“One time I took my knife and sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of salami. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it sat there looking kind of stupid. So I took a handful of salt and rubbed it on the wound. Now that hog really went nuts. It was my way of taking out frustration. Another time, there was a live hog in the pit. It hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t even running around. It was just alive. I took a three-foot chunk of pipe and I literally beat that hog to death. It was like I started hitting the hog and I couldn’t stop. And when I finally did stop, I’d expended all this energy and frustration, and I’m thinking what in God’s sweet name did I do.”
by Will Potter at Green is the New Red:
When Amy Meyer saw a sick cow being pushed by a bulldozer outside a slaughterhouse, she did what any of us would in this age of iPhones and Instagram – she filmed it.
Meyer, 25, knew it was not only cruel, it was a public safety risk.
Similar video footage had resulted in the largest meat recall in US history, when it was revealed that cows too sick to walk were being fed to school children as part of the national school lunch program.
Instead of being praised for exposing this, Meyer was prosecuted.
Even though she stood on public property, she was charged with violating a new law in Utah that makes it illegal to photograph or videotape factory farms and slaughterhouses.
This was the first prosecution of its kind in the United States, but if the agriculture industry has its way, it won’t be the last.
“Ag-gag” laws have spread rapidly, and today half a dozen states have made it illegal to film factory farms.
Now, the agriculture industry wants to bring ag-gag to Australia.
This legislation is a direct response to undercover investigations by animal welfare groups, which have exposed horrific animal cruelty.
For example, in Idaho this year, an undercover investigator with Mercy For Animals exposed workers beating, kicking and sexually abusing cows at Bettencourt dairy.
In response, the dairy industry supported SB 1337, an ag-gag bill that prohibits any “audio or video recording” at a farm facility.
It punishes those who expose animal abuse more harshly than those who commit the violence. The bill passed into law just weeks ago.
Time and again, wherever undercover investigators expose cruelty, the industry fights back with attempts to keep consumers in the dark.
Why? Because when people see the reality of factory farming, they demand change. For instance, one of the nation’s largest egg producers testified during an ag-gag hearing that, after an undercover video was posted online, 50 businesses quickly called and stopped buying their eggs.
And, according to the first study of its kind, published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics, when animal welfare issues are reported in the news, consumers respond by eating less meat.
Factory farmers have been so desperate to silence their critics that they have even called investigators “terrorists”.
Senator David Hinkins, the sponsor of Utah’s ag-gag bill, said it was needed to stop “terrorists” such as “the vegetarian people” who “are trying to kill the animal industry”.
This terrorism rhetoric has worked its way to the top levels of government.
FBI files have revealed that the government has even considered prosecuting those who film animal cruelty as “terrorists”.
Now, this is spreading to Australia.
New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson has said undercover investigators are “akin to terrorists”.
West Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back, and a number Australian federal politicians, have voiced support for US-style ag-gag laws.
Ag-gag is coming to Australia because animal advocates have been incredibly effective.
There is a long history of open rescues and undercover investigations here, and activists such as Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria are known internationally for their pioneering work.
Meanwhile, national media exposes such as Four Corners’ “A Bloody Business” have outraged the public and created a national dialogue about live exports.
Australians have an opportunity that we lacked in the United States: you can stop these dangerous proposals before they ever become law.
If there is one thing I have learnt in my reporting on ag-gag laws, it is the power of an informed public to create change.
Amy Meyer stands as an example of that power. Just 24 hours after I broke the story of her prosecution, it had created such an uproar that prosecutors announced they were simply dropping all charges.
Meyer had never intended to face prosecution, or to lead by example, but she rose to the occasion. Australia has the power to do the same.
A RENDERING PLANT SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — The rendering plant floor is piled high with “raw product”. Thousands of dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses; whole skunks; rats and raccoons — all waiting to be processed. In the 90 degree heat, the piles of dead animals seem to have a life of their own as millions of maggots swarm over the carcasses.
Two bandanna-masked men begin operating Bobcat mini-dozers, loading the “raw” into a ten-foot deep stainless steel pit. They are undocumonted workers from Mexico doing a dirty job. A giant auger-grinder at the bottom of the pit begins to turn. Popping bones and squeezing flesh are sounds from a nightmare you will never forget.
Rendering is the process of cooking raw animal material to remove the moisture and fat. The rendering plant works like a giant kitchen. The cooker, or “chef”, blends the raw product in order to maintain a certain ratio between the carcasses of pets, livestock, poultry waste and supermarket rejects.
Once the mass is cut into small pieces, it is transported to another auger for fine shredding. It is then cooked at 280 degrees for one hour. The continuous batch cooking process goes on non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week as meat is melted away from bones in the hot “soup”. During this cooking process, the “soup” produces a fat of yellow grease or tallow that rises to the top and is skimmed off. The cooked meat and bone are sent to a hammermill press, which squeezes out the remaining moisture and pulverizes the product into a gritty powder. Shaker screens sift out excess hair and large bone chips. Once the batch is finished, all that is left is yellow grease, meat and bone meal.
A Meaty Menu
As the American Journal of Veterinary Research explains, the recycled meat and bone meal is used as “a source of protein and other nutrients in the diets of poultry and swine and in pet foods, with lesser amounts used in the feed of cattle and sheep. Animal fat is also used in animal feeds as an energy source.” Every day, hundreds of rendering plants across the United States truck millions of tons of this “food enhancer” to poultry ranches, cattle feed lots, dairy and hog farms, fish feed plants and pet food manufacturers where it is mixed with other ingredients to feed the billions of animals that meat-eating humans, in turn, will eat.
Rendering plants have different specialties. The labelling designation of a particular “run” of product is defined by the predominance of a specific animal. Some product label names are: meat meal, meat by-products, poultry meal, poultry by-products, fish meal, fish oil, yellow grease, tallow, beef fat and chicken fat.
Rendering plants perform one of the most valuable functions on Earth: they recycle used animals. Without rendering, our cities would run the risk of becoming filled with diseased and rotting carcasses. Fatal viruses and bacteria would spread uncontrolled through the population.
The Dark Side
Death is the number one commodity in a business where the demand for feed ingredients far exceeds the supply of raw product. But this elaborate system of food production through waste management has evolved into a recycling nightmare. Rendering plants are unavoidably processing toxic waste.
The dead animals (the “raw”) are accompanied by a whole menu of unwanted ingredients. Pesticides enter the rendering process via poisoned livestock, fish oil laced with bootleg DDT and other organo-phosphates that have accumulated in the bodies of West Coast mackerel and tuna.
Because animals are frequently shoved into the pit with flea collars still attached, organo-phosphate-containing insecticides get into the mix as well. The insecticide Dursban arrives in the form of cattle insecticide patches. Pharmaceuticals leak from antibiotics in livestock and euthanasia drugs given to pets are also included. Heavy metals accumulate from a variety of sources — pet ID tags, surgical pins and needles.
Even plastic winds up going into the pit. Unsold supermarket meats, chicken and fish arrive in styrofoam trays and shrink wrap. No one has time for the tedious chore of unwrapping thousands of rejected meat packs. More plastic is added to the pits with the arrival of cattle ID lags, plastic insecticide patches and the green plastic bags containing pets from veterinarians.
Skyrocketing labor costs are one of the economic factors forcing the corporate flesh peddlers to cheat. It is far too costly for plant personnel to cut of flea collars or unwrap spoiled T-bone steaks. Every week millions of packages of plastic-wrapped meat go through the rendering process and become one of the unwanted ingredients in animal feed.
The most environmentally conscious state in the nation is California, where spot checks and testing of animal feed ingredients happen at the wobbly rate of once every (* ….missing words) The supervising state agency is the Department of Agriculture’s Feed and Fertilizer Division of Compliance. Their main objective is to test for truth in labelling – does the percentage of protein, phosphorous and calcium match the rendering plant’s claims; do the percentages meet state requirements? However, testing for pesticides and other toxins in animal feeds is incomplete.
In California, eight field inspectors regulate a rendering industry that feeds the animals that the state’s 30 million people eat. When it comes to rendering plants, however, state and federal agencies have maintained a hands-off policy, allowing the industry to become largely self-regulating. An article in the February 1990 issue of Render, the industry’s national magazine, suggests that the self- regulation of certain contamination problems is not working.
One policing program that is already off to a shaky start is the Salmonella Education/Reduction Program, formed under the auspices of the Nalional Renderers Association. The magazine states that “…unless US and Canadian renderers get their heads out of the ground and demonstrate that they are serious about reducing the incidence of salmonella contamination in their animal protein meals, they are going to be faced with … new and overly stringent government regulations.”
So far the voluntary self-testing program is not working. According to the magazine, “..only about 20 percent of the total number of companies producing or blending animal protein meal have signed up for the program.. ” Far fewer have done the actual testing.
The American Journal of Veterinary Research conducted an investigation into the persistence of sodium phenobarbital in the carcesses of euthanized animals at a typical rendering plant in 1985 and found “virtually no degradation of the drug occurred during this conventional rendering process … the potential of other chemical contaminants (e.g. heavy metals, pesticides, and environmental toxicants, which may cause massive herd mortalities) to degrade during conventional rendering needs further evaluation.”
Renderers are the silent partners in our food chain. But worried insiders are beginning to talk and one word that continues to come up in conversation is “pesticides.” The possibility of petrochemically poisoning our food has become a reality. Government agencies and the industry itself are allowing toxins to be inadvertently recycled from the streets and supermarket shelves into the food chain. As we break into a new decade of increasingly complex pollution problems, we must rethink our place in the environment. No long hunters, we are becoming the victims of our technologicaly altered food chain.