Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Happy New Year!
Since we have more family coming in today, I have to get busy getting ready soon. (And I need to gather some firewood, too - luckily there is always plenty of dead wood to be found just laying on the ground out here in the woods! Thank you Mother Nature.) But, I wanted to come here and wish everyone a Happy New Year!
I hope that, in addition to all the fun celebrations that are planned, everyone has thought about what your resolution will be this year to make your life in the new year a better one, and I hope that you have good results in keeping those resolutions. We are having a sharing of resolutions at the group today. For anyone who would like to participate in the discussion, we would be glad to have you. (As always, the link to it is at the bottom of the page, and you don't have to join just to read.) Let's all do whatever we can to try to make this next year better for ourselves and the world we all live in.
Whatever your goals are for the new year, I wish you the best. I will be working on living a more compassionate life this year, trying to make the kind of choices that not only enrich my life, but the lives of others that I share this world with. That includes, of course, all life, human or otherwise.
Let's work for more kindness and tolerance in the world. Let's work for more compassion and empathy.
Interesting title to today's post, huh? Well, that's what I thought when I saw that title used for an article written by Emil Guillermo . This was a great piece that brought out an interesting analogy I had not thought of. I decided that it needed even more exposure and, perhaps, a bit of my own commentary. It definitely brings up some things to think about with regard to this latest case of mad cow.
It starts out with an attention-grabbing title (that I shamelessly borrowed), then leads in with an equally interesting opening sentence, sprinkled with some thought-provoking paragraphs that make you want to see where he is going with this:
If you really want to understand mad cow disease, just think of sex and AIDS, the eternity of nuclear waste and playing the lottery.
Now add a hamburger patty to the mix, and grind it all together.
Want to take a bite out of that?
No, I don't think so. After he bashes the USDA for siding with the industry, instead of concerning themselves with the safety of the public food supply, he goes on to make these points:
The fact is, when it comes to mad cow, the government really doesn't know a whole lot. But if the powers that be admitted that, everyone would panic.
Well, isn't that indeed what it all boils down to? Worrying about what this might do to the economy? Everyone in the industry, especially Tyson, has been rapidly seeking to distance themselves from the taint of this scare. "Hey, it wasn't my product!" Well, maybe not this time, but what about the next? Hmmm??? The point is not really which company it happened to this time, but what conditions exist in the industry, (yes, even at Tyson, perhaps, especially there if we use my experiences recounted here to judge their "standard business practices" and "policies" by) that create the very situations that allow things like this to happen.
The fact of the matter is that if the administration hadn't blocked the legislation barring the slaughter of downers, this probably would not have happened. Because of sheer greed, because of the desire to squeeze the last bit of profits out of a suffering, dying animal, people are put at risk every day. People sicken and die every year, many of them children. It is really just a roll of the proverbial dice whether the meat you buy is safe to eat or not.
Check out this analogy made in the article and see if it doesn't make you think, at least a little bit:
Consider that just about every time the USDA has learned something new about the case, the situation has become far worse than anyone thought it was.
The "isolated" case of one cow has become the case of the cow and her two offspring.
The states originally believed to be selling the diseased cow's meat are Washington and Oregon, with a bit of California and Nevada thrown in.
Now you can add Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana, not to mention the U.S. territory of Guam. "There is no such thing as an isolated case," said my wife, Kathy, when she heard about the meat recall. "It wasn't just one cow that got the disease. There are other cattle involved."
My wife works for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and is considered the resident mad cow expert there.
She's been warning me about mad cow for years
Fortunately, I became a vegetarian when we got married years ago, so I don't have to deal with an "I told you so."
For me, becoming a vegetarian was easy. I abstain from meat so my wife won't abstain from me. It works.
But, believe me, red meat tempts me more than a redhead.
Still, when it comes to mad cow, I'm covered. Since I don't eat it, I don't have to worry. I'm like the Apple computer folks who gloat when all the PC types get viruses that can't put a dent in a Mac.
But I'm concerned about all of you.
Because you may not get the big picture.
For example, when the USDA announced the meat recall over the weekend, Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an agency veterinarian, tried to reassure the public. He essentially told people to relax when he said to the Associated Press, "The recalled meat represents essentially zero risk to consumers."
A Harvard researcher was even more mealy mouthed: "There's definitely cause for concern in this," David Ropiek of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis was quoted as saying in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But not real alarm."
But here's why you should feel more alarmed.
Sex and the Single Patty
Mad cow is turning meat eating into something like sex during the height of the AIDS scare. You remember those days, when people were really concerned about their partner's sexual history, and sleeping with your partner was considered tantamount to sleeping with all of his or her former partners.
Now, when you eat a piece of meat, you're going to want to do a background check on it.
You'll want to know something more about your meat than what wine goes best with it.
Mad cow is spread from mother to offspring, so you'll need to know your meat's lineage. Did the mother of the meat have the disease? Did any siblings have the disease? Of course, since it takes four to six years to incubate, you may not be able to find out.
Scoping out your meat's family tree isn't as easy as it sounds. You won't know very much unless the cow's neural tissue has been tested. And the USDA has screened no more than 20,000 cattle out of the 37 million slaughtered each year in the United States.
After the first cases were discovered in the United Kingdom, that country tested virtually every cow slaughtered.
"How can [the USDA] possibly know anything when most cows are tested before showing symptoms, and then they test such a small number?" my wife asked me.
If you don't have much luck with your meat's family tree, try to find out what it's been eating, and with whom.
Your cow shouldn't be on Atkins. Cows are natural herbivores. And, yet, the beef industry has a nasty habit of feeding its cows the ground remains of sheep and other cows.
That's how we got into this fine mess in the first place. When sheep, raised for wool, were ground up in England and used as cattle feed as a cost-cutting measure, some of the sheep passed on a disease called scrapie that developed into bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE (mad cow's official name).
"We did something abnormal to save money, and that's what caused this whole thing," said my wife.
Even though that happened in the 1980s, it took until 1997 for the United States to ban the ruminant feeding practice.
Two years ago, the U.S. Government Accounting Office produced a damning report showing a widespread violation of the law: Nearly one-third of food manufacturers were still feeding ground livestock to livestock, and almost 20 percent of them weren't even aware of the law.
Mad Cow Is Forever
Once you find out what your meat ate, try to discover how it was slaughtered.
In news stories, you'll hear how the disease is spread by a brain protein known as a prion. The real problem with the prion is that you can't wash it off. It is forever. Like nuclear waste.
When a blade is used to slaughter an animal with mad cow, the blade becomes the vehicle by which the disease is spread.
One mad cow can spoil the whole herd.
When the United Kingdom went through its mad cow mess, it not only had to bury the dead animals that had gotten sick but also had to change its butchering methods.
Maybe the United States could have the meat lover's version of a nuclear-waste-disposal site, like Yucca Mountain?
Finally, you'll hear researchers say that although BSE is such a scary illness, the risk of getting it is so small that it's "as close to zero as science will ever get," according to Harvard's David Ropiek.
But, essentially, he's admitting it's like winning the lottery. Only better.
"Even a one-in-a-million chance is too high, if you're the only one," Ropiek said.
So, do you want to take the chance?
Nope. Not me. After mentioning that giving up meat as a resolution would be a great way to ring in the new year, he leaves us with the following comments:
What cholesterol and heart disease haven't done to push you over the top, perhaps mad cow will.
At least, get to know your meat with the same precaution you use with a potential sex partner.
Eating meat can be just as deadly as sex. And it's definitely more fattening.
He neglected to mention that it isn't nearly as much fun, either! And, you know, I think I saw something a while back making a possible link to impotence from consuming too much meat - some kind of circulation problem, no doubt. Well, I don't have to worry about that, either, since I don't eat all those artery-clogging fats found in meat. Yuck! I can't believe the difference in my health since I quit eating meat. Seriously. Big, BIG difference. I have so much more energy, and (as I have told you before) my blood pressure lowered down into the normal range.
I can't imagine if I had to do all this research before I felt safe enough to eat the food on my plate. Isn't that supposed to be the government's job? Don't we pay taxes for that? Thought so. Then why are they allowing thi$ to happen and bending over to ki$$ the $hoe$ of the factory farming indu$try?
I think it would have been cheaper in the long run to have done it right the first time. The rest of the developed world has already properly decided that the safety of the people is more important than money. Why can't we? The best we can do is to point our fingers at our neighbors to the north and say, "Well, they didn't do much after their incident, so why should we?
Okaaaay. That makes me feel much better, especially as everyone knows that cattle move back and forth across that border all the time, mixing and mingling with one another, then being ground up together at the relatively small number of slaughter plants we have to process all these unfortunate animals.
I have also heard the argument, "The rest of the world just tests too much," referring to Europe and Japan,who wisely decided it was worth the small amount of extra money (pennies per pound - I read $3 per head) to keep their public food supply safer. Well, you didn't see it being their countries in the headlines about this in the past week, now did you? Perhaps because of all that testing? It makes me wonder, with so little testing going on here in this country, what has been missed?????
I am also wondering how many cows it would take to classify this as a threat to public safety by the administration. They are trying to pass it off as no big deal. Well, I disagree. I think it is a VERY BIG DEAL!!!
I wonder what would be a big deal to them? How about 5 cows, 10 cows, 100 cows? What about people? Would it take 5, 10, 100 - or just one? I bet it would be quite a big deal to that one. Especially if it was one of their children that got sick. I bet it would be a big deal then, don't you?
Stay informed. Be careful. Make conscious choices based on balanced research, not propaganda. I have done this and continue to read and learn every day. Then, I share my findings with everyone to check out for themselves.
If Anne Veneman thinks it is safe enough to feed her family beef over the holidays, that is her choice. But, it does not impress me. What would give me pause was if that beef she was feeding to her family was from the recalled meat. You know, the stuff they "voluntarily" recalled, even though they believe there is "essentially a zero risk" that it would infect anyone? If it is so safe, then why recall it? Why not just serve it right up on a plate and take a big ol' bite right there on camera for the American public to see? I dare you to do that, Ann Veneman. I certainly bet you wouldn't give it to your kids. What about your dog?
What about the parts sent for rendering into animal feed? Of course, we KNOW that had to be infected horribly and was also recalled, but can anyone positively say that absolutelynot a drop of that stuff touched anything that touched meat being shipped out anywhere else? POSITIVELY?
What Are We Allowing to Happen to Us and Our Kids?
You know, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking over the past week or so while I have been enjoying the holidays. Things have settled down around here for a couple of days before the next wave of family descend upon us to do it all over again. Ah, the holidays - family bonding, the smell of baking goodies, exchanging gifts, etc.
But, with that, also goes the stress of what we, as a society, have allowed this season to become. We talked about the fact that even though we have a lot of fun, the holidays are stressful. Christmas has become so commercialized and full of expected happenings that the whole meaning and spirit of the holiday gets lost in all of it.
When you find it, it is kind of like finding a broken toy, perhaps never even having been played with yet, under the mounds of wrapping paper in the floor after all the gifts have been opened. I am not trying to say everyone needs to go to church and sing hymns praising the birth of Jesus. That's not what I mean. I mean the spirit of the season that endured for many centuries. The one that was about family, love, peace, and the oft-heard phrase "good will toward men." What happened to the simply joy and celebration? Why do we have to make things so complicated and stressful? Why does the "Christmas break" leave us feeling even more stressed and tired than we were before we took the holiday break from work or school or whatever?
This morning we decided to spend the day trying to catch up a bit on the unread emails and other accumulated unfinished business we have before we had to neglect it again for a few days. I just finished reading an article one of the members in my Yahoo group posted. I wanted to comment on it and post some of it here.
It is another example of a situation that society has let get out of hand - just like the above example of what we have gradually allowed to be done with Christmas. (I mean, I saw Christmas stuff being put out this year in the stores, Wal-Mart in particular, before Halloween was even over!!!)
The average consumer has indeed become so removed from the source of their food that they hardly give it a thought throughout the day. Things didn't used to be that way at all. People spent quite a bit of time thinking about, raising, harvesting, and otherwise producing a good bit of their own food. This doesn't happen so much anymore, with so much of the population concentrated in cities. It's just not possible, but people should still know what is truly going on behind the scenes. There are actually children today that do not know that the hamburger they eat comes from a cow. But, they should. Especially now that things have gotten so unsafe and scary.
Society should know where their food comes from and what happens to it in the process of getting it to their tables. But, there is, but for a small minority of those who bother to take the time to learn about this, an utter lack of true understanding as to how out of control this situation has gotten. I believe that is because it has happened so gradually and most of it has happened behind closed doors. Also, I believe there is a certain desire NOT to know about what happened to get that piece of meat on the plate for many people. They don't like to think about it. They have this idea of, "It's distasteful and a shame, but the way things are" when they do find out how utterly bad the situation is. It is a kind of denial, I think. A way to avoid having to make any changes to their comfortable lives, their set of beliefs, to avoid accepting responsibility for the choices they make in everyday life and how those choices' ripple effects have on others and on the environment in which we all must live.
Well, because of all these years of sticking our heads in the sand, we are starting to realize that we are getting bitten in our butts while they were up in the air. But, only now are we starting to feel the pain from the bites. The problem is, will enough of us start feeling the pain in time? Will enough of the public pull their heads out of the sand and look around at what they see biting them to change things in time to save ourselves? Only time will tell.
For those readers in the group, you have probably already seen this, but I thought that it should be shared with a greater audience. I am glad that we have a place to share things with each other like the group. For anyone that is reading this blog for the first time, many times you will find that certain things discussed here will be gone into in greater depth there. Just follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the archives at the group. They are open to the public, although you must join to post your own message or use any of the other features. (This helps protect the group from spam. I have seen what happens in other groups when that gets started.)
Anyway, on to the excerpt of the post of the article. (There was no link to it, but the full article, including where it was found is at the group.) There are apparently a couple of books reviewed here, called, "How the Cows Turned Mad," by Maxime Schwartz, and "Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism," by Marion Nestle. This BSE is a very important issue, as are many other factory farming practices that need to be really looked at more closely than we do, especially those that may cause terrible pandemics and kill lots of people. It is only a matter of time before we REALLY have a MAJOR problem that kills a good percentage of society if we don't get a handle on things, and quick. What kind of scary, unsafe world are we leaving to our kids - and theirs??? And how cruel and callous will it be???
"[P]roducing safe food is not impossibly difficult," writes Marion
Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York
University, in "Safe Food, " the companion to her critically praised
"Food Politics." But if it's so easy, then why are 76 million of us
getting sick, 325,000 becoming hospitalized and 5,000 dying
every year from unsafe food? Nestle's answer is, in large part,
that corporate influence has subverted democracy.
As an on-again, off-again insider in federal agencies
responsible for food safety, as well as a nutrition adviser for the
likes of the American Cancer Society, Nestle offers a unique
vantage point, letting us in on conversations we'd never
otherwise hear. What we learn may be more than we can
The subversion of our food safety, Nestle says, begins with
overlapping and unclear authority within the federal bureaucracy.
For example, the Department of Agriculture regulates dehydrated
chicken soup, but the Food and Drug Administration regulates
dehydrated beef soup. The FDA regulates chicken broth, while
the USDA regulates (you guessed it) beef broth. In the latest
bureaucratic twist, Nestle sends up this red flag: The FDA is not
identified as a key department within the Office of Homeland
Security, even though it's responsible for the safety of
three-quarters of our food supply.
While convoluted bureaucracy poses safety threats, Nestle
argues, corporate influence over public policy is even more
worrisome. Exposing what she sees as the revolving door
between the food industry and regulators, Nestle notes
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman's choice for chief of staff: a
former National Cattlemen's Beef Association lobbyist.
Corporate food and agriculture interest groups also influence
policy through their contributions to the Republican Party, known
for its anti- regulation stance. In 2001, for example, the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association donated 82 percent of its total
campaign contributions to Republicans, the National Food
Processors Association 96 percent and the United Dairy
Farmers 100 percent.
Nestle also argues that big business has consistently used
litigation to prevent strict food safety rules. In 1993, the American
Meat Institute, the nation's oldest and largest meat and poultry
trade association, brought the Agriculture Department to court for
mandating that meat and poultry be labeled with handling and
cooking instructions. The public, the association argued, would
be unnecessarily frightened. The association won; public health
lost. Less than a week after the court ruling, three children in
Texas died from eating meat contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
Another result of this bullying: Federal agencies can only request
recalls, and even when companies do so voluntarily, product
recovery rates are abysmal. From 1997 to 2000, the average
percent of products recovered in recalls fell from 40 percent to 17
percent. A late-1990s Beef America recall recovered only 400 of
442,656 pounds of contaminated meat.
From widespread antibiotic overuse in animal agriculture (the
leading cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria) to the appearance
of salmonella (by the late 1980s, officials were finding it in
one-third of all poultry), to traces of nonhuman-approved
genetically modified products in our food chain (the StarLink corn
scandal cost the Agriculture Department $20 million to buy back
commingled seeds), to the presence of potentially fatal E. coli
O157:H7 (unheard of a few decades ago), our food is less safe,
not safer, than ever before.
Nestle asks us to consider food safety in the context of
bioterrorism. She offers this red flag: Though the FDA is
responsible for the safety of three- quarters of our food supply,
it's not even identified as a central department within the Office of
Homeland Security. She offers the case of anthrax as another:
From front-page headlines and the rush on Bayer's Cipro, we all
became familiar with anthrax and the drug that best protects
against it. Most of us probably didn't know that at the same time,
Bayer was making $150 million annually on sales of Cipro's
close cousin, Baytril, to poultry farmers worldwide. By 1999,
research on poultry was revealing bacterial resistance to Baytril
that, Nestle argues, could increase the numbers and kinds of
resistant bacteria, potentially reducing Cipro's effectiveness
against anthrax. The FDA feared the same thing. In 2000, the
agency proposed banning the use of this particular antibiotic in
poultry feed. Nestle writes: "Bayer contested the ban. " And
Baytril? It's still on the market.
Bioterrorism, genetically modified foods, food irradiation, "Safe
Food" weighs in on all the hot topics. While Nestle's arguments
are consistently solid and persuasive, she makes a few
definitive scientific claims where others would argue the science
is still up for debate. For instance, she states that the effects of
food irradiation "are not so different from those induced by
cooking," while new research from France suggests that a group
of gene-damaging chemicals is produced by irradiating meat
and that these chemicals are picked up and stored in fatty
tissues with as-yet-unknown effects. She states that
nontransgenic and transgenic plants are inherently the same:
"DNA is DNA no matter where it comes from," though other
scientists have argued that similar DNA can behave differently.
DNA of an anthrax bacterium, for instance, will force it to make a
lethal toxin, while DNA of related bacteria is unlikely to do so. I
mention these examples only to underscore Nestle's own
thesis: Because our knowledge about these complex issues is
constantly evolving, open dialogue is essential, and caution,
instead of presumption of safety, should be paramount.
"Safe Food" gains weight when read alongside French
molecular biologist Maxime Schwartz's "How the Cows Turned
Mad," which traces the scientific history that has led to mad cow
disease and its presence as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in
humans. We now know CJD is transmitted to humans by
consuming meat of animals fed meal made from rendering
(grinding up dead animals to make meat and bone meal). It's
one thing to worry about a stomachache from rancid meat, it's
another to worry about a fatal disease that attacks the brain,
leading to delusions, wasting and eventual death. Schwartz says
there was nothing inevitable about its spread from sheep to
cows and other animals and ultimately to humans...
...In her book, Nestle reminds us that food safety is profoundly
political. It forces us to ask: Who benefits? Who decides? In a
democracy, the answer should be us.
I agree. The few greedy elite that are benefiting from "the way things are" have managed to make their billions at the cost of the rest of the world and we have let them!!!
How much longer before we wake up??? How much longer are we going to sit here, doing nothing at all, while our world is destroyed around us and we are sickened and killed by the food we consume? How far can we let things go? How much more will it take before we realize we have let it go too far?
Will it be too late by then??? Only time will tell...
I wanted to make sure and take the time this morning to share the following information with you that has come in to my inbox over the past couple of days. This is important enough to make time for. Everyone has, I'm sure, been paying close attention to the mad cow incident lately. Normally, I probably would have been discussing it in more detail myself. Unfortunately, I have been quite busy with the family, so I have just read about it and filed it away for later.
But, after reading what I read, I realized that this was too important to leave waiting. Peoples' lives could be at stake here. So, I made another exception this morning to bring to your attention the following two articles that discuss some of the more scary, albeit little-known facts about this problem. Now, I know there are quite a few skeptical people out there that don't want to believe something someone like me says about their meat, but hopefully you will at least believe the experts that are talking about this.
The first article here is written by a doctor that I have mentioned before, Michael Greger, and proves that there is a much bigger risk of nerve tissue being in your steak or hambirger than you may think. He has done a lot of research into this, and I have left his references intact for anyone wanting to look further into these for themselves.
The second article was posted on meatingplace.com, the site for the industry. This one cites problems in getting any documentation from the USDA on their results of testing for BSE and quotes veterinarians that worked for the USDA, showing clearly their belief that this is probably not an isolated case - that there may even be a bit of a cover-up to keep this problem undetected.
Clearly, the combination of these articles is quite scary. I felt it necessary to bring them to your attention. As you would have to be registered to read these online, I have included them in their entirety here for your convenience. They make for a bit of reading, but once you see how important and worrisome this truly is, you will be glad you took the time.
I will have more to say on this later. Until then - be safe. And stay informed...
12/24/03 USDA Misleading American Public about Beef Safety
by Michael Greger, M.D.
It is not surprising that the U.S. has mad cow disease given our flaunting of World Health Organization recommendations. What is surprising, however, is that we actually found a case given the inadequacy of our surveillance program, a level of testing that Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, probably the world's leading expert on these diseases, calls simply "appalling." Europe and Japan follow World Health Organization guidelines and test every downer cow for mad cow disease; the U.S. has tested less than 2% of downers over the last decade. Most of the U.S. downer cows, too sick or injured to even walk, end up on our dinner plates.
In Canada, authorities were able to reassure the public that at least the downer cow they discovered infected with BSE--Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or mad cow disease--was excluded from the human food chain and only rendered into animal feed. U.S. officials don't seem to be able to offer the same reassurance, as the mad cow we discovered may very well have been ground into hamburger. How then, can the USDA and the beef industry insist that the American beef supply is still safe? They argue that the infectious prions that cause the disease are only found in the brain and nervous tissue, not the muscles, not the meat.
For example, on NBC's Today, USDA Secretary Veneman insisted "the fact of the matter is that all scientific evidence would show, based upon what we know about this disease, that muscle cuts -- that is, the meat of the animal itself -- should not cause any risk to human health. " The National Cattlemen's Beef Association echoed "Consumers should continue to eat beef with confidence. All scientific studies show that the BSE infectious agent has never been found in beef muscle meat or milk and U.S. beef remains safe to eat. " This can be viewed as misleading and irresponsible on two counts.
First, American do eat bovine central nervous system tissue. The United States General Accounting Office (GAO) is the investigative watchdog arm of Congress. In 2002, the GAO released their report on the weaknesses present in the U.S. defense against mad cow disease. Quoting from that congressional report, "In terms of the public health risk, consumers do not always know when foods and other products they use may contain central nervous system tissue... Many edible products, such as beef stock, beef extract, and beef flavoring, are frequently made by boiling the skeletal remains (including the vertebral column) of the carcass..." According to the consumer advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest, spinal cord contamination may also be found in U.S. hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza toppings, and taco fillings. In fact, a 2002 USDA survey showed that approximately 35 percent of high risk meat products tested positive for central nervous system tissues.
The GAO report continues: "In light of the experiences in Japan and other countries that were thought to be BSE free, we believe that it would be prudent for USDA to consider taking some action to inform consumers when products may contain central nervous system or other tissue that could pose a risk if taken from a BSE-infected animal. This effort would allow American consumers to make more informed choices about the products they consume." The USDA, however, did not follow those recommendations, deciding such foods need not be labeled.
Even if Americans just stick to steak, they may not be shielded from risk. The "T" in a T-bone steak is a vertebra from the animal's spinal column, and as such may contain a section of the actual spinal cord. Other potentially contaminated cuts include porterhouse, standing rib roast, prime rib with bone, bone-in rib steak, and (if they contain bone) chuck blade roast and loin. These cuts may include spinal cord tissue and/or so-called dorsal root ganglia, swellings of nerve roots coming into the meat from the spinal cord which have been proven to be infectious as well. This concern has led the FDA to consider banning the incorporation of "plate waste" from restaurants into cattle feed. The American Feed Industry Association defends the current exemption of plate scrapings from the 1997 feed regulations: "How can you tell the consumer 'Hey, you've just eaten a T-bone steak and it's fine for you, but you can't feed it to animals'? "
Even boneless cuts may not be risk-free, though. In the slaughterhouse, the bovine carcass is typically split in half down the middle with a band saw, sawing right through the spinal column. This has been shown to aerosolize the spinal cord and contaminate the surrounding meat. A study in Europe found contamination with spinal cord material on 100% of the split carcasses examined. Similar contamination of meat derived from cattle cheeks can occur from brain tissue, if the cheek meat is not removed before the skull is fragmented or split. The World Health Organization has pointed out that American beef can be contaminated with brain and spinal cord tissue in another way as well.
Except for Islamic halal and Jewish kosher slaughter (which involve slitting the cow's throat while the animal is still conscious), cattle slaughtered in the United States are first stunned unconscious with an impact to the head before being bled to death. Medical science has known for over 60 years that people suffering head trauma can end up with bits of brain embolized into their bloodstream; so Texas A&M researchers wondered if fragments of brain could be found within the bodies of cattle stunned for slaughter. They checked and reportedly exclaimed, "Oh, boy did we find it." They even found a
14 cm piece of brain in one cow's lung. They concluded, "It is likely that prion proteins are found throughout the bodies of animals stunned for slaughter."
There are different types of stunning devices, however, which likely have different levels of risk associated with them. The Texas A&M study was published in 1996 using the prevailing method at the time, pneumatic-powered air injection stunning. The device is placed in the middle of the animal's forehead and fired, shooting a 4 inch bolt through the skull and injecting compressed air into the cranial vault which scrambles the brain tissue. The high pressure air not only "produces a smearing of the head of the animal with liquefied brain," but has been shown over and over to blow brain back into the circulatory system, scattering whole plugs of brain into a number of organs and smaller brain bits likely into the muscle meat as well.
Although this method of stunning has been used in the United States for over 20 years, the meat industry, to their credit, has been phasing out these particularly risky air injection-type stunners. The Deputy Director of Public Citizen argues that this industry initiative should be given the force of federal regulation and banned, as they have been throughout Europe.
The stunning devices that remain in widespread use drive similar bolts through the skull of the animal, but without air injection. Operators then may or may not pith the animals by sticking a rod into the stun hole to further agitate the deeper brain structures to reduce or eliminate reflex kicking during shackling of the hind limbs. Even without pithing, which has been shown to be risky, these stunners currently in use in the U.S. today may still force brain into the bloodstream of some of these animals.[35-38]
In one experiment, for example, researchers applied a marker onto the stunner bolt. The marker was later detected within the muscle meat of the stunned animal. They conclude: "This study demonstrates that material present in... the CNS of cattle during commercial captive bolt stunning may become widely dispersed across the many animate and inanimate elements of the slaughter-dressing environment and within derived carcasses including meat entering the human food chain." Even non-penetrative "mushroom-headed" stunners which just rely on concussive force to the skull to render the animal unconscious may not be risk free. People in automobile accidents with non-invasive head trauma can still end up with brain embolization, and these bolts move at over 200 miles per hour. The researchers at Texas A&M conclude, "Reason dictates that any method of stunning to the head will result in the likelihood of brain emboli in the lungs or, indeed, other parts of the body."
And, finally, even if consumers of American beef just stick to boneless cuts from ritually slaughtered animals who just happen to have had their spinal columns safely removed, the muscle meat itself may be infected with prions. It is unconscionable that the USDA and the beef industry continue to insist that the deadly prions aren't found in muscle meat. In 2002, Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, proved in mice, at least, that muscle cells themselves were capable of forming prions. He describes the levels of prions in muscle as "quite high," and describes the studies relied upon by the Cattlemen's Association as "extraordinarily inadequate." Follow-up studies in Germany published May, 2003 confirm Prusiner's findings, showing that an animal who are orally infected may indeed end up with prions contaminating muscles throughout their body.
The discovery of a case of mad cow disease in the U.S. highlights how ineffective current safeguards are in North America. The explosive spread of mad cow disease in Europe has been blamed on the cannibalistic practice of feeding slaughterhouse waste to livestock. Both Canada and the United States banned the feeding of the muscles and bones of most animals to cows and sheep back in 1997, but unlike Europe left gaping loopholes in the law. For example, blood is currently exempted from the Canadian and the U.S. feed bans. You can still feed calves cow's blood collected at the slaughterhouse. In modern factory farming practice calves may be removed from their mothers immediately after birth, so the calves are fed milk replacer, which is often supplemented with protein rich cow serum. Weaned calves and young pigs also may have cattle blood sprayed directly on their feed to save money on feed costs. For more information on this and other risky agriculture practices please see http://organicconsumers.org/madcow/GregerBSE.cfm
And the Canadian and U.S. feed bans also allows the feeding of pigs and horses to cows. Cattle remains can be rendered down and fed to pigs, for example, and then the pig remains can be fed back to cattle. Or rendered cattle remains can be fed to chickens and then the chicken litter, or manure, can be legally fed back to the cows. So the fact that according to the USDA the most infectious tissues of the U.S. mad cow case, the brain spinal cord and intestines, "were removed from this animal and sent to rendering" is not necessarily reassuring.
D. Carleton Gajdusek was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on mad cow-like diseases. He was quoted on Dateline NBC as saying, "it's got to be in the pigs as well as the cattle. It's got to be passing through the chickens." Dr. Paul Brown, medical director for the US Public Health Service, believes that pigs and poultry could indeed be harboring mad cow disease and passing it on to humans, adding that pigs are especially sensitive to the disease. "It's speculation," he says, "but I am perfectly serious."
The 2002 General Accounting Office report concluded: "BSE may be silently incubating somewhere in the United States. If that is the case, then FDA 's failure to enforce the feed ban may already have placed U.S. herds and, in turn, the human food supply at risk. FDA has no clear enforcement strategy for dealing with firms that do not obey the feed ban... Moreover, FDA has been using inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable data to track and oversee feed ban compliance." The report can be downloaded at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02183.pdf
Despite these shortcomings, Secretary Veneman and Washington's governor both assured the public that they were still having beef for Christmas, reminiscent of the 1990 fiasco in which the British agriculture minister appeared on TV urging his 4-year-old daughter to eat a hamburger. Four years later, young people in Britain were dying from an invariably fatal neurogenerative disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease--the human equivalent of mad cow disease--which they contracted through the consumption of infected beef.
 http://organicconsumers.org/madcow/GregerBSE.cfm  Mad Cow Disease in Canada. May 23, 2003 9:00am KQED Forum hosted by Angie Coiro.
 World Health Organization Consultation on Public Health Issues Related to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and the Emergence of a New Variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. MMWR 45(14);295-6, 303. 12 April 1996.
 Mad Cow Disease in Canada. May 23, 2003 9:00am KQED Forum hosted by Angie Coiro. .
 Even assuming 195,000 downers a year and that every single of the tests in the surveillance program's history was performed on downer cattle, (48,000 in 13 years)/(195,000 x 13 years) is less than 2%.
 A Review of USDA Slaughterhouse Records for Downed Animals (U.S. District 65 from January, 1999 to June, 2001) Farm Sanctuary, October
2001. http://www.nodowners.org/downedanimals.pdf  "Critics say U.S. needs to do more to protect against mad cow." The Journal News (New York) 29 May 2003.
 "Mad Cow Meat May Have Been Eaten, Official Says." Reuters. December 23, 2003.
 "First US Case Of Mad Cow Disease Found In WA." The Bulletin's Frontrunner. December 24, 2003.
 National Cattlemen's Beef Association Statement. December 23, 2003.
  United States General Accounting Office. GAO Report to Congressional Requesters. January 2002 MAD COW DISEASE: Improvements in the Animal Feed Ban and Other Regulatory Areas Would Strengthen U.S. Prevention Efforts. GAO-02-183. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02183.pdf  "Health and Consumer Groups Urge USDA to Keep Cattle Spinal Cord Tissue Out of Processed Meat" Center for Science in the Public Interest News Release. 10 August 2001.
 USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA Begins Sampling Program for Advanced Meat Recovery Systems, News Release.3 March 2002.
 United States General Accounting Office. GAO Report to Congressional Requesters. January 2002 MAD COW DISEASE: Improvements in the Animal Feed Ban and Other Regulatory Areas Would Strengthen U.S. Prevention Efforts. GAO-02-183. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02183.pdf  USDA Response To GAO Recommendations on BSE Prevention. Release No. F.S. 0071.02.
 Center for Science in the Public Interest. Nutrition Health Letter. June, 2001.
 FDA Veterinarian Newsletter. Volume XVII, No. VI. November/December 2002.
 USA Today, June 10, 2003.
 Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Risk Analysis of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in Cattle and the Potential for Entry of the Etiologic Agent(s) Into the U.S. Food Supply . 2001. http://www.hcra.harvard.edu/madcow_report.pdf.
 Joint WHO/FAO/OIE Technical Consultation on BSE. OIE Headquarters, Paris, 11-14 June 2001.
 USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Current Thinking on Measures that Could be Implemented to Minimize Human Exposure to Materials that Could Potentially Contain the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Agent. 15 January 2002.
 Joint WHO/FAO/OIE Technical Consultation on BSE. OIE Headquarters, Paris, 11-14 June 2001.
 Reuters 29 August 1996.
 Lancet Vol 348 August 31, 1996.
 Lancet Vol 348 August 31, 1996.
 European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General Scientific Opinion on Stunning Methods and BSE Risks. January 2002.
 Transfusion, Vol. 41, No. 11, 1325, November 2001.
 European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General Scientific Opinion on Stunning Methods and BSE Risks. January 2002.
 Transfusion, Vol. 41, No. 11, 1325, November 2001.
 Testimony of Peter Lurie, MD, MPH Deputy Director Public Citizen's Health Research Group Before the Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism Subcommittee Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 4 April 2001.
 Regulation (EC)No 999/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council. Laying down rules for the prevention, control and eradication of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. 22 May 2001.
 European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General Scientific Opinion on Stunning Methods and BSE Risks. January 2002.
 European Commission Scientific Report on Stunning Methods And BSE Risks (The Risk of Dissemination of Brain Particles Into the Blood And Carcass When Applying Certain Stunning Methods. December
 Berliner und Münchener Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 2002 Jan-Feb;
 Joint WHO/FAO/OIE Technical Consultation on BSE. OIE Headquarters, Paris, 11-14 June 2001.
 European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General. Scientific Steering Committee Opinion on the Safety of Ruminant Blood with Respect to Risks. 14 April 2000.
 European Commission Scientific Report On Stunning Methods and BSE Risks (The Risk of Dissemination of Brain Particles into the Blood and Carcass when Applying Certain Stunning Methods. December 2001).
 Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2002 Feb; 68(2): 791-8.
 Letters to the Editor. The Lancet Vol 348 September 14, 1996.
 European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General. Scientific Steering Committee Opinion on the Safety of Ruminant Blood with Respect to Risks. 14 April 2000.
 Letters to the Editor. The Lancet Vol 348 September 14, 1996.
 National Cattlemen's Beef Association news release. 21 May 2003. http://www.beef.org/dsp/dsp_content.cfm?locationId=45&contentTypeId=2&contentId=2098.
 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2002 Mar 19;99(6):3812-7.
 Mad Cow Disease in Canada. May 23, 2003 9:00am KQED Forum hosted by Angie Coiro.
 European Molecular Biology Organization Reports 4, 5 (2003), 530.
 Kimberlin, R. H. "Human Spongiform Encephalopathies and BSE." Medical Laboratory Sciences 49 (1992): 216-217.
 Canadian Food Inspection Agency BSE Fact Sheet. May 2003 P0091E-00. . Food and Drug Administration 2000 CFR Title 21, Volume 6, Chapter 1, Part 589 Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Regulations: Food for Ruminants, Livestock and Poultry (Part XIV), "Prohibited Materials"
 Food and Drug Administration 2000 CFR Title 21, Volume 6, Chapter 1, Part 589.  International Center for Technology Assessment. Citizen Petition Before The United States Food And Drug Administration. 1/9/03.  Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Regulations: Food for Ruminants, Livestock and Poultry (Part XIV), "Prohibited Materials"
 Food and Drug Administration 2000 CFR Title 21, Volume 6, Chapter 1, Part 589.  Public Citizen. Letter to the FDA and USDA RE: BSE. 21 April
2001.  Food and Drug Administration Sec. 685.100 Recycled Animal Waste (CPG 7126.34)
 FDCH Political Transcripts December 23, 2003  Unconventional viruses and the origin and disappearance of kuru.
13 December 1976.  NBC Dateline 14 March 1997.
 Pearce, Fred. "BSE May Lurk in Pigs and Chickens." New Scientist
6 April 1996: 5.
 United States General Accounting Office. GAO Report to Congressional Requesters. January 2002 MAD COW DISEASE: Improvements in the Animal Feed Ban and Other Regulatory Areas Would Strengthen U.S. Prevention Efforts. GAO-02-183.  Chicago Tribune 21 May 21 2003.
 "Ministers Hostile to Advice on BSE." New Scientist 30 March 1996: 4.
Michael Greger, MD, is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Greger has been speaking publicly about mad cow disease since 1993. He debated National Cattlemen's Beef Association Director Gary Weber before the FDA and was invited as an expert witness at the Oprah Winfrey infamous "meat defamation" trial. He has contributed to many books and articles on the subject, continues to lecture extensively and currently coordinates the mad cow disease website for the Organic Consumers Association. Dr. Greger can be reached for media inquiries at (617) 524-8064 or email@example.com.
UPI: USDA refused to release mad cow records
by Brendan O'Neill on 12/26/03 for Meatingplace.com
According to United Press International, the Agriculture Department refused to release its tests for mad cow during the past six months. UPI said USDA reported it has tested about 20,000 cows for the disease in 2002 and 2003, but has been unable to provide any documentation in support of this.
UPI's report comes in the wake of Tuesday's announcement by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman that a cow slaughtered on Dec. 9 on a farm in Mabton, Wash., had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
USDA officials told UPI as recently as Dec. 17 the agency was still searching for documentation of its mad cow testing results from 2002 and 2003. UPI initially requested the documents on July 10, and after repeated attempts over the past six months, including Freedom of Information Act requests and threatened legal action, USDA never sent any corresponding documents.
"If any documents exist, they will be forwarded," USDA official Michael Marquis wrote in the letter, according to UPI.
"The government doesn't have records to substantiate their testing so how do they know whether this is an isolated case," Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian who has been insisting mad cow is present in American herds for years, told UPI.
Michael Schwochert, a retired USDA veterinarian in Ft. Morgan, Colo., agreed with that, saying the USDA's sparse testing means they cannot say with any confidence whether there are additional cases or not.
"It scares the hell out of me what it's going to do to the cattle industry," Schwochert said. "This could be catastrophic."
Other BSE animals?
In addition, former USDA veterinarians told UPI they have long suspected the disease was in U.S herds and there are probably additional infected animals.
"It's always concerned me that they haven't used the same rapid testing technique that's used in Europe," where mad cow has been detected in several additional countries outside of the United Kingdom, said Schwochert.
According to the UPI report, Schwochert noted that he had been informed that about six months ago a cow displaying symptoms suggestive of mad cow disease showed up at the Excel slaughtering plant in Ft. Morgan.
"It was almost like they didn't want to find mad cow disease," Schwochert said.
Once cows are unloaded off the truck they are required to be inspected by USDA veterinarians. However, the cow was spotted by plant employees before USDA officials saw it and "it went back out on a special truck and they called the guys in the office and said don't say anything about this," UPI reported Schwochert as saying. **************************************
I sure am glad that I don't have to worry about these things anymore since I changed my diet to no longer include meat. I hope that, even if you decide to keep eating it, that you will not buy any factory farmed products. It is just not safe, as is becoming increasingly evident, no matter how hard they try to prevent the public from realizing this. Please stay safe. And stay informed.
I hope you enjoyed your Christmas as much as we did here. Peace to all of you out there. Happy Holidays!
I wasn't intending to post today, but a reader asked me about the current Tyson recall of 19,900 pounds of fully cooked frozen grilled chicken patties that may contain pieces of metal that was reported, according to the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
For anyone concerned about this, I have further info or you can click here to find it. They require you to register, though, so I would be glad to send you the article if you email me or I also posted the whole article at the Yahoo group. Just follow the link at the bottom of the page to go there.
Anyway, someone asked me how this could happen, so I decided to quickly touch base and answer that question this morning. I figure if one person wants to know, then there are probably others out there who do, too.
So, here it goes:
I know what some of the likely things that may have caused it, but it is difficult to explain in just a few sentences, and I wasn't there at that plant for this situation, so I could be wrong. That said...
Usually this results from metal shavings building up on the rail. This is what guides the line along its path through the plant. It's caused by little wheels that are on the chain that run along this rail. These wheels are what hold the chain and shackle up. Because of the high humidity and the water getting splashed on them constantly, they freeze up and, instead of rolling, they slide back and forth - metal on metal. It creates shavings. This can happen anywhere in the plant. Now, although this can happen while the plant is running, it can also often be as a result of the failure of the maintenance people to service the line properly. Each one of these little wheels has a bearing in it. And, as any mechanically-inclined person knows, bearings have to be greased - regularly, especially if they get wet. Maintenance doesn't have time to grease each and every one of these little wheels, so instead, they just wait until a bunch of them go out, then replace them. But, when those little metal wheels go out, they leave little metal shavings. The wheels slide back and forth along the rail until they wear out, grinding off, with the little metal shavings falling off onto the chickens below. Then, when those high pressure water sprayers try to wash them off, them embed them instead, thus escaping notice until it is too late and someone finds them in their food. I have often wondered how many tiny ones are never seen at all...
These shavings are very sharp on the edges. They can be anywhere from too small to be seen with the naked eye to as big as the chips thrown out by a chainsaw. They can be any size in between those extremes, but it is usually only the smallest that get away undetected. Eating them and getting them in your stomach must be excruciatingly painful. I can't imagine how horrible that would be, especially for some little kid somewhere. This happens a lot, but is usually caught before it ever leaves the plant. QC (Quality Control) is supposed to catch this because the inspectors are at the head of the line. Unfortunately this time, that wasn't the case.
Usually when these are caught by the QC people, even when the condemned chicken carcasses were so full of metal to glimmer in the light, they are ground up for animal food. I am wondering what they did with this meat...
This usually becomes a more common occurrence when the plant volume increases, often within weeks before a holiday. This is because Tyson will try to elevate production to make up for the time the employees will be off of work for the holidays. So, people are pushed to do more in the same amount of time. Tyson has a concept called "product per man-hour." What they do is they figure out exactly how many pounds of meat are produced per hour paid. In other words, say, we produced 100 lbs. of meat, and it took x number of people y number of hours to produce that product. They try to figure out how to arrange things so that they can get a higher amount of production in the same amount of time, thereby making it more profitable and making up for the lost production hours.
What they are doing is, trying to figure out - over a length of time - how to get the lost production added in without working more hours and paying overtime to workers. This ends up leading to usually speeding up the line and pushing up production, so more mistakes get made. Things get left undone that should be done in order to keep the line going properly.
They elevate the "production per man-hour." The employees do the same amount of work they would have done if they would have worked the holiday, but as it is squeezed into already hard shifts, they are essentially working the same amount, but not getting paid for it. There is a lost day of production, but no lost "production per man-hour." Dangerous to public safety? Yes. Exploiting the workers? You bet. More cruelty to the chickens? Most assuredly. You do the math.
Greed=speed. And more speed=more mistakes.
And, yes, this is just one more reason to question the safety of any factory farm products, but especially those from Tyson. I saw too much to EVER be convinced of the safety of their products. Hopefully, many more people will begin to realize that as well before it kills them...Or their kids...
I took the comments down temporarily because of my inability to police them right now. I shouldn't have to, but there are always those that feel the driving need to leave their brain droppings everywhere, however nasty they may be. I tried to be nice about this, and appeal to their personal human dignity, (as did others) but to no avail.
Since certain people have chosen to leave nasty four-letter words there in the comments section even after I asked (and other readers asked) them not to because there are kids coming here, and there are quite a few other people offended by that sort of language, I feel that I have had no choice but to remove the comments from the site. Sorry about that, but that's the way it usually is. The many pay the price for the actions of the few.
I bear these people no ill will, but I will not offer this blog as a platform for them to spew their gutter talk and trash other caring people. It doesn't bother me in the least as I have a thick skin, but it does seem to offend some other readers, so the comments are gone for now. Perhaps in the future, I will consider reinstating them.
Thank you everyone for your continued support. Yes, I am enjoying visiting with family and taking a break. Thank you to everyone who wrote me about that. I hope that you also have a very good holiday season.
The Holidays - A Time for Family, Love, Kindness, and Peace
I tried to post this yesterday morning, but Blogger was down after I got it written, so I had to wait until today. I was gone from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. yesterday (and too tired by then to even boot up the computer - just went to bed - excited kids will do that to you [where do they get all that energy?!] :) LOL!), so I never got another chance to post this or to check on anything else that was going on.
I wanted to take a minute this morning to let everyone know that, as the holidays are approaching and we have already had some family come in (and more coming that haven't arrived yet) to stay through the holidays, I will be taking a break from this blog in order to spend as much time as possible with them through the holidays. I will do my best to check my email as often as possible, but if I don't write back right away, don't get worried or feel like you are being ignored. This will not be the case. I will simply be spending time with family and enjoying a much-needed break. I am not ruling out completely the possibility of a post, but I will probably not have the time to do that over the next little while. As important as this blog is to me, and to the animals it was set up to help, we don't get to see our family often enough, so they will come first on my list of priorites over the next couple of weeks.
Thank you everyone for your continued support. I wish everyone a very happy holiday season. All those who have sent emails, cards and letters, food!!!, and donations, my thanks to you. I will follow up with personal messages to all of you that I have not yet responded to (my inbox is still quite backed up!) as soon as humanly possible. You have helped make a real difference with your generosity.
This is a wonderful time of year, with the spirit of caring, love, and generosity in the air. Be good to each other out there. Make peace with those you have been angry with, especially if that includes family members. We are all in this together. Let's everyone put aside their personal differences over the next weeks and bring a little more peace to the world this year. Goodness knows this world could use all the peace it can get right now. We have too much fighting, too much war, and too much "me, me, me."
One final thing before I sign off this morning. I have a small request to make.
Today, and each day over the holidays, let's all try to do at least one random act of kindness each day. Just one (although more is certainly great!). It won't take much effort from you, but may just make someone's day for them. Be kind to each other out there. And be kind to the animals, too. If you are considering obtaining a companion animal this year, for yourself or someone else, don't forget the shelters. Many lonely animals won't have a warm, loving home this year at Christmas. Perhaps you could change that.
Today I received an email from a reader that was a copy of an article on a lawsuit against Tyson by the residents of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Now, it didn't have a link in it, so I can't provide one here, at least not yet. (I emailed for it and haven't heard back.) UPDATE: I got the link. But, the lawsuit has been filed on behalf of residents who:
have all lost children or suffered serious health problems, including cancers and blood disorders, because of high levels of arsenic ingested as a result of chicken litter spread around their town. Alpharma, Inc. (NYSE:ALO), Tyson (NYSE:TSN) and other poultry producers were named defendants in the lawsuit. The details of the lawsuits and the health problems were discussed at a news conference in Fayetteville today.
I have to admit, this piqued my curiosity. But, I really started becoming increasingly alarmed about this as I continued to read on. The article sent to me went on to say that:
According to John Baker, attorney representing the residents, the first suit includes survivors of cancer and the parents of four children who died from leukemia and brain cancer. Several residents have been diagnosed with rare forms of cancer normally occurring at a rate of one in a million. Prairie Grove has a population of just 2,540, with a county population of 175,000. Sandra Beckcom, a registered nurse who has worked in medical facilities in the community, has a muscle cancer called leiomysarcoma. "I've seen first-hand the failure of the medical community to report cancers and other serious diseases in this county. I have a recurring diagnosis of what is normally a rare form of cancer, but there are three known cases diagnosed in this community. This is extremely alarming and should be a red flag for everyone who lives here."
Alpharma, Inc., manufacturers a product called 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) that is ground and mixed with chicken feed by Tyson and others in the poultry industry to enhance growth of the chicken. Roxarsone passes straight through chickens to their litter and becomes the very toxic poison known as Inorganic Arsenic III and Inorganic Arsenic V when placed in the environment.
Chicken litter is spread throughout the Norwest corridor of Arkansas with a high concentration in Washington County, particularly in the farmland surrounding Prairie Grove. The poultry industry typically spreads the fertilizer in a three-mile radius around the chicken farms, exaggerating the concentration in Washington County where there is an abundance of these farms. Attorneys say Washington County has the second largest chicken population in the United States (approximately 10 million).
A large group of families gathered at the Radisson in Fayetteville today to ask the poultry industry to stop using the chemical additive Roxarsone and to stop spreading the contaminated chicken litter throughout their community. Prairie Grove resident Tommy Johnson lost his teenaged son Austin to brain cancer.
"The petroleum industry, chemical industry, healthcare industry, and private citizens have to treat and dispose of waste in a safe and healthy manner," he says. "Why shouldn't the poultry industry be held to the same standard?"
The families represented in the lawsuits have asked the court to enjoin the poultry producers from using the chemical Roxarsone as a poultry food supplement and from spreading the poison in Washington County.
The lawsuit was originally filed earlier this year in Hinds County, Mississippi, where one family moved at the recommendation of their child's physician.
The Mississippi Court felt it would be more convenient to try the case in Washington County where more witnesses and victims reside so the case was dismissed without prejudice and re-filed here today.
Now, I don't usually like to post things like this without a link or some other form of reference to show people for themselves where the information came from. I made an exception in this case because I am using it to illustrate a point. The only thing at the top of this to make it in any way identifiable as to who may have written it was simply the date of 12/16/03 and that it was a press release - in other words, not much info on that. If I receive the link, I will share it with anyone who cares enough to look want to look it up. Anyway...
I started doing a search on the web for the source of this article. I did a search for "Prairie Grove, Arkansas" first. Well, mostly that brought up a bunch of sites from businesses promoting their products there or a site telling me how wonderful the town was and why I should live there. But, I did find an extremely disturbing item in this search. Check this out:
Since October 2001, the Arkansas Department of Health has been investigating a potential cluster of testicular cancer in this town. From 1997 to 2001, five cases of the cancer have been diagnosed, which is about five times the national rate. In studies of the cityâ€™s water supply, a local and now-closed nuclear reactor, a low-level radioactive landfill and 14 private natural gas wells, the Department of Health has not yet found any contamination that may be carcinogenic.
Well, I'll tell you that THAT gave me some cause for concern!!! Especially since that bit of info comes from a place set up to track the "hotspots" of communities with high ratios of strange, unnatural, even unexplainable, collections of people experiencing rare, serious and even fatal illnesses. I immediately went into full search mode on the keywords "lawsuit 'chicken litter'" after reading that.
Oh my goodness at the myriad of interesting things that sprung up from THAT search! Apparently this is a MUCH bigger issue than even I was aware of. Well, I decided then and there that I would go through all these things, read up on the issue, and do a post on what I found and where I found it.
I started surfing, collecting info, and filing it away, until I came across this site. Now, I had, of course, heard about the Mad Cowboy, otherwise known as Howard Lyman. I have talked to people that know him. I would just love to meet him myself. He sounds like a fun, down-to-earth kind of guy, but I hadn't ever yet managed to get around to reading up on him and his story. I wish I had done so, but I am always so busy that I have just never gotten around to doing it. I'm glad I did today. It was a great read, so if you haven't seen it yet, either, I recommend taking a minute to do just that. We laughed out loud at his wit and marveled at the strength of character that he displayed in his fight. And we understood what he meant about how the whole thing ended up enriching his life in wonderful ways.
Well, after reading that excerpt, I am really feeling like our situations are not really so different in the big picture. He took on "Big Beef" and I took on "Big Chicken." They both are huge and powerful (even if being a "Big Chicken" doesn't much sound like it. Ha! ha! ha!- couldn't resist that one), and they fight back viciously at anyone who even thinks of trying to cross them or says anything bad about the factory farming industry. The industry reminds me of a bunch of threatened wild and vicious dogs, all back-to-back and side-to-side, forming a kind of circle against the ever-growing public assault on their cold and cruelly callous, as well as irresponsible and unsafe, ways of doing business. They are all biting, snapping, and snarling, while the ever-growing crowds of people that used buy into their propaganda are increasingly pointing fingers and demanding answers and responsibility for what they - that awakening public - correctly (in my opinion) reasons are threats to society itself by these big greedy corporations. These corporations are trying to take over the world - and I really don't think I am being too melodramatic when I say that. The public is waking up, albeit slowly, and trying to right the wrongs of this generation and the generations before us before we pass these problems off onto our kids and grandkids. This is what is scaring these big corporations. They don't want to take responsibility because it is expensive.
I've been just absolutely thrilled to find that there are so many people in the world that care about these issues. There are far more caring and concerned people in this world than I had first thought there were when I first spoke up almost a year ago, just two months after leaving Tyson in the middle of Nov. '02. That seems like it has been so long ago, yet the time has seemed to fly, too. What a different life I had just a scant year ago before all this started! But, just as Howard Lyman also found out and spoke of, speaking out about wrongs you are in a position to help stop has been one of the best things I have ever done in my life as far as enriching my personal life and the way I approach things, even in the way I view life itself - all life. It is but one of many ways that I have made major changes in what I do, how I do it, and what direction my life is going in because of those choices. That is what life really boils down to - making the right choices. I am trying to make more of those now.
I really hope that if you have not read his book yet, you check it out. I would love to read it. Hey, if anyone has an extra copy around, or one they are through with, could you pass it on? Anyway, this link (the same one as above) will take you to an extremely revealing look at what he went through as an "Alleged Food Disparager."
Those are his words to describe himself because of the ridiculous lawsuit he and Oprah had to defend themselves against. They had been accused of violating the Texas Food Disparagement Act, and the authorities charged him with a list of ridiculous charges for exercising his right to free speech. They just threw Oprah in there for airing it, even though she had the other side sitting there, too, from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, saying what he could. That apparently wasn't very much or too helpful to his side, since Howard knew what he was talking about and told everyone what was being fed to cows and, by extension, directly to them and their kids. As you might expect, when the public heard this (and the industry!) it created a major ruckus and a big ol' fight!
Well, as you can imagine, we really identified with this guy. He went from being a cattle rancher to being a whistle-blower just like I went from chicken hanger to whistle-blower. He got attacked, and I got attacked. He went vegetarian because of what he personally knew about factory farming from his years of experience in it, and so did we. There are other things in common, but you see the picture.
After reading that, I almost posted it in its entirety and let it just stand with a few brief words of description and introduction, thinking I would use that as a post by itself so that I could resume my search and get some things done around here that I have been neglecting to get done. I decided not to do that, though. I felt like that was ripping you off, in a way. And some people seem to worry that there is something wrong if I miss a day of posting. I didn't used to worry about that as much and no one used to write me to ask of something was wrong, since most of the people that read it then didn't all come every day, and the ones that did knew that I was fine, just a little busy. I just sometimes have to do "regular" life stuff, just like you. That's all. No big deal. I spend a lot of time doing other things because there is so much to do. I read emails from supporters, personal emails, articles, etc. every day and still have to try to check out the group and, if I have time, the comments here. There is just a lot to do, and I still have a "regular" life, too.
This is not a complaint, just a simple explanation of why I don't have an immediate answer to someone who leaves a comment and comes back throughout the day to see if I have answered it yet. That was never the reasoning behind putting a comments section on the site, nor were they put there for that express purpose. For those that have been around from the beginning, you will remember that I put them there so that people could let me or others know what they thought of a post, whether it needed further clarification, had extra info to add to it from their experience or research, had ideas for posts, and that sort of thing. That is not where I carry on conversations with people, normally. That's what email is for. Neither were they put there for anyone to insult others or for personal agendas or any other reason. I'm not pointing any fingers or anything, just simply explaining.
I have gotten to "know" quite a few of you now, through emails back and forth across the world. We have shared quite a bit of the trials and troubles that all of us activists face and the great rewards that make all those sacrifices and hardships worth enduring. You know, I am starting to have a problem with hanging a label on myself. I have been thinking a bit about this way society has of labeling people. "I am/you are an activist."
Why do we feel the need to do this? Perhaps an increasing desire to not get lost in the sea of voices? By identifying with particular groups of people, we can join those voices into one loud voice to shout one message. But, see, that is the problem. We are not one voice always. We don't every one of us believe exactly alike on all things. That's the problem with labels. While being helpful to describe the sorts of values one holds, it is also limiting in a way, because there is so much that the label does NOT say about that individual.
Then, you get to stereotyping. "Well, all AR activists think this, so we shouldn't listen to them. They are all nuts anyway. They don't want any people to have any animals ever. " You know, maybe some people might believe that, but I highly doubt that most people who consider themselves to be falling under this label would go to that extreme. I, for one, don't. Yet, I get all sorts of beliefs attributed to me by the use of the label to identify what kind of person I am. And, you see the other problem there, don't you? It leaves out all kinds of other things that I am and some that I am not.
I am going to end this post for now because, as should be obvious, I am sort of going on "information overload" right now and am starting to ramble. I could use a break for a bit and get outside in the fresh air with the cats and dogs, the trees, the birds, and all the rest of Nature in all Her splendor.
I am learning so much so fast. I am now apparently supposed to have researched and formed an official position on all these many issues people write about, many of which I am not aware of yet. (Not that I am accusing the contributor of the article that started this post of asking for that. That was not the case. That was a simple "heads-up," and I always appreciate help like that.) But, everyone has some issue that really bugs them the most, whatever label(s) they have hanging on them.
Unless you don't care about anything at all and have no labels. What do we call those people? Maybe I shouldn't have asked that. Now, I'll get another wave of emails from people who know JUST what to call them! LOL! :) (If I do, I promise to post the list in the group. but not here. I try to be more selective of what is posted here, now that so many people are reading it. This is a serious issue and should be treated as such here. That is important to me and what this whole blog is about.)
If you want to try to boil down what I think to be the right thing to do and what kind of person I think of myself as, I cannot do that. I live and learn and change from day to day, as do most people, especially those that are working to grow and mature in spirit. The past is the past, and the future hasn't happened yet, so all I can do is to be "me" right here and right now.
I am just another individual on this planet like the rest of you. We are all interconnected, and what one of us does always ripples to affect the others. What kind of ripples you make in your life through your everyday personal choices is what kind of life you are living and what kind of person you are. Therefore, it is my belief that we should all just listen to that voice deep inside ourselves that lets us know what we should or should not do - what is right and what is wrong. That voice that comes from within and is each person's own personal spiritual way to "tune in" to whatever you call your Source of spiritual power and strength, be it God, Goddess, Yahweh, Allah, or however else you may think of what is divine in this universe. The Source of us all - the name is unimportant. That is where the "little voice" comes from. Some people simply call it their conscience. Whatever you want to call it, that is your own link to everything, everyone, and all else that is divine. And it always knows best. You just have to listen carefully.
If you listen closely enough, your "little voice" will tell you what to do. Whether you agree with it or not, is beside the point. The point is that it will never lie and never lead you wrong. Not if you seek and listen with a pure heart and an open mind. We all get caught up in everyday situations that leave us wondering what to do - what choice to make. Will we be wrong or right? That's when far too many of us try to use just our minds to "figure it out" using all of the available "facts." I am guilty of this. That is, in fact, what I started out my day doing. Then, I got another gentle nudge. Better than a big ol' push, like my years at Tyson were. I apparently needed a big push to change my ways. I'm glad it came. I listen to these gentle reminders. If I don't, they grow, and are not so gentle.
Oh, I'll still do the research, and I'll keep on posting. I'll keep on doing what I'm doing. But, I will do this with the awareness that I am doing it because it is what I am supposed to be doing as opposed to what I should be doing. Can you understand the difference? Really?
I won't be doing this because that is what an activist does to make good arguments, but because my little voice, my "line to the divine," the one who never lies, tells me that it is the right thing to do, what I am supposed to do. There is a big difference.
I have found my calling and perhaps my purpose in this life, but it is not who I am. It is just simply what I do. Just one of the many things that I do. Because that is what this is really all about - my living a better life and doing my part in making the world a better place.
What I used to do at that plant was not making this a better world - it was making it a worse one. Speaking out about what I saw there. Now that is making it a better world. See the difference now?
I have received a lot of email since all this became so public last week. But, there have been a few of them that have really gotten me to thinking. There was one in particular that has occupied my mind and quite a bit of the conversation in my house lately. Although I find it hard to talk to people about this kind of thing, I decided that it should be talked about.
I hadn't really given that much thought to this before that email, but after reading it and giving it some thought before answering, I was reminded of those last months at Tyson and how hard it was to continue to work there. I was also reminded of the inner struggle I fought during that time.
The email didn't say a whole lot in and of itself. It was simply another wonderfully supportive email similar to others, except for one thing. This one also recommended a book that the person thought I should read, with the following recommendation:
I think it will take you further on the path it seems that you're taking. A good path indeed.
And, then, then following comment:
Congratulations, Virgil, on finding the real you.
Now, this person had no way of knowing how much that would get me to thinking...and talking...
I was going to write about this yesterday, but, like I said, these things are hard to talk about. They are intensely personal and provoke strong feelings. I have never been very comfortable talking about my feelings to others, especially the soul-deep ones that really pull on the heartstrings. So, I got busy and never got around to it, still turning it over in my mind whether I could talk about something so personal and whether I wanted to talk about this to the whole world. That is a hard thing to deal with - having everyone with nothing better to do and time on their hands to go through your life with a fine-tooth comb, looking for things to give you a hassle about. That takes a certain amount of courage in and of itself. But, it is even harder to talk about what is on the inside than what people have seen on the outside by looking at my past actions. Personal things are hard to talk about, especially to people you don't know.
Perhaps that is because I suppressed my feelings for so many years in order to do that kind of work and survive. It was a necessary thing, but not very pretty. In fact, looking back at the kind of life I was living, it is downright shameful. Those are hard things to talk about to anyone, but especially to put up here for the whole world to read.
But, it should be done. People should be comfortable with their feelings and emotions. Why do we feel embarrassed to admit to others that we care? Why does that make us feel so vulnerable? Why are we shy about this? Why should men be embarrassed to fawn over a little baby kitten? Why is this loving, caring, compassionate attitude considered a weakness by our society? Why do people have to pretend not to care in order to show they are strong? Why do people call them sissies (or worse) if they care?
It obviously takes much more strength and courage to care. Anyone who has looked deep inside themselves for what is there knows how hard this is to do. It takes great courage to examine your entire life and motivations for doing things and not lie to your own self about what you find. It is even harder to talk to others about it. It takes much more strength of character to look honestly and deeply within and take stock of what you find there.
We all know deep down why this is. Everyone has done things they are embarrassed about. Everyone has done things they are ashamed of. Everyone has done things that they regret. Everyone has done things that they would never do again.
These things are what you encounter when you first start looking within. Many people stop there. It starts getting a little uncomfortable, so they admit that they wish they hadn't done whatever it was: "sorry about that-won't do it again-can you forgive me?" And then they move on. They feel better and think they have dealt with their demons.
That's not what I'm talking about. While uncomfortable, that's not so hard to do. I'm talking about reaching way deeper than that. Do we dare to go there?
Well, I did. Or, that is to say, Laura and I did.
This all started during the ice storm I have referred to in earlier posts. This was the winter of 2000-2001. This is the ice storm that killed so many trees and shut the whole area down for about 2 weeks.
Laura and I were living at the time over in Watson, OK in a little shack next to my family. We had just gotten together before the ice storm hit. When we were not out gathering firewood for the stove to keep warm, we spent a lot of time by the fire or covered up in bed, reading and talking. We were really getting to know each other. Laura and I started to become very close during this time.
I have told all of you how I hid all the bad stories about the happenings at the plant from Laura because of her love for all animals. But, I haven't said much more about her. She was reading some interesting books at that time. She had just finished studying and taking a course in herbal medicine and was starting up learning about energy medicine - Healing Touch. She has taken the first level of that course.
Now, anyone that has ever read anything about how alternative medicine works - at least when it is done properly - knows that in order for you to get better physically you must address the mind and spirit equally. Therefore, the books that teach these things address these issues.
The energy medicine books go quite deep into this. The practitioner must go deeply within, meditating on various things. You must also look deep inside and do quite a bit of spiritual work in order to "tap in" to the energy that makes this work. Now, I'm not going to get into the physics of how this works, except to say that it is very real, and it works very well. I was just laying a little background here so that you could get an idea of the conditions that prompted this self-analysis and change in thinking.
Anyway, regardless of what makes a person take stock of themselves in this way, in order to reach any sort of enlightenment, this is the first step in that long process of figuring out who you really are and what you want your life to mean. Not to mention how you will feel about it when it comes your time to go. Will you be happy about the way you spent your life and feel good about it? Or will you have regrets?
What came as such a big shock to me was that, for years, I had prided myself on being the best damn killer they had down there. And I was. And can't any of them dispute that. But, I realized that what I had taken so much pride in was really something to be ashamed of - not something to be proud of. And, it made me mad because it felt like they had taken something from me for that.
And, I decided that I had a moral obligation to make it right. Especially since I had played such a big part in it myself. That's what really got me.
Now, I didn't go out of my way to heap extra abuse on any innocent living creature in my life, and I looked down on those who did. Even at my worst, I never believed in heaping extra abuses on any feeling being that didn't do something that warranted it, especially the poor chickens that had never done a thing in their lives to deserve what was happening to them. But, there was a time when I was "Mr. Efficiency" as far as the company went. I thought of myself as "disconnected" in the way that allows you to do something that may cause pain to another living thing without getting very involved with them. Just being coldly professional about it.
Once my eyes were opened, I realized that attitude was just as wrong as anything anyone else had done. Maybe even worse. I had turned my emotions off. In reality, I had turned off my very humanity.
That was nothing to be proud of.
I still have a hard time admitting it.
My coming forward is, in a way, trying to atone for some of the things that I did. But, it is also because I just can't stand the thought that it is going on anyway, (all the killing) without me doing anything about it. I felt like I was wrong for keeping my mouth shut about the things I knew. I felt like I was somehow helping them by not saying anything. I felt responsible.
In fact, some of the things I have told on here, I was breaking a law by not telling. Legally, that would have made me an accomplice. By setting the record straight and admitting what I know, I have done my part, and they can't blame me anymore should they find out on their own. Now, I wasn't really much worried about this part of it, and it wasn't a big part of my motivation, but it is still a fact. That's the industry's fault, in fact. Under the deregulation they ushed so hard for, it put the responsibility on the employee to report things, instead of the keeping the entire burden on the inspectors. There was and still is more responsibility on the industry to police itself.
But that is not what matters here. I just mention this. The point is that I felt morally and ethically obligated to do say something about it. At the time that I wrote that first statement, I had hoped it would be the easy situation of me simply reporting on the situation what I knew and letting them take care of it. Then I would have felt like I had done my job and moved on.
Well, that obviously didn't work, now did it? It wasn't and isn't that easy.
Anyway, after we went back to work after the ice storm, I had a different attitude toward things. I had cracked open my heart and cared and couldn't seem to get it closed again. You can't imagine the turmoil that went through me for that last couple of years. For the last year, I just almost was hoping that they would fire me. I wanted it to be over. I even tried to ru Laura off a few times subconsciously with my behanior, but she didn't let me get away with it. She knew some of what I was going through and didn't let me quit. She wrote about this once after I asked her to. The truth is that she loved me through it and didn't give up on me. Damn, I'm glad. My life is so much better now. To get all these things off my chest has been such a relief.
It made me physically ill to work there after I started caring again. I was sick all the time. Mostly, upset stomach and all that nasty business that goes with it. My blood pressure soared and I was angry all the time. I would come home in the mornings and just be absolutely furious from what went on the night before at the plant and the lack of caring I saw i others. I blamed everyone and everything, and took it on many other people.
But, what it really boiled down to was that I was mad at myself. I felt guilty for working down there and being a part of it when I just knew it was wrong.
I tried to rationalize it for awhile, saying that I had to make a living. I tried to tell myself that since I didn't buy it and didn't eat it, it wasn't my fault. That, even if I wasn't standing there, that those chickens would die anyway. Someone else would still be killing them. And, they might do a much rougher job than me. They wouldn't know the tricks I did.
See, I had done it for a long time. There are tricks you learn in order to do this and keep up the pace for that many hours. Hanging one chicken every two seconds for hours on end is hard. It is really hard. It's hard on the hanger, and it's hard on the chickens. It just is, even if you do it right. There is no really gentle way to pick up a live animal by its legs and hang it upside down in a metal shackle, especially doing it that fast and hitting a moving target in the dark.
Now, I had done it for a long time, but most of the people back there hadn't. I would try to show them how to do the work, using these little tricks, but most people would would just work themselves to death trying to keep up, and then get mad and take it out on the chickens when they couldn't. So, by my staying there, I figured that less chickens were being hurt as bad as they would have been if I wasn't there. Besides, if I wasn't there, nobody would show anyone these little tricks I had of making things easier. Therefore, all the chickens and all the workers would have it harder than it already was. This may sound like I am full of myself, but it is the truth. I was good at what I did, and I have the plaque and jacket to prove it. Anyway...
I tried to fool myself into feeling better about the job this way. It only slightly worked. I also admittedly drank a lot and did some drugs. So did just about everyone else. That is the way a lot of people cope with doing such a horrible, gruesome, barbaric job. They just numb themselves to it, one way or the other. It is hard enough when you are standing there, but you don't want to think about it when you go home. Then, you have to act like a normal person who doesn't kill living creaures for profit and be a caring human being again.
Well, this is around the time I also started butting heads a lot with Richard, among others. I was pushing for different things to make it better down there, like turning the stunner up to where it belongs. I also tried to get him to turn down the line speed to where it could be worked by the new-hires. Logic says that if the hangers can't work fast enough to get the chickens in the shackles, and you have empty shackles going out because of it, you would slow it down. Logic would have it that you would not speed it up, but that is what would happen. Then they would come in and scream at you to keep it full, like some kind of punishment. This makes the new-hires' attitudes even worse because they already can't keep up, now they are just going nuts and really having a hard time. You can see where this is going, can't you? I kept trying to make things better and being a squeaky wheel. They fought me at every turn, and things continued to worsen the longer Richard was there.
I had most of the workers behind me for these improvements, and many times I was acting as their unofficial spokesman. But, when it came down to it, everyone down there is watching out for #1. Nobody wants to do anything to get themselves in trouble. They all know that dissent gets you fired quicker than anything else. The only reason I got away with it for so long was because I was so good at what I did. In a way, I guess I was trying to get myself fired because I couldn't quite bring myself to quit. I am just not a quitter. I hated quitters. I was raised to hate quitters. I don't hate anyone anymore (not really hate them) because I am a different person. Anyway...
But, when I tried to get the authorities involved in it, getting those OSHA forms downloaded from the net and getting everyone to sign them, I had gone too far. It wasn't goping to be an internal matter anymore that they could simply ignore or deal with easily, and they got rid of me.
I can't tell you exactly how that felt, but I'll try. I was glad they fired me. It was actually such a relief. I pretty well expected it the night it happened. I had been off of work for a couple of days sick again. This one was very real, though, wrose than the illnesses before. I got a certified letter from the hospital that next week telling me that they needed to do a CAT scan on my sinuses because of something they saw on the X-ray they did on me when I saw the doctor at the hospital. I still have the letter and the note from the doctor excusing me from missing work. But, that didn't matter to Tyson. By then I had lost my job and insurance, so the CAT scan has never happened. I still wonder what is wrong. But, I've got no way to pay for something like that without insurance, so I never did anything about it. (No, I'm not begging for money or sympathy here, just informing you of the facts.)
But, I digress yet again, like another blogger I read. Maybe that's why I like reading him so much. He digresses. He's human, in other words. Real. When we digress like that, you see the real person inside that is writing just thinking aloud. It is what is on the inside of us - what we think and what we feel - more than what we do on the outside that is what makes us who we are. I forgot (or didn't know) for a long time that that was true.
I even referred to myself as "just a chicken hanger." That is what I thought of my life and who I was. But, that was not so. I am not just anything. That took awhile to sink in, though Laura told me that every taime she heard me say it. I am me - the me inside that feels and thinks and cares about things. That was simply what I did, not who I was down deep inside. I had just never looked that deep, too scared of what I might find there, especially after everything I had done in my life. I certainly didn't want anyone else to look that deeply at me. How scary!
But, somehow, that happened anyway that winter in that pitiful little shack we were living in, barely surviving and trying to stay warm in an uninsulated shack with holes and big cracks in the walls with no electricty, no running water, and no running vehicle. Laura and I did a lot of talking during that time. A lot of very serious, deep, soul-searching talking.
That was when I began to realize what I was really responsible for. And I was ashamed.
I really couldn't see how someone that cared as much as she did about things, especially animals - all animals, could care about me. I especially didn't she how she could possible truly love me. In fact, I figured she was probably just waiting on something better to come along. I have never admitted this to anyone else besides her before today (and part of me wonders why I am doing it now to you) but for a long time, every day when I came home from work, I expected to find her gone. And I wouldn't have blamed her.
I didn't understand what unconditional love was then. I am still having a hard time understanding the scope of what all that encompasses. I'm talking about true unconditional love. The kind that says honestly that, "I will love you no matter what." Now, I can understand that kind of love between a parent and a child, but you have to learn to feel that for everything and everyone. That is what a person that wants to practice energy medicine must be able to do in order to make it work. They have to feel that way about every person they talk to. You care about that person simply because they are a living being. And that is what we were discussing on those long, cold winter days and nights when we sat in that shack alone. She was trying to explain the concept of unconditional love for all things. It did sound like a beautiful thing, if it were true. Did I dare to hope?
Little by little, I started opening up. I cared. It scared me, but it felt good. It felt good to be loved, and it felt good to love back. It felt good to care.
There is, of course, a downside to everything. There was to this as well. Once you start to care, really care, about things, you can't go back. At least, not in good conscience, you can't. And caring about things leaves you vulnerable to feeling pain and sadness, among other things. Maybe that is why society has this twisted view of what is strong and what is weak. It's a pity things are this way. Maybe they won't be that way forever. I like to think not.
I can tell you, though, facing all this and dealing with it has taken more strength than anything I have ever done in my life. Opening up and caring about things is no weakness, I can assure you. Anyone who has taken this step knows exactly what I'm talking about.
That's because a true inventory of yourself, and the true meaning of the word karma, does not limit itself to those actions that you have done in your life. It equally refers to those actions you did not take, but should have. Those things you leave undone. Those things you didn't say or do, even though you know you should have. Those things - you all know what I am talking about. That's how deep you go and how far you take it if you really want to see what your life has meant up to this point.
But, the hardest thing of all, is to change those things you find that are wrong about yourself. Nobody finds it fun to admit they were wrong. Most people, even when they do admit it, try to soften the blow to themselves with an explanation. An, "I'm sorry, but..." What we call a non-apology. You are not truly sorry if you try to make an excuse. And you not truly sorry if you do it again. And, you are certainly not truly sorry if you don't try to make things right. I believe AA puts a lot of emphasis on this one, too. It is called, "making amends."
That is what I am doing now. I am guilty of murdering millions of living creatures. I am guilty of profiting from that killing. I am also guilty for sitting there and doing nothing when someone else was doing something I knew to be wrong. I am also guilty of making the excuse that I was not guilty, since I didn't do those things to stop the wrongs.
We are all responsible for those things we left undone in our lives. Now, there are a lot of things I could have/should have/would have done, but this is probably the biggest. This is definitely the thing that has bothered me the most.
I was guilty of enough things wrong that some other people used me as an excuse to show that they were not so bad. "Well, at least I'm not as bad as Virgil. Look what he has done. You want to point finger at someone, point it at him." Well, I'm not the one anymore to point a finger at. And, I am not really trying to point the finger at anyone else. I think that people's own consciences take care of that rather nicely. They may not listen or do anything about it, but they know it deep down inside. Now, that I have admitted what I have done is wrong, a lot of people are faced with looking at their own actions and their responsibility for those actions. And for those non-actions. And here is where it gets personal and uncomfortable.
People that benefit from the suffering of others, even if those others are chickens, know that their actions cause harm. Now, I don't think anyone would debate that point. When you cause suffering, especially killing, you are responsible for harm. However, you are no less responsible for the harm and suffering if you are just standing there letting it happen. That is where we get down to the controversial part that gets people all worked up.
That is the point where people start getting defensive and pointing fingers at everyone else around them, especially those they perceive to bepointing fingers and holding them responsible for their actions. Because you can't properly take responsibility for a wrong you have committed, whther by your own action or non-action, without doing something about it. That means an admission of guilt and change.
That means that you don't do things anymore that you feel sorry for, at least you try real hard not to. But, it also means that you have to look at yourself and everyone else in a different manner. That's the hard part. You have to feel compassion for even those who annoy you or commit grievous wrongs.
To truly care about another person you have to understand yourself, not them. You don't even have to know them. You care about them simply because they are alive. They were born into this world just as everyone else. Everyone of us is in the same struggle. Some of us do well, and some of us do not do so well in life. And, I'm not talking about material things or money. That is not what makes a successful life or even one to be proud of.
No, what makes a life to be proud of is one that, when it comes your time to go, you can honestly say that you have no regrets. Honestly say this.
How many people can do this? How many people even care to try?
How many things have you done that you are sorry for?