U.S. Compares Poorly to Europe on Agricultural Safety Policies

In Mother Jones, Tom Philpott flags seven food-related substances or procedures that are banned in Europe but allowed in the United States.

Here are the first three, and it doesn’t really look any brighter after that:

 1. Atrazine Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.

What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.

US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”

2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.

What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”

US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.

3. “Poultry litter” in cow feed

Why it’s a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens’ guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff “consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys.” The “spilled feed” part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed “meat and bone meal from dead cattle,” CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.

What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.

US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen told me last year.

Antibiotic-Resistant Germs in Supermarket Meats

One more reason to just stop eating it. Also a clarion call to drastically overhaul the industrial model of animal agriculture that considers antibiotics a normal part of animal feed.

More than half of samples of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef collected from supermarkets for testing by the federal government contained a bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to a new report highlighting the findings.

The data, collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System — a joint program of the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — show a sizable increase in the amount of meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria, known as superbugs, like salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter.

Many animals grown for meat are fed diets containing antibiotics to promote growth and reduce costs, as well as to prevent and control illness. Public health officials in the United States and in Europe, however, are warning that the consumption of meat containing antibiotics contributes to resistance in humans. A growing public awareness of the problem has led to increased sales of antibiotic-free meat.

The Agriculture Department has confirmed that almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal agriculture, and public health authorities around the world increasingly are warning that antibiotic resistance is reaching alarming levels.

Despite Decline in Meat Consumption, America Is Still #1

Per capita meat consumption is not one of the categories where you want to lead the world, if you’re concerned about the health of your people.

Agricultural subsidies and other policies that continue to encourage overconsumption are damaging to the environment, our health, and, of course, the animals.

Americans are eating less and less meat: Consumption is projected to drop 12.1 percent just between 2007 and 2012.

That being said, we still eat a lot of meat, about three times more than your average Ukrainian and 12 times more than a Bangladesh resident. In fact, the United States holds the title for highest per capita meat consumption, just barely edging out Australia. Here’s what that looks like in map form, via NPR:

Food Lobby Dominates Policy Making, Follows Trail Blazed By Tobacco Industry

Since joining the Association for Healthcare Journalists recently, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of investigative reporting and analysis more than ever.

Here’s a recent post on the AHCJ website highlighting the scope of Big Food’s toxic influence on health policy.

 

After aggressive lobbying, Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children. 

And during the past two years, each of the 24 states and five cities that considered “soda taxes” to discourage consumption of sugary drinks has seen the efforts dropped or defeated.

At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity

That success has come through what the authors imply is a sort of big-tobacco model, in which the industry combines promises of self-regulation with huge amounts of money, and thus creates an irresistible package for lawmakers. For a blow-by-blow on how the lobbying muscle swayed the decision-makers in recent battles, I strongly recommend you read the full piece, which draws heavily from both data and extensive interviews. Particularly interesting? The examples of how the Citizens United decision has impacted far more than just election politics.

Pink Slime Update Plus USDA Proposal to Remove Federal Inspectors from Industrial Chicken Operations

An excellent discussion from the Up with Chris Hayes show, featuring Mark Bittman of the New York Times, whose excellent food columns I read regularly. 

This 20-minute video offers a perspective rarely seen on television.

h/t Erik Marcus