Friday, May 02, 2008

Recent Perspectives on Meat Production

For years, many in American agriculture have touted our industrialized system of animal production as a boon to consumers, i.e., the key to cheap meat, and it has been a model for the world. Several new studies question this assumption and ask whether the externalities have been properly considered.

Is bigger really better?

Over the last 2 ½ years, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP), a diverse group of professionals with a variety of perspectives, has been studying industrialized animal agriculture. Their task was “to conduct a comprehensive, fact-based and balanced examination of key aspects of the farm animal industry,” assessing the industry’s impact on “ the public’s health, the environment, farm communities and animal health and well-being.”

On April 29, 2008, the PCIPAP released a comprehensive report of its findings, including practical recommendations. It is sharply critical of many industrialized practices. It challenges the human health consequences of concentrated feeding operations with concerns that range from environmental problems such as water and air pollution to the creation of new bacteria, some of which are resistant to traditional antibiotics. It similarly raises serious concerns about the impact of industrialized agriculture on rural communities and acknowledges animal welfare problems associated with some of the generally accepted practices used.

Presenting a discouraging worldwide perspective, the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been sounding the alarm about the link between global warming and increased livestock production for at least a couple years now.

And, while here in the U.S., we move forward with animal cloning for more homogeneous meat production, others are concerned about genetic diversity. The recent FAO report, The State Of The World’s Animal Genetic Resources For Food And Agriculture reveals that “at least one livestock breed per month has become extinct over the past seven years, and about 20 percent of the world's livestock breeds are at risk of extinction.”

What to do? Discouraged? Well, for a more upbeat perspective on food, check out the 2008 Celebration of the International Year of the Potato.

But this fascinating tuber deserves a blog post of its own. More later.


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