Tuesday, February 24, 2009

foie gras: More PETA lies unmasked

When Village Voice reporter Sarah DiGregorio set out to investigate foie gras production at Hudson Valley, activists prepped her for a conspiracy. "With 150 people living on-site," warned anti-foie gras campaigner Holly Cheever, "they can cherry-pick out the disastrously sick ducks" to hide animal abuse from the media. Armed with a list of criteria from an animal welfare expert, DiGregorio spent a day at the farm examining ducks at every stage of the production process. This week, she revealed her findings: Someone is cherry-picking evidence in the "foie gras wars." But the farmers aren't the culprits.

Despite the fact that there are only four farms in the U.S. that produce the fatty liver delicacy, activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have put a great deal of effort into stigmatizing the tiny industry and its customers. And as DiGregorio writes in the first sentence of her article, shock videos depicting sick and struggling birds are a crucial part of their campaigns.
It's very hard to watch the video about foie gras from PETA and not conclude that you should lay off fatty liver.

But like Anthony Bourdain and others who have visited the farms for themselves, the scene at Hudson Valley was nothing like what PETA's torture video had led her to expect:
[T]he sights could not have been more different from the horrifying images I'd seen on the Internet. I was at the farm for five hours, all told. I saw thousands of ducks, but not a drop of duck vomit. I didn't see an animal that was having a hard time breathing or walking, or a duck with a bloodied beak or blown-open esophagus. So where are the terrible images coming from?

DiGregorio explained that the PETA footage must have been shot at an industrial farm abroad, probably in France. The cages shown in activist shock videos don't even exist on any of the four farms in the U.S. However, as the owner of Hudson Valley explained, the "cage free" facilities haven't deterred HSUS and other groups from trying to sue them out of business. Hudson Valley's legal costs were $50,000 this month alone.

It's no secret why PETA and HSUS have spent so much time, money, and energy trying to demonize producers and consumers of foie gras: It's a gateway to vilifying pork, cheese, veal, and the long list of other foods they want Americans to stop eating. But fortunately for culinary enthusiasts who enjoy the delicacy and other animal products, DiGregorio and others are routinely more convinced by reality than by vegan propaganda films:
If I had seen with my own eyes that Hudson Valley produced foie gras by abusing ducks, this article would have turned out very differently. But that just wasn't the case.


Gender gap closes in on life expectancy

This sounds reasonable. I seem to recollect that male and female life expectancies have already roughly equalized in Israel

The final gender gap is closing. Men, who usually die many years earlier than women, will live as long as their wives within two generations, scientists believe. As long as men continue to improve lifestyles that are far healthier than in previous decades, and gains in women's health level off, the tipping point will arrive in about 2035, an American government statistician predicted last week. That year will mark the birth of the first generation of westerners who can expect to live well into their late eighties, regardless of their gender.

In the past, western men died earlier than women because they went to war or took on jobs such as mining or deep sea fishing with chronic health consequences. The dominance of macho cultures also meant they tended to eschew improved medical and dietary advice which, since the 1940s, has helped women add 2« months a year to their lifespan. Yet the latest survey released last week by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that the gap is shrinking fast. "Men born in 2006 could expect to live 3.6 years longer, and women 1.9 years longer, than those born in 1990," scientists reported in their annual survey of 300m Americans. Male life expectancy is now 75.1 and women's 80.9.

A CDC statistician, who did not wish to be named, said that the data applied across western nations where gender gaps were closing at varying rates. "Unless patterns change dramatically, maybe by war or epidemic, there will be a convergence point in around 25 years' time or so. That will benefit the children of children born over the past couple of years," he said.

There will still be great global disparities, however. The twins born to the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts in 2004, for example, are likely to live up to 50 years longer than twins born on the same day in Swaziland, where current life expectancy barely hovers above 30.

Yet in the West the benefits of the fight against conditions such as heart disease and cancer, albeit counterbalanced by the recent growth of "lifestyle-related" problems such as diabetes, were already showing themselves. A Briton in his twenties today is likely to live at least five years longer than a man now in his fifties.

There are, however, wide disparities across the UK. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a man dining amid the sushi restaurants of the west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea can expect to live until he is 83, but one living in Glasgow, with its poor diet typified by the notorious deep-fried Mars bar, can only expect to reach 71. On average in Britain, men live to 77.2 and women to 81.5, compared with 70.8 and 76.8 respectively in 1981.

Today the only countries with very narrow gaps between the genders are where both tend to die young. This is changing, but scientists are unsure why. Professor Tom Kirkwood, director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, said that only a quarter of the factors that dictate how long we live are inherited, with the remainder shaped by the environment. "The trouble is we don't know what the secret is in the balance of nutrition and life-style responsible for the narrowing life-expectancy gap, only that we're all going to live a lot longer - together," he said.

Tony Warnes, professor of gerontology at the Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing, said the one widely agreed factor was the change in smoking habits. "Men have reduced their smoking a lot and women, particularly young women, have been more resistant," he said. The ONS said that in 2004 10% of girls aged between 11 and 15 smoked compared with 7% of boys, a trend blamed on the desire to control their weight and look "cool". Their futures are not bright: lung cancer rates are falling sharply among men but rising steadily among women. Warnes also said that some advances in medicine, such as heart treatments, could be more beneficial to men.

As long as greater life expectancy is combined with health advances, everyone should be happy. However, experts warn of the nightmare corollary: that we get the extra years but remain blighted by debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.


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