More animal welfare than microbial food safety, although the two are linked: The fight over transparency in the meat industry

Amy has Spam in her blood, being spawned in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

spam-albert-leaTed Genoways, a writer whose book “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Farm” will be published next year by W.W. Norton writes in the N.Y. Times Magazine that it was still dark when Jay hit the highway. At 6 o’clock that morning, he would be starting his first shift at Quality Pork Processors, part of the Hormel Foods complex in Austin, Minn., almost an hour’s drive down Interstate 90 from his rented apartment in Rochester. He’d applied for the job on the meatpacking line barely a week earlier and was still mentally preparing for it. “When you’re in the car,” he told me recently, “you have to go over everything again.” He had to remember his story: where he was from, why he was there. He had to remind himself what he could and couldn’t say. He was going to be meeting a lot of new people that day, and it would be essential not to arouse suspicions.

Just before the exit off the Interstate, Jay passed an illuminated billboard for Austin’s Spam Museum: “Find slavation.” He steered down the winding road along the plant perimeter, past the high wall guarding the loading docks, until he came to the Q.P.P. employee entrance on Hormel Century Parkway. The factory was already enveloped in steam; overnight cleaning crews had hosed down the stainless-steel cutting line, and now the compound’s six-story hydrostatic Spam cooker was warming for the day shift. The steam billowed and swirled in the lights of the plant. Jay shuffled into the line of workers making their way through the employee turnstile. He swiped in and headed through the glass doors to where the day’s freshly laundered uniforms were being handed out, color-coded according to department.

 “What station?” the person at the window asked.

“Gam table,” Jay said. His job would be slicing open the rear legs of hog carcasses, loosening the tendons of the trotters and inserting a gambrel. “It looks like a clothes hanger, but with hook tips that point up,” he told me. The gambrel attaches to a trolley that carries the carcass on a chain conveyor system as it is broken down into “primal cuts,” before being sent to the Hormel Foods side of the plant for final processing and packaging.

Jay knew that the job would be physically grueling. To keep up with the speed of the line, a carcass had to be cut and hung in about six seconds. But more than that, it was going to be psychologically — even morally — taxing for him. Jay had been a vegetarian since he was in college. He couldn’t say why he quit eating meat, really, only that he always loved animals and that his vegetarian younger sister convinced him.

But in recent years, Jay’s commitment had grown. He became a vegan. When he was online, he found himself drifting toward websites of animal rights groups, pulling up footage of abuse shot by undercover investigators. One day it occurred to him that he should try to find such work. On a job site, he found an opening at Compassion Over Killing, or C.O.K., an advocacy group intent on ending cruelty to animals in agriculture and promoting vegetarianism. And just like that, he entered the shadowy world of undercover video activism, where no one around you knows whom you really work for and few people, not even your family and friends, know where you are or what you’re doing for months at a stretch. (To protect his identity, Jay uses only his middle name when speaking to reporters.)

Now, as Jay dressed in the locker room, put on a hard hat and picked up gloves in the equipment room, he could feel a weight descend on him. Once you’re inside, he said, you realize how alone you are. “You’re going to be out there pretty much by yourself,” he told me. “You’re going to be working these really long hours and seeing animal abuse on a day-to-day basis.”

His manager at C.O.K. had warned him that it would be months before he could transfer to the kill side of the plant, where live animals are handled, and weeks more before he would have enough video to complete the investigation. Every day for five or maybe six months, Jay would have to walk past posters reminding employees that all cameras were strictly prohibited inside the plant and to immediately report any suspicious individual, even if that person was a co-worker. The isolation and paranoia can be consuming, he said, coloring every sidelong glance, every passing conversation.

The story goes on to document how futile the mantra of USDA-inspected actually is.
So some spamalot, and Albert Lea’s own, Eddie Cochran.

WKRP in reality ‘Barbaric’ tradition of throwing live turkeys from planes continues in the Ozarks

We were going to do Canadian Thanksgiving in Australia, but too much hockey (the ice kind, including world women’s hockey day, which garnered international attention for Brisbane – that’s Sorenne at the front with the candy-cane stick, and Amy behind her) and the lack of turkeys at this time of year, meant a postponement until the end of November (we’re American too, eh?).

womens-hockeyBut it didn’t stop the people at the annual Turkey Trot Festival in Yellville, Ark., from throwing a live turkey from a moving airplane 500 feet above the ground on Saturday.

If history is any guide, one of three things will happen next.

Option 1: The bird drops like a rock and dies on impact.

Option 2: The animal awkwardly flutters to the ground, where it’ll be mobbed by excited townspeople who jostle for control of the frightened animal before it’s slaughtered.

Option 3: The bird catches a stiff, serendipitous breeze and glides into the sunset to freedom.

Anywhere else, you might call it animal cruelty, or maybe the “annual turkey sky death lottery.”

In Yellville (pop. 1,204), they call the turkey drop “an Ozark Mountain tradition” — one that has more or less remained intact for 71 years.

Due to protests and weather concerns, the drops were put on hold from 2012 to 2014. But they’re back and resumed like old times on Friday, and many locals are rushing to defend the practice.

Terry Ott, a county judge, downplayed concerns about the well-being of the birds during an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

turkeys-cant-fly“They’re not going to crash,” Ott told the paper. “They’re birds. They can fly.”

He added that the event is “important to the community” and “brings in a lot of money.”

Max Brantley, a senior editor at the Arkansas Times, decried the practice in a blog post earlier this week, calling the drop “inhumane.”

“They could probably get a good crowd in Yellville for a drawing and quartering, too,” he wrote. “Here’s an idea for sport: A drop of frozen Butterball turkeys from 500 feet over the cheering crowd.”

Brantley went on to quote Yvonne Thaxton, a professor of poultry science at the University of Arkansas, who told the Democrat-Gazette that the birds naturally remain at an altitude of 100 feet or less. The turkey drop occurs at an altitude of 500 feet, the paper reported.

“Placing turkeys in an environment that is new to them is stressful,” she said. “In the case of an airplane, the noise would also be a stress-producing fear reaction.

“Dropping one from 500 feet is a horrific act of abuse,” she added. “There is no justification for this practice.”

Mark Hutchings, a biologist supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, told the Democrat-Gazette that wild turkeys are adept fliers.

We’ve been inundated with wild turkeys in Kansas and Brisbane.

I’ve never seen one fly.

Although I love that this clip end with CCR’s, It Came Outta the Sky.

China’s Yulin dog meat festival begins for 2016 despite protests

China’s southern city of Yulin began its annual dog meat festival on Tuesday despite opposition from millions of animal rights activists.

Residents of the city have complained of new government measures to keep the festival, during which thousands of dogs are expected to be killed and eaten, low key.

Animal rights activists this month handed Beijing authorities a petition with 11 million signatures protesting against the festival, which they say is cruel.

An online petition on has attracted a further 2.5 million signatures, with a crowdfunding effort raising more than $110,000 to buy the dogs for sale and provide them medical care and new homes.

Yang Yuhua, an animal rights activist, flew to Yulin from the southwestern city of Chongqing to buy dogs sold at the festival.

“Dogs are man’s best, the most loyal friend. How could we eat our friends?” the activist asked.

Yang spent 1,000 yuan ($150) to buy two caged dogs at the market from the vendor.

Several others also dug deep, with the small number of dogs on sale at the city’s central market all bought by activists rather than locals.

Vendors said they hoped for good business this year, with “a lot of people” enjoying eating dog meat.

“It’s your habit, it’s my habit,” said a vendor surnamed Zhou.

Guidelines are nice, enforcement? Undercover video at Hormel Foods facility

An undercover video taken at one of the nation’s largest pork producers shows pigs being dragged across the floor, beaten with paddles, and sick to the point of immobility. By law, pigs are supposed to be rendered unconscious before being killed, but many are shown writhing in apparent pain while bleeding out, suggesting that they weren’t properly stunned. “That one was definitely alive,” a worker says.

an.welfareThe video also appears to show pigs with puss-filled abscesses being sent down the line. Others are covered in feces.

“If the USDA is around, they could shut us down,” says a worker, wearing a bright yellow apron, standing over the production line.

The graphic video — available on YouTube in an edited form — was covertly filmed by a contracted employee of Compassion Over Killing, a nonprofit animal rights group that claims to have infiltrated an Austin, Minn., facility run by Quality Pork Processors (QPP), a supplier of Hormel Foods, the maker of Spam and other popular processed meats. The group has turned over the 97-minute unedited video to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has raised serious concerns about the conditions at the QPP facility and pledged a thorough investigation. A reporter has also seen the full-length video provided by the group.

“The actions depicted in the video under review are appalling and completely unacceptable, and if we can verify the video’s authenticity, we will aggressively investigate the case and take appropriate action,” said USDA spokesman Adam Tarr, adding that the agency can’t comment definitively in the middle of the probe.

QPP, which has seen both the edited and unedited versions, says the edited film makes it look as though there were violations when, in fact, there were none.

“Early on, there may very well be contamination present in the process, but we have multiple interventions that ensure that it will not only be visually removed, but completely removed,” said Nate Jansen, who is the vice president of human resources and quality services at QPP. “Had it been allowed to show the entire sequence of these events, all of these hogs were all handled appropriately.”

To gain access to the QPP facility, the Compassion Over Killing contractor applied for five months for jobs at meat processing companies and was eventually hired at QPP. Compassion Over Killing requested the person’s name not be disclosed because he still works at QPP, but showed a pay stub indicating employment there. The person did not describe on his job applications his affiliation with the activist group.

“I don’t think you can look at the video along with the USDA guidelines and say that QPP is following the law,” said Ted Genoways, the author of “The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food,” and has seen the video but is not associated with the group. “This plant is the symbol of everything that is wrong with the meat industry.”

In particular, the video shines a light on a government-approved pilot program, known as the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), which allows processors like QPP to assume more responsibility over the inspection process.

The company is one of five pork processors participating in the HIMP program, which the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) first launched in the late 1990s. As part of the initiative, the government substantially changed the way it oversees meat production, more than doubling the number of safety checks (from 11 to 24) within a facility and reallocating government inspectors to focus more closely on food safety. The goal, as stated on the agency’s Web site, was to “produce a flexible, more efficient, fully integrated” system.

In the HIMP inspection model, three government inspectors are stationed on the production line, compared to the usual seven who oversee the handling of carcasses in the traditional system. In both, an additional offline inspector is free to move around. The reduction in government inspectors dedicated to checking hogs on the line has allowed the government to save money by reducing its inspection force. It has also allowed plants to increase their line speed — on average, participants in the pilot program process roughly 120 extra hogs per hour, according to the USDA.

The USDA speaks highly of the program, which it has repeatedly defended. “Obviously, we believe that the model is an appropriate one,” said Phil Derfler, the deputy administrator at FSIS. “That’s why we went ahead with the rule-making in order to adopt it — it’s an improvement on the traditional system.”

But Lisa Winebarger, who serves as a legal counsel to Compassion Over Killing and helped bring the investigation to the USDA, said QPP is violating those directives.

“I understand that QPP is denying any wrongdoing, but we can assure you that much of what we have documented are serious problems labeled as ‘egregious inhumane treatment’ and ‘egregious noncompliances'” by the government’s directives, she said.

30 sick: Church says, don’t talk about Salmonella

At least 30 people, including some who were admitted to area hospitals, were reported sick due to a salmonella outbreak after a community meal Sunday at a Parker County church.  

Speak-No-EvilChurch leaders are now asking members to keep details about the luncheon, as well as updates on the conditions of affected persons to themselves.

Youth Pastor Spencer Row said, “ At this time, we as church staff, believe it is in the church’s best interest to allow our conference to handle this situation. We have taken the necessary steps to provide assistance internally. We ask that you refrain from posting or sharing any further information about this situation, for the protection of our members and our church as a whole.

“Please continue to pray for everyone, and make known how much love we have for one another! It’s in times like these that the true strength of the church is revealed.”

Food safety morons.

$250K fine in Australia for fake ‘free range’ eggs

In addition to changing Prime Ministers every 12 months (bye-bye Tony dumb-dumb) it’s almost impossible to buy cage eggs, at least without enduring the stigmatizing stares of other shoppers.

darling.down.eggsBut are consumers getting what’s advertised?

Darling Downs Fresh Eggs must pay a $250,000 fine after the Federal Court ruled it had purposely mis-labelled its eggs as free range, in a case brought by the competition watchdog.

The court found that RL Adams Pty, the company behind the egg producer, engaged in misleading conduct and made misleading representations to consumers in labelling and promoting its eggs as `free range’ from December 2013 to October 2014.

The company admitted, in the course of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation, that it had kept its hens confined to barns at all times, and kept doors shut so the chickens never had access to an outdoor range.

“It’s clearly misleading to claim your eggs are free range when the hens that laid the eggs didn’t roam freely outdoors,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

“People are willing to pay a premium for free range eggs which they believe meet ethical or welfare standards. Businesses should not be benefiting financially from misleading claims about farming practices,” he said.

The severity of the penalty was mitigated in part by Rl Adams’ co-operation with the ACCC investigation, said the court.

Popular China restaurant serves crayfish with bacteria, causes food poisoning

Bacteria has been detected in crayfish served by a restaurant which had been ordered to suspend operation after an outbreak of food poisoning earlier this month.

crayfishInspection reports showed that Vibrio parahemolyticus had been detected in food samples provided both by Zheng Wen Qi Crayfish Donburi restaurant and its customers, Yangpu District government said on Friday.

“Considering the restaurant staff’s nonstandard practices in dealing with the excessive quantity of food, the incident is deemed as a food poisoning case caused by food affected by Vibrio Parahemolyticus,” a district government notice said.

A number of diners suffered from diarrhea, stomach aches and vomiting after eating crayfish donburi — a dish of crayfish meat on a bed of rice — at the outlet. The restaurant was so popular before the accident that it was said to have served 1,300 portions of donburi on its second day of opening.

Aussie live export cattle being killed with sledgehammer in Vietnam caught on camera, prompts calls for ban

The Australian live animal export market makes a lot of money, but cannot be condoned, since refrigeration has existed since the late 1800s.

cow.sledgehammer.vietnam.may.15According to Australian media, shocking footage has emerged of live export Australian cattle being bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers in Vietnam.

Government authorities have been investigating reports of the sickening slaughter method since March, but Animals Australia said yesterday it was the first time photographic evidence had been made public.

Video obtained by the animal welfare group shows handlers in a Vietnamese abattoir repeatedly striking beef cattle over the head with a sledgehammer to subdue and kill them.

The hidden camera vision was captured late last month in a facility in northern Vietnam.

Animals Australia spokeswoman Lisa Chalk said Vietnam was currently the second-largest export market for Australian cattle, with 178,000 animals exported there in 2014.

“The industry has called what is happening in Vietnam ‘growing pains’,” Ms Chalk said.

“Most people would disagree. It’s horrific and preventable suffering.”

Animals Australia, the organisation which earlier this year helped expose the cruel practice of live-baiting within the greyhound industry, said video showing the sledgehammer slaughters was “so shocking and distressing that a decision has been taken to not publicly release it at this time.”

I’d barf too: Stench from rotting lamb carcasses at Detroit market makes reporter vomit

Steve Neavling of the Motor City Muckraker writes:

The stench was so foul that I vomited.

lamb.carcass.detroitA dumpster at the Eastern Market was brimming with scores of rotting lamb carcasses Sunday afternoon, plainly visible to motorists along Gratiot Avenue in what is a clear violation of state law and a risk to public health. The Bodies of Dead Animals Act of 1982 requires carcasses to be burned, buried or passed off to a licensed processor within 24 hours of being slaughtered.

Eastern MarketWitnesses said the dumpster has been full of lamb carcasses for several weeks – or longer – but it’s unclear how often they are being picked up. Images from Google Maps appear to show the dumpster full of animal carcasses in October 2014.

Walk the talk: Role of animal husbandry, food safety, MC officials criticized in India

The role of officials of the Animal Husbandry Department, Food Safety Standard (FSS) and Municipal Corporation (MC) is under the scanner for giving a free run to a Shoghi-based private slaughterhouse. Two recent joint inspections during the bird flu scare has exposed that the slaughterhouse is not being run as per FSS norms as reports have pointed out blatant shortcomings there.

2015_2$largeimg08_Feb_2015_224402323The six-member team’s report of the slaughterhouse, run by the Goels Food World, Shoghi, which is with The Tribune, revealed that the slaughterhouse was compromising on health and hygiene as 20-30 dead birds were lying on the dirty floor. Also, the slaughterhouse had no rendering facility.

Besides, the staff used no protecting gears and the effluent treatment facility was non-functional. It had no veterinarian to conduct the ante-mortem and post-mortem of the birds and cull the dead or unfit birds, the inspection revealed. Though the slaughterhouse was being run since 2006, the unit was registered as a food technology unit.

The inspection was carried out on August 6, 2014, and followed by another inspection on December 27, which found similar shortcomings.

The report also exposed the paperwork being done by the government agencies. The six-member team included officials from the Animal Husbandry Department, MC, veterinary officers, Pollution Control Board, but no official from the Directorate of Health and the FSS was involved.

Neither the MC-run slaughterhouse here nor the private slaughterhouse was quarantined for bird flu, as mandated under the FSS rules and WHO norms for bird and swine flus, revealed health experts.

The Municipal Commissioner, Shimla, said they had issued a notice to the private operator to stop the unethical practice of selling uncertified meat in the municipal limits after the joint inspection report pointed out the shortcomings at the slaughterhouse. “We have set up a modern slaughterhouse and monitor it daily but we cannot check the private one directly as it falls outside the limits of the corporation,” he added.