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Animal Care & Food Safety



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ERS tracks animal health and welfare issues as they relate to food safety and the production and availability of animals for processing into meat. Specific livestock production technologies, such as feeding low levels of antimicrobial drugs to livestock, become important when they have the potential to affect food safety or human health. Antimicrobial resistance (the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of antimicrobial drugs) is a global concern for both human health and agriculture. Moreover, animal diseases increasingly affect international trade, food safety, and human health. The care and welfare of animals raised for food has also become an issue for consumers in some countries.

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Feeding low levels of antimicrobial drugs to livestock can affect food safety, human health, and livestock production costs and returns. Antimicrobial Drug Use and Veterinary Costs in U.S. Livestock Production (May 2001) examine the economics of antimicrobial resistance in livestock and the economic implications of banning the use of growth-enhancing antimicrobial drugs in livestock production.

Diseases that affect certain types of livestock, but not humans, can cause catastrophic economic losses to U.S. producers, as well as influence the availability and prices of meats and other animal products. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the first line of defense in preventing cross-species diseases from entering the U.S. food supply, where they could affect the human population. APHIS regulates Live animal imports  to ensure that livestock diseases--such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease), foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), swine flu, and avian flu--are not introduced to domestic animals or humans. One factor affecting the spread of disease among livestock is Interstate Livestock Movements (June 2003).

Because the purposeful introduction of animal disease is considered a homeland security issue, the market effects of the spread of such diseases are receiving increased scrutiny. For a discussion of issues surrounding BSE and FMD, see:

See How Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) Has Affected World Poultry-Meat Trade (October 2007) for a description of the trade effects of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

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Animal welfare is a collective term that describes physical conditions that make animals comfortable and free from distress. Some consumers care not only about characteristics such as the nutritive content of animal products, but also want assurances that food animals are raised in humane conditions and receive humane treatment during handling and slaughter. ERS follows industry developments, as well as regulations in other countries, to identify the market impacts of animal welfare issues.

In the Food Safety topic, ERS also has information on the economic issues that affect the safety of the U.S. food supply, including the effectiveness and equity of alternative policies and programs designed to protect consumers from unsafe food.

Other regulatory programs that affect livestock production systems are discussed in the Regulatory Issues section of this topic.

See the Animal Care and Food Safety section of the Readings page for ERS reports and articles related to animal care and food safety.

Suggested Links

USDA National Agricultural Library

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)

  • The Animal Welfare page describes APHIS's role in determining standards of humane care and treatment of animals and in implementing those standards through inspection, education, and cooperative efforts.
  • Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health produces timely, factual information and knowledge about animal health.
  • Center for Emerging Issues identifies and analyzes both emerging animal health issues and changing industry dynamics.
  • Hot Issues discusses recent disease outbreaks and APHIS initiatives.

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Livestock Issues Research Unit, conducts research to determine how stress affects the physiological and behavioral responses of livestock.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, provides general and technical information about antimicrobial resistance.

United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization

Temple Grandin's website at Colorado State University contains information about livestock behavior, design of facilities, and humane slaughter.

Last updated: Monday, May 28, 2012

For more information contact: Kenneth Mathews

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