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2. Chicken Welfare: Awareness of the Future; RSPCA Report; EU Proposal
AWARENESS OF THE FUTURE: A team of researchers in England has demonstrated that chickens exhibit self-control by delaying meals to receive a larger portion of food, indicating awareness of future events. The researchers studied a group of hens who could push a button to receive different amounts of food at various times. If the hens pushed the button within 2-3 seconds, they received no food, but if they held off for at least that amount of time they received a small amount of food. The hens received a large portion (a "jackpot") if they delayed eating for at least 22 seconds. The study’s lead author stated, "We found that when a much larger food reward was delivered for the jackpot condition, hens chose it over 90 percent of the time, ruling out that they have absolutely no awareness of the near future." Chickens have been the subject of numerous studies in recent years, many of which indicate chickens have complex brains and "an impressive level of intelligence." The study’s author hopes that the research will cause more humane treatment of farmed animals in part because awareness of the future suggests the potential for major psychological stress for animals who will be intensively confined and slaughtered. The research findings are published in the July 2005 edition of the UK-based journal Animal Behaviour.
1. "Study: Chickens Think About Future," Discovery News, 7/14/05
2. "Can Domestic Fowl, Gallus Gallus Domesticus, Show Self-control?" Animal Behaviour, July 2005
RSPCA REPORT ON "HOCK BURNS": Also in England, two Cambridge University researchers studied more than 384 randomly selected retail packages containing the bodies of whole chickens, examining each for burns. The researchers found ammonia-related skin burns ("hock burns") on an alarming 82% of "conventionally raised" chickens sampled from eleven different supermarkets. They also found hock burns on 42% of organically raised chickens, despite claims from the industry that hock burns should be found on 15% or less of slaughtered birds. The study was funded by the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), which states that hock burn is "a painful condition caused by lying on wet floor litter with high levels of ammonia from the animals' feces." The RSPCA has also released a new report entitled "Paying the Price: The Truth about Chickens Reared for Their Meat," available for free download (see the first link below). The report provides a comprehensive overview of chicken welfare issues and highlights three key areas of concern: 1) Fast growth rates; 2) Inadequate lighting; and 3) "High stocking density." The report goes into detail about the consequences of these concerns including lameness, metabolic disorders, skin diseases, heat stress, physical abnormalities, and other chicken welfare issues.
1. "Paying the Price," RSPCA, July 2005
2. "Welfare Plea Over Supermarket Chickens," Manchester Evening News, 7/25/05
EU PROPOSAL: A European Union (EU) proposal to improve conditions for chickens raised for their flesh would set minimum standards for any farm with more than 100 chickens. According to language in the proposal, "Compared to other livestock sectors, the production of chickens for meat is one of the most intensive farming systems. However this type of production presents challenges for the welfare and health of the animals in question." The maximum allowed "stocking density" of chickens raised for meat (not for egg production) under the proposal would be 30 kg per square meter, or 38 kg under certain circumstances. The proposal also calls for improved training of employees handling living birds, increased monitoring of intensive chicken farming systems, and a mandatory labeling scheme for products made from chicken flesh. The proposed rules would not apply to "parent flocks" or hatching of chicks, but would cover the welfare of chickens "from the time chicks are brought to the production sites until they leave for slaughter." The European Commission is taking public comments on the proposal through September 30, 2005.
1. "The Welfare of Chickens Kept for Meat Production," The Poultry Site, 7/13/05
2. Full Text of EU Proposal, Council of the European Union, 5/31/05
PDF file (85k): http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/broiler-welfare/euproposal.pdf
3. Only 1% of U.S. Pig Farms are Family-Owned as Large Operations Spread Rapidly
According to US-based National Public Radio (NPR), less than 1% of US pig farmers are family-owned operations, down from about 33% of farms seven years ago. Driving the concentration of pig farms is the concept of "vertical integration" whereby companies control most or all of the process from breeding to raising to slaughtering the animals. For instance, companies like Cargill Pork, Premium Standard Farms, and Smithfield Foods have established contract relationships with small farmers that give the corporations ultimate control of the operation. Such concentration of pig farming in the hands of a few large companies comes with a host of potential animal welfare, environmental and sustainability problems, according to activists and small farmers. A television report from the US state of Missouri shows footage from the Humane Farming Association that the group says is typical of large pig farms. The video shows a common practice euphemistically called "thumping" whereby ill or injured pigs are "picked up by their rear legs and their heads ‘thumped’ onto the concrete floors of the holding barns." Missouri has a law that prohibits large-scale farming in all but three counties; however those counties are now the sites of farms with "tens of thousands of hogs" taken to neighboring Iowa for slaughter.
1. "Family Farms Lose Out on Upswing of Pork Exports," NPR, 7/14/05
2. "Corporate Hog Farms," KSDK (TV station – includes video footage), 7/12/05
4. Data is Mixed Regarding Degree of Farming’s Impact on Air and Water Quality
SMITHFIELD STUDY: Environmental concerns about pig farms are widespread due to the waste they produce and the inability of some farmers to contain the manure or the odor coming from open-air "lagoons." In North Carolina, a major farming state with about 10 million pigs, mostly on industrialized farms, a 5-year study of pig waste management is nearing completion. The study was funded in part by a $15 million gift from Smithfield Foods under and agreement with the state’s Attorney General’s Office (Smithfield is the world’s largest processor of pig flesh from animals slaughtered by the companies many contract farms). The study so far has found that alternatives to the lagoon-style manure management systems would cost at least 20% more, which may curtail legislative efforts to force farmers to switch to environmentally-friendly systems. The Chairman of the North Carolina House Agriculture Committee said, "We're sort of back where we started from. The cost is just too high. The average hog farmer couldn't afford it." He went on to say, however, that the moratorium currently blocking expansion of pig farming in the state is a "good idea."
"5-Year Hog Waste Study Nearly Done," Fayettevillenc.com, 7/18/05
CALIFORNIA COWS: In California, the concentration of dairy farms in the Central Valley area is widely recognized as a source of smog as well as health problems for some residents. Local officials are implementing new regulations that will require all farms in the region with more than 1,000 cows to obtain air emission permits, with enforcement beginning by July 2006. About 430 dairy farms currently meet the minimum threshold and will be required to obtain air permits, and all will be asked to file emission "mitigation plans" by January 2007. The concentration of farms prompted one local resident to tell reporters that he lives within 10 miles of 40,000 cows. However, one researcher at the University of California (Davis) claims that emissions from cows raised for their milk is less of an environmental concern than currently believed. Frank Mitloehner’s research involves housing typical dairy cows in environmentally-controlled bubbles to measure both gas emissions and solid waste. His results suggest that cows produce fewer "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs) than are currently used to determine air quality regulations. Mitloehner’s findings are being criticized by some environmentalists, however, for not accounting for several factors, including large waste lagoons and decomposing feed stocks.
1. "Dairy Air Regs Debated," Capital Press, 7/26/05
2. "Researcher Puts Cows in a Bubble to Measure Emissions," Mercury News / Associated Press, 7/26/05
AIR/WATER QUALITY: Two academic reviews provide detailed overviews of current air quality research and the effect of farmed animal grazing on water quality, respectively. The first is a review of current research from the Iowa State University College of Agriculture, which is one of 11 federally funded air quality research centers in the US. Among other projects, the review highlights two broad initiatives to study the air quality impacts of raising pigs, "broiler" chickens, and lactating cows (begun in 2004), as well as turkeys, laying hens, and cows raised for their flesh (begun in 2005). Both initiatives have been funded for 4 years and include a focus on dietary changes to reduce volatile emissions. Another academic review appears in the Journal of American Water Resources and details the impact of animal grazing on water quality in US streams. The article focuses on stream quality in the "southern humid region," including most of the southeastern US. According to the author, "A large volume of research… has documented the negative impacts grazing animals can have on riparian ecosystems. Examples of grazing damage include alterations in watershed hydrology, changes to stream morphology, increases in soil compaction and erosion, vegetation destruction, and water quality impairments." The author also notes that 80 percent of damage to streams and related ecosystems in the more arid western US was from grazing of farmed animals.
1. "ISU Air Quality Work Summary Updated and Online," Iowa State University, 7/16/05
PDF file (50k): http://www.extension.iastate.edu/airquality/reports/isuaqsummary.pdf
2. "Livestock Grazing Management Impacts on Stream Water Quality: A Review," Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 7/26/05
Possible Third U.S. BSE Case Found 2 Weeks after Reopening of U.S.-Canada Border
On July 27, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a third possible, "non-definitive" BSE test in a sample voluntarily submitted by a large animal veterinarian. The sample was preserved using a process suitable for immunohistochemistry (IHC) testing, but which renders useless both the rapid tests and the more robust Western Blot test. The sample was taken in April 2005 from a cow who died of complications during pregnancy, before new procedures were put in place disallowing the use of preservatives for test samples. The animal’s remains are undergoing further testing in the USDA laboratory in Iowa and at the world’s leading BSE laboratory in Weybridge, England. The USDA’s testing procedures have received increasing criticism from various sources, including the Japanese government that has so far discovered more than 20 native cases of BSE. Japan’s Agriculture Ministry reports that if it had used the USDA’s testing procedures, it would have missed 9 out of those 20 BSE cases; Japan maintains a ban on US "beef."
On July 14, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that kept the country’s northern border closed to the import of live cows from Canada. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns reopened the border within hours of the ruling, saying that "this is great news for the future of the US beef industry, specifically the many ranchers, feeders and processing plants that have been struggling to make ends meet due to the closed border." The trade is limited to live animals under 30 months of age, who are believed to be at lower risk of carrying BSE. The US ban on live cows from Canada has been in effect since the initial discovery of BSE in Alberta in May 2003. The timing of the ban’s reversal particularly benefits ranchers and farmers because the late summer and early autumn are peak times for the live cow trade between US and Canada. Canada’s cow farmers have been hurt financially by the more than two-year-old ban; they estimate the loss to be $7 billion (Canadian dollars). In the US, an estimated 8,000 jobs have been lost at "beef" meatpacking plants that rely on a supply of cows from Canada.
1. "Statement by Dr. John Clifford Regarding Non-Definitive BSE Test Results," Cattle Network, 7/27/05
2. "Officials Confirm "Non-Definitive" BSE Test," Drovers Magazine, 7/27/05
3. "Japanese Study Says US Testing Protocols Would Have Missed Native BSE Cases," Meatingplace.com, 7/18/05
4. "US Declares Border Open to Imports of Live Canadian Cattle," CBC.ca, 7/15/05
Consumer News: U.S. Animal Disease Agency; UK Vegan Labeling; Tracing Isotopes
HEALTH CZAR: A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel recommended the formation of a central agency to oversee animal diseases, while criticizing the fragmentation and ineffectiveness of current efforts. More than 200 US agencies currently have at least some responsibility for regulating animal health and welfare. Noting the increasing risks from avian influenza, BSE, and other animal-related diseases, the NAS panel urged greater cooperation between private companies and the government. The panel also criticized the government for what it said were "significant delays" in adopting new technologies to identify and stop the spread of such diseases.
LABELING: The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has drafted new food labeling guidelines for use of the terms "vegetarian" and "vegan." Interestingly, FSA found it easier to develop a standard definition for vegan, which includes no animal products of any types, than for vegetarian. The latter term lends itself to ambiguity because of the many different consumer definitions for "vegetarian" as well as different motives. The FSA guidelines were drafted in response to public "mistrust" over use of the terms on food labels. The UK’s Vegetarian Society is also seeking a legal definition of the term vegetarian through parliamentary action.
ISOTOPES: A team of researchers at the Technical University of Munich have devised an isotopic test to determine if a cow has been raised on corn-based food or on grass. By measuring the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12, the test can identify latent differences in the photosynthesis of corn versus grass. The procedure used hair samples from the tails of several cows at 13 farms in Germany, but the scientists claim it can work "just as well in meat or milk." Such a test would allow one to identify the type of farming system an animal was raised in prior to slaughter using a relatively simple test on the end product. This could have significant implications for validating labeling claims and potentially for ensuring higher farmed animal welfare standards.
1. "US May Need Animal-Health Czar to Protect Consumer," Planet Ark / Reuters, 7/19/05
2. "Vegan is Easier to Define Say UK FSA," I-Newswire, 7/14/05
3. "Isotopes of Cattle Feed," Science Magazine, July 2005
Abstract only: http://tinyurl.com/amhrm (sciencemag.com)
Avian Influenza Kills More Humans in Indonesia, Possibly Related to Chinese Illness
The highly virulent strain of avian influenza known as H5N1 continues to spread throughout Asia, most recently killing three family members living outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. The deaths mark Indonesia’s first avian influenza fatalities and bring the region’s total human death toll to more than 50. The case does not necessarily represent human-to-human transmission of the disease, however, which is the greatest fear among health experts. Upon further investigation, the Indonesian family – a man and his two daughters – were found to have had regular contact with infected chicken droppings found in their backyard. In China, a mysterious illness that some outsiders are claiming is avian influenza has killed at least 24 people and left another 21 in critical condition. The Chinese government stated that the disease is related to pig farming, and assured residents and health experts that it is not avian influenza or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Instead, China claims the disease is caused by the streptococcus suis bacteria, which rarely affects humans but can be contracted during the slaughtering process. Only 200 cases have been reported globally since 1968, but in China at least 117 people are currently known to be ill. The Chinese government so far has not allowed any outside assessment of the illness, leading some to speculate that it could in fact be caused by avian influenza. China’s history of secrecy regarding diseases and lack of access by international health officials make it difficult for other countries to accurately assess the situation.
1. "Malign Influences: More Deaths from Bird Flu in Asia," The Economist, 7/21/05
2. "Indonesian Bird Flu Deaths Linked to Chicken Droppings," Meatingplace.com, 7/27/05
3. "Human Death Toll from Pig Disease Rises to 24 in Southwest China," Channel News Asia / AFP, 7/27/05
4. "The Politics of Pandemic: Is the Bird Flu Already Spreading in Asia?" The Epoch Times, 7/27/05
Other Items of Interest
"Blank Park Zoo Pig Exhibit Generates Controversy," Des Moines Register, 7/26/05
An Iowa zoo is being criticized for displaying pigs in a "factory farm" setting, but zoo officials say they just want to show the reality of pig farming. The display includes two nursing sows confined to small, industry standard farrowing crates that disallow any movement. According to the zoo’s manager, "We talked with Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and we believe we are exhibiting what modern hog farming is." An estimated 200,000 people will see the exhibit if it stays in place throughout the summer.
"House Passes CAFTA; Gives Bush His Biggest Win," Cow-Calf Weekly, 7/28/05
On July 28, the US House of Representatives voted 217-215 to pass the US Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), widely recognized as favorable to animal farmers. USDA Secretary Johans called the passage "an immensely positive step for America's farmers and ranchers. The agreement eliminates barriers to our producers and greatly improves our competitiveness in these markets." Opponents fear that CAFTA-DR will undermine Central America’s domestic industries and encourage the use of US-based farming practices including higher concentration of animals.
"Sheep in Lap of Luxury," Finance News / AU, 7/15/05
Shipments of live sheep from Australia to the Middle East resumed recently, including the use of a new vessel purportedly designed with the comfort of the animals in mind. The MV Becrux can hold up to 75,000 live sheep or 14,000 live cows, and unlike many other vessels it includes automated feed and temperature control systems, as well as "spacious one-tier enclosures." The vessel is operated by Italy-based Siba Ships, which claims that mortality rates have dropped to .61 % for sheep and .48% for cows. Nonetheless, these below "acceptable international" mortality rates can mean the deaths of more than 450 sheep or 65 cows on just one fully loaded vessel.