The Viva Vine: vol #6, no #1: January / February, 1997

Vegetarian News

  • Poultry farmer fined $3.6 million
  • Labor Department to investigate chicken plants
  • Another Way to Milk the Public
  • Heart-attack Hospital?
  • Veggie Bus Driver Wins Legal Battle
  • French Farmers Demand Mad-Cow Subsidy
  • USDA hot-line helps turkey eaters live to tell the tale
  • Get down, Frank Perdue
  • ALF tarkets meat packer
  • Which Come First: The Workers or the Eggs? And How About the Chickens?

    Until some future "Secretary of Farm Animal Living Conditions" investigates this (see image at right), this is how all eggs will continue to be produced. hens in cruel battery cage

    When a meat eater demands to know whether you value animal rights over human rights, it's worth pointing out that today's factory farmers often show a breathtaking lack of regard for both. Take Jack DeCoster, a self-made millionaire whose five million hens produce a whopping 23 million eggs a week. According to a report that appeared in The New York Times last August, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in July for violations at his Turner, Maine, facility. Investigators reported finding workers handling manure and dead chickens without gloves and living in rat- and cockroach-infested conditions in the company's trailer park. U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich described the operation as "an agricultural sweatshop," according to the Times, and said the workers were treated like "animals." (At the time of the article, DeCoster had begun taking steps to clean up his act, delivering the first of a promised 20 new trailers and putting up a swing set and a jungle gym.)

    Reich's comment raises an interesting question, which the Times didn't think to ask: In a factory farm where workers are treated like "animals," how are the animals themselves treated? The picture that accompanied the story, showing a small portion of those 23 million hens stacked in three rows on top of each other, crammed wing to wing in cages with no room to move, provides the grim answer.

    Labor Department to investigate chicken plants


    In related poultry news, Reich announced in late November that the Labor Department would investigate working conditions at chicken slaughter plants, according to an Associated Press wire report. The broiler industry, which employs an estimated 250,000 people, has grown about 5 percent a year over the past four decades, AP reported. In 1994, this added up to 25 billion pounds of chicken hacked from over 7 billion birds. Typical worker complaints include repeated-motion in-juries, lack of rest and bathroom breaks, and dizziness and eye irritation.

    Not surprisingly the National Broiler Council was less than sanguine about the Labor Department's new effort, stating, "We hope that this response by the secretary is not payback time for the millions of dollars invested by organized labor in the recent election campaigns."

    Another Way to Milk the Public


    We've already seen reduced-fat milk, vitamin-fortified milk and even milk specially processed for the lactose-intolerant. Now Golden Jersey Products, a research-and-development concern in Vero Beach, Florida, is marketing Replace, a cocktail of thickeners and stabilizers mixed with Oatrim, a hydrolyzed oat flour developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Golden Jersey claims the ingredient, which is intended to be added to super-skimmed milk by dairy producers, looks like whole milk, tastes like 2 percent milk and even lowers cholesterol levels in many people, thanks to the soluble fiber of the oat bran. A New York Times article from August quotes Joseph DiBruno, the president of Golden Jersey Products, as saying that with Replace, "we can bring back to the dairyman the people who don't use milk."

    Maybe they should just drink oat milk.

    Heart-Attack Hospital?


    According to New York's City Daily News, two area hospitals, Harlem Hospital and Jacobi, in the Bronx, have tapped McDonald's to run their cafeterias. The article, which cites the dismal nutritional statistics of the average Big Mac-510 calories, 26 grams of fat, 75 milligrams of cholesterol and 930 milligrams of sodium-quotes a trauma nurse's bemused reaction: "It's pretty sick to put a burger joint in Harlem Hospital. This community has one of the highest heart-attack rates in the city."

    Veggie Bus Driver Wins Legal Battle


    Bruce Anderson, a vegetarian bus driver who was fired last June for refusing to hand out burger coupons for a local restaurant, has won a $50,000 settlement from the Orange County, California, Transportation Authority.

    "This sends a message to other employers that they can't discriminate," Gloria Allred, Anderson's attorney, said during a news conference at her Los Angeles office following the settlement. "That prohibition also covers moral and ethical beliefs. Employees don't leave their civil rights at the door."

    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had found that the Transportation Authority violated religious-antidiscrimination laws by failing "to reasonably accommodate" Anderson's "strongly held moral and ethical beliefs." The commission reasoned that these beliefs, though not directly religious, were held "with the strength of traditional religious views."

    A spokesman for the authority denied that the settlement represented an admission of error, saying that the agency had merely wished to avoid the cost of a trial.

    Anderson, 38, who quietly abandoned his original demand that he be rehired, said he planned to move to Northern California.

    Merde, Alors! Road-Blocking French Farmers Demand Mad-Cow Subsidy


    It seems that animal-rights activists aren't the only ones using civil disobedience to publicize their concerns these days. Now cattlemen are getting in on the act. The difference here, however, is that these gripers want public money to come their way for theirtroubles. Reacting to a drop in demand for their product caused by fears of mad-cow disease, cattle breeders took to the streets last October, blocking roads, airports and rail links in central France and demanding government subsidies of 1,000 francs ($200) per dairy cow.

    According to Reuters, hundreds of farmers joined protests throughout France, obstructing runways at the Limoges and Lepaud airports, stopping rail traffic and dumping cow manure in front of tax offices.

    image of a living and proud tom turkey

    USDA Hot Line Advises How Not to Poison Your Family With the Holiday Bird


    Last November the USDA proudly announced it had received the millionth call on its special meat and poultry hot line.

    "Since its beginning in 1985, the hot line has provided cooks across the country with help providing meals-safely-for their families," boasted Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. This toll-free hot line, which operates year-round, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, takes calls regarding the safe storage, handling and preparation of bacteria-laden meat, poultry and eggs and offers recorded messages 24 hours a day.

    For those interested in exploring this bizarre expression of our government's carnivorous ethos, the number is 1-800-535-4555; 202-720-3333 in the Washington, D.C., area.

    Get down, Frank Perdue


    Frank Perdue's famous slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," took on a new meaning last year when a photo of the old chicken hawker with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico. Thanks to a less-than-alert translator, the caption read, "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused."

    ALF Targets Meat Packer


    The Richmond Times-Dispatch, in Virginia, reported that a group identifying itself with the Animal Liberation Front had waged a 15-month campaign of vandalism against the Central Meat Packing plant, in Chesapeake, inflicting about $60,000 in damage in a single weekend. Activists sabotaged refrigeration equipment, freon lines, electrical lines and two natural gas lines, and painted "Meat is murder'' and "Killers" in bright red letters on the building, according to police and company founder Earl Edmondson.

    Other assorted mischief in the previous 15 months included at least half a dozen telephone calls from people who referred to Edmondson and his employees as murderers, a cinder block thrown through a window and slashed tires on trucks, according to the meat packer.

    "They have a right to protest,'' Edmondson said. "If ALF wants to come out and picket or get on a soapbox with a loadspeaker, go ahead. But they don't have the right to put somebody out of business or endanger lives by cutting wires.''

    The company, which sends hams and smoked turkeys across the country for the holidays and sells 22 kinds of sausages, "endangers the lives" of (slaughters) 100 to 150 animals a week.

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