Category: animal welfare

What chicken cages have to do with pork

hen house

Photo by Flickr user robotika, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Frank Morris recently produced a great piece for NPR about opposition to California’s efforts to improve the living conditions of egg-laying chickens. As he describes,

most U.S. hens live crammed into very close quarters, according to Joe Maxwell, with the Humane Society of the U.S. And he says that’s just wrong.

“There are some things we should not do to animals,” says Maxwell.

California voters felt the same way, and six years ago they passed Proposition 2, requiring California producers to provide cages that are almost twice as large as most chickens have now. The Legislature followed that with a law requiring that all eggs sold in California be raised under those conditions.

Six farm-country states have joined a lawsuit against California over the issue, with support from other parts of the animal-ag business. As Morris details,

Don Nikodim with the Missouri Pork Association calls it “a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause.”

Now, why would pig farmers care about henhouse restrictions?

Because when a huge state like California slaps restrictions on food it imports, farmers all over the country become alarmed. And Nikodim says this won’t likely stop with eggs.

“Logically, the next step is, we should extend our authority on how you produce pork to other states as well,” he says. “Then is it dairy, is it beef, is it corn — go down the list.”

Nikodim is worried that restrictions on cramped pig stalls, called gestation crates, may come next.

Check out the full piece here.

Lawsuit alleges little truth in Simple Truth chicken

The fabled Disco Kroger these days.

Photo by Flickr user jcburns, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks to Rodale News, I just learned about a lawsuit against grocery chain Kroger over their house-brand, Perdue-raised “Simple Truth” chicken. As P.J. Huffstutter writes for Reuters,

“Looking to profit from growing consumer awareness of, and concern with, the treatment of farm animals raised for meat production, Kroger engaged in a deceptive and misleading marketing scheme to promote its ‘Simple Truth’ store brand chicken as having been sourced from chickens raised ‘cage free in a humane environment’,” according to the complaint.

“In fact, Simple Truth chickens are treated no differently than other mass-produced chickens on the market.”

As Emily Main explains for Rodale,

Cages are commonly used in factory-farm egg production, but rarely for chickens raised for their meat, also called broiler chickens. Broilers are frequently raised in large, enclosed—and, often, windowless—buildings, crammed in so tightly that the animals have little room to move, despite not being confined to cages. In those cases, the ["cage-free"] label has “virtually no relevance to animal welfare,” says The Humane Society of the United States.

Caveat emptor.

Factory farms are crappy. Literally.

Aerial Photo of a Factory Farm

Annotated aerial photo of a factory farm by Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Factory farms are a menace to clean water. So Ted Genoways persuasively argues in a lengthy article posted on Monday. (It’s such a feat of reporting that one can only assume it’s a preview of his forthcoming book, The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food). As he describes early in the piece,

Large [hog] producers … insist that the enormous, concrete-reinforced waste pits under each confinement—many with a capacity of 300,000 gallons—effectively prevent contaminants from leaching into the soil, and that manure is carefully managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources under laws aimed at accounting for all manure at all times. But mounting evidence suggests that an unprecedented boom in Iowa’s hog industry has created a glut of manure, which is applied as fertilizer to millions of acres of cropland and runs off into rivers and streams, creating a growing public health threat. Meanwhile, the number of DNR staff conducting inspections has been cut by 60 percent since 2007.

Between May and July 2013, as downpours sheeted off drought-hardened fields, scientists at the Des Moines Water Works watched manure contamination spike to staggering levels at intake sites on the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. These two major tributaries of the Mississippi are also the usual sources of drinking water for roughly one out of every six Iowans. But at one point last summer, nitrate in the Raccoon reached 240 percent of the level allowed under the Clean Water Act, and the DMWW warned parents not to let children drink from the tap, reminding them of the risk of blue baby syndrome….

Mounting concern about the safety of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has stoked a public outcry. So, to be honest, I was shocked when Brad Freking, the CEO of New Fashion Pork, agreed to allow me to tour one of its facilities. In the changing room, I zipped into some navy coveralls and slid a pair of clear plastic boots over a second set of footies. Emily Erickson turned the handle to the barn entrance, opening the heavy steel door a crack. The sound of squealing hogs spilled into the room. “If you’ve never been inside,” she warned, “it’s a lot of pig, it’s a lot of metal, it’s a lot of noise.” I assured her I was ready, and we headed inside.

Whether you’re an indiscriminate meat eater, a conscientious omnivore, or long-time vegan, the article is a must-read. Genoways not only describes what “a lot of pig” sounds and smells like, but goes on to trace the recent explosion of factory farms in Iowa, including the role of mega-corporations (Cargill, Hormel, Smithfield, Tyson) expanding into emerging markets like China. Genoways then details the destructive impact of these factory farms—which are helped by industry-backed politicians, weak laws, and underfunded enforcement agencies—on Iowa’s water.

Check out the full piece at either Civil Eats or On Earth.

“Did it surprise me to see a two-headed calf?”

cows

Photo by Flickr user simon petts [Ethelred The Unusual], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Reyhan Harmanci recently interviewed two large-animal veterinarians about their work for Modern Farmer. As Harmanci describes,

These days, farm veterinarians — or large animal veterinarians, in their parlance — are becoming more and more rare. At last count, in 2011, there were fewer than 5,000 working in the United States. But we tracked down two of them, Dr. Justin Martin, 27, in South Carolina and Dr. Stephen Adams, 62, a professor at Purdue Large Animal Hospital in Indiana, to talk about the best and worst moments of their chosen career.

Martin details some of the sources of the shrinking numbers:

[A] lot of people don’t like getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning to go pull a calf being born in the middle of the winter. Small animal practice is definitely more of an eight-to-five job. You do see emergencies now and then but I’d say it’s maybe an easier lifestyle. With large animal vets, it’s more of a daylight-to-dark type thing – and even after dark or before daylight sometimes. The farmer needs help all the time – if a cow is having a calf and midnight and she needs help you have to go. And I think a lot of it has to do with the younger generations not growing up on farms or not coming from agricultural type communities. The decreased number of farms or family farms nationwide might have a little bit to do with it as well.

Find the full piece (including the answer to Adams’ question about the two-headed calf) here.

Some pork producers wasting antibiotics

A few piglets

Photo by Flickr user Edmund Yeo, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

NPR’s Dan Charles has filed a number of thoughtful reports on modern agriculture, including the use of antibiotics in factory farming of livestock. Another one hit the airwaves and web yesterday:

It’s one of the most controversial practices in agriculture: feeding small amounts of antibiotics to animals in order to make them grow faster.

But what if the drugs don’t even work very well?

There’s some good evidence that they don’t, at least in pigs. They used to deliver a boost in growth, but that effect has disappeared in recent years or declined greatly.

The reason for this is interesting and even paradoxical.

Head here for the full audio and text versions of the story.

A little less meat

Meat Department

Photo by Flickr user Anthony Albright, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Although it’s from a dozen weeks ago, an article in The Guardian didn’t lose any of its relevance over the summer.  As Fiona Harvey describes,

People in Britain should eat meat less often, in order to help ease the food crises in the developing world, an influential committee of MPs has urged.

It could also help to mitigate the rampant food price inflation that has seen the cost of staple foods in the UK rise by close to one-third in the last five years.

The massive increase in meat consumption in rich countries in recent decades has led to spikes in the price of grain, used for animal feed, as well as leading to widespread deforestation and pressure on agricultural land, and has contributed to the obesity epidemic. By avoiding meat even for a day or two each week, people could help to ease some of these pressures.

Sounds like the people of Britain have something in common with the people of the United States, huh? Find the full article here.

A new kind of restaurant

Image courtesy Grazin’ diner

Caroline Abels at the Humaneitarian blog had a great post recently in which she she visits

Grazin’, a diner in Columbia County, New York. The waitress beat me to [the topic of their animal products] — told me all I needed to know about the meat before I even glanced at the menu. And what she told me was heavenly: that all the protein served at the diner (meat, milk, cheese, and eggs) came from farms that are Animal Welfare Approved. This means all the farms providing the diner with animal products were certified by one of the country’s top humane certification organizations. AWA is the only humane certifier that requires the pasturing of animals, and Grazin’ is the first all-AWA restaurant.

For all the details, including photos, a review of the burgers, and a link to a great video profile of the restaurant, check out Abels’ full post.

The ethics of meat eating

Photo by sheffieldhammer (Julian Dobson) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Ethicist column at The New York Times held its first essay contest last year on why it’s ethical to eat meat.

As described by columnist Ariel Kaminer, thousands of submissions came in, which were whittled down to 29 semi-finalists, from which the judges’ panel (an esteemed but entirely male group comprising Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer) selected six finalists.

Readers had a chance to vote for the one they believed best made the case for meat eating. I read all the thought-provoking pieces and was glad that I did. Since they’re fairly short (600 words or less), it didn’t take long to read them all. Head here to check out the finalists’ entries yourself.

The judges’ selection for winner appeared in The New York Times Magazine on May 6, 2012. You can read it online here.

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The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on April 23, 2012.

Once a vegan, now a butcher

Eat Retreat 2012

Photo by Studiofeast via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

NPR’s food blog, The Salt, featured this piece about Andrew Plotsky, a former vegan who went on to study traditional butchering and establish a multimedia production outfit, Farmrun. As he describes it, “Farmrun is one of the first dedicated agricultural production studios in the country. It is our intention to serve the needs of the burgeoning agrarian renaissance by producing beautiful media for agricultural enterprises and organizations.” Read the NPR piece, check out the Farmrun website, and catch some of his work on Vimeo, like this brief calling card or the much lengthier piece linked to by NPR.

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The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on February 3, 2012.

From Perdue to pasture-raised egg layers

Photo by Sandrine Hahn via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks to a tweet from Twilight Greenaway, I discovered this great post at Grist (a version of which originally appeared on Eat with Care). As Greenaway tweeted, “Who couldn’t use a little uplifting news? ‘Food, Inc.’ chicken farmer has new humane farm.”

Carole Morison is the chicken farmer profiled in the must-see documentary, Food, Inc. As Caroline Abels describes in the post, we meet Morison early in the film.

Wearing a face mask, she steps inside one of her chicken houses, where she is raising broilers for Perdue. Inside she reveals a crowded sea of birds bumping into each other and squawking in agitation. Chickens are shown taking a few steps and falling down — due to the weight they’ve been bred to put on rapidly. Others are on their backs, gasping for breath inside a chicken house they cannot leave. Carole picks up a few dead birds and throws them in a pile.

She walks back outside, removes her face mask, wipes the dust off her face, and says with disgust, “That’s normal.”

But it’s far from normal today. Carole Morison is still stepping into her chicken houses in Pocomoke, Md., but now the chickens follow her. Rather than flee, they try to roost on her shoulder. Now she doesn’t have to wear a face mask, and she’s hopeful that she may be able to take antibiotics again after years of developing allergies while using Perdue’s antibiotic-laden feed.

The story goes on to describe Carole and Frank Morison’s reinvigorated life as farmers on their Bird’s Eye View Farm, where they now pasture-raise chickens for their eggs. As Abels notes, “the farm is certified by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), a program that sends auditors to farms to make sure they’re complying with AWA’s strict animal welfare standards…. The farm is the first on the Delmarva Peninsula to be AWA-approved.” The full article is well worth a read, so check it out here.

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The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on May 4, 2012.