Posts Tagged ‘The Conversation’

Up Shit Creek

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1995, Smithfield spilled more than twenty million gallons of lagoon waste into the New River in North Carolina.

In 1997, Smithfield was penalized for a mind-blowing seven thousand violations of the Clean Water Act… One violation might be an accident. Even ten violations might. Seven thousand violations is a plan. Smithfield was fined $12.6 million… but this is a pathetically small amount to a company that now grosses $12.6 million every ten hours.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, from page 178-179 of Eating Animals

Smithfield is the biggest pork producer in the United States. It annually produces at least as much fecal waste as the entire human population of the states of California and Texas combined (p. 175). This pig shit is pooled into football-field sized open-air lagoons. The lagoons can be overwhelmed. The shit then goes into local waterways. Bacon tastes good.



March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

The average shrimp-trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch.

So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label might read: 26 POUNDS OF OTHER SEA ANIMALS WERE KILLED AND TOSSED BACK INTO THE OCEAN FOR EVERY 1 POUND OF THIS SHRIMP.

Jonathan Safran Foer, from page 49 of Eating Animals

Veterinarian Ignored by USDA

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment

 The US Dept, of Agriculture apparently has no problem with slaughterhouses that butcher conscious pigs or drag downed calves through excrement before slaughter. That is, as long as nobody hears about it.

Dean Wyatt, a supervisory veterinarian for the USDA’s food safety and inspection unit, spoke to a Congressional committee today about how his recommendations were overruled when he cited certain slaughterhouses for inhumane practices and food safety violations. From USA TODAY:

(Wyatt’s charges) detail instances in which he and other inspectors were overruled when citing slaughterhouses for violations such as shocking and butchering days-old calves that were too weak or sick to stand. He also describes being threatened with transfer or demotion after citing a plant for butchering conscious pigs, despite rules that they first be stunned and unconscious.

So a guy does his job, finds violations and animal cruelty, and his bosses threaten his career for attempting to punish the violating slaughterhouses. Sounds about right. Job well done, Big Ag.

Radiolab: Animal Minds

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

photo by The Marine Mammal Center

The Animal Minds episode of Radiolab explores what we often wonder about our pets and other animals: what are they thinking? Jad and Robert get into discussions about dog guilt, anthropomorphizing, and the most amazing story about a whale caught in a web of crabtraps. It’s an excellent hour of radio, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Considering the mind of an animal is a good thought experiment.

We often think animals may have thoughts and feelings similar to our own. This concept usually advances the pursuit of animal rights, as it helps us relate to them and thus show compassion. However, making comparisons between animal and human minds can also impede compassion towards animals. I say this because it is unfair to animals to make that comparison. Scientists really know so little about the brains of animals, let alone humans. When we try to think about whether an animal is as smart as a human, we too often look at the problem in the context of human intelligence: Do they use tools? Do they communicate with each other? And when we find that they are not very human-like, we tend to classify them as somehow sub-human. This tendency is what feeds the widespread belief that animals do not deserve the same rights as people. Thinking this way justifies zoos, validates factory farms, funds animal testing, distorts our own sense of morality.

 Consider the humpback whale. The evolution of a whale’s brain happened in a way that has been advantageous to its species’ survival, while the long process that led up to the (seemingly) exceptional human brain occurred under vastly different circumstances. Realizing this, we must acknowledge that our brains are not necessarily that special in the animal kingdom. Yes, our brains have given us the ability to create, imagine, dream, love, and all that, but that does not make the human brain superior, except by our own biased standards of what intelligence means. Who knows what a whale brain can do? They are incredibly complex creatures that we know very little about. Maybe a humpback freed of its entanglement by a friendly group of human divers is showing gratitude when it nuzzles them afterward, or maybe it is doing something we just cannot yet understand. That behavior is something though, I gotta say.

Ban Japan

February 25, 2010 2 comments

Big Fish. AP photo

That’s it. I’ve had it up to here with Japan. And I’m going to do something about it. I have decided to stop buying Japanese products of any sort until their government decides to stop whaling, respect conservationist fishing guidelines, and show some respect to the international community who are getting increasingly fed up with their arrogance.

This may sound misguided and possibly xenophobic, but it seems rational to me. As long as this country’s government decides to openly reject pleas from other countries to stop treating our oceans and seas like their own god-given playground, I will avoid their national products like the plague. Luckily, I’m not into anime and I don’t play video games anymore. But this means I will probably never buy a Toyota again (I currently own a ’94 Corolla), and it has nothing to do with unintended acceleration. No more cell phones made in Japan; luckily Blackberry (Canada), Samsung (Korea), Nokia (Finland), and several others are still game. Let’s see, what else to avoid… Here’s a list:

Nintendo, Honda, Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic, Toshiba, Fujifilm, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, A Bathing Ape, Bridgestone, Canon, Capcom, Isuzu, Kenwood, Kyocera, Konami, Mazda, Nissan, Olympus, Sanrio, Sega, Seiko, Shimano, Square Enix, Subaru, Suzuki, TDK, Toshiba, Yamaha

Some of those might hurt someday, but mostly I think I can easily live without those companies. This also means I may have to give up on a lifelong dream of someday visiting Tokyo, and possibly some things I have not thought about yet. But just like going vegan, this feels right.

I know, these companies have nothing to do with whaling, overfishing, capturing dolphins for captivity or slaughter, or any of that (other than making the fishing equipment perhaps), so why punish them? Hear me out. This is something I can do. I can consciously avoid Japanese products, and be vocal about it, as a way to economically punish a sophisticated modern nation which has repeatedly shown itself to be arrogant and completely disrespectful of non-human life. Every time a new story pops up about Japan accusing Sea Shepherd of endangering their poor “scientist” whalers, or Japan says they will ignore a ban on the Bluefin tuna trade, or Japan says that we Westerners are threatening their culture and way of life, I see how they just do not give a shit. Not only that, it seems they think the rest of the world are a bunch of idiots. If you saw The Cove, you may remember footage of Japan’s delegate to the International Whaling Commission telling the other delegates about how whales are supposedly depleting fish stocks (it couldn’t be humans!), and how they have reduced the “time-to-death” in their “scientific” whaling “research” (according to them). He says these ridiculous things with a straight face to people who understand and oppose whaling. It’s a slap in the face.

So. I don’t feel I am being xenophobic in declaring that I will not buy Japanese products. I feel the Japanese are the villains in all of this. They see their cultural values as being above everybody else’s, and seem willing to stick to those values at the risk of fishing endangered species to extinction, brutally killing as many majestic whales as possible, and pissing off conservationists. Their approach to foreign policy in regards to these matters is basically: “Screw you. I do what I want.”

So, other than going vegan and saying no to Japanese products, what can you do to try to get Japan to take it down a notch? I would recommend:

  • Do not visit Sea World or aquariums that keep dolphins or whales in captivity. Most captive dolphins are caught on the shores of Japan, and by supporting that captivity you would be justifying the horrific dolphin slaughter in Taiji. If you love ocean life, do not support their capture and exploitation. I believe aquariums also perpetuate the widespread delusion that animals are below us, and that we have the right to exploit them however we want.
  • Support the Sea Shepherd Conservationist Society. They are on the front lines of the war against Japanese whaling. Maybe their tactics seem juvenile and ineffective at times, but they are bringing this issue to light, and risking their lives to spare every whale life they can.
  • Put this widget on your Facebook and write a letter. See The Cove. Support filmmaking that exposes those who try to hide.
  • Tell your friends about overfishing and how Bluefin tuna may soon be added to the endangered species list. *Whaa-whaaaa…. Debbie Downer*- I know, but people gotta learn somehow.

E. Coli Revisited

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

So I was just doing some casual reading on Slate about E. coli in ground beef… you know, how it seems to pop up seemingly more and more frequently, resulting in massive recalls (such as this week’s Huntington Meat Company recall of 5.7 million pounds of beef and veal). I always wonder how the average reader reacts to these stories. Going back to my pre-vegan days, I can only speculate that Joe Six-pack kinda shakes his head, double checks the fridge to make sure he’s safe, and then hopes they figure out how to fix it in the future.

The meat industry sure is trying. I’d be willing to bet that these big recalls are a bit embarrassing to them, not only because of what it says about the laxness of food safety regulations, but also because it lifts the veil for a few days every time this happens. It makes us actually think about how that meat gets to the shelf. We get to read about how E. coli lives in the intestinal tracts of real living cows, and how these outbreaks are usually caused by those cows’ feces splattering up on their dead carcasses and not getting cleaned off well enough. Maybe that is the most embarassing thing to Cargill and Huntington and factory farmers across the land, but I bet they are a bit nervous about us thinking about the process at all.

Even when things are going well (as you might expect me to say), the ground beef industry is not pretty. Big Ag doesn’t really want us to worry too much about the well-being of the cows, what they eat, how they are killed, or how they try to deal with that pesky E. coli. They just want us to want those burgers. In order for that to happen, it is best that things are kept simple. No more outbreaks would be a big help. That would keep food safety advocates out of their hair, cut down on public outcries for more regulation and federal interference, and get them sued less often. So, what are they doing about it now?

Well, they are developing a whole new arsenal of weapons to battle E. coli. USA Today filled us in on some of the plans last week:

  • More vaccines
  • Phages (a “a car-wash-like spray of bacteria-eating viruses” that cows are doused in 1-4 hours before slaughter)
  • New probiotics (bacteria to compete with E. coli in cow stomachs)
  • Sodium chlorate (a chemical that turns to bleach inside a cow to kill the E. coli)
  • Feeding cows hay and grass, instead of grain (which is natural but, according to Slate, not a real solution)

These measure would be in addition to the barrage of antibiotics, steam sprays, vaccines, and who-knows-what that the cows already endure (not to mention the lovely ammonia treatment I wrote about a while ago). It seems apparent that the beef pushers are going to great lengths to fight E. coli. That way we don’t have to think about CAFOs, slaughterhouses, manure-caked hides, acidic stomachs, bloody-diarrhea-kidney-failure-and-death, a cow’s recto-anal junction, vaccines, phages, sodium chlorate, antiobiotics, government subsidies, ammonia processing, the food system, lawsuits, agriculture lobbies, methane, O157:H7, water contamination, veal crates,  manure lagoons……………..

All this effort for a $2.99 (or whatever the hell they cost) Big Mac. Perhaps there is another way to keep E. coli at bay: don’t eat beef.

BBC’s One Planet: Animals and Us

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

One Planet is a weekly half-hour show on the BBC World Service. The producers always put together an interesting, thoughtful look at environmental issues around the world. The most recent episode touches on issues with animals. 

 Click here to listen to the podcast.

Here is the synopsis from the One Planet website:

It was 28 years ago that the documentary maker Victor Schonfeld produced The Animals Film about the way humans exploit other species. He returns to the subject in a two-part documentary to give a very personal view on what, if anything, has changed since then.

In the first programme he looks at the use of animals for food and turns to experts in fields such as psychology, history, language and neurology to find out why humans seem so attracted to eating meat.

Next week, he focuses on the scientific establishment’s attachment to using animals, and considers the future. Might social justice for other species actually benefit humans?