Progress toward sustainable meat trots along with recent developments

If you’ve been hoping for an update on sustainable meat news, you're in luck because here it is:

In recent days and months an increasing number of food companies including Smithfield, McDonald’s,  Bon Appetit Management and Hormel have pledged to stop sourcing their pork from farms who use gestation crates (cages too narrow for the animal to turn around) by  various dates later in the decade. 

Bon Appetit, which runs more than 400 cafes and corporate dining rooms across the country, announced its pledge Tuesday and upped the ante by setting 2015 as its target date while others are have talked about more limited requirements that don't kick in until 2017.

Here are some of Bon Appetit's other goals released by the company Tuesday:

--    Requiring that all pork it serves — currently 3 million pounds annually — be produced without gestationcrate confinement systems, using higher-welfare group housing systems instead.

--   Switching all of its pre-cracked (liquid) eggs — currently 11 million eggs annually —  from hens confined in barren batterycages to hens living in cage-free farms, as it already does for shell eggs.

--    Entirely eliminating foie gras (livers of force-fed ducks) and veal from calves confined in crates from its menus.

--    Ramping up efforts to seek out the most responsible meat, poultry and egg producers — those who have received at least one of the four highest animal-welfare certifications.

“Bon Appétit has turned ‘very good’ into ‘great,’ setting a new high water mark in the food-service sector,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Consumers are deeply concerned about animal welfare, and Bon Appétit is responding.”

Indeed, the HSUS says it's done a lot of work behind the scenes to prompt these pledges, but spokesman Paul Shapiro notes that, while” it’s a good start, there is a lot more to be done.”  

 He further touts progress the organization has made by partnering with American egg producers in pushing for federal rules to improve conditions for egg laying hens that would require more living space and provide facilities for more natural behaviors. The legislation could also require producers who keep their hens in battery cages to indicate that on their labels.

When asked if HSUS might strike up a similar partnership with pork producers, Shapiro said he’d love it but he doubts it will happen as “the pork producers have put up some of the strongest opposition to the egg legislation.”

While the National Pork Producer Council has long bristled at more government regulation in the industry, it struck a fairly neutral note on the consumer driven gestation crate announcements. 

"Pork industry customers have expressed a desire to see changes in how pigs are raised. Farmers are responding and modifying their practices accordingly. That process is effective, it is efficient and doesn’t require an act of Congress," NPPC said in a statement.

In more livestock news, The Translational Genomics Research Institute published a new study that links the routine use of antibiotics in food-animal production to deadly, antibiotic-resistant MRSA that can infect humans.  

 According to a release issued Tuesday by U.S. Congresswoman and microbiologist Louise Slaughter, “The study demonstrated that the deadly strain of MRSA originated from a weaker bacteria strain that could be cured with antibiotics. Once in animals, the bacteria became resistant to antibiotics – likely as a result of routine antibiotic use in food-animal production. After developing antibiotic resistance in animals, this strain of MRSA then jumped to humans.”

To Slaughter, who has long sought to reserve certain medically important antibiotics for human use, the study “eliminates all cause for delay- we must raise our livestock in a responsible and sustainable way. Every day that we continue the routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals is another day that we encourage the growth of deadly superbugs.”

Finally, in beef news, Wednesday the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef launched as an independent organization. The group, which includes beefy big shots like McDonald's, Walmart, JBS and World Wildlife Fund, will be convening in coming months and years to focus on making the beef industry less taxing on the environment.

"More efficient, environmentally sustainable approaches to bringing beef from farm to fork will help conserve our planet's finite resources while also supporting our communities and our members' bottom lines," says Ruaraidh Petre President of the Roundtable.

How long this might take remains to be seen. But it's a start.

Speaking of gestation crates, several states--including Ohio, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon— have outlawed them, with bills pending in Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and New York.

Illinois has no such proposed legislation.

 

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