In its waning days, the Bush Administration is racing against the clock to grease the skids for the factory farming industry. The Administration has always been aligned with Big Agriculture, but these new regulations are an astonishing abdication of the government’s regulatory responsibility. The Obama Administration will have to contend with these pernicious moves and plan on rolling them back to protect the public.
In late November, the Food and Drug Administration reversed its prior regulatory commitments to bar the “extralabel” use of certain antibiotics on the nation’s billions of cows, pigs, and chickens raised for food. The term extralabel, or "off-label," refers to using drugs for purposes other than for what they were intended—such as taking an antibiotic approved to treat respiratory diseases among cows and administering the drug to chickens.
Antibiotics are supposed to be administered to fight illness and infection. But an estimated 70 percent of the antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed in low doses to animals on factory farms to promote faster growth and keep the animals from getting sick in their filthy, overcrowded environment. Major medical and public health groups, including the American Medical Association, say that the rampant use of such drugs on farm animals is a prescription for fostering the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This has the potential to render antibiotics unusable in fighting human health problems.
And just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to exclude these factory farms from certain pollution regulations, including not requiring them to report dangerous levels of air pollution to the agency. Industrialized intensive animal production facilities will now be allowed to manage the enormous volumes of manure and noxious gases they produce without federal oversight or reporting responsibilities. The Baltimore Sun addressed the issue on its editorial page today.
President-elect Barack Obama has already announced a strong team to head the EPA and other environmental positions, and dismantling these last-second giveaways to industry should be a priority.