Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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FEBRUARY 8, 2008 -- Number 5, Volume 8

1. CHICKEN STUDY CORRELATES GROWTH WITH LEG DISEASE

Approximately 20 billion chickens produced for meat worldwide are raised in systems that are "biased towards economics of production and detrimental to poultry welfare," states Toby Knowles of Bristol University's Division of Food Animal Science. Dr. Knowles helped conduct a government-commissioned study of the walking ability of 51,000 chickens kept by five major United Kingdom (U.K.) producers. The study found that for birds who survived to age 40 days (around the time they ordinarily would be slaughtered), 27.6% exhibited poor mobility and 3.3% could barely walk.

The researchers had evidence that some of the birds could be in pain, and attributed growth rate as the primary risk factor associated with leg disease. "[I]n the past 50 years broiler growth rates have increased by over 300 per cent from 25g per day to 100g per day,” Knowles explained, noting the intensive genetic selection to which chickens have been subjected. The study calls for an informed debate of current practices to find a balance “between profitability and our moral obligation to maintain good standards of animal welfare.” The researchers also recommend that industry work with scientists to develop stronger and healthier birds.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) contends that chicken producers have changed flock management practices in accordance with the study's findings, significantly improving leg health. BPC also asserts that, since the 2003-2006 study was undertaken, birds with different genetic makeup have been introduced, also improving the leg health of the studied breed.


STUDY RAISES ISSUE WITH BROILER CHICKEN WELFARE
Food Production Daily, Linda Rano, February 6, 2008
http://tinyurl.com/3cg5zl

DINNER PLATE CHICKENS COULDN'T WALK, SAYS RESEARCH
World Poultry, February 8, 2008
http://tinyurl.com/2rndjn

 

2. HEAVIER CHICKENS; FASTER PROCESSING

“[T]he Big Bird era has arrived,” proclaims Meat & Poultry, which reports that Tyson Foods has raised the standard size for live chickens at slaughter from 6.5 pounds to eight pounds for at least two of its operations. The heavier flocks require 10-13 days more growth time. The article looks at the history of chicken slaughter weights in the U.S., beginning in 1967 when the average live weight of a chicken at slaughter was 3.5 pounds. It also considers the reasons for the rises in weight, noting that “…demand was driving it. There was a strong economic incentive to produce larger and larger birds.” The trend in heavier birds was also matched by the trend in greater chicken consumption.

Some slaughterplant equipment suppliers are altering machinery to handle heavier birds, some of whom weigh in excess of eight pounds. One company, Meyn, has adapted equipment to process chickens weighing up to twelve pounds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Streamline Inspection System for slaughter was designed for 70 birds per minute. The New Line Speed inspection system is designed for 90 birds per minute, which can create labor problems. Meyn has received approval from the USDA to process chickens at 140 birds per minute. A company representative claims it is the regulatory catalyst for a trend toward processing birds weighing even more than eight pounds.

See also “[T]he possibility of a bird weighing [9%] more after 42 days because of a mere 7-day nutritional strategy at the beginning of a bird’s life”: http://tinyurl.com/3y9cc6


THE ERA OF BIG BIRD
Meat & Poultry, Steve Bjerklie, January 1, 2008
http://www.meatpoultry.com/Feature_Stories.asp?ArticleID=90548

 

3. TYSON EXPANDS IN CHINA

Tyson Foods has announced a joint venture with a Chinese chicken breeding company to raise and process chickens under the Tyson brand for consumers in eastern China. The plan is to begin by producing 400,000 birds per week in 2009 and gradually increase production to a million birds per week. In order to do so, the companies intend to introduce the area to “more modern chicken farming operations.” Tyson will own 70% of the business. The company is also aiming to seal two other international joint venture deals next year, another in China and one in South America. "We hope to do really what Don Tyson and the team did back in the U.S. in the 70's, 80's and 90's, which was really grow through acquisitions," said Tyson President and CEO Dick Bond. The company doesn’t have plans to sell pig meat in China. Bond explained that it would not be economically feasible to do so due to Tyson’s use of the feed additive ractopamine (see item #2: http://tinyurl.com/t6h6 ).


TYSON STRIKES DEAL FOR RAISING CHICKEN IN CHINA, BUT NOT PORK
MeatingPlace, Tom Johnston with Ann Bagel Storck, February 1, 2008
http://www.meatingplace.com/MembersOnly/webNews/details.aspx?item=19734

 

4. DISABLING DISEASE FROM “BLOWING” PIGS’ BRAINS

“Blowing brains” is a slaughterplant procedure whereby a worker removes the brain of a (dead) pig by forcing compressed air into his or her skull, turning the brain into a slurry that squirts out, often spraying tissue onto and around the worker. The brains are sold as food in the South and shipped for human consumption to China and Korea. Since December 2006, a dozen workers at Quality Pork Processors (QPP, a Minnesota slaughterplant where 19,000 pigs a day are killed and butchered), have reported fatigue plus burning, numbness and weakness in their arms and legs. Several are said to be severely disabled. All worked in or near the area where pigs’ heads are processed. Tests for viruses, bacteria and parasites have turned up no signs of infection. It is now suspected that the illness, which is being referred to as "progressive inflammatory neuropathy," is caused by the immune system intensely reacting to inhaled or ingested aerosolized pig brain.

Investigators contacted 25 other pig slaughterplants in 13 states and found two others employing the procedure. They are looking into several possible cases of the ailment at an Indiana plant. The other plant is in Nebraska. All three plants have voluntarily stopped using compressed air to remove brains. Minnesota health officials are attempting to locate thousands of former QPP employees who worked there in the past ten years, since the compressed-air system was installed in 1997. It is proving difficult since many were immigrants and turnover is high. (The plant currently has about 1,200 workers.)

Investigators are attempting to determine why the condition seems to have suddenly developed. Researchers are trying to find ways to test pig brain tissue against the immune cells of afflicted workers. Results are not expected for months. Health officials say the mysterious syndrome poses no danger to the food supply, and praise QPP for being open and cooperative. However, QPP will not allow reporters in the plant nor is it allowing the company nurse who first reported the cases to speak to the media.   

A MEDICAL MYSTERY UNFOLDS IN MINNESOTA
The New York Times, Denise Grady, February 5, 2008
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/health/05pork.html?ref=science

PORK SLAUGHTERHOUSE ILLNESS NOW HAS A NAME
Meat & Poultry, Bryan Salvage, February 5, 2008
http://www.meatpoultry.com/news/daily_enews.asp?ArticleID=91047

INHALING PIG BRAINS MAY BE CAUSE OF NEW ILLNESS
The Washington Post, David Brown, February 4, 2008
http://tinyurl.com/2wgyvp

 

5. MORE ON HALLMARK INVESTIGATION

Inspection at Hallmark Meat (see: http://tinyurl.com/yoa5s7) has been indefinitely suspended by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), effectively shutting down the plant. (The plant had voluntarily ceased operation on February 1st.) A USDA spokesperson said the company “will not be allowed to operate until written corrective actions are submitted and verified by [the USDA] to ensure that animals are humanely handled" (see: http://tinyurl.com/349hdt). More than 150 school districts nationally have banned meat from the slaughterplant (New York City’s pulled all hamburger), as have some burger chains. Although the USDA has prohibited use of the meat in its food programs, it announced there is “no immediate health risk” from it. About half of Hallmark’s sales are to the school lunch program. The head of the company that processes and distributes the meat, Westland Meat Co., said that no abused cows were used in the program. The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) claims to have documentation of at least 4 nonambulatory cows being slaughtered there for the human food supply. HSUS wants Congress to pass legislation requiring nonambulatory animals be euthanized and not allowed for use as human food (see: http://tinyurl.com/24co2v).

Previous Offenses, Criminal Charges
Company officials said Hallmark has not been found in violation of USDA rules since current management assumed control in 1998. However, it was cited in 2005 for several animal welfare violations, according to USDA records. "We certainly wouldn't have failed to disclose that if we knew it was in the public record," one Hallmark official remarked. In 1993, Farm Sanctuary filmed cattle being moved by forklift there, but current handling laws were not in place then (see: http://tinyurl.com/ywmrbe). USDA’s Office of the Inspector General is investigating the current allegations and can refer its findings to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Inspection System Questioned
“The [USDA] has 7,800 pairs of eyes scrutinizing 6,200 slaughterhouses and food processors across the nation. But in the end, it took an undercover operation by an animal rights group to reveal that beef from ill and abused cattle had entered the human food supply,” declared a Los Angeles Times article. It continued: “The incidents recorded at Hallmark Meat Packing occurred under the noses of eight on-site USDA inspectors.” It quotes a number of prominent authorities who criticize the reliability of the inspection system (see: http://tinyurl.com/yofuzj). Of the 6,200 slaughterplants federally inspected last year, the USDA suspended 12 for "egregious humane handling violations." An additional 650 lesser inhumane practices (e.g., inadequate drinking water) were documented by it. Senator Tom Harkin, chair of the Agriculture Committee, has sent a letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer requesting an accounting of USDA oversight of Hallmark, including whether or not nonambulatory cattle were processed and what steps will be taken to prevent such animals from going into the human food supply.

Videocams Recommended
Hallmark employees had been trained in humane handling practices. HSUS and other animal protection organizations are calling for video cameras to be installed in slaughterplants. "Third-party verification is absolutely necessary," one advocate stated, noting that a lot of government compliance amounts to paperwork rather than observation. Temple Grandin (see: http://www.grandin.com) said video surveillance is the best way to obtain constant, cost-effective oversight. Hallmark has stated that it is preparing to take “drastic measures,” including psychological screening of employees and continuous video camera surveillance.

USDA'S OVERSIGHT OF MEAT SAFETY CRITICIZED
Los Angeles Times, Victoria Kim, February 7, 2008
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-usda7feb07,1,860354.story

CATTLE ABUSE REPORTED TO SB COUNTY PROSECUTORS A MONTH BEFORE VIDEO RELEASED
The Press-Enterprise (sources: The Associated Press, USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service), Mark Muckenfuss, Leslie Berkman, & Janet Zimmerman; February 1, 2008
http://www.pe.com/localnews/sbcounty/stories/PE_News_Local_D_beef02.3ce1c7d.html

SCHOOLS, BURGER CHAINS BAN TARGETED BEEF
The Associated Press, Robert Jablon, February 1, 2008
http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8UHQ3D80.htm

INSPECTORS VERIFY ABUSE OF COWS IN CALIFORNIA
The Washington Post, Rick Weiss, February 7, 2008
http://tinyurl.com/yoo62z

ALARM OVER HALLMARK/WESTLAND BEEF PRODUCTS GROWS NATIONALLY
Meating Place, Lisa Keefe, February 1, 2008
http://www.cattlenetwork.com/content.asp?contentid=195186

AMERICAN HUMANE ASSN. PUSHES FOR REAL-TIME VIDEO OF PLANT OPERATIONS (UPDATED VERSION)
Meating Place, Lisa Keefe, February 7, 2008
http://www.cattlenetwork.com/content.asp?contentid=196408




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Compiled and edited by Mary Finelli, 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.