Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Politics of Politics

After getting the 10th phone call in just the last 3 days asking me for my opinions on the upcoming BIG VOTE, guess I should share it with those who haven't called yet... some of the readers of this blog.

Sorry I haven't been very forthcoming on where I stand yet.

For good reasons, IMHO.

First, I've been on a journey searching for clues to the people who are vying for the hot seat, namely the oval office. I've also been trying to understand how things "work" in DC -- how do things "come together" so to speak.

And the deeper I look, the sadder I get, and the more naive I feel...

You see, if you don't know about K Street, you really don't know how things really work at that level of politics and power.

If you've never heard of, then you really don't know who is who, where they've been, and where they are now. (You might even be interested in some of the trails of breadcrumbs leading to our own Governor's doorstep.)

If you don't understand the fiat monetary system and know who the real power brokers are behind the scenes -- or the mess the so-called money-managers have managed to accumulate in just the the last dozen years or so, then you really don't know the full extent of the mess our next President will be stepping into.

If you've never seen what's really happening behind the scenes in the press or even how votes are counted, then you really haven't heard the full story on anything -- balanced or otherwise.

And if you don't know the true meaning of the word "libertarian" ...then you haven't taken the "World's Smallest Political Quiz" on the Net.

And finally, if (like me) you're just now finding out about most of this stuff, then congratulations -- welcome to the Inquiring Voters Club -- IVC for short. I'm thinking of having bumper stickers made soon.

Stay tuned.

PS: Even if you don't visit any of the links, at the very least watch the video.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dead Starlings in Indiana

A friend forwarded this link to me about the dead starlings being found around the Fair Oaks CAFOs:

"Numerous birds found dead" - Rensselaer Republican 02-20-2008

And I immediately recalled another recent article on the subject of dead starlings, but these were found in Randolph County (not far from another CAFO, I might add):

"State chemists' office investigates deaths of dozens of starlings" - Peru Tribune 02-16-2008

The Randolph County incident was also reported in Palladium-Item (read it here).

So one incident in our area is reported on Feb. 20/2008 ...another reported in Randolph County on Feb. 16/2008 many others?

Two reasons I bring this up...
1. The Republican article stated -- "The pesticide is used less than 15 times within a year in the state according to USDA figures."

So, can we assume the Fair Oaks starling kills are the "2nd" time for using the pesticide this year? Maybe we'll know for certain after the State Chemists have determined more from the Randolph County investigation.
2. In the article, Carol Bannerman, a public affairs specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services, is reported claiming that -- "starlings are problematic for farmers because they feast on cattle feed and rob cattle of their proper protein. Then they contaminate feed and water with their bird droppings. The droppings can spread disease to both the animals and the humans that consume the animals."

Hmmmm... Ms. Banning seems to be quoting from the USDA/APHIS/ADC document #NCR451 which goes into great detail on the subject of controlling starlings, but maybe the Republican didn't quite quote her precisely? It implies the starlings are creating all kinds of disease, doesn't it?

Here's a little snippet from NCR451:
At livestock facilities, starlings consume feed and contaminate the feed and water with their droppings. Where high protein supplements are added to feeds such as cattle feeds, starlings may selectively eat the high-protein portion.

Starlings may also transfer disease among livestock facilities, a problem that particularly concerns swine producers. For example, TGE (transmissible gastroenteritis) virus can pass through the digestive tract of starlings and be infectious in the starling feces. However, researchers have found healthy swine in lots with infected starlings. Thus, even infected starlings may not always transmit the disease, especially if starling interaction with pigs is minimized. TGE may also be transmitted on boots or vehicles, by stray animals, or by infected swine added to the herd. (emphasis added)

Sounds like Ms. Banning said exactly that, right? Read deeper young grasshopper...

Maybe I'm interpretting the above wrong, but the way I read it, the birds could transfer diseases from one livestock farm to another, which seems to be the biggest economic concern. And that brings up another question...

Which came first? I'm not talking about the bird or the egg.

I'm wondering how do these birds get infected in the first place?

I mean, if they're carriers of diseases that can affect entire CAFO herds, then surely they have to have picked the disease up from somewhere in the first place, somewhere that -- per chance -- there were infected animals. Or, perhaps, there are infected animals at the location where the starlings need to be eradicated?

Pesticide use to eradicate the starlings, according to NCR451, is not the first (or only) method for controlling the "problem" large farms face from these so-called pests, but it is one of the easiest and less time-consuming for large feedlots.

Which brings me to another quote from the Renss/Repub article:
"Starling eradication methods include a federally licensed pesticide called DRC1339. The USDA has been recently using the pesticide in Jasper County to control the starlings and protect livestock at local dairy/cattle feed lots.

"This method is used only if the birds cannot be subdued," said Bannerman."

And this...
According to USDA studies, there were no signs of poisoning among predators within 30-200 days of consumption.

Bannerman said people shouldn't allow pets to eat dead starlings, but there was little risk of poisoning to household pets.

"Pets would have to eat a large quantity of the starlings for them to be affected," said Bannerman."Humans should not touch the dead birds with their hands."

Okay, so let's take a quick look at the black box warning for the concentrated version of this pesticide:
Due to High Acute Inhalation Toxicity and Eye and Skin Corrosiveness to Humans; High Acute Toxicity to Nontarget Birds and Aquatic Invertebrates; and the Need for Highly Specialized Applicator Training.

For retail sale to, and use only by, USDA APHIS Certified Applicators trained in bird control or by persons under their direct supervision.

I found that on a document that reads: "FOR DISTRIBUTION AND USE ONLY WITHIN WYOMING"

Here's one of the general restrictions for use:
This product contains a slow-acting avicide which kills target birds in 1 to 3 days. As many types of nontarget bird species are potentially vulnerable to DRC-1339, it is necessary to use care and to follow the requirements of this label to minimize impacts to nontarget species.

I found the DO NOT list a bit alarming:

  • DO NOT apply by air

  • DO NOT apply within 50 feet of bodies of water

  • DO NOT harvest any crop for use as food or feed that has been contaminated with this product.

  • DO NOT graze livestock or plant any rotational crop in treated non-crop or in crop areas that may have been contaminated by treated bait spilled from bait application containers for one year (365 days) following the last application of bait made from this product...

  • DO NOT apply bait(s) in areas where there is a danger that Threatened or Endangered Species will consume baits...

  • DO NOT apply baits made from this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons.

And the list goes on. Yes, there's far more and you can read about it through this link. Sorry I don't have the Indiana version. Not enough time for me to hunt that down today.

DRC-1339 products are highly toxic to sensitive species such as starlings and pigeons, is slightly toxic to non-sensitive birds (raptors, songbirds), and is differentially toxic to mammals. Since it is rapidly metabolized and excreted by the target bird species (starlings), scavenging birds that feed on treated dead birds would likely be unaffected.

Another USDA document (from PA) states:
Only USDA personnel may use DRC-1339 concentrate. Use of this label is a cooperative effort between USDA and the farm operator, since several days of prebaiting and monitoring are required prior to actual use of the product. Typically, the farm operator is primarily responsible for prebaiting (with assistance from USDA), and USDA is responsible for use of the toxicant and follow-up monitoring.

Whew... that's a lot of detail.

But there's more. Want to know about the toxicity of DRC-1339 and how they came up with the doses? If you're into that kind of detail and/or you want to learn about a few of the concerns that have been raised recently regarding this pesticide, here's an interesting study.

Keep in mind, when reading the above study, check out the authors' purpose for writing it (to rate dosage levels recommended for its use and dispel fears over the toxin) and -- ahem -- watch for any non-objective statements. (Not saying there are any present, just, well...)

Until next time -- TTFN!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

World finds out about USA beef scandal

You know the world is watching when the news about the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company scandal hits the headlines of a Beverage Industry magazine targeted to industry insiders.
Industry concerns follow massive US beef recall
by Linda Rano:

19-Feb-2008 - The largest meat recall in US history has reignited fears that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not taking adequate measures to ensure the safety of the nation's meat supply. (link)
This particular online news service also publishes a monthly full-color glossy magazine (yes, real hold-it-in-your-hands hard copy) of breaking stories in the beverage industry, as well as print and online ezine publications for other industry niches including Nutrition, Health, Food Safety and more. Their publications span the globe with their largest subscriber bases in the EU.

After the BSE scandal that rocked the UK beef industry, you can safely bet they're closely monitoring the entire Hallmark/Westland Meat story as it unfolds here in the USA.

voluntary recall of "approximately 143,383,823 pounds of raw and frozen beef products"

To be fair, the way I understand the situation, the meat wasn't fully recalled (ie sent back to the supplier) but instead, it was placed on "hold" by institutions/schools/etc. until the USDA completes their investigation to determine whether or not the meat is (or isn't) safe for human consumption.

So maybe "recall" is a bit too strong a word (for now?) in the article referenced above...

Even so, it's the first time I saw an actual number published with respect to how much beef is involved. Imagine. 143,383,823 pounds!!!

Which brings me to Indiana Senate Bill 123 regarding labelling of meat and dairy products. Apparently it might get a dusting off for reading soon. Here's a quick synopsis:
Citations Affected: IC 15-2.1; noncode.

Synopsis: Meat and milk products. Authorizes the state board of animal health to provide voluntary grading and certification relating to meat and meat products. Provides that a person who knowingly or intentionally forges a grade or certification commits a Class D felony. Requires the board of animal health to review, study, and make recommendations to the legislative council about claims made about milk, milk products, meat, and poultry marketed to the general public.

Effective: Upon passage; July 1, 2008.
What do you think? Should we send a strong message to the Industry? This is your chance to get involved by contacting your reps regarding the Bill -- your choice.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

School Lunch Program - Got Beef?

In case you haven't heard... the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company story is shocking parents across the country while School lunch program operators across the nation are being instructed by USDA officials to "pull the beef from school lunch lines as a precaution."
Video shot at the Chino slaughterhouse during an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States shows downed cows, animals that are too sick to walk, being prodded with forklifts, poked in the eyes and blasted with water.

"The attempt was to make them so distressed and to cause them so much suffering that these animals would get up and walk into the slaughterhouse," said Wayne Pacelle with the Humane Society.[link]

The Humane Society of the United States says it turned over a video showing cattle being abused at a Chino slaughterhouse to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office in December. After a month with no legal action, the animal protection agency posted some of the video on its Web site this week and turned over 96 minutes of recordings to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees slaughterhouses.[Emphasis added - link]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an investigation into the company on Wednesday after the Humane Society of the United States released a video that appears to document workers abusing cows that are too injured or weak to stand. (link)

...and were it not for the undercover video filmed by the Humane Society, what would have happened?

After all, Westland and its parent company, Hallmark Meat, are "the second largest supplier of beef to the USDA's commodity procurement branch, which distributes the beef to needy families, the elderly, and also the schools throughout the national school lunch program," according to the Humane Society of the United States. (link)

The USDA Response to the Media Attention?
The USDA, in its news release, said it was "unfortunate" the Humane Society "did not present this information to use when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007."

The Humane Society, in its statement, said it had turned the information over to "California law enforcement officials" at that time, and "local authorities asked for extra time before public release of the information." (link)

Sidenote: Yes siree, I imagine the USDA would have liked to see the video back in fall of 2007... maybe it would have prevented them from buying "...more than 27 million pounds of ground beef from Westland in 2007 as part of the government-subsidized National School Lunch Program." (Emphasis added - link)

In another Response from USDA:
In any case, there's no evidence that meat from so-called 'downer' cattle entered the food supply, USDA official Kenneth Petersen told reporters during a telephone news conference Friday. (link)

And another:
Federal officials emphasized that a hold is not the same thing as a recall. The beef could later be used if the USDA OKs its safety. (link)

And in case you didn't know this;
...Westland, the second-largest supplier of beef for the National School Lunch Program, was named "supplier of the year" in 2004-2005 by the Agriculture Department. It has delivered beef to schools in 36 states.

The USDA today stopped Westland from supplying meat to federal food and nutrition programs pending the outcome of its investigation. While the workers in this video have been fired, the Humane Society says the most shocking thing about the abuse shown here is that it happens all the time.

Some responses from the political side:
February 1, 2008-- Congressman Leonard Boswell is pushing the USDA to examine recent reports of inhumane treatment of animals. (link)

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, sent letters Wednesday to the agriculture secretary and the head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) asking for an immediate investigation into the safety of ground beef being used in the National School Lunch Program. "The treatment of animals in this video is appalling, but more than that, it raises significant concerns about the safety of the food being served to our nation's children," Durbin said. (link)

Federal regulations call for keeping downed cows out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of carrying E. coli, salmonella contamination or mad cow disease. (link)

Several School Boards across the country have been pulling beef from the menu until they can be certain no supplies came from Westland. Some of those School Boards reporting in the news are located in the following states (partial list, no specific order): California, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota, Illinois, Minnesota, Utah, Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Iowa and New York. For a large (and growing) list of news reports on this story, check out this link.

Now I'm guessing that Hallmark Meat Packing has become the "hallmark" brand for how NOT to run a slaughterhouse/packing plant?

Aw, heck, here's one more reported USDA response worth mentioning:
USDA officials said that despite the apparent abuses, Westland meat products have always passed stringent government purity standards, and they do not believe the company's beef is unhealthy. (link)

What the ...?

Even if you don't get sick eating the Hallmark/Westland stuff, you might get sick watching the 96 minutes of video. Yes, there are animal rights violations. Now that's an education our kids shouldn't have to receive -- in any manner, shape or form -- because it simply shouldn't BE happening -- PERIOD.