February 9, 2011 Liz Borkowski, MPH 5Comment

Last week, Mark Bittman published the New York Times column “A Food Manifesto for the Future,” in which he proposed ways to “make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring.” Among his suggestions was outlawing concentrated animal feeding operations, so it wasn’t surprising to see a letter to the editor from Randy Spronk, Chairman of the Environment Committee of the National Pork Producers Council in the Times a few days later (hat tip to Maryn McKenna’s Twitter feed). It’s interesting to see how Spronk responded to Bittman’s criticism of CAFOs’ environmental impact:

Yes, there were a couple of highly publicized manure spills involving hog farms in the mid-1990s. But pork producers have made changes to assure that they won’t be repeated. If they are, producers are subject to fines up to $37,500 per day under tough new federal regulations.

See what Spronk’s doing? He’s using the existence of federal regulation to argue that we should feel good about pork production. And he’s right. If the public is concerned about the direct or indirect health and safety impacts of a product, they’ll probably buy less of it. There are other ways regulation can help businesses (for instance, by leveling the playing field between companies that are investing in safe practices and those that are cutting costs by producing dangerously), but regulation’s ability to increase consumer confidence may be the benefit industry groups like the National Pork Producers Council appreciate the most.

I’m sure the NPPC will continue to have differences of opinion with public health advocates regarding the extent to which CAFOs need to be regulated, but they seem to understand that some regulation can be good for their business. Personally, I don’t think our regulatory system has done nearly enough to address CAFOs’ effects on air and water quality, antimicrobial resistance, greenhouse-gas emissions, or the health of communities and workers, and that’s why I don’t eat meat.

So, as the Obama administration advances the erroneous assumption that regulations must cost jobs, it’s important to remember that regulation can be good for business. Even the National Council of Pork Producers agrees.

5 thoughts on “Pork Producers Council Chair Highlights a Benefit of Regulation

  1. Surely the environment wouldn’t suffer too much if more chopped off thumbs & fingers were added to it?

    And think of all the job openings that would be created by the turnover of workers in the meat processing industry!

    Yes, deregulation is the way to go (back to the 19th century).

  2. In fact, “our regulatory system” hasn’t had to do much on modern pork operations. That’s because the industry did most of the work of ensuring the environment is protected on its own. That said, it worked with EPA to develop the 2008 CAFO rule, which includes a zero-discharge standard for all pork operations, and it participated in the agency’s landmark air monitoring study to determine the amounts and types of emissions coming from farms. The data from the study will be used to set science-based emissions standards. As for greenhouse gases, U.S. livestock production contributes very little. Judicious antibiotics use is a top priority for the pork industry. Producers do use FDA-approved antibiotics, in consultation with their veterinarian as part of a herd health plan, to keep animals healthy and food safe. (Would anyone really rather have meat from an animal that was sick?) CAFOs allow producers to better manage the health of their animals, protect pigs from temperature extremes and from predators and diseases, make workers safer and offer better manure management. The National Pork Producers Council believes that there should be standards to which pork producers should adhere. But the ones that exist in our industry were developed by our industry, and they are science-based and sustainable, meaning they aren’t costly, job-killing rules. That can’t be said for so many of the thousands and thousands of federal regulations now on the books.

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