Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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February 23, 2006 -- Number 8, Volume 6

Correction: Farmed Animal Watch last week (#6-7) mentioned Dr. Harold Gonyou as affiliated with the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada). While Dr. Gonyou is a graduate of the University of Guelph, he is currently employed by the Prairie Swine Centre (Saskatchewan, Canada). Thanks to a reader for bringing this to our attention.

1. Mass Chicken Slaughter: Researchers Seek Humane and Efficient Methods

Persistent fears of a global avian influenza outbreak and possible human pandemic are driving researchers to seek new ways to dispose of birds known or presumed to be infected. In the US, the currently prescribed approach is to immediately slaughter all of the birds on a farm suspected of harboring avian influenza. However, the logistics of slaughtering and disposing of potentially millions of diseased birds pose a challenge for farmers who sometimes resort to inhumane and/or unsafe methods. Burning and burying the dead chickens was common practices during early outbreaks of avian influenza, but those approaches are criticized by farmers and environmentalists.

According to the Washington Post, "After trying to burn the bodies (too expensive), burying them (an environmental hazard) and trucking them to rendering plants (risking further spread of the disease), poultry experts believe that the safest means of disposal might be to roll the dead birds into a small hill and let the blistering heat of decomposition burn away the disease inside." Nathaniel Tablante, Associate Professor of poultry health at the University of Maryland, is currently touring to promote his composting method among US poultry farmers after some success containing avian influenza at three Eastern Shore farms in 2004.

Tablante, who says he "has no sentimental feelings for chickens," has developed what he also calls a "gas chamber" to kill the birds on-site before composting. The article notes that Tablante is "wary of animal rights groups" and therefore "reluctant to discuss details" about the process, but he says it involves sheets of plastic to contain the birds and the use of carbon dioxide, presumably to suffocate them. One of Tablante's colleagues has begun researching the use of firefighting foam prior to composting to "kill the birds faster and more humanely" than using carbon dioxide. After the composting process, which produces sufficient heat to destroy the avian influenza virus, researchers say the soil can be used to fertilize crops safely.

"In Pile of Waste, MD Scientists Dig up a Response to Bird Flu," The Washington Post, 2/20/06

2. Concerns about the Use of Carbon Monoxide as a "Meat" Color Preservative

In November 2005, an organic products company petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of carbon monoxide as a color preservative in "meat" and "seafood" products. With tacit FDA endorsement, meatpacking companies are increasingly using carbon monoxide to save $1 billion the industry claims is lost due to discarded retail products. According to Cattle Buyers Weekly, "the US market in 'case ready' meats -- those packaged immediately after slaughter, eliminating the need for butchers at grocery stores -- is approaching $10 billion and growing." This desire to reduce spoilage is leading to dramatic growth in the use of carbon monoxide as a "pigment fixative" and has some consumer advocates concerned. Most recently, several members of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote a letter to FDA asking them to address their questions and concerns about the issue by February 23.

According to the Washington Post, meatpacking companies are remaining secretive about how frequently they treat retail meat products with carbon monoxide. However, the article quotes a Cargill, Inc. executive as stating that the process "will finally make this the case-ready revolution, rather than the case-ready evolution." The FDA petitioners and consumer advocates say the agency should follow the European Union's lead on banning carbon monoxide as a meat additive. A report from the European Commission found that "the presence of CO may mask visual evidence of spoilage," which some say can also mask evidence of pathogens and other food contamination. A former FDA official in charge of food labeling criticized the agency, saying it "should not have accepted carbon monoxide in meat without doing its own independent evaluation of the safety implications."

1. "FDA is Urged to Ban Carbon-Monoxide-Treated Meat," The Washington Post, 2/21/06

2. Press Release: "FDA Asked to Prohibit Carbon Monoxide in Red Meat Packaging," PR Newswire, 11/15/05

3. "Congress Quizzes FDA about Carbon Monoxide in Food,", 2/20/06 (Registration)

3. Farmed Animal Statistics: Sheep and Lamb Farming in the U.S.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases annual statistics on the "inventory" and slaughter of farmed sheep (and goats), most recently in January 2006. Following are data and comments are excerpted verbatim from the USDA report and the article covering sheep statistics included in the most recent monthly "Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook" report (link to full documents below).

    Class of Sheep
    2006 Inventory (000s)
    2006 as % of 2005
    All Sheep and Lambs
    Breeding Sheep and Lambs
    Replacement Lambs Under One Year Old
    Ewes - One Year Old and Older
    Rams - One Year Old and Older
    - 1%
Overall Trends
  • The NASS Sheep and Goats report shows the inventory of all sheep and lambs increased in 2005 for the second straight year. Even though inventories were up in 2005 for the second year, inventory totaled 6.23 million head-about equal to that of 2003.
  • Conditions favor a likely 1-2% increase in inventory during 2006, with increases mainly in the market lamb category. Among the top five sheep producing States, increases were in Texas (2%), Colorado (7%), and South Dakota (3%).
  • The 2005 lamb crop of 4.13 million head, was up 1% from 2004. The 2005 lambing rate was 115 lambs per 100 ewes one year old and older on January 1, 2005, up 2% from 2004.
  • The replacement lamb inventory was 2% above a year earlier, slowing from the 10% increase that occurred in 2004.
Differences by State and Region
  • The areas that experienced the largest percentage increases in inventory were regions in the Southeast, Delta States, and Appalachian where herd size are generally smaller. These include Tennessee (17%), Missouri (15%), Oklahoma (14%), Pennsylvania (10%), and Virginia (10%).
  • In addition to California, the second-largest sheep-producing State which saw a 3-% drop, States in the Corn Belt, and Northeast also saw declining inventories. Inventory increases were fairly well distributed throughout the rest of the country.
  • Retention and replacement of lambs have led to a corresponding increase in the breeding sheep inventory. Texas had a 30,000-head increase in breeding sheep and lambs, a 20,000-head increase was seen in Colorado, and a 15,000-head increase in Utah.
  • Increases in replacement lambs were highest in Colorado (6,000), Iowa (5,000), Michigan (5,000), Minnesota (5,000), and New Mexico (5,000).

Production of Lamb, "Mutton," and Wool Products
  • Lamb and mutton production continues to be tight, due in part, to increased retention of replacement ewes.
  • Commercial lamb and mutton production totaled 188 million pounds in 2005, down more than 3% from 2004. First-quarter 2006 lamb and mutton production is expected to be 49 million pounds, equaling the same period in 2005.
  • Production is expected to be maintained by heavier animals since offspring from the past 2 years' replacement and retention are not expected to affect the market until early 2007.
  • Imports in December were unusually strong at 21 million pounds, causing lamb and mutton imports for 2005 to be unchanged from 2004. Fourth-quarter 2005.
  • Imports were 48 million pounds and imports for the first quarter of 2006 are expected to equal the first period in 2005 as strong imports are expected for the upcoming holiday season. Imports in 2006 are expected to increase by about 4% in order to satisfy the fairly stable domestic demand.
  • Shorn wool production in the United States during 2005 was 37.2 million pounds, down 1% from 2004. Sheep and lambs shorn totaled 5.07 million head, down slightly from 2004.

1. "Livestock, Dairy, & Poultry Outlook," USDA / ERS, 2/15/06
PDF file: (521kb)

2. Also see: "Sheep and Goats" Report, USDA / NASS, 1/27/06

4. Other Items of Interest

"Safeway Forms Animal Welfare Committee," Pork Magazine, 2/17/06
Safeway, Inc., a major US food retailer, announced it will form an animal welfare committee composed of company employees and industry experts including Dr. Temple Grandin. Safeway will also post animal welfare policies on the company's website for public scrutiny. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said it will drop a shareholder proposal to require Safeway's to support the use of controlled-atmosphere killing prior to poultry slaughter.

"Shutdown Parts of Packerland Packing," WFRV, 2/9/06
According to local television news, on February 9, the "receiving and harvesting areas" of Packerland Packing Company were shut down by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors. The inspectors said that employees "were not following company procedures for humane treatment of live animals," but specific concerns were not disclosed. Packerland Packing is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world's largest slaughterer of pigs.

"Finger-Lickin' Bad," Grist Magazine, 2/21/06
The environmentalist publication Grist Magazine provides a scathing critique of poultry farming in the US with a focus on the impact on communities in the rural South. The article describes the environmental and social effects of large-scale poultry farming in poor areas as told through the stories of farm workers and local residents facing health problems and declining property values.

"Mustering Sheep with a Click of the Mouse," Sidney Morning Herald, 2/22/06
In Australia, researchers have had success testing a new technology dubbed "e-sheep" that allows farmers to tag sheep electronically and then track their health and movements. The technology has some positive implications for farmed animals including notifying farmers when food and water are lacking, when temperatures fluctuate, etc. However, it may also further mechanize modern animal farming. Said one researcher, "We are looking at completely changing the way we manage stock -- going from subjective to objective management." (

"HCJ: Forced Feeding of Geese Must End by Mid-April," Globes, 2/22/06
Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that force-feeding geese to produce foie gras must end by April and that the 57,000 birds bred for that purpose remaining in the country must be slaughtered. The court also reprimanded several government officials for failing to uphold the court's earlier ruling banning force-feeding geese by delaying implementation for at least seven months.

OPINION: "Confronting the Cruel Facts of Factory-Farmed Meat," Arizona Republic, 2/19/06
Author and speechwriter Matthew Scully uses an impending Arizona ballot initiative against confinement of sows and calves raised for "veal" production to provide a strong criticism of modern factory farming. Scully also notes that the farmed animal industry has responded by proposing a constitutional amendment to the Arizona Legislature that would prohibit the public from passing laws regarding the treatment of farmed animals.

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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.