Category Archives: Government Regulations

The Ag-Gag Bill

I feel like I haven’t written a real post in forever. But today’s news about Iowa passing the first “Ag-Gag” bill made me sick and I simply can’t keep quiet about this.

For those who are unfamiliar with the so-called “Ag-Gag” bill, it is legislation that makes it illegal to film undercover footage of animal abuse and unsanitary conditions on factory farms. Illegal. And punishable by years of jail time.

Just in case you don’t have this straight, allow me to further explain: The people abusing the animals do not go to jail. The person who films them doing it in order to expose them does.

This is one of the most infuriating pieces of legislation I’ve ever heard of. First of all, whistleblowing is a legally protected right in America. But we have just exempted the animal agriculture industry from public scrutiny via undercover video, the most significant way to expose cruelty and unsafe practices in the food industry. And we have now further limited the rights of agricultural workers (a group that already has so few legal rights to begin with).

But besides the legality of it, the intent of this law is what really makes me irate. It is obvious that this bill was passed to allow animal agriculture to continue its heinous, abusive practices without the public knowing about them. The Iowa lawmakers and ag industry representatives claim that the law was put in place to “protect the animals from outsiders who could bring in disease.” How a worker wearing a hidden camera poses more of a disease risk than a worker not wearing a hidden camera is a total mystery to me.  It is obvious that big industry and money drove this decision, instead of morality. How can anyone possibly think it’s ok to protect animal abusers?

At a point in time where the welfare of our food animals is just beginning to break into the public consciousness, this is such a huge step backwards. Just this month McDonald’s vowed to phase sow gestation crates out of their supply chain. Yet here we are making legislation to protect not only gestation crates, but also even more malicious and deliberate acts of animal abuse. What an awful move in the wrong direction.

Earlier this week I went to a talk by Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. He made it very clear just how contradictory our society is towards the treatment of animals (especially food animals). In this country two-thirds of people have pets, there are 80 million self-proclaimed wildlife-watchers, and there are over 20,000 animal protection groups. Just think about all that time, energy, and money that goes into loving animals! Yet every year, 9-10 billion (with a ‘B’) animals are slaughtered, and most of them are treated miserably and cruelly. Why do we not see the contradiction in our actions? Why do we have such a huge disconnect? And why do we divorce our moral values when it comes to economics?

I have to believe that slowly, eventually, our society will realize that what we are doing to these creatures is wrong. And I believe that when people look back on how awfully we treated these animals, they will be ashamed… of us.

“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, ‘What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?’” – Jonathan Safran Foer

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Breakfast: Evol tofu and spinach burrito
Lunch: Veggie ‘sushi’ wrap from How Do You Roll
Dinner: BLT sandwich with tempeh bacon, baked sweet potato fries, and salad

Scandal: The USDA’s Conflict Over Cheese

This front-page New York Times expose on how the government is pushing dairy (while at the same time supposedly shunning saturated fat and obesity) is causing quite a stir. Dairy Management, a marketing and promotion agency created by the USDA to push more dairy down our throats, is doing an excellent job. According to the NY Times article, “Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat.

Agriculture Department data shows that cheese is a major reason the average American diet contains too much saturated fat. The department’s nutrition committee issued a new standard this summer calling for saturated fat not to exceed 7% of total calories (about 15.6 grams in a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet). Yet the average intake has remained about 11-12% of total calories for at least 15 years.

cheese-consumption

I’ve previously mentioned (here and there) the blatant conflict of interest within the USDA and this is just another glaring example. The very same organization that creates nutrition guidelines is also working on behalf of the dairy, beef, pork, and poultry industries to sell more of their unhealthy, saturated-fat-laden, cholesterol-filled, products. From the NY Times article:

Dairy Management runs the largest of 18 Agriculture Department programs that market beef, pork, potatoes and other commodities. Their budgets are largely paid by levies imposed on farmers, but Dairy Management, which reported expenditures of $136 million last year, also received $5.3 million that year from the Agriculture Department to promote dairy sales overseas.

By comparison, the department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which promotes healthy diets, has a total budget of $6.5 million.

And so it is very clear to see where the USDA’s priorities lie. But, where the heck does Dairy Management’s $140 million budget go?

Questionable research and false advertising

“Great news for dieters,” Dairy Management said in an advertisement, “Clinical studies show that people on a reduced-calorie diet who consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day can lose significantly more weight and more body fat than those who just cut calories.”

After spending millions of dollars on research to promote the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.  Even with absolutely no evidence to support their weight loss claims, the campaign went on for four years!

Finally, in 2007, the the Federal Trade Commission acted on a two-year-old petition by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group that challenged the campaign’s claims, by pulling the ads.

“If you want to look at why people are fat today, it’s pretty hard to identify a contributor more significant than this meteoric rise in cheese consumption,” -Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Partnering with corporations to push more dairy down our throats

Dairy Management has created several partnerships:

  • – Cutting a deal with Domino’s Pizza to include 40% more cheese on each pizza. Other pizza chains are now doing the same.  “More cheese on pizza equals more cheese sales,” Mr. Gallagher, the Dairy Management chief executive, wrote in a guest column in a trade publication last year. “In fact, if every pizza included one more ounce of cheese, we would sell an additional 250 million pounds of cheese annually.”
  • – Partnering with McDonald’s to launch McCafe specialty coffees that use up to 80 percent milk, and three new burgers with two slices of cheese per sandwich.  The result?  An additional 6 million pounds of cheese sold.
  • – Highlighting Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites pizza, Wendy’s “dual Double Melt sandwich concept,” and Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. “Both featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and a cheesy sauce,” the department said. These efforts, the department reported, helped generate a “cheese sales growth of nearly 30 million pounds.”
  • – Partnering with General Mills’ Yoplait to develop yogurt chip technology that requires 8 ounces of milk.

All-out marketing campaigns

  • – Dairy Management, through the “Got Milk?” campaign, has been successful at slowing the decline in milk consumption, particularly focusing on schoolchildren.
  • – It has also relentlessly marketed cheese and pushed back against the Agriculture Department’s suggestion that people eat only low-fat or fat-free varieties.
  • – Maintaining momentum for single-serve milk by offering white and flavored milk in single-serve, plastic, resealable bottles.
  • – Financing studies on promising opportunities, including the promotion of chocolate milk as a sports recovery drink and the use of cheese to entice children into eating healthy foods like string beans.

And through all this shadiness, not only are our waistlines expanding, our arteries clogging, and our cancer rates rising, but we are also ingesting more dangerous hormones through dairy, dumping more and more toxic waste into the ground and our waterways, and exploiting and abusing more dairy cows in worse ways than ever before.

What you can do

It’s really very simple: use dairy alternatives. Soy, almond, rice, and hemp milk not only taste great, but they’re also suitable substitutes in recipes – yes, even in baking! Vegan sour creams, cream cheeses, and grated parmesan don’t have any cholesterol, contain no hormones, and are cruelty free.  And, ok, I’ll be the first to admit that vegan cheese doesn’t exactly taste like the real thing, but especially in dishes that don’t require a whole lot of cheese (like topping chalupas for example), they’re really not that bad – I promise. (You could even try mixing half real cheese with half vegan cheese.)

Be conscious of what you’re consuming and do your part to stay healthy, be wary of ridiculous marketing and promotion campaigns, help our environment, and have compassion for our fellow creatures.

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Breakfast: Amy’s Bean & Rice Burrito
Lunch: Mexican rice, black beans, soy chorizo, vegan cheese, and tabasco. It may not look real pretty, but it was real tasty!
IMAG0253
Dinner: Tofu pad thai at a new Chinese restaurant that I don’t remember the name of…

ACT NOW: Help Stop Genetically Modified Salmon

Not long ago, I posted about Frankenfish – genetically modified salmon that grow twice as fast as natural salmon. On September 19th, the FDA is meeting to discuss the approval of these GE (genetically engineered) salmon for human consumption. If approved, this would no doubt open the flood gates to allow all types of genetic modifications to our food animals.

The health impacts of eating genetically modified fish are entirely unknown.  The FDA has NOT conducted long-term studies on the fish and with very little evidence, has deemed the fish ‘safe to eat.’  Even more alarming, the FDA has given very little evidence of ANY studies to the public, explaining that AquaBounty’s (the company that created these mutants) claims are “confidential business information.”

Even if you personally choose not to risk your health by eating GE salmon, you still have a huge problem.

For one, the labeling of these GE fish has not yet been determined. If AquaBounty gets its way, they will not be labeled at all. It is very possible that you will have no way of knowing whether you’re getting natural salmon or GE salmon.

And secondly, each year millions of farmed salmon escape from open-water net pens, throwing off entire ecosystems and economies as they dominate already fragile wild salmon habitats. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just 60 GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 could lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations. (PS, salmon lifespan is only 2-8 years, so that’s 40 short generations.)

We’ve already seen the ramifications of GE crops such as large corporations (like Monsanto… grrrr) trademarking living things and the issues that this causes.

First, living things can naturally reproduce. So, when one farmer’s trademarked GE corn pollinates his neighbor’s natural corn (through wind or insects), Monsanto can sue the neighbor for growing trademarked corn that they didn’t pay for. Farmers have been ruined this way. Second, crops have been genetically modified with a “terminator gene” which ensures that their seeds will not reproduce. This means that the farmer must buy all new seeds from Monsanto every year. (Normally farmers would save the seeds they harvest from this year’s crop to plant as next year’s crop.)

Now imagine what happens when corporations start trademarking animals!

It is absolutely insane to risk our health and our habitat for the profit of a corporation.

Act Now! Tell the FDA that you oppose the approval of GE salmon by signing this petition. Be sure to do this before September 19th.

8 Reasons to Beware of Eggs

Half a Billion Eggs Recalled, And Counting…

eggs

Over 500 million eggs have been recalled due to an outbreak of Salmonella that sickened thousands of people across the country (and many cases go unreported because Salmonella infections, which cause diarrhea and stomach cramps, often go undiagnosed). This is one of the country’s worst food safety recalls, stemming from only two farms in Iowa. These two gigantic producers distribute their eggs under brand names such as Lucerne, Albertson’s, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemp (this list might not be comprehensive as the recall seems to expand daily).

The American egg industry was already battling a movement to outlaw its methods as cruel and unsafe, and was adapting to the Obama administration’s drive to bolster health rules and inspections. According to the FDA, the cause of the infections has not been pinpointed, but it is likely that lax safety procedures and animal overcrowding are to blame. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) wrote in a letter to the Iowa Egg Council, “Confining birds in cages means increased salmonella infection in the birds, their eggs and the consumers of caged eggs.”  A single barn may house more than 150,000 birds in tight proximity, allowing infections to spread quickly and widely.

This month, the HSUS released a new white paper addressing the threat that cage confinement of laying hens can pose to food safety, as well as assessing the probabilities of Salmonella contamination among different housing systems:

salmonella_egg

Egg producers have watched in dismay as the political winds seemed to turn, largely because of growing concern about animal rights. The European Union will bar small cages for egg hens as of 2012. By public referendum, California will ban small cages in 2015, and the state will not allow the sale of eggs produced in other states in small cages. Michigan, Ohio and other states have also placed limits on future caging of hens.

But even with new legislation, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned about eggs. Here are eight:

1. Petri Dishes for Disease

Joel Salatin, a farmer whose farm Polyface is featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc., tells why conditions in factory farms are ideal for the spread of infection: “The propensity for a problem is magnified under the fecal particulate air in these industrial egg farms. What it does is it breaks down the immune system and creates openings for pathogens. If you were trying to design a pathogen-friendly system, you would go to a single species, crowd that species together, deny it fresh air, exercise, and sunshine, never give it a rest time—have it there 365 days a year, and feed it a diet that maximizes a minimal standard of performance, rather than maximizes nutrition or feed that is nutritionally superior. What I’ve just described is Egg Factory Farming 101. This is just symptomatic of the pathogen-friendly nature of industrial agriculture.”

2. Massive Farms Magnify Any Disease

Further compounding the risk is the tremendous centralization of the factory farm system. As Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, points out, “these large industrial producers where if there’s a problem, it’s going to get magnified over many states and many people.” Salatin agrees, saying that “Whereas a problem in the local food system only affects a few people, a problem in a factory farm can infect, for instance, hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of thousands of people.”

3. Infection Is More Common Than We Think

When you have such massive farms, each distributing its eggs to dozens of grocery chains, any problem gets compounded. In the case of the current outbreak, William Marler, a prominent foodborne-illness litigator, points out that the CDC’s rule of thumb is that 38 people are sickened by salmonella for every case that’s reported, so the number of people infected by the current outbreak could potentially number in the tens of thousands.

4. Free-Range Eggs Are No Healthier

Many people think that free-range eggs are healthier, and they provide more peace of mind, than factory-farmed eggs. But, the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t even have a definition of “free-range” for laying hens. Factory-farmed chickens are often labeled as free-range. In the end, no one knows exactly what they’re eating. As Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Eating Animals, “I could keep a flock of hens under my sink and call them free-range.”

5. Companies Avoid What Little Regulation Exists

According to Marion Nestle, legislation would help, but companies are determined to skirt regulation and the FDA lacks the clout to enforce what rules it has: “We’re dealing here with a company that’s not very interested in following rules, and they cut corners in lots and lots of ways. One of the ways they cut corners is safety. The other part is the FDA still doesn’t have the tools it needs to enforce the rules it has.” William Marler points out that legislation that might have prevented this outbreak languished for eight years during the Bush administration before being implemented on July 8, just as the outbreak began. Even then, Marler says, most of the “Egg Rule,” known officially as “Federal Register Final Rule: Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation,” is common-sense testing and should have been followed voluntarily.

6. Healthy Eggs Are Expensive & Cheap Eggs Sell Better

Marion Nestle, Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, and other food activists agree that the consumers must start demanding healthier eggs, even if it means paying more. Says Nestle, “The rules that are in the FDA’s egg legislation will require producers to do things differently, with some hope that they’ll move into more sustainable, reasonable practices. But as long as this country insists on cheap food, as long as that pressure is there, it’s understood that we value food for how little it costs, as opposed to how it’s produced or how it tastes, and there isn’t going to be a lot of pressure on producers to change things.”

But for those of you hoping that voting with your dollar will encourage producers to be cleaner and more humane, the polls bode ill: According to recent data from Information Resources Inc, which tracks checkout scanner transactions from 34,000 grocery stores in the U.S., we’re still buying eggs from cage housing systems 92% of the time.

7. Farms Lack Transparency

According to Michael Pollan, industrial egg farms are the worst sort of factory farms. So bad, in fact, that journalists are rarely allowed inside them. When Carole Morison let a camera crew in for Food Inc., she lost her contract and went on to co-found the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance.

8. Cruel Farm Conditions

Jonathan Safran Foer, in his book Eating Animals, writes of an often-overlooked trend in factory farming: food and light deprivation. One farmer described it to Foer this way: “As soon as females mature—in the turkey industry at 23 to 26 weeks and with chickens 16 to 20—they’re put into barns and they lower the light; sometimes it’s total darkness 24/7. And then they put them on a very low-protein diet, almost a starvation diet.” The result: Birds lay up to three or four times as many eggs as in nature. “After that first year, they are killed because they won’t lay as many the second year,” the farmer said. “The industry figured out it’s cheaper to slaughter them and start over than it is feed and house birds that lay fewer eggs.” Foer’s conclusion: “After learning about it, I didn’t want to eat a conventional egg ever again.”

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Breakfast: Bagel with Tofutti vegan cream cheese
Lunch: Salad with cucumber, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, hearts of palm, avocado, and vinegar and oil
IMAG0150
Dinner: Black bean tacos from Taco Cabana (there’s no cheese on these)

Washington, DC Joins The Meatless Monday Movement!

The City Council of the District of Columbia passed a ceremonial resolution encouraging city residents to “abstain from animal products on Mondays.” Not just meat, but all animal products. Nice. This victory for farmed animals was helped along by the fine people at Compassion Over Killing.

And because I like this resolution so much, here it is in all its glory (bold text was added by me):

DC Meat Free Monday

Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander

A CEREMONIAL RESOLUTION

IN THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

To acknowledge the obesity epidemic in the District of Columbia, to highlight the benefits of diets high in fruits and vegetables, to encourage residents to abstain from animal products on Mondays, and to celebrate the abundance of produce grown in community gardens and in neighboring regions.

WHEREAS, the rate of adolescent obesity in the District of Columbia is the highest in the nation and nearly half of the children in some wards are overweight. Obese children and adolescents are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems, such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem, and Type-2 diabetes.

WHEREAS, childhood obesity disproportionately affects low-income and minority children, and half of all minority children will develop diabetes by their eighteenth birthday.

WHEREAS, 81% of the District of Columbia’s high school students do not eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

WHEREAS, the meat served to school children via the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch Program is tested less frequently for food-borne pathogens than the meat in fast food restaurants and subject to lower safety standards.

WHEREAS, the rate of adult obesity in the District of Columbia exceeds 50 percent. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

WHEREAS, overweight college applicants are significantly less likely to be accepted to college despite comparable academic records, and overweight employees are more likely to experience workplace bias, including hiring and salary discrimination.

WHEREAS, more than 20% of District residents ages 65 and older are obese. Overweight and obese elderly are more likely to have hypertension, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

WHEREAS, the environmental impacts of abstaining from meat are significant. Each time an individual goes meat free, s/he saves 890 gallons of water and nearly a gallon of gasoline.The UN has found that current meat production methods cause nearly half of all stream and river pollution. Indeed, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Nobel Peace Prize winner and chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has stated that the easiest way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to make one day a week meat-free.

WHEREAS, a growing number of people are reducing their consumption of animal products in order to prevent animal cruelty. Approximately one billion animals would be spared if animal consumption was reduced by only 10%, a figure that would be achieved by a national Meat Free Monday.

WHEREAS, foregoing meat has the potential to impact world hunger. Each year, 756 million tons of grain is fed to farmed animals. If that grain was provided to the 1.4 billion people who are living in abject poverty, each of them would be provided twice the grain they would need to survive.

WHEREAS, the American Dietetic Association has stated that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease…lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” and that vegetarians are less likely than meat-eaters to be obese. Accordingly, experts recommend going vegetarian, or at least increasing plant foods and eating fewer animal products, to help weight control. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, advised that Americans eat more dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes and fruits.

WHEREAS, today, the average person consumes nearly 200 pounds more meat per annum than the average person consumed in the 1950s.

WHEREAS, America’s per capita fruit consumption is “woefully low” and limited to a small range of fruit options, and vegetable consumption “tells the same story,” according to a 2003 USDA report.

WHEREAS, community experts have said that enough fresh, local, produce exists to feed every District student. Such farm fresh products taste better, are healthy, and research has shown that children prefer them to non-local produce.

WHEREAS, a weekly reminder to restart healthy habits encourages success, and we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week.

WHEREAS, Meat Free Mondays have been advocated by more than 20 schools of public health, numerous organizations including the American Association of Retired Persons, and experts in various fields including Michael Pollan and former Vice President Al Gore.

WHEREAS, in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to combat childhood obesity and to set an example for the rest of the country, people, schools, businesses and other organizations within the District have adopted this healthy tradition which has existed since World War I.

BE IT RESOLVED, BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, that Mondays are hereby designated as “Meat Free Mondays”. This resolution may be cited as the “Meat Free Mondays Recognition Resolution of 2010”.

Sec. 4. This resolution shall take effect immediately upon the first date of publication in the District of Columbia Register.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with mixed berries (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry), pineapple, and spinach
Lunch: Black bean & guacamole burrito (that’s a bean and cheese, minus the cheese, plus guac) from Baja Fresh
Dinner: Chinese takeout – Sesame TVP (textured vegetable protein), a meat subsitute that most Chinese takeout places here have now!

Get Involved!

There are two bills going through Congress right now that can help reduce farm animal suffering and promote compassion. 

1) Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (HR 4733)
Battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates are considered the most inhumane confinement systems in the agriculture industry. Hens in battery cages have less than the space of one sheet of notebook paper each. They can not even extend their wings.  Pregnant pigs and veal calves that are kept in 2-foot-wide gestation crates can not turn around, lie down comfortably, nor extend their legs. 

battery-cages gestation crates veal4

Most Americans oppose the use of these cruel confinement systems. A 2003 Gallup poll found that nearly 2/3 of Americans “support passing strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals.” A 2003 Zogby poll found that nearly 70% of Americans find it “unacceptable” that farm animals have no federal protection from abuse while on the farm.

Yet, currently, more than 95% of all eggs produced in the US come from hens kept in battery cages. Roughly 80% of breeding pigs and 66% of veal calves are kept in crates barely larger than their own bodies. And your tax dollars are being used to support these three systems! In fact, the federal government spends more than $1 billion a year on animal products for various federal programs (like the National School Lunch Program).

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would prohibit the government from purchasing any animal products from animals raised in battery cages, gestation crates, or veal crates. If passed, this legislation could affect the lives of millions of animals.

2) Healthy School Meals Act (HR 4870)
Students in our public schools eat some of the unhealthiest meals day after day. Fed meals of cheap, processed, preservative and sodium laced foods, America’s children are denied access to the fresh, plant-based foods they need to stay healthy.

 school-lunch-1  school-lunch-2

*Update* I just read this on Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project:

The USDA guidelines are warped. Even after eating *almost* 100 school lunches, I still have a hard time understanding the strange regulations governing school lunches. For example, fries and tater tots count as vegetables (contrary to what you might have heard in the 1980’s, ketchup does not qualify as a vegetable). I realize that they do come from potatoes, but something seems to be wrong there. Because of rules like this, 46% of kids’ vegetable servings come from fries (Lunch Lessons, p. 74, Ann Cooper).

And what about fruit? The USDA thinks that a frozen juice bar (“icee”), a fruit cup, fruit jello cup, or a fruit juice cup equal a serving of fruit. Sorry to say but none of those options equal a piece of fresh fruit. When the kids see the fruit icees being served, they get excited. And with less than 20 minutes to eat (including lining up, getting your meal, sitting down and unwrapping packaging), kids have enough time to eat an “icee” and drink their milk. It’s no wonder that an hour after lunch the kids’ attention spans decline and they glaze over.

Additionally, the USDA requires more than five grains per week to be offered to students. That means that every week an extra package of pretzels, a cookie, or even an extra slice of bread is sitting on a lunch tray looking out of place. Because of this rule I eat odd combinations like yesterday’s rice with bread or a package of pretzels with a cheese sandwich. It doesn’t make sense.

The Healty School Meals Act would provide financial incentives to school districts that provide healthful plant-based foods and non-dairy beverages to students. If passed, this legislation would not only improve the health of school children, but would also affect countless farm animals and help reduce the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture.

Get Involved!

Call or write your congressmen to let them know that these issues are important to you and urge them to support these two bills.

It’s really very easy! Look up your congressmen by zip code (if two representatives show up, this means your zip code is split between two districts and you’ll need to enter your full address on the right). Use the phone numbers and contact page links to tell your congressmen to support these bills.

Below are the emails I sent to my members of congress. Feel free to use them, but a personalized message will make more of an impact.

— Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act —
Dear Representative Norton, 

Please support HR 4733. This bill would prevent the use of federal funds to purchase animal products from animals suffering from some of the cruelest forms of confinement.

 Egg-laying hens kept in battery cages are confined to a space smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. They are unable to do something as natural as spread their wings. Breeding pigs and veal calves are kept in crates barely larger than the size of their bodies. They literally can not turn around or even roll over.

 The federal government spends roughly $1 billion each year to purchase animal products for various programs (like the National School Lunch Program) without any regard for the animals involved!

 HR 4733 is a modest measure, simply prohibiting the federal government from purchasing products from animals who are unable to turn around, lie down, fully stand up, or fully extend their legs or wings.

 In a 2003 Gallup poll, nearly 2/3 of Americans supported “strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals.” In a 2003 Zogby poll, nearly 70% of Americans found it “unacceptable” that farm animals have no federal protection from abuse on the farm.

 Will you actively support this humane legislation? I look forward to your response.

 Sincerely,
Angie Chappell

— Healthy School Meals Act —
I’d like to ask Senator Hutchison to urge Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller to include the provisions of HR 4870, the Healthy Schools Meals Act, in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization bill.

This bill would provide our children with the healthy food they need to grow and learn and promote foods that are environmentally sustainable and compassionate.

Thank you,
Angie Chappell

Phone Call —
“Hello, my name is Angie Chappell and I’m a constituent. I’d like Ms. Norton to urge Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller to include the provisions of HR 4870, the Healthy Schools Meals Act, in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization bill. This bill would provide our children with the healthy food they need to grow and learn. Thank you.”

Together we can make a difference!  I know, that’s so cheesy, but we really can.

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Breakfast: Soy yogurt and applesauce
Lunch: Spaghetti
Dinner: Black truffle quesadilla and chilaquiles at Oyamel

Lies

This article is from CNN.com, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Beyond the unhealthy influence that our demand for factory-farmed meat has in the area of food-borne illness and communicable diseases, we could cite many other influences on public health, most obviously the now-widely recognized relationship between the nation’s major killers — heart disease, No. 1; cancer, No. 2; and stroke, No. 3 — and meat consumption.

Or, much less obviously, the distorting influence of the meat industry on the information about nutrition we receive from the government and medical professionals.

In 1917, while World War I devastated Europe and just before the Spanish flu devastated the world, a group of women, in part motivated to make maximal use of America’s food resources during wartime, founded what is now the nation’s premier group of food and nutrition professionals, the American Dietetic Association.

Since the 1990s, the group has issued what has become the standard we-definitely-know-this-much summary of the healthfulness of a vegetarian diet. The association takes a conservative stand, leaving out many well-documented health benefits attributable to reducing the consumption of animal products. Here are the three key sentences from the summary of the relevant scientific literature.

One: Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.

Two: Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.

Three: Vegetarians and vegans, including those who are athletes, “meet and exceed requirements” for protein, the paper notes elsewhere.

And, to render the whole we-should-worry-about-getting-enough-protein-and-therefore-eat-meat idea even more useless, other data suggest that excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract and some cancers. Despite some persistent confusion, it is clear that vegetarians and vegans tend to have more optimal protein consumption than omnivores.

Finally, we have the really important news, based not on speculation, however well-grounded in basic science such speculation might be, but on the definitive gold standard of nutritional research: studies on actual human populations.

“Vegetarian diets are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease” (which alone accounts for more than 25 percent of all annual deaths in the nation), “lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index” (that is, they are not as fat) “and lower overall cancer rates” (cancers account for nearly another 25 percent of all annual deaths in the nation).

If it’s sometimes hard to believe that eschewing animal products will make it easier to eat healthfully, there is a reason: We are constantly lied to about nutrition.

Let me be precise. When I say we are being lied to, I’m not impugning the scientific literature but relying upon it. What the public learns of the scientific data on nutrition and health, especially from the government’s nutritional guidelines, comes to us by way of many hands. From the start, those who produce meat have made sure that they are among those who influence how nutritional data will be presented to the likes of you and me.

Consider, for example, the National Dairy Council, a marketing arm of Dairy Management Inc., an industry body whose sole purpose, according to its Web site, is to “drive increased sales of and demand for U.S. dairy products.”

The council promotes dairy consumption without regard for negative public-health consequences and even markets dairy to communities incapable of digesting the stuff. As it is a trade group, the dairy council’s behavior is at least understandable.

What is hard to comprehend is why educators and government have, since the 1950s, allowed the dairy council to become arguably the largest and most important supplier of nutritional-education materials in the nation. Worse, our present federal “nutritional” guidelines come to us from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the very same government department that has worked so hard to make factory farming the norm in America.

The USDA has a monopoly on the most important advertising space in the nation, those little nutritional boxes we find on virtually everything we eat. Founded the same year that the American Dietetic Association opened its offices, the USDA was charged with providing nutritional information to the nation and ultimately with creating guidelines that would serve public health. At the same time, though, the USDA was charged with promoting industry.

The conflict of interest is not subtle: Our nation gets its federally endorsed nutritional information from an agency that must support the food industry, which today means supporting factory farms. The details of misinformation that dribble into our lives (like fears about “enough protein”) follow naturally from this fact and have been reflected upon in detail by writers like Marion Nestle.

As a public-health expert, Nestle has worked extensively with government — on “The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health,” for one — and has had decades of interaction with the food industry. In many ways, her conclusions confirm what we already expected, but the insider’s perspective she brings has lent a new clarity to the picture of just how much influence the food industry, especially animal agriculture, has on national nutrition policy.

She argues that food companies, like cigarette companies, will say and do whatever works to sell products. They will “lobby Congress to eliminate regulations perceived as unfavorable; they press federal regulatory agencies not to enforce such regulations; and when they don’t like regulatory decisions, they file lawsuits. Like cigarette companies, food companies co-opt food and nutrition experts by supporting professional organizations and research, and they expand sales by marketing directly to children.”

Regarding U.S. government recommendations that tend to encourage dairy consumption in the name of preventing osteoporosis, Nestle notes that in parts of the world where milk is not a staple of the diet, people often have less osteoporosis and fewer bone fractures than Americans do. The highest rates of osteoporosis are seen in countries where people consume the most dairy foods.

In a striking example of food industry influence, Nestle argues that the USDA has an informal policy to avoid saying that we should “eat less” of any food, no matter how damaging its health impact may be. Thus, instead of saying “eat less meat,” which might be helpful, it advises us to “keep fat intake to less than 30 percent of total calories,” which is obscure to say the least.

The institution we have put in charge of telling us when foods are dangerous has a policy of not (directly) telling us when foods, especially if they are animal products, are dangerous.

We have let the food industry craft our national nutrition policy, which influences everything from what foods are stocked in the health-food aisle at the local grocery store to what our children eat at school.

In the National School Lunch Program, for example, more than half a billion of our tax dollars are given to the dairy, beef, egg and poultry industries to provide animal products to children, despite the fact that nutritional data would suggest we should reduce these foods in our diets.

Meanwhile, a modest $161 million is offered to buy fruits and vegetables that even the USDA admits we should eat more of. Wouldn’t it make more sense and be more ethical for the National Institutes of Health, an organization specializing in human health and having nothing to gain beyond it, to have this responsibility?

The global implications of the growth of the factory farm, especially given the problems of food-borne illness, antimicrobial resistance and potential pandemics, are genuinely terrifying.

India’s and China’s poultry industries have grown somewhere between 5 and 13 percent annually since the 1980s. If India and China started to eat poultry in the same quantities as Americans — 27 to 28 birds annually — they alone would consume as many chickens as the entire world does today.

If the world followed America’s lead, it would consume more than 165 billion chickens annually, even without an increase in population. And then what? Two hundred billion? Five hundred? Will the cages stack higher or grow smaller or both? On what date will we accept the loss of antibiotics as a tool to prevent human suffering? How many days of the week will our grandchildren be ill? Where does it end?

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Breakfast: Cereal & rice milk
Lunch: Medley of stuff from the lunch buffet accross the street: noodles, rice, tofu, and two veggie salads
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Dinner: Bean burrito and Cheesy rice & bean burrito from Taco Bell (I was in a rush, starving, and in an unfamiliar neighborhood!)

Cows On Drugs

Since I’ve been in San Antonio for a week, I’ve been eating gobs of Mexican food instead of cooking, so there is no Meatless Monday this week. Instead, I have an excellent article from The New York Times, written by a former commissioner of the USDA, about why we need to stop feeding our livestock antibiotics just to fatten them up. It is a matter of our own health.

By Donald Kennedy

Now that Congress has pushed through its complicated legislation to reform the health insurance system, it could take one more simple step to protect the health of all Americans. This one wouldn’t raise any taxes or make any further changes to our health insurance system, so it could be quickly passed by Congress with an outpouring of bipartisan support. Or could it?

More than 30 years ago, when I was commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, we proposed eliminating the use of penicillin and two other antibiotics to promote growth in animals raised for food. When agribusiness interests persuaded Congress not to approve that regulation, we saw firsthand how strong politics can trump wise policy and good science.

Even back then, this nontherapeutic use of antibiotics was being linked to the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that infect humans. To the leading microbiologists on the F.D.A.’s advisory committee, it was clearly a very bad idea to fatten animals with the same antibiotics used to treat people. But the American Meat Institute and its lobbyists in Washington blocked the F.D.A. proposal.

In 2005, one class of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, was banned in the production of poultry in the United States. But the total number of antibiotics used in agriculture is continuing to grow. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of this use is in animals that are healthy but are vulnerable to transmissible diseases because they live in crowded and unsanitary conditions.

In testimony to Congress last summer, Joshua Sharfstein, the principal deputy commissioner of the F.D.A., estimated that 90,000 Americans die each year from bacterial infections they acquire in hospitals. About 70 percent of those infections are caused by bacteria that are resistant to at least one powerful antibiotic.

That’s why the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pharmacists Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials are urging Congress to phase out the nontherapeutic use in livestock of antibiotics that are important to humans.

Antibiotic resistance is an expensive problem. A person who cannot be treated with ordinary antibiotics is at risk of having a large number of bacterial infections, and of needing to be treated in the hospital for weeks or even months. The extra costs to the American health care system are as much as $26 billion a year, according to estimates by Cook County Hospital in Chicago and the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, a health policy advocacy group.

Agribusiness argues — as it has for 30 years — that livestock need to be given antibiotics to help them grow properly and keep them free of disease. But consider what has happened in Denmark since the late 1990s, when that country banned the use of antibiotics in farm animals except for therapeutic purposes. The reservoir of resistant bacteria in Danish livestock shrank considerably, a World Health Organization report found. And although some animals lost weight, and some developed infections that needed to be treated with antimicrobial drugs, the benefits of the rule exceeded those costs.

It’s 30 years late, but Congress should now pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would ban industrial farms from using seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human health unless animals or herds are ill, or pharmaceutical companies can prove the drugs’ use in livestock does not harm human health.

The pharmaceutical industry and agribusiness face the difficult challenge of developing antimicrobials that work specifically against animal infections without undermining the fight against bacteria that cause disease in humans. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer to protect those at risk of increasing antibiotic resistance.

Donald Kennedy, a former commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration, is a professor emeritus of environmental science at Stanford.

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Breakfast: Bean & cheese tacos from Taco Cabana
Lunch: Schlotzsky’s cheese original sandwich
Dinner: Veggie tacos (grilled mushrooms & peppers) from Order Up
(No wonder San Antonio ranks #3 in the nation’s fattest cities!)

Free Range: Not As Free As You Think

Anyone that thinks the 285 million caged hens in America are experiencing anything less than torture is fooling themselves. After learning about the cruelty and destruction caused by the egg industry, many people think that free-range, cage-free, or organic are the solution to the problem, but free-range isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Battery Cage Hens

Each of these terms – free-range, cage-free, and organic – invokes a positive image of sunshine, grass, and open spaces, but this is far from reality.

“The waiter said, ‘All of our chicken is free-range.’ And I said, ‘He doesn’t look very free there on that plate.’”  – Joe Bob Briggs

The official regulation for “free-range” is that the birds have “access to the outdoors.”  So, often times, there is only a single, small door in the shed (packed with thousands of hens), which leads to a concrete patch or manure field, in some cases it is only opened for about 5 minutes per day, and only a few number of hens even realize that the door exists.  These chickens and eggs earn the free-range label.  There are absolutely no regulations on the amount of space per bird, the environmental conditions (concrete vs. grass), or the amount of time spent outdoors (if any).

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel . Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means.”  -Wikipedia

The difference between free-range and cage-free is simply a door.  Cage-free hens are not confined to wire cages, but there is no door leading to the outdoors in their hen-houses.  They are over-crowded into dark sheds filled with toxic fumes (from waste) and rampant disease.

Cage Free Chickens

Organic does not indicate a lack of cages.  It only means that the hens are not fed antibiotics or hormones, and they eat organic corn. Organic eggs can come from battery caged hens.

Free-range, cage-free, and organic hens are typically de-beaked just as battery cage hens. And although chickens live for 7-15 years, free-range, cage-free, and organic hens are brutally slaughtered at age 1-2.

Debeaking

Male chicks, under any label (free-range, cage-free, organic), are considered useless  and are immediately killed by either suffocation, electrocution, gassing, or are ground up alive. No federal laws protect chickens from abuse under any label.

Live male chicks thrown in a trash can. The trash bag will be tied shut and the chicks are left to suffocate in the bag.

Male chicks thrown in a trash can. The trash bag will be tied shut and the chicks are left to suffocate in the bag.

You can show compassion by avoiding eggs.

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Breakfast: Two bananas
Lunch: Veggie sub from Harris Teeter (another one of my usuals) – lettuce, tomato, olives, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, pickles, vinegar and oil, oregano, on a whole wheat sub
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Dinner: Nachos with black beans and Daiya vegan cheese

Post About Poop, Number 2 (pun intended)

This post isn’t actually related to the first Post About Poop, except that they both do happen to be about, well, poop.

In the past 40 years, the US has effectively reduced the manmade pollutants that left our waterways dead, discolored, and occasionally flammable. But sadly, we’ve managed to smother the same waters with the most natural stuff in the world: manure. 

According to scientists and environmentalists, animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become a modern pollution problem. The country simply has more dung than it can handle.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, air pollutants that cause acid rain have been cut by 56 percent. The outputs from sewage plants have gotten 45 percent cleaner.  But, according to Cornell University researchers, the amount of one key pollutant – nitrogen – entering the environment in manure has increased by at least 60 percent since the 1970s.

The reason for manure’s rise as a pollutant is the shift in agriculture. In recent decades, livestock raising has shifted to a small number of large farms. At these places, with thousands of hogs, or hundreds of thousands of chickens, the traditional, self-contained cycle of farming (manure feeds the crops, then the crops feed the animals) is completely broken.  The result is too much manure and too little to do with it.

Crowded together in megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields. That excess manure gives off air pollutants, and it is the country’s fastest-growing large source of methane, a greenhouse gas.  It washes down with the rain, helping to cause the 230 oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that have proliferated along the U.S. coast. In the Chesapeake Bay, about 1/4th of the pollution that leads to dead zones can be traced back to the rear ends of cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

Air
In the air, that extra manure can dry into dust, forming a “brown fog.” It can emit substances that contribute to climate change (methane and nitrogen). And it can give off a smell like a punch to the stomach (ever been to Lubbock, TX?).

“You have to cover your face just to go from the house to the car,” said Lynn Henning, a farmer in rural Clayton, MI, who said she became an environmental activist after fumes from huge new dairies gave her family headaches and burning sinuses. The way that modern megafarms produce it, Henning said, “Manure is no longer manure. Manure is a toxic waste now.”

Water
In the water, the chemicals in manure don’t poison life, like pesticides or spilled oil. Instead, they create too much life, but the wrong kind. The chemicals in manure serve as fertilizer for unnatural algae blooms that drain away oxygen as they decompose.

Scientists say the number of suffocating dead zones (oxygen-depleted areas where even worms and clams climb out of the mud, desperate to breathe) has grown from 16 in the 1950s to at least 230 today. The Chesapeake’s is usually the country’s third largest, after the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie.

Laws
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as other pollution problems have, like human sewage, acid rain, or industrial waste.

The Obama administration has made moves to try to change this but has already found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the politics of poop. Around the country, agricultural interests have fought back against moves like these, saying that new rules on manure could mean crushing new costs for farmers.

The Environmental Proection Agency (EPA) does not set strict rules, but instead issues “guidelines” that apply only to the largest operations. The guidelines might limit how much manure farmers can spread on individual fields, or order them to plant grassy strips along riverbanks to filter manure-laden runoff, but do not set a hard cap on how much manure can wash off of farms. These guidelines have only been in place since the 1990s.

Last fall, the US Department of Agriculture considered a change to its guidelines, to limit the amount of manure farmers could apply to their fields, but they scrapped the idea, saying the issue needed “more study.”

This month, the EPA announced that reducing manure-laden runoff was one of its six national enforcement initiatives. We can only hope that this will result in stricter regulations.

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Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Large spinach salad and hummus with pretzels
Dinner: A steamed artichoke (my favorite food EVER) with a side of red potato, chopped and cooked with onion and garlic
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