Late note: I started this post several weeks ago when the news broke, but forgot to finish it! So I’m finishing the thoughts and putting it up in honor of Meat Out day.
Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said his department has evidence that Westland did not routinely contact its veterinarian when cattle became non-ambulatory after passing inspection, violating health regulations.
“Because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection,has determined them to be unfit for human food and the company is conducting a recall,” Schafer said in a statement.
They say 37 million pounds went to the National School Lunch Program, and that most of the meat has probably been eaten. (So what’s the point of the recall?) And here’s the thing: this is just one processing facility, and it happened to get caught – thanks to an undercover investigator. Just how widespread and longstanding might these practices be? Notes Anna Lappe’:
This incident — including the abuse and questionable food safety of the meat from this slaughterhouse — is not just a case of a few bad apples. It’s the inevitable outcome of a system in which animal abuse and health concerns are predictable by-products of following the prime directive — maximizing profit — in a context of inadequate oversight.
The brutality captured in the video may be particularly extreme, but the nature of slaughterhouse’s ramped-up production inexorably leads to such animal suffering. With pressure to keep lines moving fast, for example, workers often fail to completely stun animals, so that cows can be conscious during slaughter. And those production levels? They’re soaring. Tyson, the largest processor in the country, slaughters 222,000 head of cattle a week, the equivalent of 1,321 an hour, seven days a week.
This high-octane production threatens eaters’ health, too. Under such conditions, meat can become tainted with fecal matter, increasing the likelihood of contamination with the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. Since April 2007, concerns about E. coli instigated recalls of at least 30 million pounds of beef — enough to have provided a burger to every man, woman, and child in the nation. With this week’s recall, add another four for each of us.
Over at Huffington Post, Kerry Trueman reminds us that human workers suffer greatly in this industry, as well – pointing to an investigation of worker injuries in the poultry industry and to reports of mysterious neurological disorders in workers who slaughter pigs. She quotes the Ethicurean:
The meat industry in this country is broken from start to finish. We take ruminants and feed them grain their stomachs weren’t designed to eat, treating them like garbage disposals for our industrial leftovers; implant steroids so they’ll grow faster; feed them antibiotics so they can survive the poor diets and crowded feedlot conditions; then ship them to slaughterhouses where they are killed and processed at speeds that practically beg for bacterial contamination and worker injuries.
I talk to many people — compassionate, caring people who take excellent and loving care of their dogs or cats, who worry about endangered animal species, who may even be opposed to animal experimentation in medical research — who nonetheless refuse to hear about or acknowledge the deplorable conditions under which “livestock” and “poultry” (aka cattle, pigs, and chickens) are “grown” and slaughtered.
They probably don’t want to know because the information would challenge them to consider purchasing humanely, sustainably raised beef and chicken (which will cost a bit more until factory-farms lose their shameful subsidies and have to start pricing beef and chicken realistically), and perhaps even to give some thought to the amount of meat they consume in general. Some are honest enough to admit it. “I don’t want to feel bad about eating meat.” OK… we’ll deal with that disconnect in a future post. For now, let’s think about eating less of it.
In an earlier post I quoted a statistic revealing that Americans eat 110 grams of protein a day, more than twice the FDA’s recommended daily allowance, and 75 grams of that (which is, alone, more than the protein RDA!) comes from animal sources. Some of that is in the form of dairy and eggs, but factory farm dairy cattle and egg-laying hens are raised in equally hellish conditions – longer! – and they help to consume some 75% of the grain produced in the United States… grain that could be going a long way in a hungry world. Here’s another tidbit I included in that earlier post:
If Americans reduced meat consumption by just 10 percent, we would save enough grain to feed 60 million people. If you eat meat 3 times a day, 7 days a week – that’s just TWO MEATLESS MEALS PER WEEK! If you eat it twice a day, that’s just over one meatless meal per week. That’s a PB&J for one lunch. Or you could really step up to the plate and introduce Meatless Monday to your household.
What do you say? There’s also a Meatout Monday web site; sign up for their free weekly newsletter with vegetarian recipe suggestions. (Bank the shekels you save on Meatless Mondays and apply them to the purchase of humanely farmed beef and poultry.) And when you’re ready to go whole hog (sorry, I couldn’t resist), visit the incredible Veggie Meal Plans site, where the amazing Cassie Young does all your veggie thinking for you – posting weekly meal plans, recipes, and shopping lists.