Thursday, May 20, 2010

Episode 28 "Factory Farming" $300K pigs

Episode 28 "Factory Farming" $300K pigs

Hello and welcome to a fine episode of Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals.

My friend Sasha James , of Melbourne Vegan is thinking of having her own podcast.  I think its very exciting to hear from other Vegans, if you are at all interested, its very easy to record your voice and upload it, and I'm sure a lot of people would like to hear your thoughts.  You can find Sasha's blog at

I recently made a blog post about how at least in New Zealand, the term "Free range" is meaningless.  A Free Range egg has no real definition.  I'll include a link to my blog post if you'd like to find out more.

I listened to a recent NPR debate about the label "Organic", and if it was just a marketing ploy. 

The side against Organic farming mention that other, more conventional methods produce more, and they trot out statistics of a booming global population.  We need more food, they say, and nobody wants children overseas to starve, right?  Of course, when they are talking about farming food, they are almost certainly meaning so called "factory farming".
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I don't know about cats, but dogs certainly can have a Vegan diet, just ask Gary Francione.

But this "organic" stuff also counts as another feel good term for buying animal parts.  Its mentioned how wonderful Organic farmers are to their property, I mean animals.

Theres always a better way to treat animals than killing them, how about letting them live their lives free of our meddling, it doesn't cost us a dime, and its honestly the difference between life and death to the animals themselves.

I always enjoy hearing about Vegetarians and Vegans on general interest shows, even negatively like on the last episode of This Week In Tech

I think the more often the terms "vegetarian" and "vegan" are brought up in general conversation, the more normal they sound.  I wouldn't go pulling any pranks such as having sexist ads apparently promoting Veganism, but I do think its a good thing that Veganism is at least an understood term. 

I'm a big fan of No Agenda, I listen to it while working, normally In The Morning.  I've donated a few times, if you are rich enough to give a thousand american dollars, you become a No Agenda Knight which would look great on my CV, um, but I think of better uses of a thousand dollars in the world.  I have some friends who I'd like to help out financially, but they are too damn proud to accept my charity!  Dammit, you know who you are!  Theres also the William Paul MacBook Pro fund.

No Agenda's target audience is probably American Libertarians, far Right Wing guys, theres only about 20 women who listen to No Agenda.  No Agenda had a lot of "Vegan bashing" at the start, with coverage of PETA stunts such as having pregnant vegan women NAKED in factory farming cages for just one example.  I like to think that over time, I've had some influence on the large audience who listen to No Agenda, as they hear of an actual Vegan who enjoys the show.  I was dubbed "The No Agenda Vegan In Residence", although theres actually quite a few vegans I know who listen.

Heres a few early negative mentions about vegans.   

I even got them to mention World Vegan Day, although I have never complained when they talk about eating meat, that must be one of the many other Vegans in the audience.

A common meme is that No Agenda listeners are some sort of military unit.  They joke about the "No Agenda Militia".  Theres the knights, and also the Minutemen.  I wanted to pick a good title for No Agenda Vegans, something that suggested independence, inner strength, on the outside massive muscles and perhaps a little french culture.

What beats a Green Beret?  JFK described the headwear as "a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom." 

I like to think that by sending in stories to No Agenda, I can put a nice spin on any Vegan stereotypes held by Adam and John,as well as the  half million odd listeners, as they learn theres much more to Veganism than that darn PETA.

And talking about creepy PR stunts,  I found a horrifying childrens character, created by New Zealand Beef and Lamb, basically our Evil Meat Board.  The character has a bizarre name, a shirt that looks like its made from metal, and blue hair.  I don't know what kid could possibly relate to such a character, I'd be more inclined to think it would kill the family pet in its blood lust.

Reading from the Kids Corner:

Hi Kids!
My name is Iron Brion and I'm eight years old. You might be wondering how I got to be so big and strong. Well I'll let you in on a little secret... I eat lots of New Zealand beef and lamb.
Beef and lamb are packed full of many important vitamins and minerals and make an important contribution to the healthy, balanced diet of all Kiwi kids. I eat lean beef and lamb at least three to four times a week to make sure I get nature's power pack, which I need to be healthy and strong. By eating beef and lamb, I have enough energy to run around and play sports and to work hard at school.
I am the star of the Iron Brion Roadshow, which visits primary schools throughout New Zealand. I come to your school with my assistants and my barbecue trailer and talk to all you boys and girls about the importance of healthy eating and exercise. You even get to take part in the Iron Brion workout and might be lucky enough to win a prize. At the end of the show, receive a delicious, healthy burger to have for lunch. Yum!
In the meantime kids, make sure you eat a healthy diet with lots of different foods and be sure to eat delicious New Zealand beef and lamb.
Take care
Iron Brion"

I've found a few pictures of our friend Iron Brion, and it, um, he, looks horrifying.  The head is similar to those old Cabbage Patch Dolls, rather malformed looking, with blue hair that looks like the business end of a paint brush.  And this, thing prances about on stage, for a full hour, telling small children about how yummy and healthy it is to eat blood and guts.  Actually, the tour no doubt has to promote "a balanced diet", and so theres the usual song and dance with different food groups and the like.  From what I've seen, there are four giant cards that get held up, Fruits and Vegetables, Breads and Cereals, Milk and Dairy products, and of course Meat.  Ahh, but not just "meat", but get this, "Meat and Meat Alternatives".  I couldn't believe it!  Wait wait wait, so Beef and Lamb have this prancing blue haired character that goes about schools promoting Tofu?  Um, not quite.  This card has depictions of bloody looking ribs, a ham, chicken legs and…wait for it…the tail of a fish.  I think thats the quote "meat alternative", a fish.  I have no idea where that whole "the bodies of animals that live on land or air are made of meat" and its cousin "animals that live underwater are not made of meat" came from.  Nobody would doubt that aquatic animals are not, well, animals, and they have muscles.  But their muscles are not considered "meat".  So, Beef and Lamb, among other things, promotes "Meat and Meat alternatives", which means the tail of a fish.  But lets not get confused here, no doubt even the NZ Government wouldn't let them get away promoting a diet solely of cows and sheep.  I'm sure they have to mention fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals.  Meats relative, Dairy products were also included.  I still find it weird that the card truly says "meat and meat alternatives", which means animals that live in water as well as animals that live on ground.
I've looked at photos from the tour.  The crew gets around in a silver Toyota van thats signwritten with the productions name, "Iron Brions Beef and Lamb BBQ Express".   Theres a drawing of the food groups, with "teaching kiwi kids the importance of a healthy, balanced diet".  Of course they have to say that, but its a little hard to ignore that Iron Brion is not some blue haired costumed nutritionist, a government minister working to help New Zealanders be healthy, but a blue haired demon spawned pawn of the Meat industry. 
This is one of the few times I wish I had a podcast that included video elements.  Hmm, the idea of the meat industry promoting its byproduct to school children, where have I heard that before….

Being forced to promote other food groups

A presentation given to children by the meat industry

An hour of brainwashing, "blood is good, dairy is good, mumble mumble fruits, mumble vegetables, mumble bread, but don't forget kids, blood is good for you!".  And afterwards, theres photos of the children lined up, as if at the stockyards, to receive their burger.    You've got to really hammer the message home, "meat is good, and look, heres meat!"

Hmm, once again, that sounds familiar

Its interesting that Apu must be Vegan, although sadly, the V word is not used.  Try and guess which celebrity cuts in at the end.

I like that, I was asked by a female friend once if I was upset that she was not vegan.  I don't think she wanted me to reply "yes, in my eyes you are a monster".
Paul and Linda McCartney show up near the end of the episode.  I truly feel sorry for people who grew up without The Simpsons.  Where else do you learn about vegetarians from famous rock stars?

And here is my last story.  I've long known that a pig farm was built near where I live, probably 10 minutes from my house, that would have pigs raised to be made into a potential diabetes cure..  The animals are a "disease free" species, the Auckland Island pigs, who were living just fine, on a island at the bottom of the world.  Mankind had ditched them there, so that they could be killed as food for shipwreck survivors, back in the day.  But then the Department of Conservation decided it needed to ethnically cleanse introduced species, because those apparently foreign pigs might eat a native plant or two, out there on that rock in the middle of nowhere.

I managed to record the audio from an Australian tour of the Pig Farm.  As far as I know, no footage from the facility has been shown publicly in New Zealand.  We just get told about all the benefits it will bring to our economy, oh, and that it will surely cure every disease that afflicts mankind.  The mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt, a real character known nationwide for being at least 98% crazy claims the pigs as his idea.  He gets in a few funny jokes, but I can just see the dollar signs in his eyes.  Its never mentioned that theres a big controversy over the ethics of animal to human transplants, all local coverage is one sided.  Footage shown of "Auckland Island pigs" has always been of happy looking pigs, living on grass fields.  The Mayor even hugs and feeds the animals.  Of course, these are NOT the animals killed for medical treatments, those have to be kept in sterile environments.  It really looks exactly like a quote "factory farming" pig farm.  The pigs live their whole lives on concrete, they will never see the sun, or feel wind.  They are killed when they are young, currently for a single organ.  I'll read a detailed reply I got from the company raising the pigs after the clip.  I just want to give you that mental picture, we are told about how great the pig farm is for the New Zealand economy, and sick people worldwide, we are shown footage of the mayor wearing his animal skin robes, feeding the animals on a sunny day, but the actual pigs can never be exposed to any potential disease vectors.  They are kept in concrete cubicles for most of their time.

I really hope you watch the video, to see the pigs for yourself.  I took screenshots, and you can see those on my flickr account.

Here is a letter I wrote to my local newspaper,  a long time ago now, after the company itself wouldn't reply to my private emails.

What happens to the diabetes pigs?
I would like to know the actual plan when it comes to using pigs for organ transplant. I've asked both the mayor and Living Cell Technologies to be honest about what their procedures involve.
How I understood the mayor's last article, investors are being asked to spend $3 billion on a factory farm.
From what I understand of the process – admittedly very little – the pigs will be monitored in a sterile cell block, kept alive for their organs and blood? Will it be like in The Matrix: bodies encased in a pink slime, tubes every which way? Who knows?
And for this, these poor pigs will find themselves being trademarked as "Diabecell". What is that exactly? Is it an organ attached to a person? A series of injections?
I would genuinely like to be informed.
Can't we return these poor pigs back to their lovely remote holiday home on the Auckland Islands to live their lives free of mad science? Or will the dollar signs win out?
Jordan Wyatt, Invercargill

Living Cell Technologies chief executive Paul Tan replies:
Living Cell Technologies (LCT) is breeding pigs in special facilities in Invercargill. The intention is to use pig tissue to treat human diseases rather than as a source of food.
No experiments are conducted on the pigs. They are housed in environmentally controlled facilities that give them a very comfortable existence and protect them from the viruses that modern pig herds have. They each have their own pen, which is a large area so that the pig can move around and lie out full length in any direction. They are let out of their pens twice a day for their exercise, to play and socialise with the other pigs. The pigs are given toys and the staff spend time grooming, bathing and giving attention.
The pancreas of young piglets are taken to obtain cells that produce insulin. The piglets are anaesthetised for the pancreas to  be removed and they are then humanely euthanized while still under anaesthesia. In a separate manufacturing unit the cells are processed into gel capsules and the product, Diabecell (registered trade mark), can be implanted into the abdomen of someone with type-1 diabetes. In this form of diabetes, the insulin producing cells of the pancreas have been destroyed and the person becomes insulin deficient. It is treated with lifesaving insulin injections but this still causes life threatening swings in blood glucose levels. The implanted pig cells produce insulin when blood glucose is high and switch off when blood glucose returns to normal.

Pigs are used because pig insulin is very similar to human insulin. Prior to genetically modified human insulin becoming today's standard treatment, pig insulin was routinely used to treat human diabetes for many decades.
The pigs were left on the Auckland Islands by sailors as a food source. DOC would like to remove all the pigs from the Auckland Islands to protect the plant and birdlife there.
By breeding these unique pigs in comfortable conditions not only are we preserving the breed, their tissues are used to save human lives.
We are aware that Southland has an active social and economic development programme and our company is pleased to be part of its progress."

Well, we know how the pigs were "removed", they were almost all killed outright, they weren't removed from place x to place y where they could live happy lives, they were sent straight to hell courtesy of our Department of Conservation.
I hate thinking about these poor pigs being kept in awful concrete surroundings, and so close to my home.  It makes me think of the footage from The Animals Film and Earthlings, it always felt so far away, but now its just ten minutes drive from my house.  I think about all the love and care I give to the chicken family living in my back yard, and how these pigs will never experience anything like it.  They will never even be let outside.  I'd like to mention a couple quick things from the official reply.  Yes, from the clip I played, the animals have enough room to move in the concrete cubicles, with their barred gates.  I would think the pigs have enough room to walk in a very tight circle.  I'm sure if I was in one of the cubicles, I could reach out and touch both concrete walls.  I'd like to know what happens when the pigs are quote "let out of their pens twice a day for their exercise, to play and socialize with other pigs".  It makes it sound like a kindergarten, not a medical facility raising pigs in sterile "factory farming" conditions.  I know its hard to deny seriously ill people potential treatment, but I just don't think its moral.  I honestly think I would rather die than receive an organ from an unwilling donor, someone, not something, who was killed so that I could live.

I hope my last story didn't make you feel terribly sad.  I try to feel better by thinking about the positive force I am for the animals I look after.  I feel strange saying that, because my little Chicken Friends are really taking care of themselves.  I feed them grain and mash, but they forage for themselves, eating weeds and almost any plant they can get their beaks around.  I certainly know that I cant help the pigs by asking for larger concrete cubicles, being so daring as to ask for so much room that I couldn't personally touch each side.  Nor would asking that they be released from the prison cell three times a day really help in any meaningful way.  No matter how the animals are treated by the staff, they are still essentially property, objects, that are killed while still being piglets. 

I truly see Veganism as a moral baseline for anyone who loves animals. 

Thank you for listening to Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals.

You can find the script for this episode, as well as downloads for every episode of Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals at coexisting with nonhuman animals .

If you want to contact me, even just to say you listened, send an email to, or on Twitter, j a y w o n t d a r t,  I'd appreciate it.

Thank you for listening.

That evil Iron Brion

main story Pig Transplants

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