Saturday, February 9


As the fallout continues to spread from the HSUS downed-cow video bombshell, the issue I raised last week continues to reverberate, and unsurprisingly, many incurious journalists continue to give it a pass. An exception is this unnamed AP reporter, who reports the company line that "there's no evidence any downed animal entered the food supply" and then follows right up with this retort from Wayne Pacelle:

(Parenthetically I should also note that this reporter did the two minutes or so of googling to establish that "Federal regulations call for keeping downer cows out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of E. coli, salmonella contamination, or mad cow disease since they typically wallow in feces and their immune systems are often weak," while many other lazy and/or gullible journalists pulled the old "according to" dodge, e.g. "HSUS also contends the animals pose a higher risk of picking up bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses like E. coli 015:H7, because they’re not able to stand, and are lying in feces in pens." Yep, just one crazy opinion...)

The USDA believes (and perhaps rightly so) that they can get away with this clear and obvious lie - that there's no evidence downers were made into meat - because few reporters want to get into the nitty-gritty of the way a slaughterhouse works, and because their spokespeople are experts at smoke and mirrors, pretending to answer questions while spinning and weaving like the slipperiest politician. In this press briefing from *cough* Friday, spokesman Kenneth Peterson baldly states right at the top, "To date there is no evidence to substantiate the allegations that downer cattle entered the food supply," failing to mention whether there's some trick photography on the video they were provided or whether the downers that go offscreen are actually entering a swimming-pool area rather than a kill floor.

A Dow Jones reporter tries an appeal to sheer logic: "But what would be the purpose of the inhumane handling of the cattle? In other words, is there any possible other purpose for forcing a fallen cow to their feet other than, say, bypassing the downer prohibition? I mean is there absolutely anything that could be the reason behind this except for that?" But Peterson is ready with an utterly transparent load of nonsense that has nothing to do with what was just asked: "Well, I can't, you know, muse on people's thinking other than to say it's not necessary in a plant that operates effectively, and it's certainly not appropriate. And so perhaps they have some animals that they thought they could get up to move." Get up to move where? To that little-known swimming-pool area, perhaps?

And if all else fails, there's the old standby of "Next question." A Press Enterprise reporter brings up the previous "violations of humane handling" at the plant. First Peterson pretends there was only this one little isolated problem of excessive electric prodding in 2005. Then...
    REPORTER: And that violation, the noncompliance in 2005, was that all they had in their past? Because they are on the Quarterly Enforcement Report from late 2002.

    DR. PETERSEN: Yes. Okay. Now in 2002, as other agency activities we had some activities related to E.coli 0157H7 food safety related issues, some strategies that we pushed out nationwide, telling plants what we expect for them to do as far as control of that pathogen. And we looked closely at virtually every plant associated that would have any relationship to E.coli. That was over 2,500 of them at the time. And they were put on notice for some questions we had regarding their food safety system at that time.
Isn't it clever how he answered yes, they had a documented problem with foodborne pathogens in 2002 without ever actually admitting that? And when the reporter tries to nail that down...
    REPORTER: Are you saying that they did test positive for E.coli in 2002?

    MODERATOR: Excuse me. We need to go on to the next question. We have quite a few in line waiting, so let's go on to the next one.
Perfect. Don't worry, folks, there just happened to be these rogue employees using cattle prods that are not even "allowed on the property" of the plant, in addition to several other cruel activities, and the inspectors just happened to all fail at catching this ("Did they have knowledge of perhaps when my inspectors would be around?" Peterson innocently wonders, having apparently not read the reports that hello, yes, a USDA food safety inspector came at predictable times -- 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.), and, get this, while those once-in-a-lifetime aberrations were occuring it just so happened that there was an undercover camera running. That's the story, and the USDA will help the meatpackers stick to it. It's what they do. Because they really think you're stupid enough to buy it.

POSTSCRIPT: Off-topic in terms of the USDA's assessment of your mental fortitude... but I loved this tidbit from one of the above articles: "On Thursday afternoon, protestors stood outside the company at Yorba and Schaefer avenues waving placards that said 'Stop Corporate Greed' and 'Hallmark Tortured Sick Cows.' Passing motorists honked their horns or flashed a thumbs-up." Then: "Two women in a black Honda Civic sat across the street with homemade signs saying 'We support Hallmark Meat Packing' and 'Get the whole story.' They declined to comment." Get the whole story. But not from us!!!

Wednesday, February 6


I swear I'm gonna just keep recycling these three images until long after everybody's sick of them. But only a meat-addled brain would not understand that the earth's largest and most powerful land mammals tend to be entirely vegetarian. So is it really so freakin' inconceivable that enormous sauropods would have been well-nourished by an entirely plant-based diet? Still, as long as people think this is news, I'll certainly go ahead and help spread the word.


Of the options I delineated for the USDA in the tortured-cow video case, it looks like they're leaning closest to... option "c." The plant has been "shut down" by the agency, which sounds powerfully conclusive and close to my option "a" when rendered as a headline, but the fine print explains that "the suspension will remain in effect and the Westland Meat Co. will not be allowed to operate until written corrective actions are submitted and verified by the USDA to ensure that animals are humanely handled." This means the focus is indeed on this one incident at this one location, as though the practice of torturing downers - and indeed, food animals in general - were not widespread throughout the industry.

Not a big surprise: As the hubbub dies down, the average consumer hears, if anything, that the tortured-cow plant was "shut down," end of story, so they can continue consuming meat from all those other animal-friendly facilities that put little mints on the animals' pillows before killing them.

UPDATE: Something I missed previously - Businessweek reports that not only In-N-Out but also Jack-In-the-Box has banned Westland meat. Basically, if you're a burger restaurant with a hyphenated name, you don't want anything to do with this beef - for now, anyway: In-N-Out seemed to categorically ban this supplier forever, where Jack-In-the-Box is just "until further notice." Also, clear across the continent, NYC Public Schools took all burgers off their menus. All of these, however temporary, are big developments, attaching name-brand entities to the concept of rejecting meat that is both unsafe and (not coincidentally) unethical.

LATEST INCONCEIVABILITY: Dean Cliver, professor emeritus of food safety at UC Davis "said he was especially shocked by the news, because as someone who has worked on food safety for 45 years, he believed in the federal inspection process. 'That the most intensive inspection system we have was asleep on this situation bothers me enormously,' he said."

Yeah, good eye, professor emeritus. I mean, really, who could have predicted... ?

Monday, February 4


Here's an interesting piece on an In-Defense-of-Animals-sponsored visit to the SF Zoo - you know, the tiger-attack zoo - by international "zoo experts," in which the latter denounce many of this particular zoos exhibits as "like something from the 19th century" or "third world" or "like a zoo you would see in Eastern Europe." They pointed to "unnatural" and "aberrant" animal behavior, "such as pacing polar bears and giraffes that have licked and chewed the side of their barn."

I can't decide whether the best quote is that the zoo demonstrates "a lack of animal-mindedness" or that it "seemed to be run like a department store, with officials putting emphasis on showing a varied menagerie instead of focusing on the animals' well-being."

But let's be frank: This is smoke and mirrors in terms of the real problem with zoos. "Animals" don't start zoos in order to have a nice place to stay; of course zoos don't have "animal-mindedness." The first symptom of animal-mindedness would be freeing the animals, something that would have to top almost all the animals' agendas. And of course it's run like a department store instead of a place focusing on animals' well-being: That's what zoos are all about. Sure, maybe the SF zoo is more egregious than some others in some of the particulars of this, but talking as though the problems listed are particular to this zoo obscures the point: Zoos are prisons for animals - the bigger the animal, the harsher a prison it is.


A favorite trope of anti-vegetarianism is "You care more about animals than you do about people" - the concept being that meat-eaters put their caring where their mouth is, and value the welfare of humans more than "animal lovers" do.

This is BS, of course: The underpaid, highly stressed humans - mostly immigrants -who have to do the most dangerous job in America in order for the meat industry to exist are as invisible and objectified by meat-eaters as are the animals that are killed. And in addition to the routine injuries from blades of one sort or another, the CDC has just identified another ailment derived from work in pig slaughterhouses, one that looks to have afflicted thousands of pork plant workers over a decade.

The fact that slaugterhouse workers are treated "like animals" is not a coincidence or an unfortunate system glitch that needs to be rectified: It's part and parcel of a system that, above the lives of human and non-human animals, values nothing more than profit; it's also an intrinsic part of the Western "taste" for cheap, plentiful meat. Quite simply, anyone who eats meat values their own taste buds more than they do other people's lives.