Monday, November 04, 2013

Problems in industrial food animal production are only getting worse

The Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins in October released an update on problems in industrial food animal production, five years after a landmark Pew Commission report in 2008.  Ralph Loglisci has a good overview at Civil Eats

Sadly, in most areas of concern, there has been no progress.  On many issues there has been backwards motion.

I found the new update report generally fair and sober.  (I took the closing appeal from Fred Kirschenmann for an "agriculture that mimics nature" to be an inspirational homily rather than a concrete scientific or food policy proposition).  I know that people in the animal production industries, and even many of my colleagues in the mainstream of the agricultural economics profession, will be tempted to classify the Pew Commission and its descendents along with radical environmentalist critics of the modern food system, but I see this report far more favorably.  At every turn, it offers informative explanations of the serious potential problems with unrestrained antibiotic use, disease monitoring, water and air pollution, animal confinement, and economic competition.

Because most of these topics are intensely contested and debated, perhaps the most interesting passages of the report explain how meat producers have been able to evade increased information collection.  On topics from antibiotic use to water pollution by CAFOs to contracts in poultry marketing, the industry resists efforts to share the information we need in order to judge these debates in a sensible manner.  For example:
Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals Act (2013 to present)

The Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act, sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D–CA), would amend the reporting requirements contained in ADUFA Section 105 to require drug companies to report additional sales data, and to require integrators to report data on antimicrobial use.

The bill would also direct the FDA to include additional information on reported data in the annual summaries, including breakdowns by route of administration and approved indication, animal species, and production class. The legislation, which was introduced in February 2013 prior to reauthorization of ADUFA, has not been enacted.

Antimicrobial Data Collection Act (2013 to present)

The Antimicrobial Data Collection Act, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–NY), would, like the DATA Act, require the FDA to include additional information on antimicrobial sales data in the annual summaries required under ADUFA. It would not, however, require any additional reporting of sales by drug companies or require reporting of antimicrobial use by integrators. It has not been enacted.
If private sector and government initiatives did a better job of addressing these environmental and health issues, our meat and dairy products might be somewhat more expensive, but we would be able to bear this price increase just fine.  Americans have room to reduce meat and dairy intake by a certain amount while still maintaining a very high nutritional standard of living.  Many of the foods that provide similar nutrients, such as alternative sources of protein and fats, are less expensive than meat.  It is therefore false that addressing important environmental and health concerns would be an unbearable hardship for any stratum of Americans, whether low-income or middle-income.  This is not about government overreach, nor is it about taxation to influence consumer food choices, it is simply about designing production systems that correctly account for environmental and health constraints, and then letting the free market set appropriate corresponding prices.

I'd be glad for any rebuttal, or tough questions about the main points of this report, but I found it highly persuasive. 

No comments: