Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"A Lot of Turkeys"

A few days ago, while scouring YouTube, this enchanting and amusing video was found which demonstrates the devotion and patience of parent Canada geese -- in this case, encouraging their newly hatched goslings to hit the water.
Guaranteed to bring a smile:
Unfortunately, what isn't quite so amusing these days is trying to determine exactly what happened with the hundreds of Canada geese and their goslings rounded up during June and July of this year and sent to a Pennsylvania slaughterhouse.
"Murky" is the better word to describe this experience.
The USDA is supposed to issue a report in a few weeks.
But, it is not clear that such report will contain information regarding the condition of the geese when they finally arrived to the Harrisburg slaughtering plant after many hours in the hot trucks without food and water. -- Or, even the name of the slaughtering plant.
Also, how many geese were actually "processed" and what kind of testing and in what manner any testing for toxicity was done on them? How many geese were actually made into "gooseburgers" and sent to Central Pennsylvania food bank?
I have been (and am still in process of) trying to get answers to these questions over past few days.
But, it has been a frustrating endeavor.
Monday afternoon I spoke with Lee Humberg of the USDA (again):
"Good afternoon, Mr. Humberg.  Do you remember a few weeks ago, we talked and I asked you about the final disposition of the geese rounded up from NYC in recent weeks?"
"Yes, I remember that conversation," Humberg replied politely.
"Well, I am still trying to find out where the geese were taken to, what kind of condition they were in when arriving to PA and what kind of testing was done on them?"
"My contact in Pennsylvania told me over the phone the geese were fine when they arrived," Humberg answered as if the geese were dropped off at a luxury spa.
"Really?" I questioned incredulously. "That sound like someone is telling you what you want to hear. Considering the geese are crammed 3 to 4 to turkey crates, spend hours in hot trucks without food and water while the USDA conducts multiple roundups in a day and then spend hours more being shipped to Pennsylvania, that seems to defy common sense.  Where were they taken to in Pennsylvania?  How long was the trip?"
"Central Pennsylvania, " Humberg answered.  "The trip is only a couple of hours."
"Philadelphia is a couple of hours from NYC and that is closer than Central Pennsylvania." I speculated.   How many geese were rounded up?  How many were still alive when arriving to PA?  How many were processed?"
"We are gathering all that information now.  It will be in our report which comes out in a few weeks," Humberg replied.
"Who tested the geese for toxins? What were the results?  Will that be in the report?"
"The state has responsibility for testing the geese.  The sample we got back was negative."
"A sample is not necessarily representative of the whole," I answered. "These are wild birds who are rounded up from different locations.  They routinely eat grass that has been treated with pesticides.  They can be filled with mercury and lead.  They are not from a controlled environment.  Shouldn't they be individually tested?"
"I can't speak to the testing protocols of another state," Humberg answered.
"Well, the Communications Director at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank told me the USDA has the responsibility for testing the geese. It sounds like they are being misled."
"The gentleman is mistaken.  The state does the testing."
"Mr. Humberg, my understanding is that it can cost about $100.00 to properly test one goose for various toxins, PCB's, e-coli, mercury, lead and pesticide residues.  Who is paying for that, presuming it is even being done?  Wouldn't it be cheaper to feed the people chicken or doughnuts?"
"You might take some of these questions up with Carol Bannerman. She is in charge of public affairs and has much of this information."   Humberg then gave me Bannerman's number.
"Mr. Humberg, as you know, my main concern is the geese.  However, one has to seriously wonder about and question what exactly is being 'donated' to these food banks?   Presumably, the people don't have the greatest health insurance.  If they get sick from eating these possibly contaminated geese who is responsible?  You know about the 36 million pounds of ground turkey that was just recalled last week?  At least one person died from that."
"Yes, I know about the recalled turkey," Humberg replied.
"That's a lot of turkeys, isn't it?"
Switching to another topic, I asked Humberg about the quoted population of "20,000 to 25,000 geese in the NYC metropolitan area."
"Mr. Humberg, where does that figure come from?  That quote has been used for at least four years.  Have all these killings of thousands of geese in NYC had no effect on their population?"
"The number is a current estimated one.  The area is not just NYC, but it includes Long Island. The geese are very prolific.  The number would be much higher were we not managing the population."
"Then why isn't the goose population exploding in Central Park?  USDA has never rounded up geese in Central Park.  And yet, the goose population at Central Park has been stable over some years."
"They use other management methods at Central Park."
"Right.  And apparently the dogs and habitat modification work better than cullings." I countered. "Why aren't those methods being used elsewhere if they are apparently more effective?"
"Those methods can be expensive. Not every location can afford them."
"And rounding up and killing geese every year isn't expensive?" I asked.  "It seems like the geese compensate through overbreeding for the predation or other geese simply move in.  One has to question why we keep doing something repeatedly if it doesn't make a dent in the population.  That could be the definition of insanity."
"Once the population is brought down to a manageable level, then non-lethal methods can be employed to maintain," Humberg answered seemingly ignoring my question and theory.
Throughout the conversation, Humberg was polite but extremely guarded. He did not volunteer information and on a couple of occasions was so quiet, I had to ask if he was still there.  I could not be sure if he was actually listening or perhaps playing video games on the side.
I finally asked Humberg to send me the goose kill permit that USDA apparently signed with Fish and Wildlife Services of NYC.
"I can do that," Humberg volunteered.  But, then the battery on his phone seemed to die or he picked up another call.  The line went dead.
After speaking with this gentleman for more than a half hour, I felt little was either accomplished or learned.
But, certain things did come out of the conversation.
It seems that the "testing" procedures on the slain geese are indeed very "murky" and it appears that the USDA doesn't seem to know -- or want to know about them.  Basically, the USDA pushes all of that responsibility on the "state."
Meanwhile, the food bank supposedly receiving the goose "donations" thinks its the USDA that has full responsibility for testing the geese.
It appears the left hand doesn't know -- or care what the right one is doing.
"A lot of turkeys," indeed.   -- PCA

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