In Meat Wagon, we round up the latest outrages from the meat and livestock industries.


Living near confined-animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) is no bowl of cherries. CAFO operators pack thousands of animals into tight spaces, concentrating their waste. The smells they release are intense and foul — and probably dangerous.

According to one recent peer-reviewed study, by Wellesley researcher Stacy Sneeringer, living near CAFOs “significantly” raises infant-mortality rates.

But you don’t need to live near a CAFO to feel their effects. According to the U.N., CAFOs generate tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas — more even than cars. If this weren’t Friday afternoon, I’d add a pungent sentence or two about CAFOs’ dreadful effects on groundwater.

In this context, you want to see federal agencies cracking down on CAFOs, forcing them to take responsibility for the messes they generate.

But that’s not how it works. Rather than forcing CAFOs to reduce their putrid emissions, the EPA just brazenly exempted them from even reporting emissions.

Cut another notch in Stephen Johnson’s belt.

Thanksgiving Eve massacre

I’ve written before about the scary problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains — and their evident link to factory-style animal farms.

It turns out that when we cram thousands of animals together and force them to wallow in their waste, they become susceptible to all manner of sickness. Thus the temptation to douse them with antibiotics as a preventive measure. It also happens that antibiotics tend to make animals fatten faster — another reason why CAFO operators use them liberally.

That such steady use of antibiotics is ruining their effectiveness and breeding resistance has become widely accepted. Researchers in Canada have found that supermarket pork is routinely infected with antibiotic-resistant staph.

Even the FDA got concerned. Back in July, the agency banned “extralabel use” of a family of antibiotics called Cephalosporin at factory farms — meaning that it could no longer be applied for preventive purposes, but only to treat sick animals.

“This rule will help further protect consumers against antimicrobial-resistant strains of zoonotic foodborne bacterial pathogens,” the agency declared. But then, on the day before Thanksgiving … experienced FDA watchers will be able to predict what comes next.

On the day before Thanksgiving — with millions of Americans preparing to cook up factory-farmed turkey — the FDA unceremoniously issued this statement:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is revoking the order prohibiting the extralabel use of cephalosporin antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.

Wha’?? What about that business about protecting consumers against antibiotic-resistant pathogens?

Turns out the agency had opened a comment period on the rule, and meat-industry flacks had bombarded it. Here’s the FDA:

The agency received many substantive comments on the order of prohibition, and therefore, in order for FDA to fully consider the comments, the agency has decided to revoke the order. As a result, the order of prohibition will not take effect on November 30, 2008.

Nice one! Laura Rogers, project director for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, was, for one, not impressed by this logic. She recently issued the following statement:

“The misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture helps fuel the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections — a fact long acknowledged by the American Medical Association, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and even the FDA. Yet in another set-back for public health, the FDA reversed itself on the off-label use of cephalosporin — a family of antibiotics vitally important in human medicine — allowing this unrestricted use in industrial farm animal production to continue.

“Earlier this year, the agency had announced plans to ban all off-label uses in agriculture of these critical human drugs. Regrettably, the FDA changed its course.

“These important drugs are the only effective therapies for serious gastrointestinal diseases in children and also the best treatment for antibiotic-resistant infections in cancer patients. Easing restrictions on the use of cephalosporin on factory farms jeopardizes the effectiveness of these drugs and needlessly imperils our public health.

“In addition, the overuse of human antibiotics in farm animals is driving up the cost of healthcare. For example, in 1998 the Institute of Medicine estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria generated an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion per year in extra costs to the U.S. healthcare system.

“The incoming Administration and the new head of the FDA need to examine the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. They must take the advice of the doctors and other public health professionals who have raised the alarm about antibiotic misuse and put the health of people — particularly susceptible groups like the elderly and children — ahead of industry profits. Change cannot come soon enough.”