Food Animal Industry Abuses 'Worsened' Under Obama Admin: Report

Despite documented dangers, no efforts to curb antibiotic use in US livestock

The abuses of the farm animal production industry are well-documented, from restrictive cages to the overuse of antibiotics to environmental degradation. Lesser known is that under the Obama administration, these "unsavory industry practices" have flourished. Fingering Congress and other regulatory authorities, a new report issued Tuesday by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), slams the administration for the perpetuation of these conditions as well as the misleading legislation that has enabled them to do so.

The report, Industrial Food Animal Production in America: Examining the Impact of the Pew Commission's Priority Recommendations, is a follow-up five years after a Pew Commission issued a series of recommendations to address the detrimental impact of industrial food animal production (IFAP) on public, animal, and environmental health.

"There has been an appalling lack of progress," said Robert S. Lawrence, MD, director of CLF. "The failure to act by the USDA and FDA, the lack of action or concern by the Congress, and continued intransigence of the animal agriculture industry have made all of our problems worse."

Half of the 24 recommendations made by the April 2008 panel fell under the umbrella of public health concerns with five of those dealing with antimicrobial use in livestock, which has gross consequences for the efficacy of antibiotics in humans. The FDA estimates that 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are fed to food animals.

According to the report, Congress has killed every effort to legislate a ban on feeding farm animals antibiotics that are important in human medicine. As Reuters explains:

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has altered its guidelines to say antibiotics should be used only under the guidance of a veterinarian for prevention, control or treatment of disease, the Johns Hopkins report said there was a loophole. Drugs can be approved for disease prevention on the proviso that they are not being used as part of livestock production.

"This means that while antimicrobial approvals may change... antimicrobial use may not," notes the report.

The authors note that "despite the sizable body of literature supportive of a decision to eliminate antimicrobial use outside the context of veterinarian-diagnosed disease," since the initial recommendations to restrict their usage "little progress has been made to change the patterns of use."

Further, the report notes that under the Obama administration there has been scant improvement in the food animal production industry as a whole.

"In fact," they write, "regulatory agencies in the administration have acted regressively in their decision-making and policy-setting procedures."

The report singles out the House of Representatives for stepping up the "intensity of its attacks on avenues for reform and stricter enforcement of existing regulations, paving the way for industry avoidance of scrutiny and even deregulation, masked as protection of the inappropriately termed 'family farmer.'"

Further, the report notes that regulation tactics have shifted to "the implementation of policies such as 'ag-gag,' agricultural certainty and right-to-farm laws, all of which are designed to further shield unsavory industry practices from the eye of the public and the intervention of regulators."

"In 2008, the recommendations were heralded by many in the agriculture community, the agencies and Congress as the catalyst they needed to make vital changes to a food supply that has been criticized as unsustainable and in some cases unsafe," said Bob Martin with the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) which released the initial report. "Inaction was inexcusable five years ago, now it is unconscionable."


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