Farmed Animal Watch
A Project of Animal Place

October 16, 2002                                                     (To Search This Page Press Ctrl F)
Issue #89


CONTENTS


1. AWI Founder/President Christine Stevens Has Passed Away
2. Largest Meat Recall Ever
3. "The Root Cause of the Problem"
4. The Government's "Inexcusable Dereliction of Duty"
5. Producer Groups Fight Mandatory Animal Identification
6. Upcoming Events: "Veal 101," "Food Animal Veterinarians" Conference

 

1. AWI FOUNDER/PRESIDENT CHRISTINE STEVENS HAS PASSED AWAY
Christine Stevens, founder and president of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), passed away on October 10th. Mrs. Stevens founded AWI in 1951, guided by her father, Dr. Robert Gesell, then-head of the physiology department of the U. of Michigan. In 1955, she founded the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL), the institute's lobbying arm. Over the years, SAPL has had a hand in writing the Humane Slaughter Act, the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act, among other laws. During her 5 decades of activism, Mrs. Stevens was an advocate for animals used in agriculture and research, wildlife and companion animals.
 
Regarding pigs, she told the Christian Science Monitor: "Nobody should really touch a ham sandwich until they change the system. You see, the pregnant sows are put into barred [pens] where they can't move. They cannot turn around, it's so tight, and there are bars in front of them, and they become really frenzied, so they grab hold of the bars and gnash their teeth, back and forth. We have films of this. There's no question it's a form of insanity."
 
Dr. Jane Goodall said, "Christine Stevens was a giant voice for animal welfare. Passionate, yet always reasoned, she took up one cause after another and she never gave up. Millions of animals are better off because of Christine's quiet and very effective advocacy. She will sorely be missed by all of us." The Washington Post and The New York Times published articles on her passing which, along with an AWI release, can be found at: http://www.awionline.org
 

2. LARGEST MEAT RECALL EVER
Last week, 27.4 million pounds of cooked turkey and chicken meat were recalled by Pilgrim's Pride, making it the largest meat recall in history. Listeria contamination was found during an investigation of an outbreak that sickened at least 120 people and killed 20 in 8 Northeastern states. The recalled meat had been processed between May 1st and October 11th and distributed nationally. Pilgrim's Pride is the 2nd largest poultry company in the U.S. (Tyson Foods being the largest).
 
Earlier this month, Northeast grocery chain A&P recalled ground beef it had sold in August and September. Also in October, nearly 3 million pounds of ground beef were recalled by another company after at least 57 people in 7 states were sickened. This summer, nearly 19 million pounds of ground beef were recalled (see issue #77). In all 3 cases, E. coli was the problem.
 
"Largest Meat Recall in U.S. History," Associated Press, Tina Moore, October 14, 2002.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22695-2002Oct14.html
"US Food Safety Efforts Struggle Amid Death, Illness," Reuters, Carey Gillam, October 7 2002
http://abcnews.go.com/wire/US/reuters20021007_269.html
 

3. "THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM"
Common animal production practices, whereby large numbers of animals are kept crowded together in manure, incubate a variety of hazardous pathogens. Manure can also contaminate water used to irrigate crops. Consumer and environmental groups contend that food contamination risks have risen sharply with the industrialization of animal production, slaughter and processing. Notes a Sierra Club spokesperson, "When these animals arrive at the slaughterhouses, their hides are already filthy with manure from being raised in such confined spaces and they are more likely to be stressed, which helps create more pathogens." Pilgrim's Pride counters that animals are raised in pens within huge plants to ensure total control over their environment.
 
Slaughterplants further exacerbate contamination problems as high-speed processing lines and the mixing of meat from many animals help spread bacteria. Notes food consultant Robert Labudde: "The packers try to deal with the contamination problem in an economic manner. It's also well known that slowing the disassembly line down virtually eliminates the contamination. However, it's very costly to do this. Instead, we ‘fix it after it's broken' by adding steam pasteurization cabinets or organic acid rinses. They have a high capital cost, but an acceptable impact on efficiency. Unfortunately, the validity of these interventions is open to question....What's missing in the system is control of the real root cause of the problem: Individual growers are maintaining very sick herds or flocks and sending these animals to slaughter loaded to the eyeballs with virulent pathogens. The incoming pulse of these pathogens breach the control systems of the packer, the processor and the consumer, and end up causing an outbreak if they hit a weakness along the way."
 
Although animal production practices are known to be the source of food-borne pathogens and key to their control, "nothing is happening" on this front, acknowledged KSU meat science professor and food-safety expert Jim Marsden at the recent North American Meat Processors annual convention. He explained that a feedlot consortium has been working with KSU researchers for ways to control "the often heavy contamination present." These include the use of recycled water to rinse cattle, decontamination of feed, and regular flushing of feed and water troughs. Contrary to the hype, Marsden doubts vaccines could be made effective against more than a handful of pathogens due to the varying strains. He explained that countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, are relatively free of large-scale E. coli-driven recalls largely due to prevention measures, noting that most cattle there are on pasture rather than muddy feedlots. He commented: "It's a whole different system than what we have here. It isn't rocket science what they do, but it has an impact [on food safety]."
 
Recently, the Cattlemen's Beef Board proposed its $57.3 million Beef Checkoff budget for 2003. The budget includes $5.9 million (10.3%) for research, including beef safety, product enhancement, and market and nutrition research. In comparison, $32.1 million (56%) is going toward promotion, 12% is being spent on foreign marketing efforts, and $9.6 million (16.7%) is intended for consumer and industry information programs, including efforts to counter "general misinformation from groups such as animal-rights activists." It now awaits USDA approval.
 
"US Food Safety Efforts Struggle Amid Death, Illness," Reuters, Carey Gillam, October 7 2002
http://abcnews.go.com/wire/US/reuters20021007_269.html
"Consumer Groups Accuse U.S. of Negligence on Food Safety," The New York Times, Elizabeth Becker, October 15, 2002.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/15/national/15RECA.html
 
"Commentary: Musings on the ConAgra E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak," Food Protection Report, Robert A. Labudde, September 2002.
http://131.104.232.9/fsnet/2002/10-2002/fsnet_october_1.htm#COMMENTAR
"SPECIAL REPORT: NAMP expert targets Top Ten food-safety challenges," Daily News, The Meating Place, Dan Murphy, October 9, 2002.
http://www.meatingplace.com/meatingplace/DailyNews/News.asp?ID=9909
"Operating Committee Approves 2003 Plan of Work, CBB press release, September 27, 2002.
http://www.beefboard.com/dsp/dsp_content.cfm?locationId=1054&contentTypeId=2&contentId=1597
 

4. THE GOVERNMENT'S "INEXCUSABLE DERELICTION OF DUTY"
Consumer and environmental groups are blaming the government for failing to set adequate safety standards for the meat industry. Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America declared, "The illnesses are the result of inexcusable dereliction of duty by the government agency charged with assuring meat safety." Other consumer advocates share her view that USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service's "attitude problem" is due to its "think[ing] in terms of industry." This is perceptible in the agency's recently issued "Guidance on Risk Reduction during Animal Production." The document repeatedly stresses the need for cost effective measures. It alerts industry to be aware of the practices being examined so they can have input on the process and raise concerns about, among other things, the economic impact of implementing new practices. The document claims "Currently, no clear association has been found between management factors and the presence of E coli or Salmonella spp." The only specific comment it makes concerning housing is: "Separating calves from adults shows some effect in reducing prevalence/shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in calves." It also notes that "Cattle should be prevented from standing in or defecating in [water] troughs." Other management practices the agency may potentially recommend are such technological measures as vaccines, transgenic feeds, and drugs. The document can be accessed at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/00-022N/RiskReductionGuidance.htm
 
Last year, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, called for better federal oversight and enforcement of food safety rules, noting an over-reliance on voluntary industry compliance. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also released a report critical of the USDA's system for evaluating food safety risks. NAS brand-new report, entitled "Draft Risk Assessment of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Ground Beef" contains a section on animal production and a section on slaughter. It can be accessed at: http://books.nap.edu/books/0309086272/html
 
A recent commentary by the editor of Meat Processing Magazine questions the government's lack of involvement at the production stage, noting: "With the exception of animal disease, USDA has minimal regulatory authority over the live animal side of the business, and maybe that needs to change. Why shouldn't producers and feeders develop bona fide HACCP plans with validated critical control points the way that packers and processors have been required to do? As pork production integrates along the lines of the broiler industry, and beef packers build alliances upstream with producers and feeders, it makes sense that USDA ought to have oversight over the entire farm-to-fork system of meat production."   
 
"Consumer Groups Accuse U.S. of Negligence on Food Safety," The New York Times, Elizabeth Becker, October 15, 2002.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/15/national/15RECA.html
"ConAgra, meat safety dominates closed USDA meeting with consumer groups," Food Chemical News, August 5, 2002.
"Commentary: Memo to Murano – History beckons the bold in food-safety fight," Daily News, The Meating Place, Dan Murphy, October 4, 2002.
http://www.meatingplace.com/meatingplace/Archives/oop/qnohit_g.asp?ID=9886
 

5. PRODUCER GROUPS FIGHT MANDATORY ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION
Efforts to develop a national system to trace food to its source are being blocked by farm groups fearing lawsuits if consumers become sick. Nationwide, an estimated 79 million illnesses, 300,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths are blamed on food-borne disease. Advocates say such a national identification system is needed to help control potentially disastrous diseases and to serve as a deterrent to unscrupulous operators. Producers say they fear being blamed for contamination that occurs in feedlots or in processing plants.
 
Europe, Canada, and Japan have all instituted national mandatory animal identification programs. Identification, source verification and process verification (see: http://www.ams.usda.gov/process/amsprocesses.htm ) are increasingly being required by domestic and foreign markets as consumers see assurance that products are not only wholesome but come from sources with good animal husbandry and environmental records (see issue #72). Some identification programs have already begun in the U.S. without government requirement (see articles for details). 
 
The farm bill passed this year requires all meat and produce to be labeled with its country of origin. Farm groups were able to get a provision included which bars the USDA from setting up a tracking system to identify the farms where food was produced. However, another bill was introduced this year requiring the government to set up a system for tracing all cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry. Despite producer opposition to it, packers and processors are in favor of it.   
 
"Farms Fight Food Tracing," Des Moines Register, Philip Brasher, September 22, 2002.
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/news/stories/c4789013/19280859.html
"Can Industry Make ‘ID' Happen?" National Hog Farmer, Joe Vansickle, September 15, 2002.
http://nationalhogfarmer.com/ar/farming_industry_id_happen/index.htm
"Partnerships, verification seen critical for meat production," Feedstuffs, Rod Smith, 09/09/02.
 

6 UPCOMING EVENTS "VEAL 101," "FOOD ANIMAL VETERINARIANS" CONFERENCE
The Sixth Annual Veal 101 short course will be held at Penn State University on October 20-22nd. The course "is an intensive, hands-on training" for anyone involved in the production and marketing of veal and for those who work to promote veal. A farm tour is included with the $300 course.  According to the brochure, there are about 1,000 "special fed veal growers" in the U.S. The primary veal production states are Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Beef Council at: (717) 939-7000.
 
Kansas State University is hosting a 2-day conference entitled "Food Animal Veterinarians: An Endangered Species?" on October 25-26 in Manhattan, Kansas. The conference is being held to address the dwindling number of farmed animal veterinarians, both nationally and internationally. Registration is $175. The program and other information can be found at:
http://www.vet.ksu.edu/depts/itc/conted/endangered.htm