Abstracts: ISEE 20th Annual Conference, Pasadena, California, October 12–16, 2008: Symposium Abstracts
Over the past 50 years, the organization and methods of food animal production have been transformed significantly in economic organization, intensity and localization, and animal husbandry. This process began in the US in the 1940s and now is being adopted worldwide, including production of poultry, swine, cattle, and aquatic species (finfish and crustaceans). Some of these changes have reduced food costs to consumers (with high subsidies) and improved food safety through economies of scale and centralization of slaughterhouse practices, which can facilitate regulatory oversight of food processing, storage, and preparation. Other changes have created new problems not limited to food safety. These include the use of drugs as feed additives, high throughput processing methods, and confinement of thousands of animals in one site, leading to the concentration of millions of animals in some geographic areas. Addition of antimicrobials to feeds results in selection for and increased prevalence of antimicrobial resistant microbial populations within the farm environment and on consumer meat and poultry products; the confinement of thousands of animals in one site impairs animal welfare and increases the problems of waste management and the risks of zoonotic disease outbreaks, and high throughput processing methods increase risks of cross contamination and occupational injuries to production workers. Moreover, industrial food animal production destabilizes rural communities and abrogates the autonomy of farmers, who become contractors to large producers, and in some cases multinational corporations. These large corporations often allocate costs to contractors and outsource negative impacts of intensive practices, including as waste management, and responses to zoonotic disease outbreaks, such as avian influenza. Our research has focused on the health impacts of the use of arsenicals and antimicrobials in animal feeds, which include consumer exposure to antimicrobial resistant pathogens in the food supply, occupational exposures of farmers and workers to resistant pathogens, and contamination of environmental pathways (air, water, and soils) by drugs and resistant pathogens. While some changes have been legislated in the European Union regarding animal feeds and conditions of animal production, because of the international nature of the food supply, the development of global policies remains critical to ensure the safety of the food supply as well as protection of the environment.