FoE Meat Free Monday Pledge

MFM climate pledgeOn Tuesday 23 September world leaders are gathering in New York to discuss climate change. The first time the UN has tackled the subject since 2009.

Friends of the Earth are working with other organisations to get as many people as possible to pledge to go meat free for one day a week. This simple step will show world leaders that we’re serious about reducing global emissions.

Please pledge to go meat free for just one day a week before next Tuesday.

Did you know?

  • Livestock production is responsible for over 14.5% of global greenhouse gases
  • 75% of agricultural land is used to raise animals for food
  • Every hour an area of rainforest the size of 100 football pitches is cut down to create room for grazing cattle

Eating less meat is an easy way to reduce our climate impact and anyone can do it. Already vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian? You can still sign the pledge to show your support.

Worried about what to eat? Download our Eat Smart Pack full of handy tips and advice or invest in a delicious vegetarian cook book.

One small change can make such a big difference, so please show your support before next Tuesday and let’s show world leaders that we’re serious about tackling climate change.

For more inspiration on what to cook try this stunning cookbook full of vegetarian dishes from around the world.

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Dirty Chicken Abattoirs Breach Hygiene Rules

UK food watchdog admits chicken factory breached hygiene laws

Roy Stevenson ChickenFood Standards Agency says it was wrong to clear Scunthorpe plant of any failings, as more workers make dirty poultry claims. The government’s food watchdog has been forced to admit that an initial inquiry which cleared one of the UK’s largest poultry processing plants of hygiene failings was misleading.
Instances of chickens being dropped on the floor then returned to the production line, documented by a Guardian investigation into failings in the poultry industry, constituted a “breach of the legislation”, the Food Standards Agency has now acknowledged.
Following the Guardian revelations at the site in Scunthorpe in July, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, asked the FSA to investigate. It rated the factory as good and wrote to the shadow food and farming minister saying there was no evidence of any breaches of food hygiene legislation.
But in an embarrassing climbdown less than a month on, the FSA has written to Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies admitting it was wrong. It has reviewed the Guardian’s undercover footage showing dirty birds from the floor being thrown back into food production and concluded there has been a serious breach. But it has not issued a penalty, saying the company has assured it the problem has been addressed.
The admission comes as fresh allegations of hygiene failings at the factory emerged, with three former employees making claims about dirty chickens contaminating the production line and attempts to manipulate inspections up to 2012.
Labour said the FSA admission and the new questions over safety raised serious questions about the poultry inspection system in the UK.
The Guardian investigation last month revealed poor practice at the abattoir in Scunthorpe. It is owned by the 2 Sisters group, which supplies, including Tesco, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and KFC. Hunt asked the FSA to audit the abattoir in the wake of the revelations.
Despite supermarket audits of this and another site suggesting that improvements were needed, the FSA did not alter its rating of the factory, or issue any penalty, because the company said during the official audit that it had taken action to ensure it did not happen again.
But now three workers who have been in charge of quality control at the factory in recent years have come forward claiming it was “an almost daily occurrence” for birds to fall on the floor and be put back into the food chain instead of being correctly disposed of as waste. The company initially denied any instances of this happening.
The sources also claimed that auditors were often hoodwinked, even when their visits were supposedly unannounced, as managers slowed production lines and cleaned up poor practice when they were present. One described his responsibility for ensuring production managers followed the company’s own rules on food hygiene and safety as “a war of attrition”.
Concerns about hygiene standards in poultry production focus on preventing the spread of the food poisoning bug campylobacter. An estimated 280,000 people in the UK get sick each year because of it, and about 100 die. It is the most common cause of food poisoning, with chicken accounting for the vast majority of infections. The bug is killed by cooking but can spread easily from raw chicken.
The original Guardian investigation was prompted by insiders claiming that one reason campylobacter rates remained high was the gap between the industry’s strict hygiene rules and auditing systems to check on them, and the reality on the factory floor, where managers were under pressure to process large volumes at high speed.
In a letter to Irranca-Davies, the FSA’s chief executive, Catherine Brown, admitted “pretty much all UK chicken production facilities experience unacceptably high levels of contamination with campylobacter“.
The Guardian’s investigation also revealed failings and breakdowns at another 2 Sisters site in Llangefni, Anglesey, and at another large processor. Sources said these occurred at several key points in the chicken production chain which are known to be high risk for the spread of campylobacter. Breakdowns meant that high-risk offal, guts and feathers piled up for hours as production continued. In another incident, scald tanks were not cleaned for days, meaning hundreds of thousands of birds were processed through unchanged dirty water.
The FSA emergency audit of the Llangefni site rated it as “generally satisfactory”. The Guardian understands that it was critical of the company for failing to cancel the day’s slaughter when the scald tank incident occurred. Sources at the site said the tanks went uncleaned for three days; the company and the FSA say it was only two and that tests were conducted for bacteria counts before production was allowed to continue.
It is understood, however, that these tests were only for salmonella, not for campylobacter contamination.
The three new sources were all employed as quality controllers until 2012 at the Scunthorpe site. Roy Stevenson was in charge of a team of quality assurance technicians and worked at the factory for more than a decade until being made redundant at the end of 2012.
“On the day of the audit, all the lines would be slowed to a minimum where it was pristine,” he claimed. “There would be no birds dropping on to the floor, an auditor would walk round and everything would look lovely, unlike any other day.”
Richard Lingard worked at the factory as a quality controller for a few weeks in 2012 before moving on because he said it was impossible to do the job correctly. A third former quality controller with several years’ experience at Scunthorpe in the recent past, who asked for anonymity, described being regularly undermined and bypassed when trying to enforce hygiene rules.
All three claimed birds fell on the floor regularly because the line speeds were too fast for workers to keep up, and they would then be recycled back into the food chain in breach of company policy. They allege that their efforts to stop this happening were undermined by production staff.
Sources say the atmosphere at the Llangefni plant since the Guardian’s revelations had appeared “chaotic” at times, with a stream of supermarket audits and “100% concentration” on cleaning and “getting everything clean and done right”.
Following a surprise 4.30am check shortly after the first reports, during which workers were told a number of failings had been found, Tesco is understood to have returned to the Welsh plant last week for follow-up inspections. Marks & Spencer has also audited but found no breaches, and Sainsbury’s audited Scunthorpe and suggested “improvements”.
At crisis meetings at Llangefni after the original Tesco visit, senior management told staff of measures being taken to clean up the factory and change the way it had been working, according to sources.
They said these included bringing in extra cleaners, slowing production lines; ensuring production stopped more promptly at night so there was sufficient time for cleaning, and stopping slaughter when breakdowns occurred.

The Smiths song “Meat is Murder”

meat is murderThis is whole entire ‘The Smiths’ song “Meat is Murder”

“Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder

And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
Its death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder

And the calf that you carve with a smile
Is murder
And the turkey you festively slice
Is murder
Do you know how animals die ?

Kitchen aromas aren’t very homely
Its not comforting, cheery or kind
Its sizzling blood and the unholy stench
Of murder

Its not natural, normal or kind
The flesh you so fancifully fry
The meat in your mouth
As you savour the flavour
Of murder

No, no, no, its murder
No, no, no, its murder
Oh … and who hears when animals cry ?”

The real cost of GM animal feed

Much of our meat and dairy produce is made from animals raised on GM feeds. Alarming new claims suggest that the GM diet is affecting animal health – prompting fears over human safety.

At first glance the frozen bundles could be mistaken for conventional joints of meat. But as Ib Pedersen, a Danish pig farmer, lifts them carefully out of the freezer it becomes apparent they are in fact whole piglets – some horribly deformed, with growths or other abnormalities, others stunted.

This is the result, Pedersen claims, of feeding the animals a diet containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients. Or more specifically, he believes, feed made from GM soya and sprayed with the controversial herbicide glyphosate.

Pedersen, who produces 13,000 pigs a year and supplies Europe’s largest pork company Danish Crown, says he became so alarmed at the apparent levels of deformity, sickness, deaths, and poor productivity he was witnessing in his animals that he decided to experiment by changing their diet from GM to non-GM feed.

The results, he says, were remarkable: “When using GM feed I saw symptoms of bloat, stomach ulcers, high rates of diarrhoea, pigs born with the deformities … but when I switched [to non GM feed] these problems went away, some within a matter of days.”

The farmer says that not only has the switch in diet improved the visible health of the pigs, it has made the farm more profitable, with less medicine use and higher productivity. “Less abortions, more piglets born in each litter, and breeding animals living longer.” He also maintains that man hours have been reduced, with less cleaning needed and fewer complications with the animals.

Inside the farmhouse, piles of paperwork are laid out across a vast table; print outs, reports, statistics, scientific research, correspondence. Pedersen shows me photos he says are of animals adversely affected by the GM feed – there’s more piglets with spinal deformities, their back legs dragging on the ground; others have visible problems with their faces, limbs or tails. There’s even a siamese twin – two animals joined at the head.

Pedersen believes these abnormalities, and the other problems, were caused – at least in part – by the presence of the herbicide glyphosate in his GM pig feed. Glyphosate is routinely sprayed on many soya and cereal crops to kill weeds and maximise yields.

Although it is used on conventional crops, its usage on GM soya and maize is particularly prevalent as the crops are engineered to be resistant to the chemical, killing the weeds but leaving the crop plants unaffected.

The introduction of GM crops resistant to glyphosate allowed crops to be sprayed with the herbicide to control weeds – often many times over a growing season – without killing the crop. But this also led to much higher levels of glyphosate in the plants and seeds.

After glyphosate-resistant strains of soy were introduced in 1996, EU regulators raised the allowed maximum residue limit (MRL) for glyphosate in imported soy 200-fold, from 0.1 mg/kg to 20 mg/kg.

Glyphosate use has become increasingly controversial in recent years, with a growing body of research, say campaigners, suggesting that exposure, even at low levels, can be harmful to animals and humans.

Studies have also suggested, claim critics, that the herbicide may disrupt the human endocrine system, which regulates the body’s biological processes, meaning that any level of exposure could pose a significant risk to health.

Such claims are vigorously refuted by the agro-chemical industry, who state the herbicide is safe and who accuse campaigners of touting flawed research, or manipulating the findings to suit their own agenda.

Pedersen claims that independent testing revealed all of his deformed pigs had glyphosate in their organs. He shows me a chart he suggests shows a clear correlation between the volume of glyphosate found in pig feed and higher numbers of cranial and spinal deformities. “The more glyphosate, the more deformities,” he says, bluntly.

Outside, along a muddy track through a number of arable fields – in addition to pigs, Pedersen produces strawberries, peas and potatoes – we come to the main pig house. It’s vast and crowded, efficient and noisy, with the unmistakable stink of pig waste. A factory farm.

Pedersen shows me the farrowing crates, the large bodies of the nursing sows squeezed under metal bars, surrounded by up to a dozen weaning piglets. He points out his best animals – the most productive, the veterans – and stops to check on those he has concerns about, examining a swollen joint here or an inflamed nipple there. Antibiotics are administered to one.

In the main hall the pigs move more freely, as they do in a series of smaller rooms where younger animals are kept as they grow. The farmer manually throws down handfuls of sandy-looking feed to supplement that available in the conical feed troughs. The feed mix, he explains, contains soya, fishmeal and other ingredients – but nothing of GM origin.

Pederson admits his work isn’t scientific but says the results should alarm people. He’s worried that many farmers have no idea of the potential impact of GM feed, and that the same is true for consumers: when using GM feed, he says, “Everything was down in the quagmire … We had eleven pigs die in one day.”

Deformities and deaths “the new normal”

The farmer’s research, and outspoken stance, provoked a storm of controversy in Danish agricultural circles after the respected farming publication Effektivt Landbrug featured the story, interviewing Pedersen in detail and referring to the pig farmers’ suggestion that DDT and thalidomide – linked to deformities in up to 10,000 babies – could be regarded as trivial compared to the potential risks from GM and glyphosate.

Critics accused him of scaremongering and slammed the findings as unscientific and “without merit” – pointing out that if the claims were true, thousands of other farmers using GM feed would be recording similar problems.

Despite this, Pedersen’s work has prompted the Danish Pig Research Centre (VSP) to announce an in-depth study to test the effects of GM and non-GM soya on animal health. The findings of the research have yet to be published.

And Pedersen’s findings are beginning to spread well beyond Denmark; earlier this month the German television channel ARD broadcast a documentary featuring the farmer’s claims, and Pedersen himself recently travelled to the UK to address a packed symposium at the House of Commons, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Agroecology.

Anti-GM campaigners say the findings are particularly compelling as the observations were made in a real farm setting, not a laboratory. Claire Robinson of GM Watch told The Ecologist.

“The findings are worrying and consistent with reports from some farmers and vets in the US, who noticed a downturn in the health and reproductive performance in pigs and cattle after GM feed became common.” 

“Farmers who have worked to exclude GM ingredients from their feed report dramatic improvements in herd health. Farmers should be worried and should not settle for what some scientists are calling a ‘new norm’ of increased rates of malformations, deaths and digestive and reproductive problems, as GM feed becomes more common.”

Peter Melchett, of the Soil Association, says: “Farmers in countries as far apart as Denmark and India have been saying for many years that they have noticed serious ill-health in their animals when feeding GM feed … practical research on pigs has shown significant impact of GM compared to non-GM feed.

The Danish farmer’s claims have also been supported by veterinary experts. Professor Monika Kruger, of Leipzig University, says there is growing evidence showing that glyphosate is dangerous for both animals and people:

“A lot of livestock are ill and nobody is interested. In most cases the highest concentrations come from GM products like soya, rapeseed and corn. We [have] also found glyphosate in meat.”

Professor Kruger, who’s own research suggested that glyphosate may be toxic to dairy cows, and apparently linked to cases of botulism in cattle, says farmers – and the wider food industry including supermarkets – should be “very concerned” about the claims, and believes that glyphosate should be “eliminated” from farming.

Her comments follow the publication last year of controversial research by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, an expert in molecular biology at Caen University in France, which claimed that rats fed a diet of GM maize, or exposed to glyphosate, for two years, developed higher levels of cancers and died earlier than controls.

The study, published in the peer reviewed publication Food and Chemical Toxicology, was the first of its kind to test the impact of GM, and glyphosate, over such a long period – many previous experiments lasted 90 days. The findings led Seralini to argue that glyphosate’s apparent endocrine disrupting effects might be responsible.

The study was criticised by the agribusiness industry and academics however, who said it contained methodological flaws, was scientifically substandard, and its findings sensationalised.

review by the European Food Safety Authority later concluded that Seralini’s research could not be regarded as scientifically sound because of inadequacies in the design, reporting and analysis of the study. This has been challenged by the research team.

More recently, research led by Dr. Judy Carman, Associate Professor at Flinders University, Adelaide, claimed that pig health could be harmed by the consumption of feed containing GM crops.

Carmen studied two sets of pigs – one fed a GM diet, one a non-GM diet – from a US piggery over a period of more than five months. Each group was farmed identically in terms of housing and feeding conditions, before being slaughtered and autopsied.

The researchers found that the GM-fed females had, on average, a 25 per cent heavier uterus than non-GM-fed females, ‘a possible indicator of disease’ according to the study team. The level of severe inflammation in stomachs was also reportedly higher in pigs fed on the GM diet.

Howard Vlieger, an Iowa-based farmer and one of the co-ordinators of Carman’s study, told The Ecologist:

“There is little doubt based on the results of putting GM feed into a livestock ration and based on results of removing GM feed from a ration that animal health is better on conventional feed and grain.”

Vlieger, when launching the study, said: “In my experience, farmers have found increased production costs and escalating antibiotic use when feeding GM crops. In some operations, the livestock death loss is high, and there are unexplained problems including spontaneous abortions, deformities of new-born animals, and an overall listlessness and lack of contentment in the animals.”

As with Seralini’s study, Carmen’s work was criticised by some academics who accused the researchers of picking out a few “statistically significant” results from a large number of tests, and for using poor statistical methodology for assessing differences in inflammation.

GM “being forced onto farmers”

About 30 million tonnes of GM animal feed is now thought to be imported into Europe each year to feed pigs, poultry, dairy and beef cattle, as well as farmed fish. The UK imports an estimated 140,000 tonnes of GM soya and as much as 300,000 tonnes of GM maize annually for use as animal feed.

In reality, say campaigners, this means that much of the meat and dairy products on sale are now produced from animals fed a GM diet. Much of the soya and maize used is grown in South America, including Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

In the UK, foods containing GM material for human consumption are currently required by law to be labelled. However, human foods derived from GM fed animals – meat, fish, milk and dairy products – do not need to be labelled. This represents a loophole, claim activists, which means consumers could inadvertently be eating be GM products.

Peter Melchett comments: “Labelling of all products from animals fed on GM should be legally required throughout the EU. Supermarkets in many European countries are now starting to label products from animals fed on GM.”

“It is a scandal that UK supermarkets refuse to give this information to their customers, and instead deliberately keep them in the dark, with, at best, information on their websites and confusing answers to people who call their helplines. We know that people want accurate labelling, and at the moment supermarkets are betraying their customers on this issue.”

The Soil Association cites a Food Standards Agency-published poll which found 67 per cent of the public thought it was important for products made from animals fed GM diets to be labelled.

In France, retail giant Carrefour in 2010 launched a labelling scheme to inform customers that animals used to produce foodstuffs have not been fed genetically-modified feed. More than 300 products now come with a ‘free from GM feed’ label after the supermarket giant said polls had found that more than 60 per cent of customers would stop buying products if they knew they were made from animals given GM feed.

Similar schemes are being adopted by other major European food retailers.

In Britain, tensions over the issue were heightened following the announcement earlier this year by four British supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsburys, the Co-op and Marks and Spencer – that they could no longer guarantee that the feed used in their poultry lines would be non-GM, citing their suppliers’ apparently increasing difficulties in sourcing non-GM feed.

All said customers would continue to have non-GM options, including organic and certain premium ranges. Waitrose has continued to guarantee a non GM diet for its poultry, stating that it wants customers to have “choice”.

British farmers are facing a dilemma – accept GM feed or go organic – according to some industry sources, who agree that conventional feed is increasingly becoming more difficult to source at an economically viable price.

They say that although the availability of non GM feed is disputed (producers organisations in Brazil maintain there is an ample supply of conventionally grown soya but say poor infrastructure at ports has held some shipments up) some major feed supply companies are now only offering their customers GM options, or organic.

“It’s a nightmare trying to source non GM feed,” a supermarket source said. “The reality is that trying to source it on the scale needed [by large retailers] is very difficult. The feed companies own the boats, the mills, they control the supply chain.”

One UK feed merchant told The Ecologist that GM is now effectively being forced onto farmers: “As a farmer you are constantly under pressure, you are busy, you’ve got to be good at finance, a good production manager, so when someone offers [GM] feed that’s cheaper, it’s easy to say yes.”

“Not having an option is not good. But when you’ve got an importer saying GM is fine and that he’s not going to bring in [non GM] a farmer is not likely to go out and source his own.”

The merchant said that not all farmers were aware about GM ingredients, and admitted some were not concerned anyway. He said some believed they were the victims of double standards: “‘Why can we import GM from the USA or wherever, but are not allowed to grow it here’ they say.”

One Welsh organic dairy farmer agrees opinions are split: “I’ve got farming neighbours who are conventional; some are accepting GM with open arms, some don’t want it. One milk supplier is not happy at all about GM feed,” he says.

Michael Hart, a beef and lamb farmer from Cornwall, and the founder of the Small and Family Farms Alliance, says that he believes there is still demand for non GM feed but that it is becoming prohibitively expensive. “My local feed merchant says he can get organic, but for conventional non GM he’ll demand more money.”

Hart, a prominent anti-GM campaigner, says that since the BSE crisis farmers have become more sceptical about science and about what they are told, and that many have concerns about GM:

“Since 1996 farmers are more market aware and [more aware] of public opinion towards what we do. Is this GM stuff safe to feed my cows? Why do the public say they don’t want it? Trust of science, trust of big business has gone.”

Although not addressing the GM feed issue specifically, a poll conducted earlier this year by Farmers Weekly and Barclays Bank found that more than 60 per cent of British farmers would grow GM crops if it were legal to do so. The survey tested the opinions of more than 600 farmers across the UK.

Farm evidence “without merit”

Unofficially, one supermarket source admitted that “no one knows” when it comes to the potential health implications of using GM feed. As for whether GM is potentially risky or not, he says, “No-one can really put their hand on heart and say that one or the other is the case.”

However, in formal replies to questions from The Ecologist retailers defended their position. A spokesperson for the Co-operative Group said:

“Since 2003, we have been working with suppliers to achieve greater availability of products from animals fed a non-GM diet. Unfortunately, this position is proving to be increasingly difficult to deliver.

“This is because the amount of non-GM soya being produced is decreasing, there are increasing difficulties in segregating through the soya supply chain and there is an increasing cost to farmers and potentially to customers for non-GM soya.”

“All of this has meant that our previously stated position of increasing availability of products from animals fed a non-GM diet is no longer tenable.”

The spokesperson said the company will continue to monitor the animal feed supply situation and added: “since this issue broke in the news we have had very few individual complaints and queries, and there has been no impact on sales.”

Marks & Spencer said in a statement: “Alongside other retailers, we have written to our suppliers to tell them that we will no longer stipulate the use of non-GM feed in our fresh meat supply chain. This change in policy is absolutely necessary because there is now a much reduced supply of non-GM feed available to UK farmers. As such we can now no longer guarantee that our fresh meat has been fed on a non-GM diet.”

Josephine Simmons from Sainsbury’s said: “Whilst the latest scientific research and current Government advice is that GM ingredients do not present any risks to human health, we acknowledge the concerns of our customers and do not permit the use of GM crops, ingredients, additives or derivatives in any Sainsbury’s own label food, drink, pet food, dietary supplements or floral products, this remains the case.”

“We know that some people also have concerns about products from animals whose feed may contain GM ingredients. We therefore offer a choice of products from livestock fed a non-GM diet.”

Tesco declined to comment.

The Food Standards Agency said it is “aware of anecdotal reports that pigs in Denmark perform much better when fed with non-GM than GM ingredients. These claims are unproven and they are currently being assessed by the Danish authorities. We look forward to their conclusions, and to the results of formal experiments that are under way in the Danish pig research centre (VSP).”

It added: “Every new GM crop must go through a detailed evaluation and be specifically authorised before it can be marketed. The evaluation covers safety and nutritional quality and is carried out at EU level by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). FSA is confident in the rigour of EFSA’s assessments. As a result, the FSA can confirm that any GM food or feed that is authorised in the EU is as safe as its non-GM equivalent.”

The body highlighted criticisms of both the Seralini and Carman research.

In a detailed statement, Tom Helscher from the agribusiness giant Monsanto – one of the world’s largest producers of GM crops and suppliers of glyphosate, marketed under their well-known Roundup brand – said:

“Product safety and stewardship is a high priority for us and we routinely review studies that relate to our products and technologies. There is a large body of evidence that supports the food and feed safety of commercial GM crops and derived food and feedstuffs.”

Helscher said the company were aware of Pedersen’s claims but said that “if the allegations had merit, pigs all over Denmark and the US would be having diarrhoea problems, which isn’t the case. There is a very robust collection of recent publications that found no negative effect of GM feed on pig health or performance.”

He said Carmen’s study and its results “are at odds with the long safety records of glyphosate and GM, and contrary to the weight of evidence substantiated by a large body of credible, peer reviewed literature.”

“For over a decade, millions of pigs have been fed GM corn and soybean meal without negative impacts on health, reproduction, and growth. To date, there has been no scientific evidence confirming any detrimental impact on the animals or on the products – that is the meat, milk and eggs derived from animals fed GM crops.

“Therefore, the long history of safe use of GM feed is at direct odds with the author’s allegations and suggests their findings are without merit.

Helsher said the Seralini study “does not meet minimum acceptable standards for this type of scientific research, the findings are not supported by the data presented, and the conclusions are not relevant for the purpose of safety assessment. Major flaws in the Seralini research have been reported by many reviewers.”

Back in Denmark, Ib Pedersen’s farm manager informs him that one of his pigs has unexpectedly died – the carcass has been carried out and lies behind the farm buildings, still warm.

Pedersen takes a sharp knife and slices the animal open, blood pouring onto the concrete floor. The intestines and other internal organs, including the stomach – it’s full, the feed consumed just hours before is still visible – are pulled out and individually checked for signs of inflammation or other abnormalities.

Nothing unusual, the farmer says. Not this time.

Source – Sarah Stirk, Louisa Michel  and Andrew Wasley of The Ecologist

Horsemeat Scandal: ‘Prepare For More Cases’

thCAY3V95AMore cases of contaminated meat may be revealed within days, the Government has warned as it raised fears that an international criminal conspiracy was behind the horse meat scandal.

The warning comes as The Independent newspaper claims up to one in 30 horses being exported to Europe for consumption could contain traces of a drug, known as Bute, which is harmful to humans.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the next set of results on all retailers’ and manufacturers’ processed beef products could reveal further traces of horse meat.

“There may well be more bad results coming through, that’s the point of doing this random analysis,” Mr Paterson said.

The results, ordered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), are due on Friday.

But David Clarke, chief executive of Red Tractor Assurance, a food guarantee scheme that covers British production standards, urged people to put the scandal into perspective.

Paterson: ‘Prepare for more bad news’
He told Sky News: “The news in the last three weeks has been of great concern to consumers. But to get it in perspective it is only affected a small part of the food that is in the shops.

“I would hope that all of the fresh meat that people are eating for Sunday lunch today should not be affected by this.”

Mr Clarke added that the food industry had learnt lessons from the last few weeks, namely that “this very cheap processed meat produced with raw materials that are traded all across the world, all across Europe, is potentially a problem”.

Meanwhile, one of the food companies at the centre of the horsemeat scandal has said it is considering taking legal action against its suppliers.

Frozen foods firm Findus, which has taken its beef lasagnes off shelves after some were found to have up to 100% horse meat in them, said it was looking into legal action as an internal investigation “strongly suggests” that the contamination “was not accidental”.

The Ministry of Agriculture in Romania – to where the horsemeat has been traced – has launched an inquiry after two of its abattoirs were implicated in the scandal.

The Environment Secretary also revealed retailers have agreed plans to improved their food testing, adding that they hold the “ultimate responsibility” for making sure their products do not contain horse meat.

Mr Paterson was speaking after attending an emergency meeting with bosses from leading supermarkets, trade bodies and the FSA on Saturday to discuss the scandal which has seen chains including Tesco, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland withdraw some products.

He said supermarkets and trade bodies have already begun plans to carry out more testing and report their results on a quarterly basis.

Aldi has withdrawn products containing horsemeat
They had also agreed that consumers should be compensated if they have bought withdrawn products with no questions asked, he said.

Mr Paterson added: “It’s a question of either gross incompetence, but as I’ve said publicly and I’ll repeat again, I’m more concerned there’s actually an international criminal conspiracy here, and we’ve really got to get to the bottom of it.”

Scotland Yard have met representatives from the FSA, although there is currently no official police investigation.

Prime Minister David Cameron has described the scandal as “shocking” and “completely unacceptable”, while Labour leader Ed Miliband said it was “appalling”.

The Trading Standards Institute has said the discovery of such high levels of horse meat suggests “deliberate fraudulent activity”.

Food safety experts have said there is no risk to public health.

Tesco and Aldi have also withdrawn a range of ready meals produced by Comigel over fears that they contained contaminated meat.

The GMB union said all hospitals, schools and meals-on-wheels services should verify that horse meat had not been served to vulnerable people.

Responding to fears that school dinners might be contaminated with horsemeat, the Department for Education said schools and councils were responsible for their food contracts.

‘Horsemeat beefburgers’ investigated in UK and Ireland

thCAY3V95AInvestigations are under way to try to find out how beefburgers on sale in UK and Irish Republic supermarkets became contaminated with horsemeat.

Irish food safety officials, who carried out tests two months ago, said the products had been stocked by a number of chains including Tesco and Iceland stores in the UK.

They said there was no human health risk and the burgers had been removed.

Tesco said it was “working… to ensure it does not happen again”.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to “urgently investigate” how the products came to contain horsemeat.

The investigation will trace the meat back to its source to “find the cause of the contamination”.

The FSA has also called a meeting of food industry representatives.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which is conducting similar inquiries, said the meat had come from two processing plants in the Irish Republic – Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods – and the Dalepak Hambleton plant in North Yorkshire.

The burgers had been on sale in Tesco and Iceland in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, where they were also on sale in Dunnes Stores, Lidl and Aldi.

A total of 27 burger products were analysed, with 10 of them containing traces of horse DNA and 23 containing pig DNA.

‘Extremely serious’

Horsemeat accounted for approximately 29% of the meat content in one sample from Tesco, which had two frozen beefburger products sold in both the UK and Ireland contaminated with horse DNA.

In addition, 31 beef meal products, including cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne, were analysed, of which 21 tested positive for pig DNA.

FSAI director of consumer protection Raymond Ellard said several investigations would now need to take place.

He said: “The companies have taken a very responsible attitude. On a voluntary basis they have withdrawn products from sale, so have the retailers.

Irish Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney: ”There is no food safety risk”

“They are co-operating completely with the authorities here to investigate how this could have happened. A long chain of inquiry has to take place now to look at all the raw ingredients that we use for these productions, where they came from and how the cross-contamination could have occurred.”

Tesco group technical director Tim Smith stressed the company “immediately withdrew from sale all products from the supplier in question” after receiving the test results on Tuesday.

In a statement, Mr Smith said food safety and quality was “of the highest importance to Tesco” and “the presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious”.

He added Tesco was “working with the authorities in Ireland and the UK, and with the supplier concerned, to urgently understand how this has happened and how to ensure it does not happen again”.

FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said there was “a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products, due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants”.

But he added: “There is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horsemeat in their production process.

“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and, therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.

“Likewise, for some religious groups, or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable.”

‘Quality and integrity’

Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney reassured the public that the burgers posed no health risk, adding that the Republic of Ireland “probably has the best traceability and food safety in the world”.

Iceland said the FSAI’s findings were concerning, stressing the company had “withdrawn from sale the two Iceland brand quarter pounder burger lines implicated in the study”.

It said it “would be working closely with its suppliers to investigate this issue and to ensure that all Iceland brand products meet the high standards of quality and integrity that we specify and which our customers are entitled to expect”.

Aldi said only one of its products – the Oakhurst Beef Burgers (8 pack), which was on sale only in the Republic of Ireland – had been affected.

In a statement, Aldi Stores (Ireland) said it had “immediately removed the product from sale and have launched an investigation into the matter”.

The company said it “takes the quality of all its products extremely seriously and demands the highest standards from its suppliers”.

Lidl was not available for comment when contacted by the BBC.

Meanwhile, Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak both said they had never bought or traded in horse product and have launched an investigation into two continental European third-party suppliers.

 

Source – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21038521

Can Antibiotics Make You Fat?

fat_425x320Like hospital patients, US farm animals tend to be confined to tight spaces and dosed with antibiotics. But that’s where the similarities end. Hospitals dole out antibiotics to save lives. On America’s factory-scale meat farms, the goal is to fatten animals for their date at the slaughterhouse.

And it turns out that antibiotics help with the fattening process. Back in the 1940s, scientists discovered that regular low doses of antibiotics increased “feed efficiency”—that is, they caused animals to put on more weight per pound of feed. No one understood why, but farmers seized on this unexpected benefit. By the 1980s, feed laced with small amounts of the drugs became de rigueur as US meat production shifted increasingly to factory farms. In 2009, an estimated 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States went to livestock.

This year, scientists may have finally figured out why small doses of antibiotics “promote growth,” as the industry puts it: They make subtle changes to what’s known as the “gut microbiome,” the teeming universe populated by billions of microbes that live within the digestive tracts of animals. In recent research, the microbiome has been emerging as a key regulator of health, from immune-related disorders like allergies and asthma to the ability to fight off pathogens.

In an August study published in Nature, a team of New York University researchers subjected mice to regular low doses of antibiotics—just like cows, pigs, and chickens get on factory farms. The result: After seven weeks, the drugged mice had a different composition of microbiota in their guts than the control group—and they had gained 10 to 15 percent more fat mass.

Why? “Microbes in our gut are able to digest certain carbohydrates that we’re not able to,” says NYU researcher and study coauthor Ilseung Cho. Antibiotics seem to increase those bugs’ ability to break down carbs—and ultimately convert them to body fat. As a result, the antibiotic-fed mice “actually extracted more energy from the same diet” as the control mice, he says. That’s great if you’re trying to fatten a giant barn full of hogs. But what about that two-legged species that’s often exposed to antibiotics?

Interestingly, the NYU team has produced another recent paper looking at just that question. They analyzed data from a UK study in the early ’90s to see if they could find a correlation between antibiotic exposure and kids’ weight. The study involved more than 11,000 kids, about a third of whom had been prescribed antibiotics to treat an infection before the age of six months. The results: The babies who had been exposed to antibiotics had a 22 percent higher chance of being overweight at age three than those who hadn’t (though by age seven the effect had worn off).

The connection raises another obvious question: Are we being exposed to tiny levels of antibiotics through residues in the meat we eat—and are they altering our gut flora? It turns out that the Food and Drug Administration maintains tolerance limits for antibiotic residue levels, above which meat isn’t supposed to be released to the public (PDF). But Keeve Nachman, who researches antibiotic use in the meat industry for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, told me that the FDA sets these limits based solely on research financed and conducted by industry—and it refuses to release the complete data to the public or consider independent research.

“We may not understand the biological relevance of exposures through consuming meat at those levels,” he says. Indeed, a recent European study showed that tiny levels of antibiotics could have an effect on microorganisms. The researchers took some meat, subjected it to antibiotic residues near the US limit, and used a traditional technique to turn it into sausage, inoculating it with lactic-acid-producing bacteria. In normal sausage making, the lactic acid from the starter bacteria spreads through the meat and kills pathogens like E. coli. The researchers found, though, that the antibiotic traces were strong enough to impede the starter bacteria, while still letting the E. coli flourish. In other words, even at very low levels, antibiotics can blast “good” bacteria—and promote deadly germs.

Nachman stressed that we simply don’t have sufficient information to tell whether the meat we eat is messing with our gut microbiome. But, he adds, “It’s not an unreasonable suspicion.” If that’s not enough to churn your stomach, there’s also the fact that drug-resistant bugs—which often emerge in antibiotic-dosed livestock on factory farms—are increasingly common: Remember the super-salmonella that caused Cargill to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey last year? Luckily for me, it’s unlikely that drug-laced meat will mess with my gut. I think I’ve lost my appetite.