Walmart to Meat Producers – Act Nicer to Animals, Please

walmartThe headline at Huffington Post read – Walmart Asks Meat Producers To Treat Their Animals Better. Is this, in the words of Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States:

Walmart’s animal welfare announcement is game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending

Or is it just another marketing gimmick?

Walmart’s Position on Farm Animal Welfare focuses on sustainability and states:

There is growing public interest in how food is produced and consumers have questions about whether current practices match their values and expectations about the well-being of farm animals.

Values? Gene Baur of the Farm Sanctuary asks people to eat in harmony with their values. What’s humane about slaughtering animals?

Expectations? Do consumers understand that marketing words like – Humanely-raised, Natural, Free-range, Cage-free and Sustainability – are meaningless?

The guidelines Walmart announced are not mandatory and there are no timelines for compliance. This is what Walmart is ASKING the meat, dairy and egg producers to do.

  • Report to authorities and take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action in any cases of animal abuse.
  • Adopt and implement the principles of the Five Freedoms in their own operations and industry producer programs, and publish a corporate policy on animal welfare.
  • Find and implement solutions to address animal welfare concerns including, but not limited to:
    • Housing systems that lack sufficient space, enrichment or socialization (for example, sow gestation crates, hen battery cages and veal crates);
    • Painful procedures where avoidable or without pain management (for example, tail docking, de-horning and castration);
    • Euthanasia or slaughter without rendering an animal insensible to pain.
  • Promote transparency by providing an animal welfare report to Walmart and publicly reporting against their animal welfare policy on an annual basis.

To keep this post from getting any longer than it’s going to be, you can read the Five Freedoms in the Position paper or at, where else, Wikipedia. These Freedoms were originally developed 50 years ago in the UK. What impact have they had on the industrial agriculture system in the US? Not much that I can tell. A Google search found one reference to it in relation to animal agriculture.

It’s probably too early to tell how the animal agriculture industry will respond, but I did find one article written by JoAnn Alumbaugh, Editor and Brand Champion at PorkNetwork. She believes the first point above – related to animal welfare – was:

directed more toward activists than producers/suppliers. The undercover videos that activist groups stage in livestock facilities are edited and modified to expose alleged abuse over several months.

Yes, those nasty activists. If only they would mind their own business and let us get on with making money raising economic units animals. (PorkNetwork provides business information to stakeholders in the pork food system while enhancing the industry’s profitability, viability and tradition.)

Painful procedures? Here is what JoAnn has to say:

at the present time, no approved products are available for certain management practices, but the producers, veterinarians and animal health companies continue to work toward development and approval of products that can assist in pain management.

In other words – we know how to run our business and we know this is just a game we are all playing.

rather than dictating a timeline and requiring immediate changes based on the input of activist sources, it (Walmart) respects the knowledge and experience of its suppliers, and is moving forward to meet the needs of both consumers and suppliers.

In one of the many articles I read related to the Walmart announcement, it mentioned how Walmart’s push for sustainable practices led companies to reduce packaging or develop concentrated detergents. These changes were good for the environment, but even better, they were good for the bottom line of these companies. Reduce packaging costs, but don’t reduce prices. Win-Win for them.

The changes Walmart is asking of the animal agriculture business will cost them money – lots of money and will impact their “profitability, viability and tradition.” They will not make these changes willingly without pressure from consumers.

And, Walmart is asking for these changes in order to enhance their bottom line – to make consumers feel better about shopping there.

But these consumers need to wake up to the lies and distortions fed them by industry, academia and government. There is no humane meat when animals are raised as inexpensively as possible for one purpose – to be slaughtered.

No amount of “freedoms” will change that.

Is America Ready for Bernie Sanders?

Bernie SandersBernie Sanders, Independent Senator from my old home state of Vermont, is running for President in the Democratic primaries. This is a picture from the press conference he held today (April 30) on the lawn of the Capitol to talk about why he is running and take a few questions.

It was classic Bernie – no backdrop, no flash, he said up front that he didn’t have a lot of time (the whole press conference lasted less than 15 minutes).

What are the most pressing issues he sees that need to be addressed?

  • Income inequality – stopping the decline of the middle class
  • Repealing Citizen’s United
  • Raising taxes on the richest Americans and making sure corporations pay their fare share
  • Creating millions of new, decent paying jobs
  • Addressing climate change
  • Invest in infrastructure
  • Universal healthcare – implementing a Medicare for all system
  • Providing free college tuition

I lived in Vermont for 10 years. Bernie is one of the most accessible politicians I have ever met – and I met him several times, including in Burlington’s food co-op.

Contrary to popular belief, Vermonters are not all liberals. Most of the time we lived in Vermont, there was a Republican governor. One year when the governor and Bernie were running for reelection for different offices, I would see lawns with yard signs for both men. How could that be? I would hear more conservative Vermonters say that they didn’t agree with Bernie on every issue, but you always knew where he stood. The list of issues above are the same ones Bernie has been talking about for years.

He always ran his campaigns like he was running for the first time – even when he would regularly get 65+% of the vote. He would hold town hall meetings across the state, usually provide a meal, give a short speech and then take questions.

Will this scale for a nationwide campaign? I don’t know, but I hope he finds a way to reach the millions of people in this country who believe their vote and their voices don’t count. Bernie can give them a reason to believe he is on their side.

I do know that I am pleased to see him in this race – and hear him say over and over that he is in it to win.

As Rolling Stone’s Matt Tiabbi put it in his latest article – Give ’em hell, Bernie.

The Next System Project

Next System Project

If you believe, as I do, that there is a way out of the mess we’re confronted with in our country and our world, then take a look at this new initiative – The Next System Project.

The challenging realities of growing inequality, political stalemate, and climate disruption prompt an important insight. When the old ways no longer produce the outcomes we are looking for, something deeper is occurring.

It is time to explore genuine alternatives and new models—“the next system.” It is time to debate what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.

The stakes are too high, the time to get involved is now!

Make Your Voice Heard – Dietary Guidelines – Updated

USDA-HHS logosFollowing up on my previous post about the Dietary Guidelines, I wanted to give you more information about submitting comments.

I created this one-page sheet (Update – submission period has been extended to May 8) with information about the new Guidelines and why it is so important to submit comments.

I heard author and nutritionist Marion Nestle interviewed on KPFA (Up Front, Feb. 25) last week. She talked about how critical it is that the public weigh in on these guidelines. Ms. Nestle blogs at Food Politics, her latest post is not very reassuring:

Yesterday’s Hagstrom Report (daily ag newsletter) quotes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s comments to the Commodity Classic on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

The “folks who put those reports together … have freedom. They are like my 3-year-old granddaughter. She does not have to color inside the lines.”

His 5-year-old grandson, he said, “is learning about coloring within the lines.”

“I am going to color inside the lines,” Vilsack said.

Sounds like the USDA has no intention of doing what the DGAC recommends.

For those of you who don’t want to follow the link to find out about the Commodity Classic, I did, so you don’t have to.

Commodity Classic is where America’s farmers meet with success. Commodity Classic is open to all friends of corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum—from growers to member associations to agribusiness to farm media.  It’s a one-of-a-kind convention and trade show—farmer-focused and farmer-led.

I also found this quote from a Republican Senator from North Dakota in an article titled What’s the beef with meat? in the Dickinson (ND) Press.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in response to the USDA’s guidance that the committee should focus less on environmental impacts and solely on nutritional value of meals.

“The USDA should only focus on nutrition here. No extraneous factors should be taken into consideration,” Hoeven said. “We all want to have a healthy diet, especially for our children. That’s the main point. That’s what we need to be focusing on here.”

Please distribute the information about submitting comments widely. Big Ag, the ranchers and their congressional pawns are not going to give up without a fight.


I also wanted to point you to an online form created by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) related to another part of the Guidelines and recommendations about cholesterol. PCRM is headed by Dr. Neal Barnard, author of many books including Power Foods for the Brain.

The report has also reversed decades of warnings against cholesterol. Decades of science have conclusively linked dietary cholesterol to cardiovascular disease, which kills nearly 2,200 Americans daily. The Physicians Committee is urging the USDA and DHHS to exercise its authority to reiterate prior federal recommendations that Americans limit their cholesterol intake.

In a petition filed today to the USDA and DHHS, the doctors group asks that the DGAC’s findings stating that “[c]holesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,” be disregarded because the DGAC deferred entirely to a 2013 report by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology and one meta-analysis of egg consumption. The reliance on the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology report does not comply with the spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets standards for bias among federal advisory committees.

Please take the time to fill out their online form.

Cowspiracy Joins the Chorus for the New Dietary Guidelines (Updated)

CowspiracyThe producers of Cowspiracy have written a sample letter to use to submit to the USDA and HHS regarding the new recommended Dietary Guidelines.

Update – Their letter is longer that the 250 word limit in the instructions for submitting, but the online submissions form accepts 5000 characters and this letter is well within that number.

You can submit comments on the Health.gov website.

Here is the beginning of the letter

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell,

As a citizen and a taxpayer concerned about the sustainability of our health and our planet, I applaud the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) for including the major findings represented in Chapter D.5: Food Sustainability and Safety regarding plant-based diets as more health promoting and associated with less environmental impact than the current U.S. diet.

In late 2014, the international affairs think-tank Chatham House released a study which concluded that it is unlikely global temperature rises can be kept below two degrees Celsius without a radical shift in global meat and dairy consumption. However, they found that there is a striking lack of efforts to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products due to not least, government’s fear of backlash to pursue policies that would shift consumer behavior. The absence of attention afforded to the issue among policy-makers contributes to a lack of research on how best to reduce meat and dairy consumption, which the health of our nation and our planet can no longer afford.

You have until May 8 (submission period has been extended) to submit comments. Make your voice heard on this issue.

 

Sign the Petition – Give Californians the #1 water-saving tip!

Got Drought?

I found a great website – Truth or Drought – that is making the connection between animal-based diets & the devastating water shortages.

They have created a petition on Change.org to get California’s statewide water-saving program Save Our Water to address the #1 way residents can actually save the most water – not eating meat or dairy products.

Despite their hashtag #EveryDropCounts, their water-saving tips focus only on household use, which accounts for 4% of California’s water footprint. But a whopping 47% of drought-stricken California’s water footprint is associated with meat and dairy products, per Pacific Institute’s 2012 report California’s Water Footprint. “Almost half of the average Californian’s water footprint is associated with the consumption of meat and dairy products.” Their report also clearly shows that animal feed has the greatest water requirement of any crop in California, far more than almonds and avocados, as well as any other human use.

They created a graphic showing how much water is used for animal feed, more than any other activity. This graphic doesn’t show how much water is used for feeding, slaughtering and processing the animals this feed goes into. One dairy cow consumes up to 20 gallons per day.

CA Total Water Use
The good news is that some California water districts are addressing this issue.

State water districts and public utilities companies are finally addressing this. The Municipal Water District of Orange County has posted a graphic on their Facebook page showing that meat products are the top water wasters, as well as a tip to adopt Meatless Mondays to save water. San Francisco Water Power Sewer created a lesson plan specifically about the need to reduce meat product consumption to save water: “The lower we eat on the food chain (i.e. the more plant-based foods we eat versus animal-based foods) the less water, energy, and other natural resources we use.”

If #EveryDropReallyCounts our State needs to tell its citizens the truth about animal agriculture and its impact on the drought.

That starts with you signing the petition and sharing it with your friends.

 

Parkinson’s Disease Linked to Statins

pillsA new study conducted by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that long-term statin use can increase the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

A recent article titled Statins Maybe Not a Wonder Drug for Parkinson in Neurology Times

The new study was conducted over a 20 year period and shows that long-term use of statins can produce some detrimental side effects. However, the study also suggests cholesterol may have a vital role in protecting the brain and nervous system.

In late 2013 I wrote about new heart disease and stroke prevention guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology. These guidelines suggested doubling the number of persons who take statins. I suggested at the time that maybe we should just put statins in the water.

About 43 million Americans take statins or are statin therapy candidates, and the American Heart Association estimates that number will soon increase to 56 million or even more. Guidelines recommend that even persons who do not have high cholesterol but have other risk factors also take statins.

Following the release of this report, some public health officials are reconsidering the widespread use of statins for people with low risk of heart disease.

Dr Xuemei Huang, who led the research on the link with Parkinson’s disease, recently published in the journal of Movement Disorders, expressed concerns about the widespread prescription of statins.

The professor of neurology at Penn State College of Medicine in Pennsylvania said: If we blanket prescribe statins to people we could be creating a huge population of people with neurological problems.

I think doctors are over-enamoured with statins and think it is a cure-all.

Eating a vegan or whole-food plant-based diet will keep you away from statins – the “wonder drug” that might not be so wonderful.

 

April is Festival Time!

Berkeley Vegan Earth Day

It looks like April is going to be a busy month for getting out and celebrating with my fellow vegans (and vegan wanna-bees).

I already told you about the Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley on April 4 – with some fabulous speakers.

Now there are two more dates to add to your calendar.

April 19, the Berkeley Vegan Earth Day will happen from 9:30am to 3:00pm. The speakers are nutritionists, animal activists, doctors and chefs, including Dr. Alan Goldhamer of True North and Keegan Kuhn co-director of Cowspiracy.

Spend the day listening to educational and earth-friendly talks and panel discussions, or wonderful food demos. There will also be vendors selling vegan products and activist groups to connect with.

Not to be outdone by its East Bay neighbor, Oakland is planning a Veg Week!

Oakland Veg WeekSome of the details are still being finalized, but there is something for everyone.

The movie on Tuesday will be Forks Over Knives followed by Q&A with a health coach and vegan athletes. Thursday is a Vegan Bar Crawl and Friday join the Youth Hip Hop Green Dinners for an event. The Veg Fest on Saturday will take place at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater – more details to come, but there will be lots of free food samples. Sunday’s event is a bus ride to Animal Place farm animal sanctuary in Grass Valley.

The Friday and Sunday events are by invitation only. Visit the site for more details.

I love living in the Bay Area and having these great events happening. It’s going to be a great spring. See you at the events.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Goes There – Climate Change (Updated)

capay 1

Last week the The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the long-awaited Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

One of the items that caused the most headlines were the recommendations regarding food sustainability and taking into account the environmental impact of the food we eat.

The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet. This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern. All of these dietary patterns are aligned with lower environmental impacts and provide options that can be adopted by the U.S. population. Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns.

They lay out the situation we are in today.

The environmental impact of food production is considerable and if natural resources such as land, water and energy are not conserved and managed optimally, they will be strained and potentially lost. The global production of food is responsible for 80 percent of deforestation, more than 70 percent of fresh water use, and up to 30 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It also is the largest cause of species biodiversity loss. The capacity to produce adequate food in the future is constrained by land use, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, and over-fishing of the marine environment. Climate change, shifts in population dietary patterns and demand for food products, energy costs, and population growth will continue to put additional pressures on available natural resources. Meeting current and future food needs will depend on two concurrent approaches: altering individual and population dietary choices and patterns and developing agricultural and production practices that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources, while still meeting food and nutrition needs. In this chapter, the Committee focuses primarily on the former, examining the effect of population level dietary choices on sustainability.

I think it is great that our government agencies are following in the footsteps of many of the European Union countries in raising awareness of these issues.

Unfortunately, they don’t go all the way to endorsing a plant-based diet. After touting the healthy alternative ways of eating, they write:

Of note is that no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.

However, the Advisory Committee appears to understand the issues and adds these policy changes which are similar to the issues raised in the Chatham House report I wrote about before.

Sustainability considerations provide an additional rationale for following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and should be incorporated into federal and local nutrition feeding programs when possible. Using sustainability messaging in communication strategies should be encouraged. The application of environmental and sustainability factors to dietary guidelines can be accomplished because of the compatibility and degree of overlap between favorable health and environmental outcomes.

Consumer friendly information that facilitates understanding the environmental impact of different foods should be considered for inclusion in food and menu labeling initiatives.Careful consideration will need to be made to ensure that sustainable diets are affordable for the entire U.S. population.

Promoting healthy diets that also are more environmentally sustainable now will conserve resources for present and future generations, ensuring that the U.S. population has access to a diet that is healthy as well as sustainable and secure in the future.

The meat and dairy industries, obviously, don’t like these new guidelines and will do all they can to weaken them. This is where you and I come in.

The USDA and HHS are soliciting public comments on these guidelines through midnight Eastern Time on May 8 (Comments period has been extended). We all need to flood them with positive reinforcement for raising awareness about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Here’s where and how to do this.

Go to the Comments page, where you can either post comments or read ones that have already been submitted.

Please provide a brief (250 words or less) summary of the points or issues in the comment text box. A PDF is available for each section of the Advisory Report and provides page and line numbers that can be referenced when submitting written comments. If also providing literature or other resources, complete citations or abstracts and electronic links to full articles or reports are preferred instead of attaching these documents to the comment.

Please note that there is a 20 minute time limit to complete this form, and you cannot save and return to a partial comment later. If you anticipate needing more than 20 minutes to draft your comment, we suggest that you compose the message separately and copy and paste it into the form. You may also upload your comment as an attachment.

Update – Although the instructions ask for 250 words or less, the form will take up to 5000 characters. Much more than 250 words (unless you use a LOT of real long words).

The area on food sustainability is in Chapter 5, at the beginning of that chapter, if you want to reference it in your comments.

Please take the time to comment on these guidelines so that we can continue to raise awareness of this critical issue in order for us to have a better future for ourselves and our children.

Our Planet Needs You to Stop Eating Meat

report cover

Everyone should read the Chatham House report Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is an independent policy institute based in London. Their mission is to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

The report looks at the alarming growth in meat and dairy consumption in non-Western countries, especially in Asia, and makes the case that the only way to deal with this problem is to lower consumption.

In the report they go beyond detailing the disastrous impact of animal agriculture on climate change, but also look at, like Cowspiracy, why governments, environmental groups and the media aren’t raising awareness about this issue.

This lack of awareness means that people who might be willing to change their eating habits, don’t get the messages that would drive that change.

To discover the size of this awareness gap, Chatham House commissioned a multi-country, multilingual online survey. The results found recognition of the livestock sector as a significant contributor to climate change is markedly low. The chart below shows the difference between the survey participant’s perceptions and the actual contribution to climate change for different sectors of the economy. Note the big difference for meat and dairy production.

Chatham House Figure 7

However, the survey also found that in those areas, like energy and transportation, where governments, environmental groups and the media have raised awareness, consumers are willing to make changes to impact the climate.

This is a tremendous challenge, and opportunity, for those of us who would like to see the message in this report spread far and wide.

The survey asked participants who was best able to shift the awareness gap

Closing the awareness gap appears to be an important precondition for behaviour change. An important question, therefore, is who is best placed to inform publics of the links between livestock and climate change. The survey assessed public confidence in a range of sources to which consumers may turn for information about the environmental and health consequences of meat and dairy consumption. Across all countries polled, those labelled ‘experts’ – with an unidentified field of expertise – were afforded the highest degree of confidence from respondents…although there were important differences across countries.

Here are the results of the survey

Chatham House Figure 9

Looking at the results is a bit disheartening. The respondents in the US ranked experts highest with environmental groups a distant second. They also gave social media a thumbs down as a helpful source of information.

We already know that the major environmental groups aren’t talking about reducing meat and dairy consumption. If you haven’t seen Cowspiracy, do it now (you can finish reading when you get back) to find out the extent of the disconnect between the goals of these groups to save the planet and their lack of action regarding animal agriculture. Our government – captured by the meat, dairy and agriculture industries – isn’t willing to upset their “owners.”

The report lays out these reasons for the lack of action:

  • Intrusion in lifestyle decisions
  • Cultural significance
  • Private-sector resistance
  • Public ambivalence regarding climate change
  • Uncertainty regarding the efficacy or acceptability of policy interventions

However, behind these concerns lie multiple assumptions and generalizations. The belief that in aggregate they represent an insurmountable challenge is untested, and clear examples of behavioural shifts in populations do exist. In reality there is minimal research on how dietary change might best be effected. Ironically, this lack of research may well be symptomatic of the belief that the challenge is insurmountable, suggesting a cycle in which a lack of research allows this belief to remain uncontested, leading in turn to a lack of research. The result of this is the policy vacuum described above.

I’m not sure that I have any good answers to this dilemma. We need to lift up the voices of the experts who are willing to go against the status quo. Experts like Dr. Richard Oppenlander, author of two books on this subject – Comfortably Unaware – Global Depletion and Food Responsibility and Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work.

Can we meet this insurmountable challenge? We must if we are going to have a chance at limiting the impact of climate change. Let’s get to work.