Commission studies effects of animal feeding operations

Potential impact on public health, animal health, and environment evaluated
Published on November 15, 2006
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The National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production continues to conduct its two-year study of how concentrated animal feeding operations may impact public health, animal health and well-being, rural sociology, and the environment.

Formed in March, the NCIFAP held its second public meeting in September in Washington, D.C., and, at press time, was gearing up for the next meeting in November 2006 in San Francisco.

The independent commission was formed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Pew Charitable Trusts provided a $2.6 million grant for the commission to JHSPH.

"The public meetings are one of the prongs in a multiprong approach to understanding the issues surrounding confined animal feeding operations," said Dr. Michael J. Blackwell, who is one of 18 members on the commission and dean of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

"This public meeting prong is really intended to invite in experts on the subject or those who have a stake on the subject from various perspectives," said Dr. Blackwell, who is also a retired assistant surgeon general and chief of staff of the Office of the Surgeon General.

The NCIFAP will hold a minimum of eight public hearings in various parts of the United States during the duration of the study. At the end of the study, the commission will issue a comprehensive report of its findings, including recommendations, which will be made available to policymakers, industry stakeholders, and the public. There will also be several interim reports issued throughout the study, with the first one scheduled for release in February 2007.

"There is a determination to be as balanced as we can as we look at this," Dr. Blackwell said. "We do want to understand those perspectives that represent the basic spectrum of opinion."

Members of the commission come from a variety of backgrounds, including academia, public health, agricultural production, the food industry, veterinary medicine, and the public.

"You're bringing diverse people together to do a really objective analysis and to have some thoughtful conversations," said Brother David Andrews, a member of the commission. Andrews serves as the executive director for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and is a member of the Iowa Food Policy Council.

Kay Johnson, executive vice president for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, said that the group has some concerns about the commission. Based in Arlington, Va., the alliance provides a united voice for those involved in the animal agriculture and food industries in communicating science-based information to consumers and the media.

"Our concern is that there is a lot of potential for bias in the report based on the makeup of the commission," Johnson said, "because we see that the commission has a dearth of experts in the field of animal agriculture."

Johnson said another concern is that the commission is centered at JHSPH. "Its Center for a Livable Future sponsors some programs that are extremely anti-modern-animal-agriculture," she said.

While the alliance has expressed concerns about the NCIFAP, the two groups communicate on a regular basis, Johnson said. In fact, the alliance and other agricultural organization members will make presentations to members of the commission during the November meeting.

"While these issues are important and worthy of investigation, I think it's important for us as industry to continue to monitor; to be engaged with the commission, providing information and input; to continue to be very open with them about our concerns, which we have been; and to ensure the final outcome is fair and balanced," Johnson said.

Along with Dr. Blackwell and Andrews, other members of the commission are Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit Management Company; John Carlin, chairman of the NCIFAP and former Kansas governor and archivist of the United States; Tom Dempster, state senator for South Dakota; Most Rev. Richard Garcia of the Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento, Diocesan Pastoral Center and member of the board of directors of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference; Dan Glickman, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Alan M. Goldberg, PhD, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing; Daryl Hannah, actress and advocate for biofuels and environmentally sustainable lifestyles; John Hatch, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health at Chapel Hill; Thomas Hayes, president of Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation; Deirdre Imus, president of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology and co-director of Imus Ranch, a working cattle ranch for children with cancer; Dan Jackson, rancher and member of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and former president of the Western Montana Stockgrowers Association; Frederick Kirschenmann, PhD, distinguished fellow at Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, who has served on the Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board; James Merchant, MD, dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health; Marion Nestle, PhD, professor at the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, at New York University; Bill Niman, cattle rancher and chairman of the board of Niman Ranch Inc.; and Bernard Rollin, PhD, distinguished professor of philosophy at Colorado State University.