Goodbye 2009, Goodbye Conrad

In this final post of 2009, I want to thank all of you for making this my most effective year yet in writing about vegetarian and farmed animal issues. I feel immense gratitude to each of my readers for making my work here possible.

I’m ending my blogging for 2009 by saying farewell to my cat Conrad, who died suddenly, unexpectedly, and far too young earlier this year at age eleven. It’s no coincidence that my most productive decade as an animal advocate coincided with the time he was in my life. I can’t imagine having written Meat Market or The Ultimate Vegan Guide, or finding my voice for this blog, without the constant love and companionship he gave me.

How Welfare Reforms Shrink Animal Agribusiness

If anyone has any doubts that welfare reforms, such as banning battery cages and gestation crates:

  • raise the cost of meat, milk, and eggs
  • reduce the total production of these foods
  • weaken the economic clout of animal agribusiness

two articles from this past month demonstrate these points clearly.

The first is a long Associated Press article that summarizes the effects of the anti-cruelty campaigns launched by the Humane Society of the United States. I doubt there’s a better article to read to get a handle on how HSUS’s farmed animal tactics have evolved since Wayne Pacelle took over as CEO about five years ago.

The second piece is Dr. Simon M. Shane’s “How to Destroy an Industry?” This piece is dull as dirt, but it makes an irrefutable case that total egg production drops in countries that switch from battery cages to cage-free. (Via Shapiro.)

New York Times on Ammonia-Processed Beef

Just this morning, USA Today published an outstanding piece on the beef safety status of the National School Lunch Program. And now the New York Times has an equally important article on one company’s efforts to render lower-quality beef trimmings free of dangerous bacteria.

The company in question, Beef Products, Inc. devised a chemically-based way of ridding beef trimmings of E. coli and salmonella. The beef in question was ground up and treated with enough ammonia to kill any bacteria. Unfortunately, the resultant meat probably wouldn’t win any awards for quality:

[One USDA] microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef “pink slime” in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues and said, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

And here’s how a prison official, who received a batch of the beef, described the stuff:

“It was frozen, but you could still smell ammonia,” said Dr. Charles Tant, a Georgia agriculture department official. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

All this to in order to save something like three cents a pound over conventional ground beef. The economic decisions that the U.S. government makes regarding meat purchasing and food safety regulations are insane. Link.

McDonald’s Number 2 Executive Quits

Ralph Alvarez, the number two guy at McDonald’s, has just stepped down—throwing the company’s carefully scripted succession plan into turmoil, which is nice. Link.

Vegan Outreach’s 2009 Year-End Slideshow

Vegan Outreach just put up its 2009 year-end slideshow. Their Adopt-A-College program might be the most important thing happening for farmed animals today, and the slideshow does a great job of illustrating its amazing effectiveness.

Click your keyboard’s down or right arrow to advance through the slides. Link.

Globe and Mail Gushes Over Gardein

Not so long ago, every time a major newspaper published something about vegan meats, you could count on the article containing at least moderate amounts of ridicule, if not outright disgust. So check out this glowing Globe and Mail piece on Gardein:

It tastes like meat, looks like meat and even cuts like meat, but brother, it ain’t meat. Gardein’s “chick’n filets” and “beefless strips” are actually a proprietary blend of soy, wheat and pea proteins, grains (including but not limited to: amaranth, quinoa, millet and kamut) and organic beet root fibre. The resemblance would fool even the most blood-hungry of carnivores.

If that’s not cool enough, the article is captioned, “Meat alternatives: They’re not just for vegans any more.”

The stereotype of vegans eating unappetizing nutloafs is quickly disappearing. (Via Camp.) Link.

USA Today Analyzes School Lunch Food Safety Standards

After publishing two important articles (Dec. 1 and Dec. 8) on the subject earlier this month, USA Today is back with more solid reporting showing why the National School Lunch Program has lagged behind the top fast food chains when it comes to beef safety. To their credit, McDonald’s and other companies were quick to grasp that implementing half-measures when it came to E. Coli would be ruinous:

In 1982, hamburgers from [McDonald’s] sickened at least 47 people in Oregon and Michigan. No one died, but the pathogen that caused the severe cramps, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea turned out to be a little-known, especially dangerous form of the common stomach bacteria E. coli. The new subtype, E. coli O157:H7, produced a toxin that destroyed red blood cells and, in later cases elsewhere, caused kidney failure or death.

Confounded by the discovery, McDonald’s hired one of the nation’s best-known food safety scientists, Michael Doyle, and told him, he recalls, “to bulletproof their system so E. coli never happened to them again.”

Basically, the top fast food chains immediately grasped that trial lawyers would eat them alive if they didn’t find a way to make their ground meat completely safe when it came to E. Coli. The National School Lunch Program, by contrast, has never faced the same sort of live-or-die threat of litigation, so officials there never got religious about raising food safety standards.

USA Today also published a companion editorial this morning pinpointing the cause of the USDA’s failure to improve standards for the National School Lunch Program:

No doubt part of the reason for USDA’s laxity is its dual mandate to regulate the agriculture industry while also promoting it. A similar conflict of interest in air safety regulation was eliminated years ago after it was identified as a contributor to plane crashes.

The same should be done with food safety. The USDA’s record suggests that it doesn’t quite grasp the idea that its most important client is the public it’s supposed to protect, not the industries it oversees.

Like Putin over Alaska, the USDA’s dual mandate keeps rearing its ugly head. (Via Marler.) Link.

USDA Takes Years to Shut Slaughterhouse

Want to see how limited the USDA’s power is when it comes to shutting down a substandard slaughterhouse? A kosher chicken slaughterhouse in New York state, despite getting flagged with all sorts of worrisome conditions, was able to operate for years before the USDA was finally able to get a court order to shut it down. Meat industry writer Chuck Jolley tweeted that it, “Should have taken 15 seconds.”

How bad was this place? The slaughterhouse didn’t have soap in its bathrooms. Ewww. Link.