Archives for animals



Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast


This week’s podcast is about selective outrage — why we get so upset over some things, and then not over others. It’s called “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

We start with Marius the giraffe. Marius lived at a zoo in Copenhagen. Zoo officials said he was a “surplus” animal: too genetically similar to other giraffes, and therefore he couldn’t breed. It was kinder, they said, to kill him. So they fed him some rye bread (“his favorite food”), shot him in the head, and dissected him in front of a crowd of onlookers, including kids. Next they fed his corpse to the lions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the world reacted with outrage. Read More »



The Troubled Cremation of Stevie the Cat: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

If there’s a death in your family and you choose to have your loved one cremated, wouldn’t you expect that the remains that are returned to you belong specifically to your beloved? Of course you would!

Would you expect the same if the dearly departed happens to be the family pet? I suspect the answer is still yes. But in the fast-growing pet-cremation business, how do you know that the remains you’re getting back are indeed from your pet?

That’s the question we ask in our latest podcast, “The Troubled Cremation of Stevie the Cat.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

According to government statistics, there are well over 200 million pets in America, not counting pet fish. (Why government statistics don’t include fish — we don’t know; maybe that’s an episode for another day.) And we spend a lot of money on these pets, about $61 billion a year. One area that is growing very fast: pet “aftercare.” The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAPCC) tells us that ten years ago, only a handful of places specialized in pet aftercare. Today, there are more than 700 pet funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries. (Or, as Bloomberg Businessweek puts it, “There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Dead Pet.”) With so much money being spent, and with death being so fraught with emotion and mystery, might there be some misbehavior going on?   Read More »



The Livestock Sperm Bank

A few years back, we did a podcast about the role of artificial insemination in the livestock industry. Writing for Modern Farmer, Jesse Hirsch reports on what would happen if, for example, foot-and-mouth disease came along and wiped out American’s entire population of cows, or pigs, or chickens:  

Breathe easy, livestock lovers. Housed in a vast storehouse in Fort Collins, Colorado, the USDA has 700,000 straws of liquid nitrogen-preserved sperm, from 18 different species. They’re ready.

“Let’s say another foot-and-mouth disease comes along, killing off our cows,” says Dr. Harvey Blackburn, repository coordinator. “We have the ability to repopulate entire breeds.”

The National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) started in 1999. Its facility stores a huge mishmash of semen — rare and vintage samples, combined with the most common breeds on the market. Blackburn says the everyday strains are just as important as the heirloom semen, if not more so.

(HT: The Dish)



A Burger a Day: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Marketplace podcast is called “A Burger A Day.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript).

A while back, we posted an e-mail on this blog from a reader named Ralph Thomas:

It has been my gut-level (sorry, pun) feeling for a while now that the McDonald’s McDouble, at 390 Calories, 23g (half a daily serving) of protein, 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and iron, etc., is the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.

This is the kind of statement that most people cannot help but argue with, in one direction or the other (but yeah, mostly in one direction). Is the McDouble really the modern miracle that Thomas suggests, or a food abomination, a perfect symbol of the over-engineered, overabundant food cycle we’re trapped in? Read More »



Trojan Horse Slaughter

As Americans watch Europeans condemn the discovery of horsemeat in their Ikea meatballs, we can take some solace in the fact that, for once, we’ve sidestepped an industrial food-related travesty. Our complacency, however, could be short-lived. Although less dramatic than horse DNA adulterating ground beef, another horse-related scandal is about to implicate U.S. citizens in a scheme that will send tainted horsemeat into foreign markets while enriching U.S. horse slaughterers with taxpayer dollars.  

The last U.S.-based horse slaughterhouse closed in 2007. The phasing out of horse slaughter in the United States ended the exportation of U.S.-produced horsemeat to Canada, Europe, and Japan. This development, among other accomplishments, spelled the decline of a niche business that profited from a product that American taxpayers financially supported (through USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses) but were loathe to consume (plus, it’s illegal to sell horsemeat in the U.S.).  Read More »



Will Florida’s Python Hunt Get Hit By the Cobra Effect?

A number of readers — an astonishingly high number, in fact — alerted us to a story about Python Challenge 2013, an effort by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “enlist both the general public and python permit holders in a month-long harvest of Burmese pythons” for the sake of “[i]ncreasing public awareness about Burmese pythons and how this invasive species is a threat to the Everglades ecosystem.”

The hunt, starting Jan. 12, offers a cash prize of $1,500 for “the participant harvesting the most Burmese pythons” and $1,000 for “the participant harvesting the longest Burmese python.” (There are actually two prizes of each amount: one for the General Competition and one for the Python Permit Holders Competition.) Read More »



The Cost of a Happier Chicken: Who Pays?

Animal rights activists often oppose animal welfare reforms on the grounds that they make animal production more efficient. Rutgers professor Gary Francione argues this case convincingly, insisting that some “[w]elfare reforms make animal exploitation more profitable by eliminating practices that are economically vulnerable.” He adds, “For the most part, those changes would happen anyway and in the absence of animal welfare campaigns precisely because they do rectify inefficiencies in the production process.”  The point is compelling and controversial: welfare reforms–which so many consumers support–can make it easier for industrial agriculture to turn animals into food.

Improbably enough, industrial producers of animal products agree. As a justification for what concerned consumers perceive to be inhumane practices, factory farmers routinely insist that if they treated their animals poorly, production would decline. Thus, they conclude that consumers need not worry: the animals are doing just fine. Scott Dewald, Vice-President of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, explains, “Our producers take care of their animals, and we know that an animal that isn’t treated well doesn’t produce.”  Sherrie Niekamp, head of animal welfare for the National Pork Board, echoes this sentiment when she acknowledges that “Animal welfare is . . . a market driven issue.” Read More »



How Smart Is the Octopus?

We’ve blogged extensively about the often human-like behavior of monkeys, but here’s another animal that may give monkeys a run for their money: the octopus.

“Only recently have scientists accorded chimpanzees, so closely related to humans we can share blood transfusions, the dignity of having a mind,” writes Sy Montgomery in a new article for Orion Magazine. “But now, increasingly, researchers who study octopuses are convinced that these boneless, alien animals—creatures whose ancestors diverged from the lineage that would lead to ours roughly 500 to 700 million years ago—have developed intelligence, emotions, and individual personalities.”

Here’s one example of the animal’s intelligence: Read More »