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Advances in Animal Agriculture Help to Feed the World

Opinion

James Andrews recently had a very well-written piece on Food Safety News covering the press conference held by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CFL) regarding the Pew Commission report written five years ago.

It was well-written and well-researched, but that does not mean I agree with all the comments made.

The CFL seems most incensed by the fact that Congress has not acted on the top six recommendations made in the report five years ago.

First of all, I would not expect Congress to act every time someone or something asked them to.

Secondly, if we are going to have policy change that affects something as large and important as American agriculture, let’s do it in an open, transparent fashion with all parties at the table, and not behind closed doors while staffers hammer out a new law.

Thirdly, this would be the same Congress that embarrassed the United States of America by shutting down government for two weeks, right? And the same Congress that also moved catfish inspection over to USDA while leaving bison inspection with FDA.

I was asked to write the forward for a piece published by members of the animal agriculture community that was released Monday. The report is titled: “Advances in Animal Agriculture: What the Center for a Livable Future, Pew Commission and Others Aren’t Telling You About Food Production.” It can be read in its entirety here.

My forward follows:

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore
We must be over the rainbow …

Fifty years ago, I was a 16-year-old young man growing up in Loup City, NE. In Loup City, gainful employment for 16-year-olds was primarily limited to sacking groceries or working on neighboring farms. I chose the latter. For three summers and Saturdays during three school years, I worked for two brothers who shared responsibilities for a dairy operation, a cow-calf operation and the usual assortment of hogs, chickens and sheep. They were diversified, but they only fed a few mouths, which was fine because, back then, the majority of rural Nebraskans were linked directly to agriculture.

As we have become a much more urban society over the past 50 years, farming has had to change by necessity to feed the city dwellers several generations removed from farming. American agriculture has also accepted the challenge of becoming more efficient in an effort to feed what is projected to be 9.1 billion residents of our planet. Why is that important? Because food insecurity not only causes children to die, it causes political unrest. Feeding the world is the right thing to do.

Farming also has to accept the challenge of educating those city dwellers as to the reasons the changes we are seeing in farming are not only necessary but are also improvements in food safety, animal well-being and environmental responsibility. This document is an important first step in bringing modern agriculture’s improvements in animal health and productivity to the discussions about modern agriculture practices. Unfortunately, these discussions are sometimes led by those with ulterior agendas, such as trying to reduce the number of animals raised for human consumption by limiting the tools available that are safe for both humans and animals.

These are tools such as selective breeding for maximum production and resistance to inclement weather; indoor feeding and growing facilities to limit exposure to vermin and parasites, extreme heat and cold, and wild birds serving as carriers of “bird flu”; maternity pens to protect submissive sows from dominant sows, assuring adequate access to feed and water; and better transportation systems, resulting in less stress for animals and promoting more humane handling.

Modern agriculture has biological tools unheard of by the brothers and my grandfathers for whom I worked. These include rbST to help a cow produce 14 percent more milk while consuming less grain and water and producing less methane gas emissions. Biological tools like beta-agonists that produce a market-weight hog or steer in less time, again consuming fewer resources while keeping protein costs down and the environment healthier. Biological tools like antibiotics that help keep animals healthier by preventing or controlling disease, as well as treating actual disease. This is not only good for growth production but also a humane practice by preventing diseases that could wipe out an entire flock or herd.

For those opposed to the Food and Drug Administration-approved use of antibiotics for disease prevention and control in animals raised for food, I could provide hundreds of examples of how antibiotics are used in human medicine for these purposes, including prophylactically administering penicillin to hundreds of college dormitory residents when one student has been diagnosed with Neisseria meningitidis, or giving an antibiotic before dental work to one who has an artificial heart valve. Why would some suggest that animals don’t deserve the same protection from a known risk?

Food safety in this country is the best it has ever been, and part of that is because of modern animal-husbandry practices and food-safety technologies. We no longer recognize Trichinosis from undercooked pork as a human health risk. We no longer see children dying from tuberculosis and Brucellosis from drinking milk. E coli O157:H7 illnesses in humans were at an all-time low in 2010.

While there are some who will continually question and criticize modern agriculture’s practices, I suspect they have never had to put a hungry child to bed and that they have the resources to shop the niche markets. Yes, we can and should offer choices to those who are able and want to pay more for “raised without antibiotics,” “hormone free,” “all natural,” etc., but those options will not feed the 14 million Americans who go to bed every night with an empty stomach.

Because of continuous improvement and research by those involved in raising animals for food, we have the safest, most affordable and most abundant food supply in the world.

© Food Safety News
  • farmber

    “Best”? “Safest”? — How about RISKIEST??

    Thanks to the wonders of the industrialized profit model of agriculture, a single contamination event at a single facility can go on to sicken and maybe kill thousands of people in multiple states over a protracted period of time until it’s finally traced back and then recalled… or not….

    • John Munsell

      Contrary to what we spoiled Americans have been led to think, there is no such thing as risk-free raw meat & poultry. We must learn to live with risk. There’s a risk that some folks will go to bed hungry each night. Yes, huge slaughter plants killing 6,000 beef daily can quickly endanger the health of consumers in dozens of states. But, given our burdgeoning population, and the paucity of farmers & ranchers, well, quite frankly, we must mass produce protein in huge, centralized facilities if we’re going to eat. Farmber has a point however when he/she refers to contaminated food being traced back and recalled. USDA has historically refused to trace back to the ORIGIN of contamination, being paralyzed with fear of litigation from the largest meat packers. A cowardly USDA portends more outbreak possibilities than does our contemporary industralized agriculture model. Dr. Raymond’s article is erudite.

      • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

        We don’t need to mass produce meat at the levels we’re now producing. We, in this country, eat way too much meat. We could safety cut our meat eating a significant degree and not only be healthier, have healthier food.

        If we did eat much less meat, we could then afford to buy better quality meat from smaller farmers and smaller producers. These same producers can then afford to implement more safety procedures, and the farmers use more humane and healthier livestock practices.

        Once we attack the assumption that the food system in the US has to continue with the same output, or more, everything else changes.

        And therein lies my criticism of Dr. Raymond’s defense of “modern” livestock and farming practices. He wants to maintain the status quo; I want to us to do better.

    • Bob

      OK really thousands?? Please document the number of times (with facts) that Thousands of peple have been killed by a this sort of issue. Maybe when we can factually and calmly discuss these issues we can really have meaningful conversions about the true risks of the system.

      • farmber

        Hi Bob,

        If you calmly go to the Centers for Disease Cotrol website, there’s this:

        “CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Estimating illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths for various types of diseases is a common and important public health practice. The 2011 estimates provide the most accurate picture yet of which foodborne bacteria, viruses, and microbes (“pathogens”) cause the most illnesses in the United States.”

        • Bob

          I calmly read your reply and you are still misinterpreting the data! YOU said that one instance could kill thousands of people, where are your facts on that? In an entire year across the entire country 3,000 people died. I would say you exjaruated your point. So now one more time where are the facts behind your original statement?

  • Coleen Galvin

    I know.. why don’t we all stop eating meat altogether and feed the world way more effectively. The Worldwatch Institute states, “Meat consumption is an inefficient use of grain – the grain is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. Continued growth in meat outputs is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor”. If we stopped inefficiently funneling all the grains and soybeans through animals to feed the few, we would have more plant-based foods to feed all. All would be fed, not just the people rich enough to purchase animal flesh; a gross waste of our universal resources like water and land. Gradually, the systems in power will change over. People will begin to (veganically) grow more fruit trees, more gardens, more grains, more Quinoa, more soy, legumes and feed it equitably to all nations. Most likely, there will be surplus, rather than a shortage. :D

    • justic4all

      Agree. The faulty assumption in this article is that we need to be producing the tremendous amount of meat that we do. Most people eat FAR more than the recommended amount of meat per day/week – and not enough vegetable and plant matter. The health and well-being of starving people (and all people for that matter) around the world would be far better served by eating a more plant based diet … and our planet would be as well.

  • Nic Parton

    I don’t believe Dr. Raymond really wants “all parties at the table.” Small-scale producers get an off-hand mention near the end of his article, implying that sustainable farming practices are too expensive for the average American. Well, meat is expensive. Especially meat raised on high-quality grain, instead of grass (which is, incidentally, what the “Corn Belt” would naturally be if it were not over-farmed in monoculture). Eat less meat, pay a little more for it, appreciate the higher quality nutrition and reduced environmental impacts.

  • doc raymond

    Reading these comments, I get the feeling you all have plenty to eat, and plenty of capital to spend on food. You are not who I am worried about. I worry about the millions who cannot afford healthy choices for their families. I also stated I support choice, but most of the commentors want to eliminate my personal choice of what and how much protein I eat.

    • farmber

      Choice is great Doc! But unless there’s a transparent system behind it all then it really just comes down to marketing claims and ploys…

      Speaking to same the title of this article is: “Advances in Animal Agriculture Help to Feed the World” really has zero about feeding the world. In fact that claim is one of the biggest marketing ploys behind selling industrialized agriculture and GMOs to unwary consumers.

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      Someone with your background does not need to resort to reductio ad absurdum.

  • Jacob Wadsworth

    It is not a good feeling to be blindsided with the decisions that affect the totality of Agriculture especially when it affects you directly in terms of business. Congress has been making some bad or questionable decisions lately. Hope their decisions will have fruitful outcomes. – http://www.modestomilling.com/