5 Years of Big Ag: Has It Gotten Better?

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future further investigates industrial farm-animal production’s effect on public health and animal welfare.

by Dani YokhnaJuly 19, 2013
One reason the Center for a Livable Future is looking at industrial animal-production practices in the U.S. is to assess the effect on animal welfare. Photo by Rachael Breugger (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Rachael Brugger
One reason the Center for a Livable Future is looking at industrial animal-production practices in the U.S. is to assess the effect on animal welfare.

Five years ago this week, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released their report “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America,” a two-year study to review the dominant industrial farm animal production system and to develop consensus recommendations to solve the problems they found. This summer, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future plans to release a report assessing and analyzing the study’s recommendations.

The CLF’s report aims to address the public health, environment, animal welfare and rural community problems caused by industrial food-animal production.

“If the last five years [have] shown us anything, it is that the public is more engaged than ever in the food system,” says  Robert Martin, former executive director of PCIFAP and current senior policy advisor at CLF. “Consumers want to know, and have the right to know, how and where their food is produced and what, if any, risks are associated with that process.”

The original study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2008, commissioners determined that the negative effects of the industrial food animal production system were too great and the scientific evidence was too strong to ignore. They called for significant changes to be implemented in four specific areas: public health, environment, animal welfare and economics of rural communities. Their key recommendations were to

  • ban the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics and other antimicrobials
  • define non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure
  • treat industrial farm-animal production as an industrial operation and implement a new system to deal with farm waste, especially liquid-waste systems, to replace the inflexible and broken system that exists today and to require permitting of more operations
  • phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices—such as gestation crates, restrictive veal crates and battery cages—within 10 years, to reduce the risk of IFAP to public health and improve animal well-being
  • aggressively enforce the existing anti-trust laws applicable to food-animal production and, where needed, pass additional laws to provide a level playing field for producers
  • increase funding for, expand and reform animal-agriculture research

The PCIFAP consisted of 14 commissioners from diverse fields, including public policy, veterinary medicine, public health, agriculture, animal welfare, the food industry and rural society. The commission assessed the current state of industrial animal agriculture based on site visits to production facilities across the country; consultation with industry stakeholders, public health, medical and agriculture experts; public meetings; peer-reviewed technical reports; staff research; and commissioners’ own expertise.

The CLF promotes research and develops and communicates information about the interrelationships among diet, food production, environment and human health. It also promotes policies that protect human health, the global environment and the ability to sustain life for future generations.

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