Factory Farms | Food & Water Watch - Part 3
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »


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Blog Posts: Factory farms

October 7th, 2013

What Are They Feeding Your Food? Take Our Quiz!

By Briana Kerensky

We all know the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But what happens when a person takes antibiotics every day? Rather than avoid a visit to the doctor, the bacteria we’re taking medicine to fight become resistant, and can make us even sicker.

Most of us don’t consciously take antibiotics every single day. But in order to combat the stressful, filthy conditions of factory farms, many livestock producers feed their animals antibiotics on a daily basis. And when we eat food from factory farms, or drink water that was contaminated from the farms’ byproducts, we could be consuming bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. It’s a recipe for disaster.

How much do you think you know about the use of antibiotics on factory farms? Test your knowledge in our new quiz and find out: what are they feeding your food? Click below to start.  

Ready to learn more? Check out our report, Antibiotic Resistance 101: How Antibiotic Misuse on Factory Farms Can Make You Sick.

Want to do something about it? Sign the petition to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

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September 20th, 2013

CDC Report Affirms Urgency to Combat Antibiotic Resistance

drug take-back day

Photo by Tom Varco used with permission.

By Sarah Borron

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a wake-up call about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. For the first time, the CDC provided overall data on antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths from those infections in the U.S. The results are disturbing. Over two million Americans experience an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and at least 23,000 people die from them. The CDC states these estimates are minimum estimates based on the data available. Over 20 percent of the infections are caused by pathogens spread through contaminated foods.

Over time, bacteria evolve to survive exposure to antibiotics that used to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant infections in humans occur in a range of forms: food-borne illness, skin infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and sexually transmitted diseases. Antibiotic resistance means that the disease is harder to treat, more likely to require stronger drugs with side effects, and more likely to result in hospitalization and death.

There are ways to use antibiotics to delay the development of resistance. Unfortunately, livestock agriculture uses 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S., mostly in ways that hasten the development of resistance. Whole herds and flocks are given small doses of antibiotics in feed for extended periods of time to counteract the effects of being raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions. 

 The CDC reports “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” The CDC goes on to recommend, “Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.” We continue to wait for FDA to release final regulations, known as the Veterinary Feed Directive, requiring veterinary oversight on the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. 

 That’s why Congress should pass legislation (the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act in the House and the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act in the Senate) banning the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock feed. Take a moment today to tell your members of Congress to sponsor this legislation and slow the spread of antibiotic resistance.

September 13th, 2013

Maryland Looks to Provide “Home” for Unwanted Chicken Manure

By Michele Merkel

Just in case there was any uncertainty about Maryland’s priorities, they became much clearer this week with an announcement regarding the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s plan to further relieve the chicken industry of its own waste at public’s expense. In a story from September 10, 2013, MDA Secretary “Buddy” Hance was quoted as saying that the state was taking steps to ensure that “no chicken grower will be without a home for his manure.” So despite the rising homeless crisis in Baltimore, where on a single night in 2011 there were over 4,000 men, women and children living on the streets or in City shelters, the state is now talking about implementing plans to ensure that at least chicken manure has a good home to go to.

Secretary Hance’s comments were made following the chicken industry’s uproar over a proposed emergency regulation to better control phosphorus pollution from manure spread on fields on the Eastern Shore by poultry operations. Excess phosphorus is one of the primary reasons why the Chesapeake Bay is dying and, Bay-wide, manure accounts for 37% of the loads of phosphorus to the waterway. Poultry manure makes up half that amount. In Maryland, the poultry industry contributes even a larger share of state loadings of phosphorus to the Bay. Read the full article…

September 11th, 2013

Perdue’s “Corporate Sustainability Platform”: Putting Lipstick on a Chicken

By Michele Merkel


Last week Perdue, the chicken industry giant, launched a new greenwashing effort with a release of its “We Believe in Responsible Food and Agriculture” sustainability platform. The platform covers a range of issues from employee wellness programs to workplace safety to philanthropy. The platform even includes some environmental initiatives, such as installing solar panels and planting oysters. Unfortunately, though, Perdue’s efforts fail to remedy the most unsustainable part of its operations: the hundreds of millions of pounds of untreated waste that its chickens produce on the Eastern Shore of Maryland every year.

Its no easy task putting lipstick on a chicken, since chickens don’t have lips, but Perdue doesn’t get to dress up its inherently unsustainable operation by trying to using inadequate substitutes for cleaning up their mess. It’s way past time for the big Eastern Shore chicken companies, including Perdue, to be held accountable for the environmental impacts of a meat production system from which they profit so richly.

One of the biggest threats to the Chesapeake Bay, and the fishing and recreational communities who rely on it, is phosphorus and nitrogen. These pollutants are choking the life out of the Bay at an alarming rate, with massive dead zones experienced each summer. Down on the Eastern Shore, where Perdue’s operations are concentrated, chickens excrete levels of nitrogen equal to that produced by eight million people—two million more than the entire population of Maryland. Read the full article…

September 6th, 2013

My 30 Years as a Poultry Inspector

Former USDA Poultry Inspector Ken Ward.

Today’s blog post is by Ken Ward, a retired USDA poultry inspector with 30 years of experience on packing house floors.

When I was a USDA inspector, we went bird by bird to assure that plants were producing clean, wholesome products. But that won’t be the case if the USDA’s plan to privatize poultry inspection goes forward. I worked with the pilot phase of this plan to privatize the inspection of our poultry, but it could soon be approved for broader use… and it turns the “inspection” of our food into a sham. In plants where they’ve been testing this new process, line speeds have been permitted to run as fast as 200 birds per minute. That’s faster than any human could possibly inspect all those birds.

Privatizing inspection means shifting the actual hands-on inspection of the birds from highly trained, taxpayer-funded, unbiased, Federal employees to plant employees who are not required to have any training at all — and in doing so, the USDA had to change the name of these employees to “sorters” in lieu of inspectors, because what they’re doing is not inspection. 

It is a sad state of affairs when our government is more concerned about saving money than it is about people’s health, but that’s what we’ve got here: a money-saving system that makes it impossible to do adequate inspection of our poultry. A properly trained inspector utilizes ALL of their senses to make a decision about the wholesomeness of the bird. I have no idea of how checking carcasses flying by at unregulated speeds of three per second, without any authority to touch the products, turn or do anything else, can be called “inspection.” 

Read the full article…

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What Does the Farm Bureau Have to Hide?

By Sarah Borron

Statement against EPA's withdrawal of plans to monitor CAFO'sLast week, Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s failure to collect basic information on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), such as owner name, location, and number and type of animals. There are many problems with EPA’s regulation of industrial livestock facilities, and lack of information stands in the way of addressing pollution from this industry. Today, Food & Water Watch, along with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Environmental Integrity Project, filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Pork Producers Council filed against EPA to keep CAFO records private. The industry groups want to prevent EPA from releasing data related to factory farms and their pollution under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  

In supporting the case, AFBF president Bob Stallman proclaims, “Farm Bureau is not only standing up for farmers in this case, we are standing up for all citizens, who shouldn’t have their personal information publicly disseminated by their government.” But there’s a difference between a CAFO and a typical private home: tens or hundreds of thousands of livestock and vast quantities of manure. Most private citizens utilize wastewater treatment facilities to manage their waste, but most CAFOs store manure on-site and later apply it to farmland. In areas with many CAFOs, the amount of waste available far exceeds the local need for fertilizer. There’s simply too much waste, and it needs to be better regulated.  Read the full article…

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August 28th, 2013

Willful Ignorance

Meet Scott Edwards of Food & Water WatchBy Scott Edwards

Today Food & Water Watch, represented by Columbia University’s School of Law Environmental Law Clinic, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for abandoning a proposed rule (the 308 Rule) that would have finally given the agency some basic information about one of the nation’s largest ongoing sources of pollution: factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). In October 2011, EPA proposed collecting data to find out basic information about these industrial livestock facilities including where they are located, who owns and operates them, and how many animals they contain. In July 2012, EPA caved to pressure from the livestock industry and decided not to collect the data after all. EPA claims it will use “existing sources” for the data, but as Food & Water Watch’s analysis of internal EPA documents demonstrates, EPA can’t back up that claim. EPA simply can’t regulate CAFOs effectively if they don’t even know how many there are and how they operate. When it comes to factory farms, EPA embraces an “ignorance is bliss” approach that continues to bring anything but bliss to our waterways and the many communities that suffer daily from the many harmful impacts of this highly polluting industry.

EPA acknowledges in the rule itself that “[a]gricultural operations, including CAFOs, now account for a significant share of the remaining water pollution problems in the United States.” And, yet, CAFOs remain exempt from the basic standards of accountability faced by other polluting industries. The kind of information that EPA was supposed to collect with the 308 Rule is the same type of information that is readily available for every other polluting industry in the country – power plants, chemical manufacturers, wastewater treatment facilities.  But for the past 40 years, the meat industry has been extremely successful in blocking all attempts to hold these facilities accountable for any of the myriad of environmental and public health harms they cause.

The factory farm industry claims that CAFOs are private residences and that public scrutiny violates operators’ “privacy.” But running any business out of a person’s home—like daycares, for instance—is no excuse for hiding from regulation, especially when it protects society and the communities in which they operate. The meat industry’s plea for farmer privacy is really just a strong-armed end-run to keep the EPA from doing its job—regulating pollution.

How pitiful is EPA’s grasp on the factory farm industry? Read the full article…

August 27th, 2013

Beef or Bull? What Zilmax Teaches Us About Industry Science

By Tim Schwab

Over the last few weeks, the largest corporate meatpackers shocked beef markets by announcing they would no longer accept cattle treated with the widely used drug Zilmax. First Tyson, then Cargill jettisoned the growth-promoter, citing animal health concerns, including cattle arriving at slaughterhouses unable to walk. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 but banned in China and the EU based on human health concerns, Zilmax is now being voluntarily pulled from the market by its manufacturer, Merck.

But before suspending sales of Zilmax, Merck vigorously defended the drug, citing favorable research by “University experts.”  Merck’s public relations campaign fails to mention that some of these experts are paid consultants, whose research projects are funded and even co-authored by makers of Zilmax. Read the full article…

August 16th, 2013

Oh you want straight bananas now do you….

Bananas wrapped in protective plastic at a banana plantation in Costa Rica. Credit: Anna Meyer

By Anna Meyer

While studying in Costa Rica for four months this past spring, I had the opportunity to tour a pineapple plantation and a Dole banana plantation. I was surprised and bemused by what I learned about these two tropical fruits that have become commonplace in American homes.

Pineapples and bananas have a long and political history in Costa Rica and most of Latin America. Much of which is a result of the United Fruit Company’s (known now as Chiquita) grab to gain control of land. They’ve even orchestrated government coups in order to be able to export more fruit north. 

Bananas are grown in massive monoculture plantations. A single planting of banana tress consists of hundreds of plants with the exact same genetic makeup; each tree is an identical twin to the one sitting next to it. Read the full article…

July 11th, 2013

Playing catch-up with superbugs

Antiboitics Infographic

Click here to see our infographic about how antibiotic use on farms makes us sick.

By Sarah Borron

Did you know that on average, factory farms use more antibiotics than hospitals? Over 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are administered to livestock, typically in low doses to animals that aren’t even sick; a practice known as subtherapeutic use. When last we checked in about antibiotic use and livestock, FDA was touting its voluntary efforts to encourage the livestock industry to stop this practice, which is hastening the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs. But voluntary efforts lack the force of regulation and are not enough to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine.

We are still waiting for the FDA to complete a rule change to require a veterinary prescription for pharmaceuticals in livestock feed and to take action on last fall’s announcement of plans for better data collection about how antibiotics are being used. But superbugs aren’t waiting – antibiotic-resistant infections are on the rise. Thankfully, members of Congress in both the House and Senate have introduced two bills that address this critical public health issue. Read the full article…

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