Tag Archives: factory farms

Victory for Farm Animals

US District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill

US District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill

The farm animals badly needed this win. They have relied heavily on people documenting abuses on harsh “factory farms” and in the slaughterhouses, but a new law in Idaho would have made this illegal leaving the animals defenseless.  So animal welfare groups cheered the decision on the Idaho law last week from U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill.  The judge found the state’s “Agricultural Security Act” unconstitutional for criminalizing certain types of speech. This would have not only criminalized legitimate reporting by the news media and advocacy groups, they would have also criminalized whistle-blowing conducted by conscientious workers.

What about the handful of other states with similar laws on the books? Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa have also made it illegal for workers and activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations. A new North Carolina law goes into effect in January 2016. But now those laws’ days could be numbered, according to the lead attorney for the coalition of animal welfare groups that sued the state of Idaho.

Had these laws gone into effect it’s not only the animals who would be hurt. As we have previously reported, abuse of slaughterhouse workers is also all too common. While reporting abuses is very valuable, it is still better to prevent them in the first place and the best way is through a healthy and oh so delicious vegetarian diet.

The Flu – What can we do?

Woman sneezingThe swine flu is here and it’s serious this year. It will make some sick, some so sick they need to be hospitalized, and sadly some will die. Because there are no uniform reporting requirements in Washington, and because most will tough it out at home, it’s hard to get reliable statistics, but we do know that already 6 people in our state have died from it, and in the Spokane alone, for instance, 70 have been hospitalized. Oregon has been hit even harder and neighboring Idaho even harder than that. In fact, the swine flu is sweeping not only across America but throughout the entire world. And the flu season hasn’t even peaked yet.

The question is what can be done about it? Must we endure this every year? Is the only-partially-effective flu shot the only answer? And what does being a vegetarian have to do with it? The answer is that cutting out meat has what we could do about it. In fact, since the flu epidemic is born and bred on super-crowded animal “factory farms,” we could get rid of the flu once and for all by the widespread adoption of the vegetarian diet. To understand why, please see our flu posting.

Out of Sight Slaughter

Caged chickensOne of the most powerful motivations to become a vegetarian, for people sensitive to the plight of farm animals, is the harsh conditions on what are known as factory farms. For instance, on these farms chickens are routinely confined to battery cages so tightly they can’t even turn around, and pigs are immobilized in gestational crates for months on end. However, the suffering in the slaughterhouses, where numerous abuses and atrocities take place, in some ways is even worse than on the factory farm.

As the old saying goes, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we‘d all be vegetarians”. Few people have actually seen a factory farm or the inside of a slaughterhouse themselves. To be aware of these conditions, we have to rely on a combination of photographic documentations by journalists and activists, and reports by government inspectors.

Unfortunately, we’re now starting to lose both. A number of states have enacted so-called ag-gag laws.  These prohibit the videotaping of “animal enterprises,” which includes both farm and slaughterhouses.  The other problem is that now government inspections are being ignored. While the ag-gag laws have been one obstacle to “seeing” what’s really going on, we would like to highlight the lack of government inspection and enforcement.

A federal investigation released last month shows that many animals still suffer needlessly in slaughterhouses. The federal audit found that meat inspectors unevenly enforce humane-slaughter rules, or don’t enforce them at all. That’s because their bosses won’t support them, two whistle-blowing meat inspectors recently told The Kansas City Star. For instance, after federal meat inspector Jim Schrier documented problems late last year at a Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, he said he was transferred to another plant miles from his home.

Even efforts by the government’s “humane handling ombudsman,” hired last year to improve enforcement, reportedly were ignored in one recent case. Kansas-based meat inspector Judy Kachanes, a 26-year veteran of the agency, said she contacted the ombudsman, Mark Crowe, after her bosses failed to take action on her complaints about humane-slaughter violations at a small meat plant in McPherson, Kan. No action was ever taken, and Kachanes has since been reassigned.

Temple Grandin, a meat industry consultant and a widely acknowledged expert on the humane treatment of animals, agrees there are still problems. Inconsistent enforcement and vague regulations mean some plants get away with “really mistreating animals and doing bad stuff,” she said.

Humane Society President, Wayne Pacelle, said these cases show that the Agriculture Department has bent to the will of the meat industry. “USDA has historically been more a protector of the meat industry than a serious-minded enforcer of the laws,” Pacelle said.

Consequently the inspectors, and there are far two few of them, can’t effectively report what they see, and so the public is unaware of what’s really going on in the nation’s slaughterhouses. It’s slaughter out of sight, which is exactly what the meat industry is depending on.

With an increasing number of ag-gag laws being enacted on the state level, and inspectors being ignored on the federal level, perhaps now more than ever, a vegetarian diet is the best way to prevent animal abuse.

Antibiotics – End of the Miracle, Beginning of a Nightmare

Pigs confinedThere’s an emergency brewing out there. The miracle of antibiotics, and their ability to quickly and easily conquer once often-deadly, common infections, is fading, and the nightmare of death and disease from bacteria may be about to begin – if we don’t act soon.

It’s scary, and it can be deadly, when antibiotics stop working against bacteria. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Patients suffer and can die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more these days. Many doctors warn that we may soon have no effective antibiotics – a medical catastrophe. In fact, the problem has become so widespread and serious that the World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the three greatest threats to human health.

Many medical authorities from around the world, and from right here in the good old US of A, are starting ring the alarm bells. For instance, Britain’s most senior medical adviser has warned that the rise in drug-resistant diseases could trigger a national emergency comparable to a catastrophic terrorist attack, pandemic flu or major coastal flooding.

Dame Sally Davies, their chief medical officer (equivalent to our Surgeon General), said the threat from infections that are resistant to frontline antibiotics was so serious that the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies.

She described what she called an “apocalyptic scenario” where people going for simple operations in 20 years’ time would die of routine infections, “because we have run out of antibiotics”. Drug resistance is emerging in diseases across the board. Davies said 80% of gonorrhea was now resistant to the frontline antibiotic tetracycline, and infections were rising in young and middle-aged people. Multi-drug resistant TB was also a major threat, she said. Another worrying trend is the rise in infections that are resistant to powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, which doctors rely on to tackle the most serious infections.

As with so many threats besetting humanity, the problem is linked to meat.

Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. 80% of the antibiotics in the United States are used on farms. (The other 20% is prescribed by doctors for human use and over-prescribing is also a cause for concern). The practice, far from abating, is getting worse with sales of antibiotics to factory farms growing 2% over last year. The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it. According to former FDA commissioner, David Kessler, “Rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste.”

To make matters worse, resistant bacteria have the ability to transfer their resistance to other previously non-resistant bacteria, making them resistant even though they have not been directly exposed to antibiotics themselves. These bacteria can then spread throughout the farm to other animals, to the farmers themselves, and from the farmers into the broader community. And of course, these bacteria are also transported into the community through the meat itself.

Outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in the news quite frequently these days. Many infections caused by bacteria, such as Staph, Strep, Salmonella, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, that were once easily cured with antibiotics are again threatening our health and even our lives due to antibiotic resistance. In one case, a 12-year-old child was infected with Salmonella that was resistant to 13 different antibiotics. One outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food was the recall of over 36 million pounds of antibiotic resistant salmonella found in ground turkey made by Cargill. Health officials say the turkey being recalled contains Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics.

You may have heard of a very dangerous bacterium in the news lately called MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus). MRSA causes serious, sometime deadly, resistant infections among healthy individuals, tragically including high school students and athletes. In one study, researchers found this deadly bacterium on 70% of pigs in Iowa and Illinois. And even more troubling, they found that 40% of farmers were carrying MRSA into the community, where children are particularly at risk. Another study found that resistant bacteria were being spread by flies.

Resistant bacteria are also making their way into our food supply. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics. Dr. Davidson H. Hamer, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University, states, “The fact that one’s Sunday roast could literally be harboring a deadly and potentially untreatable pathogen no longer leaves any excuse for complacency.”

The Food and Drug Administration systematically monitors the meat and poultry sold in supermarkets around the country for the presence of disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. These food products are bellwethers that tell us how bad the crisis of antibiotic resistance is getting. And they’re telling us it’s getting worse. This year, the FDA found that 74 percent of bacterially tainted chicken products harbored germs that were resistant to one or more types of antibiotics. For turkey products, more than three-quarters contained E. coli, and of those samples, 75 percent were resistant to one or more types of antibiotics.

Of course, the livestock farmers won’t admit responsibility. But, listen to what Dr. A. Khan, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.: “There’s unequivocal evidence [of a] relationship between use of antibiotics in animals and transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans.” At the same hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that researchers used molecular fingerprinting to follow an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria, “You actually can trace the specific bacteria around, and they find that the resistant strains in humans match the resistant strains in the animals.” Even the reluctant US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally acknowledged the problem. But none of this is news. The American Medical Association called for an end to the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals years ago.

Don’t hold your breath for things to change. While both the FDA and the USDA have known about this problem for many years, they have chosen not to act on it. The same goes for congress. Bipartisan sponsored bills that would end the practice have gone nowhere, including the latest proposed legislation that would ban farmers from using seven classes of antibiotics critical for human health, except to treat sick animals.

Recently, the FDA, in a new but largely symbolic move, issued an advisory against the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, because the practice is breeding resistant bacteria that are infecting humans more and more frequently. But the advisory has no force at all. It’s only a recommendation.

Just imagine what humanity stands to lose if the antibiotics become useless. We can’t wait any longer to take action. This is where the vegetarian diet comes into play. By adopting a vegetarian diet, you can help reduce the demand for meat and thus the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture. If you’re not yet ready to become a vegetarian, even cutting down your meat consumption can make a big difference. In doing so, you’ll be protecting your own health and the health of the whole community by helping to prevent the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.

Flu from the Farm

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.

Antibiotics Under Threat

It’s scary and it can be deadly when antibiotics stop working against bacteria. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Patients suffer and can die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more these days. Many doctors warn that we may soon have no effective antibiotics – a medical catastrophe. In fact, the problem has become so widespread and serious that the World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the three greatest threats to human health. As with so many threats besetting humanity, the problem is linked to meat.

 Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. 85% of the antibiotics in the United States are used on farms. (The other 15% is prescribed by doctors for human use and overprescribing is also a cause for concern). The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it.

To make matters worse, resistant bacteria have the ability to transfer their resistance to other previously non-resistant bacteria, making them resistant even though they have not been directly exposed to antibiotics themselves. These bacteria can then spread throughout the farm to other animals, to the farmers themselves, and from the farmers into the broader community. And of course, these bacteria are also transported into the community through the meat itself.

You may have heard of a very dangerous bacterium in the news lately called MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus).  MRSA causes serious, sometime deadly, resistant infections among healthy individuals, tragically including high school students and athletes. In one study, researchers found this deadly bacterium on 70% of pigs in Iowa and Illinois. And even more troubling, they found that 40% of farmers were carrying MRSA into the community, where children are particularly at risk. Another study found that resistant bacteria were being spread by flies.

Resistant bacteria are also making their way into our food supply. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics. Dr. Davidson H. Hamer, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University, states, “The fact that one’s Sunday roast could literally be harboring a deadly and potentially untreatable pathogen no longer leaves any excuse for complacency.”

 Of course, the livestock farmers won’t admit responsibility. But, listen to what Dr. A. Khan, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.: “There’s unequivocal evidence [of a] relationship between use of antibiotics in animals and transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans.” At the same hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that researchers used molecular fingerprinting to follow an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria, “You actually can trace the specific bacteria around, and they find that the resistant strains in humans match the resistant strains in the animals.” Even the reluctant US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally acknowledged the problem. But none of this is news. The American Medical Association called for an end to the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals years ago.

Don’t hold your breath for things to change. While both the FDA and the USDA have known about this problem for many years, they have chosen not to act on it.  The same goes for congress. Bipartisan sponsored bills that would end the practice have gone nowhere, including the latest proposed legislation that would ban farmers from using seven classes of antibiotics critical for human health, except to treat sick animals.

Recently, the FDA, in a new but largely symbolic move, issued an advisory against the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, because the practice is breeding resistant bacteria that are infecting humans more and more frequently. But the advisory has no force at all. It’s only a recommendation.

The practice of medicine was very different 100 years ago. The most common diseases were bacterial infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, intestinal infection and kidney infection. When antibiotics were invented, they were hailed as nearly miracle drugs. Seemingly overnight, once deadly infections were transformed into nothing more than minor inconveniences. In large part because the threat of deadly bacterial infection was greatly reduced, life spans increased dramatically. During the new age of antibiotics, more and more people could look forward to retirement and old age. Today, bacterial infection doesn’t even make it to the top seven causes of death in the United States.

But this is starting to change.  The miracle drugs of the 20th century are under threat. Doctors are frustrated by rising numbers of infections resistant to their arsenal of antibiotics. When these medicines don’t work, patients suffer or even die, and our nation’s health tab also ratchets upward. Medical researchers in Cook County Hospital in Chicago have determined that antibiotic resistant infections now cost America $26 billion every year. More importantly, doctors worry that the day may soon come when their prescriptions will no longer work, and we will go back to the old days when infections were rampant and people died from them.

Outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in the news quite frequently these days. Many infections caused by bacteria, such as Staph, Strep, Salmonella, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, that were once easily cured with antibiotics are again threatening our health and even our lives due to antibiotic resistance. In one case, a 12-year-old child was infected with Salmonella that was resistant to 13 different antibiotics.

As of this writing, the latest outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food was the recall of over 36 million pounds of antibiotic resistant salmonella found in ground turkey made by Cargill. Health officials say the turkey being recalled contains Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics.

 Just imagine what humanity stands to lose if the antibiotics become useless. We can’t wait any longer to take action. This is where the vegetarian diet comes into play. By adopting a vegetarian diet, you can help reduce the demand for meat and thus the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture. If you’re not yet ready to become a vegetarian, even cutting down your meat consumption can make a big difference.  In doing so, you’ll be protecting your own health and the health of the whole community by helping to pre­vent the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.

Animals – Those Who Care Are Not Alone

If you care about the animals and value their lives, you’re not alone. Caring about animals has never been more popular in America. For instance, a study published in the Congressional Quarterly found that two thirds of Americans believe that an animal has a right to live free of suffering. In addition, a third of Americans are worried that existing laws are inadequate to protect animals.  That same concern has also been contributing to the rise of mainstream friendly animal welfare organizations. For instance the Humane Society of the United States now boasts over 11 million members.

Recently, the growing concern has also become translated into legislation. A measure that, by 2015, bans farmers from raising egg-laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant pigs in overcrowded cages and crates so small that the poor animal can not even turn around, has passed in California by a substantial majority. Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have passed similar laws for pigs and veal calves. Fearing a massive victory in an Ohio voter initiative, the state’s farmers have voluntarily agreed to humane reforms.

And just in the past few months, an historic national agreement was reached between HSUS and the chicken industry. Chickens across the country will finally get some federal protection under new legislation, which proposes phasing in cages that give hens up to 144 square inches of space each, compared with the 67 square inches that most hens have today. It would also mandate more humane slaughter methods, along with other improvements. Backed by both the Humane Society and the chicken industry, which was noticing the public pressure for change, this legislation is likely to pass.

So let’s take a look beyond the headlines and see what’s going on. There is a growing confluence of three currents in our society: the increasing public appreciation of and concern for animals, new scientific information confirming the reality of animal suffering along with the healthfulness of vegetarian diets, and religious and moral leaders who advocate extending moral questions to the humane treatment of animals.

Farm animals today are forced to live a much harder life than in former times.  Most of today’s farm animals are raised on so-called factory farms.  Modern factory farms revolve only around efficient, low-cost production, which unfortunately results in harsh conditions and greatly increased suffering for billions of farm animals. Chickens and pigs are packed into overcrowded cages so small that they can’t even turn around. Cows raised for veal are chained up their entire lives.  More and more Americans are learning about these inhumane conditions. Exposes and videos showing outrageous abuses in slaughterhouses cause even the most reserved to cringe. Indeed it has often been said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegetarians. 

Science is making its contribution too. Not only have scientists confirmed that mammals such as cows and sheep can feel pain, but now even fish have been found to have pain receptors in their brain. The Merck Veterinary Manual, the standard reference in animal science and veterinary practice, states, “Based on what is known to date, all vertebrates, and some invertebrates, experience pain in response to actual or potential tissue damage.”

In a way, researchers have known this for some time. They have been in the untenable position of testing pain medications on animals while trying to deny that they can feel pain. Over time, many Americans have become suspicious of this kind of double talk when it comes to animal suffering. Author Mathew Scully puts the matter clearly when he says “And how much simpler to drop the pretensions, call cruel things by their name.” The American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists now bluntly states that animal pain and suffering are clinically important conditions that adversely affect an animal’s quality of life both in the short and long term.  

Scientists and medical researchers have also confirmed the many health advantages of a vegetarian diet. Marion Nestle, Chair of Nutrition at New York University, sums it up well when she says “There’s no question that vegetarian diets are as healthy as you can get. The evidence is so strong and overwhelming, and produced over such a long period of time, that it’s no longer debatable.”

Many religious and moral leaders have long advocated for the compassionate treatment of animals or the vegetarian diet that goes along with it. The list is, perhaps, more extensive than many realize. A short list would include John Wesley (founder of the Methodist Church), Saint Francis, and two Chief Rabbis of Israel. Founding fathers such as William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) and Thomas Paine (who started the American Revolution) spoke out boldly against cruelty to animals. In more recent times spiritual leaders such Pope John Paul II, Cardinal John Henry Newman, William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army), C.S. Lewis, Albert Einstein, Professor of Theology the Reverend Andrew Linzey, Thomas Merton (a Trappist Monk), Ghandi, Martin Luther King’s wife and oldest son, the Dalai Lama and many more have spoken out to increasingly receptive audiences.

The American public reacts against animal suffering, but they have to know about it first. The problem is that they don’t often know about it, or the information is presented to them in a way they find objectionable. Americans have big hearts. More and more will sincerely care, when they find out what happens in today’s factory farms.

Those who care are not alone. Every year, more and more people choose a vegetarian diet as a way of expressing their compassion for animals, improving their health or reducing their environmental footprint. If you’re not yet a vegetarian but would like to be, we’re here to help. Try coming to one of our monthly dinners, reading our books, The Vegetarian Solution and Say No to Meat, attending one of our free cooking and nutrition classes and enjoying our two day festival, Vegfest. By making vegetarian food choices, you will be saving farm animals with every bite and maybe, just maybe, the day will come when all the animals will be saved.

 

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