Farmed Animal Watch
A Project of Animal Place

January 18, 2002                                                     (To Search This Page Press Ctrl F)
Issue #50


1. USDA Expands Failing Meat Inspection Program
2. Pig Diseases Afflicting the U.S. and U.K.
3. Sow Death and Mortality on the Upswing
4. Lean Breeding Causes Welfare Problems
5. Cattle Abortions and Premature Aging
6. Food-borne Pathogens in Manure
7. Virus Threat Leads to Death of Thousands of Farmed Salmon
8. Agriculture Causing Havoc to Seas

Government investigators have found that every chicken-processing plant in an experimental industry self-inspection program failed to keep feces off poultry sold to supermarkets. Nearly half the plants produced more contaminated poultry than under traditional inspection. Despite this failure, the USDA is expanding the pilot project, on a voluntary basis, to all plants that process chickens and turkeys. The new inspection system allows plant employees to do the work formerly done by government inspectors. Processing lines can be sped up, with more birds checked per shift. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Ia) said the study shows that self-policing of meat inspection will not work and “is a recipe for a food-safety disaster.” He is urging the USDA to come up with an alternative system. The USDA is considering changes to the program, such as stricter performance standards and requiring formal training for inspectors, but remains committed to it.

“USDA experiment puts contaminated poultry in markets,” Scripps Howard News Service, Lance Gay, January 17, 2002.
“Food Safety: Weaknesses in Meat and Poultry Inspection Pilot Should be Addressed Before Implementation,” Government Accountability Office Report GAO-02-59, January 17, 2001.

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is the leading cause for abortions in pig herds. Abortion “storms” have occurred in the last year and are attributed to it. The death rate from PRRS in Minnesota, for example, has produced deaths of 50% in nursing pigs, 30% in nursery pigs and up to 15% in sows. The virus is spread by pigs, people, mosquitos, and needles. Missouri has seen a substantial increase in swine enteric disease. Caused by E. coli bacteria, it affects young weaned pigs. Improperly cleaned flooring is considered a factor.

Pigs in Great Britain are suffering from a disease complex. Porcine multi-systemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) is estimated to affect 40% of pigs 6-14 weeks old. It cost the industry $70 million last year. Afflicted pigs suffer diarrhea, depression, swollen lymph nodes and sudden death. Porcine Dermatitis and Nephropathy Syndrome (PDNS) causes red to purple discoloration to the hind quarters, flank and ears coupled with depression, stiffness and swelling. Together the diseases form a complex that has decimated the nation’s pig population.

“PRRS Research Turns to Mosquitos,” National Hog Farmer, Gretchen Schlosser, Jan.15, 2002.
“Reproductive Failures Not All PRRS,” National Hog Farmer, Paul Armbrecht, Jan. 15, 2002.
“Two Syndromes Decimate Herds,” National Hog Farmer, John Gadd, January 15, 2002.

Records of nearly a quarter million sows used for breeding reveal both mortality and culling rates to be on the increase. The pre-slaughter death rate of 13% is nearly double the loss in 1999. At a combined 16%, the most noted causes of death were lameness and “downer” sows. Half of all the pigs were culled within the 12-month period the survey covered. Reproductive failures led to the culling of 30%, and decreased productivity accounted for 13%. “We are dealing with such a lean animal today....if we don’t feed and manage [them] right, they are going to crash and fall apart on us, and we are going to end up dragging them out the door,” an Iowa manager said. The article contains a detailed breakdown of the survey findings.

“Data Pinpoints Sow Dropouts,” National Hog Farmer, Dale Miller, January 15, 2002.
“Training Top Sows for Survival,” National Hog Farmer, Joe Vansickle, January 15, 2002.

To produce lean meat, the pig industry has focused on muscle growth with minimal fat deposition. This has resulted in animals with leg problems, and cardiovascular inadequacy during times of stress. More excitable temperaments and greater levels of fear and anxiety make these pigs more difficult to handle. They are also suffer higher stress and mortality during transport. While environmental changes may resolve some problems, breeding needs to take into account welfare implications.     

The National Pork Board recently hired a director of animal welfare. Dr. Anne Johnson holds a doctorate in animal welfare from Texas Tech. Her expertise is in behavior and its impact on performance, and on welfare of the lactating sow and her litter. She will develop and implement welfare programs and administer the Science & Technology Department’s welfare research.

“The Effect of Selection for Lean Growth on Swine Behavior and Welfare,” Purdue University 2000 Swine Day Report, E. A. Pajor et al.
“Pork Board Hires Swine Health, Animal Welfare Experts,” National Pork Board, Jan. 16, 2002.

Spontaneous cattle abortions are occurring in the U.S. and abroad, at rates of up to 40-50% in some herds. The cause is unknown but hormone-mimicking pollutants in food and water are suspected. Hormones are used to fatten up to two-thirds of the 36 million cattle raised for meat each year. The investment can result in a 40-fold return. Many cattle are fed the same steroids athletes use to bulk up, others are given estrogen and other female sex hormones. Cattle excrete a substantial amount of the chemicals into the environment where they can end up in water and human food. Trace residues can also remain in meat. Pesticides and other industrial chemicals can disrupt normal hormonal activity in people and other animals. The weakest steroid growth promoter is likely to have 100-1,000 times greater biological activity than the most potent industrial endocrine disrupter.

Some cattle are experiencing a different phenomenon. Healthy yearlings are sent to feedlots where they consume growth-boosting feed and drugs. When they are slaughtered at 2 years of age, their bones and cartilage have the appearance of that from an animal twice their age. Instead of the normal red color, their bones are white and dried out with minimal cartilage, a condition called “hard bone.” Here, too, environmental estrogens are suspected to be involved.

“Beefy Losses,” Science News, Janet Raloff, January 12, 2002.
“Hormones: Here’s the Beef: Environmental concerns reemerge over steroids given to livestock,” Janet Raloff, January 5, 2002.

The use of manure as a crop fertilizer spreads pathogens to the environment. Many are the same organisms that cause food-borne sickness, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. The USDA has granted scientists $2.4 million to study which zoonotic organisms are in manure. (Zoonotic organisms are pathogenic ones that can be transferred to humans from other species.) The researchers will examine the effect dietary change and waste management may have on the pathogens.

“Researchers Study Manure, Human Illness,” AgWeb News, Darcy Maulsby, January 14, 2002.

Thousands of young farmed salmon were hauled from Cobscook Bay this week after infectious salmon anemia spread to the bay from Canada. The fish appeared healthy. The virus kills salmon but does not affect humans. Endangered wild salmon are susceptible to it and could potentially be affected. The fish have been fed since spring, with the intent of selling them to East Coast seafood markets and restaurants. Now too small to market, they are instead being killed by being lowered into salt water injected with carbon dioxide. This reportedly anesthetizes and humanely kills them. After the USDA agreed to pay $16.6 million for the cleanup, Maine officials ordered all 1.5 million salmon in the bay to be killed. This is the first federal indemnification program for a disease affecting farmed fish. The bay will need to remain fallow for 4-16 months. The state is proposing new laws for leasing coastal waters. Conservationists want a 2-year moratorium on new sites as rules are tightened, which would be a major blow to the industry. “Putting 30 acres of [fish] pens in the middle of conserved land is like putting a power plant in the middle of Baxter State Park,” stated an environmental consultant who lives nearby.

“Virus spells end for farmed salmon, Portland Press Herald, John Richardson, January 16, 2002.
“Legislators to debate moratorium on fish farms,” Portland Press Herald, John Richardson, January 18, 2002.

There is a growing area of the Gulf of Mexico that is devoid of oxygen, known as “the dead zone.” This hypoxic state causes marine life to suffocate and die. The area has doubled in size since the early ‘90's, and is now about the size of Massachusetts. Scientists have traced the cause to nitrogen fertilizer coming from the Midwest. The chemical plant food seeps into groundwater which flows into the Mississippi River and is dumped into the Gulf. Though it has been known for nearly 5 years that farm runoff is the culprit, there is still no national policy in place to address it. Farm runoff remains exempt from the federal Clean Water Act. Opposition to even the simplest recommendations is expected by the Pew Oceans Commission which, for the past 2 years, has conducted a comprehensive review of the greatest threats to the oceans. The article contains links to additional information.

The Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, is sinking. Water bound for the sea has steadily been siphoned off for agricultural purposes in the dry Middle East. The water level has dropped by about 20 feet in the past decade. The dropping water table near the Sea has caused the ground to settle and compact. Areas along the shores of the Sea have subsided by up to 2.5 inches a year between 1992 and 1999, and giant sinkholes have also begun appearing. The collapsing ground threatens the stability of resort hotels.

“Troubled Seas Report: Farm Belt Runoff Prime Source of Ocean Pollution,” Morning Edition, National Public Radio, January 15, 2002.
“Scientists find the Dead Sea is sinking,” World News, Cable Network News, January 14, 2002.