Pew Again!

Defending Agriculture

Organization reaches out to blogger who offers more information.

Published on: December 2, 2013

Shortly after Farm Futures published my last column describing Pew Commission members, I received an email from a representative of the Pew Commission. Pew staff read my piece and asked me to review two letters the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production sent to the Federation of Animal Science Societies and the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2010. The two organizations criticized the 2008 original Pew Report.

To refresh your memory, the AVMA and FASS claimed there were significant flaws in Pew's approach and conclusions. In 2008, both organizations claim that the Pew members, some of whom I described last week, were biased.

Pew has strong views with regard to criticism of its work and asked me to review Pew's response. I shall.

Former Kansas Governor and Commission chairman, John Carlin signed both Pew letters. He again states the Pew Commission believes industrial farm operations (CAFOs) are "…not sustainable and present an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, [are] harmful to the animals housed in the most restrictive confinement systems, and deters long term economic activity in the communities in which the operations are located." (In other words, CAFO operators are harming the environment and the public.)

Gov. Carlin also declares "The industry often has inappropriate influence at every turn: in academic research, agriculture policy development, government regulation and enforcement..."

The letter to FASS said "We feel compelled to bring this fact your attention [regarding use of antibiotics] as well as correct the inaccurate statements from the Federation of Animal Science Societies...about the Commission's 2008 report." Gov. Carlin's letter says that nations such as Denmark are raising hogs in large intensive operations without using non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, the use of gestation crates or using liquid waste management systems."

The letter to FASS also said the Pew Commission took a "unbiased approach" regarding technical reports and academic studies and relied heavily on peer reviewed reports. One letter concluded that the Commission stands by "…the strength of the scientific data upon which we based our recommendations."

The letter to AVMA struck back at it saying that the lack of leadership by the veterinary association regarding non-therapeutic use "…of antibiotics has been particularly disappointing." Ouch!

Pew also attacked the lack of transparency of the interactions between the AVMA, the Food and Drug Administration and industry associations. Pew said these associations are "troubling". 

I am not a scientist or veterinarian and do not offer a judgment as to the science relied upon by Pew, the FASS or the AVMA.

I can direct you to a report issued by the Animal Agriculture Alliance which provides an interesting summary. It is entitled What the Center for a Livable Future, Pew Commission and Others Aren't Telling You about Food Production. The report reviews responsible antibiotic use, food safety issues such as E. coli from all foods is in decline according to the Centers for Disease Control. It also provides an industry by industry summary of animal care and sustainability neither of which was fully explained in the Pew Report.

Many operators of CAFOs do not believe Pew's report on industrial animal agriculture in 2008 and the recent report released October, 2013, evaluated sufficiently the steps taken by CAFO operators dealing with animal welfare, food safety, public health, animal health and science and environmental sustainability. There is support for this belief.

The Pew Commission might consider reaching out and consulting with the Farm Foundation in Illinois which also released a report on animal agriculture. Such collaboration might be helpful in lowering the heat of the rhetoric and provide Pew with more credibility.