By now, you've probably heard about or seen the video released by the Humane Society depicting the unspeakably grotesque, not to mention, illegal, inhumane treatment of animals at a slaughterhouse in California. Workers rammed the animals with a fork lift and stun guns to try and get downer cows to stand up and qualify for a meat inspection so they could be slaughtered. This meat was destined for school lunch programs.
This video was shot by an employee working undercover with the humane organization and was so shocking it elicited a comment from the USDA Secretary. Even in the wake of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, continual scandals about e. coli in meat, repeated embargoes on US meat exports because of inadequate inspections, this type of thing occurs. The USDA is asleep at the wheel - or worse, has put on blinders to avoid the obvious.
Lest we get direly pessimistic, there was faintly encouraging news on the fish front, where more retailers are moving towards certified sustainable fisheries. The Marine Stewardship Council is the recognized certifier in this field. The Economist reports that:
Rupert Howes, the MSC’s chief executive, says that while it took seven years for the first 500 MSC-labelled products to appear, the next 500 took only another nine months.
Today there are 1,123 products with an MSC label around the world. Although consumer recognition remains low today, many wholesale buyers recognise the label, and demand for sustainably sourced fish is growing fast.
Wal-Mart has taken a major step, with one-quarter of its seafood counter now MSC certified (and prompting a mea culpa from one friend of mine). If you include fish Wal-Mart sells that are on the way to certification, that moves up to 50-60 percent. Globally, MSC certified stocks represent only 7 percent of the fish supply, but they are fast increasing -- and more importantly, putting increasing pressure on retailers to move in this direction.
With the USDA losing credibility, might a private regime similar to MSC's have more credibility in the meat market and with consumers? Will private certification schemes fill the humane vacuum? Or will we rely on assurances from the USDA that it will get things right?
- Samuel Fromartz