Washington Post Brings Cruelty to the Forefront: Challenging USDA Policies

This past week, reporter Roberto Ferdman penned an article in the Washington Post discussing uncover footage collected by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing. The article states:

“An undercover video taken at one of the nation’s largest pork producers shows pigs being dragged across the floor, beaten with paddles, and sick to the point of immobility. By law, pigs are supposed to be rendered unconscious before being killed, but many are shown writhing in apparent pain while bleeding out, suggesting that they weren’t properly stunned. ‘That one was definitely alive,’ a worker says.”

The footage is from Quality Pork Producers, a Minnesota slaughterhouse affiliated with Hormel Foods. The graphic video can be viewed here, if you are interested. Compassion Over Killing describes the scene as, “USDA-Approved High Speed Slaughter Hell”.

The account of the investigator is very unsettling and the article raises some large marco-level concerns present in industrial animal agriculture in the US. There is a particular focus on the recently approved and controversial high kill line speeds that have been criticized as dangerous to workers, cruel to livestock (as they are often not properly stunned prior to slaughter), and difficult for inspectors to monitor. In fact, earlier this year, Kimbery Kindy wrote an article for the Post regarding USDA inspectors safety and welfare concerns about new line speed standards which would increase the rate of slaughter. To make matters worse, in an effort to cut costs, the USDA has called back its number of inspectors, allowing them to be replaced by industry-based inspectors. As the article asserts:

“Over the years, HIMP has drawn a growing number of skeptics, including former inspectors and factory workers, who say the changes allow processors to increase profits at the expense of animal welfare and food safety. They point to a key difference between the traditional inspection system and the pilot program, which places the responsibility for the initial stages of inspection — the sorting out of diseased and contaminated carcasses — on the plant instead of the government. This, they say, allows for companies to speed up the process, hide violations, and, ultimately, compromise the food supply.”

Shout out to the Washington Post for regularly bringing these issues to the forefront, demonstrating that the USDA continues to fail animals and consumers through cost-cutting, as well as the grim consequences our insatiable appetite for meat.

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NY Times Publishes Stunning Article on Meat Animal Research Center; Consider Signing Petition

Hi folks,

Just a quick but timely post. The New York Times has recently published a stunning article about some of the concerns regarding animal welfare at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. What these animals have had to go through in the name or productivity is repulsive and arguably, not justifiable. Take a read regardless of where you stand on the issue and if you feel that the reports are unacceptable, consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States to halt research at the facility.

Also, if it interests you, check out HSUS’s “State of Animal Union”, a parallel to the President Barack Obama’s recent “State of the Union”.

Until next time, fellow Hermits.

Federal Judge Overturns Foie Gras Ban; You Still Don’t Need to Eat it

In a setback for animal advocates, a federal judge struck down California’s Foie Gras ban this past Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the ban was unconsitutional because it clashed with existing federal laws on poultry products. Foie Gras is a product that has been under fire due to its controversial and cruel method of production: force feeding a duck or goose until it develops liver disease, resulting in a fatty liver. Considered a French delicacy, California was the first and only state to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras through a bill passed by its state legislature in 2004. The bill went into full effect in 2012.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

This ruling raises concerns regarding the future of California’s battery cage egg ban. The LA Times states that, “Experts said the ruling would have no bearing on California’s new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens, because eggs aren’t covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.” However, an issue around the 2013 Farm Bill (read our article about it here) was the King Amendment, which although not ultimately passed, attempted to regulate states’ ability to regulate any agricultural products that impacted interstate commerce, such as egg production. This bill was introduced by Iowa Senator Steve King. This is no surprise as California, the most populated state by far, consumes an enormous amount of eggs while Iowa produces the most. Back in 2013, I went back and forth with Pennsylvania (another large egg producing state) U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson on this issue.

There is hope, however. While there is reason to be skeptical that voters and representatives can regulate agriculture in their own communities, the Foie Gras ban, as well as other organizations, have brought light to this issue. If you oppose Foie Gras, you probably won’t eat it. Individual decisions can have just as strong of an impact as any state law. Refuse Foie Gras and avoid establishments which serve it.

And if you do eat it, well, you’re just an asshole.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foie-gras-ban-lifted-20150108-story.html

Images:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Foie_gras_en_cocotte.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Foie_gras_-_gavage_in_Rocamadour,_France.jpg

An Important Piece on Egg-Laying Hens

We live in a world where people have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. Productivity is not the only thing that matters, as social factors, such as values, attitudes, and norms have a profound impact on peoples’ expectations of how food is and should be produced. Animal agriculture is a particularly hot topic because it raises numerous concerns regarding sustainability and our obligations to sentient beings that are entirely dependent on us.

In this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, Deb Olin Unferth has penned a beautifully written and powerful piece about the debate over how to best house egg-laying hens and some of the problems plaguing this industry in general. She concludes:

Any way we look at it, it seems impossible for the egg industry to meet all our demands: happy hens, cheap eggs, an unlimited supply. The question of the cages turns back on us: How much are we willing to pay? How much are we willing to make the hens pay? If we continue to eat eggs at the current rate—a historically unprecedented high number—the hens who produce them will be treated horribly (Deb Olin Unferth 2014:50).

Although to view Harper’s online, you need a subscription, the non-profit United Poultry Concerns has posted a copy. Click here to read the article and be sure to share it with others!

Also on the topic of proper animal housing, I have been thinking a lot about the fight for fire safety in animal agriculture. Animal agricultural facilities are not held to the safety standards required in many of the buildings we live and work in (i.e. smoke detectors, sprinkler infrastructure). This, however, is problematic as the high stocking densities and confinement found in large operations are extremely dangerous to these animals when fire or other natural disasters strike. For example, just this past month, approximately 13,000 pigs were burned to death in Minnesota and 20,000 chickens died in Pennsylvania due to barn fires. The installation of basic fire safety equipment could have prevented the death of thousands. Click here to learn more about this issue.

I encourage you to think of the impact you have on egg laying hens and all animals in agriculture. Small changes and taking responsibility for our footprints can make a HUGE difference!

Until next time,

Urban Hermits

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits November 2014

King Amendment Defeated!

Senator Steve King (R-IA), the namesake of the amendment. (From his official website).

Senator Steve King (R-IA), the namesake of the amendment. (From his official website).

If you have been following the Farm Bill (which has been quite a long process this time around) or you read our post back in June, you may be familiar with the King Amendment. It is an addendum which sought to strengthen and centralize the federal government’s regulation of interstate agricultural commerce. In response to a letter I wrote some months ago to my representative, Glenn Thompson (R-PA), he explained that the debate was largely fueled by:

[A] California law through a ballot initiative that established state standards regarding the housing of chickens on farms. As a result, eggs cannot be imported from any other state, unless the eggs were produced in accordance with California’s standards. Because the U.S. Constitution expressly states that the authority to regulate interstate commerce resides with the federal government through the “Commerce Clause” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3), many elected officials from both political parties have voiced concerns over California’s law.” -email from Glenn Thompson, Nov. 13th, 2013.

Later, I criticized Thompson, a republican, of denying states the right to chose how to regulate their own agriculture and food products, which seemed weird for a conservative. The bills namesake, is Iowa representative Steve King. I am sure it is no coincidence that his state produces the most eggs by a huge margin (click here for egg production by state)(American Egg Board).

This bill had serious implications for animal welfare and the regulation of animal agriculture as it threatened to nullify not only California’s law (and California’s foie gras ban), but various other animal welfare laws in many states, including Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, the Northern Mariana Island, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Rhode Island (HSUS).

This past week however, animal advocates and those who value agricultural transparency and freedom celebrated as the Farm Bill Conference Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives released the final version of the Farm Bill, in which the King Amendment was omitted (Green, ALDF, 2014).

With the exclusion of this dreaded amendment, various animal welfare and agriculture groups are now urging representatives to pass the farm bill. Click here to see how you can help!

Sources:  Green, Chris. 2014″King Amendment Officially Rejected!”From Animal Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://aldf.org/blog/king-amendment-officially-rejected/

“Egg Industy Fact Sheet”. American Egg Board. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://www.aeb.org/egg-industry/industry-facts/egg-industry-facts-sheet

“The King Amendment:A Potential Disaster for Protecting Animals”. The Humane Society of the United States. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/king-amendment.html

http://steveking.house.gov

“…The Deck Stacked Against Them”: Health problems in Broiler Chickens

Image

Hey all,

A few weeks ago I posted about some of the action on behalf of animals being taken by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which does a lot of good work. I came across this powerful story about a Ariana Huemer’s pet chicken and some of the issues with the current poultry industry. Have a look, here: http://aldf.org/blog/my-pet-chicken/

Title Quote: Huemer, Ariana. “My Pet Chicken”. 2013. Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Image: BackyardChickens.com

Ag. Gag and my Declaration of War

aggagmininava

Wow, I just read this article from Mother Jones this past week. It was written by Zaineb Mohammad and was published on July 25th. I found this to be a powerful and infuriating piece that touches up on the current state of the meat industry and its lack of transparency. It also makes points about the abuse animals experience, as well as the humans that have essentially no choice but to work in this degrading industry. Please take the time to read this article, I couldn’t recommend it more: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/07/utah-ag-gag-lawsuit-animal-rights

These injustices against human and non-human animals alike remind me why I have chosen the path in life I have. With grad school beginning, articles like this help me refocus. Needless to say, I am declaring war on any representative, corporation, or group that supports ag-gag and seeks to further prevent transparency and compromise the first amendment.

If you are unfamiliar with Ag Gag laws, check out this site from the Humane Society of the United States. If you’d like, take the pledge to fight Ag. Gag laws here.

That being said, enjoy your weekend!

-Mark

Image: Mother Jones.com

The King Amendment

Following up on the 2013 Farm Bill – its rejection was not all bad news. An amendment on the bill, created by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had the potential to nullify numerous state animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, food safety, environmental protection, and worker safety. This has been coined the “King Amendment”.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill did not contain any language similar to the King Amendment.  The Humane Society of the United States and other groups strongly advocated to remove the King Amendment from the House Farm Bill on the floor, where the Farm Bill was rejected.

Hopefully, the next version of Farm Bill will be more sound in its entirety.

King’s amendment would have overturned voter-approved animal welfare ballot measures such as Proposition 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves and laying hens), Proposition 204 in Arizona (banning veal and pig gestation crates) and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing pig gestation crates). Photo by ASPCA

See current legal protections for farm animals here from ASPCA.

Sources: Anna West, The Humane Society of the United States, 16 May 2013; ASPCA, 2013

What is the Farm Bill, Anyways?

Sen. Debbie Stabenaw (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate passed the Farm Bill

Sen. Debbie Stabenaw (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate passed the Farm Bill.

Many of you may have recently read or heard news about the U.S. House of Representatives rejecting a five-year renewal of the Farm Bill. If you are like me, the next question you asked was what is the Farm Bill? This sounds like a question for Urban Hermits! According to the National Farmers Union, the Farm Bill is:

“…[A]n extensive, omnibus piece of legislation that is reauthorized roughly every five years. ‘Farm bill’ is really a misnomer, because although the legislation does contain a number of provisions that are critical to family farmers’, ranchers’, and fruit and vegetable growers’ economic success, more than 75 percent of the bill’s funding is allocated for nutrition assistance for the underprivileged, both in the United States and abroad. Much of the remaining provisions relate to rural business development, incentives  for renewable energy production, and protection of our country’s most precious natural resources” (National Farmers Union 2013).

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla), Agriculture Committee Chairman. The House of Reps. rejected the Farm Bill last week

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla), Agriculture Committee Chairman. The House of Reps. rejected the Farm Bill last week

It is that 75 percent that caused the Farm Bill to be rejected by the House last week. The Farm Bill is traditionally bipartisan, supported by the republicans who typically represent the districts containing most of the nation’s farmland and the democrats who have always been on board with federal assistance for both farmers and this country’s malnourished. However, food assistance, in particular, has been a huge point of debate between the two parties of recently, causing the farm bill to only receive a one year extension in 2012 and now, being rejected, a questionable future. Debates over the government’s $17 trillion budget deficit led to several amendments to the bill. Proposed reduction of food assistance caused democrats to vote “noe”, while continued subsidies and social spending led many republicans to vote against it, demanding more cuts to an already bloated budget. All in all, what is normally a bipartisan success transformed into a proposal that neither side could support, leading to a bold 234-195 “noe” vote (Jalonick 2013). What is next? Will the sides come together for another Farm Bill? In my mind, they’ll have to.

In the meantime, see how your representative voted HERE

Sources: “2013 Farm Bill”. National Farmers Union. Accessed 26 June 2013

Jalonick, Mary Clare. “House rejects farm bill, 62 republicans vote no”. The Associated Press. 20 June 2013

Images: “Debbie Stabenew” The Detroit News.; “Frank Lucas” Republican National Convention Blog.

Gone Organic: Former GMO Engineer Tells His Story

Organic Connections has just released an interview with Thierry Vrain, Ph.D., for­mer biotech engi­neer who now speaks out against the risks of genet­i­cally engi­neered foods. Vrain worked 30 years as a research sci­en­tist for the Canadian gov­ern­ment where he con­ducted studies on agriculture mod­i­fication. He was direc­tor of the biotech­nol­ogy depart­ment at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, BC. Today, Thierry Vrain has retired to a farm, is a gar­dener, a teacher, and a advocate for organic gardening—from soil health to GMO awareness.

Vrain: “When I hear we need genetic engi­neer­ing to feed the world, I cringe. It turns out that there is no increase in yield, no decrease use of pes­ti­cides, and the process is of highly ques­tioned safety. Even if genetic engi­neer­ing was per­fectly safe, I still ques­tion it because of genetic pol­lu­tion. Organic crops and foods are becom­ing contaminated. I’m also con­cerned about con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the envi­ron­ment with antibi­otic resis­tant genes. Every GM crop has these genes. The pre­lim­i­nary evi­dence we have is that bac­te­ria in the soil and in the human gut are capa­ble of pick­ing those genes up. Considering the alarm I hear from med­ical peo­ple about los­ing antibi­otics, I think this should be a seri­ous concern.”

Read the interview here.

Below is a TEDxTalk given by Dr. Vrain on May 23, 2013- The Gene Revolution, The Future of Agriculture

Source: Ken Roseboro, Organic Connections, June 2013; Dr. Thierry Vrain, TEDx, 29 May 2013