6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated by the Food Industry
The horrors of factory farming are multifold. Treating animals like heads of lettuce—“forget it's an animal" says one farming magazine—has created institutionalized ruthlessness toward animals, workers and the environment at the same time it harms humans who eat the products. Factory farming even damages the economy thanks to meat-related obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and greedy, short-sighted land-use policies.
While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, some practices like breeding animals into mutant-like parodies of their original species and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.
1. Greed-Driven Mutilations
It is possible to practice animal husbandry in a way that an animal only has "one bad day" (the day the animal is slaughtered), but thanks to factory farming, which packs animals together over their own waste, they endure a lot of additional suffering.
Chickens are "debeaked" during their second week of life "to prevent cannibalism and feed wastage," says an online guide for chicken growers—though the industry's abusive battery egg cages, not the animals, are responsible for the "cannibalism." Debeaking, partial or total removal of a bird's beak with a hot knife or laser while it is fully conscious, causes “intense pain, shock and bleeding,” says veterinarian Nedim C. Buyukmihci, emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California.
A similar fate awaits pigs who respond to unnatural conditions by biting each others' tails. The factory farm solution? Cut off their tails with a pliers and no painkiller—an institutionalized mutilation called tail docking.
Cows also have their tails docked for what factory farmers call "hygiene" and "milk quality" as well as their horn buds burned off with no painkillers. When video footage depicting both procedures at Willet Dairy in New York state aired on ABC's Nightline there were calls for laws against the cavalier cruelty. Nor are debeaking, tail docking and horn bud burning factory farming's only mutilations. Animals also endure dubbing, the removal of combs on birds, detoeing and declawing and mulesing—removal of a sheep's hindquarter skin.
If veterinarians practiced the same procedures on pets without painkillers, they would lose their licenses and face criminal charges.
2. Fast Growth Diseases
Thirty years ago pigs, chickens and cattle did not look the way they do today. Thanks to growth-producing chemicals and selected breeding, factory-farmed turkeys can barely walk and can't fly at all or reproduce because of their extreme meat-intensive physiology.
Chickens grow so intensely that if they were human they would weigh 500 pounds at age 10. The frenzied growth makes them prone to "flipover disease" in which the metabolic strain causes sudden death. Pigs given the growth drug ractopamine, illegal in many countries, are so muscle-bound they are practically non-ambulatory. “Simply, the pig will go down and not be able to get back up,” said Gary Bowman , an Ohio State Extension veterinarian with the College of Veterinary Medicine. Visitors to factory pig facilities have to wear biosecurity suits because "the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems," read an article in Rolling Stone.
Under the use of the Monsanto-created genetically altered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), the udders of dairy cattle become so engorged, the animals can barely walk. The painful infections (called mastitis) the animals develop along with their shortened life spans and weakened conditions when they arrive at slaughterhouses, often as downers, are the ultimate crime against nature. Many grocery chains have renounced rBGH but some operators still use it for the "cost savings.
3. Crimes Against Marine Life
While production of the fast-growing frankenfish, the AquAdvantage salmon, has temporarily halted, greed will likely prevail in aquaculture as it has in factory farming. The salmon, created by crossing a Chinook with an ocean pout and a wild Atlantic salmon, grows twice as fast as normal salmon, reaching its full size in 18 months instead of three years. Though the fish's creators and the government say it is no different from normal fish, in studies AquAdvantage salmon had high incidences of "jaw erosion" and "focal inflammation" (infection), low glucose levels and a possible "increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1]" compared to normal fish.
Like their factory farming counterparts, AquaAdvantage salmon promoters extol the reduced carbon footprint that can be achieved by squeezing animals together. Yonathan Zohar from the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland said at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearings that the fish can be grown at up to “80 to 100 per cubic meter”—which is bumper-to-bumper fish.
Is it ethical for a swimming animal to spend 18 months practically standing on its tail, in the interests of making more money? Is it ethical to expose wild fish populations to the aquaculture-generated sea lice which has all but decimated salmon farming in Chile and Norway?
4. Brave New Animals
While cloning was once the next big thing, it has lost its luster because of a problem called "epigenetic dysregulation" which causes up to 90 percent of cloned offspring to die. In fact, so many animals die to make one surviving clone that the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies said "the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones" renders it not "ethically justified.” Cloned offspring "tend to be large for their breeds, and often have abnormal or poorly developed lungs, hearts, or other affected internal organs (liver and kidney), which makes it difficult for them to breathe or maintain normal circulation and metabolism,” says an FDA report. The problems are so common in cloned cattle and sheep, they are called Large Offspring Syndrome.
Still, scientists at the University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have a clone product they are pretty proud of. They have developed “White piglets with muscle tissue larded with omega-3 fatty acids,” that can lead to "healthy pork," reports the New York Times, because such fatty acids are linked to a lowered incidence of heart disease.
“People can continue to eat their junk food,” rhapsodized Harvard’s Alexander Leaf. “You won’t have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need.” Aren’t animals great?
5. Veal and Bob Veal Calves
Male calves are an unwanted byproduct of the dairy industry to keep cows pregnant and yielding milk. Calves to be sold for "bob veal" arrive at slaughterhouses weak and injured testified a federal meat inspector to Congress. After their truck journey, they are forced to endure "yet another 12-18 hours without food, when already they had been deprived of sustenance for perhaps days, since they were usually removed from their mothers immediately after birth," said veterinarian Dean Wyatt. "It always broke my heart that employees would carry the bodies of these dead baby calves out of the pen because they died of dehydration and starvation." Male calves not sent to slaughter at birth are grown for marketed veal products in crates in which they can't turn around or in outdoor sheds.
Such treatment is tolerated because the allegedly dumb animals don't know what's happening to them or suffer psychologically. But undercover videos clearly show mother cows rushing after their babies as they are taken away for veal. And the haunting bellows of mother cows deprived of their young are so loud, they regularly inspire people living near the farms to call the police. The newborn calves also know their loss. Calves being sold at Cambridge Valley Livestock Market for $40 a head, some with their umbilical cords still attached, swarmed a Rolling Stone reporter who entered their pen. "Since being ripped from their mothers, they’ve barely been fed and will nurse anything resembling a teat," he wrote. "They find one, of sorts, in my leather jacket. Its worn-in hide must taste like love."
6. Newborn Chicks
Like male calves in the dairy industry, male chicks are unwanted byproducts of the egg industry because they won't turn into laying hens. While the egg industry regularly disputes the mistreatment of grown laying hens documented on many videos—sick, infected, featherless hens sometimes standing on dead cage-mates—they do not dispute the fate of newborn male chicks: they are ground up alive in a process called maceration.
"There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens," said spokesman United Egg Producers Mitch Head to the Associated Press after release of video showing the newborns being fed into the blades. "If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need."
Other egg-related industry tactics, while not as cruel, are just as shocking. In 2008, USDA caught Tyson injecting antibiotics directly into the eggs of future laying hens, despite its "no antibiotics" advertising claim. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the vaccinations with the human antibiotic gentamicin are "standard practice," though the drug is far from harmless and comes with a rare black box FDA warning for renal, auditory and vestibular toxicity. Eggs with embryos are also sprayed with ammonia, phenolics and peroxides.
Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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