Roundup: Fighting for Humane Farming

A farmer stands up to inhumane practices • The Bachelor vs. rural America • Water woes in California • Losing landlines in Illinois? • The happiest state in America • Smelling poop to save endangered animals

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Craig Watts, the farmer who says Perdue Farms is forcing him to use inhumane chicken-raising practices, has filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Department of Labor. The farmer says that Perdue has retaliated against him and that he should be protected under the federal whistleblower law, according to the complaint.

Watts is being represented by the Food Integrity Campaign, part of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project.

Writing in Wired’s website, Maryn McKenna sums up the issue this way:

Most of the meat we eat in the US is raised in conditions that most consumers cannot see. This farmer felt those conditions were injurious to animals and bad for eaters. He opened the doors on his small corner of the industry in the hopes of changing it, and he wants to keep those doors open. Whistleblower protection might help him do that. I reached Watts quickly by phone, and he said: “I want there to be some avenue for farmers to be protected, so that they don’t have to be walking around on eggshells. Hopefully this is it.”
 

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Salon has a pretty great take on this season’s Bachelor, the ABC show on which narcissists pretend to fall in love. This season the bachelor is Chris Soules, a farmer from Arlington, Iowa, population 429. Going in to the season, the lucky ladies knew that if picked by Chris they would be moving to rural Iowa where Chris has his farm and, apparently, mansion-like house. Instead of showing what the contestants may gain from a life married to a millionaire farmer, the show seems to focus on the impossibility of living in such a tiny place.

…The reason Farmer Chris was picked to be “The Bachelor” is because the producers know that the home vs. heart, city vs. country, love vs. career is a dichotomy they can milk, along with providing a wealth of well-honed prejudices about rural life to which they can appeal.

…Reality TV has long had a sick, voyeuristic fascination with rural America and loves to propagate outdated hillbilly stereotypes (it’s no surprise that this season has been a veritable parade of dumb farming clichés, from driving tractors on the streets of LA to drinking cow’s milk straight from the udder). While “The Bachelor”‘s Farmer storyline may not be not as bad as “Honey Boo Boo” or “Buckwild,” it’s part of the same nasty impulse to point and laugh at rural communities, while simultaneously triggering the automatic defensiveness that people in the rural parts of flyover states feel when they’re represented (or misrepresented) on mainstream TV.

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The idea that we’ll run out of water (along with the possibility that a super smart artificial intelligence will cause human extinction) in the not-so-distant future terrifies me. The California Sunday Magazine takes a look at the water situation in the state’s San Joaquin Valley. It sounds grim.

…The way it went dry is that one day last June, Annie Cooper was looking outside her kitchen window at another orchard of nuts going into the ground. This one was being planted right across the street. Before the trees even arrived, the big growerno one from around here seems to know his nameturned on the pump to test his new deep well, and it was at that precise moment, Annie says, when the water in his plowed field gushed like flood time, that the Coopers’ house went dry. 

The kitchen faucet, the fancy bathtub, the washing machine, the toiletall drew back into themselves. A last burble. Her husband of 55 years told her what she already knew: Their old domestic well, sitting 280 feet deep, could no longer reach the plummeting aquifer, could no longer compete with the new farm wells sunk hundreds of feet deeper.

— Shawn Poynter

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An important telecom bill is up for review, and set to expire, this year in Illinois. One provision that could be lost is a requirement for phone companies to provide landline phone service to all their customers, even ones living in the less profitable rural areas. This could leave many people in the state without an affordable, reliable way to communicate. The thought of losing this provision alarms Jim Chilsen, consumer director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board:

"For millions of consumers and small businesses, this is still the most reliable, affordable choice," he said. "A smart phone is a great device, but it's not affordable for everyone. And anybody who's taken a trip across the state can tell you that it's not always reliable…” [For]people who have pacemakers and who need to report to a doctor's office, often a landline is the most reliable way," he said. "Often, consumers are concerned about 911 service. The most reliable 911 option is a landline because it doesn't go out in a power outage.”

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The latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index has been released (I know, we couldn’t wait, either), and Alaska is the big “Happiest State in the Union” winner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, West Virginia is the least happy state. Alaska is no stranger to happiness, apparently. It’s been in the Index’s top 10 four of the past seven times. Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, makes an odd choice of using a sport metaphor in explaining the win.

"They do a lot of the blocking and tackling, as far as taking care of themselves and making good choices, but also demonstrating good holistic well-being in ways that extend beyond the conventional physical wellness," Witters said.

— Shawn Poynter

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Dogs use their highly evolved noses for a lot of things. Sniffing out drugs at the airport, getting to know new dogs, being slimy, embarrassing you in front of your in-laws, etc. Now scientists are figuring out a way to put canine snoots to use in the wilderness that doesn’t involve trailing fugitives: Saving endangered species.

With just one whiff, a trained scat-detection dog can find feces from animals ranging from giant anteaters to Pacific pocket mice. And there’s one place responsible for more of these super-sniffers than anywhere else: The Conservation Canines program at the University of Washington. Since 1997, the center’s team of handlers have been working with a motley crew of former strays and misfits-turned-dog detectives, training them on the center’s vast 4,300 acres to pick up on poo from specific species. Over 40 four-legged participants have been trained to sniff out up to 12 species each: wolverines, tapirs, iguanas, and even orcas.

The dogs trained to smell a certain type of scat, then they lead the scientists to groups of whatever animal they’re trained to know. One dog can track whale poop from the bow of a boat.

“By going to the source, we’re able to use an alternative method of getting DNA, tracking movement or determining male to female ratios without any possibility of interfering with or endangering an already endangered species,” says [Conservation Canines’ lead trainer Heath] Smith. 

 

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