D. Murali

MEAT is the topic of many news stories. For example, Wisconsin Radio Network has a story about an activist of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) staging an almost naked protest against the meat industry, "with not much more than paint markings that mimic a butcher's diagram of body parts".

Worth checking is the latest report of The Worldwatch Institute (www.worldwatch.org) on `State of the World 2006'. It has a chapter titled, `Rethinking the global meat industry' by Danielle Nierenberg. She reports that the population of four-footed livestock on Earth is 4.3 billion; and fowls number 17.8 billion. "India has some 185 million head of cattle, nearly 14 per cent of the global total, and China is home to half the world's more than 950 million pigs."

Global meat production has increased more than fivefold since 1950, and more than doubled since the 1970s; livestock meet "30 per cent of total human needs for food and agricultural production"; and the average meat consumption in the developing world is about 30 kg a year, compared to 80 kg in the developed countries.

To match the demand, production is through factory farming, or CAFO, short for `confined animal feeding operations'. Industrial systems generate almost three-fourths of the world's poultry products, and half of all pork. On the fast lane, "Beef calves can grow from 36 kg to 544 kg in just 14 months on a diet of corn, soybeans, antibiotics and hormones." To help hasten the process, cattle are fed with "cow's blood, chicken, chicken manure, feather meal, pigs, and even saw dust." Yuk!

Since "the neatly wrapped packages at the supermarket give little indication of how the animals that end up on our dinner tables, or the people who raised and butchered them, were treated," read the section on `the disassembly line' in Nierenberg's essay, with sordid details.

Such as about knockers who "literally knock pigs or cows unconscious", about chicken catchers who "grab five or six chickens at a time per hand, and stuff them into wire cages as fast as they can".

And how, in Manila, "workers stun, bludgeon, and slaughter animals at a breakneck pace".

It seems PETA has filmed how workers stomped on birds, threw chickens against walls, and tore them apart, "all while the birds were fully conscious."

Sadly, "livestock often watch one another being slaughtered or can see and smell blood."

Worse, all this is not good for the bottom line or the quality of the finished product either, says the author.

"Research indicates that when animals experience stress prior to slaughter, they use up the glycogen in their muscles, decreasing levels of lactic acid that make meat tender and give it good colour."

Also, bruising caused by rough handling results in "an estimated loss of $60-70 per head."

Nierenberg mentions that workers on high-velocity production lines may gut 60 or more animals an hour.

`Spillage' is common; "contents of the animal's digestive system spill everywhere... making it easy for contamination to spread."

For example, E.coli 0157:H7 (hemorrhagic colitis) is usually caused when meat comes into contact with faecal matter.

Something that "can lead to renal (kidney) damage and can be fatal," alerts a fact sheet on http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. "A virulent enterohemorrhagic (EHEC) strain," says http://microbes.historique.net.

The author cites Upton Sinclair's `The Jungle', a portrait of life and death in a meatpacking factory. The "hazardous working conditions, unsanitary processing methods, and environmental contamination" that Sinclair had spoken about a century ago still exist, and have worsened, Nierenberg rues.

One of the examples is this: "In central China, where pig and chicken farms produce 40 times as much nitrogen as all other regional factories combined, livestock waste has contributed to eutrophication of the Yangtze Delta." For starters, eutrophication is the slow ageing process during which a lake or estuary evolves into a bog or marsh and eventually disappears, as www.fao.org defines.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 23, 2006)
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