Executive Summary: AVMA Response to the Final Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production

Update November 5, 2009: Bibliography available

In the spring of 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Production issued the report Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America (PDF). Considering the importance of our food system and the ramifications of minor or major proposed modifications, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) believes it is crucial to closely and carefully examine the Commission's research and methodology and the implications of the report.

As a not-for-profit association established to advance the science and art of veterinary medicine, the AVMA's membership includes more than 78,000 members representing approximately 86% of U.S. veterinarians, all of whom are involved in a myriad of areas of veterinary medical practice including private, corporate, academic, industrial, governmental, military and public health services. It is our public duty, therefore, to monitor and comment on the canon of literature pertaining to food animal production.

In our analysis of the Pew Commission's report, we found several areas of concern, beginning with the technical assemblage of academics to research and review the report. The Pew Commission purports to have utilized a process that melds the thoughts of top academics and diverse stakeholders into its grandiose examination of food animal production. However, the Pew Commission's process for gaining technical expertise in the technical reports was biased and did not incorporate the findings and suggestions of a significant number of participating academicians. We caution readers that we found disparities within the report, potentially due to the lack of incorporation of differing interpretations and conclusions offered by subject matter experts.

In terms of the report's meat and bones, the AVMA identified the points addressing antimicrobial resistance, the environment and animal welfare as the most pertinent to veterinary medicine. While we believe there is value in some of the recommendations offered by the Pew Commission, we assert that many of the Commission's sub-points have significant shortfalls and lack in comprehensive idea development or in how the Commission would execute a new plan or program.

Both in substance and in approach, therefore, the Pew report contains significant flaws and major dalliances from both science and reality. These missteps lead to dangerous and under-informed recommendations about the nature of our food system – and shocking recommendations for interventions that are scarcely commensurate with risk. The report is, in many ways, a prolonged narrative designed to romanticize the small, independent farmer, while vilifying larger operations, based simply upon their size.

The suggestions presented in the following analysis of the Pew Commission's report offer thoughtful insight into what we, as veterinarians, assert are critical research and programmatic needs as next steps in promoting the optimal health and welfare of our nation's animals and people. As always, we believe it is imperative to base our decisions on evidence and research that is grounded in the basic principles of scientific inquiry. By disregarding these elementary guidelines of thought, the Pew Commission's report is based on what is possible, rather than what is probable. The following analysis cautions against the propagation of these untruths, which could easily scare the American public and, ultimately, compromise the safety of our nation's food supply.

Read the full AVMA response (PDF)