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Industrialized Meat: The Landscapes of Factory Farming

Feedlots are facilities used in factory farming—a modern form of industrialized, intensive livestock production—in which thousands of livestock are “finished” in densely-packed feeding pens. The U.S. contains over 15,000 feedlots today, and 99% percent of all farmed animals in the country are raised on one. Despite their ubiquity, agricultural companies have done their best to hide these operations. So-called “ag gag” laws, for example, have made the recording of animal cruelty in commercial farming practices illegal. According to Ted Genoways of Mother Jones, ag gag laws have been on the books in eight states and were enacted in 15 more as of 2013. Luckily, artist Mishka Henner, who has been collecting satellite imagery of feedlots for years, has been able to avoid legal repercussions. His work captures the vast scale and damaging ecological effects of industrial farming in America. As Matt Connelly notes in Mic, what appear as beautiful emerald green and ruby red pools are in fact “manure lagoons” for the highly toxic chemical animal waste produced in these concentrated enclosures. Henner has utilized open-source satellite imagery to reveal other hidden yet highly potent landscapes like oil fields and covert U.S. military bases.

Debate over branding has ranchers lamenting loss of enduring symbol of the West

By Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 10, 2012
One of the West’s most enduring symbols is fading like a red-hot branding iron cools to ashen gray.

With concerns over disease and global trade trumping tradition, federal regulators want ranchers to swap the old-fashioned cattle brand for electronic ear tags to quickly and reliably identify livestock that is shipped across state lines.

Ranchers from Livermore to Laytonville accept the inevitability but lament the passing of a ritual older than America—the smell of trampled sagebrush and burned hide, the sound of whinnying horses, songs around campfires and friendly boasts among friends.

"Cowboys are said to ride for the brand. It’s hard to imagine anyone riding for an ear tag," said Jon Christensen, executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University.

The debate over the USDA proposal, with a final rule expected within months, “is not just a fight over the best way to identify, track and ensure the ownership and safety of cattle,” Christensen said. “This is a battle over a powerful Western icon.”

But the discovery in late 2003 of a cow in rural Washington infected with mad cow disease inspired federal officials to find a better way to instantly track livestock. They feared that the U.S. could suffer the same fate as the United Kingdom, which quarantined and killed tens of thousands of animals after a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, devastating its agricultural economy.

The USDA wants every cow that is moved between states to have a unique numerical ID, electronically embedded into an RFID ear tag, to make it easier to track animals from the ranch to feedlots and the slaughterhouse. Brands would be allowed only if individual states create agreements to recognize one another’s brands. Then, if a sick animal is found, the source of illness could be tracked—and isolated—within hours.

And, lucrative global markets, such as Japan, are demanding that meat be proved safe and “traceable” before entering the country.

Once every cow has an RFID tag, the brand—as a vital identification mark—would be less critical.

Hot-iron brands have played an enduring and beloved role—they’re family logos, like a ranching coat of arms—since they were introduced to the New World in 1541 by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, whose cattle were singed with three crosses.

They landed in history books, films and TV shows after the great Longhorn trail drives out of Texas during the 1800s. But with growing awareness of animal rights, critics have denounced the practice as cruel.

Still, no 15-character alphanumeric identification code can ever replace a “Lazy J,” “Hanging R” or “Flying 45,” said Bill Bullard of the Billings, Mont.-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America.

"The government is giving in to international pressure to adopt a one-size-fits-all system that replaces the American tradition of branding, which has been used for centuries successfully," he said. "Our ability to control and eradicate disease has earned us the envy of the world—and now the USDA proposes to throw out an integral part of our program."

Branding is the simplest and most efficient way to identify a cow, he said. He worries that cattle could lose their tags in fencing or trees. Rustlers could easily cut them off. And the cost of the RFID tag—$2 to $3 per animal—could add new economic hardship to small family ranchers, he said.

The California Cattlemen’s Association also opposes the proposal, saying it seeks a program that avoids unnecessary costs and does not impose any “governments-induced delays in the speed of commerce.”

The modern beef industry is highly mobile, posing new risks—and rewards, said Livermore rancher Darrel Sweet, who runs Black Angus on his prosperous 900-acre ranch near the Altamont Pass.

"What’s changed is nationalization, globalization—and transportation," Sweet said. "Now it’s not uncommon for trucks to move cattle from right here in Central California to every Western state, or Texas, Kansas, even Hawaii."

"There’s no doubt, from a disease standpoint, we need to trace back, so we can figure out, as rapidly as possible, where the animal came from," said Sweet, as he surveyed his herd from his truck. "That’s economic viability for me—because if the outbreak is somewhere else, I don’t have to quarantine my whole herd."

Interstate shipping creates challenges for branding, because ranchers in different states may share the same brand. Many states don’t even have brands.

But brands still play a critical role. He asked: When a fence breaks, and your cattle get mixed up with neighbors’ herds, who wants to catch each cow and inspect each ear to sort them out? And insurers still rely on brands to prove ownership, he noted.

If you've never seen FOOD, INC.

for the love of (fill in this blank with whatever is dear to you), please, watch it.  You owe it to yourself to watch this film/documentary.  This is several things that are wrong with America, Americans, the food system, etc.  If you don’t believe me then watch it.  If you do believe me then watch it.  I wish I had more information on what’s going on.  I want to know everything.  Knowledge is power, to a degree.  Simply knowing things is gratifying, but doing something with that knowledge is what counts.  The smartest man alive is no hero if he sits and idly watches the world tear itself apart.

People cut corners.  It is better to be better than right or good.  It is more useful in this country to be powerful with products and money than to be doing the world/people a true service.  Rather than make the world better, as a whole, people tend to make things better for themselves.  People go for the quick fix rather than solving the problem (e.g., use ammonia, the stuff in glass cleaner, to kill bacteria in meat rather than prevent it from happening). 

Too many people care about looking good than being good.  Too many people care about being rich than living richly.  Too many people care about what people or the world can do for them rather than what they can do for people or the world.  This has become tangential from the reason I started writing this, so yes, watch FOOD, INC. and tell me what you think; ask yoursel(f/ves) what you think.  Ask why this is so.  Ask yourself if you’re really ok with it.  Ask yourself how it can be better.

Somebody Give That Cow a Bath!

Why in the world would someone want to bathe a cow? Better yet, why would someone bathe an entire herd of cows? They’re just going to get dirty again anyway. Yet for a number of years in the early 20th century, it was very common for cattle ranchers to lead their cattle, one by one, through a vat designed to douse them from top to bottom. The practice was called cattle dipping, and it had little to do with keeping the cows clean.

Learn more in today’s blog: floridamemory.com/blog/2014/09/15/somebody-give-that-cow-a-bath

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Old Polemics

Continuing to ignore the value of old polemics, scientists, ranchers, and educators tread uneasy through rocky terrain. I bought this copy of Sacred Cows at the Public Trough in Burns, OR last year. Thirty years after publication the Fergusons’ treatise against the cattle industry is shaky on foundation of careless shortsighted research. The authors completely ignored carp as a significant contributor to ecosystem collapse across the western states. I deeply respect the fervor Denzel and Nancy Ferguson brought to investigating the causes leading to substantial drop in bird counts observed over years of study. Their work without question enshrined the couple as serious pariahs in the community where they lived. More than a generation later firebrands, rabble-rousers, and lobbyists have exacerbated the denuded environment by dividing families and communities. Petty rhetoric, emotional pleas, and incendiary sound bites continue to prove poor excuses for reasoned debate. Contempt and a deepened split between urban and rural citizens characterize the threats facing a fragile peace. The need for advocates bringing attention to the plights of sage grouse or ranchers in the Arid West ended years ago. The demand for pragmatic leadership grows.

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Watch on rjzimmerman.tumblr.com

COK Investigation Reveals Shocking Abuse to Calves (by tryveg)

I want to meet one of the fucks who abused these animals as shown on the video. When I meet any one of those fuckers, I swear I would make every effort to treat him the same way.

I’ve seen videos and photos of way too many assholes in the industrial livestock slaughter and meat industry.

I am so fucking pissed off right now.

These people need to be arrested and charged.

Oh, and I have to remember that right-wing legislators, taking their cue from ALEC and similar right-wing or business-oriented organizations, want to criminalize, or prohibit, the taking of videos such as this one under ag-gag laws. Let the real criminals/abusers get away with their crimes/abuse, but arrest the person who trying to shine on light on the abuse.

Like I say in the next post, what is wrong with our culture?

Will the Fox Mountain Matriarch outwit the cattle lobbyists and government assassins long enough for an injunction?

Mexican gray wolf pup howls for existence.

(505) 248-6920 Fish and Wildlife Services’ Division of Endangered Species and Habitat Conservation in Albuquerque, New Mexico

(505) 842-3292 United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Southwest Region (this is the organization that will probably carry out the order to kill the wolf)

With beef prices at record highs and no agreed-upon definition, “sustainable beef” ending up in your burger anytime soon seems a bit dubious.

Of all the beef produced in America, only around 5 percent is grass-fed, which some say is a key components in sustainable beef production. Add to the fact that the US beef supply is at a 60-year-low. Anyone trying to get their hands on a reliable source of sustainable (especially grass-fed) beef, let alone millions of pounds of it, has a problem.

So high temperatures/low water supply/drought is causing ranchers to cut back on their herds. This is raising the price of beef across the board. This will make a transition to “sustainable” beef pretty difficult. I thought the article’s focus on the obstacles Chipotle is facing vs. McDonald’s was eye opening as well.

Just ask Chipotle, which has been addressing this important topic for years. The fast-food darling of sustainability currently operates around 1,650 outlets nationwide, with no signs of slowing: It has at least 180 more stores slated to open in 2014. The company raked in over $900 million in revenue this past quarter—peanuts compared to Walmart’s $127.4 billion and McDonald’s $10.9 billion, but nothing to shake your fist at.

Yet no matter how much money you have, you can’t buy sustainability that doesn’t currently exist. Chipotle bought 45 million pounds of domestic “responsibly raised” beef in 2013, but a US beef shortage led it to source even more from Australia. Chipotle’s even let its “responsibly raised” standards slip altogether because the supply just wasn’t there.

Not even Chipotle would call that an ideal set-up, but the reality is that the sustainable food movement is not yet built to scale. Chipotle has 1,600 stores. McDonald’s has around 14,100 US locations (we’ll leave their global empire aside). Cows have a 30-month-long gestation period, and unlike with chicken, which now take around 60 days to grow, we haven’t yet found a way to speed that up.

To me this relates to the Guardian article about the cheesemakers struggling with Whole Foods GMO labeling that I posted earlier. I’m still very new to figuring out how supply chain management works and the economics behind it, but I wonder if realizing that more companies are going to want (perhaps need, if the government one day decides to set up some regulations) “sustainable” or “organic” meat will persuade any ranchers to be the first ones to meet the demand. The transition is probably pretty difficult and expensive so I can see that deterring them big time. I would love to know more if anybody has any insight as to why (or why not) the cattle industry might pivot towards providing “sustainable” beef. You know…once we figure out what sustainable technically means. 

Anyway, for fun you should probably watch this video the article references. It’s Portlandia so you already know its outrageous and hilarious and a bit too close to home. 

Researchers Develop Better Methods To Detect E. coli

Kansas State University diagnosticians are helping the cattle industry save millions of dollars each year by developing earlier and accurate detection of E. coli. Lance Noll, master’s student in veterinary biomedical science, Greensburg; T.G. Nagaraja, university distinguished professor …

Read more Researchers Develop Better Methods To Detect E. coli

Paper question time, anyone? I’m working on coming up with a topic for a decently short paper. I can pretty much choose anything food-related assuming its specific. At first I jumped to vegetarianism(way too broad) but switched to factory farming. I now need to choose an animal and I’m pretty stuck. You don’t hear much about pigs, you hear a ton on chickens and a decent amount on cows. I could also talk about fisheries but I’m leaning away from that. I adore cows so that’s been the prominent thought.
Anyone have any thoughts on cattle in the factory farms? Good books, articles, reports etc?

A reformed not so skinny bitch

I purchased the book Skinny Bitch in the diet section of the book store because I liked the title.  I thought, ya know, you probably have to be a bitch to get skinny…  That, and my husband got a kick out of the title - and no matter how non co-dependently “healthy” I say I am - ignore me when I say I’m getting skinny for me.  I’m not.  It’s for him - so, like it or not, I am a chubby husband pleaser.

So I brought Skinny Bitch home and began reading it that afternoon.  About one third of the way into the book I felt tricked - bamboozled even.  The skinny bitches didn’t tell me how to get skinny, but instead shared a lot of very disturbing information about the commercial meat industry; it’s history and practices.  My bad for not paying close attention to the content of the “diet” book that I was buying. 

By midnight I had finished the book - and found that, without intending to, I am now a fully committed (possibly commit-able) vegetarian (again).  The mental images of pigs swimming frantically in boiling water, cattle hanging from hooks, skinned but still alive - it was painful to read, and left me with tears streaming down my face.  A completely unexpected reality check.  A shout out of thanks to Skinny Bitch for bringing me back to vegetarianism.  It wasn’t a fun read, but it was brutally real.

Creating the Line Between “Animal” and “Meal”
by Scott DeMuth

The United States slaughters approximately 34 million beef cattle annually, yet consumers know very little about beef production. This is largely by design. In a recent article (and podcast), sociologist Colter Ellis exposes the incredible role of emotional boundaries and boundary labor in beef production. Previous research has focused on the detachments necessary between consumers and the exploitation of commodities, ignoring the producers.

For most consumers, our feelings about cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals that we eat are very different from the feelings about our dogs, cats, and other animals that we keep as pets. Ellis demonstrates how this is not the case for cattle ranchers, who often see cattle as sentient, social beings with individual personalities (as illustrated by Pete the social beast and Cupcake the “teaser” steer). Through daily interactions with their cattle, ranchers develop emotional relationships, yet they have also developed narratives and emotional boundaries that allow them to treat these animals as economic assets and, eventually, as commodities.

The labor of cattle ranchers produces more than just beef. Their boundary labor creates a separation between animal-based commodities and the physical bodies these products come from. It creates a separation between consumers and the industrial practices that transforms sentient beings into emotionless commodities. Ultimately, Ellis finds, it allows consumers the privilege to disengage animal from meal.

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