Farming science, without the conscience

Following an account by Michael Moss in the N.Y. Times last week, a Times editorial says the little-known U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, financed by American taxpayers, which employs the sophisticated tools and scientific expertise of modern animal management — apparently without a conscience.

govtcrueltyThe details Mr. Moss’s article exposes are sickening. In engineering animals to maximize industry’s bottom line, the center, at a sprawling, secluded site in Nebraska, has created pigs that bear freakishly large litters of frail piglets, which are often crushed by their mothers. Cows give birth to triplets, many of them deformed. Lambs are born in open fields, where they starve, are eaten by predators and are overcome by the elements. These so-called easy-care sheep are bred to eliminate the need for shelters and human help at birthing time.

(Reuters has reported that the secretary of agriculture, in the wake of Mr. Moss’s article, has directed the agency to create a new animal welfare plan, which will involve employee training and a review of research practices.)

The humans who work at the center are not necessarily oblivious to its failings. Some veterinarians and researchers told The Times they were appalled by the suffering and abuse. They should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work. Congress founded the center 50 years ago. It should oversee it and reform it — or shut it down.

Daddy, why is there airport security? More than 2300 turtles seized at Jakarta international airport

While traveling recently with daughter Sorenne, she asked why she had to go through security at the airports.

Pig-nosed-Turtle-seizure-580I tried to explain, but probably failed.

Maybe this turtle story will help.

Authorities in Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport have foiled a bid to smuggle an astonishing 2,350 Pig-nosed Turtles out of Indonesia this week, highlighting the continuing pressure on a species sought after for its rarity and exotic looks.

The turtles, found only on the island of Papua (shared between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea) and Australia, were packaged in boxes falsely labeled as mangrove crabs and were bound for Shang Hai, China, via Singapore, where they would have been sold as pets or, in some cases, for consumption.

The seizure, made on 17th January by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries via the Fish Quarantine Inspection Agency, is not the first of its kind.  In January 2014, Indonesian officials seized more than 8,000 baby Pig-nosed Turtles hidden in suitcases suspected to be destined for Singapore and China.  Shortly after that, on 12th January 2014, authorities in Hong Kong intercepted a shipment of some 2,700 Pig-nosed Turtles coming from Jakarta, Indonesia, falsely declared as live tropical fish. 

“Pig-nosed Turtles are being absolutely hammered for the lucrative, but illegal pet trade” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.  “It is highly unlikely this species can withstand such enormous offtake.”

U.S. research lab lets livestock suffer in quest for profit

Michael Moss of the NY Times writes that at a remote research center on the Nebraska plains, scientists are using surgery and breeding techniques to re-engineer the farm animal to fit the needs of the 21st-century meat industry. The potential benefits are huge: animals that produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise.

clay.centerThere are, however, some complications.

Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.

Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.

Last Mother’s Day, at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend’s toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes.

“It’s horrible,” one veterinarian said, tossing the remains into a barrel to be dumped in a vast excavation called the dead pit.

These experiments are not the work of a meat processor or rogue operation. They are conducted by a taxpayer-financed federal institution called the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a complex of laboratories and pastures that sprawls over 55 square miles in Clay Center, Neb. Little known outside the world of big agriculture, the center has one overarching mission: helping producers of beef, pork and lamb turn a higher profit as diets shift toward poultry, fish and produce.

Since Congress founded it 50 years ago to consolidate the United States Department of Agriculture’s research on farm animals, the center has worked to make lamb chops bigger, pork loins less fatty, steaks easier to chew. It has fought the spread of disease, fostered food safety and helped American ranchers compete in a global marketplace.

But an investigation by The New York Times shows that these endeavors have come at a steep cost to the center’s animals, which have been subjected to illness, pain and premature death, over many years. The research to increase pig litters began in 1986; the twin calves have been dying at high rates since 1984, and the easy care lambs for 10 years.

The center’s parent agency, the Agriculture Department, strictly polices the treatment of animals at slaughterhouses and private laboratories. But it does not closely monitor the center’s use of animals, or even enforce its own rules requiring careful scrutiny of experiments.

As a result, the center — built on the site of a World War II-era ammunition depot a two-hour drive southwest of Omaha, and locked behind a security fence — has become a destination for the kind of high-risk, potentially controversial research that other institutions will not do or are no longer allowed to do.

“They pay tons of attention to increasing animal production, and just a pebble-sized concern to animal welfare,” said James Keen, a scientist and veterinarian who worked at the center for 24 years. “And it probably looks fine to them because they’re not thinking about it, and they’re not being held accountable. But most Americans and even livestock producers would be hard pressed to support some of the things that the center has done.”

Dr. Keen approached The Times a year ago with his concerns about animal mistreatment. The newspaper interviewed two dozen current and former center employees, and reviewed thousands of pages of internal records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

That reporting shows that the center’s drive to make livestock bigger, leaner, more prolific and more profitable can be punishing, creating harmful complications that require more intensive experiments to solve. The leaner pigs that the center helped develop, for example, are so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce; center scientists have been operating on pigs’ ovaries and brains in an attempt to make the sows more fertile.

And lots more at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/dining/animal-welfare-at-risk-in-experiments-for-meat-industry.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=3

‘Construction workers like it’ Activists call on Swiss parliament to outlaw eating cat for Christmas

Amy talks glowingly of her time in Switzerland, but seems sorta weird to me.

steve.martin.cat.jugglingKeeping with the shameless exploitation of cats to increase blog hits, animal rights activists have drawn up a petition to ban the ‘barbaric’ practice of eating pets in Switzerland, where cat meat often appears on traditional Christmas menus in rural areas.

The animal protection group, SOS Chats Noraingue, has handed over a petition with 16,000 signatures, including such notable animal rights defenders as Brigitte Bardot, to the Swiss parliament on Tuesday.

Dog meat is often used to make sausage, while cats are prepared around the holiday season in a similar style to rabbit – in a white wine and garlic sauce. A type of mostbröckli made from marinated cat or dog is another local favorite.

Though there are no statistics available on the amount of cat and dog meat consumed by the Swiss, SOS Chats founder and president, Tomi Tomek told AFP she suspects that “around three percent of the Swiss secretly eat cat or dog.”

While the commercial sale of dog meat is banned nationwide, its consumption is still legal and is particularly popular in Lucerne, Appenzell, Jura and in the canton of Bern, according to Tomek. Farmers are free to kill and eat their own animals. Those in the Appenzell and St. Gallen areas are said to favor a beefy breed of dog related to Rottweilers.

In a 2012 report on pet eating in the Swiss paper Tages Anzeiger, the Swiss Veterinary Office chalked up the practice to a “cultural matter” and noted that some countries breed dogs specifically for slaughter.

One farmer, defending the practice, told the paper, “There’s nothing odd about it. Meat is meat. Construction workers in particular like eating it.”

Chilliwack Cattle Sales owners previously investigated for injured cattle, E. coli

Chilliwack isn’t just a bad Canadian band that peaked in 1977 and that my high-school girlfriend happened to like (to her credit, she introduced me to Neil Young), it’s a town in B.C. and home of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Canada’s largest dairy farm and a major supplier to Dairyland, where eight employees were secretly recorded brutally abusing cows.

dairy-farm-employee-whipping-cowThe undercover video from the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada — shot by a former employee of the farm — shows dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as punched and kicked.

A day after the B.C. SPCA recommended charges against the eight employees, it has emerged that the same farm was in court in 2008, after six cows were injured while being transferred to slaughter.

The case went to the B.C. Supreme Court, but the farm, which is owned by the Kooyman family, was cleared of all charges.

Then last year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency charged meat processing operation Pitt Meadows Meats, also owned by the Kooymans, with selling E. coli tainted beef in 2010.

That case is still before the courts.

Farm owner Jeff Kooyman said those cases do not reflect on the quality of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, which has 3,500 dairy cows.

“We have high standards and when you’re working with that many employees, things do happen. We’ve got to work harder at regulations, more inspections,” said Kooyman.

Kooyman said he and his family knew nothing about the cruel treatment of the cattle, saying his company has zero tolerance for animal abuse.

Anna Pippus, director of legal advocacy with Mercy for Animals Canada, described the abuse as sadistic and rejected Kooyman’s claim that none of the owners knew about the abuse.

“Our undercover investigator repeatedly brought his concerns to the farm’s owners, who failed to take any corrective action,” said Pippus.

“The company allowed criminal cruelty to animals to flourish on its watch. Without our investigation, this cruelty would have continued to run rampant indefinitely.”

The farm is a major milk supplier to Dairyland, which is owned by Montreal-based dairy giant Saputo. Pippus accuses Dairyland of failing to properly oversee operations at the farm.

Strengthening vet oversight of antimicrobial use in food animals: reducing antibiotics in meat — Part II

Ron Doering, former president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and current counsel in the Ottawa offices of Gowlings (Ronald.doering@gowlings.com), reports with part II of his take on antimicrobiasl in food animal production:

While the medical commu­nity recognizes that the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in hu­mans is a potential disaster for humanity and that it is the overuse of antimicrobi­als in human medicine that is the largest contributor, there is a broad consensus that the use of antibiotics in animals contributes to the problem, though the scale is still unclear. This uncertainty is due mainly to a failure to adequately control and monitor the use. Health Canada (HC) lacks the authority to control and monitor use because the practice of veterinary medicine falls under provincial juris­diction. Recognizing that almost all practical efforts to reduce the level of antibiotics in meat depend on the more active participation of veterinarians, HC announced recently that it wanted “to develop options to strengthen the veterinary oversight of antimicrobial use in food animals.”

44755363What can veterinarians and their provincial regulatory licensing bodies do now to reduce the threat of AMR? Here are four suggestions:

1. Enhance awareness among members .

While the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has developed vol­untary Prudent Use Guide­lines, I’m told that many vets are hardly aware of the issue and may not even know of the Guidelines. Concerned enough about this, Ontario’s regulatory body, the Col­lege of Veterinarians of Ontario, just an­nounced that it was launching a project to study the use of antibiotics among food animal veterinarians and to determine if they use the CVMA’s Guidelines in daily practice. Quebec requires a manda­tory day-long AMR program and a test. All provinces should follow Quebec and develop mandatory continuing education programs on antimicrobial stewardship.

2. Fill the regulatory gaps.

As long as vets continue to prescribe off label use and the use of Active Pharma­ceutical Ingredients (APIs) in production medicine, it’s impossible to know the level of antibiotic use. Own Use Importation (OUI) by animal owners is another avenue for which use information is un­available. As one recent report stressed: “The gap in reliable usage data makes it difficult to state with confidence which antimicrobials are used, in what quantities, and for what purposes.” The recent critical assessment by a group of experts, titled “Stewardship of antimicrobial drugs in animals in Canada: How are we doing in 2013?” (Canadian Veterinary Journal, March 2014), highlighted the absolute importance of improving Canada’s monitoring of antimicrobial usage.

3. Conflict of interest issue.

This issue has been flagged by several reports going back to the landmark McEwen Report of 2002. Veterinarians obtain income from the profitable sale of antimicrobials. Decoupling veterinary prescribing from dispensing raises several issues because the current veterinary prac­tice business model is based on an income stream from antimicro­bial sales. Veterinarians should lead a dialogue on this important issue that clearly needs closer examination.

ab.res.prudent.may.144. Antibiotics for disease prevention.

The real issue is not the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or the treating of disease, but whether they should continue to be used for disease prevention. While some antibiotics of very high importance to human health should only be used to treat infection, there are several arguments that some of high or medium importance to human health (what HC calls Category ll and lll, for example tetracyclines) should still, with closer veterinarian oversight, be used for disease prevention. Because major retailers, processors and consumers increasingly demand meat with “raised without antibiotic” claims, the marketplace is forcing changes in practice. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that while there are risks to using antimicrobials in animal production, there are also risks with non-use.

Two-thirds of animal diseases are zoo­notic, meaning the disease is transferable to humans. For this and other reasons, I have been a long-time proponent of strengthening the connections between human and animal medicine — the concept known as One Health. In this context, AMR represents an historic opportunity for vets to step up and provide greater leadership. 

Ariz town bans animals as prizes

Jennifer Aniston may let chickens roam at her newly refurbished, $21 million Bel Air mansion, but Fountain Hills, Arizona, has unanimously amended the town code to prohibit the practice of giving away as game prizes live animals, reptiles, fish, fowl and insects.

The Republic reports that state law already prohibits giving away live animals as prizes in games of chance. However, animals can still be given away as jennifer.aniston.chicken.13prizes in games of skill, such as hitting a target with either a ball or a dart, or the ring toss.

The loophole in state law allowed Scottsdale-based Frazier Shows to give away rabbits, turtles and fish at its carnival in Fountain Hills last November, Kavanagh said.

When alerted by residents that live animals were being given as prizes, the mayor said she was “shocked and appalled” that any organization in today’s society would do this and called the practice “cruel and inhumane.”

The mayor said she received numerous calls from parents panicked about having to care for the animals and the potential for contracting diseases. Many of them didn’t want to just let the rabbits go in the wash, she said.

Nosestretcher alert: rhetoric of comparing actual with estimated cases of E. coli to make a political point

Get the data right.

There are many rhetorical flourishes available to advance a particular viewpoint, but they all crumble if the data is wrong.

Mike Baker of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) International cites a report by his group in the Huffington Post that allegedly found “the tendency to rear animals in confined indoor spaces, using selective HappyCow[1]breeds and intensive management methods to dramatically increase production to satisfy voracious consumer demand for meat and other animal products is putting human health in serious danger. … The report illustrates how intensive farming practices are increasing the risk of these dangerous bacteria in our food chain, as stressed animals become more susceptible to infection.”

It’s one of those arguments which leave the brain comfortably numb; it seems so intuitive, it must be true.

Here’s the nosestretcher: in comparing the intensive methods of cattle rearing in the U.S. with the more bucolic practices in the UK — birthplace of mad cow disease and mushy peas — Baker says “the U.S. has around 73,000 human cases a year, compared to fewer than 1,000 in England and Wales, a significant difference even when the population discrepancy is taken into account.”

Yes, it’s a significant difference, because Baker is comparing estimated cases of E. coli O157:H7 in the U.S. with actual cases of E. coli O157:H7 in the U.K. cow.poop2There are about 500 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 annually in the U.S. Throw in other shiga-toxin producing E. coli and the numbers are higher.

The UK Health Protection Agency stated in 2011, “In the UK the most common form of E. coli is the O157 strain, with the majority of outbreaks linked to open farm visits where children may have been in contact with animals such as sheep, goats, cattle or their environments.”

Get the data right.

CCTV for live animal exports? ‘If there’s nothing to hide let the public see’

The use of closed circuit television or some form of video surveillance is increasingly being used to monitor animal welfare procedures at slaughterhouses – who wants to be held hostage by the last plant hire who may be recording stuff for an activist group – and is starting to be used to enhance food safety techniques.

Australia has a significant business involving life animal export for overseas slaughter.

The Brisbane Times reports that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has written to the Australian Livestock Exporters Council offering to pay for cameras on export boats and an.welfare.videoapproved international slaughterhouses in a bid to stamp out cruelty.

The trade has been plagued by frequent revelations of inhumane treatment of animals.

The group’s director of campaigns, Jason Baker, wrote to the livestock council chief executive Alison Penfold with the offer to ”pay to install and monitor surveillance cameras on each ship that transports animals from Australia to be slaughtered overseas as well as in all the slaughterhouses approved by the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System’.’

Under the plan the footage would be available on the Internet on a live stream. He said video would also make it easier to identify and attend to animals that become sick or injured on board the ships.

”If there is nothing to hide, why not let the public see what life is like for animals on live-export ships?” Mr Baker wrote.

Ms Penfold said the matter was one for individual export supply chain participants. She said a focus on training and support was ”the best investment to changing practices and behaviors towards livestock and will deliver lasting improvements to animal welfare outcomes.”

 

Alleged chicken ring found in NZ

Authorities have swooped on an alleged illegal poultry operation in South Auckland, seizing chickens, eggs and cash.

Two Manukau properties were raided by investigators after several months of monitoring the chicken enterprise.

Operation Ginger was run by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which said it executed search warrants this week at chicken.shock.may.13the premises, where a group was suspected of killing and processing poultry on a commercial scale.

The operation was in breach of the Animal Products Act 1999, the ministry said.

Investigators were speaking with several people involved with the properties, and “items of interest” had been seized.

This included 149 processed chickens, more than 700 eggs, commercial incubators and processing equipment, documentation identifying sales and a large amount of cash.

As a result of Operation Ginger, the ministry will investigate restaurants and outlets believed to be involved in the purchase and sale of illegal poultry to the public.

Investigations and inspections will take place with other suspected premises believed to be involved with an illegal chicken ring.

Individuals found guilty of contravening the Animal Products Act 1999 face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to $100,000.

“The sale of animal products for human or animal consumption is subject to strict rules to ensure animals are slaughtered humanely and that the resulting meat product is safe for human consumption,” MPI director of compliance Dean Baigent said.