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Friday, December 30, 2011

Butterball Exposed - A call for action

Hi all!

I know it is has been inexcusably long since my last post, but I have been swamped with the holidays (I am a card freak), and my real job has been keeping me quite busy.

However, when something like this comes along, I need to post. 

This week, Mercy for Animals (MFA) exposed chronic abuse at a Butterball turkey "farm" in North Carolina. 

As MFA states on their website, they found: 
  • "Workers violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks in full view of company management;"
  • "Employees bashing in the heads of live birds with metal bars, leaving many to slowly suffer and die from their injuries;"
  • "Turkeys covered in flies, living in their own waste, with some unable to access food or water and suffering from severe feather loss"
  • "Birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones; and"
  • "Severely injured turkeys, unable to stand up or walk, left to die without any veterinary care, because treating sick or injured birds was too costly and time consuming, as the farm manager explained to MFA's investigator."
You can watch the video here and see for yourself:

While Mercy For Animals did release this horrific video to the media, they first went to law enforcement officials, which then raided the farm for animal abuse. Yet even after their farm was raided by the Hoke County Sheriff’s Department, and over 100 articles were written about the abuse, Butterball still has not acknowledged this on their website. 

From Mercy for Animals
In fact, there is no mention of it anywhere!

I am a firm believer that companies listen to their consumers, so please let Butterball know that you do NOT support this by: 
  1. Writing on their Facebook Wall saying that you want them to adhere to animal welfare standards and that you are boycotting their turkeys and buying local, humane meat instead.
  2. Tweeting at them (@butterball) telling them you will #boycott their product and instead by #humane #turkeys until they become more humane.
  3. Calling them at 800-288-8372 and tell them you are boycotting their product and buying humane turkey, and urge them to strengthen their animal welfare standards.
  4. Sending an email using their online submission form telling them that you are boycotting their product until they strengthen their animal welfare regulations.

Once again, thank you to Mercy for Animals for doing this most-important work! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is McDonald's putting the chicken before the egg?

That is how it appears, according to a 20/20 investigation of a factory chicken farm that supplies eggs to McDonald's.

Mercy for Animals, one of the leading animal rights organizations, sent someone undercover into Sparboe Farms, a factory chicken farm. What he found was not surprising, nor uncommon in factory farms across the US: overcrowded battery cages; dead chickens rotting in the same cages as live ones; cruel treatment such as stuffing chickens in co-workers' pockets and throwing them around; debeaking chicks; and more.

When 20/20 showed the footage to McDonald's, they immediately pulled their business from Sparboe, stating in a press release

“McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner. Based upon recent information, we have informed our direct supplier, Cargill, that we are no longer accepting eggs from its supplier, Sparboe.  This decision is based on McDonald's and Cargill’s concern regarding the management of Sparboe’s facilities...

...Regarding the undercover videos, the behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald’s wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers. We take this responsibility – along with our customers’ trust – very seriously..."

Clearly a lot of this is hogwash. They do not have stringent requirements, because all of their animal products come from factory farms, which are always substandard. 

However, the excerpts from the press release above and below do reveal why their actions in this case are so important, and how we have a rare opportunity to make real change happen:

"...McDonald’s cares about how our food is sourced and we have a long history of action and commitment to improve the welfare of animals in our supply chain. We are a founding member of the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) and are participating in an unprecedented three-year study that compares traditional, cage-free, and enriched laying hen housing systems on a commercial scale. For our customers, that means we’re working with scientists and suppliers to determine the most optimal hen housing method considering impacts on hen health & welfare, food safety, environment, and other important factors.

"McDonald’s is proud to be recognized as a leader in the restaurant industry for serving safe, quality food. Customers can feel good about eating at McDonald’s.”

So why is this so important?
It's important because McDonald's is a big business whose primary purpose is to make money. They listen to one thing, and one thing only: money and the people who give it to them. 

The consumers who give them money are demanding humane treatment of the animals/animal products they consume. 

And whether we like it or not, McDonald's -- along with other colossal corporations like Walmart -- are market leaders and drivers. They are the customers for Big Ag, and just as McDonald's will listen to their customers, so will Big Ag.

This is not the first time corporations have changed their behavior due to their customer's demands. For example, McDonald's stopped using their signature"clamshell" containers due to consumers' concerns over the environmental impact of styrofoam. And Pepsi experimented with "real sugar" instead of corn syrup in the midst of public concern over soft drinks causing obesity. Costco stopped buying veal from a factory farm that was not treating the baby cows in a manner that sat well with the consumer. 

I could go on. 

And now it is time for McDonald's to listen to their consumers again.  
With McDonald's on high alert, we have an opportunity to influence their behavior. We can ask them to increase their standards and demand cage-free eggs. 

(It is important to note that cage-free is not humane, but it is better. And in a battle against the multi-million dollar Big Ag machine, we are gonna win slowly and with a thousand small steps. Cage-free is one pretty big step.)

The most important thing we can do is contact McDonald's today. 
We should tell them we are concerned about animal welfare. We want them to get cage-free eggs for all of their fast-food restaurants. We want them to step up like Burger King who is leading the fast-food industry with cage-free eggs, phasing out of gestation crates for pigs, and a veggie burger on the menu. We want them to be the sustainable leader they claim to be in their press release.

Here is how you can contact McDonald's: 
Phone: 1-800-244-6227
Tweet: @McDonalds
It is not often that an opportunity comes along like this to help improve animal welfare on a massive scale. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Foie gras: A sick delicacy

There are many meat delicacies that even as a former meat eater I questioned: Caviar or glorified fish eggs, Escargot or a mucussy slug with a shell, and Fenghuang or Chinese chicken feet.

But Paul Shapiro's latest article in the Atlantic highlights another delicacy that deserves a hard examination and serious questions: Foie gras. Not only is there inhumane treatment of the ducks and geese in the "harvesting" of fois gras, but it is also sick.

Yes sick.

As Mr. Shapiro, the the senior director of farm animal protection for The Humane Society, points out:

Foie gras, French for fatty liver, is a so-called delicacy produced by force-feeding ducks or geese several times per day until their livers become diseased and enlarge up to ten times their normal size. Most people wouldn't want to eat any part of a diseased animal, but in the case of foie gras, it's the diseased organ itself on which consumers dine.
Unlike fish eggs, slugs with homes, or feet, you are actually eating a diseased organ.

In the thoughtful piece, Shapiro explains the inhumane forced-feeding process called gavaging that ducks and geese have to endure in order for their livers to achieve full-disease capacity to create the delicacy. I encourage you to please read it.

The U.S. is consistently and sadly behind many countries when it comes to animal welfare regulations. And foie gras is no different. Gavaging to harvest foie gras is banned in over a dozen countries: Argentina, six provinces in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the U.K.

There are small strides being made in the U.S., but hardly comparable to a ban. Celebrity chefs, such as Charlie Trotter and Wolfgang Puck, have boycotted the use of foie gras. And California -- our country's first state-wide ban -- goes into effect in 2012.

Chicago's city council unfortunately overturned a nearly unanimous ban on foie gras after outcry from restaurant owners and anti-regulation groups.

So I encourage folks to do what you can in your communitities. Speak out to restaurant owners, vendors and grocers about you distaste for the recipe of slow animal suffering that creates foie gras.

Typically, foie gras is sold at high end places, and these types of establishments are very sensitive to their customers concerns.

Please check out "The Animals That Love Pain: How Factory Farming Explains Abuse" and next time you go to a restaurant that serves up diseased liver, have a chat with the owner.

It is time for the U.S. to get up to speed on this issue.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Farm Tour: Keswick Creamery

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania farm country sits a farm with roughly 80 cows, some chickens and horses, the makings of an organic vegetable garden, and a family that has devoted itself to humane, progressive, and sustainable farming.

I had been buying cheese from Keswick Creamery before I started the HumaneFoodFinder. In fact, Mel -- one of the owners of the farm -- was the first person I spoke to about the animal welfare practices on her dairy farm. She was not only gracious in explaining their practices in the midst of a busy day at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market, but like many who devote their livelihoods to humane farming, she was enthusiastic about sharing this information that is absent in the industrial farming world.

Mel helped inform my standards for humane.
At that time, I was reading a lot of materials and trying to navigate through commendable farm groups' standards -- like
Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Humane -- and less-than-commendable "humane washing" from the likes of Land O'Lakes, Perdue and such. Mel walked me through Keswick's humane standards: when de-horning calves they use anesthetic to numb the area so the calf does not feel pain; they do not dock their cows' tails; their cows are grass fed on pasture; their cows are not over-milked.

Now, more than a year later, I was attending Keswick Creamery's annual open house.
Like so many farmers who sell at farmers markets (
although not all), Keswick invites consumers to visit their farm and see where their food comes from. I was excited to see one of the early inspirations for HumaneFoodFinder up close and personal.

While driving to Keswick, we passed the types of farms I had read about, but never seen in person. On the highway, we passed several factory chicken farms, or what the industry calls
"grower houses."

They were large, windowless structures with several fans in the wall circulating the rancid ammonia-filled air inside; they were generally isolated from other buildings; they sometimes had roaming livestock nearby to give the illusion that what existed inside would not be abhorred by all who saw it.

After a highway lined by a variety of farms, both factory and small, we turned up a long road and arrived at Keswick Creamery. We were greeted by Mel and her five year old daughter, Madeline.

Roaming nearby were the cows, all with ID necklaces, not ear tags as most cows have. Their ages ran the gamut from two to nine years old. A typical dairy cow is sent off to slaughter for hamburgers at the ripe old age of four, as she will probably have infections in her utters, be too sick to produce enough milk, or has been milked to capacity.

Meeting the cows.

We went into the pasture, and Mel started introducing them. She knew every cow by name, and Madeline was in search of her favorite cow, Ikea. The cows are named with the first letter of their mothers' names, so they were clearly running out of "I" names.
As we walked among the cows, Mel would whisper comments to me about the different cows, as Alex and Madeline went on the search for Ikea.

"This one is really pushy," she would say. "This one doesn't like Madeline for some reason, and that one loves attention."

We strolled in the pasture, petting the cows and talking about why Mel and her husband Mark ran the farm as they did. How they got rid of a vet who couldn't understand why Mark would go through the trouble to numb the horns before debudding a calf. How they make sure their "family cows" are going to a good home and how they make sure their male calves are not going to a factory farm. How they work 12-15 hours each day, seven days a week. How they have chosen this lifestyle.

Mel thinks her cows are different.
While learning about Keswick, I also learned that Mel thinks her cows are different. She told me about all the times that Mark had to rebuild the stalls in the barn where the cows stay during the winter. "They kept knocking them down because they wanted to be close to each other. I don't know if it is just my cows or all cows, but Mark stopped rebuilding the stalls, so now they just lay together."

She also told me about how her cows are sad when the weather is too cold to graze. They stare longingly at the pasture and don't seem to understand why they can't go out there. It was hard not to think about the majority of farm animals who never get to see pasture, except maybe on the way to slaughter, and only through the slotted holes in a truck.

Keswick cares for the cows after they leave the farm.
One of the most cruel and hidden elements of the factory farming system (in addition to the short, painful life of a dairy cow), is what happens to the male cows and the post-milking life of a dairy cow. It is no secret that the dairy industry supports veal, and there have been
numerous investigations leading to public outcry regarding the inhumane treatment of baby cows. It is also no secret that dairy cows are over-milked for their two most productive years to maximize output, and then slaughtered- some are too sick to stand, or "downer cows," but are slaughtered nonetheless.

Mel is keenly aware of this and only sells her males to farms that pasture their cows and let them graze. Mark, when delivering the cows, investigates the environment to make sure it's suitable for a cow. They also sell their old dairy cows to families to become family cows, since they can still produce some milk and can then live out their lives with a family. My ears perked up like Winston's when I heard about the chance to buy a Keswick family cow. Luckily for Alex (and our landlord), there is a long waiting list for a Keswick cow.

As we continued on our tour we saw where the cheese is made. It was funny that I wasn't as interested in the cheese, given that I buy it every week and love to cook. But this tour was about the cows. Yet, I would be remiss not to mention how the cheese is what makes Keswick such a successful business. And at the end of the tour, we were treated to delicious delights: a melted cheese and salsa dip, roasted potatoes with feta cheese, and hot apple cider.

Back to reality.
As we drove away from the farm, I spotted another "grower shed" that advertised having natural chicken. Yet it stands in stark contrast to Mel and Mark's farm.

And that is what HumaneFoodFinder is all about:

Because all those "animal units" (another industry term) in the "grower houses" are local if you are from Pennsylvania. And according to the propaganda on some properties, they are natural. And if you talk to the operators, they may even try to tell you the chickens are happy. But unless customers are allowed to visit the farm, inside and out, you will never really know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This Sunday in DC: Learn about the plight of farm animals!

Argh... Super upset that I will be out of town this weekend at a wedding, but I encourage folks to attend this! I recieved this email alert from FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), and it looks like a great event.

The alert reads:

Join Us in Promoting Compassion this Sunday!

Farm Animal Rights Movement and A Well-Fed World invite you to join us in DC this Sunday to educate the public about the plight of farmed animals. We're promoting a compassionate vegan diet in honor of the first annual Food Day.

When: Sunday, October 23rd, 12-5pm

Where: Washington, DC - Dupont Circle (Q & 20th NW); Metro: Red Line
Details: This is a free public outdoor educational event with speakers, powerful "Make the Connection" human-animal art display, large-screen videos, pay-per-view videos, and free food. The benefits of animal-free food and farming will be highlighted. Special attention will be given to the ideal nature of plant-based food and farming relative to the popular, yet inadequate, "humane" and local production of meat, eggs, dairy, and other animal products.

Join us! Stop by to check out the event or help out.

If you'd like to volunteer, e-mail

If you go, please shoot me an email and let me know how it was! I will post your responses on the blog!

Also, don't forget to stop by the Dupont Circle Farmers Market from 8:30-1 and support humane farms like Keswick Creamery, Clear Springs Creamery, Smith Meadows and Everona Dairy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Have a little faith in Chipotle

Chipotle is a restaurant that many people have asked me about throughout its tenure in the ranks of fast food restaurants. Chipotle began in 1993, but many people did not hear about it until it opened up shop(s) on their main street.

I always dismissed Chipotle as another big corporation trying to "humane wash" their food, with no rBGH and pretty pictures of cows on their walls. After all, they are a fast food chain and McDonald's had a 87 percent stake in the company. Even though McDonald's sold its shares in 2006, I never looked back. I always ordered the vegan burrito... until now?

The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation just released this moving video about factory farms.

The video, "Back to the Start" features Coldplay's The Scientist, covered by country music singer, family farm advocate and co-founder of Farm Aid, Willie Nelson.

The description of the video reads:
The film, by film-maker Johnny Kelly, depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system.
So what is this? Is it just humane washing like Horizon Organic or the Happy Cows Come From California ads?

I oddly don't think so...

It appears that Chipotle is taking, and has been taking, a critical step toward going where no fast food chain --and few restaurants-- have gone before. The foundation is a fairly new initiative, and here is what it is aiming to achieve:
The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation is committed to creating a more sustainable and healthful food supply and to raising awareness concerning food issues. This is realized through the support of family farmers and their communities, educators and programs that teach younger generations about food matters, along with support for ranchers and farmers who are working to develop more sustainable practices.

The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation is a non-profit organization established by Chipotle Mexican Grill. Over the last several years, Chipotle has contributed more than $2 million to help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, culinary education, and innovation that promotes better food. This has included such beneficiaries as: The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution, the Lunch Box, the Nature Conservancy and Veggie U, Niman Scholarship, Culinary Institute of America, The Land Institute, and The Cultivate Foundation will continue with this tradition of giving started by Chipotle.
Hmmm... these are some noteworthy and respectable groups to be in bed with a fast food company...

And on their nascent website they are promoting a budding partnership with, an organization that works with family farmers to build local food systems. The campaign, Wrap What You Love, raised $96,000 for the organization.

Now this is getting interesting....

I did some digging around on the Chipotle website and what I found surprised me, and made me want to hold off on the zucchini casserole tonight and actually go out to Chipotle. Here are excerpts from their animal care section:
PIGS: There are ranchers whose pigs are raised outside or in deeply bedded pens, are never given antibiotics and are fed a vegetarian diet. It's the way animals were raised 50 years ago before huge factory farms changed the industry. We believe pigs that are cared for in this way enjoy happier, healthier lives and produce the best pork we've ever tasted.

We call this style of ranching naturally raised, and since 2001, we have sourced 100% of our pork from producers who follow these guidelines.

BEEF COWS: When we started purchasing naturally raised beef in 1999 we could hardly find any suppliers that met our standards. We’ve put a lot of work into poking, prodding, convincing, and occasionally applying guilt to ranchers in order to get more and more suppliers to meet our naturally raised standards.

Today, thanks to increased demand, we purchase 85 percent of our beef from ranches that meet or exceed our naturally raised standards. We're still working on it, and we won't rest until 100% of our beef is naturally raised.

DAIRY COWS: Currently over 35% of the dairy we serve at Chipotle comes from pasture-raised cows. We are working all the time to increase the number of our suppliers who provide pasture-raised dairy... We’re definitely working on it. Stay tuned.

CHICKEN: By U.S. law, all chicken available today must be raised without added growth hormones. But we’re overachievers. Our ultimate goal is to have 100% of our chickens raised without the use of antibiotics. We also want to avoid any supplier that uses additional additives in their feed, like arsenic. They see this as a way to make chickens grow faster. We think arsenic sounds a lot like poison.
It doesn't seem possible for a huge national chain, with over 1,000 restaurants, to serve humane food. But you can look at models that have worked, like Organic Valley, and see that it is possible. By building a network of local, sustainable and humane farms, you can create a uniform product and sell it nationally.

Clearly Chipotle has some work to do. Only 35 percent of their milk comes from pastured cows. And they don't list their farmers. But what can we do to make sure they stay their course, and all their animal products (not just a percentage) come from humanely treated animals?

1) Go out to a Chipotle, eat their food, and talk to a manager about their sustainable food. If they have response cards, fill one out.

2) Contact them to say you support their sustainable and humane food initiative and want 100 percent humanely raised animals (including dairy!).

3) Make sure they stay their course and are transparent by posting on their Facebook wall and asking them to share what farms they buy from.

4) Share this information with friends and families and ask them to do the same.

As Walter Sobcheck said in the Big Lebowski, "Has the whole world gone crazy?" Can a fast food chain actually be humane? Either Willie Nelson really needs the money (again); the lead singer of Cold Play, Chris Martin, really is crazy (as evidenced by his child named Apple), or a fast food company is taking a giant step forward in the right direction.

We shall see, but for now, I have faith.

Monday, August 29, 2011

News of the Day (NotD): Freedom for Yvonne, Germany's Runaway Cow

By Bill Chappell for NPR.

HuMAIN takeaways:

The fact that an escaped cow, headed to slaughter, could garner international attention says something about our compassion for animals... even the ones we eat. The issue with factory farms and industrial slaughter is that the eater has no connection with the animal.

But ah... here is a story about freedom -- something every human cherishes, something we can relate to -- and we can't help but root for Yvonne. Instead of wanting her on our plates, we want her roaming free.

So what if Yvonne lived here? We would undoubtedly root for Yvonne
just as loudly in the U.S. as we do for her in Germany...

So why don't we root for the roughly
5 million cows living (if you can even call it that) on factory farms in the U.S.?

Read the entire article here:

Follow @publicbill on Twitter!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First farm tour: Reedy Fork Farm

I have been writing about humane food for over a year now. I have eaten at restaurants and sourced their foods, and I have spoken to farmers about their animal treatment -- both of which have informed this blog. I even sourced a local and humane wedding.

But I have never actually gone and seen a working dairy farm.

That changed this weekend when Alex and I went to visit our friends, Susan and Andrew, who --like so many others before them in DC -- moved away for better things. In their case, it was to Durham, NC, which is a town partly defined by a thriving local food movement.

I had just written about what makes Organic Valley stand out among, what Michael Pollan labels, the supermarket pastoral (which is what we, the consumers, envision a farm should look like, idyllically displayed on a carton of eggs, a package of chicken, or a rack of lamb).

I had been wanting to expand the humane food finding expedition to include farm tours, and this trip presented itself as a great opportunity. I asked Alex, Susan and Andrew if they would mind going on a farm tour, and they were all excited.

After doing a quick search on the "Who's your farmer" section of Organic Valley's website, I called an OV farmer to see if we could come by this weekend.

George, the owner and operator of Reedy Fork Farm, was more than happy to accommodate guests, although after seeing how busy he is, I could only come to one conclusion as to why he was happy to add two extra hours onto his 15+ hour day: because, like many small farmers, you love your work so much that you are willing to give the land your sweat and tears so that you can keep it in your family.

We arrived at Reedy Fork Farm on Saturday at 2 pm. On the drive there I was nervous and giddy at the same time. Nervous because I did not know what I would find- would I see something that would make me turn my back on animal farming altogether? Giddy because I was entering a new phase of HumaneFoodFinder and seeing a working farm for the first time.

We were greeted by a large barn with "Reedy Fork Farm" on the side and an Organic Valley placard on the front lawn. A tall man with a bouncy step approached us and told us to park under the tree. George was welcoming, and it was clear that he was eager to show us around.

I want to point out that Reedy Fork Farm is unique because it wasn't always organic. George was a conventional farmer before his wife and daughter encouraged him to go organic, and was then approached by Organic Valley to join their co-op. Now the improvements to his farm, his animals, and his wallet are apparent.

George first took us over to the hutches where the calves are kept until they are old enough to go to pasture. They were curious and timid. When I first saw them in their individual stalls I did not know what to think. Is this normal to have them separated from their mothers and each other? I was so overwhelmed with George's generosity, pride in his farm and honesty that I didn't want to come out of the gate, so to speak, questioning him on the calves, when really... I did not know if this would be considered the best way to treat them.

And I am relieved I didn't ask. After visiting the farm, I did some research on my go-to guru for farm treatment: Humane Farm Animal Care. It is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. solely devoted to humane treatment of animals on farms, and they have created a standards of care for young cows.

Reedy Fork Farm was doing everything right: the animals are kept in big, clean stalls, able to see and interact with each other, go to pasture, and drink milk. George told us that as they got older they would go out to pasture all the time; ladies to produce dairy, gentlemen for beef.

George explained how the calves used to be when raised conventionally. They were fed a heavy grain diet and attracted more flies. Thus George had to pay for pest removal services. Today, the calves eat an organic diet and there are hardly any flies.

After the calves thoroughly nuzzled and licked our hands, we headed to the actual dairy. George explained that the dairy cows got milked twice a day; that's instead of three times a day on conventional farms. George gets paid per-pound for milk, and before he went organic, the price was determined by.... well, read for yourself from USDA's 24-page explanation of the "...complex pricing system that has evolved in the United States to deal with milk production, its assembly (collection), and its distribution..." (A post on this is surely in order!)

Now George's milk price (and that of other OV farmers) is determined every December, and because they know how much money they will get every month, they don't need to over-milk their cows in slow seasons. This has allowed George to open an organic feed mill to supplement his dairy income.

Today, George does not over-milk his cows. Organic Valley recommends that OV cows only produce 50 pounds a day (not the 70+ that you get from a factory farm), and due to the heat, George's cows sometimes produce less. Or should I say, they get milked less.

The cows also produce milk for almost twice as long! A conventional cow at Reedy Fork Farm was productive for 4-5 years (from age 2 until it reached age 6 or 7). But now that they are organic, they produce milk for 8-10 years, (from age 2 until they are 10-12 years old). George also does not need to have a vet on-hand as often; perhaps once every month or two to check for pregnancies, which means much less of a need for veterinary care than when he was conventional. Organic Valley gives their farmers recommendations on how to care for their animals in an organic, holistic way and it is clearly working.

After our tour of the dairy, we all piled into George's truck (Winston included, of course) and went to see his pastures. The farm has about 500 acres, and the cows cut the grass for him by grazing. This was perhaps my favorite part of the trip: We got to play Crossing Guard for the cows as they were herded to be milked.

I've said it once, and I will say it again: Winston is a ladies man. As the cows crossed the street, they all stopped to check out their exciting new dog visitor. One even went so far as to kiss him. But then we started hearing a low, bellowing sound; it was the bull who was clearly not happy that his ladies were paying attention to someone other than him. Sound familiar, male fans of HumaneFoodFinder? As the bull made his way toward the crossing, George advised that we stay behind the car and he ushered him across without incident. I am pretty sure Winston is still glowing from his brief and public bovine relationship.

We didn't have a chance to see the beef cows up close as they were set back shading themselves under trees, but we did talk about them. George uses a small slaughterhouse in Siler City to slaughter his cows when ready. He does not send them to the (sadly) normal industrial slaughterhouse where tens of thousands of animals are "processed" every day.

We spent an entire two hours with George, and he hurried back to the entrance to milk the cows. Susan and Andrew bought some meat from George's wife, Cherry, and we watched the milking. The cows did not seem stressed, although they were curious about our presence. Their tails were not docked, and they were swishing them. A monitor ensured that they were not over-milked.

When we left the farm, we never had a chance to say goodbye to George. He was milking the cows, and had a long day ahead of him yet. It was four o'clock. On our ride home we were all tired from the sun, the immense amount of information we had taken in and the long drive. In the end, we knew it was nothing compared to George's or other small farmers' days.

While this was an incredible way to first experience a dairy farm, I know that most farms are not like Reedy Fork Farm. Big companies, like Dean Foods, which owns Horizon Organic, is one of largest milk conglomerates in the U.S. According to the USDA, farms that have under 100 dairy cows only produce 20 percent the U.S. That means that the majority of U.S. dairy farms stand in stark contrast to George's.

And while Organic Valley is a needed market reinforcement for small, humane farmers, it is not a necessity. On our tour George told us that he had a hard time convincing his father to go organic. But when George explained the methods involved and the positive changes that would occur from switching from present-day conventional farming to organic, his father said that was a lot like how he did things when he worked the farm in 1950.

It's incredible to imagine a world where every farm is humane and manageable. It used to be like that. What happened?

Friday, August 19, 2011

News of the Day (NotD): Doctors Take Aim At Antibiotic Resistance From Factory Farming

By Lynne Peeples for Huffington Post.

HuMAIN takeaways:

Eighty percent of U.S. antibiotics go to livestock, and 90 percent of that is given to animals in their water or feed -- not necessarily to prevent illness (the doses are too low to kill bacteria, but are just the right amount to bulk them up for a speedier trip to market). It does, however cause antibiotic resistance.

The European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for growth reasons, with no cost to the animals' health .

A 2009 study in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal found that U.S. hospitals spend more than $20 billion annually on antibiotic-resistant infections.

Check out this "technical review" report from the USDA that they promptly took down after they realized they didn't want you to see it:

Read the article here:

@lynnepeeps on Twitter!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Humane dairy at Bar Dupont? Sort of.

Last night I went to Bar Dupont to send off my friends heading north to Boston. They swear it's not because July was the hottest month in DC history, but I'm skeptical.

I was planning to pop in for a drink and then head to an Asian food place where I could eat something beyond the the usual bar food: french fries, chips and salsa, over-dressed salad...

But on the menu I saw that they had a weekly cheese selection. Here's where they get their cheeses, and what I could find out about the dairies:

Rogue Creamery in Oregon (Cow). I couldn't find anything out about this farm online; there is plenty of information about the cheese, but nothing about the animal treatment.

Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia (Cow). Their farm is very transparent on their humane practices:

We practice sustainable farming methods, managing the land and cattle for health rather than high production. Our primary tool to achieve this goal is intensive grazing management. This involves giving our cattle fresh grass every day; they are not allowed back on the pasture already grazed, allowing the grass to regrow and preventing overgrazing. We use no herbicides or pesticides on our land. Our only crop is grass. We are therefore able to provide excellent nutrition for the dairy herd while improving the health and fertility of our land.

Our milking season begins in late March when all calves are born coinciding with the grass growth. The cattle are never confined, but instead are born and raised on pasture. The cows graze a diverse mixture of perennial grasses and legumes supplemented with some grains, salt and Norwegian kelp. In the fall, when the grass growth wanes, the cows begin to wind down their milk production. Christmas Eve is the last day of the milking season and the beginning of a two month rest for the cows and our family. We avoid routine use of hormones or antibiotics by constantly monitoring our herd's health. We work toward developing and selecting cows with a healthy immune system.

Montchevre in Wisconsin
(goat). I looked on their website and it seems as though they get their milk from Rainbow Gate Farm, which is a goat farm in Iowa. I am not sure if that is the only provider, or just a featured farm. I went to the farm's website, and it doesn't say how many goats they have, or the condition in which they are treated. It also has a section on disbudding (de-horning) baby goats, and it walks the reader through the process. I was a little concerned to see that they did not use anesthetic when disbudding the baby goats. By the way, "disbudding" is a euphemism for burning off the horns. Many farms do this, but humane ones use anesthetic. Needless to say, I passed on this one.

Carr Valley in Wisconsin (sheep). They have an extensive award-winning cheese collection... But there is nothing on their website about where the milk comes from that makes this cheese worthy of an award.

After doing my research, I ordered a cheese plate with just the cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy. While the other might very well be just as humane, this wasn't available on their websites.

I was very happy to eat at least one delicious, humane cheese. But I of course have a request for Bar Dupont.

Dear Bar Dupont:
There are many local, humane dairies right in your neck of the woods that are transparent about the treatment of their animals, and just as delicious! You won't have to ship cheese across the country (I will stop the environmentalist-Emily there), and you are supporting humane, transparent farms.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What sets Organic Valley above the rest

You're at the supermarket. You're looking at the dairy case. You see Horizon Organic, Organic Valley, and maybe five other organic brands. Is there a difference? And if so, how do you choose?
I have long said that Organic Valley is by far the best option, but I have never fully explained why, or more importantly, compared them to their top competitor: Horizon Organic.

I first learned about their practices right around when I started HumaneFoodFinder. It was a little over a year ago when
Mercy For Animals exposed the abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms. They asked their members to contact the mayor of Plain City, where the farm is located.

I -- like so many other animal advocates -- emailed the mayor. Whether Mayor Sandy Adkins meant to or not, she emailed everyone who had contacted her regarding the Conklin Dairy case in the "To" address line, instead of the "BCC" line, and just like that, a humane listserv was formed!

So we started emailing each other what we were finding out. Someone from Florida, after watching the undercover video from Conklin Farm, emailed Organic Valley to ask them about their treatment of animals. Organic Valley sent the following reply, which the Floridian forwarded to the group:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your concerns. I came across this video/newsbreak yesterday and alerted my team of the issue. Humane treatment is something we take very seriously within our cooperative. The mistreatment of animals is just not tolerated for any reason.

Respectful treatment of animals is a central tenet of Organic Valley's philosophy. One of the mission statement's 7 goals is to "promote a respect for the diversity, dignity, and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil, and global life." In furtherance of this goal, Organic Valley has developed and mandated humane treatment standards that exceed those of the USDA's organic

Our mission statement defines organic as a "philosophy and system of production that mirrors the natural laws of living organisms with an emphasis on the interdependence of all life." In practice, this means that we follow the precautionary principle: we oppose both cloning and injecting bovine growth hormone, which harm animals; the foundation of all our livestock production is to minimize illness by providing low-stress environments, promoting robust immune systems, practicing preventive medicine, and using natural remedies as needed. Our farmer members can rely on some of the nation's foremost holistic animal husbandry experts who are affiliated with the cooperative.

Our farmers provide living conditions that permit their livestock to carry out their natural behaviors as much as possible. This includes providing a healthy environment, fresh air, access to the outdoors, clean water, 100% organic feed, and clean, dry, roomful bedding. Organic Valley animals are raised on small to mid-size family farms. As part of maintaining animal health, Organic Valley and Organic Prairie farmers do not "push" their animals. For example, a dairy farmer may be satisfied with 50 pounds of milk per day from a cow, rather than the 70 pounds per day expected by a conventional farmer, because this
reduces the stress on the animals and increases longevity.

Our pasturing requirements are more stringent then the USDA's. We require farmers to pasture their cattle for as much of the year as a region's seasonal climate permits, providing organic grain as a supplement, when needed, to grass or dry forages. The amount of time depends on location, season, weather, and farmers' individual feeding programs. Most of our farmers are in the northern USA, where pasture is available for approximately half of the year.

Confinement operations are prohibited in our cooperative. Animals cannot be forced to live on concrete. Living quarters must allow enough space for animals to get up, lay down, groom, and interact with other animals. Inhumane practices like tail docking, white veal production, and debeaking are prohibited.

Organically raised hogs must have access to the outdoors, and, for sows, farrowing crates and housing with wire or slatted floors are prohibited throughout the animals' lifetime.

Female calves are very valuable and are raised as herd replacements or sold to other dairies. Our farmers can raise male calves as steers for the organic meat market or they can sell them to other farmers that specialize in beef. Organic farmers pay a higher price for organically raised calves, since they will receive a higher price for the meat at the end of the process. We encourage our farmers to go through the Organic Prairie meat program to raise their cattle for organic meat production.

Organic hens are never caged, with natural sunlight in the hen house, no forced molting, and free access to the outdoors, weather permitting. Shelter must allow 1.75 square feet of floor space per hen, and pasture must allow 5 square feet of space per hen.

Organic Prairie works exclusively with processing (slaughter) plant partners that are certified for organic processing and federally inspected.
Most importantly, all our slaughter plants undergo an annual rigorous third party Animal Welfare audit, which audits to measurable standards
that are over and above USDA-FSIS requirements. This third party animal welfare audit ensures that the animals are handled humanely, and that their last day is as painless and stress-free as possible.

To learn more about animal care, please view:
Emphasis Mine.

And thus I started my love affair with Organic Valley.

But it goes further than that. Look at the two websites -- the comparisons are striking:

Organic Valley states that they have 1643 farmers in their co-op. And every farmer is listed under
Who's Your Farmer.

When you click on a region in the U.S., each state drops down, and you can find farmers in your state. Each farm has a profile on the website (the owner(s), and their City or County/State). You can of course do more research and Google the farm, and many of them have their own independent sites.

Now look at Horizon Organic. Under "Why Organic" you can click on
Our Farms. It states that they work with "600 organic family farms," and they list two farms as examples and then list two farms they manage in Idaho and Maryland. They also display their Standards of Care, which is a 26-page document that covers animal welfare, organic feed, environmental impacts and other issues.

While it explains in detail how Horizon Organic believes animals should be treated, it does not say that this is audited. However, at the end of the Animal Welfare section of the document, it does state that treatment activity "...records are audited annually by our farms’ designated USDA certifying agent and are periodically reviewed by internal quality assurance teams."

To be fair, I do applaud Horizon Organic for taking these steps; however, this is far from transparent. Organic Valley lists all of their farms. Organic Valley conducts annual inspections on the farms, and it does not rely on the USDA, which is very often lax, to audit animal treatment.

I would love to see Horizon Organic be more transparent, and it is great that there's a market that buys Organic Valley because it has such high standards and is so transparent. Onward.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Western Travels

I don't know how many people actually read my blog. I can tell how many page views HumaneFoodFinder gets, but I also know that one page click does not a reader make.

Well I got a great affirmation on our honeymoon and my poorly-planned post-honeymoon business trip to Denver that people know that I try to eat humane food.

When we arrived in Jackson Hole, our friends suggested that we eat at a vegetarian-friendly restaurant called Lotus Cafe.

Our dinner was delicious! We got:
  • Kale-Avocado Salad ~ Steamed kale, fresh avocado, & grapeseed Caesar dressing.

  • Lentil Tacos ~ Corn tortillas filled with Southwest seasoned French lentils, cilantro-lime red cabbage slaw, carrot, scallions, & ancho chile sauce. Served with brown rice, blue corn chips, salsa, & vegan sour cream.

  • Burrito Mole ~ Sautéed red pepper, zucchini, red onion, & Spinach with brown rice & black beans rolled in teff grain tortilla & topped with house made authentic mole. Served with blue corn chips.
Sadly, our dessert (the raw cinnamon roll) was less than delicious. But the rest of the meal was so yummy that it overshadowed the vegan dessert.

And Lotus Cafe stood in stark contrast to The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which was an ode to the hunters who flock to, and call Jackson Hole their home. With stuffed heads on the wall, a giant stuffed Grizzly Bear and a picture with one of the last known big cats killed in Arizona, this bar (cough... cough... taxidermist business) did not measure up to Lotus Cafe.

While I was in Denver on a business trip immediately after that, I went to another amazing restaurant. My sister-in-law's sister (so... my sister-out-law) took me out to this AMAZING restaurant.

Watercourse Foods is a totally vegetarian restaurant with the best fake meats EVER.

I have often said that being a vegetarian is easy, and that I don't miss meat, except for a few items, one of them being buffalo wings.
While MorningStar Farms and Boca make really great products, Watercourse Foods totally blew my mind.

So we got the
Seitan buffalo wings to split as an appetizer. Then I got the Country Fried Seitan ~ A hearty breaded seitan steak served with mashed potatoes, country gravy and mixed vegetables. As you can probably tell, we didn't have room for dessert.

The only thing that really bothered me about Watercourse Foods, and some other great vegetarian restaurants where I have eaten, is that while they will serve plenty of vegan dishes, their dairy is
not humane.

It boggles my mind that restaurant owners, managers and chefs who are trying to do their best somehow forget about the millions of cows, hens, goats and sheep being tortured for our vegetarian meals that are otherwise local. The logistics of restaurants getting humane dairy may be a bit difficult at first, but there's clearly a niche here for a local food distributor to fill, whether they go through Organic Valley or cobble together a network of local farms.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Like This New Factory Farming Facebook Page

The Humane Society (one of our wedding registry donation organizations) has just created a Factory Farming facebook page.

The email I recieved from them reads:

"For too long, factory farms have remained hidden from public view, but all of that is quickly changing. In just the last year, The Humane Society of the United States has gone undercover and exposed inhumane treatment of animals at five of the largest factory farming companies in the country.

The agribusiness industry responded with bills in four states not to ban the type of rampant abuse we uncovered, but to ban our whistle-blow
ing investigations in the first place. I'm pleased to say that because of your support, your right to know what goes on behind the walls of factory farms and slaughter plants is intact.

Additionally, these animal factories cause massive air and water pollution, and cause unimaginable suffering for both the animals inside and the people outside in the community. The HSUS has been at the forefront of the fight against factory farms, and recently won a major federal court ruling declaring a notorious California egg factory farm a legal nuisance, and forcing the facility to pay the community more than $500,000 in damages.

There's so much happening in the world of farm animal protection -- such as the exciting new national agreement between The HSUS and the egg industry to pursue federal legislation to ban barren battery cages for hens. There’s also a growing national interest in reducing meat consumption. Be sure to keep up with farm animal protection news by "liking"
The HSUS's new farm animal protection Facebook page. I can't thank you enough for all you're doing to provide farm animals with a voice."

So please, like them on Facebook. The work they are doing is super important.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do these cows have it good?

Today The Oshkosh Norwestern ran a piece on a 4,300 dairy cow operation trying to open in Coloma, WI.

The article states that a group opposing the CAFO is doing so because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, "fails to enforce the laws of the state that would protect the environment."

But as you know, CAFOs do much more harm than ruin our environment (although they do that too).

The CAFO would also subject the cows to inhumane treatment such as tail docking, confined quarters and over-milking.

In fact, the article features a video from another Wisconsin operation
Rosendale Dairy, and I am not sure why they posted this video, but there could be only two reasons:

1) To show how good these cows have got it. This is not a beef CAFO. They are not standing in feedlots. It is a dairy operation, which means that it is relatively cleaner (ie: they cannot be standing in shit). They even play this light, jazzy music as it shows the cows being milked.

2) To show how bad these cows have got it. There are images of cows being milked with docked tails, enormous utters (clearly someone's been taking their hormones), and sores on the back.

I will look more into this proposed-factory farm, but in the meantime, let me know if you think these cows have it good or bad. Unfortunately, their video won't embed, so check out it out here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Transparency is clearly key

I would like to apologize that I never closed the loop regarding my initial concerns with Blue Ridge Dairy. However, I got married (yay!), went on a honeymoon (more on that later), and was in Denver for work. (Note to anyone reading this: do not plan a work trip on the heels of a will almost certainly lead to a very emotional traveling workerbee.)

To recap what happened with Blue Ridge Dairy after I last wrote:

The owner of Blue Ridge Dairy called one of our wedding weekend vendors and refused to allow them to purchase his products for my event. Yes, you read that correctly. He refused to sell them his product for my event. All because I asked a question and expected transparency from a vendor at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market --- something that most food-conscious shoppers at farmers markets also expect.

His refusal to sell for an event I was hosting obviously led to some serious skepticism about his product (what do you have to hide?), on top of sheer embarrasment for putting one of our wonderful vendors who went out of their way to buy humane dairy through such a confusing and tiresome ordeal.

I emailed Ann at FreshFarm Markets, and she politely told me that Blue Ridge Dairy was an independent operator and she could not intervene in a business deal outside of the market. I am not sure if this aversion to customer engagement and awareness raised a red flag for her as well, but I hope it did considering that transparency is the market's bread and butter.

As if that wasn't enough food drama to deal with one week before the wedding, the owner of Blue Ridge Dairy called me that evening to ask why I wanted to know the answers to all of these questions, and why I thought I had the right to know about the farm where he bought his milk. While I won't go over every detail of our conversation, as that would become HumaneFoodFinder: the book, here is what I took away from our conversation:

In order for farmers markets to work, there must be transparency. That is what sets them apart from any large supermarket chain. You can't go into a Harris Teeter or Safeway, for example, and ask if you can visit Smithfield Pork's hog farms. But you can, and many people do, ask these questions at a farmers market, and even go visit.

However, this is something that Blue Ridge Dairy lacks, for the owner specifically asked me not to contact the farm.

Yet the desire for transparency is largely what leads customers to pay a premium to shop at farmers markets across the US. It is a rare time that I don't overhear someone at any farmers market asking questions about animal treatment, or for directions to the farm. And I would guess it is just as rare for a farmer to tell those customers who ask to stop buying their products. Instead, they go into detail about their conditions, explain their open farm policy, and encourage customers to come visit the farm.

After it was already decided that Blue Ridge would not be featured during my wedding weekend festivities, the farm that I was told supplied Blue Ridge Dairy returned my initial email. The email read, "We are milking 85 cows and they do get to graze. They are not on concrete all day. We do not dock their tails." This short email was exactly what I was looking for all along: Answers to a customer's questions. Period.

So Blue Ridge is not transparent, clearly. But is that really their fault? Whole Foods doesn't look into the sources of all their products, and neither do restaurants. But FreshFarm Markets clearly states in their
rules and procedures that the vendors must provide contact information and directions to the farm. And it is this small paragraph in the 16-page document that is the holy grail for the market, and makes people willing to pay a premium to shop there.

Every farmer I have spoken with or just passed by (I don't buy lamb or pork) offers their customers a chance to come experience their farm and see how their animals are treated. You know, I used to ask all these detailed questions: do you dock the tails, how many cows, etc... But I think now the most important question you can ask is: can I come visit your farm?

And all of the vendors I have endorsed here -- Keswick, Clear Springs, Trickling Springs, Smith Meadows Farm -- have open farm policies. Does the farm that supplies Blue Ridge Dairy? Well, I don't know.

And who is accountable?

While I strongly believe that every farmer and vendor -- no matter their size -- should only buy and raise humane food, and allow people to come see the farm for themselves, I don't really think that Blue Ridge Dairy bears the sole responsibility here.

Why hasn't FreshFarm Markets (the market manager), taken a more active role in promoting transparency? The only enforcement mechanism to ensure that customers' food is produced in the manner they hope, is whether they are allowed to visit the farm. I don't think it matters so much whether they visit, but it's essential that they be allowed to do so. I like the Louis Brandeis quote that "sunlight is said to be the best of disenfectants." It is especially apropos in light of the frequent assertion by Michael Pollan and others that if we saw how our food were produced in factory farms, we would be horrified and factory farming would end. So it seems especially important that consumers be able to visit the farms where their food is produced, since that is how to verify the difference between sustainable, humane farms and factory farms.

Moving on.... Finally.

I have stopped buying from Blue Ridge Dairy. And it's not because of any hard feelings, but because I only want to buy from farms that people can visit. If they enacted the same open-farm policy that other farmers have, I would start buying from them again in a heartbeat. In the meantime, Keswick and Clear Spring both have delicious yogurt (something I found out by simply asking), Clear Spring has butter, and Organic Valley sells mozzarella.

Transparency is king when it comes to farmers markets. It is why we pay the extra money and take the extra time out of our weeks to go. Without transparency, we would all be shopping at the Safeway Farmers Market.

As I overheard one customer say to another vendor one weekend, "I just watched No Impact Man, and he said we should go visit the farm we get our food from. Well, I've already seen your farm!"