Report finds reforms stymied in poultry, livestock industries

Analysis finds Obama administration, Congress failed to act on Pew commission call for wide-ranging reforms in how meat winds up on US tables.
Analysis finds Obama administration, Congress failed to act on Pew commission call for wide-ranging reforms in how meat winds up on US tables. (Jed Kirschbaum, 2008)

A new analysis of the nation's farm animal industry finds almost no reforms have been made in the five years since a broad-based commission called for sweeping changes to address concerns about food safety, animal welfare and the environmental impacts of modern poultry and livestock production.

The report released Tuesday by the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future says that the Obama administration and Congress both have failed to act on the recommendations of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Indeed, except for a few isolated regulatory actions, policy makers have only exacerbated the problems highlighted in the commission's 2008 report, according to Bob Martin, executive director of the Pew panel.


"There's enough blame to go around, really, and it's bipartisan," said Martin.

About the only change made that fits the commission's call for reform, Martin said, was the recent announcement by the Food and Drug Administration that it had revoked approval for three of four drugs containing arsenic that had been widely fed to poultry and pigs. The makers of the drugs had already voluntarily pulled them from the market after studies found arsenic in the meat of treated chickens. Maryland lawmakers also had voted to ban their use in the state.

The commission had recommended wide-ranging changes in the industry to address concerns about public health, the environment, animal welfare and the impact on rural communities.

Despite some initially encouraging signs, Martin said, moves by the Obama administration to enforce antitrust laws in the meat industry and to guarantee contract growers' rights were thwarted or watered down.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has largely backed away, Martin contended, from expanding federal regulation of large-scale livestock and poultry farms, known as "concentrated animal feeding operations."  While some states, including Maryland, have tightened environmental controls on animal farming, he said, lawmakers also have adopted so-called "ag-gag" laws and other measures to shield farms from public scrutiny and increased regulation.

Though the Pew panel has had almost no impact on laws and policies, Martin said he was encouraged by increasing public interest in local and regional food production, including the growth of farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture.

"People are more interested in how their food is raised and where it's coming from,'' he said. "And in the long term, that's got to help."