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Posts tagged ‘horse meat’

Horse slaughter humane? My response to the Denver Post.

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Temple Grandin's "humane" horse slaughterhouse was shut down after authorities found it did not succeed in humanely stunning horses.

Temple Grandin’s “humane” horse slaughterhouse was shut down after authorities found it did not succeed in humanely stunning horses.

On Thanksgiving day, the last thing I expected to wake up to was Tom McGhee of the Denver Post’s article, “Horse slaughter inhumane? Some say no.

But here’s my response to it. Feel free to share.

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November 26, 2015

Dear Tom,

I read your article, “Horse slaughter inhumane? Some say no,” with great interest, especially Temple Grandin’s words on horse slaughter being humane.

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29167415/horse-slaughter-inhumane-some-say-no

Back in 2012, I interviewed Ms. Grandin over videos of a slaughterhouse that she designed for horses in Quebec (Les Viandes de La Petite Nation, Inc.). That slaughterhouse was shut down after the videos showed repeat blows from the captive bolt gun (which Grandin describes as “humane”) failing to render horses unconscious (the legal definition of a humane stun, according to the law, is accomplishing that task with one blow). The Canadian authorities, upon reopening Grandin’s slaughterhouse, replaced the captive bolt guns there with firearms.

My article on Grandin’s slaughter house, including the videos (“Horse Slaughterhouse Raises Food Safety and Cruelty Alarms”),  can be read on Forbes.com’s site:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2011/12/06/horse-slaughterhouse-investigation-sounds-food-safety-and-cruelty-alarms/

Grandin and I watched the videos seven times together during the course of our interview. Throughout, she maintained that her system was working. Of course, the video, and the shutdown of the plant, prove otherwise.

I’ve been writing about the horse meat trade, and the intersecting wild horse issue, for four years now. My articles on it have appeared on Forbes.com, The Daily Beast/Newsweek, Salon, Alternet, the HuffPo, and my screenplay on the closing of one of the last horse slaughter houses in the US, Dallas Crown, has been optioned. A site I used for a lot of my research is kaufmanzoning.net,  set up by the people in Kaufman, TX, who eventually succeeded in shutting down the plant there.

There’s a reason why Grandin’s claims are scoffed at by people who worked to close these slaughter plants. And, FYI, the EU may be in the process of winding down sourcing of US horse meat from Canada, as it did back in January, regarding Mexico. This industry isn’t just inhumane, it abuses communities and its lack of regulation poses food safety threats, as well. Those food safety hazards, by the way, are THE reason why a majority of Congress has voted to defund horse slaughter inspections.

As for it being humane, no humane laws are applied in this country. It’s a word people throw around, but when you study agriculture and write about it, you come to realize that all that humane talk is just another version of “greenwashing.”

I run, at this moment, a small site that was the second (after the Wall Street Journal) to break the story of Whole Foods top turkey supplier caught on video claiming humane handling while stuffing birds into barns that can only be described as revolting. You can find that story here: http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=992 (“There’s Nothing Humane About Whole Foods Turkey.”)

It is my sincere hope you may amend your story to reflect what the reality is — not just the one Grandin (a paid consultant to the meat industry) is painting.I am available, at your convenience, if you’d like to talk further or write another article.

Thanks for your important coverage — and happy Thanksgiving.

Sincerely,

Vickery Eckhoff

New York, NY

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This post was updated on November 28, 2015 to include a 150-word Letter to the Editor,  which I submitted through the Post’s web site:

RE: “Horse Slaughter Inhumane? Some Say ‘No'”

Dear Editor:

Horse slaughter is indeed inhumane and Dr. Grandin should know this. She designed a Canadian slaughterhouse (Les Viandes de la Petite Nation) whose horse operation was shut down for failing to humanely stun horses, even after repeat stunnings (the legal requirement is one stun leading to unconsciousness).

Grandin and I reviewed video footage together of the plant’s kill box for an article I published on Forbes.com. Throughout, she maintained that her system worked. Obviously, the video and subsequent shut down of the plant confirm otherwise.

Congress most recently acted to defund horse slaughter inspections because of food safety hazards (due to banned drugs in horse meat) and liability issues resulting from a lack of oversight. The business, when it was regulated by the USDA here in the US, overlooked ongoing humane and environmental violations as well. As a country, we are better off without this taxpayer-funded activity.

Sincerely,

 

Vickery Eckhoff

Address

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Will New York Times correct errors in Dec. 2, 2014 carriage horse story?

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My December 4 letter to New York Times reporter, Jim Dwyer, seeking correction:

Dear Mr. Dwyer,

I read your article about the DeBlasio plan to end the carriage trade in New York City
(“Carriage Horse Proposal’s Effects Might Not Be As Good as Its Intentions”) with great interest, especially the aspects relating to the closure of horse slaughter plants, a topic I’ve spent the last three years researching and writing about for the national news media (Forbes, Newsweek/Daily Beast, Huffington Post) as well as a 25-chapter book proposal and movie script (now nearing completion) on the same subject.

The following underlined and bolded portions of your article’s statement about the GAO report and what it found about abuse and neglect, unfortunately, are incorrect:

The United States effectively banned slaughter of horses at the end of 2006, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office, but the story took some bad turns. “Horse welfare in the United States has generally declined since 2007,” the report found, citing increased abandonment and reports of neglect. Abandoned, abused and neglected horses present challenges for state and local governments, tribes and animal welfare organizations.”

The slaughter plants did not effectively close in 2006. They closed their doors in 2007. As the GAO’s June 2011 report itself states on page 1 (“What GAO Found”): “Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007…”

For further proof, please see article from the Kaufman Herald, where Dallas Crown, one of the last three operating US horse slaughter plants, shut its doors.

KaufmanHerald_slaughter plant closing

The last three US slaughterhouses for horses closed  in 2007, not 2006, as so much of the news media has falsely reported.

The article “Dallas Crown sends workers home” is dated March 28, 2007. This is the same day that US Federal District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly held that the slaughter of horses in America violated Federal law. ( see story here).

BelTex (Fort Worth), also closed in 2007 as did Cavel, the third plant (in Dekalb, IL), which operated until the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a lower court’s earlier decision on the constitutionality of a state law banning the practice of horse slaughter. This happened on September 21, 2007. Cavel’s appeal was denied and its temporary injunction to operate was revoked, making it the last US horse slaughter plant to close — again, in 2007. (see story here).

The abuse and neglect you cited from the GAO report, like the claim that the plants “effectively shut” in 2006, has been widely misreported in the news media, particularly by the Associated Press, which I contacted when they made the same false claims. (AP now uses the correct date of plants effetively closing in 2007 and has dropped the correlation with rising abuse and neglect).

Abuse and neglect went up while slaughter plants operated. Abuse and neglect rates, as stated in a study by the Equine Welfare Alliance, are most closely correlated by the increase in hay prices.

Abuse and neglect rates reported in a 2011 GAO report went up while slaughter plants operated. Abuse and neglect rates since the closing of the slaughter plants are most closely correlated with rising cost of hay, as shown in a peer-reviewed study by the Equine Welfare Alliance.

The reason is that the rising rates of abuse and neglect cited by GAO do not correlate with a 2007 plant closing date. Look at the chart. Here, you see ten years of data (only five years of which are referenced in the GAO report…2005-2009). You’ll see that for six different states, abuse and neglect rates rise during the entire time period that the plants remained operating. In Colorado, whose data the GAO singled out, you’ll see clearly that rising abuse and neglect rates are correlated with the years that the plans remained OPEN — not when they closed, as your article falsely claims.

The source of the data is state veterinarians. If you would like a more complete analysis of it, please see this document.

The report was prepared by the Equine Welfare Alliance. You can look at the methodology of collection and analysis. I have gone through it and find it accurately analyzes the data that your article (and other news organizations) got wrong. The longer story here is whether or not the news media should believe a small equine welfare organization, or the AP and the GAO. As one who has spent the last three years studying this topic, I can tell you that the EWA has got this right; the AP got it wrong. I don’t say that without having spent a lot of time looking at both sides and speaking extensively with AP editors, notably Traci Carl, and standards editor, Thomas Kent. And, as I mentioned earlier, the AP, beginning in January of 2014, has corrected itself, using the correct date of closing (2007) and dropping all references to the GAO and abuse and neglect. The New York Times should do the same.

Specifically, please print a correction to your story stating that abuse and neglect rose while slaughter plants operated and turned downward after their closing. As a further note, you might want to consider retracting your related statement of “an earlier example of good intentions with horses that went awry.”

I applaud you for looking at the carriage horse situation, but to compare finding homes for 200 horses to those that ended up abused and slaughtered back when these plants operated is a false parallel.

Thank you for your time and concern. Please reach out to me with any questions. I would be happy to provide further information to you and the editors of The New York Times to substantiate any and all of the above.

Very sincerely yours,

Vickery Eckhoff

Too Big To Fact Check? ‘Not Our Job’ Says AP Editor

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The AP's errors were repeated by the mainstream media, including these news providers. Only one of them—The Christian Science Monitor—issued a correction.

89 mainstream media outlets picked up the AP’s flawed Valley Meat coverage. Of those pictured above, only one (The Christian Science Monitor) responded to public requests for correction.

A series of 18 AP news stories that repeated significant factual errors for a year and a half will not be corrected, according to AP West Editor, Traci Carl.

The articles, which Ms. Carl admits were not fact-checked, followed the attempts of a Roswell, NM, abattoir—Valley Meat—to slaughter horses based on the argument that it would diminish horse abuse and neglect. But there was a problem with that premise, which correlated data showing increasing horse abuse and neglect reported by the GAO (Government Accountability Office) with the closure of the last three domestic horse slaughter plants.

The AP reporter, Jeri Clausing, misreported the closing dates by a year, however, causing the correlation with the GAO data to turn on its head.

Instead of showing that horses suffered abuse and neglect when domestic plants closed, the GAO data instead showed the opposite: that abuse and neglect increased during years in which the plants remained open. But despite being informed of this and other errors, the AP kept repeating them, in most cases, simply cutting and pasting the same false statements—verbatim—into successive articles.

These spread virally across Bloomberg News and Reuters; ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News; NPR; the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today—and hundreds of other mainstream and smaller news providers. As of this date, only one of them—The Christian Science Monitor—has responded to requests to issue a public and formal correction.

The Political Consequences of False Reporting

The false claim that banning slaughter increases horse abuse and neglect was a godsend for Valley Meat and other plants looking to produce horse meat in the U.S. The cumulative audience for that message easily reached into the tens of millions, including lawmakers wrestling with whether to ban or welcome horse slaughter plants into their jurisdictions.

Last year, Oklahoma lawmakers argued erroneously but effectively in overturning a 50-year ban on horse slaughter that it would alleviate horse abuse.

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“You sound like a fucking bitch”

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Grand OpeningI have a new post today on Forbes.com: Grand Opening of Horse Slaughter Plants Foiled Again. You can read it here.

The topic may seem obscure, but it’s probably my most important writing to date: exposing false reporting by the Associated Press in 16 different articles (as of this writing) that have, for a year and a half, made their way into every mainstream media organization in the U.S., misleading the public on critical facts about horse slaughter just as two and possibly three plants get closer to opening in America’s heartland.

I started tracking these errors across the media landscape in June, 2012 as they started appearing in a variety of mainstream news sites. As of yesterday, I picked up these same recurring errors in two new AP stories that have appeared on all the networks, in The Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Huffington Post, Reuters, and countless online news sites. I’ve also picked up false reports in The New York Times, on NPR, and other news organizations that have a high standard of accuracy. The AP’s stamp was on all of them.

I approached the AP back in June of 2012, then again in April, and steadily from May onward, inquiring about errors I found and seeking correction.

The first person I spoke to was the AP reporter who has become the voice for Valley Meat for the American Press—Jeri Clausing. I called her again 10 months later.

Ms. Clausing did not take kindly to my inquiries. On my second call, during which I politely inquired as to her source for figures on horse overpopulation that I knew to be incorrect, she wouldn’t let me get a word in.  She kept repeating, “you’re a horse advocate, you’re a horse advocate” despite my having offered my credentials as a journalist who had published extensively on Forbes.com and the Huffington Post (I have since been published in Newsweek), on the topic of horse slaughter.

Upon my strong objection to being spoken to in such a rude manner, Ms. Clausing responded: “You sound like a fucking bitch.”

So I reached out to Ms. Clausing’s news editor, Linda Ashton. I explained my concerns and she requested I write up my credentials and the errors I found in Ms. Clausing’s articles, along with links proving what was wrong and why.

I did so. I spent a month poring over seven articles:

As part of that, I reread each of the articles referenced above, researched Ms. Clausing’s sources in greater depth and reread materials referenced numerous times within her storyline (specifically, the June 2011 GAO Report).

What I found confirms my impression of bias throughout the seven articles favoring proponents of Valley Meat and their point of view, along with related errors.

2013-11-06_08-32-58

Table I shows proponents enjoying a 69.4% share of voice compared to just 12.7% for opponents in the AP’s coverage.  The figures were determined by doing word counts for groupings of similar text (talking points, reference materials, editorial commentary, photo captions, etc.). Neutral text (such as legislation and quotes from people without a discernible point of view), accounts for the difference between the two column totals (on the right) and the total word count (on the left).

Table II shows proponents and opponents represented in roughly equal numbers with regard to the individuals, organizations and constituencies (ranchers, horse rescues, public officials, livestock associations, etc.) named in the text. Where they diverge is the total number of mentions and talking time they get.

  • Eight individual proponents get mentioned 46 times (5.75 mentions per individual).
  • Six individual opponents get mentioned 18 times (3 mentions per individual).
  • The same holds true for organizations and constituents named in the text. If they’re proponents, they get more frequent mentions and longer quotes.

There were five recurring errors I highlighted in my letter to Ms. Ashton. The most egregious appeared in six of the seven articles I reviewed. It stated the following:

A June 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office shows cases of horse abuse and abandonment on a steady rise since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.”

This quote gives credence to Ms. Clausing’s frequent mentions of “abused,” “abandoned” “neglected,” “starved” and “unwanted” horses (24 mentions in her first article alone) despite a GAO acknowledgement that “national data is lacking.” This admission appears on page two of the 2011 report and is briefly mentioned in Ms. Clausing’s first article, but is otherwise absent, along with any discussion about the lack of national and almost complete lack of state data.

A worse problem, however is her getting the events wrong that shut down the slaughter plants and when that occurred. This is the main topic of my Forbes.com article today.

In any event, Ms. Ashton repeated that the AP’s reporting was both factual and balanced, and started knocking my professional credentials to request a correction. She said, “I’ve looked at your articles, and I think they’re biased.”

Let me address that. It’s a valid point.

I don’t quote Rick de los Santos in my articles, though I do mention him in one. I have interviewed him, though, back in March when that video of his employee, Tim Sappington, came out shooting a horse in the head while swearing at animal rights activists.

The interview with Mr. De Los Santos was long and uneventful—so much so he gave me his cellphone number and asked me not to share it. The next day, however, his attorney, A. Blair Dunn, sent me the following note:

“You are receiving this correspondence because you communicated to a person associated with Valley Meat Company, LLC a degratory, defamatory or threatening statement or aided in deciminating the information necessary to conspire to do the same.  As legal counsel for for Valley Meat Company this email shoud serve as notice I do not represent Tim Sappington, nor is he associated with Valley Meat Company in any capacity.

Because of the statements you have made it is my reccomendation that you retain your own legal counsel.  At this time any communications you made that threaten or harass any person associated with Valley Meat Company will be referred to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for investigation and prosecution under the Animal Enterprise Terroism Act (SEE BELOW).  Neither Valley Meat nor the Law Office of A. Blair Dunn will tolerate threatening or defamatory statements and will contemplate civil action against any individuals or groups that persist in that type of activity.

Thank you for your consideration.”

Mr. Dunn’s spelling errors and threats notwithstanding, I reached out to Mr. De Los Santos a second time, and got more harassing notes from Mr. Dunn.

I also reached out to several other individuals in Ms. Clausing’s articles to get quotes. None called me back. That’s not a result of bias on my part; it’s a result of bias on theirs. They don’t mind speaking to Ms. Clausing because she seems to take everything they say at face value. That’s not my orientation.

But back, again, to my correspondence with Ms. Ashton. Having gotten nowhere with my request for corrections, I decided to take my concerns up the chain at the AP.

I next wrote to the AP’s corrections line. I called, too. When I finally got someone on the phone, they wouldn’t direct me to an actual editor and told me to email them again. When I told them I’d done that already, they hung up on me. So I emailed them again. Again, no one got back to me.

So I contacted a very attentive editor named Stephanie Siek. She asked me to do a write up on what I found and vowed to send it on to the appropriate editor at the AP. Several weeks later, I was in correspondence with Traci Carl, whose title is West Editor. She oversees 13 different regions for the AP, including Albuquerque, Ms. Clausing’s base.

Ms. Carl’s response to my inquiry was pretty much what I expected:

“Stephanie Siek brought your concerns to my attention, as I oversee news for 13 Western states, including New Mexico. The Associated Press takes all potential errors seriously, and I’ve reviewed our stories and the facts called into question. At this time, I don’t see a need for a corrective. As you state, and as we reported, Congress cut the funding for inspection programs in 2006. And I reviewed the GAO report and found that it did cite a rise in horse abuse and abandonment, as stated in our article. Thanks again for your concern and interest.” 

I responded:

“Thank you for getting back to me about the errors in Ms. Clausing’s reporting.

The point being made isn’t when Congress cut funding (2006), as you suggest. It is about Ms. Clausing stating that the removal of funding effectively shut the plants down in 2006 when that didn’t happen until 2007 (they were kept in operation by fee-for-service inspections, which the court found illegal, shutting the plants down). The closure of plants and the stated correlation with an alleged rise in abuse and abandonment in 2006 are central features of all Ms. Clausing’s coverage. This correlation falls apart given the true date of closing.

In fact, that abuse and neglect went up for a year prior to the plants’ closing proves the two are not correlated.  That abuse and neglect figures declined after the plants closed also proves that point.

The AP’s coverage makes the case that keeping horse slaughter plants open is a more humane option and uses the wrong date of closing to prove that point. Please explain why 14 articles and hundreds of spin-off articles based on a false date and a false correlation do not require correction.

I’ve been writing articles on this subject for two years. I’ve been writing letters on this to the AP since May seeking correction. May I please have the courtesy of speaking to you about what is admittedly a very complex topic in person.”

Ms. Carl’s next response was more promising:

“Again, thank you for your enthusiasm and interest in this story. We do want to get it right.

I have to admit that I’ve gone through the story and your emails several times, and I’m still struggling to understand the errors as reported by the AP. The concerns you raise seem like they should be directed at the GAO and their report.

Please let me know if I’m not understanding the situation. If you raise a specific error in our reporting, I will vet it and correct it for the record.”

So I wrote back with the following:

“Thanks for looking at this further and for your assurances that the AP wants to get this right. I appreciate your question about whether you understand this. The answer is no — it’s way more complicated than you or the AP reporter, Jeri Clausing (or most people) understand. So let me lay out what happened in detail, and what Ms. Clausing misstates in 15 different articles, specifically:

  • That Congress defunded inspections in 2006
  • that this effectively caused the plants to close in 2006
  • that the GAO report showed a corresponding rise in horse abuse and abandonment”

To that, I appended a very long timeline (a feature of today’s Forbes.com post) detailing all the events that occurred between when Congress voted to defund horse slaughter inspections (in 2005) and when the plants actually shut down (on account of state bans in TX and IL) in 2007.

Clearly, I expected that this would prove my point. The AP had screwed up the dates as well as which events led to what outcome. What I got back from Ms. Carl showed otherwise:

“I’ve reviewed our coverage, and we are clear that the vote to cut funding came in 2005, and that Congress’ intention was to effectively ban horse slaughter with that vote. You are right that we don’t mention efforts by Illinois and Texas to get around that vote, but it doesn’t change Congress’ intent, which was at the heart of the horse slaughter debate. I don’t see a need for correction or clarification on that point.

As for the Colorado data, by your own reporting and facts below, cases did rise after funding was pulled in 2006, so I don’t see a need for a correction or clarification on that point. Again, thanks for your passion and interest in this topic.”

I responded:

“I am a bit perplexed by your message. 

Nowhere in any of the (now) 15 articles does Ms. Clausing state the vote to cut funding came in 2005. I have aggregated all the text for all 15 articles into one word doc and there is only one mention of “2005” in all of them, and it has nothing to do with Congress. Further, I only find three mentions of “intent” and none have to do with Congress.

What I find repeatedly—and have pointed out in all my correspondence to you—is Ms. Clausing saying Congress “effectively” banned slaughter in 2006. This is factually and demonstrably incorrect. Congress intent to defund it and Congress actually defunding it did not close the plants and it is the “effective” closing of them that Ms. Clausing is correlating with a “consistent increase and abuse and neglect”. This also did not happen, either, as the data shows abuse going up while plants were still open and going down after they closed.

Again, it was state laws that closed the plants in 2007, a full year after Ms. Clausing said they closed. I don’t know how I can be any more clear in proving this point to you.

Can you please address these specific errors? Thank you!”

The answer to that was: silence. I sent an email asking who I could talk to since she wasn’t willing to take it further. She said: “I’m the person you should talk to at AP, and I believe I’ve addressed your questions.”

The AP, as of today, has now put out 17 articles, 16 of which carry the error I described above. The other article has different problems with it. The entire series is riddled with them. Yet I chose the most easy-to-spot error— a false date—to prove the need for a correction.

How many meaningless corrections are made to news stories that are date-related (getting a birthdate wrong) while significant errors go uncorrected, simply because a news organization has sunk its credibility into some really unfactual coverage, and doesn’t want to come clean?

It’s easy to talk about wanting to get things right. But 17 articles riddled with errors that go uncorrected isn’t “getting things right.” It’s covering your ass.

This is having a profound impact on how the public is responding to what could soon be plants opening in New Mexico and possibly Missouri and Iowa. Essentially, the majority of Americans are against horse slaughter, but there are still people making up their minds about whether or not this is a good or bad idea. And a lot of false information from the AP and other generally credible news sources doesn’t help them do that. The news keeps changing: the plants are opening; the plants aren’t opening; restaurants are gearing up to serve horse meat. The news cycle feeds off the crazy factor—none of it with a basis in reality.

If this matters to you, here’s what you do:

  1. Write to the Associated Press and every news source that’s picked up the AP’s coverage. Tell them your concerns. Give them a link to my Forbes article and ask them for a correction.
  2. Keep asking. Then, start demanding.

I’ve done my part. I’ve put the story out there. It’s your turn, now to raise hell. But be polite. If anyone speaks to an editor the way that AP reporter spoke to me, your concern will go nowhere.

There’s power in your words and most importantly, provable facts. Use them!