Tag Archives: pork

Study identifies 12 most wasteful highway projects in U.S.

A new study by the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies the most wasteful highway projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $24 billion.

The study details how despite massive repair and maintenance backlog and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways.

The study shows how some of the projects are “outright boondoggles.”

“Many state governments continue to prioritize wasteful highway projects that fail to effectively address congestion while leaving our roads and bridges to crumble,” said John Olivieri, national campaign director for 21st century transportation at the U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report.

“This in turn saddles future generations with massive repair and maintenance backlogs that only grow more painful and expensive to fix the longer we wait to do so,” he noted.

The report says these are examples of waste:

• I-95 Widening, Connecticut, $11.2 billion. Widening the highway across the entire state of Connecticut would do little to solve congestion along one of the nation’s most high-intensity travel corridors, while further investment in rail infrastructure has long been overdue.

• Tampa Bay Express Lanes, Florida, $3.3 billion. State officials admit that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, while displacing critical community job-training and recreational facilities.

• U.S. 20 widening, Iowa, $286 million. Hundreds of millions of dollars that could pay for much-needed repairs to existing roads are being diverted to widen a road that does not need expansion to handle future traffic.

• Paseo del Volcan extension, New Mexico, $96 million. A major landholder is hoping to get taxpayer funding to build a road that would open thousands of acres of desert to sprawling development.

• State Highway 45 Southwest, Texas, $109 million. Building a new, four-mile, four-lane toll road would increase traffic on one of the most congested highways in Austin and increase water pollution in an environmentally sensitive area critical for recharging an aquifer that provides drinking water to 2 million Texans.

• San Gabriel Valley Route 710 tunnel, California, $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion. State officials are considering the most expensive, most polluting and least effective option for addressing the area’s transportation problems: a double bore tunnel.

• I-70 East widening, Colorado, $58 million. While replacing a crumbling viaduct that needs to be addressed, Colorado proposes wasting millions of dollars widening the road and increasing pollution in the surrounding community.

• I-77 Express Lanes, North Carolina, $647 million. A project that state criteria say does not merit funding is moving forward because a private company is willing to contribute; taxpayers will still be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

• Puget Sound Gateway, Washington, $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion. The state is proposing to spend billions of dollars on a highway to relieve congestion in an area where traffic has not grown for more than a decade, and where other pressing needs for transportation funding exist.

• State Highway 249 extension, Texas, $337 million to $389 million. The Texas Department of Transportation relies on outdated traffic projections to justify building a 30-mile six-lane highway through an area already suffering from air quality.

• Portsmouth bypass, Ohio, $429 million. Despite roads across Ohio being in dire need of repair, the state Department of Transportation is embarking upon its most expensive project ever: building a new road to bypass a 20,000-person city where driving is decreasing.

• Mon-Fayette Expressway extension, Pennsylvania, $1.7 billion. A new toll road long criticized because it would damage communities is moving forward in an area where residents are calling instead for repairs to existing roads and investment in transit improvements.

Recent federal data show that more than 61,000 bridges or roughly one in 10 are structurally deficient nationwide. While other data show that states are overwhelming investing scarce transportation dollars in expansion rather than repair — collectively spending 20.4 billion (55 percent) expanding 1 percent of the current system, while spending just 16.5 billion (45 percent) repairing and maintaining the other 99 percent.

At the same time, the research shows states are failing to account for changing transportation trends, especially among millennials.

“America’s long-term travel needs are changing, especially among Millennials, who are driving fewer miles, getting driver’s licenses in fewer numbers, and expressing greater preferences to live in areas where they do not need to use a car often,” said Tony Dutzik senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group.

“Despite the fact that millennials are the nation’s largest generation, and the unquestioned consumers of tomorrow’s transportation system, states are failing to adequately respond to these changing trends,” he added.

The study recommends states:

• Adopt fix-it-first policies that reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and bridges;

• Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by improving and expanding public transit, biking, and walking options;

• Give priority to funding transportation projects that reduce the number of vehicle-miles people travel each year, thereby also reducing air pollution, carbon-emissions, and future road repair and maintenance needs;

The report also looks back at the 11 highway “boondoggles” identified in 2014, including in Wisconsin.

Since that original report came out, several states revisited plans to expand and build new highways. The Trinity Parkway project in Dallas was revised from a six-lane road to a more limited four-lane road and the proposal to create a double-decker tunnel for I-94 in Milwaukee was postponed for the foreseeable future. Also, the Illiana Expressway, a proposed $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion toll-way intended to stretch from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana was placed on indefinite hold.

“Investing so heavily in new and wider highways at a time when so much of our existing infrastructure is in terrible disrepair is akin to putting an extension on your house while the roof is leaking. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Olivieri.

Livestock antibiotics sales rapidly rising

Sales of medically important antibiotics for use in raising domestic animals for livestock increased 3 percent from 2013 to 2014, and an alarming 23 percent in the last five years, according to an annual report released this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This news comes on the heels of recent warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization that in order to keep antibiotics working to treat sick humans, the agricultural industry must stop misusing antibiotics by administering them to animals that are not sick for growth promotion and disease prevention.

Avinash Kar, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “Dangerous overuse of antibiotics by the agricultural industry has been on the rise at an alarming rate in recent years — putting the effectiveness of our lifesaving drugs in jeopardy for people when they get sick. We can no longer rely on the meat and pharmaceutical industries to self-police the responsible handling of these precious drugs.

He continued, “The FDA must follow the lead of California and outlaw routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick in meat production nationwide. If we want to keep our antibiotics working for people when we need them, the agency must take urgent action.”

Horrific animal abuse documented at slaughterhouse that supplies Hormel

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it saw “completely unacceptable” actions depicted on an animal welfare group’s undercover video from a Minnesota slaughterhouse that supplies Hormel Foods.

Compassion Over Killing said the video shot last month at a Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin shows workers taking “inhumane shortcuts that lead to extreme suffering” to keep the slaughter lines moving. “If USDA is around they could shut us down,” one worker can be heard saying on the video.

An edited version of the video that was posted on YouTube shows workers cheering as they beat and drage pigs shaking in fear and pain as they are being slaughtered. Federal law requires livestock to be stunned before they are killed. Many pigs covered in feces and riddled with puss-filled sores are headed for the production line.

Quality Pork Processors said it has already disciplined two employees shown on the video and will take further actions if necessary. Nate Jensen, vice president of human resources and quality services at QPP, said the company was disappointed to see employees who did not appear to follow its policies requiring the humane treatment of animals.

The USDA said will investigate further if it confirms the video’s authenticity.

“The actions depicted in the video under review are completely unacceptable,” said Adam Tarr, a spokesman for the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The plant is one of a few across the country that’s testing a relatively new inspection system that involves fewer USDA inspectors and quicker processing lines.

Erica Meier, executive director of the Washington-based Compassion over Killing, blamed the system for the alleged horrific abuses, which she said included pigs being beaten, shocked, dragged and improperly stunned out of inspectors’ views, as well as animals with abscesses and covered in feces.

“By allowing facilities like Quality Pork Processors to operate at these increased slaughter speeds, combined with the reduced federal oversight, the USDA is essentially giving the industry a free pass to police itself,” Meier said on a conference call.

The USDA disputed the pro-vegetarian group’s claim that the faster inspection system was to blame. Tarr said that system is being used only farther down the production line, where carcasses are sorted.

Jensen said the company’s own video monitoring caught the two employees even before officials learned of the undercover investigation, and that the employees were given written warnings and ordered to undergo retraining. He said the company is working with the USDA, will modify its training programs as necessary and has safeguards in place to keep contaminated products out of the food supply.

Austin-based Hormel issued a statement saying it has a “zero tolerance policy for the inhumane treatment of animals” and holds its suppliers to the same high standards. Hormel said it has reviewed the video and will work with QPP and the USDA to take “any necessary corrective action.”

Meier said her group provided the full video to the USDA on Oct. 27 and shared it with the Austin Police Department, which forwarded the information to the Mower County attorney’s office. 

No charges against farm workers shown abusing hogs

A prosecutor said that he has decided against charging any employees of a Minnesota hog farm who were recorded on a graphic undercover video treating animals in a way that their own employer called “disturbing.”

Los Angeles-based Last Chance for Animals released video in August that it shot at a Christensen Farms breeding facility in the southwestern Minnesota city of Luverne. At the time, the company, one of the country’s largest pork producers, said it had suspended seven employees and launched a full internal investigation. CEO Glenn Stolt said in a statement that it was “unacceptable that this behavior was allowed to continue, and was not brought to our attention immediately.”

Assistant Rock County Attorney Jeffrey Haubrich told The Associated Press on Friday that he won’t file the animal cruelty charges that Last Chance for Animals sought. In a letter to Sgt. Jeff Wienecke of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, which Haubrich provided to the AP, he said the videos are not admissible in court and that an outside veterinarian found nothing at the farm that could provide a basis for criminal charges.

“Our primary consideration is that there are substantial evidentiary issues with the material provided by Last Chance for Animals. The video and reports are obviously highly edited and filtered to enhance the position they are advocating and they lack the basic requirements for admissibility in court,” the prosecutor wrote. “Namely, there is a lack of foundation and no chain of custody for the main pieces of the evidence that have been presented.”

Haubrich also wrote that it appeared the veterinarian did not find any widespread problems at the farm or with people employed there. He found that the facilities and its methods were acceptable “within industry standards” and that “the animals appeared well cared for.”

Adam Wilson, director of investigations for Last Chance for Animals, said the group doesn’t consider the case closed and that he will write to Haubrich detailing its concerns with the decision. He said the group offered the prosecutor and detectives full unedited copies of its original recordings, and offered to make its undercover investigator available to corroborate their authenticity and other details of what the investigator witnessed, but got no reply.

“The decision was a political one — not to go after a very large corporate farming operation that’s a Minnesota company,” Wilson said. “It seems very obvious the investigation is not complete and it was not taken with the best intentions.”

The video released to the public showed sows bleeding from open sores and other injuries, including protruding organs, or lame from swollen legs. It also showed one worker repeatedly jabbing a lame sow with a pen to try to get it to move, leaving wounds on its back. The group said it recorded numerous instances of sick and severely injured sows being left to suffer for weeks.

Officials with Sleepy Eye-based Christensen Farms and the company’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday afternoon. Nor did an attorney for the employees, and it wasn’t immediately clear if they still work for the company.

Dunkin’ Donuts sets goals for eggs from cage-free hens

Dunkin’ Donuts has set goals to eventually require all eggs to come from cage-free hens and also require that its pork suppliersnot use gestation crates.

The company said it mapped its international supply chain to best understand the feasibility of transitioning to 100 percent cage-free eggs globally and, based on the assessment, established immediate and longer-term goals.

As an immediate step, 10 percent of all eggs sourced for Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwiches in the United States will be cage-free by the end of next year.

Also, Dunkin’ Donuts will source only gestation crate-free pork in the United States by 2022.

The company announcement was made in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States, which said Dunkin’ Brands is working with suppliers and the animal welfare group to update policies and reach the goals.

Christine Riley Miller, senior director of corporate social responsibility for Dunkin’ Brands, said in a media statement, “Dunkin’ Brands and our franchisee community care about the welfare of animals and their humane treatment. We set a goal to source 5 percent cage-free eggs by 2013, an accomplishment we are proud to have achieved. Now, working with our suppliers and The Humane Society of the United States, we are setting new commitments to help the egg and pork industries eliminate cages to demonstrate our responsibility to animal welfare and sustainable, ethical sourcing.”

At The Humane Society, senior food policy director Josh Balk, stated, “Dunkin’s commitment to improve the lives of farm animals is taking another positive step. This new policy is further testament that consumers and companies are aligned in shifting the egg and pork industries away from confining animals in cages.”

The Humane Society said the company’s commitment to animal welfare will be included in the its corporate social responsibility report, which will be released later this spring.

Starbucks to switch to cage-free eggs, implement new animal welfare policy

Starbucks this week announced the planned elimination of the sale of eggs that come from caged hens throughout its supply chain. The company will switch to cage-free eggs, including for its pastries.

The policy was announced a week in advance of new animal welfare legislation in California — Proposition 2 and AB1437.

Proposition 2 is the 2008 California ballot measure banning the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves in cages so small the animals cannot stretch their limbs, lie down or turn around.

AB 1437 is the 2010 law that requires all shell eggs sold in the state to be produced in compliance with Prop 2.

Both measures have been under attack by food manufacturer associations and producers but are set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Starbucks’ new animal welfare policy includes:

• Phasing out cages for egg-laying hens and the use of gestation crates for pigs.

• Eliminating artificial growth hormones and fast-growing practices that cause chickens to suffer chronic pain.

• Ending the dehorning, tail docking and castration of animals without anesthesia.

• Moving away from “inhumane” chicken slaughter practices.

The company has more than 2,000 stores in California, and more than 12,000 stores in the United States. The new policy applies to Canada and Mexico as well.

“California voters have made it clear that extreme confinement of farm animals is inhumane and unacceptable,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Starbucks is meeting and exceeding the standards of California’s new farm animal welfare laws, and we applaud them and ask for other food retailers to make similar announcements. The best enforcement of Prop 2 will come from retailers who decide not to purchase eggs from hens in any kind of cage.”

Whole Foods, Burger King and food service giants Compass Group and Aramark also have made cage-free pledges, according to The Humane Society.

Christie vetoes bill to ban inhumane treatment of pigs

Signaling his intent to win over Republican caucus voters in Iowa, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of confining pregnant pigs in crates so small they can’t even turn around.

The Iowa caucuses are one of the earliest presidential primary contests, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, R, had urged Christie’s veto. Iowa is the nation’s largest pork producer.

The crates, condemned by animal rights activists and political leaders on both sides of the aisle as inhumane, are widespread in Iowa. The bill to ban the crates had bispartisan support as well as a majority of public support in both New Jersey and Iowa.

Christie has invested significant time building relationships in Iowa, even campaigning on behalf of Branstad.

New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor, expressed disappointment after the veto and accused Christie of “capitulating to political influences in a state thousands of miles away.”

“Obviously, the governor is putting his personal political ambitions ahead of the humane treatment of animals,” he said.

The fight over the legislation had become one of the most heated in recent memory.

Animal welfare advocates launched a public relations blitz, complete with celebrity endorsements, and staged events at which activists stood inside cages. They also commissioned polls to show support for the ban in New Jersey and Iowa and said they flooded the governor’s office with thousands of phone calls and emails.

The National Pork Producers Council, based in Washington, D.C., sent a lobbyist to New Jersey to try to scuttle the attempt. It was pleased with Christie’s action.

The Humane Society of the United States’ vice president of farm animal protection, Paul Shapiro, characterized Christie’s decision as a “cynical political calculation.”

In a veto message, Christie called the bill opposing gestation crates a “solution in search of a problem.”

He said, “It is a political movement masquerading as substantive policy.”

Christie vetoed similar legislation last year, but advocates had hoped changes would address his concerns. Instead, Christie said he would leave state policy in the hands of the Board of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture.

“I will rely on our in-state experts rather than the partisan politicians who sponsor this bill,” he said.

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It’s a jungle out there for animals in campaign ads

It’s a jungle out there in political television advertising, what with parrots, chicks, dogs and pigs taking turns in commercials that bite and scratch in a way no nonpartisan pet ever would.

“You can keep it,” squawked a parrot in a Club for Growth Action ad that ran earlier in the year in Arkansas. It was meant to ridicule President Barack Obama and Sen. Mark Pryor’s now-abandoned claims that state residents could keep their health insurance if they liked it.

In Georgia, Democratic Rep. John Barrow unleashed a golden retriever in the first television ad of his campaign for a new term. “Somebody once said if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” he says.

“Well, I wouldn’t wish Washington on a dog,” Barrow adds, throwing a tennis ball to be fetched. By the time he has finished touting his own record and criticizing other lawmakers, the dog and ball are back. “She works harder than most of them do,” he says, comparing the pet favorably to the men and women he has known in Congress for a decade.

Whether peddling candidates or commercial products, the goal of commercials is to gain as wide and attentive a viewership as possible. Anything that gets a longer look is prized.

“Animals can be a great way to get the viewer to stop skipping through the commercials on their DVR or delay a trip to the fridge during a commercial break,” said Ali Lapp, executive director of the House Majority PAC, a group that backs Democrats in House campaigns.

Not only can animals be cute or cuddly, but they often trigger predictable emotions among humans. Pork, tasty when eaten, produces indigestion in the form of government spending.

Nor are animals new to political advertising.

Three decades ago, in his re-election campaign, President Ronald Reagan aired a commercial about a bear, a readily recognizable symbol for the Soviet Union.

“There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all,” the announcer said as a grizzly lumbered across the landscape. The commercial’s strong suggestion was that Reagan’s Democratic opponent Walter Mondale was among those unable to see the danger posed by a rival superpower.

No bears, grizzly or teddy, have wandered from the woods onto television screens yet this campaign season.

But Joni Ernst won the Republican Senate nomination in Iowa after airing a commercial in which she said she grew up on a farm and can castrate hogs. “So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” she says as a pig squeals in the background.

Making sure the point isn’t missed, she says of the big spenders, “Let’s make ’em squeal,” a command the pigs are heard to obey promptly.

Rival Bruce Braley, a Democratic congressman, looked around the political barnyard and figured chicks could handle his rival’s pigs.

“When Joni Ernst had a chance to do something in Iowa, we didn’t hear a peep,” the announcer says as a small, brown-eyed chick appears on screen, chirping at first, then growing more animated as the political accusations escalate.

Fortunately for the Club for Growth, parrots are able to do more than chirp or squeal.

Enter a blue parrot with yellow and green markings that goes by the name of Harley and is intent on mocking Obama and Pryor.

“We will keep this promise. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period,” Obama says in remarks made as he was seeking passage of his health care legislation.

Squawks the parrot: “Keep your doctor.”

Obama, again: “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.”

Parrot: “You can keep it.”

Pryor says: “What’s the bottom line. Are we going to be able to stick with our plan? The answer is yes.”

Parrot: “Keep your plan.”

“Tell Sen. Pryor to stop parroting President Obama,” says the announcer.

Kentucky bill takes aim at animal-rights videos at farms

The Kentucky Senate has voted to punish animal-rights activists with jail and fines for secretly filming farm operations, attaching the proposal to legislation meant to prevent animal shelters from using gas chambers as a form of euthanasia.

But that’s as far as the bill may go.

The Senate’s action drew a defiant response from the sponsor of the original House-passed bill.

Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins said she would not ask the House to take up the broader bill in the final days of the General Assembly session, which would kill the measure.

She said the punishment proposed in the Senate version was misdirected.

“If a big factory farm is doing something that impacts the environment and public health, we shouldn’t be penalizing whistleblowers in those instances,” Jenkins said.

The provision to criminalize undercover filming or photographing of private farm animal operations was added by the Senate Agriculture Committee. The full Senate accepted the changes before passing the amended version on a 32-6 vote, sending it back to the House.

The amended measure would make it a misdemeanor for someone to gain access to a private farm under false pretenses and then film or photograph the operations without the landowner’s consent. Violators could face up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Kentucky Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said he was disappointed that Jenkins didn’t plan to have the bill brought up in the House.

Hornback said he sees the provision as an attempt to protect private property rights.

“When somebody comes in and misrepresents themselves on a farm just to try to take action against that farm, I think that’s wrong,” he said.

The provision was supported by Kentucky Farm Bureau but opposed by the Humane Society of the United States.

Humane Society officials said the “ag-gag” language surfaced about a month after an undercover investigation revealed animal cruelty at a western Kentucky pig farm. They said video and photographs showed large pigs confined in cages so small that they couldn’t turn around, and showed sows being fed the remains of diseased piglets.

In recent years, animal rights groups have released undercover video elsewhere around the country exposing instances of animal abuse at slaughterhouses and farms.

Paul Shapiro, the Humane Society’s vice president of farm-animal protection, said the Senate’s provision was meant to “block transparency” of the meat industry.

“The good news is that the meat industry will not prevent Americans from finding out about what happens to animals on factory farms,” he said of Jenkins’ refusal to bring the bill up again. “The bad news is that pets can still be put down in gas chambers in Kentucky.”

Meanwhile, Hornback didn’t rule out trying to attach the provision to another bill in the final days of the legislative session.

“If the opportunity arises, I would certainly do that,” he said.

Similar legislation was passed and signed into law in Idaho earlier this year.

Environmentalists urge ‘take extinction off your plate’

A national group has launched a campaign encouraging diners to pledge to eat less meat as a way to reduce their environmental impact.

The campaign is called Take Extinction Off Your Plate and its being promoted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the group responsible for the endangered species condoms.

“Many people don’t realize the devastating toll meat production has on wildlife and the planet,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the center. “The livestock industry has nearly driven animals like wolves extinct, and it’s responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than cars, trains and airplanes combined.”

The campaign website, www.TakeExtinctionOffYourPlate.com, features information about the impact of meat consumption on wildlife, the climate, habitat, water and land. It also includes resources to help people adopt an Earth-friendly diet and a pledge asking people to commit to reducing their meat consumption.

According to the “Earth-friendly Diet Pledge,” cutting one-third of the meat from your diet can save as much as 340,667 gallons of water, more than 4,000 square feet of land, and the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 2,700 fewer miles a year.

“Americans already eat more meat per person than almost anyone else in the world, and our wildlife and climate are paying the price,” said Feldstein. “As our population grows, we’ll face worsening problems of livestock-driven drought, pollution, climate change and wildlife extinctions unless people start choosing to eat less meat.”

Earlier this year, the center surveyed its members to learn more about attitudes toward meat production among the conservation-minded.

The group found that more than 75 percent said the biggest barrier to reducing meat consumption in the United States is lack of awareness about issues related to meat production, and 80 percent believe environmental groups should be doing more to reduce overall meat consumption as a way to address environmental problems.

On the Web …

Take the pledge: 

http://action.biologicaldiversity.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15304&tag=TakeExtinctionOffYourPlate.com