Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What would spanky do?

The smarter your kid is, the more likely he or she’ll become a vegetarian:

IQ in childhood and vegetarianism in adulthood: 1970 British cohort study
By Gale, Deary, Schoon & Batty.

Source: BMJ: British Medical Journal. Vol 334(7587), Feb 2007, pp. 1-4

Abstract Objective: To examine the relation between IQ in childhood and vegetarianism in adulthood. Design: Prospective cohort study in which IQ was assessed by tests of mental ability at age 10 years and vegetarianism by self-report at age 30 years. Setting: Great Britain. Participants: 8170 men and women aged 30 years participating in the 1970 British cohort study, a national birth cohort. Main
outcome measures: Self-reported vegetarianism and type of diet followed. Results: 366 (4.5%) participants said they were vegetarian, although 123 (33.6%) admitted eating fish or chicken. Vegetarians were more likely to be female, to be of higher social class (both in childhood and currently), and to have attained higher academic or vocational qualifications, although these socioeconomic advantages were not reflected in their income. Higher IQ at age 10 years was associated with an increased likelihood of being vegetarian at age 30 (odds ratio for one standard deviation increase in childhood IQ score 1.38, 95% confidence interval 1.24 to 1.53). IQ remained a statistically significant predictor of being vegetarian as an adult after adjustment for social class (both in childhood and currently), academic or vocational qualifications, and sex (1.20, 1.06 to 1.36). Exclusion of those who said they were vegetarian but ate fish or chicken had little effect on the strength of this association. Conclusion: Higher scores for IQ in childhood are associated with an increased likelihood of being a vegetarian as an adult.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

chew on this

On Google Video, Chew on This.

Michael Pollan - Unhappy Meals

In the january 28, 2007 New York Times Michael Pollan has a lengthy article called "Unhappy Meals." I'm not sure why he chose this title, because it leads you to believe that the article will be about the animal suffering that happens in the meat industry. Instead it's about nutritional claims and why "big beef" and "big agriculture" go to so much trouble to make nutrition confusing when all you really need to know is that you should, as Pollan says, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
P.s. by food he means real food, like a radish. Not a food product which probably comes wrapped up in packaging which spouts various health claims.

Pollan by the way is the author of the fairly new Omnivore's Dilemma which I have sitting on my desk, but haven't started reading yet.

anyway, this is a excerpt from the New York Times article. This is the kind of "big business sucker punching consumers so that they can make more money" crap that drives me batty. It's like the tire, oil and car companies in the 1920's buying up light rail public transit systems so that they could tear them down and make everyone pay for tires, gas and cars to get to work.

Unhappy Meals
Michael Pollan 28 January 2007 New York times
10382 words



No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet -- including heart disease, cancer and diabetes -- a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called ''Dietary Goals for the United States.'' The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

Naively putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee's recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food -- the committee had advised Americans to actually ''reduce consumption of meat'' -- was replaced by artful compromise: ''Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.''

A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to ''eat less'' of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don't look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless -- and politically unconnected -- substance that may or may not lurk in them called ''saturated fat.''

The linguistic capitulation did nothing to rescue McGovern from his blunder; the very next election, in 1980, the beef lobby helped rusticate the three-term senator, sending an unmistakable warning to anyone who would challenge the American diet, and in particular the big chunk of animal protein sitting in the middle of its plate. Henceforth, government dietary guidelines would shun plain talk about whole foods, each of which has its trade association on Capitol Hill, and would instead arrive clothed in scientific euphemism and speaking of nutrients, entities that few Americans really understood but that lack powerful lobbies in Washington. This was precisely the tack taken by the National Academy of Sciences when it issued its landmark report on diet and cancer in 1982. Organized nutrient by nutrient in a way guaranteed to offend no food group, it codified the official new dietary language. Industry and media followed suit, and terms like polyunsaturated, cholesterol, monounsaturated, carbohydrate, fiber, polyphenols, amino acids and carotenes soon colonized much of the cultural space previously occupied by the tangible substance formerly known as food. The Age of Nutritionism had arrived.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Frankensteer

Wow, seek and ye shall find. God, everything is on the internet somewhere these days. I missed this documentary when it was on CBC a little while back, and lo and behold it's on Google Video.

Frankensteer depicts how supermarket meat is overloaded with drugs.

THE PASSIONATE EYE presents Frankensteer , a disturbing documentary that reveals how the ordinary cow has been turned into an antibiotic-dependent, hormone-laced potential carrier of toxic bacteria, all in the name of cheaper food. Frankensteer exposes the harsh and sometimes frightening realities of how our beef gets to our tables.

According to this compelling documentary, the beef industry, supported by North American government agencies and pharmaceutical companies, has engaged in an on-going experiment to create the perfect food machine. Their goal is to increase speed of production and reduce the cost of manufacture. But there is a price in producing a cheap industrial product. This benign, grazing herbivore has undergone a transformation in how it’s raised, fed and slaughtered. And consumers, by and large, are totally unaware of the dangers lurking in their beloved steaks, ribs and, most especially, hamburgers.

According to Mike McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition, “When you bring a package of hamburger home from a supermarket, you have to treat it as toxic material…”

Frankensteer reveals some startling facts: Every year, 50 per cent of the total tonnage of antibiotics used in Canada ends up in livestock. And every year cattle raised in massive feedlots are routinely dosed with antibiotics even if they are not sick; for public health safety reasons during the current BSE (Mad Cow) crisis, North American health officials have labeled certain parts of the cow as bio-hazardous products and have ordered that they be handled accordingly; and, recent changes in inspection rules have shifted the responsibility for food safety from government inspectors to the people on the floor who do the slaughtering and packing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

harm of industrial agriculture

I love it when I'm poking around for articles and one comes up where I read the abstract and I react like one of the converted at a faith meeting.
For example, this one below comes up and I'm going "yeah... fossil fuel, water and topsoil used at unsustainable rates - RIGHT ON BROTHER!" and then "yeah... meat production contributes disproportionately to these problems... large energy loss - SPREAD THE WORD DUDE! YEAH!"

anyway, this is obviously devoted to the environmental and health problems associated with factory farming, without touching the animal welfare side of things.

It boggles me that an industry which is so wrong on so many levels can fly so far below our radar.

How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environment and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture by Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence and Polly Walker.
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives; May2002, Vol. 110 Issue 5, p445,

This is the article's abstract:

The industrial agriculture system consumes fossil fuel, water, and topsoil at unsustainable rates. It contributes to numerous forms of environmental degradation, including air and water pollution, soil depletion, diminishing biodiversity, and fish die-offs. Meat production contributes disproportionately to these problems, in part because feeding grain to livestock to produce meat—instead of feeding it directly to humans—involves a large energy loss, making animal agriculture more resource intensive than other forms of food production. The proliferation of factory-style animal agriculture creates environmental and public health concerns, including pollution from the high concentration of animal wastes and the extensive use of antibiotics, which may compromise their effectiveness in medical use. At the consumption end, animal fat is implicated in many of the chronic degenerative diseases that afflict industrial and newly industrializing societies, particularly cardiovascular disease and some cancers. In terms of human health, both affluent and poor countries could benefit from policies that more equitably distribute high-protein foods. The pesticides used heavily in industrial agriculture are associated with elevated cancer risks for workers and consumers and are coming under greater scrutiny for their links to endocrine disruption and reproductive dysfunction. In this article we outline the environmental and human health problems associated with current food production practices and discuss how these systems could be made more sustainable. Key word: diet, environment, health, industrial agriculture, sustainability, sustainable agriculture.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Evolution of animal cruelty laws

I just found a phd thesis by a Daniel L. Moorehead from Central Missouri State University. It's a 2004 thesis titled:

The evolution of animal cruelty laws: A comparative analysis of animal cruelty laws in the United States and Europe

Here's the abstract:

This study examines animal cruelty laws in both the United States and Europe. It provides a thorough comparative analysis of existing laws regarding companion animals, farm animals, and animals raised for food. Documented evidence shows that continued violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the Animal Transportation Act and the Humane Slaughter Act persist in the United States and Europe. Unfortunately, the United States is by far the greatest violator of these laws due in large part to greed and the animal's status as mere property. Unlike the Europeans, who consider animals as sentient beings, the United States places little value on an animal's life other than its immediate profitable value to humans. The very government that has enacted laws to protect animals from maltreatment is the very one who sanctions the atrocities inflicted on innocent animals.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vegan punk bands

I'm not a member of a vegan punk band, that's Propagandhi's turf. I've never really liked punk either, but maybe punk is good because you can "rage" vicariously through someone else's rage. In this case, rage over factory farming.

These songs are off the 1996 Less talk, more rock album.


APPARENTLY, I'M A "P.C. FASCIST" (BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT BOTH HUMAN AND NON-HUMAN ANIMALS)

Some of my otherwise brilliant and productive friends (like scoundrels and their flags) take final refuge in character assainations; they ignore the issue and deny the relation between our consumption and brutality. So you can go ahead and roll your eyes and marginalize me/socially penalize me: play on my insecurities. And you can feign ignorance, but you're not stupid, you're just selfish. And you're a slave to your impulse. And I kinda thought we all shared common threads in that we gravitated here to challenge the conventions we've been fed by a culture that treats (living, breathing, feeling) creatures like (biological) machines. And if you buy that shit then how long 'till it's me who serves as your commodity? Through (for example), institutionalized violence and opression of workers and women raped by sexism (and how about native americans?). Do you still insist on feigning indignance (aka: indignation) to reason? To collective self-interest? Tell you what- I'll call you on your shit, PLEASE CALL ME ON MINE. Then we can grow together and make this shit-hole planet better in time. So why not consider someone else: STOP CONSUMING ANIMALS.

NAILING DESCARTES TO THE WALL / (LIQUID) MEAT IS STILL MURDER
I speak outside what is recognized as the border between "reason" and "insanity". But I consider it a measure of my humanity to be written off by the living graves of a billion murdered lives. And I'm not ashamed of my recurring dreams about me and a gun and a different species (hint: starts with "h" and rhymes with "Neuman's") of carnage strewn about the stockyards, the factories and farms. Still I know as well as anyone that it does less good than harm to be this honest with a conscience eased by lies. But you cannot deny that meat is still murder. Dairy is still rape. And I'm still as stupid as anyone, but I know my mistakes. I have recognized one form of oppression, now I recognize the rest. And life's too short to make another's shorter-(animal liberation now!).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tyson

One more thing I guess - this about Tyson Foods, who North Americans give most of their money to when buying chicken and other animal products.

This is from "What's for Dinner?" Canada and the World Backgrounder. Waterloo: Oct 2006.Vol.72, Iss. 2; pg. 26.

Chickens raised for their meat are killed within six to seven weeks of hatching. They are kept in tiny cages and are fed a diet of concentrated nutrients laced with antibiotics and other drugs. The animals fatten up so fast that sometimes their legs can't support them; some become crippled under their own weight and die within inches of water and food.

The biggest player in this business is Tyson Foods, which is also a huge beef and pork processing company. Based in Arkansas, Tyson has annual revenue of more than $26 billion, and it plays hardball with its workers.

  • In the fall of 2005, there was a bitter, and sometimes violent, strike at Lakeside Packers (owned by Tyson) in Brooks, Alberta. The company fought long and hard to keep the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union out of the plant that processes 40 percent of Canada's beef. Eventually, the UFCW won a first contract with the company. The Brooks experience is not unusual. Tyson Foods has a history of slashing the wages and benefits of its workers and opposing union attempts to organize its plants.

  • In 2003, Tyson was found guilty of pumping untreated wastewater from a poultry plant into a tributary that empties into the Lamine River in Missouri.

  • In 2001, the company was indicted for conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America to work in 15 of its U.S. poultry processing plants; three employees pled guilty and were fired.

  • Tyson has also been found guilty of discrimination against minorities in hiring, of serious safety and health violations, and of bribing government officials.

  • In 2000, Multinational Monitor named Tyson one of the "Ten Worst Corporations of 1999" citing seven worker deaths at its facilities in just seven months. Tyson also made the Corporate Crime Reporter's list of the ten worst corporations in 1999 in the U.S. In 2002 Tyson Foods earned a place on one of the Sierra Club's "Ten Least Wanted" lists.

  • Tyson makes annual profits in the range of $400 million, a fact noted by other corporations in the food business.



Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson writes in his 2003 book The Pig Who Sang to the Moon "The suffering of almost all farm animals is unique... beyond... our language to describe or explain. If we give it no thought, and yet eat them for our meals, are we not morally blind, ethically dumb, and humanly remiss?"

European vs. American animal cruelty legislation

What follows are two blurbs from book reviews by Peter Wenz.

The two books he's talking about are the Peter Singer edited In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave and Sunstein and Nussbaum edited Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions.
The citation for Wenz's review is:
Wenz, P.S. (2007). Against cruelty to animals. Social Theory and Practice, 33(1).

What follows is a contrast of American legislation against animal cruelty, and European legislation about animal cruelty.

Inadequacies of American laws and suggested reforms

David Wolfson and Mariann Sullivan detail the exclusion of most animals from current anticruelty legislation in the U.S. They note that "approximately 9.5 billion animals die annually in food production in the United States" (Sunstein, 206). But the only federal legislation applicable to the killing of these animals, the Humane Slaughter Act, is administered through regulations that "exempt poultry, the result of which is that over 95 percent of all farmed animals ... have no federal legal protection from inhumane slaughter." What is more, "there are no fines available for violation of the statute and significant penalties are never imposed" (208). This is symptomatic. Anticruelty legislation generally allows people to do what they want under a fa├žade of animal protection. For example, legislation enacted in 1877 regulates the rail transport of livestock to reduce cruelty, but it does not apply to transport by truck, and therefore does not apply to the overwhelming majority of livestock transportation. Just as bad, the maximum penalty for illegal animal transport by rail is $500.

Most state laws against cruelty to animals either exempt agriculture altogether-34 of 41 recently enacted statutes-or they exempt common, customary, or normal farming practices. Commonly practiced cruelty thus becomes legal in spite of an anticruelty statute that applies to agriculture. Wolfson and Sullivan provide vivid descriptions of common practices regarding laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves. Jim Mason and Mary Finelli, writing in the Singer collection, provide an even more vivid and complete picture of cruel treatment on factory farms in the United States.

European Union Legislation

Much of what is currently legal in the United States is illegal, or soon will be illegal, in the European Union. For example, Wolfson and Sullivan tell us in the Sunstein volume that current American methods of raising veal calves include feeding them an iron-deficient diet to keep the meat pink and tender. The Swiss outlawed such iron-deficient diets in 1981. They banned all battery cages in 1991. "In 1999, the European Union prohibited all battery egg production from 2012. The system will be replaced by free-range farming, or by 'enriched cages'" that provide each bird a minimum of two-and-a-half times the space commonly allotted in the United States (Sunstein, 222).

In another legal development, the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Community, was recently amended to recognize that animals, including farmed animals, are sentient beings ..., and that all European Union legislation and member states must pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals in the formulation and implementation of the community's policies on agriculture, research, and transport. (223)

The Singer collection includes more information. Martin Balluch reports that battery farming is banned in Austria starting in 2009.

In addition ..., it is now illegal to trade living cats and dogs in shops, or to display cats and dogs publicly in order to sell them. It is illegal to kill any animal for no good reason, even painlessly. Because inability to find a home for healthy animals is not considered a good reason to kill them, kill-shelters are also now outlawed.

A ban on fir farming, which had come into effect in 1998 in six of Austria's nine provinces, is now established on the federal level without any exceptions for free-range farming or the like. (Singer, 161-62). In 2005, it became illegal to use any wild animals in circuses. Only domestic or farm animals may be used.
*************************

And again from the States, Senator Chuck Hagel and Congressman Adrian Smith (both from Nebraska) have introduced bills in the Senate and the House for a proposed "CAFO TAX Credit Act."

* S285: CAFO Tax Credit Act * * Sponsor: Hagel (R-Neb.) * * Official Title: A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a credit to certain concentrated animal feeding operations for the cost of complying with environmental protection regulations. * CAFO Tax Credit Act - Amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow owners
or operators of a concentrated animal feeding operation a business-related tax credit, up to $500,000 in a taxable year, for the cost of compliance with a national pollutant discharge elimination system permit issued under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Terminates such credit after 2010. (from Congressional Bill Digest).

Hmm. I don't know. My knee-jerk reaction is that far from giving money to CAFO's they should just be shutting the damn things down. But.... if the tax credit (and legitimate enforcement of environmental laws) stops crap like this, then maybe that is a good thing.

Funnily enough - no news service in the U.S. mentioned this bill at all. I could only find the above blurb from the Congressional Bill Digest. But... the Hindustan Times is ALL over this story! : )

Friday, March 9, 2007

Plea from a cat named virtue


So I agree. This blog will be incredibly depressing if I just post tons of PETA style news articles here. The problem is that there are SO MANY stories like the one below from the Washington Post. But I'll restrain myself.

I'm hoping to do a three part "Why Veganism?" piece soon, focusing on the personal health benefits of veganism, the environmental benefits of veganism (it's often written that you can do more to fight global warming by going vegan than giving up your car), and the animal rights issues associated with factory farming. I'll start this soon.

And though other vegan blogs concentrate on vegan cooking - I'm not much of a cook. Maybe my girlfriend will let me take pictures of her cooking up curries and stir fries etc from the various veggie cookbooks we've been buying. Then she can take pictures of me washing dishes. : )

Image from Brad Carlile Photography.

Subject line from the Weakerthans

Thursday, March 8, 2007

From the Washington Post in 2001

'They Die Piece by Piece'; In Overtaxed Plants, Humane Treatment of Cattle Is Often a Battle Lost
Joby Warrick - Washington Post Staff Writer

10 April 2001
The Washington Post

It takes 25 minutes to turn a live steer into steak at the modern slaughterhouse where Ramon Moreno works. For 20 years, his post was "second-legger," a job that entails cutting hocks off carcasses as they whirl past at a rate of 309 an hour.
The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't.
"They blink. They make noises," he said softly. "The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around."
Still Moreno would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, the hide puller. "They die," said Moreno, "piece by piece."
Under a 23-year-old federal law, slaughtered cattle and hogs first must be "stunned" -- rendered insensible to pain -- with a blow to the head or an electric shock. But some plants don't always stun properly, with cruel consequences for animals as well as workers. Enforcement records, interviews, videos and worker affidavits describe repeated violations of the Humane Slaughter Act at dozens of slaughterhouses, ranging from the smallest, custom butcheries to modern, automated establishments such as the sprawling IBP Inc. plant here where Moreno works.
"In plants all over the United States, this happens on a daily basis," said Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania hamburger plant. "I've seen it happen. And I've talked to other veterinarians. They feel it's out of control."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the treatment of animals in meat plants, but enforcement of the law varies dramatically. While a few plants have been forced to halt production for a few hours because of alleged animal cruelty, such sanctions are rare.
For example, the government took no action against a Texas beef company that was cited 22 times in 1998 for violations that included chopping hooves off live cattle. In another case, agency supervisors failed to take action on multiple complaints of animal cruelty at a Florida beef plant and fired an animal health technician for reporting the problems to the Humane Society. The dismissal letter sent to the technician, Tim Walker, said his dislosure had "irreparably damaged" the agency's relations with the packing plant .
"I complained to everyone -- I said, 'Lookit, they're skinning live cows in there,' " Walker said. "Always it was the same answer: 'We know it's true. But there's nothing we can do about it.' "
In the past three years, a new meat inspection system that shifted responsibility to industry has made it harder to catch and report cruelty problems, some federal inspectors say. Under the new system, implemented in 1998, the agency no longer tracks the number of humane-slaughter violations its inspectors find each year.
Some inspectors are so frustrated they're asking outsiders for help: The inspectors' union last spring urged Washington state authorities to crack down on alleged animal abuse at the IBP plant in Pasco. In a statement, IBP said problems described by workers in its Washington state plant "do not accurately represent the way we operate our plants. We take the issue of proper livestock handling very seriously."
But the union complained that new government policies and faster production speeds at the plant had "significantly hampered our ability to ensure compliance." Several animal welfare groups joined in the petition.
"Privatization of meat inspection has meant a quiet death to the already meager enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act," said Gail Eisnitz of the Humane Farming Association, a group that advocates better treatment of farm animals. "USDA isn't simply relinquishing its humane-slaughter oversight to the meat industry, but is -- without the knowledge and consent of Congress -- abandoning this function altogether."
The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, which is responsible for meat inspection, says it has not relaxed its oversight. In January, the agency ordered a review of 100 slaughterhouses. An FSIS memo reminded its 7,600 inspectors they had an "obligation to ensure compliance" with humane-handling laws.
The review comes as pressure grows on both industry and regulators to improve conditions for the 155 million cattle, hogs, horses and sheep slaughtered each year. McDonald's and Burger King have been subject to boycotts by animal rights groups protesting mistreatment of livestock.
As a result, two years ago McDonald's began requiring suppliers to abide by the American Meat Institute's Good Management Practices for Animal Handling and Stunning. The company also began conducting annual audits of meat plants. Last week, Burger King announced it would require suppliers to follow the meat institute's standards.
"Burger King Corp. takes the issues of food safety and animal welfare very seriously, and we expect our suppliers to comply," the company said in a statement.
Industry groups acknowledge that sloppy killing has tangible consequences for consumers as well as company profits. Fear and pain cause animals to produce hormones that damage meat and cost companies tens of millions of dollars a year in discarded product, according to industry estimates.
Industry officials say they also recognize an ethical imperative to treat animals with compassion. Science is blurring the distinction between the mental processes of humans and lower animals -- discovering, for example, that even the lowly rat may dream. Americans thus are becoming more sensitive to the suffering of food animals, even as they consume increasing numbers of them.
"Handling animals humanely," said American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle, "is just the right thing to do.
Clearly, not all plants have gotten the message.
A Post computer analysis of government enforcement records found 527 violations of humane-handling regulations from 1996 to 1997, the last years for which complete records were available. The offenses range from overcrowded stockyards to incidents in which live animals were cut, skinned or scalded.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, the Post obtained enforcement documents from 28 plants that had high numbers of offenses or had drawn penalties for violating humane-handling laws. The Post also interviewed dozens of current and former federal meat inspectors and slaughterhouse workers. A reporter reviewed affidavits and secret video recordings made inside two plants.
Among the findings:
* One Texas plant, Supreme Beef Packers in Ladonia, had 22 violations in six months. During one inspection, federal officials found nine live cattle dangling from an overhead chain. But managers at the plant, which announced last fall it was ceasing operations, resisted USDA warnings, saying its practices were no different than others in the industry. "Other plants are not subject to such extensive scrutiny of their stunning activities," the plant complained in a 1997 letter to the USDA.
* Government inspectors halted production for a day at the Calhoun Packing Co. beef plant in Palestine, Tex., after inspectors saw cattle being improperly stunned. "They were still conscious and had good reflexes," B.V. Swamy, a veterinarian and senior USDA official at the plant, wrote. The shift supervisor "allowed the cattle to be hung anyway." IBP, which owned the plant at the time, contested the findings but "took steps to resolve the situation," including installing video equipment and increasing training, a spokesman said. IBP has since sold the plant.
* At the Farmers Livestock Cooperative processing plant in Hawaii, inspectors documented 14 humane slaughter violations in as many months. Records from 1997 and 1998 describe hogs that were walking and squealing after being stunned as many as four times. In a memo to USDA, the company said it fired the stunner and increased its monitoring of the slaughter process.
* At an Excel Corp. beef plant in Fort Morgan, Colo., production was halted for a day in 1998 after workers allegedly cut off the leg of a live cow whose limbs had become wedged in a piece of machinery. In imposing the sanction, U.S. inspectors cited a string of violations in the previous two years, including the cutting and skinning of live cattle. The company, responding to one such charge, contended that it was normal for animals to blink and arch their backs after being stunned, and such "muscular reaction" can occur up to six hours after death. "None of these reactions indicate the animal is still alive," the company wrote to USDA.
* Hogs, unlike cattle, are dunked in tanks of hot water after they are stunned to soften the hides for skinning. As a result, a botched slaughter condemns some hogs to being scalded and drowned. Secret videotape from an Iowa pork plant shows hogs squealing and kicking as they are being lowered into the water.
USDA documents and interviews with inspectors and plant workers attributed many of the problems to poor training, faulty or poorly maintained equipment or excessive production speeds. Those problems were identified five years ago in an industry-wide audit by Temple Grandin, an assistant professor with Colorado State University's animal sciences department and one of the nation's leading experts on slaughter practices.
In the early 1990s, Grandin developed the first objective standards for treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, which were adopted by the American Meat Institute, the industry's largest trade group. Her initial, USDA-funded survey in 1996 was one of the first attempts to grade slaughter plants.
One finding was a high failure rate among beef plants that use stunning devices known as "captive-bolt" guns. Of the plants surveyed, only 36 percent earned a rating of "acceptable" or better, meaning cattle were knocked unconscious with a single blow at least 95 percent of the time.
Grandin now conducts annual surveys as a consultant for the American Meat Institute and the McDonald's Corp. She maintains that the past four years have brought dramatic improvements -- mostly because of pressure from McDonald's, which sends a team of meat industry auditors into dozens of plants each year to observe slaughter practices.
Based on the data collected by McDonald's auditors, the portion of beef plants scoring "acceptable" or better climbed to 90 percent in 1999. Some workers and inspectors are skeptical of the McDonald's numbers, and Grandin said the industry's performance dropped slightly last year after auditors stopped giving notice of some inspections.
Grandin said high production speeds can trigger problems when people and equipment are pushed beyond their capacity. From a typical kill rate of 50 cattle an hour in the early 1900s, production speeds rose dramatically in the 1980s. They now approach 400 per hour in the newest plants.
"It's like the 'I Love Lucy' episode in the chocolate factory," she said. "You can speed up a job and speed up a job, and after a while you get to a point where performance doesn't simply decline -- it crashes."
When that happens, it's not only animals that suffer. Industry trade groups acknowledge that improperly stunned animals contribute to worker injuries in an industry that already claims the nation's highest rate of job-related injuries and illnesses -- about 27 percent a year. At some plants, "dead" animals have inflicted so many broken limbs and teeth that workers wear chest pads and hockey masks.
"The live cows cause a lot of injuries," said Martin Fuentes, an IBP worker whose arm was kicked and shattered by a dying cow. "The line is never stopped simply because an animal is alive."
A 'Brutal' Harvest
At IBP's Pasco complex, the making of the American hamburger starts in a noisy, blood-spattered chamber shielded from view by a stainless steel wall. Here, live cattle emerge from a narrow chute to be dispatched in a process known as "knocking" or "stunning." On most days the chamber is manned by a pair of Mexican immigrants who speak little English and earn about $9 an hour for killing up to 2,050 head per shift.
The tool of choice is the captive-bolt gun, which fires a retractable metal rod into the steer's forehead. An effective stunning requires a precision shot, which workers must deliver hundreds of times daily to balky, frightened animals that frequently weigh 1,000 pounds or more. Within 12 seconds of entering the chamber, the fallen steer is shackled to a moving chain to be bled and butchered by other workers in a fast-moving production line.
The hitch, IBP workers say, is that some "stunned" cattle wake up.
"If you put a knife into the cow, it's going to make a noise: It says, 'Moo!' " said Ramon Moreno, the former second-legger, who began working in the stockyard last year. "They move the head and the eyes and the leg like the cow wants to walk."
After a blow to the head, an unconscious animal may kick or twitch by reflex. But a videotape, made secretly by IBP workers and reviewed by veterinarians for the Post, depicts cattle that clearly are alive and conscious after being stunned.
Some cattle, dangling by a leg from the plant's overhead chain, twist and arch their backs as though trying to right themselves. Close-ups show blinking reflexes, an unmistakable sign of a conscious brain, according to guidelines approved by the American Meat Institute.
The video, parts of which were aired by Seattle television station KING last spring, shows injured cattle being trampled. In one graphic scene, workers give a steer electric shocks by jamming a battery-powered prod into its mouth.
More than 20 workers signed affidavits alleging that the violations shown on tape are commonplace and that supervisors are aware of them. The sworn statements and videos were prepared with help from the Humane Farming Association. Some workers had taken part in a 1999 strike over what they said were excessive plant production speeds.
"I've seen thousands and thousands of cows go through the slaughter process alive," IBP veteran Fuentes, the worker who was injured while working on live cattle, said in an affidavit. "The cows can get seven minutes down the line and still be alive. I've been in the side-puller where they're still alive. All the hide is stripped out down the neck there."
IBP, the nation's top beef processor, denounced as an "appalling aberration" the problems captured on the tape. It suggested the events may have been staged by "activists trying to raise money and promote their agenda. . . .
"Like many other people, we were very upset over the hidden camera video," the company said. "We do not in any way condone some of the livestock handling that was shown."
After the video surfaced, IBP increased worker training and installed cameras in the slaughter area. The company also questioned workers and offered a reward for information leading to identification of those responsible for the video. One worker said IBP pressured him to sign a statement denying that he had seen live cattle on the line.
"I knew that what I wrote wasn't true," said the worker, who did not want to be identified for fear of losing his job. "Cows still go alive every day. When cows go alive, it's because they don't give me time to kill them."
Independent assessments of the workers' claims have been inconclusive. Washington state officials launched a probe in May that included an unannounced plant inspection. The investigators say they were detained outside the facility for an hour while their identities were checked. They saw no acts of animal cruelty once permitted inside.
Grandin, the Colorado State professor, also inspected IBP's plant, at the company's request; that inspection was announced. Although she observed no live cattle being butchered, she concluded that the plant's older-style equipment was "overloaded." Grandin reviewed parts of the workers' videotape and said there was no mistaking what she saw.
"There were fully alive beef on that rail," Grandin said.
Inconsistent Enforcement
Preventing this kind of suffering is officially a top priority for the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service. By law, a humane-slaughter violation is among a handful of offenses that can result in an immediate halt in production -- and cost a meatpacker hundreds or even thousands of dollars per idle minute.
In reality, many inspectors describe humane slaughter as a blind spot: Inspectors' regular duties rarely take them to the chambers where stunning occurs. Inconsistencies in enforcement, training and record-keeping hamper the agency's ability to identify problems.
The meat inspectors' union, in its petition last spring to Washington state's attorney general, contended that federal agents are "often prevented from carrying out" the mandate against animal cruelty. Among the obstacles inspectors face are "dramatic increases in production speeds, lack of support from supervisors in plants and district offices, . . . new inspection policies which significantly reduce our enforcement authority, and little to no access to the areas of the plants where animals are killed," stated the petition by the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals.
Barbara Masters, the agency's director of slaughter operations, told meat industry executives in February she didn't know if the number of violations was up or down, though she believed most plants were complying with the law. "We encourage the district offices to monitor trends," she said. "The fact that we haven't heard anything suggests there are no trends."
But some inspectors see little evidence the agency is interested in hearing about problems. Under the new inspection system, the USDA stopped tracking the number of violations and dropped all mentions of humane slaughter from its list of rotating tasks for inspectors.
The agency says it expects its watchdogs to enforce the law anyway. Many inspectors still do, though some occasionally wonder if it's worth the trouble.
"It always ends up in argument: Instead of re-stunning the animal, you spend 20 minutes just talking about it," said Colorado meat inspector Gary Dahl, sharing his private views. "Yes, the animal will be dead in a few minutes anyway. But why not let him die with dignity?"