ADC GIVES POOR THE BIRDS
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1997:
WASHINGTON D.C.–– Thousands
of Canada goose carcasses sent to soup
kitchens around the U.S. by the Animal
Damage Control unit of the USDA might be
full of lead, mercury, lawn chemicals, and
potentially lethal microorganisms––but the
recipients may never know it, Friends of
Animals special investigator Carroll Cox discovered
July 10, while probing such a carcass
giveaway in Virginia.
Contrary to common assumption,
the gift meat is not USDA-inspected.
“The USDA does not regulate or
inspect wild meat,” USDA deputy chief
inspector for the Virginia region Maher
Haque affirmed to Cox.
USDA standards bureau chief
Robert Ragland explained to Cox that wild
waterfowl are beyond the coverage of the
Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry
Inspection Act, and are therefore outside the
USDA regulatory umbrella.
“Dr. Ragland further stated that
several zoonotic diseases could be potential
problems with the meat,” Cox said, “for
instance botulism type E, psitticocus, avian
influenza, and salmonella.”
Seeking to make mass killings of
urban Canada geese palatable to the public,
while continuing to promote goose propagation
in hunting areas, state wildlife agencies
in Minnesota and Michigan began donating
the dead birds to feed the poor in 1995. New
York, Virginia, and several other states
picked up the scheme last year.
Initially, some states got around
goose protection under the Migratory Bird
Treaty Act by recognizing the resident urban
geese as a nonmigratory subspecies, a distinction
accepted since 1994 by the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, but which––though the
migratory and urban populations rarely interbreed––might
not have withstood legal challenge.
Further, by reclassifying the resident
geese as in essence feral domestic fowl, the
state agencies risked running afoul of normal
poultry slaughtering and inspection requirements
if the meat was to be eaten.
Since President Bill Clinton in
March exempted federal agencies from obeying
the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the actual
killing is now most often subcontracted to ADC
technicians, who don’t have to split hairs over taxonomy.
Hired usually for coyote-killing skill, the
ADC techs are rarely familiar with meat inspection.
State agencies take no more responsibility
for the safety of dead geese given to soup kitchens,
Cox found. Virginia Fisheries and Conservation
Department spokesperson Herb Foster told Cox his
agency requires no inspection of wild game meat
distributed to the public, adding that no other
agency did, either, to his knowledge. A Virginia
health department representative confirmed the lack
of inspection by state personnel.
The reality of the hazard was demonstrated
in August 1996, when the New York
Department of Environmental Conservation
acknowledged the unfitness for human consumption
of 251 Canada geese killed at Clarkstown, New
York, and donated to the People to People food
pantry. The meat was found to be irrecoverably
contaminated with mud, oil, and lead from old
shotgun pellets, ingested with muck from the bottoms
of ponds and ditches.
The Clarkstown geese were among the
few urban Canada geese ever inspected by any
agency. But experts had predicted the findings.
“There’s a legitimate question about suburban
geese being exposed to pesticides, herbicides,
and even PCBs,” Cornell University poultry toxicologist
Rodney Dietart told Jeremy Pearce of The
Detroit News. “The situation is analagous to looking
for mercury in fish. It warrants some testing,”
University of Wisconsin toxicologist and
department of zoology chair Warren P. Porter suggested
in a recent letter to the Coalition to Protect
Canada Geese (POB 8254, Oshkosh, WI 54903),
that before resident geese are eaten, their fats
should be checked for the residues of at least six
common lawn chemicals with known longterm neurotoxic
effects in humans.
The Environmental Protection Agency
and several states whose officials have ignored the
potential build-up of toxins in resident geese have
issued recent warnings about build-ups of the same
substances in fish who frequent the same waters.
The EPA urges caution in eating any Great Lakes
salmon or trout. Initially resisting EPA directives to
warn women of the risk to fetuses from eating PCBladen
Great Lakes salmon, the Michigan health
department in February issued 1.7 million copies of
a warning brochure. New York has since 1990 published
warnings about PCB build-up in striped bass.
Public officials blamed the Clarkstown
contamination on allegedly faulty meat processing,
but as Peter Muller of Wildwatch pointed out, “The
finding of lead cannot be blamed on the slaughterhouse,”
as ingested lead would be absorbed into a
goose’s bloodstream, and would contaminate the
goose’s entire body. “Lead poisoning affects every
organ,” Muller continued, “can cause nerve disorders,
and causes mental retardation in children.”
A reminder that lead poisoning via contact
with grass still isn’t history, 21 years after the
phase-out of leaded gasoline, came on August 14
from Willard, Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources determined that
five cows were killed by lead from the ashes of
burned and buried debris.
“Giving these geese to the poor is classic
environmental racism,” said Cox. “I come from
rural Mississippi, I’ve lived in the ghetto, I’ve been
in the Third World, and I know it when I see it.
Trying to justify the unjustifiable by feeding dead
birds that may be unfit for human consumption to
disadvantaged children in inner city neighborhoods
is no different from siting a toxic waste dump in a
poor part of the countryside because the people are
so desperate for jobs and houses that they’ll do anything
and put up with anything next door. The ADC
and the state agencies even pretend they have to kill
geese in some cases to protect the public from all
sorts of diseases that the geese might carry. But if
the geese are that deadly,” Cox continued, “why
did the ADC turn around and give their uninspected
remains to soup kitchens to feed little kids?”
After Cox attacked the goose give-aways
in a nationally distributed press release,
“Bellingham (Washington) Lighthouse Mission
director Dave Ashton told the Coalition to Protect
Canada Geese that he would not under any circumstances
accept Canada geese from USDA Animal
Damage Control,” Coalition national coordinator
Ann Frisch announced. Based on a call from the
ADC, she said, “Ashton had been expecting geese
to be delivered live to the mission, where they
would be slaughtered on site. Ashton was angered
that the ADC asked him to take the geese without
being told it was a sensitive political issue.”
That it is in several directions. The
Washington D.C.-area ADC goose-killing also
made headlines when prominent lobbyist Gerald S.J.
Cassidy paid the ADC $1,300 to kill geese at a pond
he shares with neighbors in Great Falls, Virginia.
The deal with a private individual violated USDA
policy––and was not favored by many of the neighbors.
Cassidy’s clients have included General
Dynamics, Chevron, and Major League Baseball.
On another front, while animal protection
groups oppose killing resident geese chiefly for
humane reasons, state wildlife agencies covet the
goose blood money now going to the ADC, which
derives an estimated two-thirds of its income from
intergovernmental killing contracts.
“Shooting geese out of season is not the
proper way of solving the problem,” Wisconsin
game warden Bob Bramer hopefully suggests.
Instead, he recently told Milwaukee Journal f r e elance
Jean Matheson, more property owners should
allow goose hunting on their land.
Nonlethal responses to Canada geese
include relocation; landscaping to obstruct goose
movement from lawns to ponds; tryng to scare
geese with sound devices and/or decoys, ranging
from fake alligators to imitation dead geese; killing
goose eggs by shaking them, painting them with
mineral oil, or spraying them with parafin; hiring
dogs and handlers to roust geese; banning goosefeeding;
keeping mute swans, who tend to chase
geese out of their territory; and spraying grass with
a grape flavoring that geese don’t like.
The most effective response, however,
seems to be the simplest: letting lawns grow wild,
as Toronto did this year near several formerly
goose-plagued Lake Ontario beaches. The geese
tend to leave, as tall grass makes them more vulnerable
to natural predators and nest-raiders such as
coyotes, foxes, and raccoons.
“I’m stunned that the goose numbers have
fallen the way they have,” Toronto counsellor Chris
Korwin-Kuczynski recently told Rob Granatstein of
the Toronto Sun.
The USFWS reported on August 13 that
migratory as well as resident ducks and geese are all
at or near record highs, owing to several consecutive
years of highly favorable conditions.