At the end of May the New York Times published an op-ed synopsis of the Pew Charitable Trust’s recent report on farm-animal production. The NYT’s piece, titled “The Worst Way of Farming,” says: “Millions of animals are crowded together in inhumane conditions, causing significant environmental threats and unacceptable health risks for workers, their neighbors and all the rest of us.” Without reading the Pew report, it’s hard for those in the scientific and agricultural communities to take what the NYT says at face-value.
In an AVMA press release (www.avma.org) leaders from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, the American Association of Swine Practitioners, the American Association of Avian Pathologists and the Animal Agriculture Alliance expressed concern that recommendations were made without consideration of expert research reports submitted to the Trust, science-based comparisons of recommended production systems were not used and that Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which formed the Pew Commission, has a history of being anti-intensive agriculture.
According to the Pew report, “In short, animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse.” One of its recommendations is to: Phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce the risk of industrial farm animal production to public health and improve animal well-being.
No one can argue that inhumane production practices need to be stopped. But who is defining our production systems and by what standards?
The International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium in late May at Kansas State University had a who’s who roster of domestic and international animal welfare experts who both extolled the advances we’ve made in cattle welfare as well as offered opinions and recommendations for furthering animal-welfare initiatives. The meeting was not just a pat-on-the-back for the industry — some hard issues and questions also were addressed about surgical procedures, production practices and pain management. Animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, PhD, pulled no punches in admonishing the 700+ in-person and webcast attendees that cattle welfare has to continue to improve.
Symposium organizer and director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State, Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, said: “The beef industry is perceived as the industry that is on the leading edge of welfare of food animals. The Symposium attendees were proud of how well we do with welfare and we want to continue to get better and make our operations more open to the public. We all agreed we need to condemn the people who are not using good practices.”
Before we categorically dismiss the Pew report for their criticisms, however, we still have to critically assess some of its findings and turn the spotlight on certain of our agricultural practices. Environmental issues are a concern, no doubt. Overuse/misuse of antibiotics is another concern. Though we can debate all day that the human medical field needs to clean up its own act regarding indiscriminate use of antibiotics, we need to look not so much at our labeled, judicious-uses of these products, but at off-label, violative or illegal uses of these products.
Read the report yourself (www.pcifap.org) so you can arm yourselves with the facts, and think carefully how you would respond to these criticisms — let’s get our house in order, but let’s also not let agriculture’s good name get dragged through the mud.