Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Posts tagged ‘HSUS’

Profits Before People?

A friend shared a news story with me that appeared in the Bay Journal “EPA sued over inaction on factory farm air pollution”. Although an old story from 2015, my friend wanted me to see it because it mentions the Chesapeake watershed and Maryland CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations). The CAFO’s in Maryland are, of course, chicken house developments on the Eastern Shore.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Environmental Integrity Project are part of a coalition of environment, animal welfare, and community health organizations bringing the suit and saying that EPA has not done its duty in protecting citizens.

It kinda ticked me off that the EPA has to be sued to do its job. Aren’t they there for the purpose of protecting American citizens? Don’t we pay their salaries through the many tax dollars we shell out to the federal government each year? I sat here and shook my head thinking, so what else is new.

The groups involved in the law suit filed petitions in 2009 and 2011 asking EPA to set national ambient air quality standards for ammonia, which can be harmful to farm laborers, chickens, and neighboring homes. It can also be harmful to the farmer that breathes it every day. Ammonia is at the crux of the issue which is built up in chicken houses from the concentrations of the number of animals housed. The buildup of ammonia is released into the atmosphere through huge fans that exchange the air on the inside of the chicken houses. While ammonia can’t be seen with the naked eye, it’s quite evident, when watching the fans come on in a CAFO, to see a huge plume of dust shoot out and drift into the atmosphere. There are many things in that plume which can be harmful however we will focus on ammonia.

A while back in 2008 and 2009, I worked on a project that measured the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emitted from CAFO’s on the Delmarva Peninsula, including Accomack County, VA up through Sussex County, DE. The farms were mapped using GPS as identification and the measured emissions noted. Some of the CAFO’s in the Backbone Corridor Neighborhood Association’s neck of the woods in Princess Anne, MD, I went back and quadruple checked to make sure that the readings I was recording were accurate.

In a meeting with representatives from environmental groups and a representative of EPA I showed the EPA representative a few of the findings. I remember that he was somewhat miffed at me because I wouldn’t give the name of the owner of the farms only the GPS location of the readings. At that time I asked for the EPA to conduct a more in depth study to verify what I’d found. We went our separate ways and I never heard another word about the issue.

Under the Clean Water Act, CAFO’s are required to have a discharge permit for runoff into our waterways. Under the Clean Air Act no permit is required for emissions. One would think that it would be common sense for any facility emitting noxious gases into the air would have to report type of gas, amounts, and have a permit to do so.

Looking further in to the issue, from a public health aspect, it’s a no brainer that the gases polluting the air from CAFO’s would create serious health problems. Keeve Nachman, director of Food Production and Public Health at Johns Hopkins Center For A Livable Future verifies this. He says that the health problems don’t just stem from ammonia emissions but from the cumulative consequences of the gases, particulate matter and pathogens. “Taken together, living close to one of these things [CAFO’s], put’s one’s health at risk. EPA is not interested to take measurements or survey for adverse health effects.”

Further research reveals that avian influenza has been shown to travel on the wind after the air is exhausted from fans in poultry houses, according to information obtained from the U.S. National Library of Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With all of the public health, environmental health, and animal health and welfare implications, why hasn’t EPA or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services researched further to protect the public? Are the government agencies protecting industry rather than the public?

It’s quite a knot to untangle the whys and wherefores of the issue and gives me a headache just thinking about it. Given history and the power involved I imagine we will be bogged down in a quagmire of hearings, excuses, and untruth and the matter will never be addressed. Knowing all of this, I still have to wonder how profits before people are more important.

Hog Battle

There’s a nasty virus spreading in the pork industry. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PED virus) infects piglets under 4 weeks of age and has a 100 percent mortality rate. At present there is no vaccine for PED although the pork industry says that research is underway. The virus has been running loose in the U.S. since last year and is taking a heavy toll on herds.

On February 20, 2014 the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released an undercover video showing the pork industry’s current method of attempts to control the virus. The video showed overflowing boxes of dead piglets being eviscerated and the intestines of the piglets are then ground up to be fed back to the mother pigs (sows).

Although I’ve simplified the scenario above suffice it to say that reactions to the issue have broken out in a war of words between the industry and those who condemn the practice. The issue is quite a conundrum for me and I’ve mixed emotions about the issue.

The HSUS video brought on a disgusting thought process for me. Thinking about dead baby pig intestines being ground up and fed back to their mother’s is just plain gross! I’m not alone in my thoughts and most who’ve viewed the video are shocked.

On the other hand, the pork industry has come out swinging with reactionary measures of explanation. Baby piglets are dying by the millions from the PED virus. The virus doesn’t discriminate between large or small farms. Infected piglets suffer a horrible death from acute diarrhea. The practice of grinding up the intestines of dead infected piglets, known as “feedback”, is fed to the sows in an attempt to expose them to the virus in the hopes of building immunities and passing them on to future piglets.

The conundrum!

Not one who readily accepts explanations to something that has horrified me I had to look further in an attempt to get to the bottom of things. Being an animal lover I would not be able to stand by and watch millions of baby pigs die a horrible death without any attempt to do something about it.

There are several arguments out there against the “feedback” practice mostly being along the line of “consequences of industrial animal agriculture” (a payback). Most often I would agree with this however the best I can conclude is that the PED virus is affecting all types of hog operations.

Some industry experts claim the HSUS video is another attempt by the organization to stop the raising of animals for consumption. In this case pork! True or not, it isn’t going to happen.

Efforts toward development of a vaccine include utilizing the virus in some method of exposure to build immunity. Awaiting the development of a vaccine and approval by FDA will take time. Lots of time! According to some reports, the industry has already spent $1 million toward research.

I have to wonder how much has been spent and will be spent toward exposure of the “feedback” practice and reactionary measures by industry. In my humble opinion that money could be better spent! Maybe along the lines of finding answers to combat and stop the PED virus in its tracks! It appears that might be the more humane thing to do instead of wasting precious time and money arguing while piglets continue to die.

Insanity in the House of Representatives

In keeping with the apparent theme of insanity running wild in Congress the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. Of particular interest to me is an amendment introduced by Congressman Steve King (R), Iowa. Known as the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act” (PICA), King is crowing its victory of inclusion in the final markup of the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill.

Essentially, PICA “prohibits states from enacting laws that place onerous conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders but are produced in other states”, says Kings website.

Specifically, King points to “free-range eggs” or “free-range pork” saying that “PICA will ensure that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.” According to meatingplace, King’s statement wasn’t as well crafted, saying the amendment will “shut down the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other radical organizations from creating a network of restrictive state laws that will slowly push agriculture production towards the demise.”

Iowa’s egg farmers lead the nation in egg production, caring for nearly 60 million laying hens producing nearly 15 billion eggs per year. That’s almost one out of every five eggs produced in the United States, says the Iowa Egg Council (IEC). What isn’t said is that the great salmonella enteritidis outbreak in 2010 was linked to DeCoster Eggs, whose huge egg production operations in rural northern Iowa prompted the recall of 550 million eggs and sickened roughly 2,000 people. IEC also doesn’t tell you that a former manager in the network of companies owned by Jack DeCoster, plead guilty in 2012 for his role in a conspiracy to bribe a federal inspector to allow the sale of unapproved eggs.

California is at the crux of the issue when state legislation becomes effective in 2014 requiring only ‘free range’ eggs are sold. Voters in California and other states choose this. King argues that “the impact of their [CA] large market would compel producers in every other state to invest billions to meet the California standard” of production methods.

This has nothing to do with protecting interstate commerce. It has everything to do with protecting industrialized animal production and forcing its products on states that clearly don’t want them. Wouldn’t it be nice if all farmers could get a guarantee of business mandated by our government?

It appears that Congressman King is promoting farm animal practices which aren’t conscientious of animal welfare, public health, or food safety. King only knows that his state produces a lot of eggs which translate to big bucks!

What can one expect from a congressional member who rabidly defended “pink slime” in 2012? Using phrases and words such as “lean finely textured beef”, “enhancement”, and “supplement”, King went on an aggressive campaign pledging congressional hearings against those who conducted a “smear campaign” against pink slime.

Adding salt to the wound, other members of the House Agriculture Committee went along with Kings amendment.  INSANITY!

Note: All links accessed 05/17/2013

United Egg Producer Certified….. For Real?

Warning – Sit back in your chair and grab a beverage, this one is lengthy.

One would think that as many years as I have under my belt in industrial animal production that nothing would surprise me let alone faze me. In other words I’m somewhat jaded.

A friend sent me a link to a video clip on You Tube that left me shaking my head and asking “are you serious”. A slick campaign has been conjured up to convince the general public that The United Egg Producers (UEP) have the “premier animal welfare” for their laying hens with their very own seal of certification.

After watching, I set out to discover exactly what it meant to be UEP certified not realizing what a herculean task this would be or how confused I would become. Like most, I first searched the internet and found web addresses for uepcertified.com, unitedegg.com, and uepcertified.org. Having a suspicious mind when I find that there is a commercial web address (.com) and a non-profit web address (.org) for the same entity, red flags rise up, and it warrants further investigation. I found that all three are one and the same – promoting corporate ag and caged/non-caged egg production in confinement buildings.

Further confusion came when I read the UEP website, unitedegg.com, and I quote, “United Egg Producers (UEP) is a Capper-Volstead cooperative of egg farmers from all across the United States and representing the ownership of approximately 95% of all the nation’s egg-laying hens.” I didn’t realize that independent farmers were producing the majority of the eggs in this country I thought the eggs came from the vertically integrated system whereby a corporation owns everything except the mortgage on the farm they contract with and the manure their animals produce. I warrant that this needs further investigation, but that’s for another time!

Wading through all of the B.S., and I’m being polite here folks, I came out having to go back a second and third time to figure it all out. I printed out the freely available UEP Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks which was found on both the .com and .org websites thinking that was the best place to start.

The 31 page document begins with a short history of egg laying chickens starting in the 1940’s and stimulates a not so wonderful picture of “small backyard flocks” producing the majority of eggs for our country at that time. It’s all in the wording folks that will lead you to think that industrial production and caged confined conditions that the corporate types now use are the best thing since sliced bread.

The first item that gave me a good chuckle is the claim that “the modern cage system has eliminated most diseases of the 1940’s, provided the hens with protection against the weather (environmental controlled housing) and predators, while also improving food safety, the environment (air and water), and animal welfare”. My perpetual habit of talking to myself left me wondering aloud “are these people for real”?

Most chicken diseases prevalent in the 1940’s have been eliminated, if not eradicated, due to development of vaccines, not cages. Secondly, “environmental controlled housing” is for the purpose of controlling every aspect of the chicken’s short life and wringing the most production out of the chickens. These people don’t give a hoot about protecting the hens the hens need to be protected from their way of thinking!

The insinuation that the modern cage system has improved food safety made me almost hysterical. Not so long ago a huge egg recall occurred because of salmonella and consumers becoming ill. The record speaks for itself. The companies involved are part of this confined housing caged system and UEP links to their website. I’d be willing to bet that the company is a member of UEP!

The claim of the modern caged system being an improvement for the environment “(air and water)” is more than hysterical. I had to stop reading and thinking for a while because I was simply flabbergasted. One of the talking points of federal legislation that UEP is promoting, H.R. 3798 that amends the Egg Products Inspection Act is – prohibition of “excessive ammonia levels in egg-laying henhouses”.

Highly acclaimed benefits of confined caged laying hens is that tens-of-thousands can be raised in a small amount of space (confinement building). Most often the building takes up less than one acre of land. Naturally, the hens excrete waste in the form of manure and an excessive amount of ammonia is produced. Where does everyone think that ammonia goes? For the benefit of those who don’t know – the excessive amounts of ammonia are released from the confinement houses into the air by way of huge exhaust fans. Not only is the ammonia released into the air, it comes back down onto the land and water as nitrogen making it available for excessive amounts of runoff into our waterways.

Secondly, how in the world does UEP think they are going to be able to stop the hens from excreting waste and producing ammonia inside of a confinement building, caged or not? If the theory of giving more space to the hens, which is included in the legislation I’ve mentioned, everyone better think again. This won’t reduce the number of hens inside buildings. Industry will only build the housing larger to accommodate the same number of hens, if not more.

The part about improving animal welfare gave me indigestion! No matter which way you spin it, a cage is a cage whether it is conventional, enriched, or cage free confinement buildings. The “enriched cage system” is the crux of the entire campaign and unbelievably “HSUS has embraced this which I wrote about in an earlier post. On the flip side evidently HSUS believes that this system will improve conditions for caged laying hens, making a trade-off that anything is better than nothing!

UEP’s Animal Husbandry Guidelines allow for beak trimming citing advantages that may include, and I underline the word “may”, reduced pecking, reduced feather pulling, reduced cannibalism, better feather condition, less fearfulness, less nervousness, less chronic stress, and decreased mortality. What this means is that beak trimming keeps the hens from picking on one another. If the hens weren’t bored to death being confined in a cage they wouldn’t peck on one another they would have other interests in pecking such as worms, bugs, grasses, or other items in the real natural environment.

The drawbacks of beak trimming cited by UEP guidelines are inability to feed, short term pain, perhaps chronic pain, and acute stress. Obviously and in the mind of UEP, these are all fair tradeoff’s in the welfare of the hens so that long term the hens don’t peck one another to death out of boredom from being caged. Never mind that inability to feed or chronic pain is at issue as well. I don’t suppose the thought that the entire method of raising confined caged hens is not in the best interest to the welfare of the animal.

UEP’s talking points for the proposed federal legislation says that it will provide egg laying hens with “nearly” double the space of current conventional cages and add “”enrichments”” such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas that will allow birds to express natural behaviors.” Sounds good when one looks at the words however the hens will still be in cages!

As I’ve evidenced in my great egg adventure, our hens express natural behaviors by running, jumping, flying, perching, flapping their wings at will, dust bathing and digging holes until they are almost covered, foraging for worms, bugs, and grasses and many other antics they decide to participate in. They also have nesting boxes and are able to run freely inside and outdoors. That my friend’s is expressing “natural behaviors”!

Furthermore, and according to UEP, “Today there are approximately 235 egg farmers with flocks of 75,000 hens or more. These farms care for about 95% of the approximately 290,000,000 laying hens in the United States.” How can there be only 235 farms raising 290,000,000 laying hens in this country? I found it impossible to find the number of acres utilized however I think the numbers above are self-explanatory.

I noticed in the many video clips available from UEP that the hen houses and cages are immaculate and promote thoughts of a sterile environment. Anyone who’s ever raised livestock or has been inside of a barn knows that animals naturally defecate however from what UEP is showing their hens must not do it. Quite frankly the inside of the confinement caged hen houses is cleaner than most human populated houses according to the pictures shown. Maybe we should all go and live in hen houses!

In my wanderings through related info and websites I found that UEP had a contact person from GolinHarris for further info about the legislation I’ve mentioned. My first thought was “what’s a GolinHarris”? I took a peek and found a piece of interesting info and decided to look no further because it was enough to figure out what a GolinHarris is -“For our clients, Communicate to Win is a driving force for building, sustaining and protecting corporate brands and reputations around the world.” Of course there’s a lot more words on the website, enough to make my head spin.

UEP is spending big bucks to drive through legislation that will define labeling allowances for eggs – Require labeling on all egg cartons to inform consumers of the methods used to produce the eggs, such as: “”eggs from caged hens,” “eggs from hens in enriched cages,” eggs from cage-free hens,” and “eggs from free range hens.” Aha! Eggs from hens in enriched cages…….. A little too obvious for me! Why anyone in their right mind would think that defining the type of cage or confinement makes it better for the hen’s welfare is beyond me. Doesn’t congress have better things to do than protect those who would mislead consumers into thinking that eggs from “enriched cages” are somehow better?

The Land of Confusion

I recently had a conversation with a visitor to the farm which made me think about how confusing different methods of farming can be for the average person. My visitor was clearly confused and after taking a hard look at the situation I could see why.

Since our conversation started out about our transition here on the farm from industrial confinement production of meat chickens to a pasture raised egg farm I’ll start with that.

Confinement operations in animal production are easily understood. The word “confinement” means exactly what it says. It is limited or restricted space of which one is unable to leave.

To put it into perspective, people are confined to places such as a jail. Most of us have heard some time in our life “go to your room”. That could be summed up as being restricted to the confines of ones bedroom as a method of punishment for bad behavior as a child.

In animal production confinement isn’t for the purpose of being punished for bad behavior. The main purpose is to have absolute control over the production of the animal whether it’s products such as milk or eggs or putting on pounds of meat, quickly. Confined production is basically designed for “efficiency”. Efficiency translates into profits.

In the case of meat chickens efficiency can be measured in restricting movement which would expend energy and in turn use more feed to put pounds of meat on the chicken. Saved feed reduces the cost of production which in turn raises profits.

Confining hens for egg laying is usually done by not only confining the chicken to a building but also confining the chicken to a cage. Sometimes the cages are stacked on top of one another. Life for the hens in cages is one which prohibits natural behaviors of chickens such as spreading of wings, dust bathing, and freedom of walking, running, or flying. Over 90 percent of all eggs produced in the US come from caged hens.

I’ve made my thoughts clear about caged hens in the past HSUS Takes a Dive Off of the Deep End! . The newest trend in industrial egg production is to put a fancy name on a cage. This is where the confusion comes in to play and it’s exactly what industrial agriculture corporate giants want.

Calling the new and better (not my choice of words) “enriched colony caging” for hens is supposed to conjure up a pretty picture in one’s mind. According to Merriam-Webster, “enrich” means to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient. If we were to take a look at this definition, proponents of caging hens could say that this is what has happened.

In reality, a cage is a cage no matter what fancy term is applied. Anyone who advocates for good husbandry practices or high welfare for farm animals should cringe. However that isn’t the case as we all know that HSUS has called it a landmark agreement between animal welfare advocates and the United Egg Producers (UEP). Thankfully, there are animal welfare advocates who haven’t caved in to industrial ag and HSUS should speak for its self.

Landmark agreements always come at a cost. No big deal, right! HSUS and UEP get to say that they did something great in compromising and this monumental move didn’t cost them anything. No indeed, it cost the hens!

Is it any wonder why the average person would be confused? It’s all about a play on words and what pictures those words present to the consumer. Before producing our own eggs I always looked for the word’s “cage free” when grocery shopping. That’s not to say that the hens are raised unconfined it just means that they aren’t also put into cages.

Recently, my friends at Flavor Magazine published an article about eggs. I suggest reading it to get a better idea of the mindset behind egg production and how the hens that produce the eggs should be raised depending on who is doing the talking.

Since we’ve gone to “pasture raised” another dilemma arises in the farming method confusion. My visitor was under the impression that “pasture raised” and “free range” are the same. Not so! This subject gets real fuzzy and will have to wait until my next post about the land of confusion.

HSUS Takes a Dive Off of the Deep End!

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is crowing about a “Landmark Agreement to Help Millions of Hens”. The agreement made between HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) was announced July 7th on the blog page of HSUS President and CEO, Wayne Pacelle and is a clear sign that HSUS is swimming with the sharks.

UEP is the egg industry’s powerful lobbying machine, otherwise called a “trade association”, and is akin to the great white shark in the pool that HSUS has taken a dive into.

Landmark agreement, indeed! All signs within this agreement are that HSUS has thrown in the towel in protecting egg laying hens in the United States. Previous positions of the organization have been to put an end to caged hens and their miserable life cranking out a steady supply of eggs.

Industrial egg production and the use of cages to strictly confine hens has been a major source of contention with animal welfare organizations for many years. Commonly known as “battery cages”, hens are forced to crank out eggs during a short life span (less than 2 years) spent confined in cages. Life for the hens in cages is one which prohibits natural behaviors of chickens such as spreading of wings, dust bathing, and freedom of walking or running. Over 90 percent of all eggs produced in the US come from caged hens.

With a twist of words, HSUS has changed its opposition from battery cages to “barren” battery cages and is supportive of industrial production utilizing “enriched colony caging”. Quite frankly, a cage is a cage. Call it what it is!

This new position by HSUS is seen by many as cozying up to the big boys of industrial agriculture and by all appearances is an agreement by lobbying professionals to put a pretty face on the ugly realities of egg production and the lack of welfare toward the hens producing.

Have 11 million members (membership claims by HSUS) decided that it’s okay to keep hens in cages? Clearly anyone concerned about the welfare standards of industrial egg laying hens would not see trading one cage for another as a great improvement or a landmark agreement to help millions of hens.

With its new posturing, HSUS has taken a giant stride backwards. By all intentions of the agreement made with UEP, landmark legislation banning battery cages will fall by the wayside. The professional lobbyist’s of HSUS and UEP will ask our illustrious politicians in Washington, DC to pass legislation for standards for egg laying hens and labeling of products for consumers which will supersede any state legislation.

HSUS President Pacelle is putting a face of HSUS and UEP being one big happy family working together to solve issues and Oregon’s 3rd District Congressman ,Earl Blumenauer, commends both organizations for their happy face and suggests that the Oregon Congress can learn from their example of compromise. What a crock!

Compromising an animals’ wellbeing is not an option for those who are advocating for animal welfare. HSUS should have the highest standards in mind for farm animal welfare however there appears to be a trend developing, by the organization, of the opposite in mind.

The trend is to find compromise of the highest degree where farm animals are concerned to allow for industrial production and distribution acceptable behavior which is not up to the highest animal welfare standards. Historically and traditionally, HSUS has been noted for its protection of animals and public perception has been of an organization concerned ONLY for an animal’s wellbeing.

Has the old dragon of animal protection been slain only to rise from the ashes as an advocate of acceptable standards which are not of the highest concerns of animal welfare? Regardless of the amount of “spin” HSUS puts on this issue let’s just say “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck”!

Read the Happy Family Spin
HSUS Announcement
HSUS “Assets” of Agreement
UEP Guidelines for Hens