Congress Must Stop USDA’s Animal Experiments, Says Whistleblower
By Jim Keen
In December, the Senate introduced legislation called the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act, the companion to a bipartisan House bill of the same name targeting outdated food safety experiments at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). As Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) explained to CNN when he introduced the bill, "The USDA breeds up to 100 kittens a year, feeds them parasite-infected meat in order to have the parasite's eggs harvested for use in other experiments, and then kills the kittens. This bill would essentially stop this process." To date, the project has consumed $22 million tax dollars and taken the lives of 3,000 kittens.
I was disturbed, but not at all surprised, when I read about the experiment, because for two decades, I worked as a veterinarian and researcher at the USDA's Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska, the world's largest livestock research center. When I finally blew the whistle on the extensive government waste and animal abuse I witnessed at the USDA, it destroyed my career, and ultimately, my marriage. But I would do it again.
As I explain in Natalie Portman's recent documentary, Eating Animals, soon after starting at MARC, a colleague sought my assistance with a "downed cow" unable to stand on her own. The young heifer was corralled with six bulls in a sexual libido experiment. Libido is typically measured by placing one bull with one cow in heat for 15 minutes. However, the bulls continuously mounted the heifer, immobilized in a restraint device so she could not escape, for hours. Her back legs were broken. MARC denied me permission to euthanize her. She died hours later from her severe injuries.
Sadly, this extreme "research project" was not an anomaly.
MARC uses more than $22 million taxpayer dollars and 35,000 animals annually, focusing on science and technology to make red meat production more efficient and profitable. In addition, MARC performs heavily taxpayer-subsidized targeted research on behalf of livestock commodity groups. USDA in-house agricultural research receives a total of $1.2 billion annually from taxpayers, and MARC is just one of 36 total USDA livestock animal research facilities. Precise figures for USDA animal research investments and attendant waste are impossible to ascertain, in part because the government obfuscates financial and animal use data.
According to the USDA's website, "[MARC] research will be used to develop technologies that can be implemented into production programs which will reduce production costs and improve carcass merit." In lay terms, their quest is to boost livestock industry profits. In the process, MARC researchers undertake all manner of senseless experiments, and scientific and fiduciary malpractice that cost animals and taxpayers dearly.
For instance, cows usually have one offspring. In nature, less than 2 percent have twins. MARC scientists decided to try and double production efficiency by increasing twinning frequency. From 1981 until 2011, MARC raised one herd's twinning rate to over 50 percent using intense genetic selection. However, twinning in cows is unnatural; evolution so decided over millions of years. Twinning cows and their offspring suffered from sickness, congenital defects and early death. After 30 years and countless tax dollars, MARC abandoned the project. There is no market for twinning cows. In fact, most farmers cull cows birthing twins due to the well-known associated health problems.
I supported intensive livestock farming and research for decades. However, I gradually turned against factory farming, in part from the alternative example of sustainable, environment- and animal-respectful practices I observed on my daughter Hannah's small organic farm. So after decades of witnessing and facilitating MARC's indefensible projects, in 2014, I went to The New York Times to share evidence of these abuses.
One experiment I reported was the so-called "Easy Care" sheep project designed to resurrect the dying US sheep industry. The goal was to create a new sheep breed requiring minimal human labor via brutal neo-Darwinian selection. From 2002 to 2017, countless sheep birthing twins or triplets were kept year-round on isolated pastures without shelter or shade. Shepherds were prohibited, by experimental protocol, from intervening to care for ewes or lambs in need. Predictably, human-dependent domestic sheep treated like wild sheep fared poorly. Over 15 years, countless lambs died from coyote predation, starvation, exposure, abandonment, difficult birth and disease. The research failed completely, squandering untold tax dollars.
For going public with my concerns, I was surveilled by law enforcement and interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a possible "eco-terrorist." I was banished from MARC, "interviewed" by University of Nebraska (a MARC partner) police, called "the most evil person on the planet" by the MARC director, and eventually transferred 100 miles away.
Whistleblowing placed an enormous strain on my personal and professional life. I incurred large legal and medical expenses. My career suffered, but survived. Sadly, my 32-year-long marriage did not. I knew the risks and I am responsible for my actions and their consequences. However, as an American taxpayer, veterinarian sworn to protect animals, and federal employee who was a steward of public dollars, I felt obliged to expose this government waste and abuse.
For its part, the USDA essentially received a few slaps on the wrist, and evidence uncovered last year shows that major animal welfare problems persist at MARC and other agency facilities. In addition to the kitten testing mentioned above, inspection reports from several USDA facilities show that in 2017, more than a dozen ducks died of dehydration, 38 turkeys died of starvation, and dozens of quails were found dead in a lab with a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit when a heating system failed and there was no warning system in place to alert staff of the temperature change.
I believe most Americans and even livestock producers would be hard-pressed to support some experiments the USDA is doing or has done on their behalf and with their money. A 2018 national poll of 1,000 Americans commissioned by the taxpayer watchdog White Coat Waste Project found 68 percent of voters want to reduce taxpayer-funded research intended to benefit agribusiness.
I put my career and family on the line to expose USDA waste and abuse. Congress must now act to protect animal welfare and prevent further misuse of American tax dollars on cruel and unnecessary research. Supporting the bipartisan, common sense KITTEN Act to get cats out of the USDA's horrific labs is a great start.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Jim Keen, DVM, is a veterinarian with 25 years of research and field experience in livestock health and production medicine, veterinary public health, zoonotic infections and biomedicine. He is a faculty member in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.