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From 12 December 2004 Issue

The Costs On Human Health of Factory Farming

Fri Nov 26 2004

THE former U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian for one of the largest beef slaughterhouses in America says hamburger contains a lot more than just ground beef.

"Hormones, antibiotics, hair, feces, cancers, tumours," says Dr. Lester Friedlander. "My plant in Pennsylvania processed 1,800 cows a day, 220 per hour. It also processed the highest number of downed cows, 25 to 30 a day... There is no question. Some cancers end up in the human food source."

Dr. Friedlander, who trained vets for the USDA and was a decorated employee during his 10 years with the agency, has given interviews to all major American TV networks. His repeated warnings about the threats to human health from factory farming have never been denied by his former employer. "They just keep saying 'no comment,'" he jokes.

He brought his crusade for public health and the humane treatment of animals -- the best way, he says, of ensuring a safer food supply for humans -- to Winnipeg earlier this week. Accompanying him was B.C. physician Dr. Ray Kellosalmi, a founder of The Responsible Animal Care Society (TRACS).

Corporate agribusiness and the almighty dollar are the culprits, Dr. Friedlander continues. The speed of a slaughterhouse assembly line is all that counts. Any delay costs about $5,000 a minute and the pressure on veterinarians to look the other way is intense -- and tacitly demanded by their employer, the federal government.

The current U.S. administration has altered regulations to allow slaughtering plants to erect walls to prevent USDA veterinarians from watching the killing line, Dr. Friedlander says. Dr. Kellosalmi ratchets up the danger to human health a huge notch. Factory farming -- keeping thousands of animals in close confinement, necessitating high levels of antibiotics -- will be the breeding ground for the next global human pandemic, he warns. Already, the feeding of cattle offal to cattle has spiked an enormous increase in brain-wasting BSE in beef herds and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Even more worrying is that Nobel Prize winner Dr. Stanley Prussiner, who discovered prions, the aberrant protein that triggers BSE and CJD, now believes prions may also cause Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Kellosalmi says the number of Alzheimer's deaths in the U.S. has spiked from 800 in 1979-80 to 50,000 in 2002.

Dr. Friedlander says the latest agribusiness profit maximizer is to feed chicken feces and dried urine to cattle. "At first, the cattle wouldn't eat it. So they added molasses. Cattle have a sweet tooth like us, so they licked it up -- and ended up eating the feces stuck to it."

The public must insist that the food safety regulatory function be separated from the governmental agency promoting corporate agribusiness, he continues. "We need a genuine, separate department of consumer protection."

The cost of today's factory farming in animal suffering is incalculable. If the cattle-stunner misses his target, that animal can still be alive when the butchering starts. Pigs can face another agony: They can still be conscious when they are immersed in scalding water.

Horses are harder to kill because they are intelligent athletic animals who "won't take pain sitting down," Dr. Friedlander continues. Horses on the way to slaughter are forced to keep their heads down the whole time they are in transit because they are transported in the same aluminum double-deckers. The new U.S. Homeland Security Act, fearing terrorist attacks on the food supply, has repealed former humane transport regulations requiring livestock to be periodically unloaded and fed and watered. Animals now must endure days without food and water at temperatures ranging from 40 below to 40 above. For horses, those days add another agony: the inability even to raise their heads.

Ferdinand, the Kentucky Derby winner in 1986, "ended up on someone's dinner plate in Japan," Dr. Friedlander says. "We will do this to an animal who brought our fathers across this continent, an animal who is an integral part of our history."

FrancesRussell@mts.net
Winnipeg Free Press

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