What smells in Washington, DC? Putrid emissions from a biased commission

August 24, 2008 07:00 PM

Philip Lobo, Communications Director, Animal Agriculture Alliance

After more than two years of meetings, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (the Commission) finally released its recommendations in late April, more than a month after their initially scheduled release.

Why is this important now? Most of the Commission's silliest recommendations have been repudiated in congressional hearings held on Capitol Hill. However, the group has sent copies of its off-base report to every governor in the USA and will push to have its recommendations on the state level.

The stated purpose of the Commission on its Web site was to "conduct a comprehensive, fact-based and balanced examination” of the farm animal industry. However, in reports the Commission has published, its stated mission was to "study the public health, environmental, animal welfare, and rural community problems created by concentrated animal feeding operations, and to recommend solutions.”

How commissioners were selected has never been made clear, despite repeated inquiries over the past two years. These inquiries were made because only one of the Commission's initial members had any experience with mainstream modern animal agriculture (that member resigned well before the Commission's report was final). Additionally, seven of the Commission's 15 members had a public track record critical of modern animal agriculture which they indicated in books they authored, articles and letters to newspaper editors they wrote, and/or in public presentations.

The Commission—which was funded by $3.4 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts—was managed by Johns' Hopkins University's Center for Livable Future (CLF). CLF has funded the GRACE Factory Farm Project—with the stated goal, "To eliminate factory farming"—where the Meatrix videos and a publication entitled "The Guide to Confronting a CAFO" were produced.

The Commission's report is essentially a rehashing of activist complaints about modern livestock and poultry production, some of which are decades old. Worse yet, they don't take into consideration advances agriculture has made. The recommendations in the report are being used by many activist groups, including the vegan-driven Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), to support their campaigns for increasing regulation on everyone that is involved in providing our nation with meat, milk and eggs.

Antimicrobials and Manure Management

The Commission's proposal to "phase out and ban use of antimicrobials for nontherapeutic use in food animals” along with its proposal to "immediately ban any new approvals of antimicrobials for nontherapeutic uses in food animals” should worry ranchers and feedlot managers. The Commission's bias is especially noteworthy in light of their attempt to introduce the use of the word nontherapeutic instead of subtherapeutic, the accurate, commonly used term.

Using antimicrobials responsibly, whether to control therapeutic or subtherapeutic conditions, is crucially important to enhanced animal welfare and human welfare. It is our belief that all farmers, ranchers and veterinarians take this issue very seriously, simply because if a problem existed, those most likely to be affected are those who work on farms and their families. The Commission's proposals gloss over this reality.

Interestingly, the Commission recommends that pharmaceutical companies be required to provide year end annual reports for antimicrobials sold for food animals. If the group was truly interested in public health, it wouldn't be interested in limiting its focus exclusively to food animals. It would be interested in tracking the use of antimicrobials in humans, pets and food animals so the most comprehensive solutions could be developed.

The Commission also proposed that definitions be changed to "bring a greater proportion of the waste” from farms under regulation. Not only is manure disposal already regulated at the state level, but this ivory tower recommendation is based on the incorrect assumption that animal waste is an unwanted byproduct when it isn't. Manure is being successfully substituted for enormous quantities of commercial fertilizer in crop production throughout the USA, resulting in substantial energy savings. The recommendation also overlooks the fact that increased energy savings results in substantial greenhouse gas reductions.

Animal Welfare

The Commission proposed that animal welfare standards should be developed and monitored by the federal government and animal agriculture should be required to implement. Our group believes that standards for animal care should be based on the expertise of veterinarians, farmers, ranchers and animal scientists—the people who work with farm animals daily. We also know that ensuring the best animal care possible is crucial to a farm's long-term success. Perhaps if the commission had multiple representatives from modern agriculture, they would have recognized this reality.

An animal welfare recommendation made by the Commission that would be amusing if it wasn't so dangerous to the welfare of both animals and humans is their criticism of the neutering of steers. Not only does the Commission criticize the practice, but it then suggests that it is done only as a matter of convenience to "make animals easier to handle.” Worse yet, the report offers no suggestion for how to handle—let alone raise—intact bulls.

In contrast to the biased Commission, the well-respected American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes that "castration and dehorning of cattle are important for human and animal safety when cattle are used for agricultural purposes.” Because castration and dehorning cause pain and discomfort, the AVMA recommends the use of procedures and practices that reduce or eliminate these effects.

Terrifyingly, the Commission attempts to discredit most existing animal welfare research by claiming what it calls "funding that often comes from special interest groups.” The Commission falsely insinuates—with no backing—that peer-reviewed published research coming from land-grant universities is tainted due to the funding from industry or "special interests,” by which it means check-off funded commodity groups or agricultural businesses. While the Alliance would support an increase in federal funding, we doubt that it will be coming. Further, we view the Commission making recommendations that marginalize reputable organizations—that fund unbiased research to fuel future progress—as utterly irresponsible.

It is important to keep in mind that the $3.4 million Commission is being funded by the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has also provided funds to the Tides Foundation, which has distributed funds to a bevy of anti-agriculture groups including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). If sources of funding taint results, it is absurd that the Commission's report has only been subject to minor scrutiny from mainstream media.

Where to go from here

These are just a few of the out-of-touch recommendations made by the Commission. But the most important thing to remember -- the recommendations in the report are being used by many activist groups, including the vegan-driven Humane Society of the United States (HSUS),to support their anti-animal agriculture campaigns at both the federal and state levels.

The Commission has sent its report to all Senators and Congressional Representatives on Capitol Hill, in addition to providing the report to Governors and Attorneys General in all 50 states.

It is important that all of agriculture, including everyone in the beef industry and the associations that represent them, point out the fallacies of the Commission's unrealistic recommendations. Part of this is providing factual information to your policy makers (resources to assist in this effort are available at www.animalagalliance.org). Claiming your work is in the "public interest” is no substitute for quality work. The Commission clearly fell short of its promise and everyone in agriculture must engage on both the state and federal levels to blunt the impact of its egregiously erroneous document.

Philip Lobo is Communications Director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance. He can be contacted at:

P.O. Box 9522 Arlington, VA 22209
phone: (703) 562-5160,
e-mail jplobo@animalagalliance.org

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