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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Perfect Storm for Farm Animals

It’s been an exciting week for farm animal protection in America. On Sunday, more than one thousand animal advocates in 43 states gathered at our Party Animals events around the country to rally for laws to protect animals from the worst abuses of industrial factory farming. I participated in a nationwide conference call with partygoers to talk about the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s work to promote farm animal welfare, and I was joined on the call by the fantastic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is a stalwart advocate for animals in Congress. She is the chairwoman of the important House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and has been one of the leading voices for passing the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, the Food Safety Recall Information Act, and other important policy reforms.

Cow_downed3 Congresswoman DeLauro spoke eloquently about the “perfect storm” surrounding The Humane Society of the United States’ recent investigation into the slaughter of crippled cows, and how it “crystallized the inhumane treatment of animals, the violation of the downer cow policy and downer cows becoming part of the food chain, and the potential for tainted beef making its way into the school lunch program.” She urged listeners to join the National Call-In Day for Downed Animals this Thursday. “Make your voices heard. Make this issue a national priority,” she implored. “My colleagues in the Congress listen to what their constituents say. You have to make sure that they hear you.”

Also joining us on the call was “Brian,” the HSUS undercover investigator who worked for six weeks at the slaughter plant and exposed the horrific practices that led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history. His voice was disguised to protect his identity, and it was a riveting and dramatic moment, straight out of “60 Minutes.” Brian told a story about his last day of work at the plant, when he saw a pregnant cow who literally gave birth on her way to slaughter. Despite her attempts to care for her calf, she was separated from her newborn and slaughtered. Brian had captured so many terrible images, and he knew it was time to show the world.

But it’s not just downer cows getting attention. The Party Animals events and the nationwide call to action came just days after national news on scientific innovations that may some day allow meat to be grown in laboratories, potentially reducing the suffering of billions of farm animals, environmental pollution, and public health impacts. "The New York Times" took the opportunity to comment in an editorial on the current state of factory farming in America, and the paper of record held no punches:

We are disgusted by the conventional meat industry in this country, which raises animals—especially chicken and pigs—in inhumane confinement systems that cause significant environmental damage. There is every reason to change the way meat is produced, to make it more ethical, more humane…Ensure the least possible cruelty to animals, by all means, and raise them in ways that are both ethical and environmentally sound.

Battery_cage And that’s not all the news that’s fit to print. This morning, at a press conference in Washington, D.C., the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a path-breaking report after two and a half years of studying the problems of factory farming. The commission is made up of prominent individuals such as former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, Colorado State University professor Bernie Rollin, and University of Tennessee Veterinary School Dean Michael Blackwell.  Among the commission’s findings are that factory farms jeopardize animal welfare, public health, food safety, and the quality of life in rural communities. They have issued a series of recommendations, including an end to the use of gestation crates for pigs, veal crates for calves, and battery cages for egg-laying hens.

The commission report will surely lead to policy initiatives to change laws for farm animals and change the way agribusiness operates in this country, and your Humane Society Legislative Fund will be on the front lines. In fact, several efforts are already underway which are directly in line with the commission’s recommendations, including the California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act on the state’s November general election ballot. Californians will have the opportunity to end one of the worst abuses in industrial factory farming—confining animals in tiny crates and cages so small they don’t even have enough room to turn around and stretch their limbs for nearly their entire lives. 

Tethering veal calves by the neck, forcing pigs to squeeze inside tight metal bars, cramming five or six birds into a wire cage the size of the front page of “The New York Times”—it’s not just animal advocates who say these practices are cruel and unacceptable. It’s time for the perfect storm surrounding farm animal welfare to result in meaningful social change for these creatures.


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