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The Meat Mob Muscles In
By: Merritt Clifton
From ANIMAL PEOPLE June 1997 edition
Reprinted by Permission - 24 April 2003
Out-of-sight, out-of-mind is likewise the general attitude toward livestock transport--not only not effectively covered by humane legislation, but also not well covered by federal legislation designed to protect food safety. What federal legislation concerning livestock transport does exist is largely left over from the era of train travel. Relatively little applies to livestock transport by truck. The 104th Congress did pass a bill, as yet unimplemented by regulations, to improve the treatment of horses in transit to slaughter. In 1994, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, 348,000 horses were butchered in the eight U.S. horse-slaughterhouses, while 26,612 horses were exported to Canada for slaughter.
Another eight to nine billion animals are hauled to their deaths each year with virtually no protection against cruel treatment. They will typically not receive food, nor water beyond the minimum necessary to keep most of them alive. They will be crowded together as closely as is practicable. Cattle, hogs, and sheep usually ride in double-decked vehicles; those on top defecate and urinate on those below. Poultry usually ride in stacked crates, protected from the elements--if protected at all--by just a plastic tarp.
Livestock transport has become an international humane cause celebre several times in recent years, including in Europe during the winter of 1994-1995, when protests that several times broke into riots temporarily halted the export of live animals from Britain to continental nations, and in Australia and New Zealand in September 1996, after the sheep transport vessel Uniceb burned and sank, killing all 67,488 sheep aboard en route to Jordan. Both episodes received some U.S. media attention. Never was it mentioned, however, that livestock are routinely transported as far or farther to slaughter in the U.S. than the farthest journeys undertaken in Europe. Nor was it mentioned that the toll of 67,488 sheep was slightly less than the number of chickens (70,000 on average) who die in transport to U.S. poultry slaughterhouses during any given two-day interval.
The only "good news" pertaining to livestock transport during the past several decades is that while the number of animals transported has steadily increased, the average distance of transport has decreased, due to the increasing concentration of immense poultry and hog growing facilities, and even cattle feedlots, close to slaughtering plants.
The overcrowding and stress of transport, even over short distances, tends to create conditions even more conducive to the spread of disease than the typical barn conditions--especially since livestock producers are usually obliged to discontinue several days before transport the regular prophylactic antibiotic doses that most factory-farmed animals receive in their feed.
Some producers and transporters keep dosing their stock anyway. The Food and Drug Administration and the Michigan Department of Agriculture set up a 1996 sting operation that won fines of $25,000 against brothers Richard and Jeffrey Gorr, of Petersburg, Michigan, for selling cattle who had been given antibiotics and had not been off the antibiotics for long enough for their bodies to flush out the residues. The fines were meant as a warning to other producers.
The potential risk to humans from ingesting antibiotic residues and traces of other veterinary drugs with meat has long been recognized. Yet a greater risk of meat industry antibiotic use was almost completely overlooked until under five years ago: the role it has in speeding the evolution of super-microbes, resistant to conventional antibiotics and ever harder to fight with newly developed alternatives.
Warned Dr. Stuart Levy of Tufts University in his 1992 book The Antibiotic Paradox, "Antibiotic usage has stimulated evolutionary changes unparalleled in recorded biologic history."
Two years later, microbiologist Alexander Tomasz of Rockefeller University told the 1994 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the longterm effects of prophylactic antibiotic applications appear to be "nothing short of a medical disaster."
Today, the Taiwanese hoof-and-mouth epidemic, an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant cholera in Hong Kong with possible links to antibiotic use in poultry, and a host of other regional plagues underscore the Levy and Tomasz warnings.
British experts have been stumped since 1991 by the case of a poultry worker who developed an overpowering and thus far incurable body odor after pricking his finger while cleaning a chicken bone.
The cause is an unidentified bacteria which has resisted every known antibiotic. No one knows how or when it could spread.
Scarier is the emergence in Britain of a new strain of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, typhurium DT104, which could kill far more humans than BSE ever will. From 1993 to 1995, the number of known cases in humans tripled, to 3,500. It has now been discovered on more than 1,800 British farms.
Australia in August 1996 suspended the use of Avoparcin, an antibiotic administered to poultry to reduce feed consumption, after it was tentatively linked to the discovery of eight cases of Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus in humans. Avoparcin is not used in U.S. poultry production, but many other antibiotics also in the tetracycline class are used.
Ironically, even vegetarianism can't totally protect anyone against the supermicrobes. They can attack through the air, the water, the soil, or the most fleeting touch. But a healthier diet may better equip one to resist them.
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