<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

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, January 28, 2004

More From Dave Louthan 

Well, I have been asked by several of you about this guy and whether he had contacted me or I him. Well, it has now happened, I'm happy to say. I had hoped to be able to talk to him about what his situation was like. I found an email from him in my inbox this morning, telling me that he would like to get more of his message out to people. I responded to him that I was quite willing to let this blog serve as a place for him to tell his story if he so desired.

This blog was set up to serve as a source of information and as an attempt to network together to share information, and to empower activists from all over the world. I am glad to see that this is bearing fruit. The Internet has been quite empowering for the "little guy," giving every person the ability to make his/her voice heard. And, we should all be heard if we have something important to say. It shouldn't just be the ones with money, fame, and power who are telling the world about the "facts" when there are many of us people on the lines who know all too well exactly what those "facts" really are.

You know, I started this whole business because of that very attitude - the attitude of corporate greed and the government's policies of protecting their profits in exchange for campaign contributions and other perks. All I know is that there is way too much deception of the public going on, and at the risk to their safety and the safety of their kids. The public wants to believe the officials that are in charge of the various things that make their lives safe and comfy. They don't want to believe that they have been misled and betrayed, thereby putting their lives and those of their kids at risk. They don't want to believe people like me, or maybe not even Dave Louthan.

All along, I have noticed that the people at the plant where the BSE-infected cow have insisted that this was not a downer cow, but was walking and appeared healthy. That it was only a fluke that this cow was even tested.

Well, I believe we all owe a debt of gratitude to Dave for doing what he did, for whatever reason that he did it. It seems to me that he truly cares about this. Who knows how many lives may be saved by his actions? Luckily, thanks to him, we were alerted to this cow and people may certainly have been saved because of them finding it before it spread even further.

However, we need to make sure that we do not let the industry and the government pull the wool over anyone's eyes on this. Simply banning downers will not fix the problem. Even the industry says that this will just mean that the sick cows will be buried in the farmer's back pasture, instead of being tested. We have to quit feeding animals to herbivores like cows. Period.

And, I'm tired of hearing that it was "only one cow." It is simply the only one we know about. Who knows how many others are out there that have/had it, but just weren't tested, so there is no record? They are having trouble even tracking down the rest of the cows that have been in contact with it and failed to stop the meat from being eaten by consumers. I'm glad that I'm not like the guy, Brian Weinstein, the lawyer from a Seattle suburb, who knows that he and his family ate it. He will worry for years about whether or not he has a time-bomb ticking away, eating at his brain.

Here is Dave Louthan's email, which he wanted me to share with you:

My name is Dave Louthan. I'm the guy who shot that mad cow in Moses Lake. I have talked to dozens of reporters about all this trouble and they have done a pretty good job getting the story out I guess. The USDA appears to be on the run but I still have a lot of work to do. My main problem now is
informing people about the splitting saws we use to split the cow carcass
in half. You see every beef slaughtered is split right down the middle from
tail to neck. This means that a band saw cuts right down the exact center of
the spine cutting the spinal cord in half the long way. There are hot water
jets spraying on the blade at the guides to clean off the fat, blood, and
bone dust. As the blade cuts down through the spinal cord little bits are
torn out and mix with this hot water slurry which runs all over the beef
inside and out totally contaminating the meat. When the butcher starts
cutting the steaks and roasts with his knife or saw this contamination is
smeared across every cut he makes. So as you can see it doesn't matter if
it's hamburger or fillet mignon it's is contaminated. Please help me warn
the unsuspecting consumer. Thank you for your time.

And, thank you for yours, Dave. You are a brave guy to go public with this. I know what it's like to all of a sudden have a spotlight on you. I'm glad to have been able to help you spread the word, dude. Glad to see you care. And I will be glad to do whatever I can to help you spread the word further should you need it in the future.

You heard it, people! No meat is safe as long as the industry does business the way they currently do. Who would know better than those who stand there every day and night, handling your food????

How many more of us do you need to hear from????

Hey - all the rest of you slaughterhouse workers, growers, chicken-catchers, etc.! Got a story you want to share with the world? Is there something nasty and insidious happening where you work? Something that is unsafe and eating away at you? Do you want to get the word out, too? Are you tired of cover-ups, lies, and intimidation, unsafe working conditions and low pay? Want to do something about it without getting into trouble?

Contact me. You can even be anonymous if you want. No one has to know it was you who told. You want change to happen? Email me your story. I'll get it out there. I'll help you tell the world. It's what I do.

I'm "The Cyberactivist." ;)

Monday, January 26, 2004

More Thoughts on Working at Tyson at Such a Horrible Job 

I have been thinking over the past couple of days about the email I referred to before. It has really sparked some remembrances of what that place did to me (as well as most others), and made me really look at the differences between my life now and the one I lived then. It is like two different lives that happened to two different people. And, I didn't really realize it at the time, so insidious is the growing problem that kind of job becomes - creeping into every part of your life and distorting your thought patterns - effectively turning you into a different person. And not a very nice, caring one, at that.

Let me try to illustrate what I mean by this. Try to follow what I am saying here, because it is hard to explain to anyone that has not gone through this before. That is why I have had to think about how to explain what I mean for the past couple of days. Any time I talk about something like this, I get emails from readers that can't comprehend the situations and mindset(s) I describe, and they certainly don't seem to grasp why nothing gets done by anyone about it. Some go so far as to question how true it is until I point them to other people that have said the same thing. That is because it doesn't make sense to the average person that has not been exposed to this warped "little world" that is controlled by such a powerful and heartless corporation (that puts the increase of their profits above all else), much less had their lives affected by the mindset and stress such a job creates.

There is no getting around this truth, though. It is a cruel, heartless industry (as this article clearly confirms, with no concern given to anything but profits - certainly not to the workers, and certainly not to the poor animals being raised and slaughtered.

Let me give you an example to try to illustrate part of what I am talking about.

One thing we used to do at Tyson was to have these competitions to see how many chickens you could hang in a row without missing a shackle. I wouldn't say that it was a regular thing, but it was more likely to pop up on a payday night. This would usually involve two guys (although, occasionally involved more) competing against each other on a bet - usually for beer. Not much - either a 6-pack or a 12-pack. It was more about the bragging rights of being "the best" than it was anything else. I was guilty of this on quite a few occasions, but then I always won during my last 3 years down there.

I started to tone down this practice a bit after I started realizing the many of the new-hires were trying to work at this pace and tearing up the birds in their inexperienced efforts. Although I was experienced enough to do this (at least for short bursts of time under ideal circumstances), none of the new-hires could even hope to match that kind of pace. It didn't stop them from trying, though, and that was unfortunate for the birds that suffered due to the rougher treatment they received.

It also wasn't just the brutality of the competition itself, but a lot of the time, the person losing such a competition would get mad and take it out on the chickens. There was a certain hierarchy among the hangers back there that had nothing to do with supervisors or even seniority. What was respected the most was the ability of a hanger to "gut it out," no matter what the conditions were. And if he could not only prevail over them and do his job, but also go beyond that and be the fastest or the "best" hanger back there, then he was looked up to by everyone else.

Of course, the opposite holds true, too. Anyone that was the opposite of that, or the "worst" hanger, was shunned and/or run off from back there. So, you can see the desire, indeed the necessity, to "prove yourself" in order to work back there where I did on back dock. Also there was an idea that anyone coming back there that was perceived as "weak" somehow "bringing down the whole crew," especially since the other workers were required to "take up the slack" for the new-hires. This led to resentment of anyone that couldn't hack it, and the workers would band together to run them off.

I have seen the time that they would send hangers in there, saying that the line was not staying full. Richard would be really pissed when empty shackles were going out, and it didn't matter whose fault it was. He was known for standing behind the workers with a megaphone, yelling that the next person to miss a shackle would be fired, if too many empty shackles had gone out on a given night.

The problem with that is that it is not always the person(s) responsible for missing most of them that has that happen to them. No matter how experienced you are, you will miss the occasional shackle. Nobody hits every single one of them every single time. So, the workers that had been doing their jobs would feel unfairly targeted by this and resented whoever was responsible for the empty shackles going out.

So, these competitions were one way of running off these people who were deemed to be "bringing down" the whole crew. All it takes is one person not keeping up to make it hard on everyone else, whether intentional or not. The result is the same.

The point of this is that this contributes to the likelihood of adopting a cold-hearted attitude towards other people, even your own co-workers. In fact, there were managers that would sometimes pit the crew against someone they wanted rid of. The manager would come back there and inform the "older hands," like me, to "get rid of" the person causing a problem in another part of the plant. Although, there have been instances of people being targeted simply because they were not well-liked by the manager in question.

These little competitions, if you could bait the person into one, were effective at breaking them down psychologically. No one likes to be made fun of and told they are "less of a man (or a person)" than someone else. And, if this is used in conjunction to single someone out, with other spiteful and hateful treatment by the rest of the workers (some of which "tricks" and "games" I have written about before in earlier posts), it would usually be effective in making the person's life so hellish that they would quit.

I am ashamed to say that I got away with a lot of things down there because of my willingness to be a part of this type of targeted attack. At the time all that started, I was still on parole and had to keep my job and cooperate with whatever they wanted me to do - right or wrong, legal or illegal - because they had the power to make my life harder, even losing my job and my parole. Once I started feeling bad about this and quit cooperating in these tactics, my life started to get a little rough down there, too. They have their ways, for sure. They want complete control over everyone and everything and strive to keep the employees from banding together in any meaningful way. You have probably seen what they think of and do to union plants and workers. I have also written about that here.

Anyway, this was what I have been thinking about since I started mulling over what sorts of things happen in someone's life when they get sucked into this horrible little world. No one in their right mind, if they had any choice at all in the matter, would want to work there. It is indeed a desperate situation that people find themselves in that only seems to get even more desperate as time goes on. You have to adopt an attitude of "looking out for #1 at all costs" in order to work there. There is no room for caring about anything or anyone but yourself. You either get "tough" or you "break"...or you get out.

No wonder Tyson and so many other companies like them are hiring so many illegals and claiming that no Americans want these jobs. Perhaps there is a reason???

Some people may think that this is a great opportunity for these people to get ahead in life and thus improve their life and the lives of their families. Honestly, I believe it will lead to even more exploitation, sicne these people are much less likely to complain about unfair treatment and unsafe working conditions than the workers down there now. and everyone has seen how scared people are to speak up about that. They are scared of losing everything and not finding another job - just like what happened to me. The illegals have more to fear than that. And I highly doubt that getting papers to work legally will make their treatment at the hands of corporations like Tyson any better.

After all, they always have someone else that is desperate enough to do the work and willing to put up with the horrible, unsafe conditions. There is no shortage of desperately poor people trying to survive and better their lives. And companies like this eat them up and spit them out every day.

Anyone that has ever considered working for a place like this needs to take these things into consideration before they decide to step up to that line. Is the little bit of money you will get paid ultimately worth it? Really worth it? Even if it destroys your life and the lives of countless others? Is it worth the weight on your soul for having been a part of the brutal killing of innocent sentient beings for your own personal gain? I sincerely hope for your own sake that it is not.

But, if it is, you'll fit right in. Last time I looked at the job sheet at the unemployment office, my old job was still open.
Posted by: # Virgil / 11:52 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Updated photo page and a couple of links 

As promised, I have now uploaded the pictures of the last two puppies we have here to the photo page. I hope that we can find a loving home that will take them together. They are so sweet - and are great watchdogs.

We really do not have a proper place to keep them, as anyone can plainly see in the photo. We only have a couple of temporary pens that were put together in a hurry a few years ago to deal with the occasional dog that wanders up or the litters of puppies that used to be born here before all the females (finally!) got spayed. But, even they were only out there for a couple of weeks before finding homes, at least most of the time. While there are dog houses and bedding in each pen, the pens are small and only meant to temporarily shelter them and, mostly, to keep the rest of our dogs (especially their daddy, who attacks all male dogs that show up) from hurting them until we can find them a proper, loving home. These puppies have been in these pens for far too long. Although, they were in a larger one at first, it was built lower to hold little puppies, and they outgrew it and got out. Now, they are in what we think of as "the holding pen" for their own protection. They just need someone to take them home and love them as much as we do. The same goes for the poor little dog that someone dumped on the road here last week. He is still here and needing a home, too. Please consider it if you will.

While I am here, I wanted to post a link to an article I posted in the group. This is a bit of an roundabout method of doing this, but the site that the article is on requires a paid subscription.

Also, if you are interested in protecting our right to peacefully protest, then click here and take action.

I'll check in again tomorrow. I have been trying to catch up on my email, since I got stuck by the bad weather out of town last night. If anyone sent me an email that bounced today, just resend it. I had an overflow problem today that is now resolved. I am going to be taking some steps to try to ensure that this doesn't happen again, but I do get a lot of email every day. I apologize to anyone that may have not been able to get an email through. Like I said, just resend it and I will receive it now. It is working again.

Good night everyone.
Posted by: # Virgil / 10:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Welcome to My Nightmare 

I received an email from a reader within the last few days that got me to thinking about when I first started working for Tyson. It brought up the issue of how hard it is on someone that shows up for work at one of these slaughterhouses on their first day. And how a good many of them don't ever show up for work on what would have been their 2nd day. It isn't very surprising that many people could not/would not do this type of work without going insane and/or hating themselves.

I can remember that first night that I showed up for work after the transfer from debone to back dock. I thought I knew what to expect, since I had caught chickens before. The sheer number of chickens that we had to deal with at one time at such a quick pace, and seeing the brutality involved because of these combined factors, led me to believe that it wouldn't be much worse on back dock. It certainly paid better, even better than debone. At that time, killing was the best paying job on the dock.

I figured that, since you could work down there, inside, standing in one spot (and not in the cold, as in debone), as opposed to running around the houses all night, things would be better. I had hunted and grown up on a farm, so I had also been exposed to the slaughter of the animals and the blood that goes along with that. I really had not expected things to be so bad.

Little did I know how completely naive I was...

It was like a kid on his first day of school. Since I was the new guy, by the time I got on the line, everything was in full production. By the time I finished the necessary paperwork in the office, the plant had been in full production for over an hour.

It was in the summertime. The smell is worse then. I could smell the blood long before I got all the way back there.

Back then, they still had the old grate in the floor. This was before they put in the blood pump to pump the blood out to off-haul. Back then, the killer worked up on a catwalk. Underneath it, there was an open-topped 500-gallon trailer that they pulled out with a tractor when it got full, and replaced with another one. (Although, there were some nights when the guy responsible for pulling the trailer out started hitting on a jug out back and didn't get the job done. Now those were the really nasty nights, but let's stick with what happened normally at that time on a given night, without going to the occasional extremes for the purposes of this post.)

The problem was that it took only about 2 hours to fill the trailer, but we would work for 2-1/2 hours before break, so they couldn't change the trailer until break time. So, what didn't fit in the trailer, overflowed on the floor, and you walked around in it. Sometimes it would be 7 or 8 inches deep by break time. We are talking about a room that was about 8 ft. wide by about 12 ft. long. The trailer was exactly the size of the room, and fit underneath it.

I remember when I first walked in there on back dock, the first thing I did was to slip in the accumulated blood, and almost fall in it. I caught myself on the wall. The guy that was killing just laughed at me and said, "That's your first lesson. Everything you touch is gonna get blood on ya. You might as well get used to it."

As he was saying this to me, I was watching this blood clot about the size of my thumbnail slide down the bridge of his nose and rip off on his chin in little drops. I wondered why he didn't wipe it off.

Then I looked down at his hands and I saw why...

There was nothing that he could have used that wouldn't have gotten more on him. Then I realized what he meant about touching anything. Blood sprays all over the killer every time their throats are cut.

I also noticed that he never took his eyes off the line. Not one time.

So, I walked up to the line and took his place, while he backed off. It didn't take me long to figure out why he didn't take his eyes off the line, either. It only takes (snaps his fingers) that long to miss half a dozen if you don't pay attention at all times. (Of course, you still miss some, even doing your best, but it is your job not to.)

You have a killing machine that is killing a certain number of chickens. (There is a great dispute over how many it actually kills, but I have been there, so I figure I am pretty close to what the actual numbers are.) It was doing pretty good that night. It was only missing about 2 out of 7. But, the thing is that it isn't going to kill 5 and then miss 2. You stand there for a bit, watching them go by, trying to look at each one of their throats to make sure they have been slit, as they spray blood everywhere. Sometimes the ones that are missed by the machine have so much blood on them from the others, that it is hard to tell, unless you watch very closely. Other times, they will be only partially slit. When this happens, you have to stick your thumb in the hole in their throat to see if you can feel their neck bone. The way you tell if you felt it or not, is that, after sticking your thumb in the hole, you move your thumb back and forth over it, squeezing a bit. If they are cut right, you will touch their backbone and they will have a jerking, flopping fit. (It also wakes them up from being stunned and probably hurts like hell because they are not dead yet. At his point, they still have at least 60% of their blood still in them, which is enough to keep them alive.)

Then, sometimes, you get a bunch all at once that the machine misses and slit like mad to get them all. That is more often what happens than what most people think of when I say "2 out of 7." That's just a number to give you an idea of the number the killer is responsible for killing himself. That number changes from one second to the next and is not static. How well the hangers are doing directly affects that number, because of things like the "one-leggers"and such. If they aren't hung perfectly, that machine won't kill them.

Anyway, I stood there and they began to sling blood on me. The smell and the heat started getting to me. Then, here came a one-legger behind that...

I puked all over every damn one of those chickens.

I tried to cut one of their throats and there just wasn't any keeping it down. It was coming out. Everywhere. Everything in my stomach. Even some things that I didn't know were still there.

But, I somehow managed to get them all cut.

By the time break time came, I was just an "idiot." That's just all there is to it. In the industry, they call it being "line-crazy."

I realized later that they make a killer's first night his worst night. On purpose.

If you are going to quit, they want you to do it then.

I also found out later that for every 15 or 20 people that try out for that job, they might keep one. Most people just cannot handle it. (That's probably a good thing, huh? Wouldn't you be at least a little leery of someone who enjoyed this type of work?)

When break time comes, or any time chickens quit coming down the line to the killer, it was his job to also push the blood down and wash down the killing machine. You pushed the blood down with a big, industrial-size squeegee.

This was probably the most disgusting part of the job.

I've seen blood clots that were 8-10 ft. long, 4 ft. wide, and probably about a foot thick. No exaggeration.

This is what the big squeegee was for. Well, calling it a squeegee is kind of misleading, but it is hard to describe. You certainly couldn't call it a shovel. It was something they made specifically for cleaning out the blood tunnel down there at the plant.

It was not uncommon for the killer to have to get some help to push these massive blood clots down the drain. They were huge and heavy. Some of them would weight several hundred pounds. It was not uncommon to see a 300-400 lb. blood clot.

You used the squeegee to push the blood clots down to the drain. But, they had gotten so thick that they were almost the consistency of meat in a lot of cases. When that happened, you had to stomp them down so that the matter would flow between the little squares of the grate covering the drain that kept the big chunks from going down the drain.

Stomping it down is just what it sounds like. You got in there and walked around in it in rubber boots, stomping around.

And every time you stomped on it, it splattered all over you.

T., who became my partner in there, and I would usually end up having to do this. What we would do would be to bring two changes of clothes with us - one for 1st break and one for 2nd break. We bought these clothes at yard sales so that we could just throw them away if we had to. After we would get through, we stripped off the bloody clothes and took turns hosing each other off. There were 2 hoses and we would blast each other at the same time with them for about 5 minutes or so to get all the clotted blood off. These were big hoses, similar to fire hoses, that we kept turned down quite a bit so that they didn't hurt us, but were still powerful enough to get that nasty stuff off of you and out of your hair. Many times we just had to throw away our shirts.

Thus began the nightmare that ultimately drove me to write this blog.
Posted by: # Virgil / 7:07 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, January 22, 2004

We Have a Guest! 

I just wanted to take the time to leave a quick note here for all of you have generously donated to us. I wanted to show you just one good thing that has come from your donations. You see, we have another guest that arrived here last week. Yes, you guessed it - our guest is yet another dumped dog. Some people are just so callous and cold. It is cruel to dump them like that, and we can't imagine the fear, hurt, and confusion that these animals go through when their people abandon them in this way. We just can't understand the mentality of people like that.

Anyway, if you want to see him, we uploaded a couple of pics we took of him on the photo page. If you would like to give this little guy a forever home, please contact us and we will work out the arrangements. He is a very sweet little dog that will make someone a loyal, loving companion. He has displayed no sign of aggression, even after having been attacked by one of the other dogs here (who was also rescued after being dumped as a puppy on the same road!). He also seems to have learned some tricks at some point. When he is really happy, he wags his tail so hard that his whole butt wags, too. It's the cutest thing! :)

Thanks to every one of you that have been caring and generous enough to help us out. A few of you have expressed an interest in how much money we received through the donations. Well, it was a little over $1000. Thank you all for your generosity! Your contributions have kept us going for the last 2 months and made the care of this little guy possible, as well as the continued success of this blog. If we had not received anything from anyone, we might not have been able to take this sweet little guy in, as we probably would not have had the money to feed him (or the 5 others we currently care for).

And, we imagine he would also thank you profusely, complete with wagging butt, if he could. Now, let's see if we can find this sweet little guy a forever home. If you are from out of state, and want to adopt this dog, we might be able to arrange some kind of a network of people to get him there, as they do for other rescued animals being adopted or returned to their people. (Can't promise anything, but we will try.)

I have said before that Laura and I would like to be able to open a shelter in this county at some point, if we could ever get enough funding. It would be bad to take a bunch of animals in and be unable to care for them. (We struggle every week to be able to feed the ones we've got now.)

Like I said before, this country has no shelters at all. There is a network of caring people that try to help animals like this one, but there is only one "official" foster home, which is currently "full" with only 3 dogs. We have 10 here right now between the 3 households (only 6 of which are our current responsibility - and hopefully three less soon), with the addition of our latest guest. There are also male 2 puppies here, solid black and almost a year old (Feb. 3rd or 4th is their birthday), that are part German Shepherd and part Newfoundland. These are the last 2 of the 20 we had, for those that have been reading from the beginning. We will see about getting some pics of them up here in a day or so, if anyone is interested. We would like to keep them together, though, if at all possible. But, they need homes, too.

Thanks again everyone for your support and generosity, and especially for making this possible! We may not be able to save the world, but we can at least save this one dog from a slow, painful death! And, with any luck, a few others like him. Most of all, though, a big thanks goes out to every one of you for your caring and compassion.

You have done something to make this a better world. I thank you. And our little guest thanks you, too, I am sure (complete with wagging butt!). :)
Posted by: # Virgil / 5:53 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Another Slaughterhouse Whistle-Blower Has Come Forward! 

Well, here is another worker telling all about what goes on behind the scenes in slaughterhouses. If the industry doesn't change its ways soon, I have a feeling that you will keep hearing even more from people like us that have a real problem with the "current business practices" the industry continues to defend, with total disregard to the best science available that has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that factory farming is wreaking havoc on society as we know it. The practices are cruel to animals, bad for the environment, and largely unsafe for consumption by the public. They are also extremely hard on those who toil away in such places of death - executing innocents everyday at the behest of the industry and the public.

I have quit being surprised by the things I read about this industry's greed and cold disregard for anything but their bottom line. I have even started to become less surprised at what levels this government will stoop to to preserve the status quo and keep those campaign contributions flowing in. But, what I have a hard time understanding is the apathetic non-reaction -the "allowing-it-to-all-happen-without-a-peep-of-protest" behavior - that so much of society displays. You know the ones I'm talking about - the ones who say, in all seriousness, "Well, that's just the way things are."

Is the truth so hard to bear that people prefer denial, even at the cost of all we hold dear to us? Or are they just selfish and narrow-minded, a victim of the "me, me, me" kind of mindset taught by many to be the same as "healthy competition?" The old "don't care" and "I'm out for #1!" attitude. Are they truly that ignorant that they don't see that it is in their best interest to care?

Sadly, that seems to be the case. Most people are probably a little of all of those things. Well, here is another wake-up call for those people - and some more ammunition for those of you who already "get it" and are trying to help everyone else accomplish the same. Working together, we can make a difference! Even us little people that worked on a line somewhere. We all can, if we care - even just a little bit. And even if only about yourselves. I mean, after all, you do have to eat. Don't you want your food to be safe to eat?

If you eat factory-farmed meat, then it's not safe. Period.

The following letter is from a worker at the Vern's Moses Lake Meats plant that processed the cow that tested positive for BSE. Funny that he and the owner of the place both claim that this cow was not a "downer." Hmmm..... Surely the officials would not have lied to the public again, would they??? You decide...

Is the beef safe? Who knows?

My name is Dave and I work at Vern's Moses Lake Meats. I did until the day
the mad cow test results on the Sunny Dene cow came back positive for BSE.
That was Wednesday, Dec. 24. On Friday, Dec. 26, the KXLY news crew was at
the end of Vern's driveway, locked out by a cable gate. The USDA had told
the world that the mad cow had been slaughtered here, but it was not in the
food chain. A blatant lie. It was one of many.

I walked out the news crew at lunch time because I can't stand a government
cover-up. They asked me "was the cow in the food chain?" I told them of
course it was, it's meat. Where else would it be? They asked me if the cow
was a downer. I told them no, it was just an old cow.

The USDA had us taking brain stem samples from downers and back door
cripples only. Since we only had a few walkers on this trailer full of
downers, we just killed her along with them. We took a brain sample from her
head because the USDA gives up $10 per sample.

If we would have unloaded her in the pens, we would have never caught the
BSE. How many other walkers have BSE? We will never know. The USDA only
tested the downers and cripples and only at our plant. We had only been
taking brain samples for about a month when we found this one.

When the USDA said no more downers would be slaughtered, they essentially
said no more BSE testing would be done. Vern's and every other
slaughterhouse kept right on killing and selling Holstein meat from the same
area as the mad cow with no BSE testing whatsoever. This is true and easily

And just so the folks in Moses Lake don't feel left out, the beef head,
tongue, liver, kidneys and tail were sold right here in the Columbia Basin.
It's way past time for everybody to stop thinking with their bank accounts
and start trying to find a way to stop the spread of BSE.

The minute the USDA found the contaminated cow, they stopped the brain stem collection and testing. Why? Ka-ching! It's the money. Billions.
If you want to be sure you and your family are eating safe meat, demand
testing on every beef slaughter. It's quick and easy. Don't eat another
piece of meat until you see a sticker that says tested and cleared for BSE
on the package. BSE is 100 percent fatal -- if you or your kids get it, you
die a very painful death. It's a slow, wasting disease. It's terrible.
Right now, a lot of people are telling you how safe their beef is, but they
don't know if it is or is not without testing. That's their checkbook
talking. Tat rendering plant in Canada wasn't feeding 81 cows, it was
feeding thousands of cows.

Every second that goes by, more untested beef goes on the dinner plate. If
you eat mad cow, you are going to get sick and you are going to die. Stand
up and demand safe meat.

Dave Louthan
Moses Lake

Good for you, Dave! I'm glad you spoke up. I hope that my story, and this one of yours, and all the others that have surfaced from people just like us, will continue to be heard by the public.

Although there are a lot of bad apples working in these places, not everyone that is doing this work is really such a bad person (certainly not unredeemable - my story proves that). Most of them just need jobs, and these jobs are extremely easy to get because of the undesirable, and downright horribly nasty and cruel, nature of the work. But, it gets harder and harder for the decent people who end up at these places to stay silent when they constantly see so many unsafe and illegal things going on. This is especially so when they see that the government will lie to the people to save the industry, thus resulting in a threat to public safety.

I hope that I continue to see such courageous people speak out. The more of us there are, the harder it will be for the industry to be able to counter our stories with their lies and propaganda.

Perhaps we can even get this government to represent the people again, instead of just the interests of corporate America and their short-sighted business practices that have little benefit (but plenty of ultimate and inevitable long-term harm) but increased profits for them and only made possible by our tax dollars.

Speak up, America! Speak up, citizens everywhere! Take back your country! Let's take back our world and make it into a peaceful, compassionate, and tolerant place, where all life is respected and valued.

Before it's too late.
Posted by: # Virgil / 11:55 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Cockfighting and the People Who Engage In It - A Menace to Society 

I have created a petition to address this issue. If you agree that this is wrong, please take the time to sign it and tell everyone you know about it.
The petition can be accessed here: http://www.petitiononline.com/NoSB835/petition.html Thank you all for caring.

Yesterday I read a very disturbing article about cockfighting that I want to address today. There is a lot more to this issue than just the inherent cruelty to the animals involved in this "sport."

First off, for those of you who may not have seen the article, it informs us that:

Gamecock breeders in Oklahoma say they expect up to
10,000 cockfighting supporters at a Capitol rally in February.

They are hoping a major rally at the start of the legislative session
will encourage lawmakers to vote in favor of measures that would help
the sport.

Senate Bill 835 would reduce cockfighting penalties from a felony to
a misdemeanor.

Another Senate bill could suspend the ban on cockfighting state
voters approved last year. In its place could be a county-by-county

I was so upset after reading this that I immediately wrote a post in my Yahoo group to alert everyone there to this potential tragedy. This is something that the voters decided on just a year ago, and already the individuals that profit from this violent "sport" are trying to undo that important piece of legislation. And, it is important. It is important because there is a lot more to the scourge of cockfighting than all the blood, injury, suffering, and death to the chickens.

I have known personally several people that were involved in this "bloodsport." I even went to one of the fights to see what it was all about for myself. I was amazed at the amount of money involved and the level of organization displayed. Up around Sallisaw and Poteau, OK this is a big "sport."

And, for the people I knew (at the very least), it also served as a way to launder drug money and raise sales. There is a whole lot more going on at these cockfights than just the cockfighting, although that in itself is bad enough. And speaks volumes about the sort of person that can enjoy such a bloody, violent act and perceive it as entertainment.

I have talked a little about this before in earlier entries, but did not go into a lot of detail about what all goes on behind the scenes with this issue. The places where this was going on are less than 100 miles from where I live. It was a regular weekly thing at certain times of the year. Every once in a while they would hold a big tournament that could last as long as a week. These would attract people from all over the country. And, these people, for the most part, are not what we would term "upstanding members of society." Actually, most of them are quite violent themselves. Perhaps this is because of the fact that many of them are involved in the drug trade.

They use the drugs on the birds almost as much as they do on themselves. Of course, they do this to "pump up" the rooster and make him more aggressive. This, of course, has the same effect on people, making them more likely to commit violent acts.

I talked before about the fact that there were some people who worked at the plant that were involved in this. One of these guys was known to me only by his first name of Jeff. He worked at the plant for about a year or so around 2001. He told me that he had to take a full-time job as part of his probation. He said he was on probation for possession of drugs, but he didn't say what drugs. He was also in trouble for beating up his wife.

Every time that Jeff went to one of these events, he took with him a couple of 8-balls of crystal meth. He would sell it while he was at the fight. His girlfriend's father owned the place up there at Sallisaw. I went up there with Jeff one weekend with him. I was surprised at how big it was.

What also surprised me was that there was nothing secretive about it. The atmosphere was like that of going to a ball-game. I was sitting there, looking around while sitting at a beer concession stand, and noticed that there were guys walking around openly selling packets of crystal meth right there in front of everyone. It was no big thing. No one seemed to care or find it the slightest bit odd. I got real paranoid, with visions of cops rushing the place and people yelling, "RAID!" But, when I asked Jeff about it, he told me not to worry because the cops didn't ever come out there to mess with them. Nobody said so explicitly, but I was left with the impression that someone had paid off the authorities to ensure this.

They had their own security out there, and I didn't see any people fighting each other, but then I guess they didn't much feel the need to commit the violence themselves at that time, since they were about to get their "fix" for it, anyway. Their desire to see the blood flow and the frenzied excitement that builds up according to the level of violence displayed is a "fix" to these people. And the fights are extremely brutal and violent. Most of them end up with one of the birds either dying or being injured so badly that it has to be pulled out, never to fight again. They all used knives on their birds. And they drugged them, too. But, the attitude of someone who "gets off" on watching such a violent and bloody event is certainly a dangerous thing.

It also wasn't uncommon to see the last few fights of the night include pit bulls, instead of cocks, even though it was illegal. Jeff fought dogs, too. And, he drugged them, just as he did the birds. It made them mean - extremely mean. It made me sick.

Needless to say, I never went back.

Now, I will get to my main point. I see this as a blight on society. It is wrong in just about any way you want to look at it. There is absolutely no justification for this. It is truly the "sport" of criminals. I am surprised (although I perhaps shouldn't be) that any member of Congress would support any piece of legislation that allied themselves so much with the criminal element in order to legitimize violence and cruelty toward any living creature, be it human or non-human. Violence is violence, no matter who it is directed toward.

These events are dangerous to the communities that host them. They serve as a meeting ground for violent drug dealers and users to make their deals without fear of reprisal. Just about everyone that I talked to at that event had been convicted of a felony at some point in his life. Most of those felonies had also been violent ones. The raising and transporting of these birds also pose health threats (even threats to the factory farming poultry industry) because of the risk of spreading stuff like Newcastle and such.

Why then, would anyone want to support this? Why would a Congressman, or any other political leader, want to promote violence and criminal activity?

Money - lots of it.

This place was huge. It was the size of a big auction barn, with 4 rings that had fights going on constantly. There were 3 concession stands. The announcer that was calling the fights said that they had about 2000 birds that were going to fight at that tournament. It lasted from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, without letup. I have no idea how much money changed hands, but it must have been quite a bit. The beer for the concession stands was coming from 2 refrigerated Budweiser trucks, and both of them were emptied that weekend.

Now, this was just one fight - just one fight on one weekend. It went on every weekend, as long as it was legal. Well, it still goes on, but they are just not as high-profile with it as they were. The last I heard they were still having the fights. Instead of having the fights in that big barn, the guy just took the action to his own house out in the country. He lives between Sallisaw and Vian, in northern Leflore county in western Oklahoma.

Decent society does not support this. The majority of Americans do not support this. I damn sure don't. Most people realize that cockfighting is wrong and one of the greatest ills in society. We all need to make our voices heard. If they can get 10,000 people (and they probably will - remember people drive all the way across states to go to these things) to show up supporting this, then we should be able to get 100,000 to say "NO" to it.

If you have never written a letter before or made your voice heard to your leaders, now is the time to do it. Do not let this come to pass. This affects more than just the people living in Oklahoma. It also affects the communities that harbor the people that flock to these events. They live here in Arkansas, especially those living south of Mena and down around DeQueen in the Hispanic community. They live in Louisiana, Texas, and other surrounding states - where cockfighting is illegal. They only need one legal place to indulge in this behavior. But, they have to come home after the fights.

Who wants a person living in their community that engages in such activity? Would you want a violent criminal using hard drugs living next to you and your kids? Do you want them introducing this behavior to your kids, taking them to fights and/or selling them drugs? Do you want to encourage more violence in your community? Then stay silent. Do nothing. Allow it to happen. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

We can stop this. I intend to do what I can to make sure of it.

Will you?

(Again, here is the petition to sign, but please send letters also. Thanks.)
Posted by: # Virgil / 11:19 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, January 16, 2004

When Will We Learn? Will It Be Too Late? 

You know, I have been reading so much in the news lately about disease in factory farming, but most of the focus on the issue has been on the economics of the problem and downplaying the risk to the public in order to protect the profits and the industry as a whole.

As Eric Schlosser notes in this article, "The Agriculture Department has a dual, often contradictory mandate: to promote the sale of meat on behalf of American producers and to guarantee that American meat is safe on behalf of consumers. For too long the emphasis has been on commerce, at the expense of safety. The safeguards against mad cow that Ms. Veneman announced ...have long been demanded by consumer groups. Their belated introduction seems to have been largely motivated by the desire to have foreign countries lift restrictions on American beef imports."

Now, although BSE has gotten a lot of attention lately, there have been many other problems going on also. I will only focus on the more well-known ones, although they are not the only ones. I'm sure most people are also aware of the avian flu problem they are having in Asia as well as the problems they found with the farmed salmon. If not, I have collected numerous articles on both of these problems.

The best one I have seen so far on the salmon is here, and there was a pretty good article in the LA Times about the bird flu here.

Before I move on, I want to look at this flu situation a little closer. I have been following this whole thing quite closely lately and have read quite a few articles on it. What I have read has been most disturbing, to say the least. Let me give you a few points that I noticed that should be emphasized a bit more.

Besides the obvious worry about how fast and far this disease is spreading, is the underlying fear of a horrible global pandemic. In this article, Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza specialist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, makes some rather upsetting comments:

"The more times that there are outbreaks amongst poultry and the more times that there are human exposures and human cases of H5N1, the more opportunities there are for this influenza virus to mutate to the point where it is well adapted for human-to-human transmission. A pandemic of influenza will make SARS look like a cakewalk in comparison."

She is not the only one worried about this. Richard Webby, a leading influenza virologist based at St. Judes Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said,

"It's a bad time for this to be happening, It's very, very concerning."
He said this because of the fact that it is flu season and because, although the WHO said that "there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of this strain of influenza," Klaus Stohr, project leader of the World Health Organization's global influenza program, "admitted there may have been 'some very inefficient transmission from human-to-humans. The ingredients are there that the pandemic can occur. We can hope for the best but we are preparing for the worst. '"

Also, this article makes note of the facts that:

"Public health authorities have been predicting for some time that the world is overdue for a new pandemic, which would sweep the globe, killing millions and causing far-reaching social and economic disruption.

The most deadly example of an influenza pandemic was the Spanish flu of 1918-19, which killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide.

Recent outbreaks of avian influenza of the H5N1 subtype in South Korea, Japan and now Vietnam - and repeated transmission of the virus to humans -may be laying the groundwork for that dreaded event, influenza experts warned."

Skowronski further said, "The more times that there are outbreaks amongst poultry and the more times that there are human exposures and human cases of H5N1, the more opportunities there are for this influenza virus to mutate to the point where it is well adapted for human-to-human transmission."

Now, the very first sentence in this article mentions that the flu in Vietnam, "may have killed as many as 12 people [and] could be the precursor to an influenza pandemic."

And, it goes on to point out that

"WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said the organization is investigating a total of 14 suspected cases of bird flu in humans in Hanoi and surrounding provinces. All but one of the cases were children. Twelve of the 14 cases -- including 11 children -- have died.

But some of the infections date back to late October, a worrisome sign. The longer bird flu is in contact with humans, the greater the chance it will acquire the ability to spread among them.

And WHO is aware that these 14 cases may not be the entire iceberg.

"There is a concern that there could be more cases out there, both in humans and in chickens," Thompson admitted, saying the WHO has asked other countries in the region to be on the lookout for "any unusual patterns of death in chickens or humans, influenza-related."

For a pandemic to occur, a strain of influenza which has never before circulated among humans has to break out of nature and develop the ability to spread not just from animals to humans, but from human to human as well. Virtually no one would have any real immunity to such a virus, meaning it would spread like wildfire around the globe, rendering huge numbers of people sick. Such widespread illness and death would cause massive disruption to the health-care system and would tax the ability of governments around the globe to maintain essential services, experts predict."

Then, it goes into the two ways that this could happen:

"through a chance mutation that would give it that skill, or by what's called reassortment. If a person who was sick with a human influenza virus also became infected with the H5N1 virus, the two could swap some genetic material, and a new and deadly human virus could be formed."

But, on reading further into this in a bit more technical article, Daniel Perez, Ph.D., assistant professor of virology, University of Maryland, College Park (Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine) has explained this a bit more. Indeed, he notes:

"It has been good for us that avian influenza viruses have difficulties transmitting from human to human, but in my opinion, it's just a matter of time. There have been more incidents of avian influenza going to humans in recent years. Through different agricultural practices, humans have altered the ecosystem of many animal species, including poultry and swine, which have resulted in the creation of optimal conditions for the emergence of novel influenza virus strains. With worldwide poultry and swine production going up, the chances for another influenza pandemic appear imminent."

Apparently, the WHO is launching a full-fledged probe into this because of the seriousness of the threat. This article makes note of the facts that:

"In most pandemics, animals such as chickens, pigs or even cows have played a role in creating deadly new strains of influenza viruses for which humans have no immunity...The danger is when a new virus can cross from person to person. Animals play a key role here because they become breeding grounds for new strains of flu that contain changes in the genetic structure that the human immune system cannot recognise.

According to the science journal Nature, flu viruses originate in wild birds and are thought to become lethal when they cross into poultry or pigs. In cells infected with another flu variety, the viruses pick up genes that enable them to infect humans.

This can also happen, it is thought, in cows."

It only gets worse from there on...

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, pigs can be infected with human and avian influenza viruses in addition to swine influenza viruses. Infected pigs get symptoms similar to humans, such as cough, fever and runny nose.

Because pigs are susceptible to a variety of flu viruses, they potentially may be infected with viruses from different species, such as ducks and humans, at the same time. If this happens, it is possible for the genes of these viruses to mix and create a new virus.

In Vietnam, hundreds of pigs have also died of flu.

Dr Veronica Chan, head of the microbiology and parasitology department at the University of the Philippines' College of Medicine, said on Wednesday humans would have no protection against a new strain of flu.
"We should worry. It kills. It kills," she said.

Scientists say major flu pandemics occur every 30-35 years. The deadliest in the past century was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 that killed between 20 million and 50 million people worldwide, including 500,000 in the United States. The exact source of this virulent strain is unknown but is thought to have been wild birds.

The virus behind the last major flu outbreak, the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968, is thought to have originated with wild aquatic birds such as ducks. Nature journal reported last year that the next killer influenza strain might leap directly from ducks to humans.

Influenza strains in domestic ducks have already acquired genes from poultry viruses, researchers found, and may have the potential to invade human cells.
"It's getting closer to one that can spread," said influenza expert Robert Lamb of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in a June 5, 2003, report in Nature.

The viruses, known as H9N2, probably jumped from wild birds into poultry, swapped genes with influenza strains there, and then migrated back into ducks, Nature said.

While some scientists are worried about the public safety issue when it comes to contamination and disease in the public food supply, it is clear that governments and the industry are only looking to protect their profits. This article notes that:

Viroj Na Bangchang, president of the Consumer Force Association of Thailand, yesterday accused the government of covering up the deaths of as many as 50 million chickens from a fowl disease that may have been bird flu...He claimed large numbers of dead chickens had been quietly disposed of this month to avoid public panic.

"It may affect tourism and chicken exports. We have to be willing to accept that," he said. "The truth must be told. I don't think the government is telling the truth."

Viroj submitted a petition to the House committee on consumer protection yesterday calling for action over the mass deaths of chickens.
Senator Somkiat Onwimon said yesterday a cover-up of the mysterious disease had continued for two months and that almost 20 provinces had been affected.

Why would they cover this up? Well, the article says, "Thailand is the world's fourth largest chicken exporter, according to government figures."

How are they explaining all these dead chickens that people are finding out about? "The Agriculture Ministry, which says changes in the weather cause mass deaths of chickens at this time of year, said on Wednesday the recent deaths were caused by diarrhoea and bronchitis."

I even saw an article that said the officials over there said that it was only "cholera and respiratory problems." Yeah. Right.

Sounds like flu to me. Anyway, they intend to inspect all their farms to "prove" that they are free of the flu. And they have to do it quickly. After all, "Japan and the European Union are Thailand's key buyers of Thai poultry products, which bring in more than $1 billion a year...Singapore imposed a partial ban on imports of live and frozen chicken from Thailand on Thursday."

They couldn't have that, even if people are getting sick and dropping dead. No one knows much about this - even the scientists admit that they don't know it all. That is the scariest thing about it.

Now, let me take this even further.

In this article, WHO "says there's no evidence to suggest people should stop eating chicken." However, they make a little disclaimer when they say this, "This is a bit of a young science, we can't say many things with certainty. But it does seem that the virus, when it's spread to humans, it seems the virus is spread through chicken faeces. There is no evidence to suggest that eating chicken is a danger to health, although as I say, there's a lot of work to be done on what's happening here."

Now, here is where I started really worrying about this. You see, I know for a fact that meat is contaminated with fecal matter. If the fecal matter is what spreads the disease, then it seems safe to assume that the germs are being passed down to consumers through the meat they eat. Look at all the trouble we have with things like E. coli, salmonella, etc. Where do you think those germs and diseases come from?

Readers that have seen my early entries in the archives (that are full of my personal experiences) will remember me talking about the extent to which the workers on back dock are exposed to fecal matter (among other things). We had the stuff all over us - literally from head to toe. You may even remember me talking about the fact that it gets in your mouth when you do this work. You can't avoid it. You will get chicken shit in your mouth - even swallow it - if you do that job. That is an inescapable and unhealthy fact, as is the fact that you walk out of there with a certain amount of it still adhering to your skin, clothes, and hair. Of course, there are other things, too - the blood, feathers, etc. that get on you, too, after standing there all night long on back dock. All of these things can carry disease and contaminate everything they touch, including the people (and yes, even the public - we were even asked not to let the public see us before we got all cleaned up so that they would not be upset by seeing the nastiness we worked in and thus, that their food was processed in).

Then all these workers leave the plant and go into the public to go home. Most even stop at a store or two on the way home. Can you imagine how fast this would spread through an area, even if it only happened in a small out-of-the-way plant like the one I worked at in Grannis? What about those bigger plants in more populated areas? And what about the feces left on the meat when it goes to the stores or the fast food places? If the feces left on the meat after processing can carry E. coli or salmonella, wouldn't you think it could carry the flu? And wouldn't it be even more dangerous in concentrated form for the workers in the industry and those they came in contact with?

If you want to see some really upsetting info on this, then read this page to see how bad the fecal contamination problem is, especially with regard to E. coli. It's nasty is what it is.

Now, just imagine if you were to substitute the word E. coli on that page with the word "Superflu." It goes from just being nasty and dangerous to being extremely scary and extremely dangerous - on a global scale. Why are we worrying about bio-terrorists contaminating the food supply when we have the factory farming industry doing that job so well?

If you eat meat, then you eat shit.

It is that simple. It may be irradiated shit, cooked shit, or whatever, but there is no doubt that meat gets contaminated very badly through modern factory farming practices.

Of course, they like to try to shift the blame onto the consumers when they get sick for not washing their food properly or letting meat touch a cutting board or something, as opposed to making sure that the food they sell is safe to eat and free of disease. If meat was safe to eat, then why do we have all these warnings on handling and preparation? We didn't used to have to worry about that kind of stuff. We used to be able to eat our meat without it being well-done and cooked to a certain internal temperature.

On that last page I referenced, it makes note of the fact that

A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. According to Gerba, "You'd be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink."

Now, that's just wrong, don't you think?! We shouldn't have to wash shit off our food before we eat it! It should never be there in the first place if they are doing a proper job. But, if all the diseases weren't bad enough, now we have to worry about a flu pandemic. I guess my post on the "Superflu coming to you" wasn't so far off, huh???

Then, to top it all off, I see today on MSNBC here that "The influenza vaccine that many Americans clamored for this year was not very good at protecting people against influenza, colds and similar viruses." In fact, it had "no or low effectiveness against influenza-like illness,” according to the CDC. So, if you ran out to get a shot, you probably wasted your time. People seemed to get sick anyway, since they couldn't predict exactly which strain would come out.

Doesn't give you much hope that they would be able to stop a flu pandemic like the one discussed above, does it? What about BSE? Same thing. They are more worried about the industry and its profits than they are about the safety of the public. After all, we still feed animals to animals, even knowing the dangers. And we do this because of the money that the industry saves. Here is a good article on this problem that has both sides giving their point of view.

The point I am trying to make here is: What is it going to take before we realize that we cannot keep on allowing the industry to do business the way that they currently are? Even though most people support paying a few cents a pound more for safer meat, it doesn't happen. There is too much money at stake for the industry and the government to admit that there even exists a safety issue. We have been bombarded with messages from the industry and the government - standing side by side, just about hand-in-hand, telling people not to worry - to go ahead and consume, consume, consume.

The sad thing is that most people do. They believe the propaganda of the industry as fact and call all factual evidence that points to problems "propaganda." The industry and the government have conspired to make sure that this is so. The facts speak for themselves and are extremely hard to dispute, no matter what kind of an expert you find to debate on the industry's side of the issue.

Exactly how many times do animal products have to be proved unsafe? And in how many ways? What will it take to reach the average gullible consumer?

When will we learn?

Hopefully, it won't be after it is too late. (crosses fingers...and toes...)
Posted by: # Virgil / 1:03 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A comparison of factory farming Oz vs. U.S. 

A reader sent me an email, showing me the difference between what factory farming is like in America vs. how it is done in Australia. They also wanted me to say that they are "well aware that Australia certainly has chicken farms that are just as disgraceful as those found in other parts of the world," after giving me permission to post this excerpt. From what I have read, both in the news and from others who live over there, the industry in that country is better than some, and worse than others, I'm sure. Anyway, a big thanks goes to the reader quoted here for allowing me to use their words. I have had a number of enlightening "conversations" with quite a few people - you know who you are - that I enjoy immensely. I am glad to have so many intelligent people discussing these issues and doing their own research, as well as giving me inspiration and support. :) Thanks to all of you, too. (BTW - I remind everyone again that I will NEVER post or share with ANYONE anything from a private email without the author's consent, unless it has been posted elsewhere, like a copy of an article someone sends to me that they found.)

Now, both of these factory farming operations in both countries claim that the biggest reason for the way they conduct business is because their way is what they MUST do ( and is completely necessary, no less) to stay competitive and make money. Note the differences between each country's practices/policies and keep in mind that Australia is one of the last BSE-free areas in the world. Hmmm... Maybe they know something the rest of us don't? Maybe we should look to them for a change? You decide...

According to the reader's email, there are:

"...plenty of mum and dad farming operations and no real industrial type farming ops. They do exist here but are heavily regulated, including the animal feed industry. Australia enjoys a relatively clean disease free environment. This *image* (kind of like that of Qantas which has never had a crashed plane) seems to keep the regulators on their toes and other than poultry food (only 5% is animal proteins) all ruminant animals are grazed. Disturbingly though the feedlot is making an appearance but thankfully again is heavily regulated. It's only through sheer luck, the huge amount of land we have, and isolation that we haven't had the same sort of problems that you guys have and what happened in Europe. BTW the feedlots here are tiny compared to the monstrous ones you guys have and the animals are fed only a vegetarian diet.

Australian farmers are so concerned with BSE and other potential disastrous diseases that they take the issue quite seriously...various government agencies have put together bio terror plans in place to ensure Australia's disease free status and to contain any outbreak of any disease whatsoever. All sick animals are to be either immediately quarantined and or humanely destroyed.

I didn't get this information from a website, I just talked to the farmers.

The one chicken farm I visited was certainly an eye opener. For all intent and purpose it was your standard barn chook farm, but with a difference. There was absolutely no smell for a start, besides that normal smell of farm animals. The chooks were kept in two metal barns with tonnes of ventilation and between the two barns was a tough green belt that was fenced in. The farmer explained that they had changed the way they raised the chooks because of industry and consumers concerns over diseases and such. The chooks on this farm were rotated between the barns and the green area to ensure they had natural light, fresh food, plenty of ventilation and could have a fairly decent amount of space. This wasn't an organic farm either. As for the slaughter practices I couldn't tell you. But the round up of chooks to be transported to the slaughterhouse was done in a humane and rather ingenious manner. Just about 100% of the chooks (according to the farmer) absolutely loved their time out in the green area. So when it came time to ship his *grown* ones off to the slaughterhouse he simply used a series of variable sized doors to let the different grown chooks through then used a mechanical catcher to get the ones that were required.

And the reason why he changed to this type of farming? *money* He said that we are always looking into new and different ways to look after our animals and provide consumers with quality produce. We have a failure rate of less than 1% because we treat the animals with respect. This from an old chook farmer!!"

However, the reader also makes mention of a threat to this way of doing business:

"Already one of the biggest poultry concerns in the country wants to build a *massive* caged chook farm (which is worse than intensive barn) in country NSW. The residents of the country town don't want it. Animal activists are furious and the state government is in a quandary about whether to approve it."

Perhaps they should not look to America for how to do business, we certainly lose a lot more than 1% - a LOT more. NO intensive farming operation can be considered ultimately good for the animals forced to endure such conditions, but there are ways to make it better than what we currently have, WITHOUT the industry losing a lot of money. This is just one more example that proves it.

We can do better. We just have to want to. We have to care. Is that really so hard?

Posted by: # Virgil / 12:04 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, January 09, 2004

What is Natural? 

I have been getting some interesting emails on the BSE issue. There are those that are glad that this kind of thing is finally coming to the attention of the public. And there are those that think that everyone is making much too big a deal over one cow.

It started me to thinking yesterday about the ways things used to be and what I learned growing up on a family farm. The differences are extreme in many different ways.

I guess everybody already knows that I grew up in northern Arkansas in the edge of the Ozarks. Actually, calling what we had a "real working farm" would be a bit of a stretch, but we did manage to have enough to eat.

One cow, one pig, one chicken, meant a lot to us. One chicken meant the loss of an egg a day. A loss of a pig cost us the meat from that hog for the entire year. And a good dairy cow was irreplaceable. It cost too much to buy a full-grown cow.

Therefore, you took damn good care of the animals you had. You did everything you had to in order to make sure they not only survived, but thrived. You wanted them to be the healthiest beings on the property. The hunting dogs came next, then yourself. That's the way things were. At least, they were if you wanted to feed your family. That was natural.

I can proudly say that the last cow I milked was also the first cow I milked. She lived that long and produced that well. You want to know why? Because we took extremely good care of her, that's why.

I guess we kept about a dozen hens and a rooster. We had our cow. And, we got hogs sometimes. My uncle would go to the auction over at Logan County Stockyards on the edge of Booneville and get a couple of shoats (young just-weaned hogs). We would raise them up on vegetable scraps from the garden exclusively through the summer.

You see, he didn't believe in feeding them anything else, especially not meat or anything that had come in contact with meat. My grandmother was the same way. She also raised hogs that I helped her with. These are old-timers that came up through the Depression, scraping by and living the hard way. They learned things you don't get in a book or read in some scientific study. They looked at their own experiences and the ones of those around them.

They always said that you should never feed animals to other animals. The idea being that if you fed meat to a hog, it would make him sick and unfit for you to eat. I never questioned that. It was simply "the way things were." It wasn't natural.

They obviously knew what they were talking about because our animals were some of the healthiest in the county. Our old cow gave the most milk. She was bred naturally by a neighbor's bull, even though they were aware of using sperm and artifical insemination. In return, he got milk from us throughout the year. But, we also made sure that the calf she bore got its share as well. If she had twins and they needed all the milk, then that's what they got. We did without. That was also unquestioned because it was best for the animals. We only got what the calves didn't need. It was what was natural.

Every year we turned out the hogs into a 10-acre lot with a lot of oak trees on it in order to browse for acorns. They fed on natural food without chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics. That was also natural.

The humane treatment of the animals was also a major priority. Anything you did to abuse any animal would be done to you as a child in order for you to understand what it felt like to be that animal. We leaned very quickly that you never mistreated an animal for any reason whatsoever. We were taught that you respected that animal and the sacrifice it made for your survival. We were taught that it was bad enough that the animal was destined to die for us and that there was no reason or excuse for making it suffer any more than that.

We slaughtered our own. We understood as children what sort of sacrifice was being made for our continued survival. It was a rough life, but we learned a lot. That is why I was so horrified by what I saw when I entered the factory farming industry and saw how the business was run.

That wasn't farming at all. I have a hard time putting into words exactly how it made me feel. It was a shock, to say the least. It was so unnatural.

When I first started hearing all this about the mad cow thing and finding out what they were feeding those animals, it didn't surprise me that the animals were getting sick. What surprised me was that they would have thought of feeding that kind of stuff to them in the first place. And then expect them not to get sick. But, of course, they found out that they do get sick - a lot. Hence the antibiotics, hormones, genetic manipulation, and other nasty things they do. That is not natural.

When I hear someone defend their eating meat with the "but it's natural," this is what they are defending. This factory farming machine. And, it is not natural at all. It's not the pretty picture of a family farm. It's like apples and oranges - there is no comparison. They are that different.

When you go against Mother Nature, you are going to pay the price.

The price has already gotten too high for me. What price will everyone else decide is too high? And how many will it affect?

I've got a feeling that mad cow is just the beginning. The tip of the iceberg.

I'm even more worried about the other nasty things that brew in those cesspools of disease at these places.

The old-timers said when they first started seeing all these Tyson houses go up around here that people would live to regret the day that they started doing that kind of stuff. I heard that said quite a few times. Looks like they were right, huh? Grandpa always told me that people didn't get old by being stupid. So, I always listened because I figured he was right. I know that none of our family ever got sick from eating the animals we raised or hunted.


The reason I swore off meat and spoke was not because of what went on then on our family's farm, but because of what went on since, after I left it for the factory farming industry. They took what we had and just perverted it.

When I say "we" I mean the little guy. Some families made their living off their farms, selling eggs or other things to the stores and small slaughterhouses. They are still there in many of the small towns, right next to the auction yard. Before big companies, that's where you got your meat. Or the store did, and you bought it from there. Everything was local. The produce, too. You knew where it came from. And, people were healthier.

Perhaps we can't go back to that as much as we want, but I do think we can do much better than what we are currently doing. It is so short-sighted.

I'm worried about the "super-germs" that get into our food, our water, our soil, and our air - thus into our bodies. I'm worried about messing around with DNA. I'm worried about the belief that we can "play God" and get away with it.

I have said it before and I will say it again. We don't have the qualifications.

There is nothing natural (or maybe I should say Nature-al?) about factory farming. Period. It is not good for the animals, the environment, or us. We don't need to eat meat at all - in fact it makes us sick - sicker than ever before. It's not about survival anymore. We don't need it to survive.

It's simply greed run amok. And, if we are not careful, it could be our death.

It has gotten that serious.

It's time to WAKE UP! Restore the balance and harmony in Nature.

Before it is too late.
Posted by: # Virgil / 8:32 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Killer Among Us 

I have been getting quite a few emails from people asking about mad cow disease. And I have been reading everything I can find on this issue. I am quite concerned about this, not only for those who are continuing to eat meat, but also for those of us who have quit eating it now, but ate it within the past 5-10 years or so. I am also being increasingly convinced that this is a much bigger problem than anyone knows, except for a few outspoken people in a position to truly understand what it going on.

I have been reading everything I can find that both sides have to say. I don't buy into propaganda. And I don't toe any party line. That's why, although I may work with many groups, I am a member of none. No one speaks for me, and I don't speak for them. I think for myself, and I speak for myself.

I read the "facts" presented by each side and then those of the middle that don't seem to have much of a vested interest, then try to put it all together into what I believe the situation truly is. I think that is about all any of us can do. But, the problem is that most people won't do that. They will see whatever is on the news and believe it. That's why, even though most of the world has shut their borders to our meat, the American public is still picking up burgers at their local fast food places.

I believe that this is also why intelligent people are increasingly turning to blogs to get sides of stories that aren't told in mainstream media. I read the Iraqis blogs and those of the soldiers there in order to get a better picture of what we don't hear anywhere else. I also followed Chris Albritton with his backtoiraq blog when the war was in full throttle to see what was happening on the ground from his vantage point. In this way, people with a desire to learn, to know, to understand, are being increasingly exposed to alternative viewpoints than those "official" ones on the nightly news.

I have brought quite a bit of focus to this mad cow issue, not because of a desire to gloat or capitalize on it in a bad way, but really to try to use it to help people understand the true scope of the situation. Factory farming is unnatural, cruel to animals, destructive to the environment, and even causes a good bit of disease within our most vulnerable members of society - our kids and our older people. The fact of the matter is that our greed as a society is literally killing us, it is only a question of what degree of suffering we allow and how many we allow to die.

At first, I was only going to post a link to the following article, with a few excerpts, but as I looked through it, trying to decide what to focus on, I realized that there was really nothing that should be left out. This is one of the best articles I have read on this subject, and I doubt it has gotten much focus in the mainstream media. Therefore I have decided to post it in its entirety for you to read below. It is a bit long, however, it is worth the read. It deserves to be read and taken into account, at the very least. It brings up several of the same things I had been wondering about myself, like how do we KNOW FOR SURE that these prions are not being passed through chickens to cows, pigs, people???

We don't. Simple as that.

And, it is increasingly looking as though certain segments of the industry, along with parts of the government, do not want to know. Then they would have much to answer for, wouldn't they???

It is truly scary what we are setting ourselves up for. I keep seeing scenes from "The Stand" in my mind, only things could be even worse than that. That was rather quick. Something like this would take decades and be a much worse way to go - slowly, but inevitably. (shudder)
**UPDATE 1-10-04** A reader sent me another link to this same story, complete with the footnotes for anyone interested in looking into this further. Hat tip to soyjoy. :)

The Killer Among Us

By Michael Greger, AlterNet
January 7, 2004

In October, 2001, 34-year-old Washington State native Peter Putnam started losing his mind. One month he was delivering a keynote business address, the next he couldn't form a complete sentence. Once athletic, soon he couldn't walk. Then he couldn't eat. After a brain biopsy showed it was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, his doctor could no longer offer any hope. "Just take him home and love him," the doctor counseled his family. Peter's death in October, 2002 may have been caused by mad cow disease.

Seven years earlier and 5000 miles away, Stephen Churchill was the first in England to die. His first symptoms of depression and dizziness gave way to a living nightmare of terrifying hallucinations; he was dead in 12 months at age 19. Next was Peter Hall, 20, who showed the first signs of depression around Christmas, 1994. By the next Christmas, he couldn't walk, talk, or do anything for himself. Then it was Anna's turn, then Michelle's. Michelle Bowen, age 29, died in a coma three weeks after giving birth to her son via emergency cesarean section. Then it was Alison's turn. These were the first five named victims of Britain's Mad Cow epidemic. They died from what the British Secretary of Health called the worst form of death imaginable, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a relentlessly progressive and invariably fatal human dementia. The announcement of their deaths, released on March 20, 1996 (ironically, Meatout Day), reversed the British government's decade-old stance that British beef was safe to eat.

It is now considered an incontestable fact that these human deaths in Britain were caused by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow disease. Bovine means "cow or cattle," spongiform means "sponge-like," and encephalopathy means "brain disease." Mad Cow disease is caused by unconventional pathogens called prions – literally infectious proteins – which, because of their unique structure, are practically invulnerable, surviving even incineration at temperatures hot enough to melt lead. The leading theory as to how cows got Mad Cow disease in the first place is by eating diseased sheep infected with a sheep spongiform encephalopathy called scrapie.

In humans, prions can cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a human spongiform encephalopathy whose clinical picture can involve weekly deterioration into blindness and epilepsy as one's brain becomes riddled with tiny holes.

We've known about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease for decades, since well before the first mad cow was discovered in 1985. Some cases of CJD seemed to run in families; other cases seemed to just arise spontaneously in about one in a million people every year, and were hence dubbed "sporadic." The new form of CJD caused by eating beef from cows infected with Mad Cow disease, though, seemed to differ from the classic sporadic CJD.

The CJD caused by infected meat has tended to strike younger people, has produced more psychotic symptoms, and has often dragged on for a year or more. The most defining characteristic, though, was found when their brains were sampled. The brain pathology was vividly reminiscent of Kuru, a disease once found in a New Guinea tribe of cannibals who ate the brains of their dead. Scientists called this new form of the disease "variant" CJD.

Other than Charlene, a 24 year old woman now dying in Florida, who was probably infected in Britain, there have been no reported cases of variant CJD in the U.S. Hundreds of confirmed cases of the sporadic form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, however, arise in the United States every year, but the beef industry is quick to point out these are cases of sporadic CJD, not the new variant known to be caused by Mad Cow disease. Of course, no one knows what causes sporadic CJD. New research suggests that not hundreds but thousands of Americans die of sporadic CJD every year, and that some of these CJD deaths may be caused by eating infected meat after all.

Although the fact that Mad Cow disease causes variant CJD had already been strongly established, researchers at the University College of London nevertheless created transgenic mice complete with "humanized" brains genetically engineered with human genes to try to prove the link once and for all. When the researchers injected one strain of the "humanized" mice with infected cow brains, they came down with the same brain damage seen in human variant CJD, as expected. But when they tried this in a different strain of transgenic "humanized" mice, those mice got sick too, but most got sick from what looked exactly like sporadic CJD. The Mad Cow prions caused a disease that had a molecular signature indistinguishable from sporadic CJD. To the extent that animal experiments can simulate human results, their shocking conclusion was that eating infected meat might be responsible for some cases of sporadic CJD in addition to the expected variant CJD.

This is not the first time meat was linked to sporadic CJD. In 2001, a team of French researchers found a strain of scrapie – "mad sheep" disease – that caused the same brain damage in mice as sporadic CJD. "This means we cannot rule out that at least some sporadic CJD may be caused by some strains of scrapie," says team member Jean-Philippe Deslys of the French Atomic Energy Commission's medical research laboratory.

Population studies had failed to show a link between CJD and lamb chops, but this French research provided an explanation why. There seem to be six types of sporadic CJD and there are more than 20 strains of scrapie. If only some sheep strains affect only some people, studies of entire populations may not clearly show the relationship. Monkeys fed infected sheep brains certainly come down with the disease. Hundreds of "mad sheep" were found in the U.S. in 2003. Scrapie remains such a problem in the United States that the USDA has issued a scrapie "declaration of emergency." Maybe some cases of sporadic CJD in the U.S. are caused by sheep meat as well.

Pork is also a potential source of infection. Cattle remains are still boiled down and legally fed to pigs (as well as chickens) in this country. The FDA allows this exemption because no "naturally occurring" porcine (pig) spongiform encephalopathy has ever been found. But American farmers typically kill pigs at just five months of age, long before the disease is expected to show symptoms. And, because pigs are packed so tightly together, it would be difficult to spot neurological conditions like spongiform encephalopathies, whose most obvious symptoms are movement and gait disturbances. We do know, however, that pigs are susceptible to the disease – laboratory experiments show that pigs can indeed be infected by Mad Cow brains – and hundreds of thousands of downer pigs, too sick or crippled by injury to even walk, arrive at U.S. slaughterhouses every year.

A number of epidemiological studies have suggested a link between pork consumption and sporadic CJD. Analyzing peoples' diet histories, the development of CJD was associated with eating roast pork, ham, hot dogs, pork chops, smoked pork, and scrapple (a kind of pork pudding made from various hog carcass scraps). The researchers concluded, "The present study indicated that consumption of pork as well as its processed products (e.g., ham, scrapple) may be considered as risk factors in the development of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease." Compared to people that didn't eat ham, for example, those who included ham in their diet seemed ten times more likely to develop CJD. In fact, the USDA may have actually recorded an outbreak of "mad pig" disease in New York 25 years ago, but still refuses to reopen the investigation despite petitions from the Consumer's Union (the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine).

We do not know at this time whether chicken meat poses a risk. There was a preliminary report of ostriches allegedly fed risky feed in German zoos who seemed to come down with a spongiform encephalopathy. Even if chickens and turkeys themselves are not susceptible, though, they may become so-called "silent carriers" of Mad Cow prions and pass them on to human consumers. Dateline NBC quoted D. Carleton Gajdusek, the first to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on prion diseases, 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 recent exclusion of most cow brains, eyes, spinal cords, and intestines from the human food supply may make beef safer, but where are those tissues going? These potentially infectious tissues continue to go into animal feed for chickens, other poultry, pigs, and pets (as well as being rendered into products like tallow for use in cosmetics, the safety of which is currently under review). Until the federal government stops the feeding of slaughterhouse waste, manure, and blood to all farm animals, the safety of meat in America cannot be guaranteed.

The hundreds of American families stricken by sporadic CJD every year have been told that it just occurs by random chance. Professor Collinge, the head of the University College of London lab, noted "When you counsel those who have the classical sporadic disease, you tell them that it arises spontaneously out of the blue. I guess we can no longer say that."

"We are not saying that all or even most cases of sporadic CJD are as a result of BSE exposure," Professor Collinge continued, "but some more recent cases may be – the incidence of sporadic CJD has shown an upward trend in the UK over the last decade... serious consideration should be given to a proportion of this rise being BSE-related. Switzerland, which has had a substantial BSE epidemic, has noted a sharp recent increase in sporadic CJD." In the Nineties, Switzerland had the highest rate of Mad Cow disease in continental Europe, and their rate of sporadic CJD doubled.

We don't know exactly what's happening to the rate of CJD in this country, in part because CJD is not an officially notifiable illness. Currently only a few states have such a requirement. Because the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not actively monitor the disease on a national level, a rise similar to the one in Europe could be missed. In spite of this, a number of U.S. CJD clusters have already been found. In the largest known U.S. outbreak of sporadic cases to date, five times the expected rate was found to be associated with cheese consumption in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. A striking increase in CJD over expected levels was also reported in Florida and New York (Nassau County) with anecdotal reports of clusters of deaths in Oregon and New Jersey.

Perhaps particularly worrisome is the seeming increase in CJD deaths among young people in this country. In the 18 years between 1979 and 1996, only a single case of sporadic CJD was found in someone under 30. Whereas between 1997 and 2001, five people under 30 died of sporadic CJD. The true prevalence of CJD among any age group in this country remains a mystery, though, in part because it is so commonly misdiagnosed.

The most frequent misdiagnosis of CJD among the elderly is Alzheimer's disease. Neither CJD nor Alzheimer's can be conclusively diagnosed without a brain biopsy, and the symptoms and pathology of both diseases overlap. There can be spongy changes in Alzheimer's, for example, and senile Alzheimer's plaques in CJD. Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of prions, speculates that Alzheimer's may even turn out to be a prion disease as well. In younger victims, CJD is more often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis or as a severe viral infection.

Over the last 20 years the rates of Alzheimer's disease in the United States have skyrocketed. According to the CDC, Alzheimer's Disease is now the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, afflicting an estimated 4 million Americans. Twenty percent or more of people clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, though, are found at autopsy not to have had Alzheimer's at all. A number of autopsy studies have shown that a few percent of Alzheimer's deaths may in fact be CJD. Given the new research showing that infected beef may be responsible for some sporadic CJD, thousands of Americans may already be dying because of Mad Cow disease every year.

Prion disease expert Gajdusek, for example, estimates that 1% of people showing up in Alzheimer clinics actually have CJD. At Yale, out of a series of 46 patients clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer's, six were proven to have CJD at autopsy. In another study of brain biopsies, out of a dozen patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's according to established criteria, three of them were actually dying from CJD. An informal survey of neuropathologists registered a suspicion that CJD accounts for 2-12% of all dementias in general. Two autopsy studies showed a CJD rate among dementia deaths of about 3%. A third study, at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that 5% of patients diagnosed with dementia had CJD. Although only a few hundred cases of sporadic CJD are officially reported in the U.S. annually, hundreds of thousands of Americans die with dementia every year. Thousands of these deaths may actually be from CJD caused by eating infected meat.

The incubation period for human spongiform encephalopathies such as CJD can be decades. This means it can be years between eating infected meat and getting diagnosed with CJD. Although only about 150 people have so far been diagnosed with variant CJD worldwide, it will be many years before the final death toll is known.

Five years ago this week, the Center for Food Safety, the Humane Farming Association, the Center for Media & Democracy, and ten families of CJD victims petitioned the FDA and the CDC to immediately enact a national CJD monitoring system, including the mandatory reporting of CJD in all 50 states. The petition was denied. The CDC argued that their passive surveillance system tracking death certificate diagnoses was adequate. Their analysis of death certificates in three states and two cities, for example, showed an overall stable and typical one in a million CJD incidence rate from 1979 to 1993. But CJD is so often misdiagnosed, and autopsies are so infrequently done, that this system may not provide an accurate assessment.

In 1997, the CDC set up the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University to analyze brain tissue from CJD victims in the U.S. in hopes of tracking any new developments. In Europe, surveillance centers have been seeing most, if not all, cases of CJD. The U.S. center sees less than half. "I'm very unhappy with the numbers," laments Pierluigi Gambetti , the director of the Center. "The British and Germans politely smile when they see we examine 30% or 40% of the cases," he says. "They know unless you examine 80% or more, you are not in touch. The chance of losing an important case is high."

One problem is that many doctors don't even know the Center exists. And neither the CDC nor the Center are evidently authorized to reach out to them directly to bolster surveillance efforts, because it's currently up to each state individually to determine how – or even whether – they will track the disease. In Europe, in contrast, the national centers work directly with each affected family and their physicians. In the U.S., most CJD cases – even the confirmed ones – seem to just fall through the cracks. In fact, based on the autopsy studies at Yale and elsewhere, it seems most CJD cases in the U.S. aren't even picked up in the first place.

Autopsy rates have dropped in the U.S. from 50% in the Sixties to less than 10% at present. Although one reason autopsies are rarely performed on atypical dementia cases is that medical professionals are afraid of catching the disease, the primary reason for the decline in autopsy rates in general appears to be financial. There is currently no direct reimbursement to doctors or hospitals for doing autopsies, which often forces the family to absorb the cost of transporting the body to an autopsy center and having the brain samples taken, a tab that can run upwards of $1500.

Another problem is that the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center itself remains underfunded. Paul Brown, medical director for the National Institutes of Health, has described the Center's budget as "pitiful," complaining that "there isn't any budget for CJD surveillance." To adequately survey America's 290 million residents, "you need a lot of money." UK CJD expert Robert Will explains, "There was a CJD meeting of families in America in which... [the CDC] got attacked fairly vigorously because there wasn't proper surveillance. You could only do proper surveillance if you have adequate resources."

"I compare this to the early days of AIDS," says protein chemist Shu Chen, who directs the Center's lab, "when no one wanted to deal with the crisis."

Andrew Kimbrell, the director of the Center for Food Safety, a D.C.-based public interest group, writes, "Given what we know now, it is unconscionable that the CDC is not strictly monitoring these diseases." Given the presence of Mad Cow disease in the U.S., we need to immediately enact uniform active CJD surveillance on a national level, provide adequate funding not only for autopsies but also for the shipment of bodies, and require mandatory reporting of the disease in all 50 states. In Britain, even feline spongiform encephalopathy, the cat version of Mad Cow disease, is an officially notifiable illness. "No one has looked for CJD systematically in the U.S.," notes NIH medical director Paul Brown. "Ever."

The animal agriculture industries continue to risk public safety, and the government seems to protect the industries' narrow business interests more than it protects its own citizens. Internal USDA documents retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act show that our government did indeed consider a number of precautionary measures as far back as 1991 to protect the American public from Mad Cow disease. According to one such document, however, the USDA explained that the "disadvantage" of these measures was that "the cost to the livestock and rendering industries would be substantial."

Plant sources of protein for farm animals can cost up to 30% more than cattle remains. The Cattlemen's Association admitted a decade ago that animal agribusiness could indeed find economically feasible alternatives to feeding slaughterhouse waste to other animals, but that the they did not want to set a precedent of being ruled by "activists."

Is it a coincidence that USDA Secretary Veneman chose Dale Moore, former chief lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, as her chief of staff? Or Alison Harrison, former director of public relations for the Cattlemen's Association, as her official spokeswoman? Or that one of the new Mad Cow committee appointees is William Hueston, who was paid by the beef industry to testify against Oprah Winfrey in hopes of convicting her of beef "disparagement"? After a similar conflict of interest unfolded in Britain, their entire Ministry of Agriculture was dissolved and an independent Food Safety Agency was created, whose sole responsibility is to protect the public's health. Until we learn from Britain's lesson, and until the USDA stops treating this as a PR problem to be managed instead of a serious global threat, millions of Americans will remain at risk.
Posted by: # Virgil / 9:20 AM 0 comments Links to this post

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