Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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mARCH 1, 2006 -- Number 9, Volume 6

1. Australia Halts Live Exports to Egypt Following Cruelty Investigation

Australian Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran has temporarily halted the export of live animals to Egypt following details of an undercover investigation conducted by Animals Australia and Compassion in World Farming. Two investigators visited the Bassatin slaughterhouse in Cairo to confirm government and industry claims that live Australian cows exported to Egypt are being handled and killed humanely. However, the investigators documented routine animal cruelty and found that most animals were slaughtered without use of the "technical improvements" funded by the Australian government.

Animals Australia provides the following very graphic account of the Bassatin slaughterhouse:

Documented with the assistance of a covert video camera were slaughtermen systematically cutting rear leg tendons of cattle to disable them either prior to entry, or within the slaughter halls. On two occasions investigators observed slaughtermen stabbing at an eye of an animal with their knives. The eye sockets of animals were being used in every slaughter to force the animals head into position to have the throat cut. On two occasions a slaughterman aggressively poked his finger in the eye of an animal that had just had its throat cut. Directly after the throat of animals was cut - a slaughterman would cut the underside of the animal's tail.

Investigators documented that the Australian-funded restraint device in the corner of one slaughter hall. It was not being used. Cattle in this slaughterhall (including one identified to investigators as being Australian) were being led to a slaughter room at the far end of this hall, where tendons were slashed before being downed for slaughter. Both Bos Taurus and Bos Indicus animals were observed slaughtered in the hall where the Australian-funded restraint box was situated.

Investigators also witnessed and documented the slaughter of camels and local sheep by methods which were equally barbaric and unacceptable. Animals Australia was informed that Australian sheep are slaughtered in this abattoir.

Also according to Animals Australia, "All of these practices breach OIE (World Animal Health Authority) guidelines of which Egypt is a signatory, Halal slaughter requirements and Australian animal protection guidelines." After viewing the video evidence in a TV interview with 60 Minutes (Australia), Minister McGauran said, "You see won't see worse examples of animal cruelty than that." McGauran asked Egyptian agriculture authorities to provide a "comprehensive response" to the accusations and also sent an Australian veterinarian to Egypt to investigate whether or not the cows in questions were from Australia.

A full transcript of the 60 Minutes interview and video evidence from the undercover investigation are available by following the first two links below.

1. "A Cruel Trade," 60 Minutes (Australia), 2/26/06 (with transcript and video)

2. "Egypt Investigation Report," Animals Australia, Feb-2006 (with video)

3. "Minister Suspends Live Exports to Egypt," ABC / Sidney Herald, 2/27/06

4. "Export Ban Follows Cruelty to Cattle," The Courier Mail, 2/27/06,5936,18283249%255E954,00.html

2. Tyson Foods Issues "Sustainability Report" With Animal Welfare Information

Tyson Foods, Inc., the world's largest slaughterer of chickens and cows and the number two slaughterer of pigs, has released its first "sustainability report" addressing farmed animal welfare. In it the company describes its animal "well-being" programs including training of employees, facility inspections, and internal and external audits. The internal audits of poultry slaughter operations, according to Tyson's report, include weekly manager reviews, monthly quality assurance reviews, and an annual inspection by a company veterinarian. Tyson currently does not audit the company-owned or independent farm processes, but said that it is moving in that direction.

Tyson also says it is "moving towards mechanical catching" to reduce stress on the birds that are rounded up for transport to slaughter. Such automated catching is believed to be more humane than relying on teams of workers who often handle birds roughly, and may also reduce the risk of workers catching diseases. Tyson says that about half of the chickens it slaughters are currently caught using mechanical catchers. Separately, the report also addresses its new worker "bill of rights" and other facets of corporate responsibility. The Tyson report comes amid criticisms about the company's animal welfare and employment practices resulting from multiple recent investigations.

In early 2005, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video showing animal cruelty at a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse in Alabama where managers allegedly said up to 40 birds are scalded alive per shift. The investigation also says that Tyson employees were seen "throwing dying birds around just for fun." In early 2006, The Humane Society of the United States asked the company to investigate one facility where dying and injured birds were left in a freezer to die over a period of several days. Tyson's "sustainability report" does not address these claims directly, but states that "all Tyson Team Members… are expected to respect and serve as stewards of the animals we work with every day, treating them in a proper manner at all times."

1. "Tyson Issues First Sustainability Report," Tyson Foods, Inc., 2/14/06
Press Release:
Full Report (PDF file, 4 MB):

2. "Tortured by Tyson," PETA, Investigation from February 2005

3. "Humane Society Asks Tyson to Investigate Freezing Live Birds,", 2/10/06

4. "Fowl Play in the Slaughterhouse," AlterNet, 1/4/06

3. Study Shows Overcrowding Pigs Impacts "Performance" and Welfare

A study released by the Prairie Swine Centre (Saskatchewan, Canada) found that crowding and large-group housing of farmed pigs negatively affects "performance" and animal welfare. Two researchers studied groups of pigs in four different housing environments: 1) Small un-crowded; 2) Small crowded; 3) Large un-crowded; and 4) Large crowded. All of the pigs were studied for food intake and weight gain as measures of productivity. The study also measured salivary cortisol concentrations and adrenal gland productions as stress indicators, as well as pig morbidity and mortality. The researchers found that pigs housed in large groups or in crowded conditions ate fewer meals and had more severe leg injuries than other pigs. However, they report finding no difference in animals' stress levels between the four test groups. Specifics of the pigs' stress indicators or morbidity and mortality rates were not provided.

"Effects of Housing Grow-Finish Pigs in Two Different Group Sizes and Two Different Floor Space Allocations," The Pig Site / Prairie Swine Centre, 2/28/06

4. Report Blames Concentrated Poultry Farming for Avian Influenza Crisis

A report published by GRAIN, an agriculture sustainability group based in Spain, says that wild and migratory birds are being blamed for avian influenza when large concentrated poultry farms are the primary cause. The report notes that international groups such as the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are emphasizing control of wild birds and "backyard" flocks. However, GRAIN makes the case that although wild birds may transmit avian influenza, the concentration of animals and lack of biodiversity on large chicken farms "amplifies" the disease. The report states, "Backyard farms can act as reservoirs, as the FAO puts it, harbouring bird flu beyond the reach of authorities until it eventually finds its way into intensive poultry operations where the disease amplifies and potentially evolves to more highly pathogenic forms with the potential for transmission between humans."

The well-referenced report cites many comments from FAO officials and details scores of instances where avian influenza outbreaks attributed to wild birds may have been caused by large poultry farms. Despite historically supporting small-scale and backyard poultry farming, the FAO now seems to favor larger operations in support of a "livestock revolution" in less developed countries. GRAIN says this contradicts the agency's past claims of support for poor rural communities that depend on small farming. According to an FAO Senior Animal Health and Production Officer, "The main beneficiaries of the demand surge [for meat in Asia] are large-scale, urban, capital-intensive producers and processors and urban middle and upper class consumers. The overwhelming majority of the poor do not benefit."

Finally, the report also cites instances where large poultry farms have been rushing to slaughter potentially infected chickens prior to veterinary inspection. GRAIN describes a large operation in Thailand: "They saw many diseased chickens arriving in the factory and were ordered to process them, even if they had already died from the illness. We didn't know what the disease was, but we understood that the management was rushing to process the chicken before getting any veterinary inspection." As recently as January 2006, an FAO official acknowledged that "it is possible that wild birds may introduce the virus, but it is through human activities of commerce and trade that the disease spreads." However, the focus of most health groups and the major media continues to be on wild birds and backyard flocks.

"Fowl Play: The Poultry Industry's Central Role in the Bird Flu Crisis," GRAIN, Feb-2006

5. Canada: Disease Killed 270,000 Farmed Pigs in 2005, Spreading Westward

In Quebec (Canada), an estimated 270,000 pigs died in 2005 from postweening multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS), a disease caused by the virus Circovirus PCV2. The situation has reportedly reached "epidemic proportions," with at least one expert saying that over the next 12-24 months the virus will likely spread westward from Quebec and Ontario, where it is currently concentrated. In Quebec, an estimated 7.1 million pigs were slaughtered in 2005; the 270,000 deaths last year represent a mortality rate of 7%. However, Canadian officials said that the mortality rate has doubled from previous estimates of 4%, and one agriculture official said the rate can be as high as 10-20% on some farms. PMWS usually affects young pigs less than 30 kilograms in weight, and causes a host of ailments including enlarged lymph nodes, wasting, dyspnea, diarrhea, pallor, jaundice, coughing, fever, gastric ulceration, and meningitis. Occasionally the disease will result in sudden death.

1. "Embattled Pork Producers to Get Aid, Porcine Virus Killed 270,000 Pigs," The Gazette (Montreal), 2/23/06 (, Registration)

2. "Ag Minister Says Quebec and Ontario Monitoring Serious Pig Disease," Engormix /Mytelus, 2/23/06 (Registration)

3. "A Review of Porcine Circovirus 2 Associated Diseases and Control," Prairie Swine Centre, Feb-2006

6. Other Items of Interest

"Vanishing Vets," Farmers Weekly Interactive, 2/24/06
In the UK, a survey by Farmers Weekly found that nearly a fifth (18%) of large animal veterinarians plan to leave their practices within 10 years. UK government agencies are largely unconcerned, in part because the concentration of animal farming and fewer small farmers creates less demand for veterinarians. Some industry personnel claim to be more concerned, however, saying the dearth of veterinarians could negatively impact animal welfare, disease surveillance, and other issues.

"Scientists Designing the Perfect Dairy Cow,", 2/24/06
In Australia, researchers have found a way to generate more than 200,000 stem cells from a single cow embryo, opening the door to more genetic engineering of cows for milk production. As one scientist noted, "In the future, stem cells will be able to be tested to determine if they carry the genes likely to produce elite animals." The researchers have filed for an international patent on the bovine stem cell process.

"US Focuses on Reducing Worker Injury,", 2/24/06
According to a Wake Forest professor, "poultry processing has among the highest occupational illness and injury rates of any private industry." A survey among Hispanic poultry workers conducted by Wake Forest University in 2005 found that nearly half of them experienced pain in their hands or arms during the previous month. A fourth of the surveyed workers reported a job-related illness or injury in the previous year.

Opinion: "Game is On for Growing Segment of Specialty Producers,", 2/2/4/06
Meat industry commentator Dan Murphy says the growing popularity of farm-raised "game meat" is a boon for independent farmers. According to Murphy, "Indeed, the problems typically associated with meat production -- manure disposal, odor control and even humane handling -- are almost by definition obviated in a smaller wild game operation." He argues that such specialty farmers may be successful due to "growing consumer concerns with certain aspects of 'mainstream' meats." (Registration)

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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.