When you think of eating meat, what comes to mind? Is it pulled pork covered in BBQ sauce? A juicy cheeseburger? Savory bacon with eggs? A variety of choices may pop into your head. There are so many different types of meats to enjoy.
Now that we have meat on your mind, let’s explore how the food supply chain comes together to provide these delectable dishes. To do this, we’ve developed a three-part series (check back soon for more articles) to learn more about how meat is delivered safely from the farm to your fork. Let’s start by exploring how farmers go the extra mile to care for their animals.
Bringing Animal Welfare to the Forefront
Animal welfare best practices have evolved in the past 50 years. The topic became top-of-mind for consumers in 1964 when Ruth Harrison, a British author, wrote about the inhumane practices toward animals on farms. Her book, “Animal Machines,” caused a huge pushback among British citizens and led to an inquiry report written by Robert Brambell into the treatment of animals on farms.
The Brambell report set the stage for the formation of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which oversees animal welfare in Scotland and Wales. This expert group is important to United States animal welfare because its formation led to the cultivation of the five freedoms commonly used in the U.S. today. The five freedoms are internationally recognized as providing animal welfare guidance to farmers and those who deal with livestock to ensure high ethical standards and low instances of mistreatment.
The Five Freedoms ensures:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst: by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
- Freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from pain, injury, or disease: by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to express normal behavior: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment, which avoid mental suffering.
The Five Freedoms Align with Regulations
To help ensure farm animals are fed a healthy diet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) upholds the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FDA must approve animal feed that is given to farm animals similarly to how they decide what is safe for us to eat. Additionally, animal feed is regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO, formed in 1909, is comprised of state and federal feed regulators that oversee the approval process for feed ingredients.
In addition to being well-fed, animals also receive medical attention when they become sick. For years, veterinarians and producers have administered antibiotics to food animals, primarily poultry, swine, and cattle, mostly to fight or prevent animal diseases. The FDA has provided a tightly regulated framework on how antibiotics can be used in the food supply. More importantly, livestock and poultry must go through a withdrawal period after receiving antibiotics in order for the antibiotic to leave the animal’s system before it goes to processing.
Finally, regulations exist to ensure animals have appropriate surroundings. Many states are enacting laws that ban cages that are too small and don’t allow animals to have space to move around. In addition, many kinds of meat production industries (such as beef, veal, pork, chicken, and turkey) all have robust resources that teach farmers about proper handling, care techniques, and safe facilities management for animals on their farm.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, 77 percent of Americans are concerned about the welfare of animals raised for food. Increasing consumers’ knowledge of current practices aimed at mitigating animal cruelty and increasing implementation of the Five Freedoms is crucial to the agricultural industry and for enjoying a juicy slab of steak for dinner.
If you loved learning about how farmers care for animals and want to keep learning, check back for more articles on meat labeling, grading, and everything in between! Stay tuned!
This blog post was written by Danielle Corrado, food science/policy intern from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Laura Kubitz, and Tamika Sims, PhD.