There's a growing pressure for animal agriculture to change itspractices, whether it be utilizing gestation crates or feedingantibiotics, but a new paper cautions that these changes maynegatively impact food safety. The discussion paper released by the Council for AgriculturalScience and Technology -- a research group that includes the FarmBureau and the American Veterinary Medical Association -- thisweek identified some of the factors now being discussed that impactanimal health, including: antibiotic use, economies of scale,housing, local production and sustainability. Scientists have long known there is a link between animal health,stress levels and pathogen shedding, but as CAST and others havenoted, more research is needed. "In addition to overtly ill animals, there is a growing body ofevidence showing that chronically, previously, and not visibly illanimals are more likely to be contaminated with foodborne pathogensafter processing in the abattoir (slaughterhouse)," the researcherswrite. "These animals, however, may go unnoticed during antemortem(live animal) inspection, and thus questions arise concerning thepotential impacts of these animals entering the food supply onpublic health risk from foodborne pathogens." The paper discusses past research that has found animals understress or sick for a long period of time are more likely to carrykey foodborne pathogens, especially Salmonella. |
Studies have alsoshown that animals with abscesses or "other significant lesions"that need extra trimming have a greater chance of beingcross-contaminated because of the extra handling required. Many of the buzzwords being discussed in the food movement, and byan increasing number of consumers: "organic," "all natural,""antibiotic-free," or "pastured" have direct animal healthimplications -- many sustainable food advocates argue that thesechanges lead to healthier animals. But CAST gives some examples ofhow these methods could have the opposite effect. Under organic certification, for example, animals cannot be treatedwith antibiotics or synthetic worm drugs and if animals are basedon pasture, these methods directly impact animal health and howproduction is managed. The paper notes that "increased exposure tothe soil and vermin may increase the prevalence of zoonoticdiseases in livestock." "Various policy changes may negatively impact animal health,resulting in more marginally or not visibly ill pigs, which tipsthe scales toward reduced public health," the authors write.
"Theseproposed changes and their consequences need to be consideredcarefully." The paper looks specifically at some research on the differencebetween keeping animals indoors vs. outdoors: "Housing livestock indoors can also provide advantages in managingmany foodborne organisms. Because outdoor environments cannot becleaned or disinfected easily, pathogens can persist in the soil,standing water, outdoor structures, and other micro-environments,infecting successive generations of livestock. Other studies haveshown that Campylobacter and Salmonella are more common in chickenshaving outdoor exposure than in birds raised in conventional indoorhousing (cages). Dairy cows were shown to be at greater risk ofsubclinical mastitis when kept in outdoor environments comparedwith cows kept in barns.
According to several studies, outdoorproduction can also promote infection of the zoonotic parasiteToxoplasma gondii in poultry and swine. This organism has beenrelated in prenatal infections to death or severe brain and eyedamage, especially where the mother has not been previously exposedand acquires an infection during her pregnancy." (Note: Forresearch citations, see the full study). Researchers also discuss using antibiotics in animal agriculture, ahot topic in the media: "Antibiotics have a major, positive effect on improving animal andhuman health. They are used in human and veterinary medicine totreat and prevent disease.
Antibiotic use in food animals is highlyregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The use ofantibiotics in food-animal production, however, raises someconcerns about antibiotic resistance in bacteria that could affectthe efficacy of antibiotics in the treatment of human infections.Concern about antibiotic resistance is not equivalent to actualrisk. Resistant bacteria were present long before antibiotics werediscovered and found in many places without livestock exposure." The FDA, however, has stated very clearly that certain antibioticuses in agriculture are a public health risk. The full CAST paper, " The Direct Relationship between Animal Health and Food SafetyOutcomes ," can be read here.
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