Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All Couples Should Have Right to Marry

I got engaged Sunday. My fiance and I are planning a small, outdoor ceremony in June.

But before that, in the next few months, we're going to get married at the courthouse just to make things legal.

The process seems straightforward and simple, which makes me feel fortunate ... and guilty.

The hardest part for Keith and me may be digging out our birth certificates. But for many couples throughout the United States, it's impossible to get married. That's because, possibly through the sheer fluke of genetics, they are attracted to members of their same sex.

Same-sex marriage is legal in only four states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. It will be legal in New Hampshire beginning next year.

I've always equated same-sex marriage with interracial marriage. Not that long ago many people considered interracial marriage sinful, an abomination. Now, though, aside from a few remaining bigots, it's considered acceptable and is legal.

I believe that in a few decades people will look back on the time when same-sex marriage was illegal and think, "What were those ignorant people thinking?"

People don't choose whom to love -- whether it be heterosexual, interracial or same-sex couples. All couples should have the right to marry.



Friday, October 23, 2009

Forget Halloween! Standard U.S. Diet Oozes With Horror

For her children's Halloween party, my cousin is making ghoulish treats like "bat wings," "bloody fingers" and "dried scabs."

Her menu got me thinking: What could be more terror-filled than the standard American diet?

After all, the average U.S. diet has all the elements of a good horror film:

Blood and Guts -- Ah, blood and guts. The men in the audience tend to love these. The more gore, the better. With 10 billion land animals slaughtered each year (just in the U.S.), think of how much blood is spilled. Cows, pigs, chickens all hanging upside-down on the disassembly lines, their throats being slit, blood dripping onto the floors. It's a horror lover's dream.

And whether it's removing intestines from an animal, "clearing cow innards on the slaughter floor" or experiencing vomiting and diarrhea from eating feces-tainted meat, you gotta love the guts.

Knives -- For slitting an animal's throat, removing those intestines or chopping her body into pieces, knives are essential. Of course, sometimes overworked slaughterhouse employees end up cutting themselves. But the more blood, the better, right?

Chain Saws -- Chain saw massacres don't just occur in Texas. No, sirree. Slaughterhouse workers across the country cut the flesh from a cow's corpse using these fine instruments.

Fear -- The essential element of a horror film. Even if the murder occurs off-camera (arguably more frightening than on-camera slayings), the audience must feel a sense of fear, for it provides a rush -- albeit a safe one. The viewer is able to get his rocks off and return to a relatively safer reality when the credits roll.

Not so for farmed animals. They experience fear daily -- from suffering in cramped, overcrowded cages to being transported to slaughterhouses in frigid or sweltering temperatures to taking that walk to the kill floor. It's non-stop fear.

Blood-curdling Screams -- While I've seen many videos of agribusiness cruelty, I was unable to make it through one taken at a pig farm that supplies Hormel. The video began with a blood-curdling scream that sounded human.

Murder and Death -- So many ways, so little time. Although why kill quickly? The fun is in the torture, isn't it?

For example, here are some notes from my blog post about the Hormel video.
[W]e see someone beating a pig and then telling the undercover PETA investigator, "Don't be afraid to hurt 'em."

In the next scene an employee says, "When I get pissed or get hurt or the fuckin' bitch won't move, I grab one of those rods and jam it in her asshole."

In another scene "a worker slams piglets deemed 'runts' headfirst into the concrete floor in an attempt to kill them." These little babies lie in a bloody pile and twitch because they're not dead yet.
Of course, there are other ways to do it. One could improperly shoot a cow's head with a bolt gun and have her wake up and struggle as she's hanging upside-down getting her throat slit.

Or a chicken would be improperly stunned and boiled alive in the de-feathering tank. And let us not forget all those male baby chicks who can't produce eggs, so they are ground up alive in machines called macerators.

Mummies -- Not all horror movies contain mummies, of course. But they can be frightfully scary. Just take a look at this photo.

What's worse than being pursued by a mummy? Having to live with one. That's right -- chickens at a Dunkin' Donuts egg-laying facility were forced to live in overcrowded cages along with their dead, decomposing and sometimes mummified former cagemates.

Flesh Eaters -- Braaaains! Braaaains! What -- you don't eat brains? Oh, but you do eat legs, shoulders, breasts, hips, thighs, arms, butts -- even anuses. Now that's disgusting!

Zombies -- Yes, the average American is a zombie, sleepwalking through her meals, eating what she's been taught to eat, never questioning.

Leave the horror off your plates -- go vegan!

(Photo of slaughtered chickens courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.)
(Photo of murdered pigs courtesy of World News Network/Sweet Radoc.)






Thursday, October 22, 2009

Animal Agribusiness Continues Defensive Dance

A story in a Minnesota newspaper questions the legitimacy of an undercover video of an egg-laying facility.

Last month Washington, D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing released the video showing mummified hens at a supplier of Dunkin' Donuts, owned by Michael Foods.

Michael Foods claims that "[s]ome or all of the scenes showing dead birds being removed from cages were staged."

It's a ludicrous charge, and if the company actually believes that, they should file a defamation suit against COK. But they won't because 1) they know the video wasn't staged and 2) they don't want the negative publicity that will come from showing a jury and the media dead, rotting, mummified corpses stuck in cages with living, suffering birds.

The author of this piece, Tom Webb, chose to follow in the footsteps of countless reporters who have used the deceptively named Center for Consumer Freedom as a source.

Ironically David Martosko's first quote -- about PETA -- could just have easily referred to his own organization.

(The original headline for the story had to be retracted because PETA was not accused of staging videos. Yet Martosko went after the group anyhow.)
"PETA in particular has a long history of bending the truth and hiding its own complicity in some really shady stuff."
"Bending the truth"? "Hiding its own complicity in some really shady stuff"? Martosko, are you sure you're not talking about the CCF?

Regular readers of my blog know that the MO of the CCF is, in the words of its founder Rick Berman, "to shoot the messenger."

The people at the CCF bend the truth and, more likely, outright lie. And they hide the corporations that fund the organization, pretending they're working instead for average Americans.

Despite Webb's opinion that "[t]he general public, however, doesn't show many signs of giving up its" non-vegan foods, Michael Foods' accusation of a staged video shows how vulnerable the animal agribusiness industry is feeling right now.

(Undercover video image of a mummified chicken at a Michael Foods facility, courtesy of Compassion Over Killing.)



Utah Impedes Fur Farm Protest

An animal-rights group in Utah is suing the state's Department of Transportation after it denied the organization a permit to protest.

The transportation department said the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement had to pay for a $1 million insurance policy and for security. Obviously the animal-rights group balked at the requirements.

Although the group planned to protest fur farms along Utah Route 66, a busy road that goes through the city of Morgan, I've never heard of needing an insurance policy to protest.

I've protested along Illinois Route 59, a busy 4- and 6-lane street, and we didn't have insurance or security. Although the protest organizers had alerted police in advance, I don't even know if they were required to obtain a permit.

This detour is the latest in obstacles government officials have made the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement traverse.

A month ago I wrote about Morgan County's efforts to prohibit protests within 1,000 feet of a residence. Because homes are located on the premises of these fur farms, that hindered the efficacy of the group's protest.

As I also wrote in that previous post, the more officials block legal protests, the better the odds that activists will choose illegal means to make their points.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)



Animal Agribusiness vs. the Environment

People involved in animal agribusiness like to spin their polluting industry as being environmentally friendly.

The facts, however, show that it's just the opposite.

At a Future Farmers of America convention yesterday in Indiana Mike Rowe, host of TV's "Dirty Jobs," told the audience, "If you scrape the dirt off a farmer or rancher, you find the greenest people around."

Evidently Rowe hasn't read the recently released report "Livestock and Climate Change" in World Watch Magazine.
A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock's Long Shadow, estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. But recent analysis by [Robert] Goodland and [Jeff] Anhang finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.
That doesn't sound too "green" to me.

Neither do the charges of a lawsuit filed by the state of Oklahoma in 2005. The court case is being heard now. The state has accused 11 chicken companies of polluting the Illinois River valley with runoff from fields fertilized with "poultry litter." That's "chicken shit," for those of us who hate industry jargon.
The eleven companies being sued are Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.
Of course, the companies contend their practices are "in compliance with state regulations."

Tyson has also given that defense in Illinois.

Environmental group Environment Illinois has accused Tyson Fresh Meats of dumping 3 million pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Rock River.

Tyson's response is that the wastewater is treated before it is released and that the facility complies with state regulations.

Tyson isn't a stranger to such accusations. In 2003 the company pleaded guilty to 20 violations of the Clean Water Act.
The company repeatedly blamed the problems on inattentive employees or innocent mistakes, [said Jeremy Korzenik, an attorney with the Department of Justice.] But internal Tyson documents showed that managers "at the highest levels" knew about the violations, he said.
Cargill has also violated wasterwater rules. In September the company pleaded guilty to permit violations that occurred in 2004 and 2005.
Cargill violated its permit by discharging more than 2,875 pounds per day of total suspended solids and more than 400 coliform colonies per 100 milliliters, according to a report by the Associated Press, citing court documents.
Animal agribusiness green? Not in the least.

(Photo of runoff from a dairy farm courtesy of StopTheMegaDairy.org.)



Agency Charged with Enforcing AETA Has Bigger Fish to Fry

In June I reviewed "Animal Investigators" by Laurel A. Neme, a book about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigates crimes -- poaching and smuggling -- against endangered animals.

I didn't realize until yesterday, though, that the FWS is the agency assigned to enforce the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Animal-rights activist Mark Hawthorne mentioned this discovery in a blog post about attending an animal-law conference recently. The author of "Striking at the Roots" was struck by something FWS Special Agent Ed Newcomer said.
He explained that agents with USFWS get their enforcement authority from the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. But something else falls under the Lacey Act, he said: preventing animal enterprise terrorism.
What Newcomer said next is very telling.
"Fish and Wildlife Service is the agency responsible for enforcing the Lacey Act. There are no agents in Fish and Wildlife interested in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but the FBI is all over it!"
Hawthorne noted that illegal wildlife trade is the third-largest illegal-trade market, behind only drugs and weapons.

So it makes sense that an agency involved in capturing and prosecuting poachers and smugglers wouldn't care about a few people who protested outside animal researchers' homes, for example.

But the FBI, on the other hand, is all over so-called animal enterprise terrorists. Odd, isn't it?

Internet fuels illegal trade

From Hawthorne's post I was also surprised to learn that the Internet site Craigslist helps to fuel illegal wildlife smuggling.
Poachers and smugglers are using Skype and online newspaper posts to aid their crimes, but Newcomer said Craigslist is the worst. "It's the wild west of animal trafficking," he said.
Unfortunately, given a recent, unrelated, court decision, it appears the FWS, if it chooses, will have a difficult time shutting down Craigslist's participation.

Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff Tom Dart had tried to sue Craigslist's owner in an effort to crack down on prostitutes advertising on the site. A federal judge, though, recently ruled against the sheriff's office.
In his ruling, federal Judge John Grady says the web site is not to blame for the prostitution services that may result from a posting[;] it's the web users who post the content who are responsible.
(Sorry about the non-vegan headline.)
(Photo courtesy of WildlifeDirect.)




Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Enemy Territory

My boyfriend and I spent last weekend in hunting territory, at Rend Lake in Southern Illinois.

We chose that location for a getaway because Keith had vacationed there as a child.

The scenery was beautiful, with the warm colors of autumn leaves and the sun glistening on the lake. The people were friendly, and we had a good time visiting two art galleries and a winery.

But I never forgot one of the main reasons people travel to Rend Lake -- especially this time of year. They come to hunt.

During our meals at the resort we saw men with camouflage jackets and hats. It wasn't the dark green camouflage reminiscent of Vietnam, though. It was a lighter green and brown.

Despite the stereotypical image of a hunter -- a heterosexual, conservative man -- Keith discovered some unusual activity in the bathroom of the resort's restaurant. He was just as surprised to see two men as they were to see him -- when they came out of the same stall together. And written near a urinal was a note telling men to sit on their cars at 1 p.m. daily at the Rend Lake rest stop if they wanted a blow job.

At dinner the first night a group of 10 or 12 men sat at a table near ours. They are probably very nice people, but our views of animals distinctly differ.

Keith and I spent one late afternoon drinking wine on our balcony and watching seagulls swoop down to feast on fish. One gull swimming against the flow of the lake caught our attention. We imagined what his little legs looked like under the water. On occasion he'd throw his head back and call out. Keith said he couldn't understand wanting to kill such a creature. I agreed.

We also saw a deer during our trip. Keith slowed the car down and excitedly pointed her out to me. His mood became somber when I mentioned that I hoped she didn't get shot.

I did meet a vegetarian. She was from Mattoon, in Southern Illinois, and said she sometimes felt like she was the only vegetarian around.

We were relegated to spaghetti for dinner, as every entree on the menu (including the spaghetti) came with animal flesh. The menu said the spaghetti was served in marinara sauce and came with meatballs.

The first night I ordered it without the meatballs, as did Keith. (He's not vegetarian yet, but he doesn't eat meat when he's with me.) As we were eating, Keith noticed meat in the sauce. Evidently the chef decided no one should go without meat during a meal. Not wanting to waste food, I picked the meat out of the sauce. I did tell the waitress about it, though, to prevent it from happening to someone else. I felt good knowing I likely helped out the woman from Mattoon a couple days later when she ordered the dish sans flesh.

To the restaurant's credit, though, it did have a veggie and hummus wrap on the lunch menu.

But vegetarians and vegetarian food were rarities there.

Hardee's is a big advertiser in that area. Its commercials were constantly on TV, and on the drive down I saw a billboard advertising one of its hamburgers. The eye-catching slogan was "Trophy Burger" -- obviously intended to grab the attention of the hunters.

Hunters often defend their activities by saying they are actually helping the animals, providing a wildlife-management service for them so they don't starve to death.

But that's not why they hunt. They do it because they find enjoyment in it. It's fun for them. It's a vacation away from their wives. It's a boost to their male egos when they take home a "trophy."

Despite a little culture shock, Keith and I had a good time. We likely won't be going back there, though, as there wasn't a lot to do.

(Photo shows the view of Rend Lake from our room.)



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Money Talks: Pollan's Lecture Becomes Panel

What had been planned as a lecture by Michael Pollan today at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has morphed into a panel discussion -- thanks to the power of Big Ag's money.

The chairman of Harris Ranch Beef Co. threatened to pull his donation to the school if Pollan was allowed "an unchallenged forum to promote his stand against conventional agricultural practices."

David E. Wood had offered to donate $150,000 for a new meat-processing plant (aka a slaughterhouse) on campus.

The panel will be comprised of Pollan, a meat-science expert and one of the largest organic growers in the United States.

Pollan questioned whether the university had academic freedom, given its caving in to agribusiness.
"The issue is about whether the school is really free to explore diverse ideas about farming," he said. "Is the principle of balance going to apply across the board? The next time Monsanto comes to speak at Cal Poly about why we need [genetically modified organisms] to feed the world, will there be a similar effort? Will I be invited back for that show?"
This incident isn't the first pushback from Big Ag against Pollan.

In May officials at Washington State University, citing financial reasons, changed their minds about having the freshmen class read Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." The 4,000 books had already been purchased, though.

The real reason for the change of heart was Harold Cochran, a member of the university's board of regents, who disagreed with Pollan's view of Big Ag. Cochran "owns and operates a 5,500-acre farm near Walla Walla, is a founding stockholder in the Bank of the West in Walla Walla and is a member of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers."

Bill Marler, a food-safety attorney and alumnus of WSU, called the school's bluff and offered to pay for the purchase of the books, as well as for Pollan's speaking fee at the school. The university had no choice but to reinstate their book choice.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison also gave its freshmen class copies of a Pollan book, this time "In Defense of Food." When the author spoke there in September, supporters of Big Ag wore green shirts to protest.
"I would have no problem wearing the green T-shirt I've seen. 'Eat food, be healthy, and thank a farmer' - there's nothing there I could disagree with," Pollan said. "America's farmers hold the key to solving the crises in our country, health care, climate change and energy."
Pollan's beef is with the crops farmers grow -- high-fructose corn syrup isn't good for us -- and with factory farms, something Big Ag supports wholeheartedly.

At least the University of Wisconsin didn't give in to Big Ag like WSU was going to do and like Cal Poly has.

As I've written before, I like that Pollan scares Big Ag, but I wish he promoted veg*anism.

(Photo shows the crowd before a lecture by Michael Pollan in September at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.)



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

SHAC 7 Appeal Denied

The U.S. Court of Appeals has denied the appeal of the SHAC 7.
Because we find that the AEPA is neither unconstitutional on its face, nor unconstitutional as-applied to SHAC, Kjonaas, Gazzola, Conroy, Stepanian, Harper and Fullmer, we will affirm their convictions for conspiracy to violate the AEPA. In addition, we find that there was sufficient evidence to convict Defendants on all charges involving interstate stalking. Finally, we find no flaw in the jury instructions, and we will therefore affirm the Judgment of the District Court in all other respects.
I'm looking forward to reading Will Potter's post about this on his blog, "Green Is the New Red." For now, though, here's what I took away from the court's decision.

First, the biggest blow from this decision is that the appeals court didn't find the Animal Enterprise Protection Act unconstitutional. The defendants were charged under this 1992 law, which, in 2006, was replaced with the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

However, while I don't understand what a footnote in the court's decision means, I think it's a positive for animal advocates and defenders of the First Amendment.
Defendants' overbreadth challenge is moot because the statute was superceded by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006. Therefore, we lack jurisdiction to address this issue.
With regard to the SHAC 7's convictions, the appeals court upheld them, saying, in part, that while some of the posts on the SHAC Web site were protected speech, others incited illegal actions and thus were not protected by the First Amendment.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, of course, has not yet been challenged in court. Four people in California are currently charged under it.

Regardless of the appeals court's decision, I don't believe either the AEPA or the AETA is constitutional. (Although I realize my opinion doesn't matter.) I don't see how some industries -- in this case, ones that exploit animals -- can have more legal protections than others. But it wouldn't surprise me if someday all capitalist endeavors were protected even more than they are now.

I do believe, though, that someday the AETA will be ruled unconstitutional.

(Photo of the SHAC 7 courtesy of IMPACT Press.)



Monday, October 12, 2009

Michigan to Phase Out Confinement Crates

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm today signed into law a modest animal-welfare proposal.

Like Prop 2 in California, the use of gestation and veal crates and battery cages will be phased out in that state.

Veal crates will be phased out within three years, battery cages and gestation crates within 10.

When the legislature passed the bill, after working with the The Humane Society of the United States to craft it, animal exploiters around the country were upset. Andy Vance of ABN Radio, "Ohio's Voice for Agriculture," linked to Wayne Pacelle's blog with this post on Twitter: "ICYMI: Michigan gives in to out of state animal rights terrorists: [blog link] Way to go, Michigan."

Michigan's legislature initially had plans to go on the offensive against The HSUS, by introducing bills that would maintain the status quo and which would put animal agribusiness in charge of making changes.

The state apparently rethought that decision after The HSUS threatened to put a Prop 2-like initiative on the ballot next year.

Ohio's Battleground

Ohio, though, is one state that is prepared for a fight with The HSUS.

Agribusiness groups have been holding rallies throughout the state in an effort to get November voters to approve Issue 2, the creation of a Livestock Care Standards Board. The board would be comprised of 13 people, mostly "farmers."

(Photo of a calf in a veal crate courtesy of "San Diego Veg Pledge.")



Friday, October 9, 2009

Animals to Experimenters: We're Not Afraid

Three animals imprisoned and used in experiments have taken a rare public stand against researchers, describing them as terrorists for their acts of violence.

For decades, "we have seen our babies stolen from us, our friends mutilated, tortured and killed," said the chimpanzee.

"Adding insult to injury, misguided Americans openly support these cruel acts, saying the means justify the ends," the rabbit said.

In telephone interviews with CNN, the animals -- which also included a Macaque monkey named Britches -- said they had been subject to having chemicals dripped in their eyes, remaining their for days; electrodes placed in their brains; and being deprived of their mothers.

Britches recounted his story of having his eyelids sewn shut as part of a three-year maternal and sensory-deprivation study, where high-pitched screeches were emitted into his brain.

Recently "they [the experimenters] began marketing monkeys who were intentionally produced to be overweight and diabetic, all to 'find a cure' for a disease we already know how to cure -- and prevent," the chimpanzee said.

The practice long followed by many animals of keeping quiet and hoping the experimenters will go away does not work, said the rabbit. "We have to take them on directly; that's what we plan to do ... I'm not going to be afraid of these people; they're thugs."

The above "news story" is a satire based on CNN.com's report of animal experimenters criticizing animal advocates.

(Photo is from an undercover video taken at a Covance laboratory Aug. 27, 2004. Courtesy of the Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing.)



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Report: Line Speeds, Injuries Increase for Slaughterhouse Workers

Increased demand at slaughterhouses has caused a rise in work-related injuries, according to a report by a Nebraska-based non-profit.

The Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest interviewed 455 employees who worked in one of nine Nebraska slaughterhouses during 2007 and 2008.

A total of 62 percent of those interviewed said they had been injured on the job in the past year, a rate seven times higher than the government's official statistics for slaughterhouse workers.

The high percentage of injuries is blamed on increased line speeds. Seventy-three percent of workers said their line speeds had increased in the past year. The faster the slaughtering line moves, the more animals can be killed and dismembered, thereby increasing the company's profits.

These findings are not surprising to people who've read Gail Eisnitz's "Slaughterhouse." In commemoration of Labor Day last year I wrote about what workers go through in slaughterhouses.
[Slaughterhouse workers] talk of a production system that moves too fast to render animals unconscious. Despite numerous complaints to management -- as well as countless injuries -- the companies refuse to make changes because slowing the process would mean not making as much money. When animals are not properly stunned (rendered unconscious), they fight for their lives, kicking workers, falling on top of them, running over them.
The American Meat Institute responded to the Appleseed report by challenging "claims that fast production lines put workers at greater risk."

It also cited government statistics for worker injuries.
Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Janet Riley, the American Meat Institute's senior vice president of public affairs, told the paper the incident of reported injuries and illnesses for 2007 fell nearly 8 percent from the previous year.
She failed to note that supervisors at slaughterhouses don't respond kindly to claims of injuries.

After Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the U.S., was raided in May 2008, employees talked about their working conditions.
Elmer L. said that he was clearing cow innards from the slaughter floor last Aug. 26 when a supervisor he described as a rabbi began yelling at him, then kicked him from behind. The blow caused a freshly-sharpened knife to fly up and cut his elbow.

He was sent to a hospital where doctors closed the laceration with eight stitches. But he said that when he returned, his elbow still stinging, to ask for some time off, his supervisor ordered him back to work.

The next day, as he was lifting a cow’s tongue, the stitches ruptured, Elmer L. said, and the wound bled again. He said he was given a bandage at the plant and sent back to work.
Virgil Butler, now deceased, recounted in 2006 his time at a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse.
All but one of the most serious accidents I saw the whole time I worked for Tyson occurred in the kill room. Some of those accidents happened to me. I have scars all over my hands and arms where I cut myself. I had several nasty infections from it. When I would go to my supervisor to complain, he would tell me to prove that I got infected there and not somewhere else. I even sewed up my own hand once at break time. It took five stitches.
Another reason injuries go unreported is that many workers are in the United States illegally. The Agriprocessors raid in Iowa uncovered almost 400 illegal immigrants. People here illegally wouldn't want to risk deportation by reporting injuries caused from dangerous working conditions.

(Photo courtesy of the Animal Welfare Institute.)



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

U.S. Mulls Relocating Wild Horses

The Secretary of the Interior has suggested rounding up the wild horses and burros who run free in the West and confining them to preserves in the East.

Ken Salazar cited financial and environmental reasons for the idea, which would affect the 37,000 wild horses and burros living in Nevada, California, Wyoming and other Western states and 32,000 horses and burros living in corrals and pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

He suggested capturing the animals and moving them to seven preserves. I can't help but think about the First Peoples, living beings rounded up by the government and forced to live in designated areas.

Two of the preserves would be operated by the Bureau for Land Management, the entity that has rounded up wild horses each year and tried to sell them. The remaining preserves would be constructed in the Midwest and the East.
"Unfortunately, arid western lands and watersheds cannot support a population this large without significant damage to the environment," he said.
But according to Greg Lawson, a National Park Service ranger, for each wild horse there are 160 cows on public land.

Thirty-seven thousand horses are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of cows raised and slaughtered on these lands each year. Imagine how much water is takes to feed these cows, to dispose of their feces, to rinse the blood from the slaughterhouse floors.

Although The Associated Press story barely mentions ranching -- when describing Salazar's former livelihood -- that's what this is all about. Wild animals threaten and reduce the space for cattle to graze, thereby affecting an animal ag's bottom line.

If Salazar has his way, these wild animals will be in a type of zoo.
Spokesman Tom Gorey said the land management agency would work with state and local officials to create the preserves -- essentially large ranches -- and make them accessible to the public.

"We think there is real potential for ecotourism," he said. "Everybody loves horses."
Everyone, that is, except those deciding their fate.

(Photo courtesy of "Word Dreams.")



Animal Ag Deflects, Shifts Blame for E. coli Illness

Yesterday I wrote about The New York Times story that traced an E. coli-contaminated hamburger from slaughterhouse to family home and which caused the paralysis of a then-20-year-old woman.

As expected those in animal agribusiness are deflecting and shifting blame.

Dr. Richard Raymond was undersecretary of agriculture for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2005 to 2008. It was on his watch, in 2007, that Stephanie Smith became so ill after eating the E. coli-contaminated hamburger that she had to be induced into a nine-week coma, and she became paralyzed from the waist down.

Raymond is now a blogger for the pro-industry site Meatingplace.com. His blog, "Food (Safety) Fight," focuses on ... food safety.

In his post about The New York Times story Raymond doesn't disclose his role in the 2007 incident. Instead he tries to blame the victim.
The heroine of the story, Stephanie Smith, is to be applauded for coming forward with her very tragic story. Perhaps if more people can learn from her story, more people will take control of the safe handling of raw meat and poultry in their homes or establishments.
Instead of putting the blame on the USDA or animal agribusiness, Raymond puts it on the average American who doesn't handle the flesh properly in her kitchen. But even safe handling isn't enough.
Food scientists have registered increasing concern about the virulence of this pathogen since only a few stray cells can make someone sick, and they warn that federal guidance to cook meat thoroughly and to wash up afterward is not sufficient. A test by The Times found that the safe handling instructions are not enough to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the kitchen.
Raymond also misses the point of The New York Times story. While the story focuses on grinders that combine the flesh from different slaughterhouses to produce one hamburger, the reporter, Michael Moss, wasn't criticizing that practice. Raymond, though, insists he was.
Mr. Moss seems to be of the opinion that if all ground beef was made from single source whole cuts of meat, ground beef would not have E coli contamination.
What the story questioned, however, is the practice of grinders not testing each batch of flesh before combining them. This practice makes it difficult to isolate the source of contamination and to recall products from that source.

And what is Raymond's solution to prevent such a tragedy from happening again?
We need to do better, and we need interventions like vaccines, whole carcass irradiation, adequate carcass spacing in the chillers, and animal washing before loading onto clean trucks, etc. And we need an Undersecretary to champion these interventions.

Maybe that empty chair could be the subject of Mr. Moss's next "expose"?
He wants someone to fill his old position -- because we know how important that was in 2007 to preventing food poisoning.

Cargill's response

Cargill, the agriculture giant that sold the contaminated flesh, issued a statement that read in part, "In October 2007 when we learned there may be a problem, we immediately instituted a voluntary recall."

The contamination was so deadly that Smith had to be flown to Mayo Clinic, and her family didn't know for at least nine weeks if she'd even survive. Yet the recall was a voluntary one?

Cargill also defended its testing procedures.
Cargill conducts nearly 400,000 tests for pathogens each year using a testing methodology that exceeds U. S. Department of Agriculture standards. We also require our suppliers to test using a methodology that exceeds USDA standards.
As The New York Times story showed, USDA standards are so low, they're practically non-existent. The USDA caves to the pressure of animal agribusiness.
In August 2008, the U.S.D.A. issued a draft guideline again urging, but not ordering, processors to test ingredients before grinding. [...]

But the department received critical comments on the guideline, which has not been made official. Industry officials said that the cost of testing could unfairly burden small processors and that slaughterhouses already test. In an October 2008 letter to the department, the American Association of Meat Processors said the proposed guideline departed from U.S.D.A.'s strategy of allowing companies to devise their own safety programs, "thus returning to more of the agency's 'command and control' mind-set."
The USDA even caved to Cargill itself.
In the weeks before Ms. Smith's patty was made, federal inspectors had repeatedly found that Cargill was violating its own safety procedures in handling ground beef, but they imposed no fines or sanctions, records show. After the outbreak, the department threatened to withhold the seal of approval that declares "U.S. Inspected and Passed by the Department of Agriculture."

In the end, though, the agency accepted Cargill's proposal to increase its scrutiny of suppliers.
The USDA basically trusts companies to monitor themselves. We've seen where that can get us in the banking industry. And Stephanie Smith unfortunately knows firsthand where that gets us in animal agribusiness.

(Photo courtesy of "Food Poison Journal.")



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

USDA's 'Food Safety' System Deadly

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's system for ensuring food safety could be called a joke -- if it weren't so deadly.

The New York Times on Saturday published an in-depth story that traced the creation of a hamburger and showed how easily it could be contaminated with E. coli at each step.

In 2007 that hamburger sickened a then-20-year-old woman and left her paralyzed.

The hamburger contained flesh from countless cows from four slaughterhouses in two countries, the United States and Uruguay. It was sold in a box of frozen hamburger patties labeled "American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties."

Slaughterhouses sell the flesh to grinders, or processors, who combine the flesh from different slaughterhouses.

While the USDA encourages grinders to test each shipment for E. coli before they are combined, the grinders are under no obligation to do so. And, in fact, most don't.
Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder's discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.
Some grinders don't even test their finished product.
An Agriculture Department survey of more than 2,000 plants taken after the Cargill outbreak showed that half of the grinders did not test their finished ground beef for E. coli; only 6 percent said they tested incoming ingredients at least four times a year.
Even more astonishing is the USDA's attitude toward food safety.
Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. "I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health," Dr. Petersen said.
The USDA's primary goal is to keep those involved with animal agribusiness happy. It's ludicrous that the agency designed to help the meat and dairy industries make money -- by encouraging meat and dairy sales through marketing and federal purchasing -- is also in charge of overseeing the system's food safety.

Ensuring food -- and I hesitate even to call animal flesh and secretions food -- is safe requires everyone involved to spend money, and that's antithetical to the primary goal: to make money.

Who cares if some people become sick and some even die? What matters is that millions more are still buying the products.

Justin, one of this blog's readers, commented on a post about "agro-terrorism" the other day. (A couple of animal agribusiness people have insinuated that animal advocates may try to poison the food supply -- an outrageous claim.) But Justin's comment perfectly captures what is already occurring in agribusiness and the USDA.
[A]gro-terrorist attacks have already happened and are just waiting to happen again thanks to the game of Russian roulette that agribusiness is playing by slaughtering animals as fast as possible for as much profit as possible. It is only a matter of time before more people die from bacteria borne from contaminated meat, which never came close to an investigator's lens.

It is everyone involved with the meat industry that does nothing to work for change that is complicit in any outbreaks that might sicken or kill the public. I think the next time an outbreak occurs all of the people involved with the slaughter of animals for food, including governmental agencies and their officials, should be charged with criminal negligence, aggravated assault, terrorism, and potentially some degree of murder because they all know the risks and STILL engage in this abhorrent and dangerous behavior.
I encourage you to read The New York Times story and share it with the people you care about. You deserve to know what you're eating.

(Photo courtesy of "Marler Blog.")



Monday, October 5, 2009

Meat Industry's Beef with Baltimore Schools

Last week I told you that the Baltimore City Public Schools became the first school system in the country to institute Meatless Monday.

It's no surprise that the American Meat Institute is not happy with that decision.
"Surely you have always offered a vegetarian option on your menu," AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle wrote in a letter to Andrés A. Alonso, chief executive officer, Baltimore City Schools. "Now you are removing a meat or poultry entree on Mondays and depriving children and their parents of the ability to determine what is appropriate for their diets and their own personal circumstances."
Actually Boyle is wrong. Aside from Mondays, the school system's lunch menu is packed with animal flesh.

Here's a sample of what children get to pick from each day:

Hamburger/cheeseburger OR 5" super sub (I'd bet that sub comes with layers of meat)
Fish nugget OR turkey breast and cheese melt
Creamy chicken and pasta OR turkey ham and cheese melt

The list continues like that. So, no, vegetarians -- and certainly not vegans -- do not have "the ability to determine what is appropriate for their diets and their own personal circumstances" if they choose to get lunch from that school system.

Boyle's letter shows how out of touch, greedy and afraid the meat industry is. The AMI recognizes that it's only a matter of time before more schools adopt Meatless Monday -- and more people decide to abstain from meat all together.

(Image courtesy of LiveEarth.org.)



Improve Your Bottom Line and Regain Power

In my review of "Capitalism: A Love Story" I noted that I wished Michael Moore would have left the audience with a specific call to action. What specifically can each American do to counter the evil side of capitalism?

I'm going to share my ideas, but I'd also like you to include yours in the Comments section.

I grew up in what I'd characterize as a middle-class to upper-middle-class family. My dad worked hard, eventually owning three Laundromats that provided my family of four with a comfortable lifestyle.

From an early age I was encouraged to save my money. My parents opened a savings account in my name, and I liked to watch my money grow. Money has always been important to me, primarily as a means to help me feel secure. But it's never been something that was more important than love, health, happiness, family, etc.

I mention these things to give you a sense of who I am. I don't hate money. I support and understand the need to want to accumulate money.

But I don't see the accumulation of money as an end goal. I simply see it as a means to continue my work speaking out for animals, for the environment and for people, as a means to do my small part to make this world a better place.

The CEOs and other executives of companies that cheat their workers and consumers, that pollute the environment and abuse and exploit animals to make a buck -- those people view wealth as an end goal. They don't care how they get there or who or what they harm on the way. And, of course, no amount of wealth is ever enough. While their employees are lacking healthcare, company executives are hoarding more money than they'd ever need.

So how can we help improve our bottom lines and also work to reduce the power of greedy executives?

Analyze your purchases

Are you buying items you need or items you think you need? Is that iPhone really a necessity, or did you buy it because "everyone else" did?

I used to love going to garage sales. But I bought trinkets I didn't need. I'd get an initial high, but more often than not I wouldn't know what to do with them. Eventually I came to realize that I was using the accumulation of stuff to fill voids in my life.

Even though they continue to beckon, I force myself to drive past garage sales now.

Shop at garage sales or secondhand stores

Yes, I just told you that I no longer shop at garage sales. But that's because I don't need to. I have most of the possessions I'll ever need in my life, so there's no reason to shop at garage sales or anywhere else.

But for those of you whose children keep growing or who really could use a kitchen table, garage sales and secondhand stores are excellent places to shop. In addition to saving money, you're keeping unwanted possessions out of landfills and you're financially supporting a family or smaller organization instead of a big-box retailer.

Limit credit-card use

If you use credit cards, pay them off in full every month. Don't spend money you don't have.

Live below your means

If you can afford that $250,000 house, why not opt for a $200,000 instead? If you live like you make less money than you do, you'll save money and be more prepared when tough economic times hit.

Cancel unnecessary expenses

Although I was a TV junkie as a kid, I stopped getting cable and satellite several years ago, and I found that I didn't miss them. I watched PBS a lot more than I otherwise would have.

Then when the transition to digital came, I did buy a converter box, but I never hooked it up. (Yes, you could argue that was a waste of money.) I wanted to see how long I could go without watching TV at my house. I still haven't hooked it up, and it's been great. I listen to National Public Radio a lot more now, and I read. My boyfriend even likes it, saying we talk more in the evening than if we'd planted ourselves in front of the TV.

Perhaps you can make coffee at home instead of buying it every day at Starbucks. Or you could walk around your neighborhood instead of having that gym membership. (Although if you've got a regular gym routine, I'd recommend sticking with it.)

Spend a little extra in the short-term

As I just mentioned, if you have a regular gym routine at a club, keep it. I know how hard it is to maintain a regular exercise routine, so I wouldn't want to mess with it. The money you're paying to your club now will help you avoid spending money on healthcare in the future.

That same advice can be used regarding what you eat. Buy organic when you can. Avoid chemicals on the foods you eat.

Go vegan

Switching to a whole-foods, plant-based diet can help you avoid diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and certain cancers -- ailments that could cost you a lot of money in the future.

Avoid the fake meats and other packaged vegan foods, and opt for inexpensive fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, beans and nuts.

Vote with your money

If you can, don't shop at stores whose behaviors you don't like. I avoid Walmart because they coerce their employees not to unionize. I avoid all fast-food establishments -- and have long before I went vegan -- because their high-fat foods are killing people.

Support workers' right to unionize

Contact your members of Congress and tell them you support the Employee Free Choice Act. I know from firsthand experience that being part of a union doesn't guarantee company executives won't cheat their employees, but a strong union can help prevent exploitation.

Re-assess your values

Do you get your self-worth from your possessions? Do you feel good about yourself because of how big your house is or what kind of car you drive? Do you care more about your facade than about the environment? Start basing your self-worth on your actions that help this planet -- and, no, shopping absolutely does not count.

Obviously many more tips can be included. Please share yours in the Comments section, so we can learn from each other.

(Image courtesy of RedMolotov.com.)



'Capitalism: A Love Story' Steals My Affection

After Michael Moore introduced me to the healthcare systems of other wealthy nations in "Sicko," I couldn't wait for him to reveal facts I didn't know about capitalism in his newest film, "Capitalism: A Love Story."

He didn't disappoint. In fact, I loved this movie.

Because I saw it in a theater, though, I couldn't swear out loud at the outrageous things I learned, one of which occurred in a small town in Pennsylvania.

A private company took over the city's juvenile center. Because it received money for each incarcerated child it housed, it was to the company's advantage to see to it that many, many children ended up there. So company officials paid off two judges who then sentenced kids to serve time at the center. Some of these kids' offenses were minor, normal-kid behaviors. One boy threw a piece of steak at his mother's boyfriend. A girl got into a fight with her friend at the mall. Another girl used a Web site to make fun of her principal.

Moore also tells us about a practice used by companies to benefit from the deaths of its employees. It's referred to as "dead peasants insurance." Unbeknownst to its employees, the company takes out life insurance for rank-and-file workers and collects on it when they die. The company actually has an incentive not to provide health care for its workers and/or to create dangerous working conditions.

Moore attacks the financial corporations that received bailout money. While some of this footage is cheesy -- he drives an armored car to the corporations to collect the funds -- his point is valid.

Capitalism is about taking a risk, running a business with the possibility it will go bust. Businesspeople don't like government interference. They lobby against regulations and for small government. But when their industry is in trouble, they beg the government for assistance. That's what the banks did, what the auto industry did -- and what Big Ag does on a regular basis. Yet the average American receives no bailout.

Moore isn't against freedom for people to create businesses or to get rich. But he's against people obtaining wealth at the expense of their employees and consumers.

While I loved "Capitalism: A Love Story" and highly recommend it, I wish Moore would have left the audience with a specific call to action. I know he wants us to protest the abuse we see, not to sit idly by but to reclaim our power. But how? (In my next blog post I'm going to provide specific recommendations.)



Friday, October 2, 2009

Pro-Ag Group Urges Prosecution of Undercover Investigators

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a pro-agribusiness group, is pushing for undercover investigators to be prosecuted for animal cruelty.

Animal-rights groups regularly hire these investigators to obtain employment at animal-exploitation operations -- pig farms, hatcheries, egg facilities, turkey facilities, etc. -- to secretly tape the goings-on.

Rather than admit that the cruelty witnessed on these videos is a common -- and sometimes legal -- occurrence, the Animal Ag Alliance would rather target the people working on behalf of animals.

It contends that when a worker (the investigator) witnesses animal cruelty, he should bring it to a supervisor's attention. (In many instances he has, to no avail.) By not doing so, the Animal Ag Alliance contends he is complicit in the cruelty. Of course, that group ignores the fact that the person is there in an effort to stop animal cruelty. By filming the abuse of these animals, he hopes to encourage the public to stop giving money to these industries -- thereby preventing future cruelty of even more animals.

As if this anonymous writer's proposal weren't bizarre enough, he also attempts to scare people into believing that these investigators are going to poison the food supply.
Another concern of grave importance to farm animal owners and to national security is the possibility these same tactics could be employed by individuals or groups seeking a very different agenda - the deliberate contamination of our national food supply.
Although he makes it seem like he's talking about a group other than animal-rights activists, this paragraph is stuck in a piece that is solely about animal advocates.

He isn't the first pro-agribusiness person to insinuate that AR activists could harm the nation's food supply. Troy Hadrick, a cattle rancher from South Dakota, did so in a blog post about a supposed terrorism expert who wrote a novel about agro-terrorism. Hadrick, who merely posts someone else's news story and then writes a paragraph stating his opinion, used a story that didn't even mention animal rights. Yet he threw us into the mix.
All of us have the images of 9/11 seared into our memory; they are as vivid as if it had just happened yesterday. However, the panic and destruction that occurred that day could pale in comparison to a successful agro-terrorism event. Chances are good that this type of event might not even originate from the Middle East, but quite possibly from a home-grown animal rights or environmental activist group.
The Animal Ag Alliance urges those in agribusiness to get a copy of their report "Farm and Facility Security Recommendations." Reflecting animal agribusiness's need to hide the truth, it's password-protected on its Web site.

(My thanks to Erik at Vegan.com for first writing about the Animal Ag Alliance's piece.)


(File image courtesy of Compassion Over Killing.)




Check out Chicago VeganMania

If you will be in the Chicago area Saturday, Oct. 10, you'll want to check out this area's biggest vegan event, Chicago VeganMania.

The brainchild of EarthSave Chicago, the event will feature food, speakers, musicians and other vendors.

Admission is free! (And, of course, you don't need to be a vegan to attend.)

Dr. Michael Greger from The Humane Society of the United States, Nathan Runkle of Mercy For Animals and Will Tuttle, author of "The World Peace Diet," are some of the scheduled speakers.

About 40 vendors will be on hand, including Arbonne Beauty, Chicago Soy Dairy, Ethical Planet, Herbivore, Rainforest Action Network, SHARK, Tree House Humane Society and Windy City Rescue, among many others.

Visitors can also browse -- and, I'm guessing, buy -- work from artists, as well as vegan fashion.

Children are welcome, and there will be a large craft and entertainment area for them.

My favorite part of any event is the food. The Chicago Diner, Cousin's Incredible Vitality, Delicious Cafe, The Great Taste Cafe (formerly The Balanced Kitchen), Soul Vegetarian and Veggie Bite will be serving yummies.

Entertainment includes a folk singer, a funk/rock band, a preteen alt-rock band and a belly dancer specializing in Egyptian and Lebanese cabaret.

Organizers hope to make Chicago VeganMania an annual event. So come out and support this endeavor!

Chicago VeganMania: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk, Chicago.



Demeaning Words & Images Harm Women, Don't Help Breast Cancer Cause

In addition to October being World Vegetarian Month (or National Vegetarian Month or Vegetarian Awareness Month -- I wish someone would just pick a name), it's also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In February I wrote a post about feel-good initiatives that mask real solutions. Liking walking for a cure to breast cancer, without providing participants tips to prevent cancer -- like eating a whole foods, plant-based diet -- or shopping at stores or buying products that feature a pink ribbon. These practices are called "pinkwashing," and they don't help us eliminate cancer.

If you haven't read that post -- or if you just need a refresher -- I encourage you to check it out.

Another aspect of breast cancer awareness -- and don't get me wrong: I fully support education and early detection -- is the increasing trend of using euphemisms. Organizations and Web sites have arisen with such names as SaveATit.com, with the title on its site "Touch a Tit, Save a Tit," and SaveTheTatas.org, which shows flirty, hot, young women modeling shirts with that phrase on it.

Most of the images in the online catalog of SaveTheTatas.org feature one young woman with large breasts, perpetuating the notion that to be an attractive woman -- or simply to be a woman -- one needs a big cup size.

It looks like that company exists solely to make money from T-shirts. Five percent of sales goes to The Save the Ta-tas Foundation, which supports "outstanding organizations that lead the way in the fight against cancer." Uh-huh. Of course, nowhere is there information about preventing breast cancer or even about encouraging breast self-exams or mammograms.

At least SaveATit.com features a video of actresses humorously advocating for self-exams.

Call me a fuddy-duddy if you want, but I don't think these kinds of sites help fight breast cancer. In fact, they lessen the seriousness of the disease. Words like "tit," "tatas" and "boobies" are what men and boys use because they are too horny or immature to say "breasts." Yes, I realize some women also use them. But they're used in a joking, lighthearted context.

Some may argue that sometimes a lighthearted tone is needed when dealing with a disease like cancer, and I wouldn't disagree. But there's a difference between making light of something serious to try to ease the pain and using words with demeaning connotations to talk about something serious.



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Baltimore Schools Go Meat-Free on Mondays

The Baltimore City Public Schools has instituted "Meatless Monday" in its cafeterias.

Baltimore, the first school system in the country to adopt Meatless Monday, was recently recognized by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future for its efforts.

The program hopes to "inspire people to understand there are other options than just 'meat and potatoes' for every meal," according to the schools' director of the Department of Food and Nutrition. (Not that there's anything wrong with potatoes, of course.)

Students who participate in their schools' lunch program choose between two meat-free entrees on Mondays. Vegetarian chili is one option on some Mondays.

In addition two sides are available every day, such as steamed broccoli, pineapple, fresh fruit and corn.

While Mondays' menus rely too heavily on cheese -- grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese lasagna -- the adoption of Meatless Monday is a huge step for our movement. The school system is getting children and parents to, at the very least, question the necessity for consuming as much meat as they have been.

Baltimore schools haven't stopped at Meatless Monday, though.
In addition, City Schools has introduced a teaching farm, Great Kids Farm, and is developing the resources to establish a garden at each of the systems' more than 200 schools.
Baltimore is by no means considered a hippie or elitist city. If San Francisco schools, for example, had instituted these changes, the significance would be less.

I predict that more school systems will follow Baltimore's lead.

If you have a school-age child -- or a grandchild -- please contact his principal and tell her about the Meatless Monday effort at Baltimore schools and that you'd like your school to adopt the program.

(Image courtesy of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.)