GEESE MEAT FOR THE POOR!! Scarsdale’s Contract with USDA to Slaughter Geese and Donate Meat to Local Food Bank


Angelique Rivard and Ally Bernstein

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Recent breaking news of the Village of Scarsdale’s plan to slaughter the group of geese who consider Audrey Hochberg Pond their home, along with their babies in March, and then donate the meat to a local food bank has caused quite a stir among interested members of the public. After receiving complaints from local attendees of the pond explaining they “were tired of stepping around the droppings” and claimed the geese were “attacking them” after people got “too close to their eggs,” the Village of Scarsdale decided the best solution would be to enter into a contract with the USDA, slaughter the geese, and feed them to the needy.

Unfortunately, slaughtering geese is not news to the residents of Westchester County, as the county routinely kills geese in an effort to control population. But has the county gone too far and made killing geese before considering any alternatives too easy and too commonplace? Has the village gone too far in claiming they are doing a public service by killing the geese and feeding it to the poor?

Before we make the case for the Scarsdale Geese, let us make a disclaimer: we can all agree that wildlife control issues are a sensitive subject due to the varying viewpoints across the board from wildlife protectionists, animal welfarists, environmental conservationists, hunters, and the general public. In many cases, such as those dealing with population control, the issues are: what is the best solution and what factors do we need to consider in implementing the solution. Such factors include: whether or not the targeted animal is a danger or threat to other animals and humans; what the costs of implementing the solution are; and what the environmental and ecological impacts of dealing with the target animal will have in the future. Dealing with any one of the multitude of factors often leaves the interest groups on opposite sides of the fence or right on the fence, making for long debates over what the final solution will be. Finding a solution usually requires extensive research about all of the factors and a thorough investigation into the impacts of the final decision.

But the issue here is much more than an animal rights issue. It is an economic issue. Instead of being applied to educational or safety initiatives, taxpayer dollars will be used to fund the slaughter. And furthermore, this type of “solution” is inefficient since the geese will just return, inducing a habitual slaughter of geese every year. It is also a human rights issue. While feeding the poor and hungry is of great concern, shouldn’t the food being fed to them be monitored as if it were sold in grocery stores? The geese in Scarsdale have fed on chemically fertilized grass for their entire lives, making their meat unsuitable for human consumption. And furthermore, the plans to have the geese meat inspected by the FDA prior to distribution to the food bank are inconclusive. It is an environmental issue. Wildlife, humans and nature all must coexist in order to have a symbiotic ecosystem. While it is true that geese are not endangered, setting these types of precedents can have scourging consequences for other species in the near future. It would seem illogical to extinguish a particular species in a certain area any time they grew too inconvenient for another species

And of course, to come full circle, it IS an animal rights issue. Protection for the geese and humans alike, who share the aesthetics of the Audrey Hochberg pond must be achieved. They must live in harmony in order to survive. Often, the reason conflicts occur is due to children approaching the nests of eggs and disturbing them. Many times, children step on these eggs for sport. Just like any mother of any species, they have protective instincts to chase away predators. If the geese were not provoked, there would be little to no reason for attacks. As humans, we cannot cause part of the problem and then take no responsibility in its negative repercussions.

As responsible humans capable of understanding what is wrong and right, we need to make it a priority to explore alternatives to slaughtering a group of animals rather than opting to wipe out groups of animals without extremely compelling reasons. Alternatives that have been used to combat this issue in other parts of Westchester County have included relocating the geese, installing a fence that is high enough to keep the geese out, the use of border collies to round up the geese, deterrence mechanisms, and the use of decoys to mimic the natural predators. While some of these options might not be feasible for use at this particular pond, we are sure that at least one of them is a more practical, cost effective, and humane alternative.

So, what can you do? If you are a constituent in the Village of Scarsdale your voice will have great influence. Speak out to your representatives and tell them that you oppose this inhumane solution. Attend a Scarsdale Village Board Meeting. The upcoming meetings are scheduled for Feb. 13th and Feb. 26th. You can find more information about these meetings here. Even if you are not a Scarsdale resident, like us, you can still speak out. Find out who your Westchester County Legislator is by going to this website. If you do plan to attend a meeting, bring a petition with you stating that you “Oppose the Scarsdale Geese Slaughter” and get as many signatures as possible. It is our duty to give voice to the voiceless and take action to prevent unnecessary extermination of undeserving groups of animals.

Meat Animals, Humane Standards Other Legal Fictions

… is the title of my forthcoming essay in Law, Culture & the Humanities (a special issue on Law & Food).  Get it here.

Here’s the abstract:

Law and food are distinct concepts, though the discipline (Law and Food) implies a relationship worthy of study.  The conjunction (“and”) creates meaning.  However, its absence also conveys meaning.  For example, “meat animal” suggests that animals can be both meat and animal.  This conflation has powerful legal Continue reading

Elephant Death at San Diego Zoo Launches Calls for a USDA Investigation

Coral Strother

On the morning of November 17, 2011, Umoya, a 21 year old African Elephant, who was a part of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was found lying on the ground by zoo caretakers.  She had severe injuries and could not get up.  Umoya passed away before veterinary assistance could be provided.  Although the cause of death has not been determined and autopsy results could take weeks to come back, zoo officials believe the wounds were inflicted by an “aggressive interaction” with another elephant.

Umoya was born in the Kruger National Park and was one of the seven original elephants rescued from Swaziland in 2003.  In 2007, Umoya gave birth to a female calf, Phakamile, and in 2010, gave birth to a male calf, Emanti, which brought the San Diego herd now up to 18 elephants in total.  On the day Umoya died, San Diego zoo caretakers gave the herd time to mourn her death, something elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, are known to do.  Umoya stood out in the San Diego herd as being one of the most dominant females and as being the only elephant in the exhibit who walked backwards. Continue reading

The Real Cruella de Vils: The Little-Known Back Story of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966

Ally Bernstein

What would you do if one day, after letting your beloved Husky, Niko, play outside for two hours, you went to get him from the backyard but he wasn’t there? First, you would probably search the neighborhood, followed by checking the local pounds and posting signs in hopes that all of these efforts would bring your lost Niko home. Thinking to yourself “how bizarre”, after letting Niko play outside in your fenced in backyard for 6 years, “why now would he decide to run away?” As you go down the list of possibilities; “did he chase a squirrel, did I leave the gate open, did he jump the fence”, what happened to Niko?

Two days go by and you see a “LOST DOG” sign near the local post office, but its not for Niko, its for Bishop, another Husky in the neighborhood. “Well that’s weird,” you think to yourself about the coincidence that two Huskies would go missing from the same neighborhood within the same week. What about the next few days when your friend at the grocery store tells you that her sister’s Husky, Layla, went missing the night before after being let out for her nightly exercise. Is this still a coincidence? Continue reading

Minding the GAP Program

 

 

William Sheehan

In a market awash with vague and misguiding advertising regarding the treatment of animals raised for slaughter, Whole Foods’ proposed GAP Program is a breath of fresh air. Whole Foods announced that it will rate food items that use animal products on a 5-step scale, established by the Global Animal Partnership, indicating the specific conditions which the animals were subjected to. The scale serves dual purposes: it provides consumers with the information which they require to make informed decisions that satisfy their ethical concerns and it also allows companies to sell their products at a premium that accurately reflects the treatment which they provide for their animals. Continue reading

Government Hypocrisy — The Dairy Version

David Cassuto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amidst all the topsy turvy election results, one can easily start obsessing about the nation’s future.  Or, one can cling to the words of Lee Hays whose comment on the 1980 election results was: “This too shall pass; I’ve had kidney stones and I know.”  But was he right?  It depends on what issues matter to you.

One of the dominant themes of this election was a sense of voter outrage with the actions (or inaction) of the government.  I too am outraged, but for entirely different reasons than were discussed by either party.  I’m outraged by the government’s entrenched, callous, and bizarre complicity in the hegemony of industrial food.  Continue reading

Dietary Guidelines — The Politics of Health

David Cassuto

From the Cynicism Desk:

The USDA is preparing to unveil  its most recent revision of its much maligned dietary guidelines.  Come December, we’ll see to what new levels of obfuscation and avoidance the good folks at USDA can aspire.  The lobbying is already ferocious.  According to the WaPo:

In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.

Of course, amid all this self-interested carrying-on it’s hard to place the blame for the ever more incoherent guidelines solely on the Agency.  Elected officials are terrified of demanding anything that might be considered anti-meat or processed food.  Indeed, George McGovern arguably lost his job (as a senator) for recommending that Americans consume less red meat.  His comments generated a mad frenzy within in the cattle industry and he lost his seat in 1980 (he represented South Dakota). Traumatized by McGovernGate, the guidelines set what at the time was the gold standard for doublespeak by recommending that we eat “meat, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”   Continue reading

Captive Animals, Dead People, Bad Reporting

David Cassuto

How many times have we heard the story of a captive wild animal killing someone?  This would be just another replay of the same sad and avoidable story except for a few details.  In this instance, which took place outside Cleveland, the guy who kept the unfortunate bear was not the person killed.  The victim, Brent Kandra, is a guy the WaPo refers to as the bear’s “caretaker” — someone who frequently helped the owner, Sam Mazzola, with his animals.  What animals?  A whole lot of animals — lions, tigers, bears, wolves, coyotes.  Mazzola, who had been convicted of illegally selling and transporting animals and who was also cited for illegally staging wrestling matches between bears and people, recently filed for bankruptcy.             Continue reading

Gassed Geese and Airport Safety

David Cassuto

A few days ago, agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture descended on Prospect Park in Brooklyn where they rounded up 400 Canada geese and gassed them to death.  The geese were molting and so could not fly.  The reason for this mass killing was ostensibly airport safety.  You see, Prospect Park lies 6.5 miles from La Guardia and Kennedy airports and the rules say that all geese within 7 miles of an airport must be killed.    Continue reading

“Organic” Rules Revised

David Cassuto

Breaking news from the AP:

The Agriculture Department is sharpening the standards for organic milk and meat.

New rules announced Friday say organic milk and meat must come from livestock that graze in pastures at least four months of the year. The old rules required only that animals have access to pasture.

The new organic rules also say 30 percent of animals’ feed must come from grazing and that ranchers must have a plan to protect soil and water quality.

The Agriculture Department has taken years to set new standards. Ranchers, food companies and consumer groups have been anxious for more specific rules surrounding what can be sold as organic.

I’ll have more to say on this after I review the new rule itself.

Why I’d Rather Feed My Child Dirt Than a School Lunch

David Cassuto

I’ve been trying to figure out what it says about this country that McDonalds  sets higher standards for its flesh products than the USDA does for school lunch programs. At a minimum, it says that we care almost as little about our children as we do about the animals we torture and slaughter to feed them.

Perhaps this should prompt a reexamination.

Or maybe we should just ignore it and pretend everything is fine.  Yeah, yeah; that’s the ticket.

No Humane Slaughter? No Problem (because) No Standing

David Cassuto

The 9th Circuit recently decided Levine v. Vilsack, a case challenging the  ongoing failure of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include birds under the auspices of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).  The case was brought by a group of plaintiffs in 2005, claiming that “inhumane methods” of poultry slaughter increased their risks of food-borne illnesses and health and safety dangers and caused “aesthetic injury” to the plaintiff poultry workers.   They sought an order declaring that (1) “USDA’s decision to exclude chickens, turkeys, and other poultry species from the protections provided by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 . . . to be . . . not in accordance with the HMSA of 1958 and the APA;” (2) “declaring unlawful and setting aside USDA’s September 28, 2005 Federal Register Notice containing the agency’s policy statement . . . that the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 . . . does not require ‘humane handling and slaughter’ for poultry;” and (3) “enjoining USDA from excluding chickens, turkeys, and other poultry species from the protections provided by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 . . . .”

The district court granted summary judgment to the USDA.  On appeal, the 9th Circuit reversed.  That might seem like good news (Michael Markarian thinks so)  but to my mind … not so much.  The court reversed because of that age-old bugaboo of environmental and animal law: lack of standing.  The court found that of the 3 prong test for standing to sue in federal court (injury-in-fact, causation, & redressability), plaintiffs failed to meet the third prong.  Continue reading

Antibiotics in Your Organic Lettuce and Other Tales from the Factory Farm

I’m writing a piece about CAFOs and climate change for the Animals & Society Institute, which, as you might imagine, is not a cheerful pursuit.  Still, even with all my carping about antibiotics in animal feed, I had not realized that vegetables like corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when fertilized with livestock manure.  Usually, one hears about antibiotic transmission through meat and dairy products.  I was even more disturbed to learn (all of this from the Environmental Health News) that eating organic offers no protection — though, given the way USDA organic certification has been canted in favor of Big Food, I should have guessed.

This information about contaminated produce comes from a 2005 University of Minnesota study where researchers planted corn, scallions and cabbage in manure-treated soil and a similar 2007 study on corn, lettuce and potatoes. In each case, the crops were found to contain antibiotics (chlortetracycline and sulfamethazine, respectively).

The reason organic certification offers no protection lies with lack of USDA restrictions on using manure from animals treated with antibiotics.  Since 90% of the drugs administered to these animals gets excreted in their urine or manure, which then gets spread on soil used to grow vegetables, the vegetables absorb the antibiotics.  Eventually, so too do we.  According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, animals receive over 25 million pounds of antibiotics each year in the United States.

Recommendations abound to mitigate the problem, although none have so far been implemented.  Some mitigation strategies offer significant cause for concern.  For example, some suggest high temperature composting, which can reduce antibiotic concentrations significantly.  However, it has no effect whatsoever on concentrations of sulfamethazine, a commonly administered drug.  Such proposals terrify me because, even if implemented, they will not fix the problem while likely giving Big Food a free pass to continue using antibiotics indefinitely.

Don’t get me wrong; I favor high temperature composting. It’s part of any sustainable agriculture program and one of many steps necessary to combat climate change.  However, it will not solve the antibiotic problem.

The solution to this particular problem is simple: Ban subtherapeutic antibiotic use in agriculture, much as Europe did in 2006.  The status quo is incredibly dangerous, both to humans and the environment at large.  A ban represents a straightforward solution that no one in this country with any juice will entertain.

Big Food argues that the drugs are necessary to its continued operation.  Even if that were true (which it is not — the National Research Council estimates that a ban on subtherapeutic antibiotics would increase per capita costs a mere $5-10/year), so what?  Industrial Agriculture brutalizes billions of animals in indescribable ways and forms one of the chief sources of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 (methane) and N2O).  It also causes widespread environmental degradation and disease, including the swine and bird flu.  I’m hard pressed to come up with a reason why its continued existence should be a national priority.

–David Cassuto

Vilsack Going South on Us

My low expectations for Secretary Vilsack (USDA) were briefly raised with Kathleen Merrigan’s appointment to the #2 spot over there (see post here).  Then I read stuff like this, where Vilsack tells Congress that the “vast, vast, vast majority of farmers who are raising livestock are very sensitive” to the need to be careful about the management of their animals.  When asked about regulating the industry so as to give animals some space, thereby helping prevent disease transmission and perhaps easing the torture which they daily endure, Vilsack replies that the USDA is working with the Food and Drug Administration to ensure “that sound animal management practices are the standard.”

If Dick Cheney were Secretary of Agriculture, I bet he’d sound just like that.

–David Cassuto

Chipping Away at Big Food

This article declaring that red meat leads to a greater risk of death provides a glimpse of the problems the nation faces regarding its approach to food.  As an initial matter, the risk of death for each and every one of us is 100%.  The author obviously meant that meat consumption can lead to an earlier death than one might otherwise expect.  But is that news?  Not for most people.

No, the real question involves how to extricate the nation from the stranglehold of industrial agriculture, which has thrived under a regulatory system that subsidizes its ongoing environmental destruction and brutalization of billions of animals.  Towards that end, there is an interesting piece in the WaPo profiling Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, a grass roots organization working to restore sanity to agriculture.  Perhaps the best thing about Food Democracy Now! is its Iowa base.  When folks in the nation’s midsection speak about the havoc Big Food has wrought on the nation, it is harder to smear them with the taint of elitism.

In addition to fighting CAFOs, FDN also has lobbied hard for a slate of progressive candidates for appointment to the USDA.  One of them, Kathleen Merrigan, was just named to the Department’s #2 spot.  Merrigan, a former professor at Tufts and staffer for Senator Leahy, helped draft the law that recognized organics.  As one blogger put it: While [Michael] Pollan helped put these issues onto the national agenda, people like Merrigan have long been doing the wonky policy work.”  Merrigan’s appointment counts as a significant win (related story here).  Perhaps, Obama’s appointing Tom Vilsack really didn’t constitute a capitulation to Big Food.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s reason to hope.

David Cassuto

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