The debate over modern food production is not going to end anytime soon, but agricultural organizations have become more proactive in telling their side of the story. This week, in anticipation of release of a report from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future, the Animal Agriculture Alliance released its own report on Monday, followed by a news conference with an expert panel on Tuesday.

The Center for a Livable Future is the group that brought you “Meatless Mondays.” Their report, titled “Industrial Food Animal Production in America: Examining the Impact of the Pew Commission’s Priority Recommendations,” became available on Tuesday. As expected, the report is highly critical of animal agriculture, calling for increased government regulation of antimicrobial use, animal welfare practices and nutrient management. “There has been an appalling lack of progress,” says Robert S. Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “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.”

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, however, was prepared with its own report titled “Advances in Animal Agriculture; What the Center for a Livable Future, Pew Commission and Others Aren’t Telling You About Food Production.” This report showcase specific accomplishments in five areas: animal care, responsible antibiotics use, food safety, environmental sustainability and industry research initiatives.
 For example, the illness rate from E. coli has dropped to less than one case in 100,000 people, meeting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 goal. Additionally, in terms of sustainability, the United States is a model for sustainable livestock production, and less than 3 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to livestock production.
 The report also explains how agriculture has embraced embracing technology to improve animal well-being and food safety and enhancing productivity to feed a world population that’s expected to increase by 30 percent before 2050.

AAA followed up with a media teleconference on Tuesday featuring a distinguished list of third-party experts including:

  • Richard Raymond,MD,former Under Secretary, Food Safety Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Scott Hurd, DVM, former Deputy Acting Under Secretary, Food Safety, USDA
  • Janeen Salak-Johnson, PhD, University of Illinois, Associate Professor Animal Science
  • John Glisson, DVM, MAM, PhD, Retired Department Head of Population Health and former Head of the Department of Avian Medicine, University of Georgia; Vice President, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
  • Frank Mitloehner, PhD, Professor and Air Quality Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Science, University of California Davis

Raymond discussed how he grew up and practiced family medicine in rural Nebraska before moving to Omaha to serve as the state’s chief medical officer under then Governor Mike Johanns. There he witnessed first-hand the health problems associated with poverty and poor nutrition in an urban environment and gained an understanding of the need for access to wholesome, affordable food. “We are providing the safest and most affordable food supply in the world,” he says. “The words—like antibiotic resistance—that groups like the Pew Commission and others toss around are meant to inflame the American public and disinform them.”

When asked about antibiotic resistance caused by livestock production, experts noted that the Food and Drug Administration is taking action currently to ensure that antibiotics continue to be used responsibly on farms.

“Congress is not the right tool to make policies based on science; they make policies based on politics,” said Raymond. “The FDA has done good job of maintaining animal health but being aware of human health,” added Glisson. “You have to admire how they have taken pressure from various groups and made the correct changes.”

The experts also strongly refuted activists’ claims that 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to farm animals.  “If you want to have a discussion about antibiotics, then let’s narrow it down the 18 percent where there’s cross-over between human and animal medicine” said Raymond.

Hurd was highly critical of the methodology and review of literature used in the original Pew report. He detailed the lack of scientific validity of the report in his blog. “Careful scientific critique of these Pew reports strongly suggests they have ‘cherry-picked’ selected papers to make a politically motivated point,” he says. “Pew purposefully not giving the whole story is misleading to the consumer and is misinforming them about the facts of animal agriculture as a whole. (Although, misleading marketing tactics do seem to be all the rage these days.)”

Read the full report from the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

Find the report from the Center for a Livable Future here.