A few items from around the world of factory farming this week:
Bird Flu in the U.S.: As of Tuesday, May 5th, just under 26 million chickens and turkeys had been “affected” by the latest outbreak of bird flu – meaning that all or most of them have been “euthanized”, as the factory farmers and government officials describe their demise.
(This is not the same as what happens to chickens who don’t have bird flu and are, instead, “processed.”)
Only a few years ago, bird flu was something that happened only in the filthy markets of South Asia. But several strains are now very active in the equally filthy factory farms here in the U.S.
The one causing the most trouble is the rampant H5N2, which landed in Minnesota in March and is a descendant of H5N1, the virus that was lethal to half the humans who caught it in South Asia a few years ago.
No humans have caught H5N2 yet. If it does mutate into a human strain, expect some panic – and maybe even some pandemic.
P.S. The greater the overcrowding at a factory farm, the worse an outbreak of bird flu can be. But rather than letting the businesses suffer the consequence of keeping their chickens and turkeys in such appalling conditions, the government is doling out millions of dollars in subsidies to help them get over any financial flu they may be suffering from.
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The New York Times reports that the practice has become “a tourist draw and a selling point for pork.”
“We wanted to make the pigs grow healthier, because usually they’re too lazy,” said Zou Wei, a manager in the planning department of Tuhe Black Pork, a company in Shandong Province that puts some of its hogs through a routine of diving and swimming. “To start with, the pigs don’t like it, but you force one onto the diving platform and it slides down, the others see that and follow.”
“The occasional divers will be hesitant,” Yang Shiliu, and expert on pig diving tells The Times. “Once they’re used to it, they don’t mind.”
China is the world’s largest pork producer. Two years ago, more than 16,000 dead pigs came floating down the Huangpu River that winds through Shanghai. Last we knew, no one had figured out exactly which of the massive factory farms upstream they’d come from; just that lots of them were dumping diseased pigs after police began cracking down on selling them to brokers to sell to unsuspecting humans.
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Happy Pork: Author Barry Estabrook is doing the rounds of talk shows with his new book Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat.
Introduced on NPR’s Fresh Air as “a man who knows how to enjoy a juicy pork chop,” Estabrook laments the horrific ways that pigs are treated at factory farms in the U.S., especially in view of their amazing cognitive abilities.
“I set out on the premise that if you’re going to eat an animal, maybe you owed it to yourself to find out as much as you could about the way the animal thought, its cognitive abilities.”
He dismisses the obvious conclusion that perhaps we shouldn’t be eating pigs in the first place, especially considering how horrified we are when we hear of people who eat dogs. Instead, Estabrook is full of praise for industry hack Temple Grandin, who designs slaughterhouses where the animals trot happily to their demise.
“Pigs have helped us, we’ve helped pigs, it’s what Temple Grandin calls ‘the ancient contract,’ and our part of that contract is to do our bit well and pigs’ part of that contract is to provide us with food.”
Actually, it’s not a contract at all. A contract is what two parties agree on, and the pigs certainly didn’t agree to this.