How will animals fare during the government shutdown?

As many of you know, there is no federal oversight of animal shelters.  They will continue to operate as usual during the government shutdown which, in too many cases, is a tragedy in itself.  But with the failure of Congress to do its job and keep the government running, I wanted to mention a few animal related services that are being impacted by the federal government shutdown.

  • USDA food inspectors will remain on the job so the food you eat and feed to your pets – or for those who feed kibble/canned pet food, the ingredients used to make that food – will be as safe as it was before the shutdown, which is up for debate.
  • Although the animals are still receiving care, the National Zoo is closed and the panda cam is dark.  The loss of the panda cam seems to be the only thing that might motivate citizens to take to the streets.

Have more? Add them in the comments.

Could Slaughterhouse Videos Come Out from Undercover?

In an interview at Food Safety News, Temple Grandin proposes putting live video from every slaughterhouse in the country on the internet:

I’m at the point where I want the industry to take all the mystery out of things. Some of the companies have video auditing and that’s good… but put a live feed out to the internet so anybody can look. What have we got to hide?

This would be a sea change for both the meat processing industry and consumers.  I wonder what level of interest there is in doing this among meat processors.  One might be tempted to think the large corporations would be opposed and small, local companies would be supportive since they have a better reputation with many consumers.  But Dr. Grandin says neither reputation is necessarily deserved:

Ironically, most of the big plants that are audited by McDonald’s and places like that, I’m not going to say they’re perfect, but an atrocity like this last video with the pitchforks in the udder, you’re not going to see anything like that.

What I get concerned about is the little local places that are not being audited. I’ve been involved in working with and training auditors for big plants and small plants…for the big plants the audits started 10 years ago, in 1999. The little plants, there was a five year delay for them. The big plants were just horrible when we first started and then when we walked into some of these little plants they were just as horrid. The thing I have found about little plants, they’re either really good or really bad. There’s like no middle road. It’s so dependent on the attitude of the manager.

[...]

It’s the big plants that started [paying attention to humane handling], let’s give them some credit where they need some credit. The big plants started the animal welfare conference, we’ve had that welfare conference for over 10 years. They’ve become more and more conscious of this. Cargill has been a real leader, they’ve put video auditing in all their pork and beef plants. They’ve been a total leader in that. It’s audited over the internet by third party auditors.

So for Cargill at least, the leap to making that video accessible to the public wouldn’t be a huge one, technologically speaking.  But in terms of changing the game and giving consumers the opportunity to make informed decisions without having to rely solely on secretly filmed video snippets posted by animal rights groups – it would be giant.

How would you feel about meat processing plants having live video feeds on the internet?  Would you watch in order to decide which companies’ standards and practices are acceptable to you as a consumer?

How Do You Feel About Pet Food Corporations in 2010?

It’s only been 3 years since the massive pet food recalls of 2007 but anytime is a good time for a refresher.  I’ve already blogged quite a bit on things I learned due to the recalls, including:

  • My thoughts at the one year anniversary of the pet food recalls
  • Why the AAFCO stamp of approval is worthless
  • The similarities between the pet food and peanut butter recalls
  • A list of things I think are worth avoiding in pet food
  • The only product I can recommend

Basically, I was left with a strong feeling of distrust after learning about the widespread pet food industry practices which resulted in the deaths and tragic illnesses of thousands of pets in this country.  That feeling remains as strong as ever because the pet food companies didn’t say, “This is unacceptable!  We’re going to do a complete overhaul and come back with new, transparent practices that will restore consumer confidence.”  Far from it.  What they said was more along the lines of,  “Circle the wagons boys!  Consumers are daring to ask questions.  Screw that!”

As far as I know, not one significant thing in the practices of the pet food industry as a whole has changed for the better since all those pets suffered and died.  Therefore, the potential for a recurrence is plausible to my mind.  And indeed, we have regularly seen pet food products recalled, though on a smaller scale, in the years since.  Granted, recalls are going to happen, but the reasons that they happen and how they are handled by the pet food companies  are very similar to 2007.  There have been a few isolated cases where I thought recalls were handled well – for example Orijen – but the large corporations still deny problems, rely on secrecy and employ the “proprietary information“, duck and cover business model.

Overall, I would say my opinion of pet food corporations has changed little since 2007.  How about you – do you feel things in the pet food industry are better, worse or about the same?

Treats on the Internets

Food Geek Edition:

The New York Times has a good article called The Truth about Cat and Dog Food:

[...]I wonder whether people who invest in high-end pet foods are getting their money’s worth. Are their pets really healthier and happier? Do they live longer? And are these foods any better than the generic versions sold in supermarkets and big-box stores?

Terrierman has posted a view on the above article.

The NYT piece contains an interview with food expert Marion Nestle, as does this piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

A Veterinarian links the 2007 pet food recall to food safety issues which affect us all

FDA launches a pilot program for GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) “substances” in animal food.  Let me guess, that would include everything on the planet?

Bravo, a company which sells raw pet food, is moving its production of beef and lamb formulas from the U.S. to New Zealand.  Bravo had previously sourced some lamb and beef parts from New Zealand but did the manufacturing of the product in the States.  One reason for the switch:

Sourcing and manufacturing the products in New Zealand enables Bravo to use the entire carcass and reduce the number of steps involved in the production process, thus resulting in better quality products[...]

I always like the idea of using an entire carcass of a food animal.  I hate to think that anything edible or usable is wasted.

A cooked, homemade dog food recipe I came across

How does this vid compare with feeding time at your house?

FDA Close to Getting Unfriended

Usually I’m torn between slamming the FDA for their failure to protect consumers in favor of protecting corporations and decrying their inadequate resources to get the job done.  Today though, I’m definitely on the former.

For one thing, I watched Food Inc on PBS last night.  I actually only watched the first hour because I couldn’t take any more.  I’ll go back for the second hour when I’ve gotten my strength back.  Suffice to say the documentary is a graphic reminder that the government agencies mandated to keep our food supply safe are falling down on the job.

For another, FDA is using its scant resources to bring down the hammer on compounding pharmacies – which is an overreaction and a waste of taxpayer money in my view.

And finally, although the FDA did very little during the massive 2007 pet food recalls besides continually tell the public to buy corporate pet food because it’s perfectly safe and you can’t feed your pet on your own, they have now issued a consumer update warning dog owners not to feed bones:

The idea that it’s natural for dogs to chew on bones is a popular one. However, it’s a dangerous practice and can cause serious injury to your pet.

It continues on about how bones may puncture the stomach, get lodged in the intestines, break teeth, etc.  A Veterinarian is quoted as follows:

“There are many bone-like products made with materials that are safe for dogs to chew on.”

Right.  Probably ones that your Vet sells even.  But that’s a total coincidence.

Shame on FDA for making no mention of the differences between raw and cooked bones.  And shame on FDA for leading consumers to believe that the exact same warnings they give about feeding bones don’t also apply to dogs chewing “bone-like products”.  And finally, shame on FDA for perpetuating their beloved myth that it takes a rocket scientist to know how to feed a dog and the general pet owning public is too dumb to ever figure it out.

Trust the professionals, do not try feeding your pet real food, you might kill him.  Also, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

April 21 on PBS

Two documentaries of interest premiere on PBS this coming Wednesday night, April 21:

Through a Dog’s Eyes will change the way you feel about your own dog. The documentary follows a handful of people as they journey through the heartwarming and often challenging process of receiving their service dogs.

and

Food, Inc – In addition to graphically detailing animal cruelty, environmental despoliation and economic monopolization, the film Food, Inc. also questions whether the industrial system produces the nutritious, health- and life-sustaining stuff we call food.

Beef Recall Due to Salmonella

From CNN:

Beef Packers Inc., based in Fresno, California, recalled 22,723 pounds of ground beef products produced on September 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a statement. The labels on the beef include the establishment number “EST. 31913,” the agency said.

The beef was repackaged at a distribution plant in Arizona, then sold under different retail brand names, the agency said. The agency’s statement did not identify brand names.

Right. We wouldn’t want to reveal brand names because that might hurt business. If only consumers had a government agency to look out for them the way corporations do.

The products were sold in Arizona and New Mexico, said Mark Klein, spokesman for Cargill Inc., which owns Beef Packers, Inc. Consumers in those states should check with stores where they purchased meat to determine if they bought the recalled beef.

Good old Cargill.

Tips for Avoiding Factory Farm Products

A guide to shopping and eating for those who wish to avoid supporting factory farms:

Most people share at least the following traits: they want to be healthy; they like animals; and they value clean air and water. Yet relatively few Americans connect those concerns with their food. As more people start making the link (especially if they’ve seen graphic video footage of industrial animal operations), many decide it’s time to stop eating foods from factory farms. This is a guide for doing just that.

Among the author’s recommendations:

  • Eat less meat. Eat better meat. (The same goes for dairy products and eggs).
  • Know your labels (and their shortcomings).
  • Explore alternative stores (independent grocery stores and co-ops).
  • Pasture is the gold standard.
  • Grass fed is very good (but the label is weak).
  • Organic is very good, (but the label isn’t perfect).
  • Free range is okay (but the label is seriously flawed).
  • Antibiotic free doesn’t mean much.

Another Huge Ground Beef Recall

CBS News reports that dozens of illnesses and 2 deaths may be linked to the latest recall of half a million pounds of ground beef:

Ashville, N.Y.-based Fairbank Farms recalled almost 546,000 pounds of fresh ground beef that may be tainted with E. coli bacteria. The meat was distributed in September to stores from Virginia to Maine.

The ground beef was sold at Trader Joe’s, Price Chopper, Lancaster, Wild Harvest, Shaw’s, BJ’s, Ford Brothers and Giant stores. Each package carried the number “EST. 492″ on the label. They were packaged Sept. 15-16 and may have been labeled with a sell-by date from Sept. 19 through Sept. 28.

Also, ground beef packaged under the Fairbank Farms name was distributed to stores in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. That meat was likely repackaged for sale and would likely have differing package and sell-by dates.

So basically, good luck figuring out where the meat you bought came from. Business as usual.

I Wonder When the US Will Take Food Safety Seriously

NYT article on e. coli and ground beef exposes lots of repulsive practices in the meat industry but of particular interest to me was the info on page 2. The NYT tried to get details on Cargill’s grinding practices via a Freedom of Information Act request but the USDA redacted info from those docs to protect Cargill. The Times eventually got the unredacted docs from other sources. If our tax dollars are being used to fund agencies who look out for the interests of corporations, who is protecting consumers?

Another noteworthy bit: Cargill is careful about inspecting meat for metal pieces because nails and metal hooks might damage their grinders. But checking for e. coli before putting meat through the grinders – meh. When the bacteria is discovered later in the process, Cargill can honestly say they don’t know the source because they buy from multiple slaughterhouses (and countries) and don’t test before grinding everything together. If you happen to become gravely ill from a Cargill product, as Ms. Smith (the woman in this story) did, well – sucks being you.

The U.S.D.A. found that Cargill had not followed its own safety program for controlling E. coli. For example, Cargill was supposed to obtain a certificate from each supplier showing that their tests had found no E. coli. But Cargill did not have a certificate for the Uruguayan trimmings used on the day it made the burgers that sickened Ms. Smith and others.

After four months of negotiations, Cargill agreed to increase its scrutiny of suppliers and their testing, including audits and periodic checks to determine the accuracy of their laboratories.

It took 4 months of negotiations to get Cargill to agree to “increase its scrutiny of suppliers” of their incoming meat but they still won’t test it. Meanwhile, Ms. Smith fights to stay alive:

Her kidneys are at high risk of failure. She is struggling to regain some basic life skills and deal with the anger that sometimes envelops her. Despite her determination, doctors say, she will most likely never walk again.

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