Scientists Develop New Ways to Fatten Animals for Increased "Meat" Production
Agricultural scientists are continually developing new ways to "maximize the efficiency" of farmed animals bred, raised, and slaughtered for human consumption. From 1999-2003, the USDA's Agriculture Research Service (ARS) studied the use of new breeds of prairie grass to increase the weight of grazing animals. According to the study, cows grazing upon the two new breeds of grass - "Bonanza" and "Goldmine" - showed weight gains of 18-50 pounds per animal over cows eating traditional breeds of grass. The new seeds are expected to be available in 2006. Another ARS study discusses the addition of compounds used to control glucose levels in people to pig and cow feed to increase the amount "marbling fat" in the animals' flesh. In studies with pigs, the amount of marbling fat was increased by 3.5% using the added compounds, but US regulators have not approved their use with farmed animals. Finally, the New Zealand-based company Ovita is developing tests to help farmers identify genes in sheep that will produce the most flesh per animal. The company has already released one gene marker to identify sheep with particularly fleshy loins; so far the gene has been found in only 5-10% of a certain breed of sheep.
1. "New Prairie Grasses To Fatten Cattle - and Producer Profits," USDA / ARS, 11/8/05
2. "ARS Scientists Study Compounds that May Help Produce
Juicier Meat," Food Ingredients First, 10/28/05
3. "Test Identifies Meatier Sheep," RNZ, 11/2/05
2. Farmed Animal Welfare Increasingly Used as a Marketing Tool in U.S. and China
The welfare of farmed animals is receiving greater attention among consumers and corporations due to increased concern for animals and also for marketing purposes. US-based natural foods retailer Whole Foods Market (WFM) has created the Animal Compassion Foundation and by 2008 will develop animal welfare guidelines for "every species sold by the company." According to an article in Ontario-based Better Farming magazine, some Canadian pig farmers who supply WFM have been following the "Certified Humane" guidelines that prohibit the use of antibiotics and require that animals have more space. However, one farmer says that "transport and slaughter are the same" under the Certified Humane guidelines. See the "other items" section below for one expert's opinion on why transport and slaughter are the most stressful times for animals.
In China, the government is taking more interest in farmed animal welfare due to recent outbreaks of animal-borne diseases, trade issues, and genuine concern for the animals. The country is drafting a new law to protect and manage farmed animals and will revise current laws designed to prevent disease outbreaks. One Chinese official notes that the country's outbreak of the pig-borne streptococosis was linked to the "foul environment" in which the pigs were raised. The disease eventually killed an estimated 40 people and resulted in the preventive slaughter of many pigs. In discussing the new law, Chinese officials declined to give details, but offered some very positive rhetoric for farmed animals. According to one health official, "To safeguard animal welfare is not only a demonstration of progress of human civilization and humanitarian spirit, but also closely linked with the health of the human beings."
1. "Whole Foods Market Raises the Bar for Animal Welfare Standards," Better Farming, 10/5/05
2. "China Drafts, Revises Laws to Safeguard Animal Welfare," Poultry Site / Xinhuanet, 11/4/05
Avian Influenza: Beijing Closes Live Markets; Genetically
BEIJING MARKETS: In
China's capital city, Beijing, authorities ordered
the closure of 168 live poultry markets and began
house-to-house seizures of ducks and chickens to prevent
the spread of avian influenza. The city also reports
having killed an estimated 6 million birds as preventive
measures escalate amidst concerns over what may be
China's first case of transmission to humans. An investigation
into the death of a 12-year old girl from Beijing
has been reopened by Chinese officials who have also
sought help from the World Health Organization. China
has a very large poultry farming industry, including
an estimated 5.2 billion ducks and chickens, many
of whom come into contact with migratory birds known
to be a possible source of avian influenza.
GENETIC RESISTANCE: A team of British scientists is working to genetically engineer a type of chicken that is resistant to all strains of avian influenza. One of the scientists, a molecular virologist, says that it may be possible to replace all of the world's 35 billion farmed chickens with genetically resistant birds. The team is trying three separate but potentially overlapping approaches to produce resistant chickens by boosting their antiviral capabilities. The team's goals include long-term prevention of pandemics associated with the H1N5 variant of avian influenza, but also prevention of the N7 subtype that so far has impacted only birds.
1. "Beijing Closes Live Poultry Markets," China Daily, 11/8/05
2. "China Closes all Beijing Poultry Markets," Busines Week / AP, 11/7/05
3. "Bird Flu to be Beaten with Enhanced Chickens," CheckBiotech.org, 10/31/05
4. "GMO Chickens May Help to Lessen Bird Flu Threat," Reuters, 11/3/05
BSE: Texas Report Shows Twice as Many At-Risk Cows Entered Food Supply
A report obtained by the Dallas Morning News shows that an estimated 350 herdmates of the US's first domestic BSE-infected cow were slaughtered for human or animal food. The number is more than twice the estimate previously provided by the US Department of Agriculture, which closed its investigation of the Texas herd in August 2005. The new report was compiled for the Texas Animal Health Commission by a government employee who also found that at least two calves from the BSE-infected cow may have entered the human food supply. According to one University of Texas professor of food safety laws, "Chances are the progeny was eaten by a human being." The report's investigator was forced to use the state's database for tracking brucellosis outbreaks because the farm's records were inadequate and in many cases missing. The original source of the Texas cow's BSE infection is still unknown despite multiple investigations.
1. "Mad Cow May Have Gotten into Human Food Supply," Tallahassee Democrat / Dallas Morning News, 11/1/05
2. "Most Cattle in Sick Cow's Herd Slaughtered," Miami Herald / AP, 11/2/05
USDA Studies the Impact of Globalization on World and U.S. Dairy Industries
According to a new report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), globalization of the dairy industry is occurring in spite of some "protectionist" polices established by governments in key markets. The article describes the tariffs and policies of Canada, the European Union, Japan, and the United States, including direct payments to dairy farmers, subsidized exports, and other measures. The report says, "Eliminating all tariffs, quotas, export subsidies, and domestic supports would lead to a significant increase in the world market prices for dairy products. While the volume of trade would decline, primarily due to the elimination of export subsidies, the value of trade would increase." The chart below shows current global trade flows for key dairy products, including estimated values.
The article also discusses the potential impact on the US of "liberalizing" dairy product trade policies, calling the likely consequences modest given the size of the country's dairy industry. The authors suggest that continued increases in the productivity or efficiency of US dairy farms (i.e., producing more milk per cow) by as little as 1% would likely offset any negative trade implications. Finally, the article also includes a brief discussion of the growing number of joint ventures and partnerships between international dairy companies. The long-term impact of these relationships is not clear, but the authors note that liberalization of dairy trade policies will promote more such partnerships and the global dairy industry.
1. "US Dairy at a New Crossroads in a Global Setting," USDA / ERS, Nov-2005
2. "Briefing Room: Dairy," USDA / ERS, Updated Regularly
6. Other Items of Interest
"Animal Welfare: The Last
24 Hours are the Most Stressful," Better Farming,
Related to the earlier article about Whole Foods Market, one of the company's foundation's advisors is Dr. Ian Duncan, a farmed animal welfare expert from the University of Guelph (Canada). One of several quotes attributed to Duncan in this article: "Of all the things we do to our agricultural animals, what we do to them in the 24 hours before they are slaughtered reduces their welfare the most. During this period, animals are mixed socially, exposed to strange stimuli, rounded up or actually caught and placed in a transport truck."
[Scroll down to see article] http://www.betterfarming.com/2005/bf-oct05/cover.htm
Press Release: "Trader Joe's Gives Birds Something
to Sing About," The HSUS, 11/8/05
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has called off its campaign against food retailer Trader Joe's after the company agreed to move to cage-free eggs for a majority of its sales. Under the agreement with HSUS, Trade Joe's will convert all of its corporate-branded eggs to cage-free and promote only cage-free eggs from now on; the agreement goes into effect in three months. Trader Joe's reportedly sells 100 million eggs per year under its own label, which HSUS says could result in the un-caging of an estimated 380,000 hens under the new agreement.
"Australian Calves Die in Israel," CIWF Release,
UK-based group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is working with the Israeli group Anonymous for Animal Rights to end the trade of live animals between Israel and the Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip. According to a CIWF letter, the transport of some calves from Australia has been delayed up to five weeks and some animals went more than 24 hours without access to food and water or being able to lie down. The groups say that with the political volatility in the region, the live animal trade is continuously subject to delays and should therefore be ended entirely.
Survey: "Community Action Plan on Animal Welfare
and Protection," European Commission, Nov-2005
The European Commission seeks to assess the public's knowledge of current farmed animal welfare laws and "to collect information on public attitudes to the welfare and protection of farmed animals." The EC has created an online survey to gather feedback to help shape upcoming farmed animal protection initiatives and an overall "community action plan." The survey appears to be primarily intended for European Union citizens, but the EC is also accepting feedback from anyone inside or outside of European countries.