This story was bad enough that even the networks couldn’t really ignore it and the USDA has begun an investigation. An investigator working for the Humane Society of the United States took a job at the Hallmark Meat Packing plant in Chino, CA and proceeded to document horrifying routine practices that include dragging sick cattle with chains, prodding them with fork lifts, spraying high-powered streams of water up their nostrils and shocking them, all to get them standing up long enough to pass USDA inspection for slaughter. (What USDA inspector is “fooled” by this, and how much does he/she get paid under the table?) “Downer” cattle are not allowed into the food supply, just in case they carry Mad Cow Disease. Hallmark sells meat to Westland Meat Company, which sells meat to the national school lunch program. That, more than the blatant abuse, is what has most people in a tizzy. But hopefully, these awful images will start to bother folks who don’t usually spend much time thinking about how cows turn into hamburgers.
(Another great portrait by Jordan McClement. Click on this thumbnail for a higher-resolution version.)
As long as I’m ruining your appetite, read this feature from last month’s Mother Earth News, explaining how globalized industrial poultry farming – not migratory birds! – has increased the threat of avian flu:
The globalization of this Westernized industrial model of poultry production has not only facilitated the spread of deadly viruses like H5N1, but also plays a role in their emergence in the first place. After all, people have been raising birds in their back yards for thousands of years and birds have been migrating for millions. Only in recent years have we seen an exponential increase in the number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic (disease-causing) strains of bird flu. As leading flu scientist Ilaria Capua remarked, “We’ve gone from a few snowflakes to an avalanche.”
The world’s foremost expert on bird flu, Robert Webster, director of the U.S. Collaborating Center of the World Health Organization, was asked by the senior correspondent of the TV show “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” to identify the “change in conditions that suddenly lit a match to the tinder” — in other words, what started the avalanche. Dr. Webster replied:
“Farming practices have changed. Previously, we had backyard poultry. I grew up on a farm in New Zealand. We had a few backyard chickens and ducks. The next door neighbor was so far away it didn’t matter. Now we put millions of chickens into a chicken factory next door to a pig factory, and this virus has the opportunity to get into one of these chicken factories and make billions and billions of these mutations continuously. And so what we’ve changed is the way we raise animals.”