NPR’s Dan Charles has filed a number of thoughtful reports on modern agriculture, including the use of antibiotics in factory farming of livestock. Another one hit the airwaves and web yesterday:
It’s one of the most controversial practices in agriculture: feeding small amounts of antibiotics to animals in order to make them grow faster.
But what if the drugs don’t even work very well?
There’s some good evidence that they don’t, at least in pigs. They used to deliver a boost in growth, but that effect has disappeared in recent years or declined greatly.
The reason for this is interesting and even paradoxical.
Head here for the full audio and text versions of the story.
Although it’s from a dozen weeks ago, an article in The Guardian didn’t lose any of its relevance over the summer. As Fiona Harvey describes,
People in Britain should eat meat less often, in order to help ease the food crises in the developing world, an influential committee of MPs has urged.
It could also help to mitigate the rampant food price inflation that has seen the cost of staple foods in the UK rise by close to one-third in the last five years.
The massive increase in meat consumption in rich countries in recent decades has led to spikes in the price of grain, used for animal feed, as well as leading to widespread deforestation and pressure on agricultural land, and has contributed to the obesity epidemic. By avoiding meat even for a day or two each week, people could help to ease some of these pressures.
Sounds like the people of Britain have something in common with the people of the United States, huh? Find the full article here.
Caroline Abels at the Humaneitarian blog had a great post recently in which she she visits
Grazin’, a diner in Columbia County, New York. The waitress beat me to [the topic of their animal products] — told me all I needed to know about the meat before I even glanced at the menu. And what she told me was heavenly: that all the protein served at the diner (meat, milk, cheese, and eggs) came from farms that are Animal Welfare Approved. This means all the farms providing the diner with animal products were certified by one of the country’s top humane certification organizations. AWA is the only humane certifier that requires the pasturing of animals, and Grazin’ is the first all-AWA restaurant.
For all the details, including photos, a review of the burgers, and a link to a great video profile of the restaurant, check out Abels’ full post.
The Ethicist column at The New York Times held its first essay contest last year on why it’s ethical to eat meat.
As described by columnist Ariel Kaminer, thousands of submissions came in, which were whittled down to 29 semi-finalists, from which the judges’ panel (an esteemed but entirely male group comprising Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer) selected six finalists.
Readers had a chance to vote for the one they believed best made the case for meat eating. I read all the thought-provoking pieces and was glad that I did. Since they’re fairly short (600 words or less), it didn’t take long to read them all. Head here to check out the finalists’ entries yourself.
The judges’ selection for winner appeared in The New York Times Magazine on May 6, 2012. You can read it online here.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on April 23, 2012.
NPR’s food blog, The Salt, featured this piece about Andrew Plotsky, a former vegan who went on to study traditional butchering and establish a multimedia production outfit, Farmrun. As he describes it, “Farmrun is one of the first dedicated agricultural production studios in the country. It is our intention to serve the needs of the burgeoning agrarian renaissance by producing beautiful media for agricultural enterprises and organizations.” Read the NPR piece, check out the Farmrun website, and catch some of his work on Vimeo, like this brief calling card or the much lengthier piece linked to by NPR.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on February 3, 2012.
Thanks to a tweet from Twilight Greenaway, I discovered this great post at Grist (a version of which originally appeared on Eat with Care). As Greenaway tweeted, “Who couldn’t use a little uplifting news? ‘Food, Inc.’ chicken farmer has new humane farm.”
Wearing a face mask, she steps inside one of her chicken houses, where she is raising broilers for Perdue. Inside she reveals a crowded sea of birds bumping into each other and squawking in agitation. Chickens are shown taking a few steps and falling down — due to the weight they’ve been bred to put on rapidly. Others are on their backs, gasping for breath inside a chicken house they cannot leave. Carole picks up a few dead birds and throws them in a pile.
She walks back outside, removes her face mask, wipes the dust off her face, and says with disgust, “That’s normal.”
But it’s far from normal today. Carole Morison is still stepping into her chicken houses in Pocomoke, Md., but now the chickens follow her. Rather than flee, they try to roost on her shoulder. Now she doesn’t have to wear a face mask, and she’s hopeful that she may be able to take antibiotics again after years of developing allergies while using Perdue’s antibiotic-laden feed.
The story goes on to describe Carole and Frank Morison’s reinvigorated life as farmers on their Bird’s Eye View Farm, where they now pasture-raise chickens for their eggs. As Abels notes, “the farm is certified by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), a program that sends auditors to farms to make sure they’re complying with AWA’s strict animal welfare standards…. The farm is the first on the Delmarva Peninsula to be AWA-approved.” The full article is well worth a read, so check it out here.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on May 4, 2012.
Over the weekend, NBC News ran a story from JoNel Aleccia on failed chicken stewardship on the part of some backyard-chicken enthusiasts. She writes,
Despite visions of quaint coops, happy birds and cheap eggs, the growing trend of raising backyard chickens in urban settings is backfiring, critics say, as disillusioned city dwellers dump unwanted fowl on animal shelters and sanctuaries.
Hundreds of chickens, sometimes dozens at a time, are being abandoned each year at the nation’s shelters from California to New York as some hipster farmers discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive….
It’s the same scenario at the Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis, Minn., where owner Mary Britton Clouse has tracked a steady climb in surrendered birds from fewer than 50 in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2012….
“It’s the stupid foodies,” said Britton Clouse, 60, who admits she speaks frankly. “We’re just sick to death of it.”
Folks on the chicken-sanctuary frontlines are dealing with the problem firsthand, but others say such issues represent the small minority of cases. As Aleccia reports,
advocates of home-grown chickens … say that a few negative incidents shouldn’t give a bad name to a practice that encourages both self-sufficiency and the consumption of sustainable food grown in a humane manner.
“We’ve experienced smell, noise, pests, etc., way more from improperly cared for dogs and cats than we have from backyard chickens,” said Rob Ludlow, owner of the fast-growing website, BackYardChickens.com, which started with 50 members in 2007 and now boasts 200,000 members. He is the author of three books, including “Raising Chickens for Dummies.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people are realizing the wonderful benefits of raising a small flock of backyard chickens, the pets that make you breakfast,” he said, noting that cities nationwide have agreed, passing ordinances making it legal to keep small flocks of urban chickens.
Head here for the full piece. And please, if you’re contemplating getting a backyard chicken or two, do your homework! The internet and bookshelves everywhere are full of resources to help you decide if being an egg farmer is really right for you.
This month’s newsletter from the Willy Street Co-op puts the much-deserved spotlight on Willow Creek. As Gina Jimenez-Lalor describes,
Willow Creek Farm started on just 10 acres in 1993 with the belief that farmers who raise animals have an obligation to make sure they provide the animals with a comfortable, happy and natural life as one of the formative principles in their business practice. You can be assured that all Willow Creek hogs are allowed to roam freely or visit the comforts of their straw-lined shelters at their leisure. They are raised in a non-C.A.F.O. Environment. (C.A.F.O = confined animal feeding operation). The hogs are healthy, happy and stress-free with lots of room to move about. These animals aren’t just a business to Tony and Sue, they are creatures to be treated with dignity and respect and the Rengers’ commitment to ethically raising animals and producing high-quality meats goes back generations for both Tony and Sue.
For more, check out the full story here, as well as an earlier producer profile by Lynn Olson in the February 2011 Willy Street Co-op Reader. Finally, watch this episode of Wisconsin Foodie that features a visit to Willow Creek Farm.
On the heels of my post yesterday—about whether organic eggs produced on an industrial scale are quite a pastoral as you might think—comes a related story from NPR’s Dan Charles. In it, he takes us inside a brand-new, cage-free egg facility. As he describes,
Inside one of those houses, 18,000 chickens are milling around on the floor. Some are perched on metal bars. A few are madly pecking away at the plastic covers on my shoes….
These chickens aren’t free-range or organic; they don’t go outside. But they do get to roam around inside the house, which makes them cage-free.
Although the animals aren’t confined to insanely small battery cages stacked on top of one another, “cage-free” doesn’t necessarily mean things are all hunky-dory. Besides never going outdoors,
in cage-free systems, chicken litter builds up on the floor, so chickens scratch around and dust-bathe [a natural chicken behavior] in their own waste….
[In preliminary results from a Michigan State study,] hens in cages were cleaner, but cage-free chickens kept more of their feathers. Cage-free hens may have had more freedom, but twice as many of them died during the year.
Production of cage-free eggs is growing in response to corporate and consumer demand, but buyer beware: the happy-sounding term “cage-free” is so far removed from more humane, environmentally sustainable, and healthful ways to raise egg-laying hens as to be hysterically funny if it weren’t so infuriating. Find the audio and text versions of Charles’s informative story here. For egg options better than simply cage-free, check out yesterday’s post along with the Organic Egg Scorecard from The Cornucopia Institute.
Leah Zerbe recently penned an article for Rodale News on what exactly “organic eggs” means:
When you’re frying up those organic, free-range eggs on a Saturday morning, visions of hens running around outside, pecking at bugs and happily clucking about under the sun may come to mind. The reality is, though, most industrial organic-egg producers aren’t creating anything close to those living conditions. As it turns out, organic-egg standards might not live up to your standards.
It’s an informative piece with some very helpful links, so check it out here. For some great egg options in the Madison area, check out my earlier posts on small-flock, soy-free eggs from M&M Organic and pasture-raised eggs from Pasture Patterns.