The meat mob muscles in
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1997:
Poorly educated women, often of ethnic minorities,
many of them immigrants, do the hardest, dirtiest, most dangerous
work––until their bodies fail them.
Pushers on almost every busy street corner stoke the
addictions that already kill more Americans than any other
cause, and have created the world’s deadliest drug problem.
Their suppliers rank among the global leaders in
dumping toxic waste.
Kingpins of this mob, some already convicted of
political corruption reaching clear to the White House, are now
muscling into position to siphon off the hard-won economic
gains of the developing world.
Yet legally speaking, anyway, we’re not talking
about Organized Crime.
They’re the Meat Mob. They’re big on family, as in
family restaurants. But they also devour their own.
Wendy’s International restaurant chain founder Dave
Thomas, for instance, in December 1996 underwent a coronary
bypass operation for repair of cholesterol-clogged arteries.
Thomas was 64. Public and media enjoyed the irony that the
Wendy’s signature menu item is a bacon cheeseburger, possibly
the most cholesterol-loaded regular menu item in the cholesterol-heavy
fast food market.
But there was nothing unusual in Thomas’ plight.
The National Center for Health Statistics recorded the
deaths of 2.3 million Americans in 1995. Heart disease killed
32%; cancers killed 23%; stroke killed 6.8%. These were the
top three killers. They are degenerative conditions, increasing
in frequency with age, and would probably be the top killers
even if every American ate a healthy balanced diet, got plenty
of exercise, and did not smoke.
But victims would be much older. Heart disease,
cancer, and stroke tend to strike decades prematurely, with
improper diet a causal factor. To be specific, Americans ingest
far too much of a particular type of fat, cholesterol, found only
in animal products and byproducts. Physicians have known for
decades that cholesterol build-ups cause clogged arteries that
contribute to the onset of heart attacks and stroke, and amplify
the consequences. Cholesterol build-up, exascerbating direct
harm done to the cardiovascular system by the nicotine in
tobacco smoke, even increases the likelihood that a smoker will
be among the estimated 170,000 Americans per year who die
from cancers and other diseases associated with smoking.
More than 300 studies published in recent editions of
medical journals have already documented the association
between meat and chronic disease.
“We now know that cigarette smoking, alcohol, and
ordinary foods together are associated with almost all of excess
cancer,” Philip H. Abelson editorialized in the January 10,
1992 edition of S c i e n c e. Five years later, his statement has
only been reinforced. “The contribution from foods is about as
great as that from smoking,” Abelson continued. “Two examples
of causative agents in foods are excessive amounts of fats
and salt,” both associated with eating meat. “Western populations
that derive 40 to 45% of their food calories from fats experience
comparatively high mortality from cancers of the post
seems to be standard practice in poultry plants,
as a local television program in May 1996
reportedly used a hidden camera to document
yet another instance of it at the Hudson Farms
poultry processing plant in Noel, Missouri.
Former Perdue executive Thomas
Shelton, meanwhile, has become an industry
power in his own right, modeling his empire,
Case Farms, after the Perdue operation––
apparently down to the details. On January 23,
1997, Case employees Carlos Matheu and
Luis Gonzalez testified at a National Press
Club news conference hosted by the National
Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice that
they and other Case production line personnel
must ask permission to use restrooms, are
obliged to work with cuts on their hands, must
buy their own safety equipment, and on one
occasion in August 1996 were locked inside
the Case slaughterhouse in Morganton, North
Carolina, after they threatened to go on strike.
Of the 550 Case indoor workers, an
estimated 90% are Spanish-speaking. Case
made a particular effort to attract Guatemalan
immigrants, who are reputedly especially
docile, a legacy of centuries of political
repression in their native land.
The Case hiring practices “forced the
city of Morganton to absorb an influx of newcomers
that is straining services and fueling
resentment,” Craig Whitlock of the R a l e i g h
News & Observer reported in November 1996.
But prospective workers who expected to earn
as much as $7.50 an hour found themselves
actually earning much less. Conditions were
so bad that in May 1995, after Case fired three
workers who complained, 300 workers
walked out, then voted to join the Laborers
International Union of North America.
Resisting National Labor Relations Board
orders to negotiate, which have been upheld in
federal court, Case is still pursuing appeals.
The workers still don’t have a contract, but
safety and sanitation are reportedly better, and
the average wage is up to $6.85 an hour.
Case is also resisting unionization in
Holmes County, Ohio. “Case Farms has
about 350 workers and a turnover rate of more
than 100% a year,” United Food and
Commercial Workers Union organizer Louis J.
Maholic told Karen Long of the C l e v e l a n d
Plain Dealer in March 1997. “They don’t last
long. They process 90 birds per minute, with
lots of cut injuries, with their hands slippery
from eviscerating chickens, and crowding that
causes them to cut each other with sharp
knives. They know nothing of workers’ compensation
and go without medical care. Some
of these workers go two shifts and sleep in the
Perhaps the most notorious recent
example of meat industry labor abuse came on
September 3, 1991, when 25 workers were
killed and 56 injured in a fire at the Imperial
Food Products Ltd. chicken processing plant at
Hamlet, North Carolina. A medical examiner
found that illegally locked and/or blockaded
doors contributed to most of the deaths.
Incredibly, a USDA inspector had approved
locking one fire door––which he had no
authority to do. Although the plant had previous
fires in 1980 and 1983, state labor inspectors
had never visited. Owner Emmett Roe in
1992 pleaded guilty to 25 counts of
manslaughter, drawing a 20-year prison sentence,
of which he actually served four and a
half years, 65 days for each of the dead, at a
minimum security facility with neither fences
nor armed guards. He was paroled on April
18, 1997. The surviving injured workers and
families of the dead only won the right to sue
the state for failure to enforce safety codes on
February 4, 1997, after a five-year battle that
went to the state Court of Appeals. Damage
claims will be limited to $100,000 per victim.
DeCoster of eggs
The egg-and-chicken producer
DeCoster Farms, of Turner, Maine, was
fined $46,250 in June 1988 for 184 labor standards
violations of federal labor––and was
then caught, in September 1992, keeping as
many as 100 workers from Mexico, Texas,
and Central America in virtual slavery.
Confined to company housing when not on the
job, the Spanish-speaking workers were
threatened with deportation if they left without
authorization, and were not allowed visitors.
Priests, social workers, and truant officers
were barred. Fined $15,000 for those offenses
in January 1993, DeCoster took the case to the
Maine Supreme Court, which ruled against the
company in January 1995.
That was just the start of a drama
now running for more than 28 months. Trying
to enforce the court verdict, U.S. Labor
Secretary Robert Reich on July 12, 1996
announced that DeCoster would be fined $3.6
million for continuing noncompliance with
health and safety standards. Violations recorded
by OSHA included failures to install
required guards on equipment, 10 months
after a worker lost parts of three fingers
because the guards were missing; workers not
paid overtime despite logging from 80 to 100
hours a week on the job; workers paid below
the minimum wage or not at all; hiring children
as young as nine; preventing workers
from attending Catholic services; and allowing
supervisors to physically intimidate staff.
Owner Austin “Jack” DeCoster
appealed the fine and appointed a blue-ribbon
panel of prominent Maine business people to
oversee improvements. Within three months
they all quit in frustration. In the interim,
DeCoster was fined by the Maine Department
of Environmental Protection for building an
unauthorized wastewater treatment system;
OSHA testing found fecal contamination in
workers’ drinking water; and DeCoster
replaced an allegedly abusive manager with
John William Glessner Jr., 34, who held a
similar post at one of the 30 DeCoster hog
operations in Iowa until shortly after he and
another DeCoster hog plant manager were convicted
in July 1996 of the 1995 beating of
worker Lucas Ortega. Ortega, 19, was
allegedly pulled from his apartment and down
a flight of stairs by his hair, tied hand and foot
with duct tape, then slapped and punched.
After the blue-ribbon panel quit,
DeCoster evicted employees from substandard
company housing two weeks before Christmas.
Another OSHA fine followed, this time
$117,000 for alleged serious mishandling of
pesticides. Still resisting federal directives,
DeCoster in January 1997 paid for a newspaper
ad defending his practices, signed by 75
workers, many of whom later told media they
had not known what they were signing.
As result of the appeal, DeCoster on
May 20 won a reduction in the biggest fine to
$2 million, barely half the original amount,
with the remainder suspended on condition
that at least 90% of the allegedly abusive conditions
are corrected within one more year.
About 100 workers will divide $21,000 in settlement
of unpaid wage claims.
According to Susan Rayfield of the
Portland Press Herald, DeCoster announced
the deal with a “free” chicken banquet for
workers, then docked them for the time they
spent eating it, canceled overtime, and speeded
up the production lines.
DeCoster’s Iowa egg plant was
meanwhile fined $489,950 on October 24,
1996, for 15 serious safety violations.
A similar struggle is underway at the
2.5-million-hen AgriGeneral egg farm near
LaRue, Ohio. Opened over much local opposition
in September 1995, AgriGeneral
promised to create jobs in the community, but
when locals were unwilling to endure 13-to16-hour
days at $5.50 an hour with no overtime,
migrant workers were imported from
Mexico. In November 1996, the Ohio
Department of Health hit AgriGeneral for 30
violations of health and safety codes at company
housing. The Ohio EPA meanwhile proposed
a $128,000 fine for illegal AgriGeneral
wastewater discharges, noting that another
AgriGeneral egg farm in Ohio hadn’t cleaned
up its act until after it was fined $100,000 in
1985 for allegedly causing a 1983 fish kill.
Matters escalated after the United
Food and Commercial Workers Union tried to
organize the AgriGeneral work force, parallel
to the organizing effort at Case Farms. In midMarch
1997, 25 current and former AgriGeneral
workers sued for unpaid back wages,
with legal help from the Ohio Public Interest
Research Group and the Equal Justice
Foundation. They further accused
AgriGeneral of obliging them to pack and ship
bad eggs. Three of the then-current workers
were fired within a week. Agri-General said it
simply had no work for them, but it had published
“help wanted” ads in a local newspaper
right up to the day of the firings. On April 31,
1997, AgriGeneral counterattacked, suing
Ohio PIRG and OPIRG director Amy Simpson
under a new state law against disparaging food
products without a scientific basis. Critics
contend the law is unconstitutional.
Workers won two rounds elsewhere
on March 25, 1997, when the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration fined the
Cagle’s Inc. poultry slaughtering plant at
Macon, Georgia, $1.27 million for 23 alleged
deliberate violations of federal safety rules
plus three more accidental violations that were
deemed “serious.” On the same day, the
Labor Department announced that Hanover
Foods Corp., of Clayton, Delaware, would
be fined $498,000 for similar violations.
The size of the fines is impressive,
but companies are often allowed to pay OSHA
fines by making safety improvements, so that
in effect they may not actually be penalized,
just forced to comply with laws long flouted.
Despite all that, the major item on
the 105th Congress calendar pertaining to
poultry industry labor is the 1997 Family
Farmer Cooperative Marketing Amendment to
the Agricultural Fair Practices Act of 1967,
introduced by Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) with little
chance of passage. The Kaptur bill would
require “good faith” bargaining on the part of
processors with organizations of farmers,
many of whom argue that under the current
contract production system they are in effect
sharecroppers who bear a disproportionate burden
of both initial investment and ongoing
operating costs. In effect, farmers would be
empowered to unionize, even as they fight
unionization by their own personnel.
Kaptur bill would implement recommendations
issued by the Grain Inspection,
Packers and Stockyards Administration. The
National Contract Poultry Growers
Association previously sought state-level legislation
to facilitate unionizing farmers, but a
proposed “bill of rights for poultry growers”
was defeated in Alabama, Louisiana, North
Carolina, and Oklahoma. The Arkansas
Contract Poultry Growers Association couldn’t
even find a legislative sponsor for such a bill.
A bill somewhat strengthening the position of
poultry growers did get through the
Mississippi legislature in 1996, but was
vetoed by the governor.
The National Contract Poultry
Growers meanwhile joined the National
Farmers Union, National Family Farm
Coalition, and Citizen Action in attacking the
November 1996 announcement by Labor
Secretary Robert Reich that a “targeted
enforcement project” would investigate complaints
by the National Interfaith Committee
for Worker Justice about worker housing and
safety in Arkansas and North Carolina.
“Sweatshop conditions will not be
tolerated,” Reich said.
The National Broiler Council called
it “just one more attempt by labor unions and
their supporters to drum up support for their
Any cabinet-level action by the
Clinton administration with potential wideranging
impact on the poultry industry would
run afoul of top-level lobbying pressure from
longtime Clinton backer Don Tyson, senior
chairman of the Tyson Foods Inc. board.
Tyson, 66, is son of company founder John
Tyson. Semi-retired since the end of 1994,
Don Tyson remains “an active unofficial lobbyist,”
according to Arkansas DemocratG
a z e t t e reporter D.R. Stewart, who recently
examined Tyson Inc. filings with the Securities
and Exchange Commission to discover that,
“In 1996, Tyson, whose reputation for wild
parties is exceeded only by his business acumen,
received $720,000 in salary; $571,720
in travel and entertainment expenses; and
$398,119 for income tax liabilities related to
his travel and entertainment budget,” which
increased 35.4% post-retirement.
Tyson retired, at least on paper,
after Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy
resigned under intense criticism for accepting
gifts, airline tickets, and admission to sporting
events from Tyson Inc. lobbyist Jack
Williams. A federal jury on March 21, 1997
convicted Williams on two counts of making
false statements to federal investigators.
Tyson himself paid a civil penalty of $46,125
for violating insider trading laws in connection
with the 1992 Tyson Foods purchase of Arctic
Alaska Fisheries Corporation.
The labor problems of the poultry
industry are also surfacing at some of the
newer hog slaughtering plants––such as the
Lundy Packing Company, of Clinton, North
Carolina, whose owners and directors reportedly
include U.S. Senator Lauch Fairclough.
After sick workers complained to United Food
and Commercial Workers health and safety
director Jackie Nowell in 1993, federal testing
found 43 people with antibodies to brucellosis
among a killing floor staff of 154. Sixteen of
the 43 people with apparent exposure had
apparently actually suffered the disease. The
outbreak apparently resulted from inhaling
microscopic droplets of blood from infected
hogs. Fines totalling $13,500 were eventually
levied against Lundy for violating indoor air
quality standards, but were reduced on appeal.
Fairclough, with $19.8 million worth of holdings
in nine different hog operations, blamed
the episode on “a mean union.”
The same Lundy plant came under
Occupational Health and Safety Administration
scrutiny again in August 1996, after night
shift worker Solomon Velasquez, 18, was
decapitated while hosing out an industrial
blender. Nowell told OSHA that Velasquez, a
native of Guatemala, had been working with
dangerous equipment since age 16, in violation
of child labor laws; that some of the
equipment lacked lock-down devices to prevent
it from being accidentally turned on during
cleaning; and that two other workers had
lost hands in similar accidents during 1995,
which were not reported to state authorities.
In addition, another worker lost several fingers
in such an accident just a month before
Velasquez was killed.
Labor unions are strongest in the
beef sector, but Iowa Beef Packers Inc., with
a recruited work force largely of Hispanic and
Laotian immigrants, illegally withheld $7 million
in unpaid wages from 1986-1988 until
April 1, 1996, when U.S. District Judge Earl
O’Connor of Kansas City found the firm to be
in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act
and ordered payment.
Though many meat industry workers
are treated “like animals,” animals of course
do most of the suffering and dying, on a scale
almost boggling the imagination. The dying is
inevitable, but suffering is also engineered
into the system––and industry lobbyists are
aggressively cutting off avenues for reform.
With the April 1997 passage of an agricultural
exemption act in Tennessee, farm animals of
every species are now exempted from humane
laws in at least 30 states, with more bills to
roll back humane standards pending.
The 7.5 billion broiler chickens
slaughtered in the U.S. each year––93% of all
the animals killed for human consumption––
are also exempted from protection by the
Humane Slaughter Act, and indeed from all
other federal animal protective legislation.
Their average lifespan is about 50 days. Brief
as it is, however, many broiler chickens anda
billion-odd “spent” laying hens who go to
slaughter each year endure considerable pain.
According to poultry industry researcher N.C.
Gregory, who published the findings in
World’s Poultry Science Journal, about 12.4
million chickens per year are dead on arrival at
slaughtering plants, due to rough handling,
while 68 million suffer broken bones.
The injuries are caused by workers
who at Perdue Farms plants are expected to
grab and handle more than 7,100 chickens
apiece during each 12-hour shift. Yet the
chickens have nowhere to run: more than 97%
of hens live their whole lives within spaces
neither higher nor wider than a standard sheet
of typing paper.
Turkeys fare little better. Such
crowded conditions are ready-made for epidemics––and
they happen. Of the 900 North
Carolina turkey farmers, for instance, 42 that
formerly supplied turkeys to WLR Farms Inc.
and three more in South Carolina lost their
contracts on April 1 because of inability to
contain an unidentified antibiotic-resistant disease,
occurring since 1991, which keeps the
birds from gaining weight.
Rarely, however, do such epidemics
attract public attention. When the public
does notice, the tendency is to suppose that
the resulting toll is extraordinary. The world
was appalled, for example, in early 1997,
when Taiwanese troops invaded farms to
slaughter and burn an estimated 4.3 million
pigs who might have been exposed to hoofand-mouth
disease. The Dali Lama led public
mourning for the pigs.
A year earlier, under similar scrutiny,
Britain escalated the slaughter and incineration
of cattle to prevent the spread of bovine
spongiform encephalopathy, also known as
“mad cow disease.” This disease apparently
emerged as a consequence of feeding cattle
dietary supplements made from the offal of
sheep and other cattle, a practice popularized
coincidental with the development of factory
farming, which separated many cattle from
the minerals they formerly took directly from
the earth as they grazed, licking up small
amounts of soil with each mouthful of grass.
Induced cannibalism enabled the sheep disease
scrapie to jump the species barrier, mutate,
and apparently jump into human meat consumers,
producing a variant of the rare
Cruetzfeld-Jakob Disease, formerly known
only in older people, that strikes the young.
Though the number of authenticated
CJD cases with an apparent link to BSE is still
in the dozens rather than even the hundreds or
thousands, public panic over the prospect of
developing a brain disease from eating hamburger
is nonetheless intense enough that governments
around the world have killed thousands
more cattle just on suspicion that they
might have been exposed at some point to a
BSE source. The USDA mandated such prophylactic
killing relatively early in the CJD
scare––just as it has mandated high-volume
killing to rid the U.S. of hoof-and-mouth disease;
Newcastle’s disease, which strikes wild
birds and poultry; bovine tuberculosis; and
brucellosis, among many other diseases to
which lethal response is reflexive and swift.
Out-of-sight, out-of-mind is likewise
the general attitude toward livestock
transport––not only not effectively covered by
humane legislation, but also not well covered
by federal legislation designed to protect food
safety. What federal legislation concerning
livestock transport does exist is largely left
over from the era of train travel. Relatively little
applies to livestock transport by truck. The
104th Congress did pass a bill, as yet unimplemented
by regulations, to improve the
treatment of horses in transit to slaughter. In
1994, the most recent year for which complete
figures are available, 348,000 horses were
butchered in the eight U.S. horse-slaughterhouses,
while 26,612 horses were exported to
Canada for slaughter.
Another eight to nine billion animals
are hauled to their deaths each year with virtually
no protection against cruel treatment.
They will typically not receive food, nor
water beyond the minimum necessary to keep
most of them alive. They will be crowded
together as closely as is practicable. Cattle,
hogs, and sheep usually ride in double-decked
vehicles; those on top defecate and urinate on
those below. Poultry usually ride in stacked
crates, protected from the elements––if protected
at all––by just a plastic tarp.
Livestock transport has become an
international humane cause celebre s e v e r a l
times in recent years, including in Europe during
the winter of 1994-1995, when protests
that several times broke into riots temporarily
halted the export of live animals from Britain
to continental nations, and in Australia and
New Zealand in September 1996, after the
sheep transport vessel U n i c e b burned and
sank, killing all 67,488 sheep aboard en route
to Jordan. Both episodes received some U.S.
media attention. Never was it mentioned,
however, that livestock are routinely transported
as far or farther to slaughter in the U.S.
than the farthest journeys undertaken in
Europe. Nor was it mentioned that the toll of
67,488 sheep was slightly less than the number
of chickens (70,000 on average) who die in
transport to U.S. poultry slaughterhouses during
any given two-day interval.
The only “good news” pertaining to
livestock transport during the past several
decades is that while the number of animals
transported has steadily increased, the average
distance of transport has decreased, due to the
increasing concentration of immense poultry
and hog growing facilities, and even cattle
feedlots, close to slaughtering plants.
The overcrowding and stress of
transport, even over short distances, tends to
create conditions even more conducive to the
spread of disease than the typical barn conditions––especially
since livestock producers are
usually obliged to discontinue several days
before transport the regular prophylactic
antibiotic doses that most factory-farmed animals
receive in their feed.
Some producers and transporters
keep dosing their stock anyway. The Food
and Drug Administration and the Michigan
Department of Agriculture set up a 1996 sting
operation that won fines of $25,000 against
brothers Richard and Jeffrey Gorr, of
Petersburg, Michigan, for selling cattle who
had been given antibiotics and had not been
off the antibiotics for long enough for their
bodies to flush out the residues. The fines
were meant as a warning to other producers.
The potential risk to humans from
ingesting antibiotic residues and traces of other
veterinary drugs with meat has long been recognized.
Yet a greater risk of meat industry
antibiotic use was almost completely overlooked
until under five years ago: the role it
has in speeding the evolution of supermicrobes,
resistant to conventional antibiotics
and ever harder to fight with newly developed alternatives.
Warned Dr. Stuart Levy of Tufts University in his
1992 book The Antibiotic Paradox, “Antibiotic usage has stimulated
evolutionary changes unparalleled in recorded biologic
Two years later, microbiologist Alexander Tomasz
of Rockefeller University told the 1994 annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science that the
longterm effects of prophylactic antibiotic applications appear
to be “nothing short of a medical disaster.”
Today, the Taiwanese hoof-and-mouth epidemic, an
outbreak of antibiotic-resistant cholera in Hong Kong with possible
links to antibiotic use in poultry, and a host of other
regional plagues underscore the Levy and Tomasz warnings.
British experts have been stumped since 1991 by the
case of a poultry worker who developed an overpowering and
thus far incurable body odor after pricking his finger while
cleaning a chicken bone. The cause is an unidentified bacteria
which has resisted every known antibiotic. No one knows how
or when it could spread.
Scarier is the emergence in Britain of a new strain of
antibiotic-resistant salmonella, t y p h u r i u m DT104, which
could kill far more humans than BSE ever will. From 1993 to
1995, the number of known cases in humans tripled, to 3,500.
It has now been discovered on more than 1,800 British farms.
Australia in August 1996 suspended the use of
Avoparcin, an antibiotic administered to poultry to reduce feed
consumption, after it was tentatively linked to the discovery of
eight cases of Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus in humans.
Avoparcin is not used in U.S. poultry production, but many
other antibiotics also in the tetracycline class are used.
Ironically, even vegetarianism can’t totally protect
anyone against the supermicrobes. They can attack through the
air, the water, the soil, or the most fleeting touch. But a
healthier diet may better equip one to resist them.
BST and clenbuterol
Antibiotics are scarcely the only problematic drugs
routinely used in animal agriculture. After nearly 20 years of
study, the Food and Drug Administration Veterinary Medicine
Advisory Committee on November 20, 1996 ratified conclusions
that there should be no human health impacts from the
increasing use of bovine somatotropin (BST) to stimulate dairy
cows to produce more milk.
That ended the longest and most intense federal
review of any veterinary drug to date. The major controversies
over BST now pertain to attempts in several states to require
labeling of milk produced with the use of the drug, and the
economic impact on farmers, as fewer cows are needed each
year to produce the U.S. milk supply.
While public attention fixated on the cows, the
national leaders in the business of making veal of the calves
born in order get the cows to give milk in the first place quietly
made routine use of clenbuterol, a banned synthetic steroid,
which when mixed into feed enables virtually immobilized
crated calves to put on muscle weight without getting exercise
that might make their meat tougher. The side effects on people
who ingest clenbuterol residues can be deadly.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE reported in December 1995,
an informant tipped the Food and Drug Administration off to
the illegal clenbuterol traffic in 1989, but serious federal investigation
didn’t start until February 1994, after an outbreak of
clenbuterol poisoning afflicted at least 140 people who ate contaminated
veal and calf’s liver in an unrelated case in Spain.
Even then, U.S authorities proceeded gingerly, as investigating
agents cooperated with the American Veal Association to
keep illegal clenbuterol use by vealers out of the headlines.
Raids on U.S. veal feed distributors and veal production facilities
were quietly conducted throughout 1994. The first criminal
indictments were announced in 1995, and Jannes “John”
Doppenberg, president of Vitek Supply Corporation, was convicted
of related charges in June 1996.
On January 21, 1997, Doppenberg was sentenced to
serve 44 months in a federal penitentiary and was fined
$25,000. Vitek was fined $350,000. Doppenberg, Vitek, and
Vitek office manager Sherry Steffen were found jointly liable
for making restitution of $705,814 to the Swissland Packing
Co., of Ashkum, Illinois, which was obliged to kill and burn
1,300 veal calves whose Vitek feed contained clenbuterol.
Meanwhile, prodded for two years by the Humane
Farming Association, the Department of Justice on November
21, 1996 began efforts to extradite Gerard P. Hoogendijk,
owner of Pricor, B.V., the Dutch-based parent firm to Vitek,
to face six counts of drug smuggling and two counts of introducing
an illegal drug into interstate commerce. Related indictments
were issued against the Provimi Veal Corporation, the
largest veal distributor in the U.S.; Travis Calf Milk Inc. and
company president Gerald R. Travis; and VIV Inc., also
known as Hying America, along with company operators Jan
Van Den Hengel and Hennie Van Den Hengle.
The significance of the indictments is not only that
clenbuterol use went unchecked for many years, but further
that the persons involved in the traffic were all closely associated,
both personally and professionally, with Aat Groenvelt,
the Dutch immigrant to the U.S. who in 1962 founded the
Provimi veal empire, introduced the practice of immobilizing
calves in veal crates to North America, and also developed the
market for “milk-fed spring lamb,” a euphemism for lambs
raised in close confinement like veal calves. The corruption
went right to the core of the industry.
Clenbuterol use by vealers is not only criminal but
indeed a lucrative branch of international organized crime. The
extent of the criminality began to emerge from evidence gathered
during 82 separate raids on Belgian veterinary facilities
after European Union animal health inspector Karel Van
Noppen was asassinated on the job while probing the then little
known “hormone mafia” on February 20, 1995. The same
sources involved in the Belgian traffic are believed to be the
major suppliers to the U.S.
Other sectors of the meat industry meanwhile discovered
clenbuterol––including youthful county fair competitors,
whose painstaking care of individual animals, the antithesis of
factory farming, is considered so essential to maintaining the
wholesome image the meat industry covets that meatpacking
companies routinely bid the prices of prize-winning animals
into the tens of thousands of dollars. Between 1993 and 1995,
at least 18 award-winning competitors at six of the most presitigious
livestock shows in the U.S. were caught illegally using
Beyond all the health, safety, pollution, cruelty,
and labor issues is the question of sustainability––bluntly, the
question of which humans and animals will live, and which
die, victims of starvation, habitat loss, and desperate fighting
over remnants of food and territory.
The global human population is approaching six billion,
up by a third in 20 years––but that actually represents a
slowing growth rate. This could be reason for hope that unrelieved
famine might be relegated to history, despite present
famines in parts of Africa and North Korea. Already most
famines are associated with the use of food as a weapon of war.
“If everyone adopted a vegetarian diet and no food
were wasted, current world food production would theoretically
feed 10 billion people, more than the projected population
for the year 2050,” the Washington D.C.-based Population
Reference Bureau and Worldwatch Institute jointly reported in
But recent gains in food production are not going to
feed the hungry. Instead, ever greater shares of grain output
are diverted to feed more meat to those who can afford it.
“Since 1990,” noted Worldwatch founder Lester
Brown, “most of the growth in grain use in China has been for
feed to fuel unprecedented growth in its livestock and poultry
A similar trend is evident in India, where despite
millenia of religious and philosophical teaching against meat
within the predominant Hindu culture, broiler hen production
is growing at 15% per year. Egg production in India is up fivefold,
to 26 billion per year, since 1968. Similar gains are
reported in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Global red meat consumption has held steady since
1976 at about 50 pounds per person, says the Poultry Industry
Association, while poultry consumption has doubled, reaching
18 pounds per person. The Poultry Industry Association projects
current world poultry consumption at 53 million metric
tons––and expects it to double by 2030.
Perhaps demand could go that high. Biotechnology
may be able to continue to produce bigger, faster-growing
birds and mammals, who more efficiently convert grain protein
and water into meat. Biotechnology may also be able to
achieve further gains in grain yield per cultivated acre. Yet a
basic law of biology is that achieving caloric output requires
investing greater caloric input. That means meat industry
growth must be sustained by an ever-growing investment of
land, topsoil, soil nutrients, water, labor, and energy. Some
of the required input is perhaps obtainable in near-infinite supply,
albeit at a price: more humans means more available
labor, more water could be had at cost of more energy expenditure
on pumping and desalinizing, and how much energy
humanity may expend is limited in practical terms only by the
extent to which we are willing to deal with the lethal waste generated
by nuclear reactors.
Other input is limited, for instance the amount of
arable land. There may still be considerable room for both
more efficiently farming the Russian steppes, and reclaiming
desert as crop land. Otherwise, while the world has tripled
output per cultivated acre since 1965, the amount of land under
cultivation is still at 5.8 million square miles, just as it was
then, as increases in some regions are offset by losses to
drought, desertification, development, and warfare
Multiplying the growth in meat consumption by the
growth in human population has already brought unprecedentedly
heavy demand on the global grain supply. As Brown
noted, the world harvested more grain in 1996 than ever
before, yet global grain reserves fell to 246 million tons,
enough to feed everyone on earth for just 51 days.
This was the lowest per capita rate of grain saving on
record. Even the Pharoahs of ancient Egypt stored more, proportionately,
with domestication of the desert cat as their sole
advance in biotechnology.
Indeed, the recent increase in U.S. meat consumption
is already reflective of diminishing resources. For nearly two
decades now, the U.S. trend has been away from consumption
of ruminants, or grazing animals, toward more consumption of
poultry and hogs, who require much less grain and energy
investment per pound of meat. The longterm trend of declining
U.S. per capita red meat consumption was reversed during
the past two years. The University of Georgia Extension
Service recently projected that U.S. per capita red meat consumption
will rise to 217 pounds in 1997, a 2.5% increase over
1995. But this also results from diminishing resources, as rising
grain prices occasioned by tightening supplies forced an
unusually large number of beef and pork producers to liquidate,
causing a temporary surge in meat availability that brought
plunging red meat prices and a consequent demand surge.
By January 1997, even hay cost 50% more than a
year earlier in drought-stricken Colorado and parts of Nebraska.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spokesperson Dan
Kniffen acknowledged that the slaughter price of cattle was
down as much as 75%. Beef demand is expected to subside as
the slaughter glut diminishes, either because the grain supply
recovers or ranchers run low on cattle to sell, enabling supermarket
prices to float back toward their previous level.
Beside ecological and economic reality, exporting
meat demand seems at best short-sighted. Backyard poultry
and pork production enjoys some success in raising nutritional
standards and generating income for women in parts of South
Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which have no grain shortages
and no commercial poultry or pork operations of significant
scale. However, if demand for the output of the backyard
producers becomes too strong, commercial growers will outcompete
them, not only for customers but even more importantly
in bidding on grain. As the wealthier part of each society
eats more meat, the poor will find it harder not only to buy the
grain to feed livestock, but also––in time––to buy enough
grain to feed themselves.
Seemingly altruistic Heifer Project International
efforts to increase meat consumption in grain-starved North
Korea could even be described as unintentionally wicked. The
Heifer Project, supported chiefly by U.S. religious congregations,
announced in February 1997 that it intends to send goats,
chickens, and cattle to North Korea, because, as Heifer
Project Asia/South Pacific director Robert Pelant explained,
“Poultry feeds off bugs, and the goats and cattle are ruminants.”
Supposedly, the poultry and ruminants will convert
insects and grass, which humans find inedible, into meat,
eggs, and milk. This begs the question of what will sustain the
insects and grass. The first Heifer Project animals might forage
enough insects and incidental grass and other browse to get by,
but long before they breed up to sufficient numbers to significantly
contribute to the North Korean diet, it will become necessary
to supplement their foraged meals with regular grain
rations, in a nation where the per capita food allowance
through the winter of 1996-1997 was as little as 20% of the
amount needed to maintain human body weight.
The catastrophic effect of encouraging hungry
nations to develop meat production infrastructure they cannot
afford was meanwhile horrendously evident in Romania. As
elsewhere in eastern Europe, Romanians under Communism
measured their poverty by meat scarcity. When Communism
fell in late December 1989, the new Romanian government
encouraged farmers to rapidly expand pig production by maintaining
subsidies on feed grain. But Romanian government
revenue was not sufficient to keep the subsidies indefinitely.
On January 1, 1997, a new government dropped the grain subsidies,
hoping Romanians would pay enough more for pork to
sustain the industry. Instead, government advisor Adrian
Ionescu acknowledged in late March, pork sales crashed. As
many as 400,000 pigs were abandoned to starve. Even opening
and nearly exhausting the Romanian state granary apparently
couldn’t prevent the manufactured disaster.
Merchants of death
But neither charity nor revamping
existing meat infrastructure are among the primary
foreign goals of U.S. agribusiness. What
U.S. agribusiness wants is to clone itself
abroad, especially in Asia. Explains Dennis
Avery, director of global food issues for the
“Asia is now in the first stages of the
biggest surge in farm export demand the world
will ever see. It is also the last big surge in
farm export demand the world will ever see.
Asia is the land of opportunity, and it’s happening
fast. China’s meat demand is rising by
four million tons per year––but it has a feed
shortage. India is trying to consume an additional
two million tons of milk per year––but it
has a feed shortage. Indonesia’s broiler flock
soared 25% last year to 750 million birds––but
it has a feed shortage.”
Avery argues that the U.S. grain
export sector must bear the brunt of the need to
increase global grain production 300% within
the next 50 years, and that this is a positive,
since it brings immense opportunity for profit.
The alternative, he contends, is that much
wildlife habitat abroad will be destroyed to
faciliate additional grain cropping.
Avery’s calculations may stand up,
if, for instance, Russians start eating the 70
pounds of chicken apiece per year that
Americans consume on average, instead of
their present average of 15 pounds apiece. The
catch is that the necessary water and topsoil
may not be available.
Scrambling for position, agribusiness
seems inclined to win market share now
and figure out how to fill it later. Exporting
$700 million worth of chicken per year,
accounting for 12% of the company gross,
Tyson grabbed the lead on May 1, 1997,
announcing a deal with Kerry Holdings Ltd.,
part of the Hong Kong-based Kuok Group, to
build up to 10 poultry complexes in China,
each of which is to kill half a million birds per
week. Construction of the first complex is to
begin by February 1998.
Tyson is already selling breeding
chickens abroad through a subsidiary, CobbVantress
Inc., which has distributors in 14
nations. Cobb-Vantress chickens have an edge
in the marketplace, achieved through selective
breeding, in that they gain one pound of body
weight per 1.8 pounds of feed input, compared
to the former industry standard of one pound
gained per 2.1 pounds of feed input.
Earlier in 1997, Tyson announced it
would invest $25 million in building a feedand-hog
complex at Luzon, the Philippines,
and together with Hudson Foods and
Simmons Foods announced a joint deal, partially
financed by the USDA, to build a U.S.-
style poultry facility in Russia.
Since the Soviet Union disintegrated
in 1991, Russian poultry inventories have
dropped 45% and annual production is down
55%, but U.S. poultry exports to Russia
climbed 26% in 1996, to 853,000 metric tons,
worth $826 million, of which the Tyson share
is $170 million. Hudson Foods is the next
biggest poultry exporter to Russia, selling
$132 million worth last year. But the export
boom, at least in chicken as opposed to grain,
is not going to last. The real rush is to establish
production capacity within the purchasing
nations. Further, since Russia has considerable
unrealized grain production capacity,
unlike the other purchasing nations, industry
analysts see potential huge profits not only in
developing the Russian poultry industry, but
also in using Russian grain to produce poultry
for export to Asia.
The major obstacles to global conquest
by the American meat trade seem to be
health and safety standards, often stricter
abroad than in the U.S., but negotiated down
when U.S. economic clout is brought to bear.
The U.S. position, encouraged by agribusiness,
is that the stricter foreign standards are
not really necessary, not enforced against
domestic producers, and are deployed only as
d e f a c t o protective tariffs by foreign governments,
on behalf of inefficient domestic producers.
The U.S. won agreement from a
World Trade Organization tribunal on May 12,
when the three judges unanimously ruled that
the European Union ban on the import of beef
grown with the use of synthetic steroids is a
defacto tariff, not soundly based on science.
Because the provisions of the
General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs bar
nations from using “process standards” that
govern how an item shall be made to restrict
imports, health and safety standards remain
almost the only way for GATT member
nations to slow displacement of peasant farmers
by “vertically integrated” agri-business––
and at that, the U.S. can and does retaliate,
with the advantage of leverage because every
other trading nation wants the chance to export
goods into the U.S. marketplace.