Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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December 23, 2004 -- Number 81, Volume 2

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1. Humane Handling of Pigs the Focus of Two Recent Studies

DOWNER PIGS: Researchers at the Prairie Swine Centre have released a study showing that use of electric prods and "aggressive handling" can lead to higher rates of so-called downer pigs. (Also see FAW #76: The report provides detailed information on rates of downer pigs, and states that the incidence of downer pigs arriving at slaughterhouses has increased by 275% over the past decade: "Levels of downer pigs arriving at various U.S. packing plants are typically reported at 0.25 to 0.75 %; however, levels as high as 10 % have been reported for individual loads. The incidence of downer pigs has increased from 0.08 to 0.30 % over the past 10 years. Stressful handling appears to be a triggering factor for the occasional high levels of downer pigs."

The research study tested different groups of pigs, some of whom were handled gently while others were handled aggressively and/or with electric prods. Another aspect of the study tested the efficacy of changing pigs' diets to reduce downer rates. The study showed that while altering diets had no impact, aggressive handling has a dramatic impact on downer rates. According to the results, "we obtained downer rates of 2, 15 and 34% for pigs handled gently, aggressively but not prodded, and aggressively including electric prodding, respectively." The researchers concluded that pig farmers and transporters should minimize the use of electric prods and aggressive handling to mitigate the number of downer pigs.

TOXOPLASMA INFECTION: Researchers in The Netherlands recently published a study showing that "animal-friendly production systems" may lead to an increase in Toxoplasma infections. The research compared two groups of pigs raised either in conventional indoor facilities or in animal-friendly housing. While none of the pigs raised on conventional farms tested positive for Toxoplasma, about 3% of pigs on alternative farms were infected. The researchers conclude that "Conventionally (indoors) raised pigs are free from Toxoplasma infection, and animal-friendly production systems may lead to a reemergence of Toxoplasma infections." They go on to advise animal-friendly producers to monitor processes and take steps to improve hygiene to control the rate of Toxoplasma infection, which is a known contributor to Toxoplasmosis in humans.

"Stressful Handling of Pigs,", 12/21/04

"Toxoplasma Gondii Infection in Animal-Friendly Pig Production Systems,", 12/21/04

Source article -

2. Research Finds Airborne Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria at Pig Farm

A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has released findings showing that some people are at risk of airborne exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria from concentrated pig farms. According to the lead researcher, "Eating retail pork products is not the only pathway of exposure for the transfer of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from swine to humans. Environmental pathways may be equally important." In the study, 98% of the airborne bacteria samples taken from one US factory farm were resistant to at least two types of antibiotics considered important in the treatment of humans. The antibiotics include erythromycin, clindamycin, virginiamycin and tetracycline. The research suggests that employees of concentrated pig farms may be at highest risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, the authors state that those workers "may also become reservoirs of drug-resistant bacteria that can be spread to family and the broader community."

"Airborne Multi-Drug Resistant Bacteria Isolated from a Concentrated Swine Feeding Operation," Chapin, et al, NIEHS (FULL REPORT AVAILABLE)

"Researchers Find Airborne Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria," Pork News, 12/20/04

"Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria Found to be Airborne in Concentrated Swine Operation,", 12/21/04

3. BSE News: US Plants Violating Rules; Canadian Feed Contains Animal Parts

US RULES VIOLATIONS: A national US-based union of federal meat inspectors says that brains and spinal cords from cows over 30 months of age are still entering the food supply and are being sold to other countries. The ban on such "Specific Risk Materials" (SRMs) was put into effect by the USDA for all cows over 30 months of age, who they believe to be at higher risk of having Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). According to the union's chairman, "We know USDA's zero tolerance is not being met. We believe this is a widespread problem." The union says that inspectors have been contacting them since October, complaining that plant employees are incorrectly identifying the cows' ages. The SRMs, according to the union, have made their way into the US food supply and some products have been sent to Mexico, violating a trade agreement between the US and that country.

CANADIAN FEED: The Canadian government conducted private tests on animal feed in early 2004 and found that more than half of the samples contained animal products not listed on the ingredients. The feed in question was labeled "all vegetable feed," but it is unclear whether the contamination of animal products was deliberate or accidental. In the tests conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 59% of the 70 feed samples taken were found to contain animal products, something the agency calls "worrisome." The rate of contamination was higher among feed produced in Canada than among those imported from other countries. However, the scientists have been unable to determine from which species the contaminating animal products were rendered, so the specific risk from cow parts is not known.

"US Meat Plants Violating Mad Cow Rules-Inspectors," Reuters, 12/20/04

"Secret Tests Reveal Cattle Feed Contaminated by Animal Parts," Vancouver Sun, 12/16/04 ( website)

"Canadian Cattle Feed Found to Have Animal Content,", 12/17/04

4. A.I. News: Thousands More Birds Culled in Asia; Japan has First Human Case

Avian Influenza continues to have a significant impact on countries in Southeast Asia, including Japan that on December 22 announced its first case of a human contracting the virus from birds. The Japanese man is a poultry worker who caught the virus while disinfecting a farm closed due to an outbreak of bird flu earlier this year. Japan's Health Ministry announced that the case represents one of five people who may have been infected with the disease. So far, 20 people have died of avian influenza in Vietnam and 12 have died in Thailand. In Vietnam, more than 4,000 chickens have either died or been culled in recent weeks because of a new avian influenza outbreak. In South Korea, more than 9,000 ducks will be killed after a mild form of avian influenza was found at a farm in the Kwangju province.

"Japan Has First Case of Bird Flu in Human," ABC News / Associated Press, 12/22/04

"Five People in Japan May Have Bird Flu Virus," Yahoo News / Reuters, 12/18/04 (Yahoo News website)

"Vietnam Confirms 4,000 Poultry Deaths in Recent Weeks,", 12/22/04

"South Korea Finds Suspected Milder Bird Flu Among Ducks," Planet Ark / Reuters, 12/23/04

5. Updates on Undercover Investigations from COK and PETA

Two separate undercover investigations by activist groups Compassion Over Killing (COK) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) continue to get media attention. Legal action from COK's investigation of a Purdue chicken slaughter facility in Maryland has stalled due to the plant's closure in early November. The Sheriff in charge of the investigation wrote, "I doubt that the taxpayers of Worcester County would want their criminal investigation teams to become involved now that the alleged violations have ceased with the plant closing." However, the Sheriff said he was willing to meet with COK to discuss the case further. In Iowa, PETA's undercover investigation of a kosher slaughterhouse resulted in a USDA investigation and heated debate on both sides of the issue. Results from the USDA investigation are expected by the end of December, according to a department spokesperson.

"Sheriff: Perdue Plant's Closure May Complicate Animal Cruelty Investigation,", 12/20/04

"PETA Footage Puts Kosher Slaughterhouse on Defensive," National Public Radio, 12/20/04 (AUDIO)

"Town Rallies Around Firm Called Inhumane," Chicago Tribune, 12/19/04,1,7103113.story

6. Other Items of Interest

An official statement from the US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) warns veal producers against the "widespread, illegal use of drug implants in young calves that was discovered in 2004." FSIS has established a public comment period on the issue that is open until February 22, 2005.
"HACCP Reassessment for Slaughterers of Young Calves," FSIS, 12/23/04

Activist group United Poultry Concerns (UPC) has released findings, including a video, from its investigation of a live poultry market in the Bronx, New York. UPC says that the video shows "filth, squalor, and callous indifference to animal suffering," as well as inhumane slaughter of chickens and other animals.
"Live Poultry Market Investigation in the Bronx Shows Misery, Sickness, Filth," United Poultry Concerns, 12/17/04

OPINION: Dan Murphy, meat industry commentator, criticizes animal rights activists, consumer advocates, and scientists for a portrayal of factory farms that he calls "propaganda." Murphy goes on to defend some practices of industrial animal agriculture, with particularly focus on the widespread use of antibiotics.
"Can industry kill the activists' golden goose?" Dan Murphy,, 12/17/04

The New Zealand government has issued two new animal welfare codes that allow the use of battery cages to house egg-laying hens, but require larger cages and ban forced molting unless "replacement birds are not available." Moreover, beak trimming can only be done within the first ten days of hatching. Animal activists are reportedly unhappy with the new codes, although the government has promised to review them again in five years.
"Battery Hens to Stay," New Zealand Herald, 12/22/04

A farmer in Switzerland, shortly before he died, had a change of heart and made plans for the safe retirement of his animals, including two cows named Maya and Toni. Custody of the cows is now in the hands of the group Viva la Vacca - Italian for "Long Live the Cow" - a nearby sanctuary.
"Swiss Farmer's Dying Wish: Save My Cows," The State / Associated Press, 12/2/04

In This Issue

  1. Humane Handling of Pigs the Focus of Two Recent Studies

  2. Research Finds Airborne Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria at Pig Farm

  3. BSE News: US Plants Violating Rules; Canadian Feed Contains Animal Parts

  4. A.I. News: Thousands More Birds Culled in Asia; Japan has First Human Case

  5. Updates on Undercover Investigations from COK and PETA

  6. Other Items of Interest

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Compiled and edited by Hedy Litke and Che Green, Farmed Animal Watch is a free weekly electronic news digest of information concerning farmed animal issues gleaned from an array of academic, industry, advocacy and mainstream media sources.