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The Meat Mob Muscles In
By: Merritt Clifton
From ANIMAL PEOPLE June 1997 edition
Reprinted by Permission - 24 April 2003
Though many meat industry workers are treated "like animals," animals of course do most of the suffering and dying, on a scale almost boggling the imagination. The dying is inevitable, but suffering is also engineered into the system--and industry lobbyists are aggressively cutting off avenues for reform. With the April 1997 passage of an agricultural exemption act in Tennessee, farm animals of every species are now exempted from humane laws in at least 30 states, with more bills to roll back humane standards pending.
The 7.5 billion broiler chickens slaughtered in the U.S. each year--93% of all the animals killed for human consumption-- are also exempted from protection by the Humane Slaughter Act, and indeed from all other federal animal protective legislation. Their average lifespan is about 50 days. Brief as it is, however, many broiler chickens anda billion-odd "spent" laying hens who go to slaughter each year endure considerable pain. According to poultry industry researcher N.C. Gregory, who published the findings in World's Poultry Science Journal, about 12.4 million chickens per year are dead on arrival at slaughtering plants, due to rough handling, while 68 million suffer broken bones.
The injuries are caused by workers who at Perdue Farms plants are expected to grab and handle more than 7,100 chickens apiece during each 12-hour shift. Yet the chickens have nowhere to run: more than 97% of hens live their whole lives within spaces neither higher nor wider than a standard sheet of typing paper.
Turkeys fare little better. Such crowded conditions are ready-made for epidemics--and they happen. Of the 900 North Carolina turkey farmers, for instance, 42 that formerly supplied turkeys to WLR Farms Inc. and three more in South Carolina lost their contracts on April 1 because of inability to contain an unidentified antibiotic-resistant disease, occurring since 1991, which keeps the birds from gaining weight.
Rarely, however, do such epidemics attract public attention. When the public does notice, the tendency is to suppose that the resulting toll is extraordinary. The world was appalled, for example, in early 1997, when Taiwanese troops invaded farms to slaughter and burn an estimated 4.3 million pigs who might have been exposed to hoof-and-mouth disease. The Dali Lama led public mourning for the pigs.
A year earlier, under similar scrutiny, Britain escalated the slaughter and incineration of cattle to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as "mad cow disease."
This disease apparently emerged as a consequence of feeding cattle dietary supplements made from the offal of sheep and other cattle, a practice popularized coincidental with the development of factory farming, which separated many cattle from the minerals they formerly took directly from the earth as they grazed, licking up small amounts of soil with each mouthful of grass. Induced cannibalism enabled the sheep disease scrapie to jump the species barrier, mutate, and apparently jump into human meat consumers, producing a variant of the rare Cruetzfeld-Jakob Disease, formerly known only in older people, that strikes the young.
Though the number of authenticated CJD cases with an apparent link to BSE is still in the dozens rather than even the hundreds or thousands, public panic over the prospect of developing a brain disease from eating hamburger is nonetheless intense enough that governments around the world have killed thousands more cattle just on suspicion that they might have been exposed at some point to a BSE source. The USDA mandated such prophylactic killing relatively early in the CJD scare--just as it has mandated high-volume killing to rid the U.S. of hoof-and-mouth disease; Newcastle's disease, which strikes wild birds and poultry; bovine tuberculosis; and brucellosis, among many other diseases to which lethal response is reflexive and swift.
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