Don’t Let the FDA Toss Your Local Salad – Tell the FDA to Fix the Food Safety Rules to Protect America’s Farmer

Local Small FarmerIf you think being forced to eat Monsanto’s unlabeled GMOs is an outrage, what would you say about having the same man who wrote that corporate loophole for Monsanto more than 20 years ago at the FDA being in charge of writing food safety rules that could wipe out America’s small and mid-sized farms in an avalanche of burdensome regulations?


That’s right, at this moment the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering rules that will determine how the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will be implemented and it’s not pretty


Not only is former Monsanto attorney and super lobbyist Michael Taylor, the man who crafted the FDA’s 1992 policy that won’t allow GMO labeling in the U.S., back at the FDA, but under the Obama administration Michael Taylor has been appointed the food safety czar and is responsible for crafting new rules that could drive tens of thousands of America’s small, local and organic family farmers out of business.


The current proposed rules are so bad they will create such burdensome costs on local food producers, threatening to bankrupt family farmers who are the backbone of the growing local food movement, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farm to school programs that many Americans like you support.


Right now there’s a comment period at the FDA that ends this Friday, November 15th, and we need your help to protect America’s local food movement and the family farmers that grow our local, organic food.


Click here to automatically tell the FDA to protect America’s family farmers and the local food movement.


Click here to add a personal comment: If you are a family farmer or food producer let the FDA know how these rules will impact you.


Small and midsize family farmers shouldn’t be forced out of business because factory farms and giant corporations have created greater risks in our food supply. Stand up for local food and family farmers!


Even more incredible than having a former Monsanto lobbyist write these new food safety rules is the fact that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is also a guiding force in crafting these local food, family farm killing regulations.


That’s right, the GMA, the same corporate lobbying front group that just illegally donated $11 million to defeat GMO labeling in Washington state has been working with the FDA and former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor to craft regulations to help drive the best local, organic farmers out of business.


From the GMA’s website: “GMA worked closely with legislators to craft the FDA Food Safety


Modernization Act and will work closely with the FDA to develop rules and guidance to implement the provisions of this new law.”


Lend your voice to help protect America’s growing local food movement and organic and sustainable family farmers.


If we want a vibrant alternative to our current industrialized food system, we can’t allow the FDA, Monsanto and the GMA to write regulations that will drive the best farmers we have out of business.


During 2010, when the Food Safety Modernization Act originally passed, Food Democracy Now! members generated more than 20,000 phone calls to Congress to help pass the Tester-Hagan and Manager Amendments which would have protected small and mid-sized farmers that are engaged in direct sales to consumers, but now the FDA is working to undermine those hard won protections.


Growing food and agricultural products is an inherently risky business. There are a lot of steps where things could go wrong. Disease, decomposition and bacteria are a natural part of growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, shipping and handling food.


Industrial Chicken FarmUnfortunately, the massive industrialization of our food supply in the past 40 years has resulted in previously avoidable food safety outbreaks.  The rise of antibiotic resistance in factory farms, E. coli tainted meat and outrageous outbreaks of salmonella in peanut butter and half a billion eggs prove that it is America’s industrial food supply that increases food safety risks.


Rather than focus on the real problems, the new rules drafted by the FDA for the Food Safety Modernization Act have attempted to place a “one-size-fits-all” approach that will force many small and mid-sized family farmers out of business.


According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, these new rules could impact more than 30,000 small farms and cost some farmers as much as half their profits just to comply with excessive food safety plans that are more appropriate for factory farm and industrial scale producers.


Thanks for taking part in food democracy!


Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Action! Team




1. “Top 10 Reasons for Farmers, Consumers, and Organizations to Weigh in on Proposed Food Safety Rules”, NSAC, October 11, 2013


2. “Will Feds Bankrupt Small Farms With Food Safety Rules?” Huffington Post, November 5, 2013


3. “Fear the Turtle: FDA’s One Sided Food Safety Regulations,” Huffington Post, November 4, 2013


4. “4 Foods That Could Disappear If New Food Safety Rules Pass”, Mother Jones, November 6, 2013



What’s Ailing America’s Cattle?

Scientists Suspect Livestock-Feed Additives Are Behind Distress



Zuma Press

Shown, workers at a Tyson unit trimmed beef in Nebraska last year.


Tyson Foods has suspended purchases of animals fed with the additive Zilmax.

A growing number of cattle arriving for slaughter at U.S. meatpacking plants have recently shown unusual signs of distress. Some walked stiffly, while others had trouble moving or simply lay down, their tongues hanging from their mouths. A few even sat down in strange positions, looking more like dogs than cows.

“I’ve seen cattle walking down a truck ramp tippy-toed,” said Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science and consultant to the livestock industry. “Normally, they just run down the truck ramp and jump out. We do not want to see bad become normal.”

With few other changes to animals’ diets that could trigger such symptoms, Dr. Grandin and other scientists involved with the livestock industry began to suspect a tie to weight-gain supplements called beta-agonists that have only recently become widely used.



The Meatrix



Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Cattle at a farm in Iowa


On Friday, drug maker Merck & Co. said it would temporarily suspend sales of Zilmax, one such feed additive, responding to widening animal-welfare concerns within the U.S. beef industry over the use of pharmaceuticals in meat production.

“Over 25 million cattle have been fed Zilmax since it was approved in the U.S., and I’m pretty sure we didn’t miss anything in those safety and efficacy studies, which were reviewed by regulatory agencies,” said KJ Varma, senior vice president of research and development at Merck’s animal-health unit, in an interview.

Merck said it plans to perform a new study of the drug’s effects on cattle, with an animal-health advisory board made up of company-appointed researchers who will design the study.



The Merck announcement came more than a week after Tyson Foods Inc., TSN +0.54% the largest U.S. meat processor by sales, told cattle suppliers it would suspend purchases of animals fed with Zilmax on account of ambulatory problems that the company observed, and suggestions by health experts that the drug might be the cause.

Originally designed to alleviate asthma in humans, beta-agonists are mixed into cattle feed during the final weeks before slaughter to promote weight gain by stimulating the growth of lean muscle instead of fat. They aren’t hormones, but Zilmax, or zilpaterol, can add roughly 2%—or 24 to 33 pounds—to an animal’s final weight. Its rival, ractopamine-based Optaflexx, can add as much as 20 pounds.

Beta-agonists such as Zilmax and Optaflexx, which is made by Eli Lilly LLY +0.02% & Co.’s Elanco animal-health unit, are products of an expanding business of supplements and antibiotics developed in recent years to help livestock gain weight quickly or prevent illness among the animals.

Since the twin drugs won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and 2003, respectively, they have grown in popularity, and are used in roughly 70% of U.S. cattle sold to slaughterhouses, according to Merck. Zilmax sales in the U.S. and Canada totaled $159 million in 2012.

“While FDA has received a very small number of reports of lameness or lying down in cattle treated with zilpaterol, we are always interested in new information about the safety and effectiveness of approved animal drugs,” said a representative for the agency.

Cattle feeders increasingly adopted beta-agonists as years of severe drought drove prices for corn—the main ingredient in cattle feed—to record highs, before an expected huge crop this year caused the prices to moderate.

As “grain prices accelerated, the margins got extremely squeezed in our business,” said Gerald Timmerman, a third-generation cattle rancher and feeder whose family owns livestock operations in Nebraska and Colorado. “That was the catalyst that drove demand for Zilmax up.”

These days, he said, “you can drive through a feed yard and spot every one [of the cattle] that’s on it. They look like muscle-bound athletes. …From a personal standpoint, I felt it was not the right thing to do.”

The additives have also taken away one of the feed-lot operators’ key bargaining chips, the ability to time when they send cattle to the packing plant to get the best price.

“Now, you only have so many days after an animal has been fed [a beta-agonist] before it’s got to go to slaughter or it becomes so lame it can’t move,” said Mike Callicrate, a cattle producer in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Despite the drought, average carcass weights have risen during recent years. Two weeks ago, the average live-steer weight at the time of slaughter was 1,409 pounds. For the same time in 2010, the average was 1,329 pounds. In 2007, it was 1,302.

Meatpackers, who face low head counts for cattle and are looking for another way to expand the amount of meat they can sell, are simultaneously encountering a growing global demand for drug-free meat.

In June, Smithfield Foods Inc., SFD +0.15% the world’s largest hog farmer and pork processor, dedicated half of its slaughter capacity to processing hogs that were never fed ractopamine, a beta-agonist that was banned in Russia in 2012, and also prohibited from use in hogs destined for China or the European Union.

“The company is leveraging its integrated platform to address the growing demand for ractopamine-free pork, primarily in export markets,” said a Smithfield spokeswoman, of the company’s ownership of both its hog-production and processing units.

Removing Optaflexx from cattle and hog feed would require that producers on aggregate use an additional 91 million bushels of corn a year, said an Elanco spokeswoman. It would also require 10 million more head of cattle on a yearly basis to produce the same amount of meat without beta-agonists and other commonly used growth-enhancing technologies, including steroid implants.

Tyson said in an email that its recent ban on Zilmax-fed animals isn’t motivated by a desire to access export markets, but rather “our own, recent animal welfare observations, as well as input from independent veterinarians and outside cattle research and animal welfare experts.”

Since Tyson’s announcement, National Beef Packing Co. of the U.S. and JBS SA JBSS3.BR +1.97% of Brazil, two major meatpackers, have said they don’t plan to change their own cattle-buying practices.

JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said the company, the world’s largest meat processor, has also noticed ambulatory problems in cattle arriving at its slaughter facilities, but hasn’t been able to determine a direct cause. If a link to beta-agonists becomes clear, he said, JBS “might take a different approach.”

Cattle feeders say beta-agonists affect animals unevenly, and more acutely in hot weather than cold. Some have reported respiratory issues or increased aggression in animals fed with beta-agonists. Many have seen no adverse effects at all.

Guy Loneragan, a veterinary epidemiologist and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University, has found a 70% to 90% greater incidence of death in animals fed with beta-agonists. Still, death among cattle in the final stages of feeding is rare.

“We’re at a stage now where we’ve collected a number of adverse events that seem to be related to their use,” Dr. Loneragan said. “The onus is upon the industry, particularly the drug manufacturers, to identify the specific causes of what we’re seeing, and find solutions to prevent it from happening.”

Some opponents of beta-agonists suggest the drugs pose concerns beyond animal welfare, and could have environmental and human health effects that have yet to be closely studied.

“It’s not good for anyone for animals to be showing up at the slaughter house that aren’t 100% healthy,” said Frank Garry, a veterinarian and professor in clinical sciences at Colorado State University. “Whether it’s the drug or not, that’s what we need to find out.”

Write to Kelsey Gee at

A version of this article appeared August 18, 2013, on page B1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: What’s Ailing America’s Cattle?.

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