Don't let facts get in the way
By Seymour Klierly
For too long agriculture has been losing public relations battles with advocacy groups that pull on fellow Americans' heartstrings, but often lack credible scientific facts or analysis for their views. These nonprofit organizations have been extremely effective in pitting the public against the agriculture industry, especially animal agriculture. Finally, one of these nonprofits pushed too far and was officially and publicly rebuked by the federal government.
In April, the Environmental Working Group released a report titled "Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets." Among the claims in the report, "Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of American supermarkets. These so-called superbugs can trigger foodborne illness and infections that are hard to treat." In their view the source of the problem is the "unnecessary antibiotic usage by factory farms that produce most of the 8.9 billion animals raised for food in the U.S. every year." Finally, their advice to consumers is simple "assume that all meat is contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and you can avoid superbugs in meat by eating less factory-farmed meat."
According to their website, "The Environmental Working Group is the nation's leading environmental health research and advocacy organization." Their mission is "to serve as a watchdog to see that Americans get straight facts, unfiltered and unspun, so they can make healthier choices and enjoy a cleaner environment."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration set the record straight in a release "FDA Cautions in Interpretation of Antimicrobial Resistance Data." The FDA's response began with the following statements: "While FDA is always concerned when we see antimicrobial resistance, we believe the EWG report oversimplifies the NARMS data and provides misleading conclusions. We do not believe that EWG fully considered important factors that put these results in context."
The FDA response also rebuked the entire basis of the Environmental Working Group's report. "Additionally, we believe that it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as ‘superbugs' if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics. This is especially misleading when speaking of bacteria that do not cause foodborne disease and have natural resistances."
Not to be outdone or back away from their unfounded and unscientific previous statements, EWG decided to double down on their report. After the FDA release, EWG responded and later concluded, "The short and long of it is, American meat is dirty. And the FDA doesn't really want you to know that."
Unfortunately, this is just one example of a nonprofit advocacy organization riling up consumers and the public through a thinly veiled agenda. The Environmental Working Group and other organizations like it do not support the livestock industry, and they will do anything and everything to shut it down. While they claim to serve as a watchdog, they manipulate any inch of data provided by the federal government and use it to make preposterous claims. When checked by science and facts, they just attack again with an even bigger lie.
Editor's note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.