When it comes to the environment, the public’s attention has been understandably focused on global warming. However, the water pollution problem hasn’t gone away. While many people are aware of the water pollution caused by raising cattle, few are aware that raising chicken is just as bad if not worse. Sure, a cow produces more manure than a chicken does, but there are far more chickens in this country. In fact, we now raise over 9 billion chickens every year compared to only 95 million cows.
In addition to the water pollution that results from agricultural runoff from fertilizer while raising feed crops for all those chickens, the waste products from raising chickens cause an enormous amount of pollution. In fact, chicken manure is especially degrading to waterways because it contains 2 to 4 times more pollutants (particularly nitrogen and phosphorous) than the manure of other types of livestock and can also have disastrous effects on water and soil quality. Read more
Just when we thought the slaughterhouses couldn’t get any worse for workers, consumers and animals alike, new rules are coming out of Washington DC that will make the whole situation worse than ever.
Under the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule, a processing line could run at 170 carcasses per minute, and only one inspector- employed by the company that owns the processing plant- would be required to be on duty. The new rules do not even mandate training for these company inspectors, whereas USDA inspectors undergo extensive training to allow them to fulfill these tasks under the current inspection system.
“These rules essentially privatize poultry inspection, and pave the way for others in the meat industry to police themselves,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
With most meat inspectors replaced by untrained slaughterhouse employees, and the kill rate increased to almost 3 chickens a second, it is virtually impossible to do any reliable testing.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that this proposed rule would provide the framework for action to provide public health-based inspection in all establishments that slaughter amenable poultry species,” according to the rule’s official summary. However, reduced inspections make contamination with disease-causing bacteria all the more likely.
With the kill rate higher, worker stress is likely to get worse. Working in a slaughterhouse is already one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in the country, as we’ve explained in a previous posting.
Last but surely not least, a higher kill rate is very likely to make matters even worse for the chickens. Many people are surprised to learn that unlike the very minimal legal protection that cows have, chickens have no laws to prevent cruelty at all. As the saying goes, if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians!
The situation is so bad that 68 Members of Congress have signed and sent a letter sent to the USDA demanding rules that meaningfully protect all involved. The letter urges the USDA to “withdraw the proposed rule until the agency has thoroughly addressed its impact on the public, workers, and animals and adherence to good commercial practices.”
We can only hope that the USDA reconsiders the new rules. In the meantime there’s something you can do. Year after year the slaughterhouses continue to get worse and worse. The best solution to this problem is the vegetarian solution. By following a healthy diet composed of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes and nuts, you’ll be reducing the demand for chickens until, someday, there won’t be a need for any of them to be killed.
It seems maybe we started to celebrate too soon. Along with many animal welfare organizations and vegetarian associations, we thought that since the egg producers and consumer groups had reached a solid agreement which had strong bi-partisan backing, that progress would finally be made. However, federal standards for the welfare of egg-laying hens suffered a defeat when they failed to make it into the farm bill legislation voted out of the agriculture committees in the U.S. House and Senate. The full Senate debated its version of the farm bill this week. Attempts at floor amendments failed, but the standards could come back to life when the farm bill reaches the joint House-Senate conference committee.
Pork and beef producers, however, object in principle to the notion of federal regulation of farm animal housing — even though, in this case, the egg producers themselves are asking for federal regulations as a way to pre-empt state rules that are more troublesome. When the agriculture committees of both House and Senate finished their versions of the farm bill last week, all mention of guaranteed living space for egg-laying hens had vanished.
The setback hurts even more because the agreement grew out of the voter initiative campaign to set animal welfare standards for egg-laying hens right here in Washington, and was led by our friend at the local HSUS chapter, Dan Paul.
To understand how a battery hen lives, stand here for a year.
Currently, ninety percent of America’s eggs are laid by chickens that live in long rows of metal wire cages. Each cage holds about eight hens, and they’re packed in pretty tightly. At the henhouse that Dan visited recently, owned by a family-run enterprise in Modesto, Calif., each hen has, on average, 67 square inches – less than the area of a standard sheet of paper. “These birds can’t even spread their wings,” says a senior director at the Humane Society of the United States. “These are living, feeling, sentient animals who are caught up in the food system, and at a bare minimum, they deserve not to be tortured for their entire lives; not to be immobilized to the point where they can’t even extend their limbs.”
Ever since cages became standard in the egg industry some 50 years ago, many people have been horrified by them. Despite their outrage, advocates of animal welfare weren’t able to do much against the cages. For egg producers, the cages made economic sense. They made egg production possible on an unprecedented scale, delivering cheap eggs to consumers. Advertising gimmicks, such as “naturally nested,” “free range,” or “cage free,” have little meaning because there are no legal definitions of them and no mechanism for enforcement.
In the Spring of 2011, Dan Paul, director of the Washington branch of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), launched a ballot initiative here in Washington State that would help improve the lives of 6.5 million egg-laying hens living in factory farms in our state. The public response was truly extraordinary, evidenced both by the passion and dedication of the volunteers, as well as the overwhelming positive response from the public.
What his in-state efforts resulted in, however, was an agreement with the United Egg Producers to push a joint effort to pass federal legislation, which in part would give each bird, throughout the entireUS flock, significantly more space to live. Their signature drive prompted the framework to help not only our 6.5 million birds, but every hen throughout this nation – it was a truly staggering result!
The proposed legislation, HR 3798 would culminate with hens nationwide being provided a minimum of 124 to 144 square inches of space, along with the other enrichment improvements. Remember, most birds in the US live in states that do not allow for the initiative process, so an agreement with industry to obtain a federal law is the most likely path to truly end the barren battery cage in the US.
All is not lost. Eventually public concern will win out. But you don’t have to wait until it does. You can choose to skip the eggs, thus reducing consumer demand and ultimately production as well. There are many egg substitutions on the market, and even more egg-free recipes for favorite dishes for you to enjoy. Both the chickens and your body will be glad you did!
The flu is nothing to sneeze at. Most years we see outbreaks of the flu that involve a number of fatalities. In a typical year as many as five million people will die from influenza worldwide, and up to 50,000 people here in the US will succumb to the disease. But every once in a while, a severe epidemic comes through, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918 which killed over 50 million people worldwide. While not nearly as severe as the Spanish Flu, influenza is again making its way across the country. As if the flu weren’t bad enough, the new strain H3N2 out this year has already caused 306 cases reported from 10 states, and typically infections with this strain tend to be more severe.
Many people are unaware of the connection between the flu and raising livestock, especially those livestock raised on large scale farming operations, known as factory farms. Influenza viruses start out in aquatic birds, but humans are not readily directly infected by these strains. Pigs, however, are highly susceptible to both avian and human influenza A viruses. They are commonly referred to as “mixing vessels” in which avian and human viruses commingle.
In pigs, viruses swap genes, and new influenza strains emerge with the potential to infect humans. Pigs may have been the intermediate hosts responsible for the birth of the last two flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968, and the so-called bird flu everyone was worried about a couple of years ago, H1N1, was a triple hybrid avian/pig/human virus.
In factory farms, thousands of animals are confined, often crowded into huge sheds. The crowding leads to stressful and extremely unhygienic conditions. The combination of reduced immunity due to prolonged stress in the pigs, and the high density confinement, makes these farms the perfect breeding grounds for new viruses. Under these conditions, new strains of swine flu are rapidly generated and transmitted from one pig to another, and then finally to humans who work with the animals. Once it gets into the community, the virus can spread very rapidly, as we have seen.
What’s true for pigs is largely true of chickens as well, which can also be mixers and propagators of influenza. Large scale chicken farms can become both the mixing vessels and breeding grounds for more strains of the influenza.
In order to better avert the threat of epidemics, public health efforts need to address the conditions that allow pigs and chickens to become breeding grounds for infectious disease. More focus needs to be placed on preventing flu viruses from getting into the human population in the first place, and that means starting at the farm.
Of course, if everyone changed to a vegetarian diet, there would be no need for factory farms, the livestock farm link in the influenza chain would be broken, and influenza epidemics and pandemics could become a thing of the past, saving both humanity and farm animals much suffering and premature death.