Eating Flicka: A Good Idea?

If we separate the moral argument about eating companion animals and instead focus on the safety of horse meat, the end result remains the same: starting up the horse meat industry in the United States is not a good idea. To get a good understanding why, we need to take a closer look at what’s happening with the horse meat industry where the meat is currently allowed: The European Union (EU).

The EU has had procedures in place to ensure healthy horse meat for years, yet stories this year about horse meat incorporated into beef products, and horse meat testing positive for drug residue have surfaced repeatedly.

Horses in the EU are required to get a “passport” by six months of age, and all administered medications get recorded in the passport. Yet there have been a significant number of incidents where a passport for one horse is used with another, as well as incidents of fake passports.

Equine Essentials notes the issues in The Problem with Horse Passports:

The passport system has had plenty of criticism for not functioning properly, not being enforced and being subject to a lot of abuse. In February 2013 the BBC reported that 7000 unauthorised documents have been circulating in the UK since 2008. Not to mention the fake horse passports that are being made continuously. Owners report that veterinarians often don’t use the passport to record care history and many opt for the old way of doing things and issue vaccination cards instead. Many competing grounds are also happy to just see the vaccination card and don’t check passports.

Problems aside, the supposed benefit of the Passport system is it provides traceability of the horse, ensuring that meat from horses that have received hazardous drugs doesn’t enter the food chain. There is no such system in the United States. At one time, the USDA considered implementing a system of traceability known as the National Animal ID System, or NAIS. However, because of pushback from farmers and livestock associations, the USDA dropped its plans. Instead, the USDA adopted a relatively weak rule that animals transported across border will have to be accompanied by formal identification, including a veterinarian certificate or owner statement. No passport, no electronic tracking, just paperwork.

The new rule’s purpose is to track the course of a diseased horse across state borders. However, tracking a diseased horse is only one component of ensuring the safety of the meat. It’s also important to know what drugs a horse has been given. As the USDA notes in its inspection procedure, horses are companion animals and are usually given medications forbidden a food animal like a cow. In particular, one drug, phenylbutazone or “bute” as it’s commonly called, is frequently used with companion horses. But bute can also cause a fatal disease in humans called aplastic anaemia. The drug is so dangerous that any use in the horse makes that horse ineligible for processing as meat.

To check for drugs, the USDA implemented an inspection routine that randomly samples horses, based on the number of horses within a “lot”. If the lot consists of 10 horses, the USDA inspectors will test 1 horse; between 11 and 50, 2 horses; between 51 and 100 horses, 3 horses are tested; and if the lot consists of 100 or more horses, a maximum of 4 horses are tested.

Is this random sampled testing sufficient to ensure that the horse meat is free from drug or other residue that can cause harm? Well, to answer that, we have to visit our neighbors to the north.

The Toronto Star has written a series of investigative stories about the processing of horse meat in Canadian factories. It followed a race horse named Backstreet Bully, as it left a race course only to be shot dead in a knacker’s yard. The story detailed how, through a series of deceptions widely practiced in the kill horse auction community, a horse who had been administered drugs typically given to companion horses, ends up at a horse meat slaughter auction house. The story effectively demonstrates how ineffectual Canada’s own “passport”, the Equine Information Document, is when it comes to preventing drug tainted meat from entering the human food chain.

The federal government relies heavily on the accuracy of the passports, which have been in existence since 2010 and are the first line of defence in keeping tainted horse meat from the human food chain. The government does not require owners selling a horse for meat to provide additional medical history such as veterinary records.

Dr. Martin Appelt, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s national veterinary program manager, acknowledged the government relies on an honour system and hopes that the documents are “a reflection of the truth.”

But it’s far from a foolproof system: last year, tainted horse meat from Canada, bound for Belgium, was found to contain traces of two controversial drugs, bute and clenbuterol, the latter on the list of drugs in Canada that are never to be given to animals sold for human food.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency began testing horse meat for bute in 2002. In detecting prohibited veterinary drug residues in meat, there is an overall compliance rate of 96 to 98 per cent, according to an agency spokesperson. Testing is random though a horse or its carcass will be tested if there are red flags or concerns.

Though Canada has implemented it’s own passport system, it also relies on random testing, just like the USDA. Yet horse meat tainted with dangerous drugs has still managed to slip through to the European market. We, in the US, rely only on random testing—how safe do you think the meat will be?

Of course, one can always choose not to eat horse meat. We’re not going to be exposed to bute-tainted meat if we don’t eat horse meat. The problem with this approach, though, is that sometimes people are eating horse meat and aren’t even aware they’re doing so.

This year, the EU and the UK were shaken when horse DNA was found in meat labeled as 100% beef. Food Safety News put together an infographic charting the early days of the scandal, but the problem is ongoing. Just last week, authorities noted that two people involved in the horse meat contamination were arrested in Britain.

The Horse DNA tainted beef has shown up all throughout Europe and the UK: in foods ranging from fast food burgers to the famous IKEA meat balls. Recent testing has shown that over 5% of meat labeled “beef” in Europe is contaminated with horse meat DNA. This isn’t a small percentage, and demonstrates that the horse meat contamination is endemic—especially when we consider the DNA testing is more thorough in some countries, than others.

What’s more critical is that testing also discovered that one half of one percent of the horse meat tested positive for bute—a far more alarming discovery. Authorities downplayed the findings, saying the percentage is trivial, but the assertion of “no worries” doesn’t jibe with the laws restricting any presence of bute in the human food chain.

The EU may state that the issue is a matter of food fraud and not of food safety, but in the end, it’s all about food safety. Food safety is about preventing harm to people, regardless of the impetus behind the harm: human greed or human carelessness. And, as noted in the NY Times article just linked, Europeans have only been testing for bute…there are other drugs used with horses that can also potentially cause harm if consumed by humans or other animals.

If you live in the United States, you may think this isn’t a problem for any of us. After all, we don’t typically eat horse meat in this country. None of the horse meat processed in the country is targeted for human consumption within the country. The meat is intended for human consumption in other countries, or supposedly for animals in zoos. Why should we worry, then?

Leaving aside the fact that we should question our indifference about inflicting potentially dangerous meat on the rest of the world, not to mention tigers, lions, and bears in zoos, we are at risk for our own version of the European horse meat scandal by starting up horse meat processing in this country.

Horse meat is generally less expensive than beef, especially horse meat from older horses or scrawny wild mustangs. It’s going to be tempting to shove a little horse meat into the beefwhen creating cheap frozen foods, or foods served at inexpensive restaurants. In addition, horse meat is leaner than beef, which has an appeal for a different reason. Because of our insistence of shoving corn down cows’ throats, we have almighty fatty beef in the US. Yet weight conscious people want low fat meats. Access to lean meat to mix with our fatter beef in order to control fat content is an attractive proposition. Right now, we’re actually importing lean beef trim from countries like New Zealand, just to get that “98% lean” label in the supermarket. Why not toss in a little leaner horse meat rather than import lean meat scraps?

We wouldn’t need to be concerned about our own version of “food fraud” if we did DNA testing on our meat in order to ensure that “beef” is “beef”. Canada did this recently, to assure its citizens that Canadian beef is real beef (they hope, because just like testing for drugs in horse meat, the horse DNA testing samples were limited). The problem is, the US doesn’t do any DNA testing of our locally derived meat. Some folks did for our seafood, and found a whole lot of “mislabeling”. We do species testing for imported meat, but we don’t do any DNA testing of our locally derived meat.

Well, isn’t that just peachy?

Let’s be blunt, we’re right there with the folks in Canada and the EU: food safety is based on the honor system more often than not. Most of the time, it works. Sometimes, though, the honor system doesn’t work as well as we’d like. Once we start processing horse meat in the US, the only way we can guarantee we don’t get any horse meat in our hamburgers is not to eat hamburgers.

Or chicken.

I’d stay away from goat, too.

ASPCA et al vs. Feld Entertainment Inc

I finally managed to get all of the ASPCA et al vs. Feld Entertainment court documents I have downloaded, linked to copies of the court dockets for your viewing pleasure.

Over 600 separate filings, many with multiple documents, each with hundreds of pages. I don’t have all the court documents, but I have most, including attachments and court exhibits. I typically didn’t download any court document that was a duplicate of a previous filing or had to do with court mechanics.

I also have uploaded the court documents for the associated RICO court case. Eventually, I’ll finish by uploading the appeal documents, as well as documents for peripheral court cases.

In addition to the court documents, the main index page includes links to many of the videos that were played during the trial.

Of the videos, the one that bothered Judge Sullivan the most is a young elephant, gently exploring a bike rack with her trunk. Ringling employee Troy Metzler casually walks up to her and strikes her trunk with a bullhook. An elephant’s trunk is very sensitive, and the young elephant is both startled, and in pain. Before the video clip ends, another older elephant reaches out, seemingly to comfort the younger.

That’s just not right

Earlier, I found a PR release from the AVMA (American Veterinarian Medical Association) undermining Missouri’s Proposition B in favor of its “model bill”. In an associated video, the AVMA’s CEO, Dr. DeHaven, states that Proposition B only sets limits on the number of dogs that can be kept, when in actuality, Proposition B does more (DeHaven’s video)—much more than the AVMA model bill, which relies almost completely on a commercial dog breeder honor system (and large scale commercial dog breeders are not necessarily known for their honor).

Afterward, I received an email related to a bug I’m following in the HTML5 working group. In response to detailed, thoughtful request for a way to provide alternative text for a video poster, the HTML5 editor, Ian Hickson, declined, writing as rationale:

The request here is just cargo-cult accessibility and would not
actually improve the life of any users, while costing authors in wasted time
and effort.

I reacted the same to both: that’s just not right.

You would think that humane treatment of dogs and ensuring accessibility for folks would be no-brainers, equivalent to being “agin sin”. You would think so…and you would be wrong.

Whatever sense of empathy and compassion we had, once upon a time, seems to have been left in a long ago forgotten consciousness. Today, what rules is the bottom line, and if that bottom line must run over the bodies of puppies and disabled, equally, run it must because there’s a new sense of pragmatic necessity that rules in the land.

Those who cannot see do not really need to know what the poster to a video is all about, because authors can’t really be bothered to provide the information. It’s not pragmatic to even consider the option. As Hickson stated earlier in the discussion of the bug:

I’m confused. Why would you (a blind user) want to know what the poster frame
is? How does it affect you?

How does it affect you‽

The welfare of dogs is important, yes, but not at the cost of the rights of the breeder. Weighing the needs of the dogs over the wants of the breeder is not pragmatic. The AVMA invited Wes Jamison, a communications professor from Florida, to speak about the role of veterinarians in today’s society. What he said explains much about the AVMA position:

Dr. Jamison … indicated that the veterinary profession, by emphasizing the importance of the human-animal bond, enables consumer hypocrisy, which is exploited by animal protection organizations. He argued that the AVMA should abandon advocating for the human-animal bond in favor of fighting for the right of animal owners to use animals as they choose, whether that entails companionship, food, or labor.

The human-animal bond is hypocrisy‽

Pragmatic hell, that’s just not right.

The Wasp

Paper wasps are quite common here in Missouri. Unlike other types of wasps, they’re not very aggressive, except around their nests. If you threaten a wasp’s nest, or agitate them in some way, they can sting and like other wasps, they can string repeatedly. Their stings are very painful (3 on the Schmidt Sting Pain index, or “Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut”), and if you’re allergic to stings, as I am, can be quite serious.

When the paper wasp started buzzing around behind the screens up in the corner of the french doors out to the deck, we didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until we saw her starting her nest that we knew we had to get rid of it and quick. You can’t have a paper wasp nest next to a door; not if you want to use the door.

However, you can’t knock the nest down when they’re building it. The old, “Busy as a bee. Angry as a wasp” thing. The day before yesterday, when she took off to get more material, I quickly went out with the broom and knocked the nest down and as quickly ran back inside, shutting the door behind me. She returned with the material, long gray streamer behind her, and buzzed all over looking for the nest. For over an hour she flew around in front of the door and around the corner. Eventually she landed, and sat for a couple of hours where her nest was. When she made motions of starting to re-build, I pounded on the door to disturb her and eventually she took off.

Yesterday, she returned to the same corner and again, and sat there for a couple of hours. With today’s storm, she hasn’t been back.

When she was building her nest, I did grab a couple of careful photos using my telephoto lens. It wasn’t until I processed the photo today that I noticed her nest had one tiny egg in it.

wasp and nest

Earth Day 2006

This Earth Day I’m featuring photos from the Show Me Mobile Aquarium; the large semi-truck size fishtank filled with native Missouri fishies currently on display as part of the Earth Day offerings at Powder Valley Conservation Center.

There’s a new self-portrait at the end of the post.

This year the tank had something different: an inner tank with goldfish. I figured that the goldfish might be food for the other fishies. The longnose gar were particularly interested in them.

I was interested in the longnose gar; fascinating creatures, who would follow me as I moved around. It could be they hoped for food, but I think it might have been the camera lens. It did look something like their own eyes. Perhaps they thought I was the Great Gar–god supreme of long nosed fishes.

After all, did I not make little fishies fall out of frustrating see through cave?

The corner of the goldfish tank had an aerator, which the goldfish would swim into and through. As I was looking about, I noticed that one goldfish was on the other side of the goldfish enclosure, frantically trying to get back into the enclosure. There was a bit of water weed next to the inner tank, and in it I noticed two other goldfish hiding. The poor fish were getting caught up in the aerator and then pushed over and out of the inner tank into the outer.

The Great Gar provides.

The gas prices are rising and rumor has it they’ll top out over 3.00 a gallon and not go back down. I wouldn’t mind–perhaps now people will give up their monster trucks and tank-size gas guzzling SUVs. But the money forms an almost obscene amount of profit for oil companies, and I do tire of this.

If the money went into cleaning up the air and water, I would be more positive.

Last week I pulled up next to this huge, shiny and chromed black truck at the light. Two guys were in it, looking cool. I was so tempted to lean out and ask them if they’ve had to haul any pigs to market lately, but didn’t. Someday I won’t have to say it, and the guys won’t look cool in a truck too big for most people’s needs.

It’s not a reference book; I leave that to O’Reilly’s excellent Definitive books. It’s how you (yes, you) can quickly and comfortably get up to speed with JavaScript/ECMAScript.

I’ve returned to the same writing style and format that I used with Developing ASP Components, and that book did very well, so I’m confident this one should do nicely.

My Earth Day, 2006 story. Unfortunately, not everyone is in the spirit. This story is based on missing statistics, overinflated biased recordings, self serving data in order to promote you all buying more more more, so that companies in the world can make profits off your eventual misery. Supposedly the reason for all the scientific concern being expressed now about global warming is because those who speak ‘truth’ (i.e. against the concern) are intimidated into silence. I have only one thing to say to the author: may your children and your grandchildren grow to adulthood and live long in just the kind of life you want to give them.

Do you all realize that if we make one change in our lives, we can make a significant impact on the environment? Yes, if we drive a car with better gas mileage, walk more, take a bike more, recycle, and use environmentally friendly products, we can make a difference.

Did you know one of the most romantic dates you can go on is go for a walk? Take along a basket with a little bread, cheese, wine, and fresh apples. Cloth napkins, and real plates say ‘class’.

Sure you have time. Don’t tell me you don’t have time. It only takes 10 minutes to make an egg sandwich for breakfast–you don’t have to throw another piece of plastic (and the container it comes in) into the microwave.

Sexy isn’t clothes, you don’t need 100 pairs of shoes, and the woman or man that can get by wearing last year’s clothes this year and next and and next and next and maybe even the next is the woman or man who has learned how to spit downwind instead of up.

The economy won’t go belly up if you don’t overspend this year.

Apple will recycle your old Apple products safely. Many schools and non-profits will take your old computer equipment (as long as it works). Linux will run on PCs that are years and years old.

If you download music, there’s less plastic used for CDs. If you buy a new computer every 4 years, instead of the average of 3, you save money and there’s less motherboards and old casings in landfills.

Buying produce in larger containers and re-packaging into your own reusable containers at home is cheaper and more earth-friendly than buying in small containers.

If you buy that, you’ll have to dust it. If you buy that, it will break. If you buy that, you’ll have payments. If you buy that, no one will fall in love with you.

Except if you buy my book when it comes out. If you buy it, I’ll love you. And you’ll be able to get it digitally. Digital books are pro-environment.

Digital photography is pro-environment.

And no tree was harmed–or acts of cannibalism committed–in the making of this weblog.