Tyson Foods: Inhumane and Unsustainable

chicken-turkey-tyson-controlled-atmosphere-killing-humaneTyson Foods does not support a method for slaughtering animals called Controlled Atmosphere Killing. Controlled Atmosphere Killing consists of chickens (in the case of Tyson) or other animals being placed in a container in which the atmosphere completely lacks oxygen and is made up of asphyxiate gas (argon, nitrogen, or carbon dioxide). It causes the animals to lose consciousness. The process is considered humane because argon and nitrogen apparently cause no pain. The whole process is quick and takes about 30 seconds to make the chicken (or other animal) unconscious). The process is also more sustainable and even more profitable to companies. Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) supports Controlled Atmosphere Killing.

Unfortunately the usual method of slaughtering poultry in North America is much less humane and not eco-friendly. The animals are dumped and shackled while still alive and run through a bath of electrically charged water, which immobilizes them. Then, their throats are slit with a machine. After that, they are de-feathered in tanks of scalding hot water. The process is energy intensive, as well as more painful and degrading to the animals. The process is also much less safe and contamination is less likely to occur.

The Human Methods of Slaughter Act is the only federal law that protects animals from abuse when they are being slaughtered, but that does not apply to chickens or turkeys, which make up 95 percent of the animals slaughtered in the United States. In 2007 alone, 9 billion birds were slaughtered for food.  The current method is both inhumane and ineffective; sometimes birds are de-feathered while still alive and they can still feel pain while stunned. It is high time for reform of poultry slaughter and Controlled Atmosphere Killing is the way to go.

Tyson does not believe that Controlled Atmosphere Killing is more humane, but that is likely because the gas technology is expensive and it would cost around 3 million dollars to convert its operations. Tyson processes birds for mass consumption, whereas companies like Bell & Evans and Mary’s Chickens produce higher quality premium chickens and they also happen to use the methods of Controlled Atmosphere Killing.  Other benefits of Controlled Atmosphere Killing include the elimination (not just merely reduction) of injury to the birds, which in turn eliminated contamination caused by stressed birds. For instance, when hung upside down before being dunked the birds usually defecate on themselves. The employees monitoring the process are also less prone to stress, because they process is silent and sanitary.  

Since 2002 PETA has been pressuring major food retailers like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kroger, Safeway, and Wal-Mart, to switch from electric immobilization to Controlled Atmosphere Killing methods. While Tyson is the largest chicken manufacturer (as well as of beef and pork), it feels the switch would be unsustainable. The unsustainability they refer to is only in their business expenses, which would fund the switch. The Controlled Atmosphere Killing process uses less energy and is more humane, but it also happens to be more expensive, which is Tyson’s main motivation for resistance.

Chipolte, Bon Appetit, Burger King, Wendy’s Carl’s Junior, Hardee’s, Popeye’s, and Safeway already give purchase preference and consideration to Controlled Atmosphere Killing. Tyson remains skeptical about the process.

To encourage Tyson to participate in more human and eco-friendly processes, sign this consumer-based petition at Moxy Vote. If Tyson changes their ways the United States could potentially join the ranks of the United Kingdom and the European Union. In the UK, 75 percent of turkeys and 25 percent of chickens are killed using human Controlled Atmosphere Killing methods. In the EU, 10 percent of all birds are slaughtered using Controlled Atmosphere Killing. On top of that the United States Department of Agriculture approves the Controlled Atmosphere Killing method for the slaughter of birds. 

Photo credit: cdc.gov/niosh/topics/avianflu/image/avianmain1.gif

Death Toll in Listeria Outbreak Continues To Rise

At least 13 people are dead in the wake of the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade after listeria was traced to cantaloupe grown in Colorado. According to officials, the death toll attributed to infected cantaloupe is expected to rise; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that 72 illnesses, including the 13 deaths, have been attributed to the listeria outbreak. Additionally, three other deaths are being investigated as possibly caused by the same outbreak.

Currently, the listeria outbreak is the third deadliest food outbreak in U.S. history. The CDC reports that every year in the U.S., 48 million people get sick from tainted food; of these, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Illnesses attributed to listeria have been reported in 18 states. States that the reported the most illnesses were Colorado (15 reported illnesses), Texas (14 illnesses), New Mexico (10 illnesses), and Oklahoma (8 illnesses). So far, deaths have been confirmed in Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Health officials in Wyoming, Kansas, and New Mexico are currently investigating deaths that could be linked to the outbreak.

The listeria outbreak has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado. The farm recalled the tainted cantaloupes earlier this month after reports of listeria were reported. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who is investigating the outbreak, reported that listeria was present in cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms as well as the farm’s packing facilities in Granada, Colorado.

The FDA has not yet released any information as to how the outbreak might have happened. Cantaloupe is particularly susceptible to foodborne illnesses due to its rough outer skin and soft interior. In addition, knives used to cut cantaloupe can transfer bacteria from the outside of the fruit when they reach the center.

The contaminated cantaloupe, which is from the brand Rocky Ford, were shipped between July 29th to September 10th to states all across the country. Affected cantaloupes could have been marked with several different stickers, including ones that read “Colorado Grown,” “Distributed by Frontera Produce,” or “Sweet Rocky Fords,” although not all the affected cantaloupes had a sticker.

Approximately 1600 serious cases of listeria are reported every year, 260 of which are fatal. The illness can grow at a variety of temperatures, including room temperature and refrigerator temperature and is most commonly found in cheese and deli meats.

According to the CDC, an average of one out of five people who contract listeria die from the disease. Healthy adults can generally consume listeria without becoming sick; the disease most often affects pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system. Symptoms of listeria include muscle aches, fever, nausea, and diarrhea. Affected victims of the current outbreak range in age from between 35 to 96 years old, with an average age of 78.

Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC has noted that the “long incubation period” of listeria is “a real problem” due to the fact that symptoms of listeria could take more than four weeks to appear. As a result, Tauxe believes that the number of illnesses and deaths caused by the listeria outbreak could increase.

Although listeria is not commonly found in produce, the cantaloupe outbreak is not the first outbreak. In 2009, sprouts were contaminated with listeria, and in 2010 celery was found to be contaminated. An outbreak of listeria in hot dogs killed 21 people in 1998, while another outbreak traced to soft cheese killed 52 people in 1985.

To avoid the current cantaloupe outbreak, health officials are recommending that anyone who might have a contaminated cantaloupe immediately throw it away and sanitize any surface it might have touched. In addition, washing any produce thoroughly before eating is always a wise choice, whether it’s cantaloupe or any other fruit or vegetable.

Photo Credit: ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/oct96/k7388-11i.jpg

European Union Court Rules Against Production of Genetically Modified Honey

The highest court in the European Union, the European Court of Justice, has ruled in favor of a ban on freely selling and producing honey that contains pollen from genetically modified plants in all 27 European Union member states.

As a result, honey from genetically modified pollen will have to be labeled as such, and will have to undergo safety testing before it is sold on the open market. Honey producers must obtain special permission to sell honey produced from genetically modified pollen, regardless of how small an amount it contains. The court, based in the tiny country of Luxembourg, ruled that it makes no difference if the genetically modified pollen was intentionally placed in the honey or if it arrived there unintentionally.

The growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a controversial subject among scientists, environmentalists and food safety advocates. Opponents – largely environmental groups and food safety groups – claim that since GMOs are not proven to be safe for human consumption, they should not be available to the public. GMOs are created by splicing genes in plants through the use of biotechnology. About 30 countries worldwide have bans or restrictions on GMOs, because these products are often not proven safe, but the US Food and Drug Administration has tested many GMOs and has deemed them safe. Eighty-six percent of corn and 93 percent of soy grown in the US are genetically modified.

The EU’s policies on GMOs are stringent, and include policies for informing consumers about GMOs and which foods contain them. The EU reversed this trend of strict GMO rules when, earlier this year, it repealed a ban preventing the import of animal feed containing trace amounts of GMOs. This decision, which was not welcomed by environmentalists, was based on the fact that it is very difficult to track and prevent small amounts of GMOs from filtering into overseas food shipments.

The guidelines make it difficult for American companies to export genetically modified food, seeds and products to Europe, as other parts of the world do not have strict policies governing GMOs. This new ruling will affect honey imported to Europe from all over the world, including China and Argentina, the two largest importers of honey into Europe and two large producers of GMOs. The EU imports 140,000 tons of honey each year, while it produces 200,000 tons within its borders.  

The new court decision comes following a claim by Bavarian beekeepers, whose hives are 500 meters (yards) from an approved genetically modified maize farm. The maize is grown from seeds imported from United States-based company Monsanto, who maintains that their genetically engineered corn is designated as safe for consumption. The German beekeepers claimed that their honey was contaminated by GMOs from Monsanto, and scientific field tests solidified the claim. Environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, believe that the German government and Monsanto should be held liable for the loss of sales the Bavarian beekeepers experience as a result of their honey being mandatorily labeled as genetically modified.

The Monsanto maize was modified to produce an insecticide, a protein that naturally occurs in bacteria in the soil. This same protein, from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), is already used by farmers as an insecticide spray. Scientists and opponents of the ban argue that spraying crops with this insecticide is no different than engineering the plants to produce it on their own.

Opponents of the ban assert that the trace amounts of genetically modified pollen are so small that they are unlikely to cause harm if ingested. Agricultural scientists also disagree with the ruling, saying that the claim that GMOs are unsafe has no scientific basis. EU consumer protection spokesman Frédéric Vincent stated that there is “no health risk from honey in the EU” and that it is difficult to regulate GMO contamination because “the contamination is done by the bees themselves. We can’t put GPS tracking on the bees.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/cygnus921/3712117235

Drug Resistent Staph Bacteria Found in Half of all US Meats

About 94 percent of Americans slice, cook, and eat meat daily. Recently, Translational Genomics Research Institute did a test in five large cities across the United States, testing chicken, turkey, beef, and pork. They found that 47 percent of meats tested contained staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria is a common cause of infections from skin rashes to life-threatening diseases like pneumonia.

The bacteria has always been in meat, but its resistance to antibiotics is rapidly growing.The bacteria has been found to be resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, and other antibiotics commonly prescribed to heal infections. Farmers give antibiotics to the livestock to make them grow big fast and to prevent them from becoming sick from the surrounding bacteria. This can be particularly dangerous because doctors will have to find new ways to cure infections caused by Staph.

The quality of meat found in grocery stores can have a major disadvantage to local farms due to the close quarters of the livestock. Bacterial risks skyrocket because of the daily dose of antibiotics, bacteria, and added warmth of the living situations.

The Food and Drug administration regularly checks for salmonella and other bacterias, but Staphylococcus aureus may be added to the list after this recent discovery. Consumers should pay special attention to expiration dates, handling, and cooking of raw meat. Most Staph can be killed by cooking meat at appropriate temperatures, but mishandling it is what can spread the bacteria. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has suggestions and information to avoid contamination of Staph.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/andreasivarsson/4901550691/

Food Safety Modernization Act Likely to Pass this Month

It seems likely US consumers will be able to rest a little easier in the months and years ahead, as the Senate passed a bill Sunday evening that will increase safety regulations for most foods, and help prevent outbreaks of food-born bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli.  The Food Safety Modernization Act still awaits a vote in the US House of Representatives and must be signed into law by President Obama.  However the House is expected to pass the Senate version, and President Obama says he will support the legislation as well. 

Sunday’s senate vote is a significant victory for food safety advocates as the bill’s history has been fraught with unexpected obstacles to passage, and many observers feared it would die before the current Congress adjourns for the last time later this month.  In fact while it enjoying broader bi-partisan support than most major pieces of legislation this year, the journey of the Food Safety Modernization Act is one of the strangest stories of any bill considered by Congress in 2010.

Supported by both Democrats and Republicans, the earliest version of the Food Safety Modernization Act passed the House of Representatives by a very wide margin in the summer of last year.  However facing a full agenda, including time-consuming issues like the health care debate that took months to resolve, the Senate did not get around to seriously taking up food safety until this fall.  For the bill to become law the Senate had to pass it before Congress adjourns.  Otherwise lawmakers would have had to start all over in 2011 when the new Congress is sworn into office.

The Senate passed its version of the Food Safety Modernization Act last month, but afterwards a procedural error was discovered that invalidated the vote.  With time running out before the end of the session, it seemed like the Senate might not get another chance to vote on the bill.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attached a corrected version to a separate funding bill the Senate was scheduled to vote on, and meanwhile Democrats in the House again voting to pass the legislation from their chamber.  Yet the Senate funding bill failed to pass, leading many observers to conclude food safety reform was dead for the year.

Then in an unforeseen event Sunday evening, Senator Reid struck a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that the two leaders would encourage both Democrats and Republicans to support resurrecting the bill.  Reid called for a last-minute vote, and the Food Safety Modernization Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent.  A final House vote on the version passed by the Senate is expected in the next few days.  But since the House has already voted to support similar legislation twice in the last year and a half, this is not expected to be a major hurdle.

Groups like the Consumer Federation of America and the Consumers Union say the Food Safety Modernization Act will help prevent outbreaks of potentially deadly disease.  The bill sets new safety guidelines to prevent contamination of food with disease-causing bacteria, and gives the federal Food and Drug Administration greater authority to force companies to recall tainted food.  Responding to concerns that requirements in the bill would be difficult for small farmers to meet, the version passed by the Senate also contains an amendment designed to protect small food producers.  The bill represents the first major overhaul of US food safety policy since the 1930s. 

Bill Marler, publisher of the web site Food Safety News, commended Democrats and Republicans for coming together to pass food safety legislation.  “I think it says something good about Democrats and Republicans this holiday season,” said Marler.  “The process [of passing the bill] was not pretty, but politics was put aside for this and the safety of the U.S. food supply has been enhanced.” 

Photo credit: slave2thetea on Flickr

Similac Recalled After Beetles Found in Baby Formula and Factory

[img_assist|nid=195027|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=225|height=225]Sep 22, 2010 (GreenAnswers) – Abbot Laboratories is recalling five million containers of Similac after two consumers found beetles in the popular baby formula. Beetles were also found in the Michigan plant where the product is manufactured.

According to reports, the recall affects only the powdered infant formulas. Liquid formulas are not included in the recall.

Based on concerns about contamination, the company recently tested their product line and discovered only 0.02% of all containers were contaminated with beetles.

Abbott spokeswoman Melissa Brotz indicated that “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that while the formula containing these beetles poses no immediate health risk, there is a possibility that infants who consume formula containing the beetles or their larvae could experience symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort and refusal to eat.”

The voluntary recall will reportedly cost the company $100 million.

FDA Continues Egg Salmonella Investigation; Farm Owner Had Long History of Violations

[img_assist|nid=190457|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=168]August 27 — The US Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday that it has discovered positive results for salmonella in tainted food supply at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms in Iowa. The owners of these two farms have been called to testify in front of Congress about the outbreak next month. It is unclear whether they will agree to appear or will be subpoenaed.

What is clear is that the owner of Wright County Egg, Austin “Jack” DeCoster, has a long and ignominious history of safety and other legal violations. Some of those alleged abuses include:

  • A 1996 citation for labor and safety violations, that led to a $2 million fine, described by then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop.” Reich noted unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria and other unsanitary conditions, among the violations.
  • A 2000 designation by the state of Iowa of DeCoster as a “habitual violator” of environmental regulations, for violations such as dumping hog manure runoff into waterways.
  • A 2002 settlement of a discrimination lawsuit against DeCoster Farms that alleged Mexican workers were subjected to rape, sexual harassment, abuse and retaliation by some farm supervisors.
  • A June 2010 settlement over animal cruelty allegations spurred by a hidden-camera investigation.

While the Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms are independent, they share close ties, including the same suppliers of chickens and feed.

Although thorough cooking can kill the salmonella bacteria, consumers are being advised to throw away or return any recalled eggs. Salmonella enteritidis infections can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea and fever. Salmonella infections are rarely fatal, except in people with depressed immune systems. So far, no deaths have been reported as a result of the half a billion eggs that have been recalled.

‘Five Second’ Rule for Dropped Food Unsafe

[img_assist|nid=178633|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=315]CHICAGO, July 17 (UPI) — The “five second” rule that says quickly retrieved dropped food is all right to eat should be a “zero second” rule because of bacteria, food scientists say.

Clemson University food scientist Paul Dawson found that salmonella and other dangerous bacteria can remain alive up to four weeks on dry surfaces — like floors — and can be instantly transferred to dropped food.

Location, not time, is the critical factor, researchers say.

Brushing off a bagel you dropped on the sidewalk and eating it is probably safe because the pavement is cleaner than a kitchen floor in terms of the kinds of bacteria found there, Dr. Harley Rotbart, a professor of microbiology and pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Colorado, said.

“The kitchen floor, however, is probably a zero-second zone because the bacteria from uncooked meat and chicken juices are more hazardous than the ’soil’ bacteria outside,” said Rotbart.

Bathroom floors are also zero-second zones because they’re “a great potential source of bacteria and shorter-lived viruses that can cause gastrointestinal illness if ingested,” Rotbart said.

Dr. Paul Dawson explains why the Five Second Rule is bologna:

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