Friday, March 19


What. You think that's overstated? Well, yeah it is. But not as much as you'd think."The Earth may be on the brink of a sixth mass extinction on a par with the five others that have punctuated its history, suggests the strongest evidence yet." The main decline in extinctions is linked to nitrogen pollution. And guess what? "Atmospheric nitrogen pollution is caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and from intensive agriculture, especially from the volatilisation of animal waste."


It would be funny but for the tragedy: "Dallas Zoo officials said they can't explain how a 300-pound gorilla escaped from his enclosure, injuring four people before he was shot to death." What a shocker, huh? Whodathunkit? Sorry, but this kind of thing makes me sick. One of the kids hurt in the escape was a toddler, who will be scarred for life at the least, physically and mentally, from this. There's also the death of the gorilla. But hey - that's all right, because the more important thing is keeping wild animals on display in the middle of cities. Yep, it's a necessity!

UPDATE 3/25: Gorilla Escape Now A Federal Investigation Investigators have searched all over the southern section of the Wilds of Africa Exhibit and can't find where Jabari could have escaped. Zoo officials are looking into a tip that teenagers were throwing rocks or ice at the gorilla. The agitation may have caused Jabari to miraculously leap over the wall and electric wire.

Thursday, March 18


"For the first time since elephants began entertaining people at American circuses more than 200 years ago, the federal government has removed a herd of circus animals from an owner accused of mistreating and mishandling his animals," reports the Washington Post. The bozo in question is "one of the largest providers of circus animals in the nation," who was in trouble last year for much of the same, and previously for an elephant that escaped a performance and went on a fatal rampage. The difference here is that the USDA is acting like it's going to take large-scale, gratuitous animal abuse a little more seriously. We'll wait and watch to see if this is followed up, but it's a notable step.

Still, the "fairy tale ending" may be illusory, as the person taking charge of the elephants' care remarks: "Cuneo has made a lot of money on the backs of these animals, and now he's getting rid of them when they're less and less useful to him. Because there is TB in the herd, it's going to be very difficult to find homes for them individually or in some groups. We think they need to remain together as a herd, and that's going to be very hard to do."


The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports that the levels of flame retardants (yummmmm) have increased dramatically in cod liver oil, the most popular fish oil used in supplements by people trying to improve heart health. Once again, the "necessity" to include fish oil in the diet has a "liability" flip side, one that's missing from plant sources of Omega-3s.


The USDA is still dogding and weaving and flip-flopping on the Mad Cow downer issue, but now Dave Louthan and Tom Ellestad are as well - specifically on the question of whether Ellestad's plant processed downers at all. Felicia Nestor "said she has reviewed Ellestad's records and the facility was processing less than 20 percent downer animals, which was legal until the USDA banned downers from being slaughtered for human consumption in late December." Well, yeah, great, but his affidavit says ZERO downers. What gives? Meanwhile, Louthan is saying "Ninety percent of animals processed there were downers." WTF? The most frustrating thing is that though the USDA vet has supposedly spoken publicly now, there's no Q&A with vet over Louthan's "Smoking Gun" document - the missing temp, antibiotics listings for this particular cow. I continue to believe that that's where the real issue lies, and we'll have to see where this goes from there.

Wednesday, March 17


Even in a USDA-naysaying article on Common Dreams, the claim is baldly repeated that USDA "will test" 200,000 to 280,000 cows. At least there's a note that it's beginning in June and going for a year and a half, rather than the oft-heard timeline of "this year."

Meanwhile, though, Steve Mitchell is reading the fine print. His phrasing is: "USDA's plan, which aims to test as many high-risk animals as possible over a 12-18 month period, could involve screening more than 200,000 cows, including some 20,000 healthy, older animals." (My italics.) But he goes on to note that the 1-in-10-million concept "assumes all animals potentially infected with mad cow will be found among downers -- or animals unable to stand -- as well as dead animals and those showing symptoms of central nervous system disorders. Lurie noted, however, this is a faulty assumption, because hundreds of seemingly healthy cattle in Europe have tested positive for the disease. In addition, there are significantly more non-downers than downer and sick animals in .S. herds."

Also, this was interesting: "Robert LaBudde, president of Least Cost Formulation Ltd., a food industry consultancy in Virginia Beach, Va., said he thinks there are as many as 120 additional infected animals in the United States. Approximately half of those cases could be in animals with no apparent signs of disease."

Mitchell brings in critical views from different perspectives: "Consumer groups expressed concern about that specific aspect of USDA's plan, because the agency intends to allow rendering facilities to process downer and sick cattle before the results of the mad cow test are known, then dispose of the rendered product later if there is a positive test. Disposing of the infected material might not reduce the risk, however, because the rendering machinery will be contaminated."

And one more thing to think about comes from the GAO's Felicia Nestor, who's concerned now that the USDA has announced a start date, and has identified the 40 slaughtering facilities that will be screening healthy, older animals, "that ranchers and farmers will know to avoid those plants. They also could begin culling their herds of any older animals prior to the June start date."

Tuesday, March 16


The avian flu galloping across Asia poses "the most serious pandemic threat since 1968," Keiji Fukuda said Monday at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases. A pandemic caused by a flu strain that is new, deadly to humans and highly contagious "is inevitable," he said. I'm just sayin'.

Monday, March 15


I didn't blog any of the stories last week saying the USDA supposedly was going to increase Mad Cow testing, because I wanted to wait and hear the USDA commit to it publicly and explicitly. Well, now it's official - I guess... listen to how it's made public: "U.S. animal health inspectors will test between 200,000 and 260,000 cattle for mad cow disease this year, up from 20,000 last year, a legislative aide told Reuters on Monday. Yes, that's right - it's not an announcement from the front office, but "a legislative aide, who was briefed by U.S. Agriculture Department officials." Well, who was this aide? "The aide, who wished not to be identified, said the one-year testing program would allow inspectors to be 99 percent confident that if there was one case of mad cow disease among 10 million cattle, it could be identified." WTF? Wished not to be identified? See, this is what worried me about this so-called promise. Who's going to stand behind it? We don't even have a damn spokesman's name yet! Something tells me they're not going to actually test 200,000 cattle this year, but I'm putting that as a headline to remind us that that's the claim.

PM UPDATE: The USDA now has a release up about this, and it supplies enough context to show that already the con is on. The statement above from Reuters that "U.S. animal health inspectors will test between 200,000 and 260,000 cattle for mad cow disease this year" is incorrect, since this plan doesn't go into effect until June: "USDA will begin immediately to prepare for the increased testing, with the anticipation that the program will be ready to be fully implemented June 1, 2004. In the meantime, BSE testing will continue at the current rate." PLUS: They're already backing off the concept that they "will test" 200,000 to 280,000 - note that every mention of that is couched as a conditional - "if we test this many, we can be this certain." In the transcript of the USDA press briefing, Bill Thomson of Oster Dow Jones brings this up - "you're not giving us an estimate on how many animals you will test. Is there a possibility that you'll test less than 201,000 animals?" and DeHaven comes out and says: "You guys are doing your best to get me to identify a number, and I'll emphasize again that the goal of this is to test as many of that target population as we can." Then: "It's possible that we would collect somewhere less than 200,000." So this blog entry hasn't even been up all day, and already, the "promise" that's been reported as fact in all major newspapers is revealed to be non-binding. It's the difference between saying "I'm going to do such-and-such" and "I'll do my best!"

AND: More evidence this is a smokescreen for business as usual: Scott Kilman of the WSJ asks, "Under the old program employees of meat packing companies or meat plants often picked that animal. Will that now be the job of a federal employee?" and DeHaven hedges, basically saying that since they're doing the best they can, it doesn't matter who picks the cows to test. He says the answer will be in "the plan on our website," but, lo and behold, it ain't. The plan spells out who physically collects the samples, but not who picks. But come on, folks, give 'im a break - he's doing the best he can!

UPDATE 3/16: No matter how much DeHaven and Veneman tap-dance about this, "we're doing our best" isn't good enough for Japan - which is, of course, the bottom line.

AND: It's apparently also not good enough for US meatpackers.


An op-ed in The Frontiersman points out that "the race is so grueling that, on average, 54 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it to the finish line." I didn't know that and can't vouch for its accuracy, but I haven't seen anyone challenge it. What they did challenge, apparently, was a Frontiersman reporter's heckling at the race itself. "At this year's Iditarod Musher's Banquet, a Frontiersman reporter, who was not on official assignment, booed one of the mushers and was involved in a confrontation with several people." The Frontiersman goes on to say "we apologize to the Swingleys, Dick Mackey, the Iditarod Trail Committee, the mushers and anyone who was offended by the conduct of our reporter." That conduct sounds unprofessional for a journalist - but the conduct of the lead "musher" is, of course, above reproach: "Norwegian musher Kjetil Backen kept the slimmest of leads yesterday in the 32nd annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, arriving a minute ahead of Mitch Seavey after stopping outside the Unalakleet checkpoint because one of his dogs collapsed and died." Awww, poor guy. What an inconvenience! And get this - "Backen asked for help from a reporter and photographer who were on a snowmobile outside the checkpoint. Backen said his dog had died and to go get race marshal Mark Nordman because the musher didn't want to carry the dead dog in his sled bag into the checkpoint." Gee, hope that wasn't the same reporter. Is carrying dead dogs around professional conduct? I have a feeling there's an apology due somewhere there.