DEAR DR. FOX: The USDA is rushing ahead with its “modernization” plan for the slaughter of pigs, turning over key inspection responsibilities to the industry it regulates.
We should all be concerned. While current regulations allow slaughterhouses to kill a staggering 1,106 pigs per hour -- or one pig every three seconds -- apparently that’s not fast enough for the pork industry. The Trump administration’s new regulations, to be rolled out as early as May, will actually remove that cap. That means meat packers killing 90 percent of the nation’s pigs will be given the go-ahead to operate at unrestricted line speeds, killing pigs as fast, and as recklessly, as they want.
This move is on the heels of a new Trump administration decision to increase processing line speeds for some poultry plants from 140 to 175 birds per minute. In addition, the USDA is working to deregulate slaughter inspections in the beef industry. These irresponsible changes put consumers, workers and animals at grave risk.
Increasing already exorbitant line speeds is being achieved by replacing qualified USDA meat inspectors stationed in the plants with the slaughterhouses’ own personnel, who are “trained” at the discretion of the plants, and subject to disciplinary action if they “impede” meat production. The result of the fox guarding the hen house is the fact that the nation’s large hog plants will increase their line speeds by about 12 percent, and their annual profits by millions of dollars per plant.
The public will be put at risk, as the responsibility for detecting diseased and contaminated product will be delegated to, or shared with, company employees. Workers will suffer the consequences, as injuries and illnesses like carpal tunnel disorder will likely increase dramatically. And animals, the nonexistent concern in most slaughterhouses, will pay the highest price.
When my book “Slaughterhouse” was published in 1997 and updated in 2006, my investigations with the Humane Farming Association (HFA) revealed that pigs at high-volume plants were routinely dragged, beaten, excessively prodded, inadequately stunned, bled, and immersed in the scalding tank (for hair removal) all while fully conscious. This happened because employees at high-speed plants routinely resort to brutality as they struggle to keep the production line moving at ridiculously high speeds. -- Gail Eisnitz, Humane Farming Association, San Rafael, California
DEAR G.E.: Many readers will appreciate your expert testimony on a serious issue where money takes precedence, yet again, over animal welfare and public health and safety. Several years ago when I was investigating slaughter practices, I was told by a government meat inspector that the inspection was termed “organoleptic” -- meaning eyeballing the slaughtered animals as they flew past on the conveyor. I also saw some pigs and poultry hanging by shackles and struggling before being “processed,” not having been stunned and killed beforehand. I should add that meat condemned for human consumption from animals diseased, dead, dying and debilitated (called 4-D meat by the industry) go into many pet foods, with better brands indicating “Organically Certified” and “human-grade quality.”
Your dedicated investigations and documentation should be accessed by all involved, and used to stop such insanity.
DEAR DR. FOX. What is your advice about feeding feral cats? About two years ago, four feral cats were hanging around my neighborhood. I called our animal control unit, and they recommended capturing, neutering and releasing them. To make a long story short, all four had already been neutered. It was hard for me to see hungry animals, and I began feeding them -- basically just dry food in the morning outside on our deck.
Something happened last summer to one of them, and now there are three. We have been away for vacations a few times, and I worry about what will happen to them, but they always seem to find their way back to our house.
What do you recommend doing? My husband is not a cat lover and would never agree to capturing them and trying to make them indoor cats, but I find it hard to ignore their hungry stares. -- A.P., Trumbull, Connecticut
DEAR A.P.: You are a “captive of your compassion,” as my wife and I say about each other. At least I have a supportive partner. Perhaps your husband has never known a rescued feral cat’s love, which can eventually be won with patience, empathy and understanding. Read “Most Feral Cats can be Rescued and Recovered from the Wild Outdoors,“ posted on my website (drfoxonehealth.com). Might your husband consider setting up a large enclosure for them, if he does not wish to take on the challenge of bringing them into your home?
Outdoor cats’ lives are generally short, ending with injury, illness or being killed by a larger animal or vehicular traffic. In your situation, the cats are still going to catch, maim and kill small mammals and birds, so feeding them may help reduce their predation. Also, provide fresh water and insulated boxes for shelter. We use an electric heating pad in a large box during cold Minnesota winters, and eventually trap them. After appropriate veterinary attention, we provide foster care for these cats until we find “forever homes” for them. On occasion, they become permanent members of our own family, current status being one rescued dog and one recently rescued cat!
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