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From 18 April 2004 Issue

L.A. Stories:
A cat becomes a cow as the US sets its pets alight - but not its cigarettes
by Andrew Gumbel
28 March 2004
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=505766 

Animal rendering is an unpleasant business. I know this not only because of what I've read - rendering being a euphemism for melting down dead animal parts to bonemeal and fat, which are then resold for use in animal feed, rubber and cosmetic products.

I know it also because one of my neighbours is Jerry Greenwalt, a decent enough guy who was effectively hounded out of his job at the head of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control because animal rights activists were incensed at his sending thousands of euthanised strays each year to a rendering company. They plastered his house in fake animal blood and said he was no better than a Nazi sending Jews to Auschwitz.

But Greenwalt's part of the story barely scratches the surface of the overall gruesomeness. It turns out that the company, West Coast Rendering, was until last year sending hundreds of tons of rendered dead pet to Asia, where the remains were used to feed farm salmon and shrimp. Quite a bit of this then recrossed the Pacific for human consumption - not a pleasant thought. But it gets worse.

As of December, the rendered dog and cat trade ceased overnight. Why? Because, according to the US Department of Agriculture, dogs and cats are officially defined for export purposes as "beef byproducts." And December was the month when a single case of mad cow disease was discovered in Washington State, closing down America's beef export markets. You may not have thought of your friendly neighbourhood furball as a miniature cow, but that's how the US government views it. Creepy - and the upshot is even creepier.

Unable to sell its dead pet parts, West Coast Rendering is simply stockpiling them in its warehouse in Vernon, an industrial park in south LA. Since Los Angeles is the stray pet capital of the US, the numbers are daunting, with 600 tons of dog and cat piled up so far. The company has room for 1,200 tons in all, after which, if the export ban is not lifted, it will have to find a way to dispose of the animals - assuming it can stay in business.

LA's landfills don't accept dead pets, which leaves only the option of burning them - a smelly, smog-inducing, not to say disstinctly queasy process. Another round of Auschwitz epithet-hurling, one senses, cannot be far off.

Code Pink, the ad hoc group of feminist campaigners at the forefront of the anti-Iraq war movement, launched their own election-year campaign last week with a vow to "pink-slip" George Bush in November (America's equivalent to finding a P45 in your pay packet). In a Polish restaurant near the beach in Santa Monica, Code Pink founder and leader Jodi Evans rolled out a whole roster of civil disobedience activities over the next few months, including a plan to gatecrash a Halliburton shareholders' meeting to highlight war profiteering in Iraq and a picket of 24 Hummer dealerships - purveyors of the least fuel-efficient vehicle on the roads - to mark Earth Day next month. As Ms Evans put it: "Men are dying in their Hummers in Iraq so you can drive around in yours."

The launch party featured a line-up of tasteful female singer-songwriters, among them Michelle Shocked, the Texas rocker turned religious revivalist who has previously appeared at Code Pink events in a Stars and Stripes burqa. The crowd lapped her up.

Meanwhile, Santa Monica is doling out more bad news for smokers, banning cigarettes from its much-frequented wide sandy beach and from all but a couple of designated areas on its pier. It's already impossible to light up in restaurants or bars in Santa Monica - or, for that matter, anywhere else in California - and smokers are becoming a rare species. They can still smoke at home, or in their cars. For how long, nobody knows.

Go on to Rescued Cat
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