Yet another industry assurance about the safety of the controversial practices used in intensive livestock production has been exposed as a falsehood. Hot on the heels of recent public health and environmental scares associated with industrial livestock farming—including the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, ractopamine residues in pork, and arsenic residues in poultry meat—new scientific research on an anabolic steroid which is routinely used in industrial beef production in the U.S. is causing alarm.
It pains me to say it but there are some very real connections between BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and the recent "pink slime" fiasco that need to be aired. I am not saying that "pink slime" (lean finely textured beef or LFTB for short) represents anything like the public health hazard that potentially BSE-infected meat could represent. Regulations are now in place to ensure that specified risk material is removed from every beef carcass so it does not enter the human food chain, and that the feeding of ground-up cattle remains back to cattle has been banned since 1997. However, it's hard to ignore the fundamental similarities of the two incidents and, more importantly, the underlying circumstances and mindsets that led to the adoption in both cases of some highly questionable industry practices -- practices that most people would have almost certainly have opposed had they been given the chance.
Animal Welfare Approved is pleased to announce a call for proposals for its 2011-2012 Good Husbandry Grants. Now in its fourth year, the Good Husbandry Grants program has funded nearly one hundred projects across the country to improve farm animal welfare. Certified farmers and those who have submitted an application for AWA certification may apply for up to $5,000 towards projects such as mobile housing, breeding stock, and on-farm processing equipment. Slaughter plants working with or seeking to work with AWA farmers are also eligible for funding. The funding priorities for this year’s cycle include improved genetics, increased outdoor access, welfare improvements in the slaughter process and non-lethal predator control. A primary goal of this grant program is to facilitate the growth and success of high-welfare, pasture-based systems.
This week, Animal Welfare Approved and Wild Turkey Farms hosted a poultry processing workshop to train potential users of the new mobile processing unit (MPU). Funded by a Good Husbandry Grant and built by Wild Turkey Farms, this plant-on-wheels can travel to area farms for on-farm processing – minimizing transport stress on the animals and providing farmers an economical processing alternative (rental rates start at $45/day). Techniques on humane slaughter were demonstrated as well as cervical dislocation for emergency euthanasia. Attendees learned the importance of humane handling and catching to ensuring product quality and took home some good tips on effective product presentation. Many farmers raising birds for meat operate under the 1,000 bird exemption, meaning that they are not required to have an inspector on-site at the time of processing. However food safety is even more important for the small farmer than it is for a large plant and sanitation, biosecurity and recordkeeping were emphasized as important tools to ensure a safe product for the consumer. A very knowledgeable and gracious staff from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, including Don Delozier, State Director for the NCDA&CS Meat and Poultry Inspection Division and Compliance Officer Melanie Pollard, presented on the relevant regulations for on-farm processing, how to comply and where to go for more information.
On May 4 Animal Welfare Approved hosted an expert panel of writers, farmers and representatives of sustainable livestock production. Entitled, “Green Pastures, Bright Future: Taking the Meat We Eat Out of the Factory and Putting it Back on the Farm," the discussion centered on the need for truly sustainable livestock farming that takes into account animal welfare and the health of our environment - and ourselves. Panelists included investigative journalist and author of Animal Factory David Kirby; author of the bestselling Righteous Porkchop Nicolette Hahn Niman; chicken farmer and whistle-blower in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” Carole Morison; and rancher, veterinarian and president of the American Grassfed Association, Dr. Patricia Whisnant.
The demand for locally produced meats is well-documented, and there are farmers eager to produce it. Too often the bottleneck in this scenario is simply an absence of independent processing facilities. A new report by Food and Water Watch explores the reasons behind this absence and the changes that would be needed to rectify it. Entitled, "Where's the Local Beef?," the report describes an monopolistic industry that favors large operations at the expense of smaller ones. Despite a large number of small start-ups, the authors note that most of these will go out of business. The current regulatory and industrial climate is just not designed for independent slaughter plants - existing or planned. Among the obstacles faced by smaller plants (defined as having fewer than 500 employees) are: scale-inappropriate regulations, lack of skilled personnel, and a near absence of competition in the industry. For instance in 2005, the top four beef-packing companies controlled over 80% of the market...
In a major move for the Obama administration, the US Department of Justice (Antitrust Division) and the US Department of Agriculture have opened an investigation into whether any illegal monopolies exist among the dominant agricultural companies. The focus is primarily on three sectors: seed companies, beef packing and dairy. With a history of exemption from antitrust regulation the industry as a whole has become extremely concentrated. For instance, the the top four beefpacking companies currently control 83.5% of the market. As part of this investigation, a series of public workshops will be held across the country. Read on for dates and locations, as well as information about submitting comments online or by mail.
In a recent post we discussed the ruling currently under construction at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which would allow certain state-inspected slaughter plants to perform federal inspections on meat and poultry. The comment period has been extended, and we invite anyone who has an interest in this to add your two cents to the discussion (read full post for instructions). This ruling could have tremendous implications for livestock farmers using independent, state-inspected plants who are now limited to selling product within state lines, and could dramatically expand their marketing capabilities. Cooperative inspection has the potential not only to benefit independent farmers and slaughter plants, but could have positive animal welfare implications through reduced transport time.
Westland/Hallmark, of the famous “downer cow” footage, has nothing on this one. I got an email a few days ago with a link to footage taken at a Vermont slaughter plant. I often receive videos depicting horrific animal treatment, but this one stood out. The footage I was sent showed veal calves—only days old—unable to walk or stand on their own, repeatedly kicked, slapped and shocked. Once again, we have sickening proof that there are people who just don’t get it. In a civilized society we have to do things right. The USDA, despite the industry’s best efforts, does have rules that cover some parts of a slaughter plant operation. Slaughter plants that operate like this can’t hide anymore. People are no longer satisfied with being spoon-fed lies about production practices that are “in our best interests”; the consumer is educated, interested and is paying attention.
The USDA's Federal Safety and Inspection Service recently proposed regulations that will allow certain state-inspected plants to ship meat and poultry in interstate commerce. This impressive development is part of USDA's larger initiative, "Know Your Farmers, Know Your Food," which seeks to develop economic opportunities within regional and local food systems. Secretary Vilsack and Under Secretary Mande are to be applauded for such a far-sighted decision, one which could have a transformational effect on independent livestock producers.