Monthly Archives: April 2012

Fox To Guard Hen House, Salmonella at 11

Back when I was in high school, the state in which I was living at the time was having difficulty getting a sufficiently large percentage of students to pass their standardized tests.  Their solution to this problem, of course, was to dumb down the tests, to make it easier for badly educated children to pass them.  It solved the problem (kids aren’t passing the exams) without really solving the problem (the kids are not well educated enough to pass the exams).

The USDA seems to be adopting a similar strategy in their poultry inspection program.  For reasons which have absolutely nothing whatever to do with consumer safety (they claim they are “modernizing an outdated system” but mostly, the move will allow them to eliminate about 800 jobs, and will allow the plants to chew through 70% more birds by speeding the disassembly lines up even more), the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to allow individual poultry plants to provide their own inspectors rather than use inspectors supplied and trained (and paid) by the government.  (This appears to be the original policy document, which goes into detail about the policy and is even more hair-raising than the New York Times article.)

Apparently, they’ve been trying this program in pilot plants, with the results you’d expect — the “inspectors” are being placed at the end of the line where they can’t see what’s going on, and the increased speed of the lines (up to 200 birds per minute, from the current 140) makes it even less likely that defects will be spotted.  (200 birds a minute is more than three birds per second.  How much detail — mold, disease, defects — can you see if you’re looking at three birds per second?)

To the above point, I’d like to add that the main humane issue in the processing of poultry (and other animals) is the unbelievably immense number of birds being slaughtered — this results in chickens going through part of the slaughter process conscious, among other horrifying things (workers losing fingers; consumers contracting salmonella).  Even assuming multiple lines, how do you humanely slaughter three chickens per second?  How do you “oversee” such a process?  Apparently the USDA has decided to “overlook” it instead.

Increasing the speed of the lines by 70% and reducing the effectiveness of oversight does not sound like an idea with the best interests of either the birds or the consumers at heart.  No wonder the poultry industry has “applauded the Agriculture Department decision.”

(Bonus: check out the photo in that article, of “chickens in an egg farm”.  How many hens are crammed into that tiny space?  At least they’re not debeaked….)

Book Review: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money

Meat Market: Animals Ethics and MoneyMeat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, by Erik Marcus, is an interesting, if brief, read, and a good answer to the question “What are these hippie freaks whining about, anyway?”  It’s not a perfect introduction — I’m still looking for the best way to suggest to, say, my parents that they not eat factory-farmed animal products — but it’s a good explanation of where one is coming from which doesn’t involve showing one’s audience graphic video of a slaughter plant.

The book begins with a glimpse of how and why small-farm practices become factory farm practices, follows up with an excellent, reasonably impartial, description of common factory farming practices for chickens, pigs, and cattle, and describes some options for what could be done to alter the status quo, along with what is currently being done.  It examines the three facets of the current what-the-hell-is-going-on-here movement (animal welfarists, animal rightists, and vegetarians), describes their goals, actions, and methods, looks at what is working and what isn’t, and suggests an alternative option (complete dismantlement of the system).

The book ends in a flurry of interesting essays and appendices, with subjects ranging from Starting a Local Vegetarian Society to The Ethics of Hunting.  It’s a lot of different viewpoints (although, toward the end, the vegan viewpoint grabs center stage and holds it), and, more, it’s thought-provoking material.

For example, it thoughtfully compares the relative quality of life — inasmuch as we can measure “quality of life” for another species — of various factory-farmed animals.  If you only give up one thing to make farmed animals just a little happier, Marcus says, give up eggs: the hens producing them are confined in ludicrously tiny cages their entire lives, debeaked, crippled, repeatedly force starved, and then slaughtered at the end.  The animal with the “best” relative life is the beef calf, which has a pretty good time of it (out at pasture, with mom) until about six months of age (after which it all goes to hell, but briefly compared to the two years’ close imprisonment of the laying hen).

The other thing that hit me was the reminder that, even though I am carefully purchasing milk from “certified pasture-kept” (and, theoretically, happy) cows, by purchasing milk at all I am contributing to the veal industry.  I am ashamed it didn’t occur to me before — of course!  What are they doing with all the male calves? — but now that I know I am trying to figure out how to get milk out of my diet, or at least minimize it.  Alas, soy milk tastes like liquid Lucky Charms, and unsweetened soy milk has the texture of Elmer’s glue — I am working on it.  In the meantime, I do my best to minimize consumption of milk and cheese….

If you are just starting to look at vegetarianism or veganism or know someone who is, Meat Market isn’t a bad start.  It is not overly preachy and does not use “We can’t kill animals because they are so CUTE!” faux logic — it produces rational, empirical examples which make it difficult not to listen.  I kind of wish it hadn’t ruined milk for me, but I can’t honestly blame the messenger.

Context is Needed

chimp and tigerThis photograph, from this article (and many others), has been wandering around the net for a bit recently.  The animals are billed as being from the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Bangkok, Thailand.

Okay, this is adorable.  However, please think to look closer:

Look in the background of the pictures.  Look at the big cat cubs kept alone in small dog kennels.  There’s a pair of them playing unsupervised on the floor.  Look at the stacks of cheap dog kennels — does this look like a reputable zoo to you?  How reputable does this photo from their “elephant show” (taken from this web site) look?  Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.com — apparently the primary moneymaker for this facility is selling crocodile skin.  It started life as a crocodile farm and seems to have picked up some random exotics for the extra cash.

Is this what you want to support?  Quit sharing this “cute” picture without the full context.  It encourages people to think you can keep chimps and tigers as pets (hint: bad idea), and it’s generating publicity for a facility which encourages tourists to pose feeding and holding baby exotics (I can only imagine they pay for the privilege), mishandles them in “shows” (more photos here, here, here, and here, and in piles from Google image search), and slaughters crocodiles for leather and meat, as well as encouraging other facilities to do the sameFacilities like this routinely mistreat their animals.  The previous example mentions China, but it happens everywhere, Thailand (and the US) included.  Don’t support this kind of thing.

You like tigers?  Go here and support them.  Love chimps?  Go here and support them.  Put your effort into places that deserve it.  Don’t lend your time or blog space to this facility, unless this is the kind of animal husbandry you wish to support.