Saturday, September 27, 2008

Animals Farmed For Meat Are The No. 1 Source Of Food Poisoning Bug, Study Shows

ScienceDaily - September 26, 2008

A study by researchers from Lancashire, England, and Chicago, IL, found that 97 percent of campylobacteriosis cases sampled in Lancashire were caused by bacteria typically found in chicken and livestock. The work is based on DNA-sequence comparison of thousands of bacteria collected from human patients and animal carriers.

Campylobacter jejuni causes more cases of gastroenteritis in the developed world than any other bacterial pathogen, including E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridium and Listeria combined. Wild and domestic animals act as natural reservoirs for the disease, which can also survive in water and soil. However, the relative importance of these sources is unclear, and recent work has suggested that livestock are not the main reservoir for human disease.

Researchers led by Daniel Wilson, of the University of Chicago, and formerly Lancaster University, United Kingdom, sequenced the DNA of bacteria collected from 1,231 patients and compared it to Campylobacter jejuni DNA sequences collected from wild and domestic animals, and the environment. They used evolutionary modeling to trace the ancestry of human C. jejuni back to one of seven source populations.

In 57 percent of cases, the bacteria could be traced to chicken, and in 35 percent to cattle. Wild animal and environmental sources were accountable for just three percent of disease.

"The dual observations that livestock are a frequent source of human disease isolates and that wild animals and the environment are not, strongly support the notion that preparation or consumption of infected meat and poultry is the dominant transmission route," Wilson said.

Further studies are underway in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand to determine the generality of the result. But the authors say they hope the current study will add impetus to initiatives aimed at controlling food-borne pathogens.

This research appears September 26 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago Medical Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Free Range" is Still Factory Farming

Published 01/15/06 Source: Animal Issues, Volume 32 Number 4, Winter 2001

Every year billions of animals are raised and killed for human consumption. On today’s high-production farms, animals are crammed into tiny cages or crowded pens, unable to express natural behaviors, see sunlight, or even breathe fresh air.

Farm animals undergo painful mutilations and surgical procedures performed without anesthetic that would be illegal if performed on cats or dogs. In fact, 30 U.S. states have enacted laws that specifically exempt farm animals from certain parts of their anti-cruelty statutes. Thereby certain acts, no matter how cruel, are outside the realm of legal protection as long as the acts are deemed accepted, common, customary, or normal farming practices.

Happy Farm Animals

Responding to growing concerns over farm animal treatment, some meat, egg, and milk producers have introduced products that claim their animals are treated humanely. However, consumers purchasing such products may not be getting what they think they are paying for. While terms such as humanely raised, free range, or cage free conjure up images of happy farm animals frolicking in open pastures and sunshine, gleefully offering their bodies for human use, the reality is less than idyllic.

“Free-range” cows and sheep must be “grass fed and live on a range,” and birds must have some form of access to the outdoors, but no other criteria - such as the size of the “range,” the amount of space individual animals must have, or animal care and handling - are required. The Washington Post Magazine reported that, especially in the case of birds, the term free-range “doesn’t really tell you anything about the [animal’s] quality of life, nor does it even assure that the animal actually goes outdoors.” Moreover, the accuracy of these claims is rarely if ever verified because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which defines free-range and free-roaming for labeling purposes, relies “upon producer testimonials to support the accuracy of these claims.”

Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, visited Happy Hen Organic Fertile Brown Eggs, a “free-range” egg farm in Pennsylvania. According to flyers for Happy Hen eggs, the hens run free “in a natural setting” and are “humanely housed in healthy, open-sided housing, for daily sunning - something Happy Hens really enjoy.” Davis’s observations stood in stark contrast to the farm’s claims. “Inside, the birds were wall to wall. They were severely debeaked and their feathers were in bad condition - straggly, drab, and worn off.” More than 7,000 birds were housed in each Happy Hen barn, and individual hens had no more than 1½ square feet of space, not room enough even to spread their wings. Happy Hens were also occasionally force-molted (denied food for several days to shock the hens into losing their feathers and prematurely starting a new laying cycle).

Recently, the American Humane Association (AHA) introduced its own “Free Farmed” labeling program. Unlike other labels that rely solely on producer’s claims, the “Free Farmed” label uses an independent third party verification system to ensure that producers, processors, and haulers meet the Animal Welfare Standards set forth by the AHA. AHA standards require that livestock have access to clean and “sufficient” food and water, protection from weather elements, space, and other features to ensure the safety, health, and comfort of the animal. In addition, the standards require that managers and stock keepers be thoroughly trained, skilled, and competent in animal husbandry and welfare.

Inherent Cruelties

Animals raised to produce “free-farmed” and other such labeled products may be given a little more space, spared certain cruel procedures, and afforded a bit more consideration than their factory-farmed counterparts, yet meat, milk, and eggs can never be considered truly humane products.

Even the best labeling programs fail to address some cruelties inherent in animal agriculture. For example, like other chickens, “free-range” meat-type chickens have been genetically altered to grow abnormally large and as a result their bones are often unable to support the weight of their muscle tissue, causing them to hobble in pain or become totally crippled prior to slaughter.

The parents of these birds suffer as well. According to Ian J. H. Duncan, Ph.D. and Professor of Poultry Ethology at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, meat-type chickens used for breeding are “obviously suffering,” as a result of only being allowed 40-50% of food they would normally eat to satisfy their hunger. This state of constant starvation is considered necessary to keep the birds’ weight down and avoid the crippling that plagues their offspring. Turkeys are so genetically altered that they can not even breed naturally, so all turkeys are forcefully inseminated by artificial means.

Producers who allow their cows to graze in pasture and claim to treat animals humanely offer no explanation for the fate of the calves produced on their dairies. To continue to produce milk a cow must have a calf each year. Calves normally stay with their mothers for a year or more.

However, on the dairy farm, calves are immediately removed from their mothers so that the milk can be sold for human consumption. The female calves are usually used to replace worn-out dairy cows. Many of the male calves are confined and chained in small wooden crates to produce “white” veal.

Like their feedlot and factory farmed counterparts, “free-range” cattle, sheep, and pigs are castrated without anesthesia, and, when large enough, they too are crammed into metal trucks and taken to slaughter. On the way to the slaughterhouse livestock may travel for hours in freezing or sweltering temperatures with no access to food or water. Worn-out “free-range” dairy cows are often literally dragged to slaughter; 91% of “downers” (animals to sick or injured to walk) at slaughterhouses and auctions are dairy cows.

Slaughterhouse Cruelty

Another aspect of meat production that “free-farmed” and other labeling schemes are incapable of addressing is the actual slaughter of the animals. Through the Freedom of Information Act, The Washington Post obtained enforcement documents from 28 slaughter plants and exposed horrific acts of cruelty that occur on a daily basis in slaughterhouses throughout the United States. The Post also interviewed dozens of current and former federal meat inspectors and slaughterhouse workers who admitted to routinely witnessing the strangling, beating, scalding, skinning, and butchering of live, fully conscious animals. According to The Washington Post, “Enforcement records, interviews, videos and worker affidavits describe repeated violations of the Humane Slaughter Act at dozens of slaughterhouses ranging from the smallest, custom butcheries to modern, automated establishments.”

While the Humane Slaughter Act regulates the transport, handling, stunning, and slaughter of farm animals at federally inspected slaughterhouses and is supposed to be enforced by USDA inspectors stationed inside the slaughter facilities, abuse is commonplace. In recent years, the large number of animals produced on factory farms has greatly increased the number of animals slaughtered and processed. In the biggest operations, one animal is killed every three seconds.

This mass killing of farm animals for profit makes federal inspectors hesitant to stop the production line when they see a violation. “In plants all over the United States, this happens on a daily basis,” says Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania hamburger plant. “I’ve seen it happen. And I’ve talked to other veterinarians. They feel it’s out of control.”

Even if labeling schemes could eliminate all cruelties associated with the rearing, transport, and slaughter of farm animals, for many there is an obvious conflict between caring for animals and supporting their deliberate and unnecessary killing. Those who cannot reconcile this conflict attempt to avoid animal products altogether. But even for the most adamant animal lovers, dietary habits can be hard to break. For some, “humane” meat, milk, and eggs offer a way to reduce animal suffering while working toward eliminating animal products from their lives.

Moreover, helping farm animals does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. Animal advocates can support “improved” conditions for farmed animals even if the larger goal is to eliminate their exploitation entirely. Working to improve conditions for farm animals may not match our ideals but it does make a difference to the animals who as a result of incremental changes may be spared some suffering in their short lives.


While “free range” suggests that the animals live in conditions close to their “natural” state, the reality is probably closer to “confinement” or “factory” farming. The extremes of natural and confined conditions are contrasted below.


Natural: Pigs are intelligent, sensitive, and clean animals. When provided with ample space they establish a well-defined social order and allot separate areas for resting and defecating. Pigs are very active: they enjoy running, digging in the dirt (rooting) and splashing in puddles, and playing with other pigs. At term a pregnant sow will isolate herself from the herd and build a nest out of leaves, branches, grass, or straw in which to give birth to her piglets. She will then wait several days after birth before leading her piglets out to meet the herd. Before nursing her piglets, the careful mother sweeps the nest or the ground with her snout, pushing piglets out of the way, then drops to her front knees and slowly lies down to allow her piglets suck.

Confinement: More than 80% of all pigs raised in the U.S. are raised on farms which keep more than 1,000 animals. The pigs are crammed into indoor, near-dark, windowless confinement sheds, where the air is filled with eye- and lung-burning ammonia created from the waste that collects below the floors. Young pigs destined for slaughter are raised in crowded pens while their mothers spend most their lives in metal crates so small that they cannot even turn around. Some farms also use a “tether system” in which sows are tied by a neck collar and chain or girth strap inside an open backed crate — such crates are sometimes referred to as “rape racks” because sows can not escape the advances of the breeding boar. Denied adequate space and freedom of movement, crated sows often develop stereotypic behavior. Stereotypic behavior consists of repetitive movements that serve no practical purpose, such as head bobbing, jaw smacking, and rail biting. While farmers claim that such crates are necessary to prevent sows from crushing their piglets and to make breeding easier, pigs have survived in the wild and on farms for centuries without the “benefit” of confinement crates.


Natural: Chickens are highly social animals with a hierarchy commonly known as a “pecking order.” Chickens can maintain a stable pecking order in a flock up to 90 birds with each bird knowing every other bird’'s individual place in the flock. Chickens spend most of their day foraging for food, grooming, nesting, dust bathing, and sunning. Mother hens spend most of their time nurturing their chicks by diligently searching for and offering various food items, covering chicks for naps, and fiercely defending them even against terrible odds and predators much larger than themselves.

Confinement: More than 99% of egg-laying hens in the U.S. are kept in “battery cages” in which the average space for each hen is 48-54 square inches - little bigger than a half-sheet of notebook paper. Studies of chicken behavior have determined that the absolute minimum area required for a hen to stand comfortably is 72 square inches. Battery cages do not allow hens to express any normal behaviors such as dust bathing, nesting, or foraging (60% of an unconfined hen’s day consists of foraging). Without the outlets for these instinctive behaviors hens become stressed, lose much of their feathers, and begin to peck each other excessively. Rather than provide more space for the hens to prevent pecking, farmers cut off the sensitive upper portion of the beak with a hot blade.

Dairy Calves

Natural: A calf is nurtured and nursed by its mother for up to eight months. He or she receives all the necessary immunities and nutrients from milk, and strength and coordination by romping with other calves in an open pasture. So strong is the bond between cow and calf that if separated they may bellow and pace for hours in an attempt to find one another.

Confinement: On the dairy farm calves are taken away at 24-48 hours after birth, so humans can drink the milk. A calf separated from his or her mother at an early age does not receive all the necessary immunities through the milk, and is therefore vulnerable to disease. A 10% mortality rate is common.Calves destined for veal production are often confined to small crates typically no larger than 22" wide and 58" long, making it difficult for them achieve normal posture for comfort. They are fed an all-liquid diet of milk powder mixed with water, which lacks adequate iron. This diet deliberately causes anemia to keep the flesh pale. The absence of fiber in the diet also leads to chronic indigestion and diarrhea. So deprived are these calves that they will constantly lick at the crates and their own hair in an effort to obtain the roughage they need. This isolation, confinement, and nutritional deprivation lasts four to six months. Scientific research indicates that calves confined in crates experience “chronic stress” and exhibit abnormal coping behaviors associated with frustration, and suffer from leg and joint disorders.

What's in a Name?

Free Range or Cage Free: No government laws or standards regulate the use of terms such as “free-range” and “free-roaming” on egg cartons. For eggs, these or similar labels generally mean that hens are uncaged yet confined indoors in crowded sheds. For animals raised for meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stipulates that free-range chickens must have “access to the outdoors” and free-range cows and sheep must be “grass fed and live on a range.” No other criteria - such as the size of the “range,” the amount of space individual animals must have, or animal care and handling - are required.

Natural: “Natural” foods "contain no artificial ingredients and are only minimally processed.” Animals raised for natural meats are given no hormones or antibiotics, although they may be fed corn and other grain grown with pesticides. No animal care, treatment, or housing standards are required.

Organic: For dairy or meat products to be certified organic, farmland must be free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides for at least three years. After this transition period, the farmland may be used to grow organic crops that are used for pasture or feed for farm animals. Animals are not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones and must be fed only 100% certified organic feed. All organically raised animals must have “access to the outdoors”; this includes access to pasture for cows, sheep, and goats. Some organic certification agencies require that laying hens be provided food and water during their molting period. Confinement, mutilation, transportation, and other animal welfare issues are not addressed.

Kosher or Ritual Slaughter: Ritual slaughter is performed according to the religious requirements of the Jewish or Muslim religious faiths. The animal is slaughtered without being stunned, with a sharp knife. The animal is fully conscious as its throat is slit and the blood drains out of its body. A major concern with kosher/ritual slaughter is the stressful and cruel methods of restraint that are used by some plants in which the animals are shackled by one or both hind legs and are hung upside down prior to slaughter. This method can result in torn flesh and ligaments, ruptured joints, and bone fractures. Some plants have installed modern restraining equipment that holds animals in a more comfortable upright position. Pre-slaughter animal husbandry issues such as confinement, mutilation, and transport are not addressed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I think I smell a stunt

Toronto Sun - Friday, September 12, 2008

News Toronto & GTA

PETA wedding at KFC vegan to the cake


Queen West Village at hot, high noon. We're feeling extra crispy. At Augusta Ave. hunkers a KFC, an atoll of fast food in a sea of java, jazz, tattoos and purple hair. Nice day for a white wedding.

A man in a milky tux and bowtie paces before a Family Fun Bucket poster in the window. Colonel Sanders," someone exclaims. No, he's dead. And don't say "milky." Think of those cruelly squeezed teats. No. That's Vegan Outreach leader Jack Norris, 41, of California. He's the groom.

The bride is Alaskan Alex Bury, 38, fundraiser for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She fusses with her gown in the parking lot.

PETA has done some wacko things. I once met a lovely lass who dressed in lettuce and threw fake blood at the fur crowd.

But a wedding of animal activists on the sidewalk outside a KFC? I think I smell a stunt.

The KFC staff look jumpy, like they're expecting a bucket of chicken blood. Fear not. Now PETA likes KFC, or at least its Canadian wing, which has agreed to kill chickens nicely and to serve a mock-chicken wrap. So, it's a friendly stunt.

"We hope that when people visit KFC, they'll choose the Delicious Vegetarian Sandwich," says PETA rep Nicole Matthews, up from headquarters in Virginia.

Sheesh, now PETA is promoting KFC.

Yesterday's wedding may be gimmicky, but it's legal. And (sigh) beautiful. Alex is stunning. And guilt-free. No silkworms died for that dress. I had no idea they boiled those worms alive. I don't know how they kill polyesters, but apparently it is painless.

Makeup artist Sherry Vanstone, 34, tells me the bride's face is free of products tested on animals. Jack's tux has no wool (shearing hurts?), his shoes no leather. The wedding cake is sans eggs or milk.

Alex walks down the aisle - alley I should say. The Alexander Ensemble strikes up The Wedding March. It occurs to me violin strings are catgut, but I don't want to make a scene.

Presiding, is Unitarian lay chaplain Margaret Rao. The usual I dos, but meat-free. Each vows to take the other "to be my partner in work to make this world a kinder place for animals."

A passing firetruck gives the couple a toot. So does one of those goofy amphibious Hippo tour buses. Now, there's a critter I wouldn't mind sending to the meat-packers.

As for chickens, the PETA/KFC treaty ends the Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign. The chain's suppliers must handle their birds tenderly and gas them rather than zap them, slit their throats or other ghastly things. Slicing off their beaks so they can't peck each other is still okay.

"We're not compromising," insists the bride. "I'd love to see the whole world go vegan tomorrow, but I realize it won't happen. "Before we get everyone to go from A to Z, we have to get them from A to B."

So, back to the wedding. Julia Rufo, 26, watches from across the street at the Java House. "I hate to criticize a wedding, but that's the last place I'd want to get married. Better at a McDonald's."

Oh, Julia, don't get me started on what happens to cows.

Alex fell for Jack at a meeting of activists. Both are veterans of the vegan wars. Alex's first skirmish was one snowy day in Anchorage. She took off her clothes to protest furs. Jack's younger brother also had a vegan wedding last week in Cincinnati. In a lovely park.

So, Alex, your big day's at a KFC. Where's the romance, the spice, the 11 different herbs? "I thought this was so romantic," she says. "We met through fighting for animals. It's one of our most important bonds."

I'm a meat-eater of long standing, but I was once wed to a Toronto Vegetarian Association organizer. So I've had my share of tofu.

KFC's new faux chicken wrap ain't half bad. And no bones. They serve it at the reception inside.

I wait for Alex to toss the bouquet, but it never happens.

I guess they're afraid it will land on a squirrel.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The U.N.'s meatless drive

Our appetite for steaks and burgers is a huge contributor to global warming.

Los Angeles Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

EDITORIAL - So it turns out that meatless Fridays, which for generations inflicted fish sticks and tuna casseroles on millions of school-age children, Catholic and otherwise, were actually saving the planet. The United Nations is now urging wealthy nations to make a dramatic shift in eating habits, saying the best way to curb climate change is for people to go at least one day a week without meat.

And Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - which shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year - isn't just asking diners to bypass a burger now and then. After achieving a weekly day without meat, he said, they should embark on a progressive reduction of their meat intake.

The problem isn't so much with hamburger patties as it is with cow patties. Meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. Cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, release methane and nitrous oxide in amounts that put to shame the carbon dioxide belched out by cars. In fact, a red-meat-eater in a Prius is probably hurting the environment more than a vegan in a Hummer.

The U.N. also is calling for governments to launch campaigns to reduce meat eating. If they do, such efforts will probably start in Europe, then sweep through every city, town, village and hamlet in Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica before the U.S. Department of Agriculture stops propagandizing on behalf of meat without any regard for human or environmental health.

Which brings us back to individual abstinence. We're not calling for a vegan revolution, but this page has noted that a sincere personal effort to fight global warming must include a reduction in eating red meat. Were fish sticks on Fridays really that bad?