At Meat Research Center, a Litany of Death, Suffering

'NY Times' investigation into center's activities yields disturbing results
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2015 10:38 AM CST
At Meat Research Center, a Litany of Death, Suffering
Cattle are raised Nov. 29, 2007, at the US Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb.   (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

(Newser) – For 50 years, a facility in Nebraska has focused on meat-industry improvements, from the eater's perspective: more meat, less fat, safer food. But at the same time, reports the New York Times in a lengthy investigation, the center has provided a site for minimally overseen and sometimes brutal experimentation on animals—even though, as the Times notes, it's not some "rogue operation": It's the government-funded US Meat Animal Research Center. "Most Americans and even livestock producers would be hard pressed to support some of the things that the center has done," says James Keen, a veterinarian who worked there for 24 years. Reporter Michael Moss offers some disturbing examples:

  • Pigs normally have eight piglets, but at the center they have up to 14, and hundreds of the weak, crowded animals are killed when their mothers roll over. Some 6,500 animals have starved at the site since 1985.

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  • The center has tried to create "easy care" sheep that don't require human supervision, unlike most domesticated sheep. Experiments have involved putting pregnant sheep in pastures to see which ones will care for their babies on their own; ranchers, by contrast, often care for pregnant sheep in expensive barns. The result was many lambs abandoned both by mothers and scientists. "Some days, 30% to 40% of the lambs were dead," says a student. Ten percent is considered normal.
  • In standard practice, Keen says, bulls' libidos are tested by placing them with a cow for some 15 minutes. But one cow was left with about six bulls for hours with her head locked in a gadget to keep her from moving. "Her back legs were broken. Her body was just torn up," Keen says. She died after a few hours.
  • A legal loophole in the 1966 Animal Welfare Act exempts farm animals in agricultural research, Moss writes, but many companies and labs get oversight as part of independent organizations. Not the Research Center, where a scientist wrote in 1985 that "membership may bring more visibility" to what goes on at the site, "which we may not want."
  • A retired scientist who worked at the site defends it: "We are trying to feed a population that is expanding very rapidly, to 9 billion by 2050, and if we are going to feed that population, there are some trade-offs."
Click for Moss' full piece. (Read more animals stories.)

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