No Farm is an Island – Let’s Take a Real Look at How We’re All Connected

"Would we accept it if the federal agency charged with highway safety allowed cars on the road without brakes – and then warned drivers to exercise extreme caution in order to avoid injury and death? Of course not. But that, in effect is the U.S. government’s approach to something that affects all of us on the most basic level: the safety of the meat, poultry and produce that we eat" starts Dr. Ellen Silbergeld’s recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.

The FDA seems to be running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off (although we know that no industrially-raised chicken has a chance to run around) casting blame quickly on everything from tomatoes to cilantro to, this just in, avocados (it’s a tough time to make guacamole). What they aren’t looking at, as Dr. Silbergeld points out, is the connection between the rise of pathogenic bacteria and the routine use of antibiotics as a feed additive. With more than 70% of antibiotics used as growth promoters or to treat animals before they get sick, it is no surprise that antibiotic resistant bacteria are making their way to our supermarket shelves. It’s time for a hard look at our entire food system – not just the produce farms but the way in which all agriculture is linked. The answer cannot be, as many have suggested, to build impenetrable fortresses around farms (see Marc’s October 2007 post on this blog entitled "The Magic of California Big Ag…How to Make Small Flavors Disappear!"). No farm is an island.

Side note: After having met Ellen through his work on Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, our CEO Fedele Bauccio asked her to speak at our Senior Staff Meeting in 2007. I consider myself relatively well-versed on the antibiotics crisis due to our work with Environmental Defense Fund but wow I learned a lot. According to Ellen’s research, it’s not even clear that the increase in growth rate in chickens is worth the cost of the drugs used to speed the process. I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist but I do wonder who funded the studies showing the these drugs are an effective way to promote growth. Maybe the companies selling the drugs? Just a guess…

Maisie Greenawalt, Vice President