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Archive for June 2009

Slaughterhouses: Where racehorses go to ‘retire’

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By Kathy Guillermo

Every spring in the U.S., as many as 50,000 thoroughbred mares give birth. Perhaps every thoroughbred owner dreams that, this year, a champion will be born. The odds are against it. Only a fraction of all these foals will go on to compete. And only a fraction of this fraction will become as successful as Charismatic and War Emblem.

Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness—the first two legs of the Triple Crown—in 1999. But during the Belmont Stakes, Charismatic’s left front leg broke in two places. Unlike Barbaro and Eight Belles, who were euthanized after their legs shattered during Triple Crown races, Charismatic survived. With four screws permanently holding his bones together, he went on to become a breeding stallion.

Just three years later, in 2002, War Emblem, like Charismatic, won both the Derby and the Preakness, lost in the Belmont and was retired to stud. The same year, both horses were sold to thoroughbred breeders in Japan. This was also the year (although no one knew it at the time) that another Derby winner, Ferdinand—who had also been sold to Japanese buyers—was sent to a slaughterhouse.

Fast-forward to 2009. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wondered what had happened to Charismatic and War Emblem. Occasional news reports over the years indicated that War Emblem was reluctant to breed and that Charismatic’s babies had had limited success. Where were they now? For that matter, how many other thoroughbreds had been sold to Japan in the previous decade and what had happened to them? We sent two undercover investigators to Japan to find out.

They pored over Japanese stud books and found that thousands of U.S. thoroughbreds have been sold to Japan in recent years. One can follow their lives a bit by looking at breeding records, but they then disappear from the books. It didn’t take us long to find out what had happened to them.

In Japan, where more money is bet on horse racing than in any other country in the world, horse meat is consumed by humans and sold as dog food. As many as 20,000 horses of many breeds were slaughtered in Japan in 2008. When thoroughbreds are no longer useful in Japan, they are almost always slaughtered.

In the Kumamoto Shokuniku Center, the largest horse slaughterhouse in Japan, 4,500 horses are slaughtered each year, including 600 former racehorses. Here, PETA investigators captured the first-known footage taken inside a Japanese horse slaughterhouse. They recorded a thoroughbred’s last minutes. The horse is sprayed with water. Frightened and uncertain about what is happening, he panics, slips out of his halter and escapes inside the slaughterhouse, only to be caught—and killed.

Perhaps the only thing that has saved Charismatic and War Emblem from this fate, at least so far, is their fame. Charismatic’s breeding value has plummeted, and his stud fee has dropped to $5,000. War Emblem is regularly pumped full of testosterone in an effort to awaken his interest in breeding. While top stallions in Japan are bred more than 200 times a year, Charismatic sired only 22 foals in 2007. War Emblem sired none.

A thoroughbred retirement organization has expressed interest in bringing these two horses back to America. Other U.S.-bred racehorses in Japan aren’t so lucky. When they’re no longer considered useful, they’ll be loaded onto a horse van and trucked to a slaughterhouse. The racing industry is not kind to its castoffs—thousands of thoroughbreds are sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada from the U.S. every year. This practice could end with the passage of a bill, now under consideration, that would prohibit the interstate transport of horses for slaughter.

The American thoroughbred industry could stop this killing by refusing to sell horses to Japan and by curbing the overbreeding of racehorses. Each one of us can help, too: We can stay away from racetracks and refuse to bet on a “sport” in which the horses rarely win.

Kathy Guillermo is a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 25, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Looking at the World Through a Fly’s Eye

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It was the swat heard ‘round the world: President Obama caused something of an international incident when he killed a fly during a CNBC interview on Tuesday. I like to think of it as a sign of the times that the life—and death—of a fly registered, at least for a moment, on the public consciousness.

While we all may argue ‘til we’re blue in the face over when and if it is justifiable to swat a fly or shoot a rampaging bear, there are millions of animals out there who will never, ever cause us a moment’s irritation or discomfort. Do we have the right to make their lives miserable simply because we can’t be bothered not to?

This week, Sir Paul McCartney and his daughter Stella introduced the concept of “Meat-Free Mondays,” coincidentally the same name as that of a program that PETA Europe is also working on in British schools. As a vegan who was once busily eating her way through the animal kingdom, from mussels to calf’s brains on toast, it’s a message that I wish I’d heard far earlier, just as I wish that when I wore my first fur coat, there had been an animal rights activist there to hand me a card saying, “Your coat was stolen from its original owners.” Thirty years ago, a good animal rights “nag” was hard to find.

Some people had figured it out though. Back in 1977, a young man was charged with freeing a dolphin named Puka from a laboratory isolation tank in a university in Hawaii and releasing him into the ocean off Maui. The man said that he had been driven to this desperate act, which cost him his career, by the attitudes of those around him in the science lab where he worked.

At his trial, the man said this: “I came to realize that these dolphins were just like me. I watched the psychiatrists tormenting them and I watched the dolphins sink into deep depression, cut off from all that was natural and all that they had loved and wanted. I could not stand my own inaction any longer. I will go to jail with sadness that the world does not yet understand what I do …”

In the decades between then and now, that understanding of who animals are has changed, in part thanks to pioneers like Dr. Jane Goodall, who reversed science’s deliberate attempt to depersonalize animals by daring to name the chimpanzee families and individuals she studied in the Gombe; Jacques Cousteau, who introduced us to the undersea world of the incredible “aliens from inner space,” the squid and octopus; to Biruté Galdikas, who showed us video footage of young orangutans making umbrellas out of leaves with which to shelter from the rain; and so on. And every week, there is more reason to feel empathy for animals. A couple of months ago, we were treated to news reports that crabs can remember pain inflicted on them, and a couple of weeks ago, we learned that crows will not only find a piece of wire or a bendable twig but also can gauge how long it should be and at what angle to bend it so as to extract food from a hole in a tree trunk or a jar.

I was in England a couple of weeks ago and, reading the Sunday paper, came across a curious remark from a dog walker. Remember that, contrary to what Buddhists would have you believe, he said, a dog is just a dog–“he will never write a great book or compose a great symphony.” I question whether that columnist will ever write a great book or compose a great symphony, but one thing I know for sure is that he will never detect a cancerous tumor with his nose, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to find his way home over hundreds of miles without the benefit of a GPS, a map, a street sign or advice from another human being. Perhaps what separates humans from other animals is the desperate quest that our species has to find something that distinguishes us from the other animals. To add to Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along?” maybe the next question should be “Can’t we all just see ourselves as one of many musicians in a vast orchestra, no more special than the others?”

The place to start can be the breakfast table. As the philosopher Peter Singer said, “The way most people interact with animals is three times a day, when they eat them.” Although more people are downloading PETA’s free “Vegetarian Starter Kit” (at PETA.org) than ever before and vegan cookbooks are flying off the shelves, it is nevertheless a sorry reflection on the ability of most otherwise caring people that they can read an article about pigs’ intelligence, a hen’s fierce maternal protectiveness, or a lamb’s natural playfulness but not connect it to the animals’ terrifying and painful experience on factory farms, in transport trucks, and in slaughterhouses when they step up to the supermarket freezer case.

The wonderful thing is that it’s so incredibly easy to be kind. Today, I marvel at the vegan foods in the supermarket, at the cruelty-free clothing choices in stores, and at the fantastic alternatives to dissection in schools, the modern ways to test medicines without killing rabbits and beagles, the many forms of entertainment involving purely human performers. Every animal has his or her story, his or her thoughts, daydreams, and interests. All feel joy and love, pain and fear, as we now know beyond any shadow of a doubt. All deserve that the human animal afford them the respect of being cared for with great consideration for those interests or left in peace. The wish of that young man who freed the tormented dolphin 30-odd years ago is coming true: More and more people understand that animals have their own languages, their own music, their own culture, and their own lives and that they are, in all the important ways, “just like us.”

Ingrid E. Newkirk is president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the author of the book The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 21, 2009 at 7:45 pm

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Don’t get squeezed on your next flight

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If the thought of trying to squeeze into last year’s swimsuit isn’t incentive enough to slim down before your summer vacation, here’s another reason to drop those unwanted pounds: Airline passengers with “extra baggage” may have to pay more.

This spring, United Airlines announced that passengers who cannot fit into a single seat will be required to pay an additional fare. A handful of other carriers, including Southwest Airlines, have similar policies. So much for the “friendly skies.”

But there is a simple way for frequent flyers to lose weight and avoid paying extra airfare: Stop being a “frequent eater” of meat. Studies show that vegetarians are, on average, about 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters are and that consuming animal products can make you pile on unhealthy weight.

While the size of airplane seats has remained basically the same over the years, our waistlines continue to expand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1960, the weight of the average American has increased by 24 pounds.

A study published last year in the journal Obesity found that if current trends continue, nearly 90 percent of adults will be overweight or obese by the year 2030 and the number of overweight children will double. What’s more, one out of every six health-care dollars will be spent on costs related to our growing girth.

Going meat-free can make a difference. In a study of nearly 22,000 people, Oxford University researchers found that men who switch to a vegetarian diet are less likely to experience the yearly weight gain that necessitates plus-size pants and can clog arteries in middle-aged meat-eaters.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that people who eat a low-fat vegan diet (meaning no meat, no eggs and no dairy products) can lose about a pound per week—even without exercising or counting calories.

And don’t worry, athletes—vegetarians are shedding body fat, not muscle. Vegetarians tend to be just as strong as or stronger than meat-eaters—just ask any one of the growing number of elite sports figures, such as slugger Prince Fielder, NBA star Raja Bell, mixed martial arts fighters Mac Danzig and Dale Hart and NFL running back Ricky Williams, who have gone vegetarian.

The meat habit can keep frequent flyers grounded in other ways too. Because the consumption of meat and other animal products has been linked to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and several kinds of cancer, going vegetarian could save portly passengers money on everything from hospital bills to home defibrillators.

Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. Male meat-eaters might also be more prone to impotence because the cholesterol and saturated fats in animal foods can slow the flow of blood to all the body’s vital organs.

Says epidemiologist Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, “Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be.”

And, of course, eating a healthy vegetarian diet is the best thing that anyone can do to help stop the abuse of animals on factory farms, where chickens and turkeys are crammed by the thousands into filthy sheds for their entire lives and mother pigs are confined for years on end to metal crates that are so small they can’t even turn around.

In these tough economic times, having to pay for two seats would put a damper on anyone’s vacation plans, but cash-strapped airline passengers can both save and slim by going vegetarian. You might say that it’s the only way to fly.

Chris Holbein is the project manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 11, 2009 at 5:13 pm