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HSUS representative concerned with sustainability
By NANCY L. SMITH
OCEAN CITY, Md. (Oct. 11, 2016) — The animal welfare perspective of the Humane Society of the United States was presented by Dr. Michael Blackwell to the 51st National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel on Sept. 29.
Blackwell, the Humane Society’s senior director of veterinary policy, serves on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health.
He cited a study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production which, took a snapshot of the industry as of 2005-06.
“The study asked if we continue on this path, what will it lead to? It was very disturbing on many fronts,” Blackwell said.
Among the issues of concern was sustainability, “The world population and thirst for animal protein is growing. We don’t have enough fresh water to meet that demand.” He added that, if more ruminants are added to the animal population, “Greenhouse gases get worse.”
Blackwell cautioned, “With global warming, diseases will show up in this country we have never seen.” Avian influenza, he noted, has resulted in the euthanasia of some 50 million animals. “Our concern,” he said, “is that when you depopulate, it still needs to be done humanely.” Ventilation shutdown, he said, should be used only as a last resort under strict protocols.
The Humane Society does not support the banning of all antibiotics. Blackwell said, “It is not appropriate to allow animals to suffer and die when antibiotics can help.” But, he claimed, “When you use antibiotics, you are going to establish (human) resistance at some point.”
He said 23,000 people die each year because of antibiotic resistance, but acknowledged he had no scientific evidence to support a link to agricultural antibiotic use, arguing evidence “is not there because of lack of transparency in agriculture.”
“The Humane Society supports farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals. We don’t want to get rid of agriculture,” he said.
The organization believes that “overcrowding is bad. Poor waste management is bad,” he said, noting that all major food companies have made commitments to move away from battery cage systems for layers.
He credited Perdue Foods for switching to gassing birds for stunning.
He predicted the company would “reset expectations again” in terms of providing natural light and more legroom in chicken houses.
“The public is very ignorant about what it takes to make animal protein available,” Blackwell said. “Increasingly, people are interested in where their food comes from. Consumers are not stupid. They must understand the impact of their taste for meat.”
He called for more transparency about poultry production and processing. “The millennial generation is not very tolerant of corporate corruption and lack of transparency. They have the means to find out what they want to find out,” he said.
Blackwell previously served as deputy director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at FDA, chief veterinarian of the United States Public Health Service and chief of staff of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General.