Meat consumption falls 12.2% amid health concerns

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2012:

CHICAGO-“Americans will consume 12.2% less meat and poultry in 2012 than they did in 2007,”  the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected in December 2011.

Analysts ranging from the commodities trading firm CMI Group and the Daily Livestock Report mostly attributed falling meat consumption to higher feed grain prices, which have made meat and poultry more expensive.  Food writers,  however,  tended to note that the number of self-declared vegetarians in the U.S. has increased from 1% in 1971 to 3.4% in 2009.

Consumers Union suggested that a key factor is increasing public concern about contaminated meat.  “At a time when government oversight of food safety should be strengthened to combat life-threatening risks such as mad cow disease and E. coli contamination,”  Consumers Union warned,  “just the opposite is happening.”

The discussion occurred as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration took what Union of Concerned Scientists food and environment program outreach associate Ashley Elles termed “two steps backward,  one tiny inch forward” in regulating the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.  About 80% of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to livestock in low doses,  mixed into food or water,  not to treat any specific illness,  but to reduce bacterial activity in the animals’ stomachs that may inhibit weight gain,  and to prevent disease outbreaks  in crowded barns.

The FDA in December 2011 “withdrew several longstanding regulatory actions that would have restricted antibiotic use in feed and water for nontherapeutic purposes,”  Elles explained,  but “on January 6,  2012 announced new restrictions on how a specific class of antibiotics called cephalosporins could be used in animal agriculture.”

The FDA moved to limit use of cephalosporins in response to repeated scientific warnings,  including from the World Health Organization in October 2011,  that excessive use of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant human diseases,  including an antibiotic-resistant form of tuberculosis now hitting parts of Asia,  Africa,  and eastern Europe.

The FDA withdrew a proposal to regulate agricultural use of a broader range of antibiotics that orginated with a 1977 recommendation by an advisory committee that subtherapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclene should cease immediately.  Congress-ional intervention blocked the original regulatory proposal.  The Natural Resources Defense Council in 2011 filed a lawsuit meant to compel the FDA to resume the agricultural antibiotic regulatory process.

Also in the news in early 2012 were livestock disease outbreaks in Maryland and Mexico which were tentatively linked to the common practice of fattening cattle for slaughter with feedstock consisting of grain mixed with processed chicken manure.

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