Seeing Is Important: The Abbatoir Effect

Italian photographer Francesco Scipioni spent a day photographing the workings of a slaughterhouse. The experience compelled him to make a change in his life: he became a vegetarian.

It’s not hard to see why (full photoset is here):

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Fighting Back

Mercy For Animals is one of the best outfits fighting animal cruelty in factory farms, and opening consumers’ eyes. And apparently they make a great year-end video too.

At the end of this you can almost believe there will be a time when most people are vegetarian, and factory farms are a distant and ugly memory.

Disgusting Meat Datapoint Of The Day


I don’t know if this is the start of a regular feature here, but it could be.

The Kansas City Star (in the heart of Big Beef-country) shows courage by digging deep into a processing technology, “mechanical tenderizing,” that is rarely labeled and makes it (even) more likely that you can get e-coli poisoning from industrial beef:

An estimate by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, suggests that mechanically tenderized beef could have been the source of as many as 100 outbreaks of E. coli and other illnesses in the United States in recent years.

Those cases affected more than 3,100 people who ate contaminated meat at wedding receptions, churches, banquet facilities, restaurants, schools and in their own homes, the center said.

But that’s just one of the key findings from The Star’s investigation, which examined Big Beef’s processing methods and the hazards they can pose for human health.

The Star examined the largest beef packers including the big four— Tyson Foods of Arkansas, Cargill Meat Solutions of Wichita, National Beef of Kansas City and JBS USA Beef of Greeley, Colo. — as well as the network of feedlots, processing plants, animal drug companies and lobbyists who make up the behemoth known as Big Beef.

What The Star found is an increasingly concentrated industry that mass-produces beef at high speeds in mega-factories that dot the Midwest, where Kansas City serves as the “buckle” of the beef belt. It’s a factory food process churning out cheaper and some say tougher cuts of meat that can cause health problems. The Star’s other key findings:

•  Large beef plants, based on volume alone, contribute disproportionately to the incidence of meat-borne pathogens.

•  Big Beef and other processors are co-mingling ground beef from many different cattle, some from outside the United States, adding to the difficulty for health officials to track contaminated products to their source. The industry also has resisted labeling some products, including mechanically tenderized meat, to warn consumers and restaurants to cook it thoroughly.

•  Big Beef is injecting millions of dollars of growth hormones and antibiotics into cattle, partly to fatten them quickly for market. But many experts believe that years of overuse and misuse of such drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant pathogens in humans, meaning illnesses once treated with a regimen of antibiotics are much harder to control.

•  Big Beef is using its political pull, public relations campaigns and the supportive science it sponsors to influence federal dietary guidelines and recast steaks and burgers as health foods people can eat every day. It even persuaded the American Heart Association to certify beef as “heart healthy.”

It’s a fascinating and devastating look into modern beef packing (I smell a Pulitzer), and opens with the painful story of Margaret Lamkin, an 87-year old woman who almost died, and lost her colon, after contracting a virulent pathogen from an Applebee’s steak (“Eating Good In the Neighborhood”!).
“You trust people, trust that nothing is going to happen,” Lamkin is quoted as saying. “But they (beef companies) are mass-producing this and shoveling it into us.”

I feel terrible for Lamkin and no one should have to endure what she did (and wouldn’t if the Congress and regulators did their jobs instead of buckraking from beef industry lobbyists). But if we have learned anything about Big Meat it is that you should not trust it, or trust that nothing bad is going to happen.

I would also note that it is not Big Meat that is shoveling their product  into Americans. Lamkin and others are doing that all by themselves.

Red Meat Mortality

I know it must seem obvious already, but it’s hard to resist posting research that details the impact of red meat consumption on mortality. I always tell my kids that beef is killing the planet. But no one seems to care that much. What people do respond to is research which shows that beef is killing them, so here’s a study report that I’ve had sitting around since March:

Eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease, according to a new study, and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk.

The analysis, published online Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine, used data from two studies that involved 121,342 men and women who filled out questionnaires about health and diet from 1980 through 2006. There were 23,926 deaths in the group, including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer.

People who ate more red meat were less physically active and more likely to smoke and had a higher body mass index, researchers found. Still, after controlling for those and other variables, they found that each daily increase of three ounces of red meat was associated with a 12 percent greater risk of dying over all, including a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of cancer death.

The increased risks linked to processed meat, like bacon, were even greater: 20 percent over all, 21 percent for cardiovascular disease and 16 percent for cancer.

Of course, you can earn all about the ways in which red meat will shorten your life in the excellent documentary “Forks Over Knives.”

And you can watch CNN’s Sanjay Gupta (with an assist from Bill Clinton) make the case here.

Seeing Is Important: More On Meat

Okay, at some point it will simply be gratuitous to keep posting these horrific slaughterhouse videos. But I am not at that point yet, because I want to convey that this is an industry problem, and not just isolated to one or two rogue slaughterhouses.

This video was made by Mercy For Animals (I first saw it here), at a plant they say supplies Burger King (additional info after the jump):

Video-related info from Mercy For Animals:

Are your Burger King purchases funding horrific animal abuse? Continue reading “Seeing Is Important: More On Meat”

Seeing Is Important: The Torture Of Meat “Processing”

Okay, I’ve been sitting on this one a while because it is pretty tough to watch.

But I think it is very important to see and bear witness to reality (previous here and here) because images elicit an emotional and visceral reaction that words sometimes do not.

Here’s the backstory on this video:

Aug. 21, 2012: An undercover video, filmed by a Compassion Over Killing investigator, exposes rampant animal abuse and suffering inside Central Valley Meat Co. (CVM), a slaughterhouse in Hanford, California. CVM is a major supplier to the USDA’s National School Lunch Program and other federal food initiatives.

Like all federally inspected slaughterhouses, CVM is required to comply with federal animal welfare requirements as well as California’s animal protection laws. However, COK’s whistleblowing video uncovers acts of cruelty that appear to violate both state and federal laws.

And you can read more here.

I do not post this lightly, but it IS what we call meat “processing” has come to–which is, to be blunt, animal torture. And it is too easy to just keep slinging hamburgers abetted by willful ignorance of what goes on behind the factory walls.

Do you really have faith that this sort of thing isn’t going on all over the world? Do you really want to keep eating meat that involves this degree of cruelty?

There are so many reasons not to eat meat. This is just one. But it should be all you need.

End Times For Meat?

Asks Time’s Josh Ozersky

Catte Feed Lot CAFOSure hope so. Ozersky explains that the future for meat is looking grim:

But while the bacon panic wasn’t real, there is a crisis in our meat supply and it’s no joke. We produce a lot of meat, but we feed a lot of Americans, and more all the time, thanks to the simple laws of multiplication, along with the simple addition of immigration. There is a drought, so there is less grain and corn for the animals to eat. Most of the producers are marginally profitable at best, and Americans refuse to pay more for meat than they do for Froot Loops, despite the fact that no one has to raise and feed and kill and process Froot Loops. I’m not kidding about this: go to the supermarket and see how much a package of pork chops cost, or half a chicken, and then compare that price to a box of Froot Loops.

All the things that consumers have, rightly, come to fear and distrust about the meat industry are a result of this problem. Hormones, to make the animals grow faster? Check. Antibiotics, to allow animals be cramped and crammed and stressed without dying of infections? Check. Farrowing crates and beak clipping, so as to squeeze more meat more efficiently out of factories? Check. Even the vile pink slime that everyone hates so much is simply a product, literally, of the beef industry’s need to get maximal yield out of each animal. We all love happy animals on small farms, but there’s no way to feed Americans living in or near poverty, as well as having tons of meat to export to China and elsewhere. The result is that producers are bumping off animals as fast as they can and getting out of the business before feed costs get worse and they are forced out. That’s where the bacon shortage comes in. Less pigs, less pork, less pork bellies for yummy, smoky bacon.

To Ozersky, this means a future of expensive, unhealthy meat and abused animals. I would argue we already have two of the three (yes, meat is cheap). He seems to lament the prospect. However, he doesn’t really have much to say on what to do about it.

So I’ll help him out: when a product is getting more expensive, more unhealthy, more ethically execrable, and more environmentally costly (which Ozersky doesn’t really go into), then perhaps the public should stop consuming that product.

I know. Radical idea. But Is it really that hard for Americans and the rest of humanity to imagine a future that isn’t fueled by cheap, factory-farmed meat?

Tales From The Factory Farm

That’s the new Category I am creating for this blog, because (and this is good) I am seeing an increasing number of debates and analyses of the way in which we have industrialized food production, both to the detriment of the animals and our health. Here are two good examples:

1) Pink Slime: we’ve all been hearing about it, and you are probably disgusted by it (here’s an explanation of what it is). But Mark Bittman lately has been riffing alot on it, and has done a very nice job of pointing out that as odious as the idea of Pink Slime might be, it is a logical consequence of the industrialization of meat production:

But pink slime, as Grist writer Tom Laskaway says, is the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom, not a disease. Remember why it was originally created — to eliminate bacteria found in ground meat. The fact that pink slime was a “solution” might lead you to ask: What’s the problem?

The answer lies in the industrial production of livestock on a scale that’s far too large to sustain without significant collateral damage. E. coli, found in the digestive tracts of cattle, is common on factory farms where cattle are fed only grain. (Their stomachs are meant to digest grass.) The incomprehensible quantity of manure produced by these cattle — also often containing E. coli — is deposited on the land, sometimes seeping into the water supply; that’s how you wind up with E. coli in vegetables. To make matters worse, “healthy” farm animals are routinely fed so many antibiotics that E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are developing resistance to commonly prescribed drugs.

Exactly. Defenders of Pink Slime have been saying that if it is eliminated something like 1.5 million more cows a year will have to be slaughtered to make up for the loss of Pink Slime content in ground beef. So the choice they pose is: eat Pink Slime or kill a million more cows. That’s not a very appealing choice. So here’s the solution: go vegetarian, or stop eating factory-farmed beef. Simple. Yes, humanely-treated, grass-fed beef will cost you more per pound. But if you eat a lot less beef you will be healthier, and the planet will be healthier.

Here’s more from Bittman, in video form.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And, even more, here. Consider yourself fully slimed.

2) Eggs. Eggs are delicious (sorry vegans) and healthy, and it should be perfectly possible to raise and keep hens that are happy to produce them. Except consumers apparently care more about saving a few cents than treating hens humanely. Perhaps that is because they simply have no idea of the depraved and inhumane way in which hens are treated by the factory farmers. Nick Kristof, who grew up on a farm, is trying to rectify that, recently writing about the obscene conditions of one of America’s largest egg producers. As usual, read the whole thing, but here is a key portion:

Mice sometimes ran down egg conveyer belts, barns were thick with flies and manure in three barns tested positive for salmonella, he said. (Actually, salmonella isn’t as rare as you might think, turning up in 3 percent of egg factory farms tested by the Food and Drug Administration last year.)

In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet. The Humane Society says that that is even more cramped than the egg industry’s own voluntary standards — which have been widely criticized as inadequate.

An automatic feeding cart that runs between the cages sometimes decapitates hens as they’re eating, the investigator said. Corpses are pulled out if they’re easy to see, but sometimes remain for weeks in the cages, piling up until they have rotted into the wiring, he added.

Other hens have their heads stuck in the wire and are usually left to die, the investigator said.

Is that how you’d like your breakfast egg to be produced? I didn’t think so. What can you do? Again, simple. By eggs that are certified humane.

Yes, they will cost a bit more. But there are two unavoidable questions central to feeding yourself and your family: 1) Are you willing to pay anything at all to insure humane treatment of the animals feeding you?; and 2) Whether you are or not (hopefully you are), are you willing to pay anything all for a food production system that causes less sickness and environmental damage?

The answers seem pretty obvious to me.


The Humane Society makes the (video) case for Meatless Monday.

Actually, they make the case for meatless Monday-Sunday–otherwise known as vegetarianism. Lots of people feel helpless when it comes to the scale of environmental destruction humans are inflicting on the planet. I always tell them the simplest, most powerful, thing they can do right away is stop eating meat. Not only is industrial beef (and chicken, and pork) farming killing the planet, it’s killing you.

Quitting meat cold-turkey (sorry) isn’t that easy, if only because meat is so ingrained in our food culture. So it’s hard to think of what else to eat, and we crave fat. But it’s easy in this sense: you will feel a lot better, and you will lose weight. AND you will be doing something meaningful for the planet. AND for our health care costs.

But while I think it’s okay, if you want to, to eat some meat on occasion, and that any cutbacks you can make are a good thing, I think asking Americans to go without meat just one day a week is a pretty lame target. Yes, I am sure that a single meat-free day a week is all the Humane Society figures they can ask meat-addled Americans to aspire to. But as noted earlier, these times call for radical, not incremental, solutions. And Meatless Monday just isn’t very radical. So let’s aim for Meatless, full stop, instead.

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