Tracking pesticides, factory farming

Sound Consumer | July 2008

by Trudy Bialic, Editor

(July 2008) — Two significant developments involving our food system warrant a heads up this month. They involve 1) the U.S. government’s decision to stop tracking pesticide use on food crops, and 2) a surprising report on the industrial treatment of livestock.

Regarding pesticides, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it’s eliminating a program that tracks pesticide use on food crops. The USDA says it doesn’t have money to continue the program.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has collected data on agricultural chemical use at least since 1991 — tracking applications by crop and state. It’s considered the only reliable, publicly available database of its kind and is used by state officials as well as agribusiness and public interest groups.

More than 44 organizations have written the USDA, saying the decision will severely hamper pesticide risk assessments and the ability to make sound policy decisions. Critics also say the timing of the decision is ”curious” since the data would show an enormous increase in the pounds of herbicides applied on genetically modified crops, especially Roundup Ready soybeans.

Regarding livestock, a two-and-a-half year analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is calling for major changes in how meat, milk and eggs are produced in this country.

The report, “Putting Meat on the Table,” is considered remarkable for the number of tough recommendations. They include phasing out intensive, confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) that prevent the free movement of animals, and banning the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics.

The report acknowledges that CAFOS produce cheaper food but says their “economies of scale” are largely an illusion and ignore associated costs to the environment and human health.

It says CAFOs degrade land, water and air quality, allow disease to spread quickly, and that feeding antibiotics to animals has exacerbated the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, rendering some important drugs ineffective in treating human illness.

The report also says factory farming undermines rural communities and calls for more vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws.

More about: farming, food systems, health concerns, pesticides

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