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Archive for August 2010

Antibiotic-free or not, meat should be off hospital menus

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By Heather Moore

Serving meat in the hospital is sort of like serving Twinkies at a Weight Watchers meeting. It’s counterproductive, to say the least. But at least patients at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital will no longer be served meat from animals who were given antibiotics to speed their growth and keep them alive in filthy, extremely crowded conditions. The hospital is one of 300 medical facilities across the U.S. that have pledged to improve the quality and sustainability of the food that they serve, both for the health of the public and the health of the environment. For many hospitals, this includes buying antibiotic-free meats so that they won’t contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

It’s a positive step, but it still begs the question, “Why are hospitals serving meat in the first place?”

Antibiotic-free or not, meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians are less prone to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity than meat-eaters are. Research has shown that meat-eaters are a whopping nine times more likely to be obese than vegans are and that meat-eaters are 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease than vegetarians.

On second thought, if you’re going to eat meat, you might as well be in the hospital. Doctors can just wheel you to the ER when you’re ready for an angioplasty.

Seriously though, medical practitioners can better promote healthy living by encouraging people to eat meat-free meals. For one thing, plant-based foods are cholesterol-free—and they don’t naturally harbor harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria. By confining animals to cramped, feces-filled factory farms, where these disease-causing bugs flourish, farmers are only increasing the chances that more people will have to endure hospital stays.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, up to 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to healthy farmed animals—not to sick people. Some of the antibiotics, including penicillin and tetracycline, are also used to treat people. As a result, when people get sick, the antibiotics they’re prescribed don’t always work because their overuse in farmed animals has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antibiotic-resistant infections kill approximately 60,000 Americans every year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently called antibiotic resistance an “urgent public health issue” and introduced new guidelines for the judicious use of antibiotics in farmed animals. According to Brad Spellberg, an infectious-disease specialist, “We’re in an era where antibiotic resistance is out of control, and we’re running out of drugs and new drugs are not being developed. We can’t continue along the path we’re on.”

But the best way to stay healthy is to not eat meat in the first place, whether it’s antibiotic-free or not. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is now encouraging people to eat a more plant-based diet to help prevent and reverse diet-related diseases. Hospitals should also advise people to make healthy plant-based choices—and they can start by serving wholesome vegan meals on hospital grounds.

Heather Moore is a research specialist for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.GoVeg.com.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 25, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Exotic pets must be outlawed

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By Lisa Wathne

An Indiana boy and his dog were injured recently by the family’s pet monkey—who had been locked in a cage for years because of “aggression”—after he escaped and ran amok. You’d think that after a Connecticut woman’s face was ripped off by her friend’s pet chimpanzee last year—or after a toddler was strangled to death by her family’s python, or a Texas teenager was mauled to death by her stepfather’s tiger—that lawmakers would step in to put an end to the carnage.

But there’s still no federal law prohibiting people from breeding, selling or acquiring exotic and dangerous animals to keep as pets. Why?

The journey for many of these animals begins in places such as Asia and Africa and in the jungles of Central and South America. Many are imported legally in the billion-dollar-a-year exotic-animal industry. Others are jammed into trunks or suitcases or not infrequently, strapped or taped to the smuggler’s body. Such was the case with a Mexican man who was recently caught with 18 dead and dying monkeys stuffed into a girdle.

What few laws and penalties exist hardly dissuade dealers when compared to the kind of money to be made from smuggling: Prices on animals’ heads can range from a few thousand dollars for a jungle snake to tens of thousands of dollars for a hyacinth macaw.

Closer to home, countless tigers, primates and other exotic species are bred specifically to be sold as pets. Babies are removed from their frantic mothers (who sometimes have to be sedated) so that the infants can be acclimated to human contact. Traumatized and terrified, these young animals don’t stand a chance of ever living as nature intended. Primates are diapered and often have their canine teeth yanked out. Within weeks, tiger cubs outgrow their ramshackle backyard pens and spend the rest of their lives pacing and yearning for something that they want and need but will never get: their freedom.

Buying an animal on a whim or because one wants to be “different” almost inevitably leads to buyer’s remorse. Since dealers market these animals as little more trouble than stuffed toys, most people are inevitably shocked by the responsibility and expense of specialized food, space and veterinary requirements of exotics. When the novelty wears off and reality sets in, some try to unload their high-maintenance pets at zoos, which are unlikely to accept such animals.

Jack Cover, a curator at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, says, “We’d have to have two or three warehouses to handle the [animals] we get calls on.”

Others simply abandon animals in woods, swamps or along rural roads—but since the animals’ wild instincts have been irrevocably corrupted, many starve to death or fall victim to the elements or predators. Some species, such as pythons dumped in the Florida Everglades, thrive and wreck havoc on entire ecosystems.

Too many animals—and in far too many tragic cases, people—pay with their lives in this cruel cycle. The time is long overdue for federal lawmakers to put a stop to it once and for all.

Lisa Wathne is the senior captive exotic animal specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dog trainer wanted: Control freaks need not apply

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By Karen Porreca

I find it very difficult to write or even think about the topic of cruel dog-training techniques. In fact, it makes me feel lightheaded and sick to my stomach. Because of my close relationship to my dogs and my familiarity with their beautiful nature and endearing qualities, it’s incomprehensible to me that someone could purposely inflict pain on them while claiming to be teaching them. The only thing that dogs can learn from the infliction of physical pain is terror, which is the same thing that we would learn.

So it was especially disheartening to read about a dog trainer named Jeff Loy who was brought up on charges of severely beating a 6-pound shih tzu named Moby with an 18-inch piece of PVC pipe, as well as abusing the dog with a choke collar, slamming him to the floor and punching him in the chest with a clenched fist. The dog had to be rushed to the vet and was found to have sustained a broken rib, a bruised liver, a bruised bladder, profuse internal and external bleeding and ruptured blood vessels in his eyes. The incident took place in New Jersey in 2007, but the trainer wasn’t convicted until just recently after a lengthy investigation.

And this was no isolated incident. Last March, a dog trainer in Ontario, Canada, was convicted of cruelty after a dog she was training was found to have suffered from heatstroke and sustained severe cuts to all four paw pads, indicative of having been dragged.

Last year, an article in the St. Petersburg Times profiled a dog trainer who routinely uses the technique of “helicoptering,” in which he hoists dogs off the ground by a choke chain and leash, and then swings them around him in a circle. Trainers have also been exposed for using shock collars in extraordinarily cruel ways, including reportedly placing two on a dog simultaneously (one around the neck and one around the groin).

It’s important to know that there is no certification or licensing requirement for dog trainers in the U.S. Anyone can call him- or herself a dog trainer. So it really is a case of “Buyer, beware.”

Unfortunately, people tend to see dog trainers as such authority figures or experts that they make the mistake of suspending their own judgment and believing whatever the trainer tells them. They allow the trainer to harm their dog because the trainer persuades them that it’s in the dog’s best interests or that it really doesn’t hurt the dog or that there’s simply no other way to train the dog. I imagine that these trainers really believe what they say, but they are sadly mistaken, and anyone who allows them to come anywhere near their dog will likely regret it.

Here are a few questions that you can ask when evaluating a potential dog trainer: Does the trainer seem to view his or her relationship to dogs as adversarial, i.e., that dogs need to be subdued or conquered? Does he or she believe that the infliction of pain is a valid part of a dog-training program? Are prong, choke or shock collars used? How about crates? Does the trainer insist on being alone with the dog, and does he or she require clients to sign a “hold harmless agreement,” absolving him- or herself from any liability?

If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” it’s time to send the trainer packing. When in doubt, go with your gut feelings. If the trainer seems just a little too pushy, too intense or too controlling, show him or her the door. And remember: Don’t ever, ever, ever leave your dog alone with any trainer, no matter how nice or friendly he or she may seem. Your dog’s well-being depends on it.

Karen Porreca is a senior director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Posted in animal companions