The year has only just begun, but already we have a 2008 winner in the category of sheer evil and mendacity. That would be the U.S. beef industry for thinking it's okay to drag beef cattle around with fork lifts in order to get them to stand and be slaughtered.
Graphic and stunning footage of workers using a fork lift and other means to move downed cattle was obtained by a Humane Society investigator working undercover at a meat packing plant in Chino, CA. The film shows workers rolling cows with a fork lift, dragging them through mud and feces with chains, jabbing them with sticks and cattle prods and even spraying high-pressure water into the animals' nostrils.
All are violations of state and federal laws banning animal cruelty and the introduction of "downer" cows into the food chain. As The Washington Post pointed out, there are good reasons for keeping incapacitated animals out of the packing process: They may harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is caused by a virus-like infectious particle that can result in a fatal brain disease in people. In addition, such animals have, in many cases, been wallowing in feces, posing added risks of E. coli and salmonella contamination.
The kicker to the story? The meat in question was destined for Westland Meat Co., a major supplier to the nation's school lunch programs.
Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an international authority on slaughter practices, called the Humane Society footage "one of the worst animal-abuse videos I have ever viewed."
When contacted by The Post, the owner of Westland said the violations filmed by the Humane Society were "impossible," insisting that standards for humane treatment were in place. But U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer issued a statement condemning the violations and suspended Westland Meat from participating in government programs pending an investigation.
Millions of pounds of tainted beef recalled. Workers using fork lifts and torture to move downed cattle. Certainly sounds like this is not just a case of a few bad apples, but a culture of ambivalence toward the nation's meat supply.
"These were not rogue employees secretly doing these things," said the Humane Society investigator. "This is the pen manager and his assistant doing this right in the open...Every day, I would see downed cattle too sick or injured to stand or walk arriving at the slaughterhouse," he said. "Workers would do anything to get the cows to stand on their feet."
But we care about what our kids eat in school, right?
A new study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest reveals that the food industry continues to market to kids inside the schools right under the noses of our federal government.
The CSPI looked at schools in Montgomery County, MD, just outside the District of Columbia, and found that while childhood obesity remains a serious problem, the marketing of junk foods and sodas is rampant in the county's schools.
Fully 83 percent of schools had posters and/or signs with food and beverage marketing. And while a sizable portion--42 percent--of the ads were for healthy foods and nutrition education, other signage promoted restaurants, prepared foods and soft drinks.
High schools had an average of 21 vending machines. And while the most common beverage sold was water, many of the machines were stocked with sodas, juice drinks and iced tea. The most common foods in snack vending machines were candies, cookies, crackers and chips. Four out of five vending machines sported marketing signage.
Sometimes the junk food was pushed more aggressively. The CSPI found that it was common--even in middle and elementary schools--to have fundraisers using fast food, baked goods and candy. In fact, the most common form of fundraising these days involves a trip to a fast-food joint.
Exactly what is the Center for Consumer Freedom, anyway?
A group that sounds like it's standing up for the little guy came out swinging against the New York Times' recent revelations about the high mercury content in sushi tuna. The CCF disputes the experts about the level of danger posed by mercury and insists the tuna is perfectly safe.
Well, turns out the Center for Consumer Freedom--while denying is is working for the tuna industry but apparently the beneficiary of funding from seafood interests--is actually a public relations firm that previously carried water for the cigarette industry.
According to food politics maven Marion Nestle, the CCF falls under the category of "Astroturf" shill. "Two things," says Nestle, "are especially troubling about its mode of operation: its secrecy and its tactics."
Those would include personal attacks, bullying and stalking perpetrated against Nestle and others, she maintains.
Nestle lays out the facts about the Center for Consumer Freedom in an interview with Kat at the Eating Liberally blog. Good stuff.
While phony PR firms are standing behind tuna tainted with mercury, European retailers, in response to the gross overfishing of bluefin tuna, have declared a boycott against bluefin tuna sales.
France's Auchan group, with a nearly 14 per cent share of the retail fish trade, declared its boycott on 28 December, noting that scientists had advised a 15,000 ton ceiling on annual catches, while the international tuna management body was allowing a 2008 quota of 29,500 tonnes.
Joining the boycott were Carrefour in Italy, Coop in both Italy and Switzerland, and ICA in Norway. At a seafood summit in Barcelona this week, the World Wildlife Fund applauded the boycott and urged more retailers to sign up.
“The seafood industry is waking up to its responsibilities, recognising that there is not an endless supply of fish like bluefin tuna," said Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. "By taking action now, retailers can help give this amazing species a fighting chance of survival, for the benefit of both business and the marine ecosystem.”
We are still holding our breath, waiting for U.S. retailers and chefs to take similiarly bold action to save the bluefin. Meanwhile, leadership on the seafood sustainability front is coming from a source we would not have expected: Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart may be sucking the standard of living out of the U.S. and sending it to China, but some are hailing the retail giant for steps it is taking to make sure the seafood it sells is not draining the life out of the world's oceans. At least one seasoned observer is even using the "h" word, calling Wal-Mart a hero for not just switching suppliers, but working to improve fisheries to make them sustainable.
Finally, the food on the school lunch menu may be nasty, but hope springs eternal.
Truman, MN, is just a speck on the map, population 1,259. But life there looked to turn from just routine to somewhat bleak when the only local grocery store shut its doors.
That's when an unlikely hero appeared on the scene. Nick Graham was just 17, still enrolled at Truman High School. But he had visions for the grocery store. Over a three month period, Nick worked on a business plan, secured a loan from the local economic development corporation and became the new owner of Truman's only grocery before he even graduated.
Mornings that he would otherwise be reporting to class found him instead greeting customers, ringing up sales and loading bags into customers' cars.
"I’ve saved every dime I’ve ever made,” Graham says, when asked how a 17-year-old kid who is still in high school could pull together enough money to buy a business. “And there’s no reason a town of 1,400 people can’t have a grocery store.”
Congratulations, Nick. And bon appetit....