The food-borne ultimatum: proposing federal legislation to create humane living conditions for animals raised for food in order to improve human health.

AuthorBoris, Lynn M.
  1. INTRODUCTION II. BACKGROUND A. History of Factory Farming 1. Intensive Confinement and Contaminated Feed 2. Non-therapeutic Antibiotic Dosing III. ARGUMENT A. Congress Must Enact Legislation That Creates Humane Living Standards for Animals Raised for Food In Order To Eliminate Dangerous Human Health Risks Created by Reckless Factory Farming Practices 1. Congress Must Enact Legislation in Order to Diminish Widespread Human Suffering Caused by Food-Borne Illness 2. Congress must enact legislation in order to diminish antibiotic resistance from the non-therapeutic administration of antibiotics 3. Congress Must Enact Legislation in Order to Reduce the Health Hazards of Environmental Pollution Associated With High Volume Factory Farms a. Congress Must Enact Legislation in Order To Prevent Water-Borne Disease Caused by Water Pollution From Factory Farms b. Congress Must Enact Legislation to Prevent Respiratory and Neurological Disease Caused by Factory Farm Air Pollution B. Congress Must Adopt Legislation That Creates Humane Living Standards for Animals Raised for Food in Order to Alleviate the Burden of Food-Related Illness on the Healthcare System 1. Food-Borne Illness, Antibiotic Resistant Infections, and Environmental Pollutants Increase Health Care Costs 2. Inexpensive Meat Promotes Excessive Consumption of Animal Products, Which Increases Chronic Disease and Associated Health Care Costs 3. Small Increases in the Price of Meat May Improve Health By Discouraging Excessive Consumption of Animal Products 4. Small Increases in the Price Of Meat Will Allow Producers to Employ Humane Procedures That Will Create Healthier, More Nutritious Meat That Reduces the Risk of Chronic Diseases C. Congress Must Enact Legislation that Creates Humane Living Standards for Animals Raised for Food Because Current Federal Law Does not Address Unsanitary and Inhumane Living Conditions of Farm Animals D. Congress Must Enact Legislation That Creates Humane Living Standards for Animals Raised for Food Because Current State Law Does not Adequately Address Unsanitary and Inhumane Living Conditions of Farm Animals E. Congress Must Enact Legislation That Creates Humane Living Standards for Animals Raised for Food Because Federal Regulatory Agencies Have not Adequately Addressed the Unsanitary And Inhumane Living Conditions of Farm Animals as an Element of Food Safety 1. History of the Regulatory Framework 2. The Regulatory System Meant to Ensure Food Safety is Not Adequately Focused on Prevention 3. The Regulatory System Meant to Ensure Food Safety is Fragmented and Inefficient IV. DEVELOPMENTS V. RECOMMENDATIONS A. Federal Legislation B. Enactment and Enforcement VI. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    Imagine coming down with a stomach virus. You are suffering from a mild fever, aches, severe cramping, and diarrhea, so you take some over-the-counter medication, go to bed, and hope your symptoms subside by morning. Instead, over the next several days, you begin vomiting, your diarrhea turns bloody, and your kidneys shut down. (1) You begin to seizure so persistently and violently that your doctor is forced to put you into an extended coma, and when you awake several months later, you are paralyzed. (2) Your physician determines that you are suffering from a severe illness caused by a virulent strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli). An investigation by state officials reveals the source: a seemingly harmless frozen hamburger patty from your local Sam's Club that you grilled and ate for dinner. (3) This nightmare is a reality for many of the tens of thousands of people who are poisoned each year by E. coli. (4) Insult is added to injury when victims learn that the devastation caused by these food-borne illnesses could be prevented by the execution of federal legislation requiring sanitary and humane living conditions for animals being raised for human consumption.

    Today most farm animals live in miserable conditions. "[N]inety-nine percent of U.S. farm animals never spend time outdoors." (5) They live their entire lives in overcrowded sheds, surrounded by and often covered in their own feces. (6) For example, ninety-five percent of hens in United States factory farms are confined to wire battery cages, which allow them "less space than the area of a letter-sized sheet of paper in which to eat, sleep, lay eggs, and defecate." (7) Similarly, "[p]regnant sows are isolated in 'gestation crates' which prevent them from walking or turning around." (8) In order to prevent these animals from perishing in such deplorable conditions, the animals are regularly dosed with antibiotics, which, from the producer's perspective, provide the added benefit of promoting growth. (9)

    These conditions and practices are horrifying from an animal welfare perspective, but they are even more frightening when human health risks are taken into account. "Confining animals in crowded, stressful, and unhygienic conditions can increase the risk of food-borne diseases." (10) Several recent studies have concluded that the risk of Salmonella infection is dramatically increased in egg-laying hens that are forced to endure intensive confinement. (11) Often, cattle arrive at the slaughterhouse covered with feces that contain E. coli, (12) thereby increasing the chance of contamination and human illness. In addition, the administration of sub-therapeutic antibiotics endangers human health by fostering antibiotic resistant bacteria which, when transmitted to humans, will be untreatable. (13) Furthermore, the increased concentration of animals in factory farm facilities creates various environmental issues, including air pollution and water contamination that have potentially devastating human health consequences. (14)

    In 1873, Congress enacted the Twenty-Eight Hour Law, which provides that when animals are being transported across state lines, they may not be confined "for more than 28 consecutive hours without unloading the animals for feeding, water, and rest." (15) Congress did not address farm animal welfare again until 1958, when it passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, (16) which requires that farm animals be "rendered insensible to pain" prior to slaughter. (17) These two laws represent the entire body of federal legislation on the issue of farm animal welfare (18) and deal solely with the issues of transportation and slaughter, respectively. (19) Thus, the daily living conditions of farm animals are completely untouched by federal legislation. In order to reduce the large number of human health risks associated with the reckless farming practices outlined above, Congress must enact federal legislation that requires humane living conditions for farm animals and declares a moratorium on the routine use of unnecessary antibiotics.

    Part II of this Note will briefly review traditional farming and animal husbandry practices and examine the shift to the modern practices used by producers of animal products today. Part I! will also present several farming practices utilized today that are particularly dangerous to human health. Part III of this Note will explore the immense human suffering that is occurring as a result of these modern farm practices. It will also examine the current statutory and regulatory landscape and discuss why the current system is failing. Parts IV and V of this Note will explore recent developments in congressional legislation and propose guidelines for a federal statute, with suggested minimum requirements for the treatment and living conditions of animals raised for human consumption, in order to improve human health.


    1. History of Factory Farming

    Only fifty years ago, most of the food consumed by the American population was grown or raised on small family farms. (20) These farms ensured the health and growth of their animals by employing ethical animal husbandry practices. The animals were raised "outside to ensure ... enough space for disease control," (21) and to allow the animals the freedom "to express many normal behaviors in natural group sizes." (22) If a farmer "put 100,000 chickens in 1 building, all would have died in weeks." (23) Thus, it was in the farmer's best interest, economically, to care for his animals. (24)

    Since then, technological advances have prompted a radical shift to a concentrated system that produces more animals with fewer producers and fewer farm workers. (25) These advances, which include vaccines, antibiotics, and air handling systems, (26) have eliminated the modern producer's economic risk of raising farm animals in inhumane conditions and allowed them to confine large numbers of animals to "relatively small spaces, generally in enclosed facilities that restrict movement." (27) These modern farms, which are now primarily owned by large corporations, (28) are commonly known as "factory farms" or "concentrated animal feeding operations" (CAFOs). (29) While factory farms employ practices that have succeeded in producing a greater number of inexpensive animal products with fewer and often less-highly-skilled employees, these practices pose substantial risks to human health by creating food-borne disease, antibiotic resistance, and environmental pollution. (30)

    1. Intensive Confinement and Contaminated Feed

      The hallmark of a factory farm is the close proximity and intensive confinement in which the animals are kept. Animals are packed together by the thousands, so strictly confined that they are unable to turn their bodies, fully extend their limbs, or lie down. (31) They live in their own manure and often never see daylight. (32) Aside from the significant animal cruelty involved, this model of animal husbandry presents substantial human health problems. Most notably, these conditions create a breeding ground for new and more infectious diseases. (33) Because of the large number of animals on a typical factory farm and the close proximity in which they are kept, these diseases are quickly...

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