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  • The "hot air" is the paper by McGee, not in organic farming. Please see the response of IFOAM - Organics International at www.foam.bio.


  • I just ate a pork chop. Yummy. And i grew up on a farm and we put pigs in crates. Of course they can lie down in there. But lose sows often lie on their ...


  • No, dismissing animal feelings because we "do not know" is unjust. But just for the record, surmounting evidence illustrates that animals have feelings.


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  • Translating Food Technology: Why do farmers use antibiotics?

    Why do farmers use antibiotics?

    Last week, Consumer Reports doubled down on its questionable research about dangerous bacteria in ground beef, which Farmer Goes to Market cautioned you to take with a grain of salt, by releasing a review of the past 3 years of "in-depth studies" it has run on bacterial contamination and antibiotic resistant bacteria in meats. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's "Get Smart about Antibiotics Week," coincident with the World Health Organization's "Antibiotic Awareness Week," set the activist PR machinery in motion, ratcheting upward the media coverage on the subject of antibiotics in agriculture.

    With all the negative attention and potential loss in consumer confidence, why do farmers continue to use antibiotics?

    They protect from disease, now and future. Treating a single, sick animal with an antibiotic, much as you do a sick child, is an important use for antibiotics. But it's not the most important. Trying to treat sick animals in herds or flocks that can number in the thousands is not just folly; it's impossible. So farmers use antibiotics in two ways to remedy illness in that situation: They either medicate all animals in a group or barn using medicine in the common feed or water, and they may use antibiotics similarly when they know disease is present or likely, or they suspect an outbreak may occur. That kind of mass preventive medication has always been--and still is--supported as a legitimate use by the U.S. Food & Drug Adniminstration, which regulates all animal drugs. Furthermore, the accusation that farmers waste antibiotics simply to grow animals faster is a straw man. Antibiotics do improve animal productivity; however, they usually do so because they are preventing debilitating — sometimes deadly — underlying diseases.

    It makes food more affordable. A National Research Council study estimated ending the low-level use of antibiotics in all meat production, adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars, could cost food consumers up to $2.9 billion per year. More importantly, the study added, future costs of a ban would be higher, for two reasons. First, it would create a climate of regulatory uncertainty that would scare companies away from investing in new technologies, a prediction that has come to pass as drug companies have abandoned support for cost-effective older drugs in favor of newer, more lucrative products. Second, any ban likely wouldn’t stop at “low-level” antibiotics. Continuing restrictions on all animal antibiotics would increase their cost, reduce their use by farmers and increase animal disease. All will likely increase the cost of food from those animals.

    It is humane. The inescapable fact of nature is farm animals sometimes get sick — no matter how they’re raised. Decades of research prove modern antibiotics are almost universally more effective on a case-vs.-case basis than natural remedies relied upon by advocates of organic and all-natural production systems that forbid use of man-made antibiotics. That reality led even organic advocate Hubert Karreman, a Pennsylvania veterinarian, to write in a 2007 edition of the national organic magazine The New Farm, “I believe there was a fundamental mistake made by the U.S. organic community when it rejected all antibiotics, both sub-therapeutic and therapeutic. What I see in organic livestock systems encourages me in many ways, but I’m troubled by the absolute prohibition against antibiotics in the system.”

    It may actually make food safer. More than three decades of scientific research suggests an irony in consumers buying "antibiotic-free" products in pursuit of better health: Those antibiotics consumers are paying to avoid can actually help prevent the risk of food-borne contamination. Studies in all farm animal species have demonstrated their prudent use can lower the burden of bacteria in animals entering the processing chain, reducing the chance food can become contaminated and infect humans. Even Consumer Reports own research from the last decade demonstrates higher levels of contamination in meats from farms that don't allow antibiotics.

    It protects the environment. Reducing the use of technology like antibiotics does not preserve resources--it increases their consumption because efficiency suffers. A Journal of Animal Science study, for instance, predicts ending the use of antibiotics and hormones in U.S. beef alone would require an additional 1.6 million more cows and 34.8 million acres of land just to satisfy current beef demand. By improving the efficiency of how well animals digest and use feed, antibiotics help spare tons of waste nitrogen, phosphorus and even greenhouse gases from going into the environment as pollutants.

    There's no proven reason to give up their benefits. Much as we don’t like to believe legislators, regulators and thoughtful consumers would base decisions on sensationalism or fad, the fact is the allaged connection between using antibiotics in animals and the increasing failure of human drugs is purely theory. One team of independent scholars, for instance, spent more than two years reviewing over 250 scientific papers on the subject, publishing their results in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. They concluded that if you review only the facts — absent the passion of politics — the real risk in many cases just doesn’t exist at all.

  • Navigating the New Food Movement: Does migrant farm labor really work for slave wages?

    Do large farms really exploit their workers?

    "Is it a stretch," historian Dan-el Padilla Peralta asked a lecture the last week of October before the Department of English at University of Nebraska, "to compare today's immigrants with Roman slaves?" The Princeton- and Oxford-trained classical historian, himself a child of undocumented immigrants in this country, lays out an interesting case that a globalized economy that contributes to a necessity to emmigrate may owe something to its immigrants. However, his rhetoric comparing today's U.S. immigrants to Roman slaves as "bound to farms with little to no prospect of relief" betrays the prejudices of many against today's large farms. Factory farms, writes Huffington Post "traveling research scholar" Lucas Spangher, for example, are rampant with poor pay, long hours, harassment, abuse and a frightening pace so strict workers take their bathroom breaks in their pants rather than risk blame for slowing down production.

    It's a common meme among advocates, popular food writers and documentaries, writes University of Colorado at Boulder sociologist Jill Lindsey Harrison in the December issue of the journal Agriculture and Human Values: Contrasting the honorable labor of ‘‘family farms’’ with the exploited labor of ‘‘factory farms," or criticizing only the labor relations on large-scale farms while giving small ones a pass.

    There's only one problem with that contention, Harrison writes: Nobody's ever really done the heavy academic lifting of actually studying the relationship between farm size and job quality for hired workers. So, she and fellow researcher Christy Getz did it, using two independently conducted, mixed-methods case studies—one on 300 organic fruit and vegetable farms in California and the other on 83 Wisconsin dairy farms of different sizes.

    Their results showed that despite the differences between these two commodity sectors, large farms in both cases fared better than or no worse than smaller farms for most job quality metrics studied, with only a few exceptions.

    Pay and benefits. Although the small California farms reported higher average entry-level wages, differences in top wages were negligible. For the Wisconsin dairies, entry-level hourly wages were highest on large dairy farms and lowest on medium-size farms, although the differences were not statistically significant. In both states, the larger farms were more likely to report offering nonwage benefits, including health insurance, paid time off and a paid retirement plan. It was also the larger farms in the California study that were more likely to report using formal systems to supervise and manage workers, including an employee manual, discipline and termination practices, formal grievance procedures, formal job descriptions, employment contracts and policies in Spanish. Additionally, large farms were significantly more likely than small farms to report they provide supervisors with specific guidelines or training to ensure formal respect of farmworkers. In contrast, the smaller growers tended to be more ad hoc in their worker management, depending on one-on-one contact and working side-by-side with employees.

    No pay difference between large and small farms

    Opportunity to advance. In the Wisconsin dairy study, farm size appeared to make no impact on the ‘‘intrinsically’’ rewarding nature of entry-level jobs on dairy farms—in other words, how well entry-level jobs keep workers interested and permit them autonomy and creativity. Big or small, farmworkers equally recognize that milking is boring, dirty and strenuous. However, the study found that workers’ opportunities to get promoted out of that low-level work increases as farms get larger. The data show small dairies, in contrast, tend to hire labor only for the tough job of milking, because the better non-milking jobs go to dairy owners and their families—who also, by nature of the business' demography, tend to be white, U.S.-born.

    For their part, the smaller California growers did tend to be more likely than the large farms to claim to use more efforts to protect the safety and health of their workers by limiting handweeding or stoop labor, as well as to a set number of hours each day and pay by the hour to avoid speed-related accidents associated with piece work.

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  • Foresight on Food Politics: Agriculture's future challenge, according to Mike Johanns

    Receiving his award as the 29th Service to Agriculture Award winner at the Nebraska Rural Radio Association  in Lexington, former U.S. Senator, Secretary of Agriculture and Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns paints a challenging picture of the task Nebraska's farmers are up to in the near future. 


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  • Competitive Commodity Insights: Holiday meats outlook

    Where are holiday meat supplies headed?

    Hams. USDA reports the U.S. pork sector appears to be fully back on its feet following losses last year from the disease Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, which took out a large portion of young pigs. Pork supplies are expected to finish 2015 with year-over-year production gains of 7.3 percent, which is 5.7 percent higher than even 2013's production, before pig farms began feeling the effects of the disease. Fourth quarter commercial pork production is expected to be 6.5 billion pounds, 5.4 percent greater than the same period a year ago. That supply increase will hold prices down from 5 percent to 10 percent compared to the average for 2015 as a whole. For the first half of 2016, USDA expects production to be nearly equal to the first half of 2015, at 12.1 billion pounds, holding off any price increases until at least second quarter.

    Turkey. U.S. turkey meat production in third-quarter 2015 was down 9 percent from a year earlier, at 1.35 billion pounds. That lower production combined with already lower stocks boosted wholesale prices for whole hen turkeys 17 percent above the previous year's level at this time, to $1.36 in October. September turkey shipments decreased 38 percent from a year ago, totaling just 43 million pounds. Since April, the average weight of birds at slaughter has been lower than the previous year, for a period of 6 consecutive months—reflecting the impact of bird flu in spring which caused processors to slaughter birds earlier than they normally would in order to maintain supply levels. Turkey meat production in fourth-quarter 2015 is forecast to total 1.4 billion pound, which would be 8 percent lower than in fourth-quarter 2014. This decrease is expected to come from both a smaller number of turkeys slaughtered and a decrease in the average live weight per bird at slaughter. Production in 2016 is forecast at 6 billion pounds, which would be an increase of 8 percent from year; however much of the increase won't be here until holiday season 2016.

    Lamb. A marked reduction in the number of lambs and sheep coming through the slaughter chain in 2015 relative to last year leads USDA to predict third-quarter 2015 commercial lamb and mutton production will be down nearly 3 percent from the same period in 2014, at 37 million pounds. Unlike in 2014, most slaughter lamb market prices thus far in 2015 have been below the 3-year average, despite this tighter supply. USDA theorizes the increasing strength in slaughter lamb prices is likely due to greater demand and an infusion of younger market-ready higher quality lambs. Imports of lamb and mutton remain strong despite record stocks in cold storage. Based on the NASS Cold Storage report, September 2015 beginning stocks for lamb and mutton were roughly 4 percent higher than this time last year, at 41.9 million pounds.

    Change in meat supplies this year over last

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  • Meet your Farmers: Celebrating a lifetime of rodeo

    Lolly Krug inducted into Miss Rodeo Hall of Fame


    From the 1957 Miss Rodeo Nebraska pageant to today, Aurora native Laura “Lolly” Cameron Klug has been involved in the national program highlighting the best of women in the rural sport. Klug will become the 10th person inducted into the Miss Rodeo America Hall of Fame Dec. 7 in Las Vegas. Read her story here.

  • On the Lighter Side: Ho-ho-horrible ginger bread fails

    What could be more fun than providing your customer families with the ingredients to participate in this wholesome seasonal tradition of assembling walls of cookies and icing? Apparently, a whole lot things, judging by this gallery of 25 horrifying attempts.

Translating Food Technology: Why Would Pig Farmers Insist on Using 'Gestation Crates?'

Why do pig farmers use gestation crates?The last 45 days have seen a line of announcements by food retailers and quick-service restaurant chains that they would soon begin to deman their pork suppliers phase out the use of "gestation crates," individual stalls in which pregnant and newly delivered sows are housed. Spurred by criticism from animal rights groups that the practice is cruel, Smithfield Foods, the country's largest pork farm, first announced in 2007 it would gradually abandon the practice over a 10-year period. Animal-rights groups have lobbied heavily against the practice, often successfully. Ballot initiatives banning sow stalls have passed in many states, and threat of action has led to voluntary agreements to cease their use in other states and Canada. Although Smithfield had earlier backed off on its promise because it was facing financial hardship, Smithfield President and CEO Larry Pope said the company’s hog operations had converted housing for 30 percent of its sow herd and was now back on track to meet the 2017 goal.

Since March, Wendy's, Burger King, Safeway, Sonic, Denny's, McDonalds, Cracker Barrel and Kroger have all released statements in conjunction with the Washington-based animal-rights group Humane Society of the United States announcing they plan to pressure pork suppliers to abandon the practice.

“Kroger believes that a gestation crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation crate-free housing,” said that company in a press release co-authored in early June with HSUS.

“Kroger’s has taken a very important step for animal welfare in declaring that the pork industry must find an exit strategy for its use of gestation crates,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of  HSUS.

Faced with the continual barrage of negative media fanned by HSUS and other animal-rights advocates, grocers and their customers may rightly ask, if so many people believe the practice of crating pigs is inhumane, why do most farmers still use them?

1. It makes indoor housing practical. First, many critics are correct when they say sow stalls are a result of the indoor housing pig farmers evolved toward in the 1970s and 1980s. However, their criticism doesn’t necessarily mean indoor housing is a bad thing—most farmers moved their pigs indoors because they believed it benefited the animals, as well as the caretakers. Indoor housing made sense because it protected both animals and farmers from weather, predators, parasites, and also because it made animal performance both better and more predictable (Pigs left outdoors typically use about a quarter of the feed they eat just to keep warm in winter, for example.)

Once farmers moved pregnant sows indoors, though, they found the traditional group housing for pregnant sows that sufficed in mud barnyards didn’t work well indoors. So they turned to individual housing as the practical solution.

2. It protects individuals from the animal's natural aggression. Why didn't that group housing work for sows housed indoors? Like people who push and crowd to get on a bus where only a few seats are empty, yet will be relaxed and courteous when they know seats are available, sows will fight, wound, and even kill one another when they think their access to feed is at risk. When farmers move 350- to 550-pound bred sows--which are only normally fed a set amount of feed once daily to control their weight--into indoor group pens, sows begin to anticipate the feed delivery, understand there will only be a set amount to go around, and begin to fight for the lion’s share of it. As a result, weaker sows will be injured, as well as be starved of their allotted feed portion. At the same time, the "boss" sows will eat too much, making them overly fat, which will eventually harm their ability to give birth to and feed a healthy set of baby pigs.

By instead training sows to eat in individual stalls before putting them into groups, farmers are in effect training them that fighting doesn’t earn them any additional feed. Each individual is ensured the correct amount of feed and the ability to eat it in peace and safety.

3. It improves the farmer's ability to manage individual animals. It would be disingenuous not to recognize that individually confining animals does also improve the farmer’s ability to manage them, by making it easier and quicker to give them medications, check their condition, and perform other tasks. However, the additional expense of crating sows (it is more expensive to build individual crates than group-housing pens) likely couldn’t justify those management concerns; the predominant reason is to prevent group fighting. Stalling is a trade-off between full mobility and reassurance of feed.

It works, but is it right?

So the question becomes, is it right or wrong to force these trade-offs on an animal? The late Dr. Stan Curtis, who spent his career at University of Illinois studying questions of how animals think and the effect of modern envorinments on them, believed it was. Before his death last year, Curtis was vocally critical of today’s animal behaviorists who conclude that assessing an animal’s well-being based on the animal’s “feelings” was a valid method of assessing the cruelty of practices like gestation crates.

“As long as we can’t yet measure how a pig feels, let alone measure the depth of any such feeling—which everyone agrees we can’t do—we can only speculate, surmise, analogize and anthropomorphize,” Curtis said. In other words, according to Curtis, what humans feel when they see a sow in a crate speaks only to how that human would feel were that human confined in a crate. It says nothing about how the sow feels. Farming decisions can’t be based on those human feelings. “What we cannot do is know, set thresholds, define limits or draw lines. How then is it reasonable to expect producers to manage pigs on that basis?”

To Curtis and those who follow his thinking, the only accurate measure we have of whether the animal is suffering in a crate is what he called the “Performance Axiom:” The best single set of measurable—and manageable—indicators of an animal’s state of being will be how well it produces and reproduces compared to its predicted potential. “When bodily resources become limited because a pig is in a situation requiring extraordinary adaptation, productive processes will be the first to decrease. We can measure that. Reproductive functions will be next. We can measure that. Maintenance processes, which ensure survival, last. These observed reductions in measurable performance traits are the earliest, most sensitive indicators that a pig’s well-being has been disturbed—much more sensitive than behavioral patterns that may indirectly signify some emotional reaction,” he said.

And the research shows that although both group housing and individual crating have advantages and disadvantages, sows peform as well or better in crates than they do in stalls, as long as both systems are managed well. Paul Sundberg, a veterinarian and vice-president of science and research for the National Pork Board, summed it up well in a Washington Post article. “The key to sow welfare isn't whether they are kept in individual crates or group housing,” he said, “but whether the system used is well managed. "[S]cience tells us that [a sow] doesn't even seem to know that she can't turn ... She wants to eat and feel safe, and she can do that very well in individual stalls."

What do you think about the issue? Leave a comment and get some discussion started with your fellow grocers.


0 #22 I. M. Carnivore 2015-07-26 02:53
I just ate a pork chop. Yummy. And i grew up on a farm and we put pigs in crates. Of course they can lie down in there. But lose sows often lie on their piglets, crushing or sufficating them. A nasty way to die. The sow is only in there unti the piglets are weaned. We used to raise em in fields. They would be sick and eat other sows babies and fight and injure each other and in a bad winter freeze to death once in a while. So we felt like we were treating them much better when we got em inside. We liked our pigs and treated em well. But one thing we couldnt abide was to watch someone cut a head of lettuce of at the neck, chop it up and eat it raw. Now that is cruel!
-1 #21 Max 2015-04-01 23:08
No, dismissing animal feelings because we "do not know" is unjust. But just for the record, surmounting evidence illustrates that animals have feelings. Our instincts allow us to feel sorry for animals when we see that pain is inflicted upon them. Precautions must be made if we are unsure.

Aggression can be easily managed in small group housing. Isolation is cruel. Extreme confinement is cruel. You cannot justify forcing an animal into a space in which he/she is unable to turn around or walk forward or backward.

That is agony for any animal that is even slightly sentient. And pigs are very intelligent.

"Farming decisions can’t be based on those human feelings. “What we cannot do is know... or draw lines. How then is it reasonable to expect producers to manage pigs on that basis?” It is quite reasonable to expect producers to manage pigs as beings with feelings.
-1 #20 Justin 2015-03-10 05:21
>>The fact that the sows bite the crates shows they are in deep distress

You are correct. The fact that they are biting the crates does show distress. However, it is not mental distress, it is dietary distress. Biting metal bars is a common habit among pigs who are deficient in key nutrients. In their mind, they think they can make up for that deficiency by getting minerals, such as iron which they can taste, out of the metal. Any knowledgeable farmer knows that that habit is a sign of a nutritional deficiency. So by properly managing the diet of the sows, the action of biting the crates can be eliminated.
-4 #19 Larry Elias 2015-01-23 16:37
Thanks for your insightful and educational articles. Farmers and producers who make a career out of working with animals have a much better understanding of the animals than those who think of animals as "morally significant individuals with rights."
-1 #18 Jessica Howe 2015-01-21 00:00
The fact that the sows bite the crates shows they are in deep distress
-1 #17 Nancy Poznak 2015-01-13 18:10
The problem starts with making an animal a commodity; it's worth is reduced to its' financial worth. The entire system of animal agriculture is based upon making animals into commodities. The moment and animal becomes a commodity it loses its freedom and is ultimately put into harm's way. Methods of raising pigs which allow them some freedom of movement do exist, and can be cost-effective. However, atrocities are still committed against pigs (an all commercial animals): castration, tail docking, ear punctures - all with no pain relief. Piglets not performing well are brutally killed. How do you get a pig out of the gestation crate when sending to slaughter? Do you tickle her belly? Do you gently find ways to hoist her up because she cannot walk after being imprisoned for months, or years? For those who consider it "normal and acceptable' to kill animals for food, would YOU be able to slit the animal's throat, watch the blood and life leave their body, look into its eyes and still feel this process 'normal and acceptable'?
0 #16 Jean 2015-01-08 18:09
my parents in law fed pigs in their village many years ago. It's not a big room, but definitely they can turn and walk for a few steps. Look at the environment now, to make more money, what did people do to pig, chickens,cows. A lot of people talked about food safety, but the root of all the the problem is human's moral standard dropped so quickly in this few decades, it's not only the problems of the farmer. That is the issue of the whole world I believe. eve rybody need to improve yourself from the inner, that the way to change the world.
+1 #15 M. Graham 2014-12-25 13:28
Gestation crates are unbelievably inhumane. Imagine yourself living in a crate so small that you cannot even turn around, and being continually impregnated. Pigs are incredibly smart and sensitive animals. These are LIVING BEINGS we are talking about here. This is about nothing but profit. Period. Factory "farm" pig "farmers" can spin all the narratives they want to try to excuse this abomination against creation, but the bottom line is that this treatment of God's creatures is nothing but evil. And for those of you who support this abomination against innocent creatures, and believe in God, you're really kidding yourselves if you think you are not going to pay for this. If Americans had even the smallest bit of a conscience, they would simply boycott the entire industry. But we are a nation of people so bereft of any moral compass, and so sold to the god of profit, that we will lie ourselves into the inferno rather than face the truth of our own complicity in this inconceivable violence against living beings, whose cries in the vacuum of our collective deafness go unheard.
+1 #14 Nancy S Poznak 2014-12-03 03:04
The intelligence of pigs is well-documented by scientists who study them. They are now known to be among the top four most intelligent nonhuman species. Read this article: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/03/pigheaded-smart-swine/ - not that you need to as you are most likely aware of how smart they are. I have seen many pictures and videos of sows in gestation crates. They obviously suffer. One does not have to be a veterinarian or farmer to see this. Only an idiot would deny the fact they suffer. The reason sows' aggression becomes a problem is because they have been placed into a completely unnatural environment. Pig farming must change and become far more kind to the pigs if it wants to stay in business.
+2 #13 Lemony Crickets 2014-11-21 00:00
Ah yes, how can any of us fools know better than a farmer about how to raise his animals for breeding or slaughter. We should have no say whatsoever and farmers should be able to do whatever they want with their livestock. I notice that there are no pictures or videos of pigs in these crates. I have seen video of these things and my common sense tells me that they are inhumane. The pig cannot lay down or turn around, and it cannot tell you just how bad it is. This goes on for most of the gestation period. All you need to do is look at video of pigs in these things and unless you have no sense of decency it becomes clear just how awful it is.

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