Monday, May 16, 2011

This is News?

Here’s a bulletin from Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: Most antibiotics given to livestock are administered through feed and water, with only a small fraction administered by injection.

Slaughter revealed these unstartling “facts” in a Friday press release. Incredibly, she jumped from this information to the totally unsupported claim that livestock farmers are “rampantly misusing antibiotics in an attempt to cover up filthy, unsanitary living conditions among animals” and that this leads to antibiotic resistance.

It seems obvious Ms. Slaughter never has been in a modern hog barn, which is biosecure and temperature-controlled. Such housing protects pigs from parasites and disease, which reduces animals' need for antibiotics. Barns are cleaned and disinfected after each lot of hogs is sent to market.

Furthermore, no scientific study ever has linked antibiotic use in food animals with antibiotic resistance in humans, a point that top government scientists conceded to Congress. Slaughter routinely has ignored these kinds of unhelpful facts—along with the reality that antibiotics help keep animals healthy and ensure safe food in the meat case—in her years-long quest to severely curtail antibiotics use in livestock.

So far her effort has been unsuccessful, and with Republicans firmly in control of the House of Representatives it is likely to remain so.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Vilsack Goal: Final GIPSA Rule by Fall

Poor Tom Vilsack. The Obama administration agriculture secretary just can’t seem to escape his department’s much-criticized rewrite of the rule for buying and selling livestock.

At a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday, California Democrat Jim Costa departed from topic at hand—trade—to tell Vilsack he remains “very concerned” about the massive regulation, known as the GIPSA rule. Costa asked if stakeholders would have another opportunity to comment once an economic analysis of the rule’s impact on farmers and ranchers is completed.

Vilsack answered by noting that the rule already had generated 66,000 comments, 30,000 of them “unique”—that is, not part of an orchestrated postcard or letter-writing campaign. Then he added, “Our hope is we get this (rule) done sometime this fall.”

In its testimony at the Thursday hearing, NPPC reiterated its call for USDA to accept comments on the economic analysis before it issues an interim or final version of the GIPSA rule.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Livestock’s Not-So-Long Shadow

Remember Livestock’s Long Shadow, the much-ballyhooed United Nations report that said livestock account for more greenhouse gases than transportation and that CAFOs are the worst offenders? Animal agriculture has been vilified over those findings for years.

Well, it turns out, five years down the road, the U.N. is saying, sorry, we made a mistake.

Frank Mitloehner of the California-Davis Agricultural Air Quality Center told the Animal Agriculture Alliance last week that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is working on a follow-up report that backs away from the earlier estimates. Fittingly, the new report is called Shrinking the Shadow.

The 2006 report claimed that animals produced 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and argued that small, pasture-based farms produce fewer emissions than larger operations. The truth, Mitloehner told the animal agriculture group, is just the opposite: larger, intensified farming is better for the environment.

Mitloehner said his research supports estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency that U.S. agriculture contributes about 7 percent of GHG emissions, with about half of that coming from livestock. Of that total, U.S. pork farmers are responsible for only about one-third of 1 percent. By contrast, transportation accounts for 27 percent of U.S. GHG emissions.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just Saying

“Ethanol is the only industry that benefits from a triple crown of government intervention: its use is mandated by law, it is protected by tariffs, and companies are paid by the federal government to use it.” So said Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., as she joined Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in introducing legislation May 3 to eliminate the ethanol tax credit and repeal ethanol’s tariff protections.

The Ethanol Subsidy and Tariff Repeal Act was filed as an amendment to a pending small business bill. The credit earns refiners 45 cents for every gallon of ethanol they blend with gasoline and costs taxpayers about $6 billion a year.

Testifying before a House Agriculture subcommittee May 4, NPPC President Doug Wolf said tight corn supplies, driven in part by subsidized ethanol production, could cause livestock feed shortages this year and be disastrous for pork producers. Support for renewable fuels is laudable, Wolf said, but it should not “come at the expense of the U.S. livestock industry.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Eric Schlosser’s Unanswered Question

In a 1,500-word diatribe against large-scale agriculture in the April 29 Washington Post, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser gets to the point at about word 1,475. “The wealthy,” he proclaims, “will always eat well.”

Yes, the wealthy can always afford the pricey, organic food from boutique farms that Schlosser favors. The problem is feeding the rest of us at a price we can afford. And, while the author-activist never addresses that question directly, pork producers know the answer. All the farming methods Schlosser promotes—organic, free-range, local and more—can flourish in the United States. But modern, large-scale farming is the only realistic way to produce the food the world needs in a safe, affordable and sustainable manner.