Tag Archives: meat

Consumer groups petition fast-food chains to reduce antibiotic use

Consumer health and food safety groups this week called on 16 fast-food restaurants to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply.

Medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics in livestock poses a public health threat by increasing the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacteria.

The 16 restaurants petitioned by the organizations received “F” grades for failing to take steps to end the misuse of medical important antibiotics in the Chain Reaction scorecard, a report published by the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, NRDC and Food Animals Concerns Trust.

A statement from the coalition this week says Burger King received an F and, despite an announcement in December to make certain changes regarding antibiotics in the chicken supply chain, still lags far behind McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has removed medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply chain, but Burger King has committed to removing only limited group of antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human medicine, by the end of 2017.

“The global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections is a public health disaster, and it is essential that our biggest restaurant chains do their part to address this growing problem right away,” said Cameron Harsh of the Center for Food Safety.

The petition effort is the latest in a series of campaigns intended to pressure such companies as KFC, Olive Garden, Chili’s and Starbucks to help protect public health and animal welfare by committing to meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics.

The performance of these companies contrasts sharply with nine of the largest chains — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle and Panera, which received passing grades in the report.

“KFC and the other restaurants that received failing grades are making our antibiotics crisis worse,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports. “Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease, not wasted on healthy animals or to compensate for filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for restaurants to help protect public health by demanding that their suppliers end the irresponsible use of these important medications.”

“When consumers eat a chicken sandwich they shouldn’t have to worry that doing so is potentially undermining antibiotics. They should just enjoy the sandwich,” said Matthew Wellington, field director of the antibiotics program for U.S. PIRG. “More major chains like KFC need to act on antibiotics. We simply cannot afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine.”

Consumer advocacy and food safety groups say that in the absence of mandatory government regulations on agricultural uses of antibiotics in the United States, restaurants should demonstrate their commitment to public health by ending the misuse of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply chains.

Some background on the issue…

Most meat served by U.S. chain restaurants comes from animals raised in factory farms. The animals often are fed antibiotics to prevent diseases that occur in crowded, unsanitary living conditions and also to promote faster growth.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regularly dosing animals with antibiotics contributes to rising cases of infections in humans that are resistant to important medicines.

The spread of resistant pathogens means that infections are harder to treat, require longer hospitalizations, and pose greater risk of death. World Health Organization reports that “antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.”

Cut sugar, limit salt, look for lean: New food guidelines released

Better cut down on sugar, especially those 16-ounce drinks, and limit your salt. But you might not need to worry quite as much about eggs.

The Obama administration’s latest dietary guidelines, released Thursday, seek to help Americans reduce their likelihood of disease and obesity through a more healthful diet. The newest guidance comes down hard on sugar that’s added to food and drinks but says lean meat is a healthy protein and more eggs may be OK, despite years of advice to the contrary.

Released every five years, the guidelines inform everything from food package labels to subsidized school lunches to your doctor’s advice. And the main message hasn’t changed much over time: Eat your fruits and vegetables. Whole grains and seafood, too. And keep sugar, fats and salt in moderation.

The government says people should figure out what healthy eating style works for them while still hewing to the main recommendations. The Agriculture Department, which released the guidelines along with the Department of Health and Human Services, is also putting out a tweaked version of its healthy “My Plate” icon to include a new slogan: “My Wins.”

“Small changes can add up to big differences,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

LEAN MEAT IS OK

After a significant backlash from the meat industry and Congress, the administration ignored several suggestions from a government advisory panel. That panel had suggested calling for an environmentally friendly diet lower in red and processed meats and de-emphasized lean meats in its list of proteins that are part of a healthful diet.

As in previous years, the government says lean meat is part of a more healthful diet. Buried deeper in the report, though, is language that suggests teenage boys and adult men should reduce meat and eat more vegetables. Government data show that males from 14 to 70 consume more than recommended amounts of meat, eggs and poultry, while women are more in line with advised amounts.

Dr. Richard Wender of the American Cancer Society said the report ignores extensive science on a link between cancer and diet.

“By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer,” Wender said.

CUT OUT THE SUGARY SODAS

One new recommendation is that added sugar should be no more than 10 percent of daily calories.

That’s about 200 calories a day, around the amount in one 16-ounce sugary drink. The recommendation is part of a larger push to help consumers isolate added sugars from naturally occurring ones like those in fruit and milk.

According to the guidelines, sugary drinks comprise 47 percent of the added sugars that Americans drink and eat every day.

TOO MUCH SALT

Americans also need to lower salt intake, the government says. New figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show around 90 percent of people eat too much. The average person eats 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, and the guidelines say everyone should lower that to 2,300, or about a teaspoon.

Lowering sodium intake was the major push of the 2010 guidelines, and that document recommended that those most at risk of heart disease, or about half the population, lower their intake to 1,500 mg. The new guidelines delete that lower amount as part of the top recommendations. Later on, though, the report says those with high blood pressure and prehypertension could benefit from a steeper reduction.

Better cut down on sugar, especially those 16-ounce drinks, and limit your salt. But you might not need to worry quite as much about eggs.

The Obama administration’s latest dietary guidelines, released Thursday, seek to help Americans reduce their likelihood of disease and obesity through a more healthful diet. The newest guidance comes down hard on sugar that’s added to food and drinks but says lean meat is a healthy protein and more eggs may be OK, despite years of advice to the contrary.

CHOLESTEROL CONFUSION

After years of doctors saying that Americans shouldn’t eat too many eggs, recommendations for cholesterol have also shifted.

The 2010 guidelines made a key recommendation that Americans consume less than 300 mg a day of dietary cholesterol, or about two small eggs. That recommendation is gone, following increasing medical research showing the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought. Several more recent studies have shown little relationship between heart disease and dietary cholesterol, focusing more on the kinds of fats consumed.

Still, egg lovers aren’t completely off the hook. Discussion of cholesterol deeper into the document says “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”

FOOD POLITICS

While the guidelines always have been subject to intense lobbying by food industries, this year’s version set off unprecedented political debate, fueled by Republicans’ claims the administration has gone too far in telling people what to eat.

Congress got involved, successfully encouraging the administration to drop the recommendations based on environmental impact but unsuccessfully proposing to set new standards for the science the guidelines can use.

“It’s clear to me and my colleagues that the administration wisely listened to the science and dismissed the interests of political activists,” said Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee that oversees Agriculture Department spending.

US repeals meat labeling law after trade rulings against it

It’s now harder to find out where your beef or pork was born, raised and slaughtered.

After more than a decade of wrangling, Congress repealed a labeling law last month that required retailers to include the animal’s country of origin on packages of red meat. It’s a major victory for the meat industry, which had fought the law in Congress and the courts since the early 2000s.

Lawmakers said they had no choice but to get rid of the labels after the World Trade Organization repeatedly ruled against them. The WTO recently authorized Canada and Mexico, which had challenged the law, to begin more than $1 billion in economic retaliation against the United States.

“U.S. exporters can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. The longtime opponent of the labels helped add the repeal to a massive year-end spending bill. After the law was passed, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the government immediately would stop requiring the labels.

Consumer groups say the repeal is a disappointment just as consumers are asking for more information on their food packages. Advocates say the labels help people make more informed buying decisions and encourage purchases of American meat.

Before repeal, the labels told shoppers that a particular cut of meat was “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” Congress first required the labels in 2002 amid fears of mad cow disease from imported cattle. The labels weren’t on most packages until 2009, though, due to delays pushed by the meat industry.

Repeal became inevitable once the United States lost all its WTO appeals and the retaliation became a possibility. But the consumer groups criticized Congress for repealing the law for ground meat and pork in addition to the fresh cuts of meat that were the subject of WTO concerns.

The bill was “a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress,” complained the advocacy group Food and Water Watch. Meatpackers who buy Mexican cattle were some of the law’s most aggressive opponents. 

The repeal also was a big defeat for lawmakers from northern border states where U.S. ranchers directly compete with Canadian ranchers. Those lawmakers insisted on including the labeling in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and this year fought to replace it with a voluntary program once the WTO rulings came down. But after years of success, this time they were not able to find enough support.

Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union, which has heavy membership in those states, said the group was “furious” about the repeal.

“Packers will be able to once again deliberately deceive consumers,” Johnson said.

Still, there was some good news for food labeling advocates in the spending bill. Despite an aggressive push by the food industry, lawmakers decided not to add language that would have blocked mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Also, a provision by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would require labeling of genetically modified salmon recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The issue is expected to come up again in 2016, with Vermont set to require labeling on genetically modified food this summer. 

The day the spending bill passed, Vilsack said he would try to help Congress come up with a middle ground on labeling of engineered foods “in a way that doesn’t create significant market disruption, while at the same time recognizing consumers’ need to know and right to know basic information.”

End of meat? Startups seek meat alternatives for the masses

Patrick Brown is on an improbable mission: Make a burger Americans love, minus the meat.

Veggie patties have been around for decades, but Brown and others want to make foods without animal products that look, cook and taste like the real thing — and can finally appeal to the masses.

“We are not making a veggie burger. We’re creating meat without using animals,” said Brown, a former Stanford scientist who has been scanning plants in search of compounds that can help recreate meat.

Brown’s company, Impossible Foods, is part of a wave of startups aiming to wean Americans off foods like burgers and eggs, and their efforts are attracting tens of millions of dollars from investors. The goal is to lessen the dependence on livestock for food, which they say isn’t as healthy, affordable or environmentally friendly as plant-based alternatives.

The challenge is that most Americans happily eat meat and eggs. That means that, without a breakthrough, those seeking to upend factory farming risk becoming footnotes in the history of startups.

To understand the difficulty of their task, consider the transformation raw chicken undergoes when cooked. It starts as a slimy, unappetizing blob, then turns into a tender piece of meat.

LEARNING TO MIMIC NATURE

In its office in Southern California, Beyond Meat works on “chicken” strips made with pea and soy proteins that have been sold at places like Whole Foods since 2012. But founder Ethan Brown concedes the product needs work.

To give the “meat” its fat, for instance, canola oil is evenly mixed throughout the product.

“That’s not really how it works in an animal,” said Brown, a vegan. “The fat can be a sheath on tendons.”

To form the strips, a mixture is pressed through a machine that forms and sets the product’s texture with heating and cooling chambers. The method isn’t new in the world of fake meats, but the company says it fine-tuned the process to deliver a more realistic offering.

Brown dismisses the idea that fake meat might weird people out and says it’s a “desirable evolution.”

“It’s like moving from the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile, or the landline to the iPhone,” he said.

But Beyond Meat isn’t quite there yet; The Huffington Post described the strips as having an “unpleasant” taste that inhabits a “strange territory between meat and vegetable.”

At Impossible Foods, the patty is made by extracting proteins from foods like spinach and beans, then combining them with other ingredients. The company, which has about 100 employees, expects the product to be available in the latter half of next year, initially through a food-service operator.

Few have tasted it, but the vision continues to gain traction. In October, Impossible Foods said it raised $108 million in funding, on top of its previous $74 million. Among its investors are Bill Gates, Google Ventures and Horizons Ventures.

CULTURING MEAT, JUST LIKE YOGURT

Another startup isn’t totally ditching the cow.

With $15.5 million in funding, Modern Meadow in New York City takes cells from a cow through a biopsy and cultures them to grow into meat. At a conference in February, company founder Andras Forgacs likened the process to culturing yogurt or brewing beer.

“This is an extension of that,” he said.

Modern Meadow doesn’t have a product on the market yet either. The company says it doesn’t necessarily want to replicate steaks and burgers, and gave a hint of the type of foods it might make by presenting “steak chips” for attendees at a small conference last year.

Only about 200 people have tried the chips, which Forgacs describes as “crispy, crunchy beef jerky.”

Citing the demand for more openness about how food is made, he sees a day when people tour meat plants, as they do with breweries.

“There could be your friendly neighborhood meat brewery,” Forgacs said.

BANNING THE WORD ‘VEGAN’

In San Francisco, Hampton Creek’s mission is to replace the eggs in products without anyone noticing. In trying to appeal to the mainstream, co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick has a simple rule.

“Number one, never use the word ‘vegan,”” he said.

To avoid perceptions its eggless spread Just Mayo won’t taste good, Hampton Creek even removed the V-word from the label. Tetrick says what makes the product different is that it tastes better and costs less — not that it’s made with a protein from a Canadian yellow pea instead of eggs.

“The egg-free thing is almost irrelevant,” he said.

Swapping out a single ingredient in a product may make it easier for people to swallow change. It may also make change simpler to achieve; Just Mayo’s consistency and taste are similar to mayonnaise. The product, which is available at retailers including Target and Wal-Mart, is gaining enough traction that the American Egg Board, which is responsible for slogans like the “Incredible, Edible Egg,” sees it as a “major threat,” according to emails made public through a records request.

So far, Hampton Creek has attracted $120 million in funding. It continues to screen plants for compounds that can help replace eggs in recipes and plans to eventually introduce a scrambled-egg product.

ON THE CUSP OF SOMETHING BIG?

For those looking to lessen the reliance on animals for food, there are encouraging signs all around.

Last year, Pinnacle Foods, the maker of Hungry-Man dinners, paid $154 million to acquire Gardein, which makes frozen veggie patties, nuggets and crumbles. Pinnacle CEO Robert Gamgort said he thinks meat alternatives are in the “early stages of a macro trend,” similar to the way soy and almond milk changed the dairy category.

But for now, vegetarian products remain a niche market. And even if people cut back on meat and eggs for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons, they might not want literal replacements.

Morningstar, a longtime maker of vegetarian products owned by Kellogg, says people are becoming more accepting of vegetables as main ingredients. As such, it wants to evolve from a maker of meat substitutes to a brand known for its “veggie cuisine,” such as bowls with brown rice and black beans.

Yves Potvin, Gardein’s founder, also thinks veggie alternatives don’t have to replicate meat, so long as they taste good. It’s why Gardein’s products are shaped to be reminiscent of meat, but don’t try to mimic their exact flavor and texture.

“What people like is the experience,” Potvin said. “They like the memory.”

Show horse found slaughtered in Florida

Just days ago, the nearly 1,300-pound, powerful jumping horse with a shiny chestnut coat named Phedras de Blondel arrived at his new home in the United States, a farm owned by a champion rider in Florida.

On Oct. 25, his owner discovered a horrific scene near his stall: the 12-year-old gelding had been slaughtered and butchered, most likely for his meat. Only his head and neck were left intact. Now, detectives are trying to find the perpetrators.

“What they did to this horse had nothing to do with his value,” Debbie Stephens, who owns the 27-acre ranch in Palmetto, said earlier this week. She would not disclose the price she paid for the horse, but show horses can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s one of the cruelest things that could happen to any horse. This just turned my life around.”

Stephens is a veteran show jumper and holds the women’s high jump record of 7 feet, 8 inches. Her husband was a co-designer of the show jumping courses for the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

The couple and others have raised more than $18,000 toward a reward they hope will lead to an arrest. Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies say that’s what it will take to crack the case.

Horse meat is illegal in Florida, but a black market for it exists, said Nick Atwood, a spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. During the 2010 Florida Legislative Session, he said, a bill passed that strengthened the state’s restrictions on the sale of horse meat for human consumption. It is now illegal in Florida to sell, purchase, distribute, transport or possess horse meat unless “it is clearly stamped, marked, or described as horse meat for human consumption.”

There are currently no U.S. slaughterhouses that process horse meat, however, making it difficult to obtain legally.

While eating horse meat is generally taboo in the U.S., it is common in dishes in some Caribbean and European countries. Atwood said there are some people living in the U.S. willing to pay top dollar.

It’s not the first time horses have been targeted for meat in Florida. In July, animal rescue officials said a competitive show horse named “Smart Amanda Whiz” was slaughtered for its meat in Hialeah. And earlier this month, officials in Palm Beach County raided three slaughterhouses accused of illegally selling horse meat.

“The horses are slaughtered horribly,” Atwood said. “There’s no illusion of humane slaughter.”

That’s the case with Phedras, said Stephens, who said the horse was friendly and probably went with his killers willingly. She said he was likely still alive when they began to butcher him.

She said probably more than one person was involved in the slaughter because the horse was so big.

The horse was probably targeted because of his size, officials said.

“It could be the suspects scoped out this ranch,” said Dave Bristow, a spokesman from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. The ranch is not far from the interstate.

Stephens said she’s reinforcing her ranch to protect the other 50 horses that live on the property — and she’s planning to raise more money for the reward and speak out about the problem of illegal horse slaughter. Florida is a popular state for show horses, and she wants to protect other animals and owners.

“This can happen to anyone’s horse,” she said.

Meat from most fast-food chains from animals raised on antibiotics

Consumer, health, and environmental advocates graded the country’s 25 largest fast food and fast casual chains on their meat and poultry antibiotics policies, giving all but five “F”s for allowing routine antibiotic use by their meat suppliers.

The five chains earning passing grades are Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.

The report Chain Reaction: How Top Restaurants Rate on Reducing Use of Antibiotics in Their Meat Supply was accompanied by a letter from 109 organizations to the CEOs of the top 25 restaurant chains urging companies to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in their meat supply. In addition, there are several high profile campaigns urging Subway, the world’s largest restaurant chain, to adopt a clear policy restricting the routine use of antibiotics in its supply chain.

“Overusing antibiotics in meat production helps to create drug-resistant superbugs—our nation’s largest chain restaurants can be part of the problem, or part of the solution,” said Dr. David Wallinga, a senior health officer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Restaurants billing themselves as a ‘healthier’ option, like Subway, have a particular responsibility to live up to that image by reducing antibiotics. Consumer demand for meat raised without routine antibiotics is transforming the marketplace; the companies continuing with business-as-usual will be left behind.”

“From bacon cheeseburgers to chicken nuggets, most meat served by America’s chain restaurants comes from animals raised in industrial-scale facilities, where they are routinely fed antibiotics to prevent disease that is easily spread in crowded, unsanitary, stressful conditions,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager at the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “It’s time for the U.S. restaurant industry to take leadership and address the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance by working with their meat and poultry suppliers to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics and improve overall conditions in U.S. meat production.”

Research for the Chain Reaction report was compiled by a broad array of groups, including Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Keep Antibiotics Working, and Center for Food Safety.

The report builds on rising concern that overuse of antibiotics in meat production contributes to the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections that claim at least 23,000 lives each year.

With Americans spending nearly half of their food budget on meals outside the home, this research provides consumers with important information to help them make better dining out choices. Sales of meat raised without antibiotics grew 25 percent from 2009 – 2012.

The following chains received an “F” on today’s scorecard, either for having no disclosed policy on antibiotic use in their meat and poultry supply chains, or for having policies that fail to phase out continued, routine use of medically important antibiotics in the production of the meats they purchase and serve:

Applebee’s

Arby’s

Burger King

Chili’s

Dairy Queen

Denny’s

Domino’s

IHOP

Jack in the Box

KFC

Little Caesars

Olive Garden

Outback Steakhouse Grill and Bar

Papa John’s Pizza

Pizza Hut

Sonic

Starbucks

Subway

Taco Bel

Wendy’s

In addition to these findings on antibiotic policies, the report found that only two of the surveyed companies, Panera and Chipotle, report policies that restrict the use of other growth-promoting drugs, including hormones and beta agonists.

In response to a number of public campaigns, Subway, in late August updated its website to indicate that it “support(s) the elimination of sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics” and media outlets reported that Subway plans to “transition to chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine in 2016″ and “eliminate the use of antibiotics in products across the menu.”

Subway, however, has yet to back those statements up by making a firm commitment to take this action or present a clear plan or timeline for doing so.

Abuse video leads McDonald’s and Tyson to cut ties with chicken farmer

McDonald’s and its supplier Tyson Foods say they’ve cut ties with a chicken farmer after an an animal welfare group released a video taken with a hidden camera showing abusive practices at the farm.

The video was released by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group that says it has released more than 40 similar videos in the past.

The footage shows people scooping chickens into a bucket by whacking them with a pole with a spike on the end and standing on birds’ heads to break their necks.

Tyson Foods Inc. said in a statement that it was investigating the situation, but that it terminated the farmer’s contract “based on what we currently know.” McDonald’s Corp. said in a statement that it supported Tyson’s decision to terminate its contract with the farmer in question.

“We’re working with Tyson Foods to further investigate this situation and reinforce our expectations around animal health and welfare at the farm level,” McDonald’s said in a statement.

The farm in Tennessee identified by Mercy for Animals could not immediately be reached.

The farm supplied chicken for McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, according to Mercy for Animals. McDonald’s said the farm may have also supplied chicken for menu items including grilled and deep-fried chicken filets and its McChicken sandwich.

Tyson said in its statement that the video doesn’t reflect the treatment of chickens by the thousands of farmers that supply it. But Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, said the group’s investigators walk away with images that “shock and horrify” every time they go on site at a farm.

“Unfortunately this type animal abuse runs rampant in the animal agriculture industry,” Rice said.

Mercy for Animals is asking McDonald’s to adopt a number of animal welfare policies, such as giving chickens more space, ending breeding practices designed to make chickens grow so quickly that they develop health problems, and the installation of video monitoring on farms.

Rice said Mercy for Animals has requested meetings with Tyson, but said the company has declined its requests. A representative for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, said Tyson has previously offered to meet with the group.

On the Web …

http://www.mercyforanimals.org

http://www.mcdonaldscruelty.com 

House votes to repeal country-of-origin labeling on meat

Beef, if it is what’s for dinner, do you want to know where it comes from?

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to to repeal a law requiring country-of-origin labels on packages of beef, pork and poultry.

The World Trade Organization rejected a U.S. appeal last month, ruling the labels that say where animals were born, raised and slaughtered are discriminatory against the two U.S. border countries. Both have said they plan to ask the WTO for permission to impose billions of dollars in tariffs on American goods.

The House voted 300-131 to repeal labels that tell consumers what countries the meat is from — for example, “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”

The WTO ruled against the labels last year. The Obama administration has already revised the labels once to try to comply with previous WTO rulings. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said it’s up to Congress to change the law to avoid retaliation from the two countries.

The law was initially written at the behest of northern U.S. ranchers who compete with the Canadian cattle industry. It also was backed by consumer advocates who say it helps shoppers know where their food comes from. Supporters have called on the U.S. government to negotiate with Canada and Mexico to find labels acceptable to all countries.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said repeal would be premature, adding, “Our people deserve a right to know where their food is produced and where it comes from.”

Meat processors who buy animals from abroad as well as many others in the U.S. meat industry have called for a repeal of the law they have fought for years, including unsuccessfully in federal court. They say it’s burdensome and costly for producers and retailers.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, has long backed the meat industry’s call for repeal.

“Although some consumers desire (country-of-origin labeling) information, there is no evidence to conclude that this mandatory labeling translates into market-measurable increases in consumer demand for beef, pork or chicken,” Conaway said on the House floor.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the vote that the last thing American farmers need “is for Congress to sit idly by as international bureaucrats seek to punish them through retaliatory trade policies that could devastate agriculture as well as other industries.”

The bill would go beyond just the muscle cuts of red meat that were covered under the WTO case, repealing country-of-origin labeling for poultry, ground beef and ground pork. The chicken industry has said the labeling doesn’t make much sense for poultry farmers because the majority of chicken consumed in the United States is hatched, raised and processed domestically.

The legislation would leave in place country-of-origin labeling requirements for several other commodities, including lamb, venison, seafood, fruits and vegetables and some nuts.

Canada and Mexico have opposed the labeling because it causes their animals to be segregated from those of U.S. origin _ a costly process that has led some U.S. companies to stop buying exports.

The two countries have said that if they are allowed by the WTO, they may impose retaliatory measures such as tariffs against a variety of U.S. imports. Their list includes food items like beef, pork, cheese, corn, cherries, maple syrup, chocolate and pasta, plus non-agricultural goods such as mattresses, wooden furniture and jewelry. The retaliatory measures could total more than $3 billion, the countries said.

Congress required the labels in 2002 and 2008 farm laws. The original labels created by USDA were less specific, saying a product was a “product of U.S.” or “product of U.S. and Canada.” The WTO rejected those labels in 2012, and USDA tried again with the more detailed labels a year later. The WTO rejected those revised rules last year, and the United States filed one last appeal, rejected in May by the WTO.

On the Senate side, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has said he will move quickly to respond to the WTO ruling, though he has yet to introduce a bill.

After the House vote, Roberts said repeal “remains the surest way to protect the American economy” from retaliatory tariffs.

Defending the diet

An international team of researchers examined the ways in which people defend eating meat. They found the vast majority of omnivores defend consuming animals using one of four rationalizations: it is natural, normal, necessary or nice.

“The relationships people have with animals are complicated,” said researcher Jared Piazza of Lancaster University in the UK. “While most people enjoy the company of animals and billions of dollars are spent each year on pet care and maintenance, most people continue to eat animals as food. People employ a number of strategies to overcome this apparent contradiction in attitude and behavior. One important and prevalent strategy is to rationalize that meat consumption is natural, normal, necessary and nice.“

The researchers asked adults in the United States why it is OK to eat meat. The No. 1 reason? Eating meat is “necessary” to the diet.

Piazza said people who rationalized eating meat as natural, necessary, normal and nice also attributed fewer mental capacities to cows and were more tolerant of social inequality. 

The research, co-authored by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Edinburgh and  Melbourne University, was published in the journal Appetite.

Wal-Mart’s push on animal welfare hailed as game changer

UPDATED: Walmart, the nation’s largest food retailer, announced in May its commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain and issued revised animal welfare policies hailed as game-changing.

Even some of the company’s harshest critics, including the watchdog group Mercy for Animals, cheered the policy change as signaling a new era.

The “Position on Farm Animal Welfare” posted on Walmart’s corporate site states, “We expect that our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.”

The statement says Walmart supports the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health:

• Freedom from hunger and thirst.

• Freedom from discomfort.

• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

• Freedom to express normal behavior.

• Freedom from fear and distress.

The company wants suppliers of fresh and frozen meat, deli, dairy and eggs to take action against animal abuse, adopt the “Five Freedoms,” avoid subjecting animals to painful procedures, such as tail docking, de-horning and castration, and to use antibiotics only to treat or prevent disease.

Walmart also wants suppliers to stop using pig gestations crates and other housing that confines animals to small spaces.

At the Humane Society of the United States, president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Timelines aside, this announcement helps create an economy where no agribusiness company — for business reasons alone — should ever again install a new battery cage, gestation crate or veal crate. Walmart is helping drive the transition away from immobilizing cages and other inhumane practices and toward a more humane, more sustainable approach to production agriculture.”

He continued, “This is an unstoppable trend and that was the trajectory even before Walmart made the announcement. The company’s embrace of a more ethical framework for the treatment of all farm animals serves as perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change throughout animal agriculture.”

Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle said, “This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America.”

Mercy has waged a multi-year campaign against Walmart — the company accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. food business. The Mercy effort has involved protests, publicity in major newspapers and on mobile billboards, celebrity denunciations and a petition via Change.org.

In recent years, Mercy has released investigative video documenting extreme animal abuse by Walmart suppliers. The videos show pigs hit with metal cans and sheets of wood and sows held in cages so small they could barely move.

Mercy, in its praise for the Walmart position statement, also emphasized its own position: The best way to prevent animal abuse is to stop eating animals.

Charting change

Major animal-welfare moves announced by food and retail companies since 2012:

• FEBRUARY 2012: McDonald’s Corp. requires U.S. pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out sow gestation stalls.

• AUGUST 2014: Nestle says it wants to get rid of the confinement of sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. It also wants to eliminate the cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers and pledges to work with suppliers on the responsible use of antibiotics.

• DECEMBER 2014: Starbucks supports the responsible use of antibiotics, eliminating the use of artificial growth hormones and wants to address concerns related to de-horning and other forms of castration — with and without anesthesia.

• MARCH 2015: McDonald’s says it is asking chicken suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics. 

• APRIL 2015: Aramark, the largest U.S. food-service company, says it’s eliminating all cages for laying hens by 2020, gestation crates for mother pigs by 2017 and crates for veal calves by 2017.

• APRIL 2015: Tyson Foods plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. The company has also said it’s working on ways to curb use of antibiotics for its beef and chicken businesses.

— Associated Press