November 17, 2009

Our opening theme tonight was the late and immortal Pete Seeger performing “Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo, Get Along Little Dogies,” to introduce tonight’s topic: the care and feeding of farm animals.

We’ll have two guests tonight.  The first is Robert Martin, who is Executive Director of the Pew Commission, which has recently published a report on industrial farm animal production and has made a number of recommendations for reform of farming practices.

And then we will talk with Nicolette Hahn Niman, who is a rancher, lawyer, mother, and author of a recent New York Times Op Ed called “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” as well author of a book called The Righteous Porkchop.

Background Information on the Pew Report

There has been a bit of controversy over the past year and a half over a report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America,” was a two-year project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health .We’ll get into details of the report when we talk to Robert Martin, Executive Director of the Pew Commission. The report that came out in April of 2008 recommended a number of reforms in industrial animal production, including federal legislation to end the routine use of antibiotics on factory farms.

  • The September 1 online issue of The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that “The AVMA contends the report is not consistent with the well-documented, science-based reports that the Association has come to expect from the Pew Commission.” Dr. David R. Smith, a professor and the extension dairy and beef veterinarian for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one of the AVMA volunteer leaders who read the Pew report, evaluated the commission’s recommendations, and authored the AVMA’s response, says that the report “lacks insight into animal health issues, why antimicrobials are used in food-producing animals, and the regulation of those antimicrobials.” In addition, “Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, wrote a letter to members of Congress that states the Pew advertisements are misleading and scientifically untrue.”

The article in the AVMA online journal also quotes Dr. Charles L. Hofacre, secretary-treasurer for the American Association of Avian Pathologists who said he did not find any new information in the Pew Commission report. The article goes on to say that “Dr. Hofacre said the report does not account for the needs of a growing global population, and dependence on the “idyllic” farms the committee seems to prescribe would greatly increase the amount of land needed for food production.

“If we were to turn all the chickens and pigs and cattle loose like they would like to see done, the cost would be extremely high, so people would have to pay a lot more for their food,” Dr. Hofacre said. “And there would be shortages, because I don’t know where you would raise all of those animals.

Read the full article at

  • However, Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), was highly critical of AVMA’s response to the Pew report. Pacelle’s article of September 19 of this year, entitled “AVMA Off Course From Veterinarian’s Oath,” laments that “AVMA policies are out of step with a large share of veterinarians and the organization typically takes unfriendly positions on many of the major animal welfare questions of the day.” He asserts that “we’ve seen time and again how the livestock veterinarians, such as the swine and poultry veterinarians, control the thinking of the organization. These vets typically work for agribusiness and they embrace the mindset of the industry, including the view that animals are just production units. And unfortunately, it’s standard for the AVMA to stand in the way of sensible reforms in the realm of industrial agriculture.

Pacelle continues his rebuttal of the veterinarians:

We fought for years to ban the abuse of downer cows—those too sick or injured to stand or walk on their own—by the livestock industry, and the AVMA stood on the sidelines as we sought to advocate for humane handling of these animals and better food safety procedures. It took our investigation at the Westland/Hallmark slaughter plant to finally overcome the objections of agribusiness and to see a no-downer policy adopted.”

Just a few years ago, the AVMA supported the egg industry’s routine practice of starving egg-laying hens for days on end to extend the laying cycle of the birds. It wasn’t until a veterinary group aligned with the poultry industry, the American Association of Avian Pathologists, introduced a resolution in 2004 that the AVMA changed its position on the subject.”

“Similarly, for years the AVMA supported confining calves in veal crates so narrow they couldn’t even turn around for months at a time. After the American Veal Association passed a resolution in 2007 urging the veal industry to stop using veal crates, only then did the AVMA change its policy. In both cases, the AVMA showed no leadership on animal welfare, but simply followed the lead of industry.”

The younger generation of vets usher in changes in this ossified organization. We’d like some day to stand shoulder to shoulder with the AVMA on matters relating to the defense of animals. But too often, we stand on opposite sides of the major policy debates for animal welfare in America.”

Wayne Pacelle includes several other examples of AVMA’s failure to support the abuse of animals on his blog, .

Our Conversation with Robert Martin

Robert Martin is Executive Director of the   independent Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which was formed to conduct a comprehensive, fact-based and  balanced examination of key aspects of the farm animal industry.

  • Please give us a little background. How and why did the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production come into being?
  • Tell us about the assessment that the Commission recently conducted of the  animal industry. What was the Commission trying to learn? How did they conduct the assessment?
  • Who are the commissioners?
  • What did the commission, in fact, learn? What are the most important findings? (report issued on April 29, 2008) What most surprised, interested you, or shocked you? (This will lead to the big concerns  about antibiotics, which we should spend the most time on. Out of  curiosity: Are there any findings about hormones?)
  • The American Veterinary Medical Association responded to the report in August of this year disputing the results and methodology and saying that your report creates a romantic vision of an idyllic farmscape that could never meet the food needs of Americans and the world. What is your response to those criticisms?
  • What are some of the practical recommendations of the report? Who are these recommendations directed toward? What “force” do they have?
  • How do you use the findings of the Commission? Do you go to farmers  directly? Do you work through political channels? Government policy  groups (FDA, CDC, EPA)? Are there farming organizations that you target?
  • What indications do you have that things are changing or might change?

We have been speaking with Robert Martin, executive director of the  Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. You can read more about the Commission online,

Our Conversation with Nicolette Hahn Niman

Nicolette Hahn Niman She is an attorney and livestock rancher, living in OBolinas, California in northern Marin County.  Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems resulting from industrialized livestock production, including the book, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms  (HarperCollins, 2009). She and her husband, Bill Niman, were featured in an August 2009 TIME magazine cover story about America’s food system.…/dp/0061466492

  • You’ve just published an op-ed on “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” in the New York Times that has attracted a great deal of interest nationwide.  What is that dilemma?
  • Your book, Righteous Porkshop, has gotten rave reviews as among the best books on industrial animal farming ever written. What are your biggest concerns about factory farming? What should we be most worried about? (Antibiotics will be a major part of this discussion. Other pharmaceuticals? Hormones?) What is the environmental impact of industrial farming?
  • What concerns do you have about the animals themselves?
  • What alternatives do we have to eating industrial animals (and eggs)? What should we be aware of? What can we do to become good consumers?
  • What do you hope will be the impact of your book and your other writing and speaking?
  • Are things changing? What do you see for the futu
  • Tell us about how you got started as an animal and environmental activist.
  • You’re married to Bill Niman, whose farms are famous for naturally produced meat and healthy animals. You have access to very good meat. Why are you a vegetarian?

More Information on Food Sources and Good Animal Practices

For additional information, we want to introduce you to a webpage that we’ve found valuable: Eatwild’s website describes the site as a “source for safe, healthy, natural and nutritious grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy and other wild edibles. This website provides:

  • Comprehensive, accurate information about the benefits of raising animals on pasture.
  • A direct link to local farms that sell all-natural, delicious, grass-fed products.
  • A marketplace for farmers who raise their livestock on pasture from birth to market and who actively promote the welfare of their animals and the health of the land.”

A number of NorCal farmers and producers are listed among the businesses that provide pastured animals. The criteria for being a participating farmer are:

  • Raising animals in a natural environment and treating them humanely.
  • Protecting streams and other water sources.
  • Managing grazing practices for land health.
  • Supplementing grazing with grasses, not grain, soy, corn.
  • Not treating animals with hormones or routine antibiotics.
  • Not confining animals except for birthing and extreme weather.
  • Organic certification is desirable, but not essential.

The site also has a link to news and information, such as research about the value of grass-fed animals, the results of taste tests on factory and pastured animals, ways to tell if eggs are really fresh, the roles children can participate in and learn from on the farm, the response of Europe (and other parts of the world) to American standards for meat production, the impact on health of meat and dairy produced and prepared in various ways. The site also has links to detailed explanations of Grass-Fed Basics, Food Safety, Benefits of pastured practices for Animals, for the Environment, for Farmers,,and for one’s health.

There is also a section that “features journal references relevant to grass-based production”

They are sorted into the categories of:

1. Fats in products from pasture-raised and confinement-raised animals

2. Health benefits of diets with a low ratio of Omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Vitamin content of products from pasture-raised and confinement-raised animals

4. Environmental consequences of grass-based versus confinement-based

animal production

5. Animal health and welfare in grass-based and confinement-based animal


6. Questionable ingredients in feedlot diets

7. Consequences of the use of feed antibiotics, steroids, and other drugs in animal production

8. Worker health in animal confinement operations

9. Meat quality

10. Food Safety

11. Added health benefits of products from pastured animals

We found to be an easily navigable, highly accessible, and credible site for learning more about the whole world of pastured animals.

Playlist for Ecotopia #60: Pew and Porkchops

1. Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo, Get Along Little Dogies     1:31  Pete Seeger    American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 5

2. Farm Animals  3:20  Spook Less    Trail Riding Edition       Country

3. Cows     2:51  The Seldom Herd    Philadelphia Chickens

4. Farm     2:57  Imagination Movers    Juice Box Heroes

5. Factory Farms 3:40  Trouser    Factory Farm Songs

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Pigs, Sheep, And Wolves   3:58  Paul Simon    You’re The One

8. Rain On The Scarecrow    3:46  John Mellencamp    Scarecrow

9. Nature’s Way  2:40  Spirit    Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus

10. Tsmindao Ghmerto 3:10  Kitka    Sanctuary: a Cathedral Concert