a court room, I’ve never heard of a public meeting where the public wasn’t allowed to speak or ask questions. Furthermore, it is inherent that those making the decisions excuse their self from the process when a personal interest or conflict of interest would cloud their decision. Public servants have a duty to put personal gain and beliefs aside.

A moratorium on further building until regulations, considerations, and sound science can be looked at has been asked for and rejected. As the powers that be slowly draw out the process CAFO developments are advancing at a fast and furious pace.

From a moral standpoint and doing the right thing, industry should take into consideration those who are affected by its practices and not pay out cash to CAFO Developers that want to plow over anything and everything that is in their way!

Are Words the Gospel Truth?

Last week, Tyson Foods made the announcement that it’s “striving to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its US broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017”. I snickered to myself after reading this and thought, what’s the catch?

Researching this big announcement took me firstly to Tyson’s website for the official announcement and found that the company does indeed say that “it is “”striving”” to eliminate the use of “”human antibiotics from its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017″”. The company will report annually on its progress, beginning with its fiscal 2015 Sustainability Report.  Tyson Foods has already stopped using all antibiotics in its 35 broiler hatcheries, requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms and “”has reduced human antibiotics”” used to treat broiler chickens by more than 80 percent since 2011.”

So why the snicker, wondering about what’s the catch, and double quotes in the last paragraph?

Back around 2007, Tyson began a huge advertising and labeling campaign of “raised without antibiotics” on its chicken products and was enthusiastically applauded for it by many.  I can remember hearing from some acquaintances about the “big” news and I can also remember me saying that I didn’t believe it for a second.

In June 2008, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Tyson’s use of the raised without antibiotics label.   USDA reversed that approval and ordered Tyson to remove the label after finding out that Tyson injected its chickens with antibiotics while still in the egg, before hatching, warning that it could no longer consider the raised without antibiotics label “truthful and accurate”.  Tyson admitted that the company used gentamicin which had been used for more than 30 years in the U.S. to treat infections in humans interjecting the belief that rules on labeling describing how chickens are raised typically begin from the second day of life.

According to an AP report, a U.S. District Court Judge had ordered Tyson to stop running any advertisements, setting a May 15, 2008 deadline after Perdue and Sanderson Farms sued, claiming Tysons advertising campaign was misleading.  Sanderson Farms claimed a loss of $4 million in and Perdue claimed it lost about $10 million in revenue.

A consumer lawsuit against Tyson followed accusing the company of falsely claiming that its chickens were raised without antibiotics.  Tyson settled the lawsuit in 2010.  The settlement was capped at $5 million.  The consumer payout was based on proof of purchase (a receipt) which would award $50 dollars, those who didn’t have proof of purchase but provided a sworn statement detailing the poultry they bought would receive $10 dollars.  Any residual funds after paying consumer claims that were left over the company would donate its products to food banks in lieu of the dollar amount.

“While we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said.

While researching this ongoing saga, I found some fairly strong words being used to describe Tyson’s actions.  Statements such as “no longer consider the raised without antibiotics label truthful and accurate”, false and misleading, and getting to the heart of the issue – “It is quite clear to this court that it was in Tyson’s financial interest to delay the phase-out period as long as possible,” Judge Richard D. Bennett of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland written opinion referring to Tyson delaying further use of its advertising campaign.

Take the time to go back and read the bold print above and what I’ve double quoted.  Tyson’s announcement does not say that the company no longer uses antibiotics.

It’s all in the words folks!  It’s the twisting and turning of what the words actually mean and the assumption that consumers read the words and believe them as the gospel truth.  Is it any wonder that I snicker and wonder, what’s the catch over Tyson’s newest BIG announcement concerning the use of antibiotics?

Furthermore, $14 million was claimed to have been lost by Tyson’s competitors, just in 1 year.  Settling for $5 million with consumers is peanuts.  Were any fines levied for not being truthful and accurate, false and misleading, or delaying being so for financial gain?  Does anyone keep their household food purchase receipts for 3 years or bother with a sworn statement to a court for $10 dollars?  Was Tyson able to write off the value of products donated to Food Banks?

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