Update, June 2014: Communities Struggle with Expanding Hog Operations
Sept. 12, 2012: With an article titled “Another Attack on Large Livestock Farms
,” it seems that the writer has no problem with expanding hog operations. The article is not a response to my blog entry below—a blog that looks at important questions raised if farmers do change from confinement practices. This “Another Attack…” link expresses fear about legal action underway against CAFOs. As with many ag issues, the topic of best production methods is complicated, and it is best if all sides take time to look at research and science. Hence, the article below. Enjoy.
Animal Welfare, Food Safety, and a Research Video
I’ve grown up watching the pastures and open feedlots of my youth gradually transform into confinement motels and large manure lagoons. I’ve driven behind honey wagons on country roads and been blindsided by the smell as a deceptively gentle breeze drifts in from a neighbor’s farm. I’ve listened to Willie sing about going back to the start as cartoon pigs frolic in open spaces. It’s hard to love a CAFO.
So when I watched the new video
produced by the company I work with—the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology—I had to nudge myself into a neutral zone. I had read the impressive publication the film is based on: The Direct Relationships between Animal Health and Food Safety Outcomes
. Now I wanted to watch and listen as experts examine livestock production and food safety. CAST is known for producing credible reports. What does the science show about all this?
Pressure from interest groups, policies from food chains, and a general sentiment from the public indicate that livestock producers will need to change some of their practices. Even the Wienerschnitzel Company—with a name like that who can dispute their claim to be the largest hot dog bunch in the world—just announced plans
to phase out gestation-sow stalls. So what does this have to do with food safety?
Using peer-reviewed research and insights from specialists, the publication examines the effects that sudden changes in livestock production could have on animal health and, subsequently, food safety. The eight-minute film offers a visual look at the key points. A science-based publication can enlighten us, but a well-produced video allows us to “see” key concepts.
- The late Dr. Scott Hurd filmed in a grocery meat market as he explains important insights about animal health and food safety;
- Narration about confinement facilities and free-range operations while scenes of both methods are shown;
- Comments from Dr. Barb Masters explaining why we need to beware of unintended consequences and ready to pursue more research;
- Animal health and food safety situations examined in conjunction with comments about antibiotic use.
OK. The film is professionally produced and the ideas are clearly rendered. I see the meat counter, the confinement facilities, and the experts speaking. Most importantly, I face some questions I hadn’t considered before:
1. If indoor facilities—usually CAFOs—are modified or phased out, will animals be exposed to more disease, inclement weather, and predatory dangers?
2. If sow stalls are banned, will sows fight and baby pigs get crushed more often?
3. If antibiotic use is severely restricted, will animal health—and food safety for consumers—suffer?
When I see confinement hogs living in nose-to-rump-roast conditions, it’s hard to embrace the confinement method of raising livestock. But everyone wants safe food, so as production techniques change, we need to consider animal welfare and public safety. This film doesn’t tell farmers how to raise livestock. But it poses important questions that call for debate, analysis, and further research.
As the livestock industry transforms, it seems obvious that we need to work carefully to ensure humane, healthy living conditions for animals—and safe food products for consumers. (by dan gogerty)