United Egg Producers and the Humane Society, working together?
From the New York Times:
Egg Producers and Humane Society Urging Federal Standard on Hen Cages
The groups said they would ask Congress to pass a law enacting the new standards, which they said would be the first federal law addressing the treatment of farm animals and would pre-empt efforts in several states to set their own standards.
The proposed federal standards would include cages that give hens up to 144 square inches of space each, compared with the 67 square inches that most hens have today. They would also include so-called habitat enrichments, like perches, scratching areas and nesting areas, that allow the birds to express natural behavior.
The two groups met in the middle: HSUS was pushing for a complete ban on cages, and United Egg Producers has been trying to boost its image after secretly-taped footage showing sub-par farm conditions went public, and last year’s egg-related salmonella outbreaks. Also, now that individual states are passing differing hen welfare laws, it’s becoming more appealing to egg producers to have a single federal law to follow.
Note that this is just an agreement to work together to try to get a federal hen protection law created; and if the law is enacted, its timeline for full adoption is a whopping 18 years. There are still possible roadblocks: buy-in from UEP members is required; other livestock groups may fight the law to protect their own industries from regulation; and even if the law makes it to Congress, it may not pass. But the first step in changing a situation is awareness that the situation needs to change, and by partnering with HSUS, the UEP has admitted that it is aware that its chickens should be treated more humanely. And hopefully the commotion around this effort will increase consumer awareness of the plight of other factory farm animals, in addition to laying hens. Sure, they are baby steps, but at least they are steps forward!
How can we not write about an article that uses the words “scramble” and “egg” in the title?
Animal rights groups disagree, scramble to define ‘humane’ in egg debate
Oregon just passed a law requiring laying hens to be moved out of battery cages and into colony cages, with perches, scratching pads, and nesting boxes, by 2026. Some animal rights groups argue that the law should have eliminated cages completely, but proponents of colony cages claim that hens prefer to live with a smaller group where they know each other and have a pecking order.
From the Big Organic chapter, pp. 157-158:
Along with the national list of permissible synthetics, “access to pasture,” and, for other organic animals, “access to the outdoors” indicate how the word “organic” has been stretched and twisted to admit the very sort of industrial practices for which it once offered a critique and an alternative… And yet, the pastoral values and imagery embodied in that world survive in the minds of many people, as the marketers of organic food well understand: Just look at a container of organic milk, with its happy cows and verdant pastures. Thus is a venerable ideal hollowed out, reduced to a sentimental conceit printed on the side of a milk carton: Supermarket Pastoral.
Big Time Factory Fish Farming Coming to U.S. Shores
The good news:
Trader Joe’s, pushed hard by Greenpeace and others, says that by the end of 2012 it will offer only sustainable fish in its 365 stores. Previously the company has eliminated heavily overfished Chilean Sea Bass, Orange Roughy, and Red Snapper from its refrigerators.
The bad news: The government is on the verge of expanding off-shore fish farming to support consumers’ increased demand, and reduce American reliance on imported fish. Greater numbers of fish farms means more pollution–the article says the pollution from fish waste, uneaten food, antibiotics, parasites, and other byproducts will be equal to sewage generated by 17 million people. If genetically-modified farmed fish escape and breed with wild fish, it can weaken the native stock. Carnivorous fish require smaller wild fish as food, so feeding greater numbers of farmed fish depletes the supply of wild feeder fish. Expanding farming into the oil-saturated Gulf of Mexico has unknown health repercussions for consumers. The negatives are numerous when fish farming is careless, and it’s important for the government to enforce sustainable practices… which can be said for all types of farming!
It’s hard to be a responsible fish consumer these days. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a helpful site — and smartphone apps! — to help shoppers choose sustainably-caught fish that are low in toxins. Here are what they consider the best choices, as of last fall:
- Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
- Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
- Oysters (farmed)
- Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
- Rainbow Trout (farmed)
- Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
- Arctic Char (farmed)
- Barramundi (farmed, from the U.S.)
- Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
- Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
- Mussels (farmed)
Sustainable Sushi has another list to help sushi eaters navigate a menu.
So, please ask where your fish came from and how it was caught, and avoid the 4 fish on Sustainable Sushi’s “4 Fish We Just Shouldn’t Eat” list: Bluefin tuna, Orange roughy, Shark, and Chilean sea bass.
New footage was released today from an undercover camera in a pig factory farm in Iowa:
Company’s Farm Practices in Question After Video Is Released
First of all: what is wrong with these people? Who can callously throw a piglet? And encourage others to do so? Who can justify cutting tails and castrating pigs without painkillers? How can someone make a career of doctoring animals and claim that a gestation crate is humane?
Secondly: how can one’s political allegiances override one’s basic human sensibility? The bill-supporting politicians are supporting animal abuse. The article says the politicians did not watch the video. Perhaps the way to think the abuse isn’t so bad is to ignore it, pretend it’s not real, stay in a state of denial by not looking at the proof. Disgusting.
On a brighter note, at least some of the grocers are doing the right thing and suspending shipments from the company that distributes pork from the offending farm. Kudos to Safeway and Kroger.
News from the NRDC blog: Senate votes overwhelmingly to end corn ethanol subsidies —
- The amendment will end three decades of subsidies to the corn ethanol industry and save taxpayers several billion dollars.
- The VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit) [cost] taxpayers $6 billion this year alone and [gave] almost nothing in return in domestic ethanol production or industry jobs above and beyond what is already mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard
- [The VEETC] comes at the expense of developing the new and cleaner advanced biofuels we need to create jobs, increase our energy security and address global warming.
We wanted to see if Michael Pollan had written anything recently about ethanol subsidies, and read this article from 2006:
- The way we grow corn in this country consumes tremendous quantities of fossil fuel: Every bushel of corn grown in America has consumed the equivalent of between a third and a half gallon of gasoline.
- Corn receives more synthetic fertilizer than any other crop, and that fertilizer is made from fossil fuels — mostly natural gas.
- Corn also receives more pesticide than any other crop, and most of that pesticide is made from petroleum.
- To plow or disc the cornfields, plant the seed, spray the corn and harvest it takes large amounts of diesel fuel
- To dry the corn after harvest requires natural gas.
- Distill[ing] the corn into ethanol, an energy-intensive process that requires still more fossil fuel. Estimates vary, but they range from two-thirds to nine-tenths of a gallon of oil to produce a single gallon of ethanol. (The more generous number does not count all the energy costs of growing the corn.) Some estimates are still more dismal, suggesting it may actually take more than a gallon of fossil fuel to produce a gallon of our putative alternative to fossil fuel.
- According to the Wall Street Journal, it will cost U.S. taxpayers $120 for every barrel of oil saved by making ethanol.
- The federal government offers a tax break of 54 cents for every gallon of ethanol produced
- At the same time, the government protects domestic ethanol producers by imposing a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol
- Ethanol is just the latest chapter in a long, sorry history of clever and profitable schemes to dispose of surplus corn: there was corn liquor in the 19th century; feedlot meat starting in the 1950’s and, since 1980, high fructose corn syrup.
This all reminds us of a t-shirt we saw recently: http://www.goodjoe.com/Store/Product.aspx?id=66. It’s not clear from the creator’s description if she is making a statement about the large quantity of corn products found in the composition of the average American body…
Animal treatment awareness is increasing among Chinese citizens:
Activists are pushing for the passage of the China Animal Protection Law, which has been languishing in the legislature for almost 2 years. The law would be China’s first comprehensive animal welfare law, and would include protections for food animals.
A heightened awareness of animal rights illustrates a cultural shift in China. From AFP:
“Compared with their parents’ or grandparents’ generations whose only concern was putting food on the table, the younger generations have the luxury of thinking more of other so-called ‘unessential’ things such as travel and companion animals,” said Li.
“When I was back in China in the 1980s, ‘animal protection’, ‘animal welfare’ and ‘compassion for non-human individuals’ were never phrases in China. Today, all these terms are known to many over there,” he added.
“The younger generation shall be a mighty force against animal cruelty in China.”
Iowa may be on the verge of passing a bill to make illegal the production, distribution, and possession of video or picture footage taken inside a factory farm without the owner’s permission.
Because factory farms are under-regulated and closed to the outside world, undercover investigators from animal rights groups sometimes take a job at a farm, only to document any health or animal treatment violations to release to the authorities and the public.
That sort of publicity is obviously not in the company’s best interests, but it IS in the public’s best interests: unsanitary conditions in factory farms can lead to outbreaks of food poisoning; and it’s in the animals’ best interests to have their living conditions improved. Happier animals also produce better food, but that’s a different argument.
Big agriculture is a huge industry in the Midwest, so it makes sense that legislators are pressured by lobbyists and constituents to support factory farming. According to Food & Water Watch, Iowa ranks first in the country in number of factory-farmed layer hens (averaging 1.3 million hens per farm–more than double the national average), first in factory-farmed hogs, and fourth in large cattle feedlots. Florida and Minnesota are considering similar bills. These bills are detrimental to food safety, and therefore public health, and should not be passed.
This quote from a New York Times article sums it up nicely:
“If they have nothing to hide and they are operating ethically, they should have no fear,” [Senator Matthew W. McCoy, Democrat of Des Moines] said.