October 2007 Blog Home December 2007

26 posts from November 2007

November 30, 2007

Bleatings from the Ag Lobby

Before The Humane Society of the United States helped to pass laws in Arizona, Florida and Oregon to ban some of the most inhumane confinement methods on factory farms, there were virtually no legal standards to provide even the most minimal protections for animals raised for food while on the farm. Even the measures in these states addressed only the confinement of breeding sows in crates so small the animals were not even able to turn around, and the Arizona initiative also banned the confinement of calves in the notorious veal crate. The new laws ensure that the animals in these states will at least be able to lie down, turn around and extend their limbs.


Steve Kopperud, an agribusiness industry lobbyist, gave a lecture yesterday in Little Rock to the Arkansas Farm Bureau and said I and The HSUS are the greatest enemies farmers have (read the story here)—more menacing than drought, global warming, locusts or bird flu, competition from agribusiness conglomerates, trade with Brazil or Argentina, manure regulations, the migration of young people from farming to other occupations, and anything else you can think of.

It's truly a fanciful and incredible statement—and an entirely false one. The HSUS has nothing against farmers—after all, every HSUS member is a food consumer and has a food budget as large as that of every other consumer. While we all support agriculture every time we sit down to eat, we do insist that farmers be more attentive to animals and the environment. We are particularly concerned about the harshest confinement systems, transport methods, and slaughter practices that are grossly inhumane and unacceptable.

Embedded in the age-old practice of animal husbandry was at least some concern for the well-being of animals. Now, increasingly, factory farmers and their allies in industry, government, and academia treat animals like mere meat-, milk- and egg-producing machines. They are thought of as commodities, or units of production, and not living beings who feel and suffer.

I guess for those who think of animals simply as things or commodities, we are something of an enemy, though I prefer to think of us as an adversary. But for those who care about animals, we are anything but an enemy or an adversary. The actual enemy more closely resembles industry lobbyists who demagogue the issues, who shill for giant agribusiness concerns, and who pull farmers away from a connection with the sensibilities of the American public and their demonstrable concern for the well-being of all animals, including those raised for food.

November 29, 2007

Talk Back: Common Cause

Readers responded to the blog about compassion for animals being a universal value and the new book by Mark Levin, an influential conservative, about his love for dogs and his concern for animal welfare.

Thank you for positively reinforcing the interconnectedness of all... can't wait to get my copy. —Andrea

I'm very glad to see Mr. Pacelle choose this issue to invite comments. It is very close to my heart. I am a right-wing conservative and a registered Republican. I listen to Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, et al every day, but I have very liberal views on animal rights and conservation. I do not seem to share any of the socially liberal views of my animal rights friends, yet I am opposed to conservatively acceptable issues like sport hunting, meat consumption and live animal testing.

I have been very pleasantly surprised lately to hear conservative radio talk show hosts speak out against foie gras, dogfighting and the Chinese cat and dog meat/fur industries. I heard one say that it is our responsibility to speak out on behalf of children and animals who have no other voice. I heard another say that "there must be a special place in hell" for people who abuse or neglect dogs. Many were very angry when the Michael Vick atrocities came to light, and very vocal in their opposition. They generally agreed that this was an issue worth attacking. It's nice to hear this from people who support offshore oil drilling, sport hunting and forest thinning (to which I am opposed)! It may not be enough, but it's a start!

Animal rights and environmental conservation feel like "conservative" issues to me but, as Mr. Pacelle says, they have always been associated with the liberal left and therefore ignored, opposed or ridiculed by right wing conservatives. I do not understand this at all. Animal rights issues should neither be "left" nor "right." I was delighted to see Matthew Scully write "Dominion" and I am equally thrilled to see Mark Levin write "Rescuing Sprite." He seems to be encouraging his listeners to consider adopting from shelters and rescue groups, although he does not oppose buying puppies in pet shops. The experience of having to euthanize his dog was agonizing, according to Mr. Levin. I found it really touching that the people who were the most empathetic to his grief about his pup were Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh!

Educating conservatives on the atrocities of horse slaughter or puppy mills or primates in research might bring the subject of animal rights into the mainstream and make it a more acceptable issue to fight for. I would love to hear what other people think. When I hear a very conservative radio talk show host become angry about dogfighting or passionate about animal adoption, I feel as if he or she might seriously consider speaking out against live animal research or meat consumption if educated in a manner in which they could relate. —Jill L Gershen

Evidence Against Science's Scare Tactics

One of the most frustrating industries to deal with in all animal protection is the animal research community. Although there are many scientists who care about animal welfare, demagogues abound within this fraternity, and they are the masters of Chicken Little scare tactics, as if every animal they prod, poke or cut open is going to yield some life-saving remedy.

281x144_beagle_research There's a classic example of this at work in the current debate in Congress over legislation to ban Class B dealers of random source dogs and cats, including stolen pets—one of the true abuses in the sector. B dealers procure dogs and cats from "random sources" and sell them to a dwindling number of research facilities that use these animals in experiments. Recently, the American Heart Association sent around a letter opposing a measure pushed by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) to ban this practice. I asked Dr. Martin Stephens, our vice president for animal research issues, for his thoughts.

Scientists are trained to dispassionately weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis or a claim, including their own. As someone who was trained as a scientist and later pursued a career in animal protection, I’m continually appalled at how quickly some scientists shed their impartiality and critical faculties when their self-interest appears to clash with sensible reform for animals in laboratories. The latest case in point is the AHA’s defense of using Class B dealers as a supplier of random source dogs and cats.

The AHA dusts off the “status quo is fine” argument: placing B dealers off-limits as a supplier of random source dogs and cats is “unnecessary because the Animal Welfare Act already requires these … dealers to obtain animals legally and treat them humanely…” This statement ignores: (i) more than 40 years of evidence of dealers not obtaining dogs and cats legally nor treating them humanely, including the recent case of C.C. Baird, (ii) the USDA’s own admission that it lacks the resources to effectively regulate B dealers, (iii) the limited value of the USDA’s efforts to confirm the identity of people who sold animals to B dealers, and (iv) the shadowy world of unregulated “bunchers” who supply dogs and cats to B dealers.

AHA’s second argument is a variation of the sky-will-fall scare tactic: Sen. Akaka’s amendment “would jeopardize medical research on heart disease, stroke, …, and digestive diseases that require non-purpose bred dogs and cats….” This argument ignores the fact that non-purpose bred (or random source) dogs and cats would not be outlawed, just the middlemen who now supply some of them. Moreover, AHA’s associated arguments: (i) confuse the source of animals with the genetic status of those animals (genetically uniform versus genetically diverse), and (ii) claim that genetically diverse animals are better human models, despite the fact that throughout biomedical research, genetically uniform animals have been thought to be better models. Good scientists seek to rigorously control their studies and not willingly introduce unknown, data-skewing variables.

Similarly, AHA trots out the old "medical progress versus animal protection" canard: Sen. Akaka’s amendment is “anti-medical research.” But one doesn’t learn from the AHA letter that many responsible scientists strongly endorse the Akaka amendment, including Dr. Robert Whitney, former Acting Surgeon General and former director of the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Research Resources, with 25 years of experience in the care and use of animals in biomedical research.

A dwindling number of research facilities continue to purchase random source dogs and cats from a dwindling number of licensed Class B dealers. They do so because it may be cheaper and it's the way they've always done things, not because of any loftier motives. The research community should face up to the evidence and cut this issue loose.

November 28, 2007

Penned Prey

Last night, Randy Travis of Fox 5 in Atlanta aired part two of his investigation into so-called fox pens—enclosures where foxes and coyotes are released and torn apart by hounds. The animals cannot escape, and the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the pack of hounds taking on a single, frightened animal. Although enthusiasts cast this as a form of hunting, it is in fact nothing more than a permutation on organized animal fighting.

Fox 5's I-Team investigation tracked a man from North Carolina who was trapping and smuggling coyotes and foxes, cramming them into small cages and crates, and selling them throughout the South to fox pen operators, who then used the animals for this perverse form of recreation.

On the scale of hunting abuses, let me know how bad you think this abuse is. Is it worse than canned hunts? How does it compare to bear baiting? Or aerial gunning of wolves in Alaska? Or contest shoots?

It raises the question: Who within the hunting fraternity serves as a watchdog? Is there anyone within the hunting fraternity who checks the excesses of rogue, reckless and vicious hunters?

November 27, 2007

Fenced-In Fox Hunting

Earlier this month, a Humane Society of the United States investigation revealed that the puppy mill industry in Virginia, and probably the entire nation, is much larger than any of us had thought. We found 1,000 commercial dog breeding operations in Virginia, and just 16 were licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fox in a field
© iStockphoto

Alarm bells are going off for us on another industry—the fox pen industry, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Coyotes and foxes are caught in steel traps or snares, kept alive, sold to fox pen operators, released in a pen, and then chased down and torn apart by packs of hounds. This practice is an amalgam of canned hunts and animal fighting—two of the most odious practices we contend with.

Federal and state authorities made arrests in a multi-state sting operation of fox pens earlier this month, bringing charges against pen operators and trappers from four states. In Virginia, there are 41 fox pens, and 36 were out of compliance.

Last night, Fox 5 in Atlanta aired an exposé of fox pens in Georgia. The investigation found 59 fox pens, and showed video of coyotes being torn apart by dogs, even though state regulations supposedly stipulate that the quarry are to have access to holes or enclosures that allow them to escape unharmed from the packs of hounds.

Tonight, Fox 5 is broadcasting part two of its investigation that focuses on the capture of foxes and coyotes, and how they are smuggled into the state. Fox 5 reporter Randy Travis, who led the investigation, has written more about the horror and secrecy of these operations at his blog. You might take a moment to post a comment of support for his work.

This entire sordid industry commands The HSUS's attention, and we will work hard over the next few months and years to eradicate these vile operations.

November 26, 2007

Starved for Space

I have been thinking a lot about space—not the virtually limitless area beyond our atmosphere where distance is measured in light years, but the very definite and measurable space in which we spend our lives on planet Earth.

I spend a great deal of time on planes. I keep expenses down by getting the cheapest fares and flying coach, often forgetting to check in online and having to suffer with a middle seat. I am a pretty tall guy, and I am shoe-horned in to these seats. I am learning to type on my laptop with my elbows pressed against my ribcage and the reclined seat in front of me inches away from my head. In the scheme of things, it's a minor and entirely bearable hardship, but it is a reminder to me about the importance of space and comfort.

Egg-laying hens in battery cage
© Compassion Over Killing
Egg-laying hens languish in restrictive,
overcrowded battery cages.

I have been thinking about it more because of the California ballot initiative The HSUS has launched, in concert with other animal protection groups such as our friends at Farm Sanctuary. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act is, more than anything, about space—for veal calves, pregnant sows and egg-laying hens, who these days are kept in severe confinement in cages or crates barely larger than their bodies. The measure—now being circulated for voters' signatures to qualify it for the November 2008 ballot—would stipulate that these animals be able to extend their limbs, lie down, and turn around. It's a simple and modest reform, but one with many implications for these creatures.

The veal calves and gestating sows are in crates just larger than their bodies, and multiple hens are crammed into a battery cage that gives each bird about 67 square inches, according to the egg industry standard (that's about two-thirds the size of an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper per bird). In these cages and crates, the animals are effectively immobilized for nearly every moment of their lives.

Yet, the industry and the animal scientists who shill for the industry try to tell us that it's better for animals to be crammed into cages and crates. They face fewer risks and less aggression if they are trapped in a cage, the assertion goes.

I guess we'd face little risk of human aggression and some other diminished threats if we lived in a cage our entire lives. But it wouldn't be much of a life. And that's the problem with these industry scientists. If you just take narrow measures—such as longevity, output, or production—and fail to see the whole, you can convince yourself that this extreme confinement of animals is acceptable. But it just doesn't pass the common sense test. Animals built to move should be allowed to move—in fact, that's the way much of animal agriculture was conducted for centuries before agribusiness interests developed factory farms that now dominate most animal production sectors.

The fact is, the industry did not opt for intensive confinement systems for the benefit of the animals. It moved in this direction because it returned more profits. By not allowing animals to move, you don't have to feed them as much. By packing more of them into smaller and smaller areas, you can raise more animals in a set amount of space. If your worldview is to think of animals like nothing more than commodities—simply as meat-, milk- and egg-producing machines—then the system seems entirely rational.

Calves in veal crates
© Farm Sanctuary
Calves raised for veal are tethered in small crates, unable
to turn around.

But if you as a consumer fly in coach and experience a little discomfort in doing so, you know that space matters. You'd go mad if you lived your entire life in an airline seat. We as consumers go to great lengths to get a window or aisle seat. We are thrilled to be seated in Economy Plus on United or American, which gives us a whopping five additional inches of space. Virgin America, a new airline, now allows you to spend an extra $15 to get an economy plus seat. These little benefits do matter to us.

And they surely matter to the millions of animals on factory farms today, particularly the veal calves, the breeding pigs and the laying hens who endure the worst privations in modern agribusiness.

If you live in California, please volunteer to collect signatures to get this measure on the ballot. If you don't but know people of conscience who live there, forward them this blog and encourage them to get involved. If you'll do so, you'll help lessen the terrible suffering that these animals endure. Space matters.

November 22, 2007

Talking Turkey

Thanksgiving has always been a bittersweet holiday for me. I enjoy the idea of taking a respite from the frenetic pace of life and simply coming together as family or community, celebrating together and giving thanks for what we have. These occasions remind us of the important bonds in our lives, and it is too easy in the tumult of daily life to forget those ties.

© iStockphoto

On the other hand, there is no American holiday more associated with the use of an animal than Thanksgiving. In the United States, we consume 45 million turkeys on this holiday alone, and the increasingly distressing part of the equation for me is that the vast majority of these turkeys are raised in intensive confinement on factory farms. More so, the USDA excludes turkeys and all other birds slaughtered for human consumption in the United States from legal protections under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act—though a landmark court case filed by The HSUS could change that. The abuses these birds suffer should not be tolerated by our society.

Beyond the confinement and lack of oversight, we've morphed these poor creatures through selective breeding into meat-producing machines. The domesticated turkeys raised now on factory farms bear scant resemblance to the wild turkeys inhabiting our forests. The wild birds are alert, fast-flying, and roost in trees. The domesticated turkeys are grossly obese, they cannot run or fly, and they cannot even reproduce on their own. Yet for all of our redesigns of their bodies, we have not been able to take away their ability to suffer.

On Thanksgiving, we should not forget their circumstance, however convenient it may be to do so. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to choose a kinder approach in our consumer choices, and to renew our commitment to mitigating our impact on the lives of other creatures.

In a larger sense, I do want to thank you—the readers of this blog—for taking the time to read my entries. I enjoy writing the blog, and most of all, I enjoy your feedback and your support. We are in this fight for animals together, and it's nice to know we are not alone. The progress we are making is astounding, and that should encourage each of you.

November 21, 2007

Talk Back: Words of Encouragement

Readers echoed the feelings expressed by Michele, who asked how to keep a positive attitude when animal suffering seems endless. Among their feedback:

The question from Michele is so close to my heart. I feel these same emotions every day, some days are much worse than others in my sadness. I find resolve through the HSUS site in many, many ways; reading about the bad, the good and the uplifting things people do helps me balance. So many books have been written about animals and the good that can come from humans; the knowledge is powerful and does seem to help the pain go away. Most of all, I look to Wayne's words in this above answer for my energy. Thank you and let’s all take resolve in the changes that seem to be coming. —Debbie

Thank you for this very important blog entry. Depression and feelings of helplessness are, I think, afflictions that all in humane work suffer from. They can be devastating to some. Perhaps The HSUS can work with professionals in applicable fields to come up with information or guidance for those who are involved in humane work or support it, and provide ideas for coping skills and ways to persevere despite great emotional pain and sadness. —Ted

You are so right on this subject. We must never get discouraged. If the Michael Vick case had a silver lining it was this. The outrage on the part of the American people was so overwhelming. It crossed all demographics and all political party lines. This mass outrage clearly showed us that the huge majority of the American people care deeply and passionately about how we treat our animals. Yes, there is a ways to go. But we are winning, and will continue to do so. Especially with The HSUS leading the way for us every single day. I am so proud and thankful to be a member of The HSUS. —Grace

Continue reading "Talk Back: Words of Encouragement" »

Race to Replace

Change for animals will come about with an evolution in consciousness about animals and a recognition that we must respect their interests. But change will also come about with innovation—as we discard old ways that involved the exploitation of animals in favor of activities that do not involve animals at all.

281x144_lab_rabbits An article in yesterday's New York Times highlights the efforts of major cosmetic companies to meet a directive by the European Union to phase out animal testing of products and ingredients by March 2009. U.S. companies that want to market cosmetics in Europe will also need to abide by the ban.

Thousands of animals—rabbits, rats, mice and guinea pigs—are used annually in the European Union for cosmetics testing. A number of cosmetics companies are investing heavily in developing alternative methods. L’Oréal, which owns the Body Shop, a global cosmetics company that lobbied hard for the EU regulations against animal testing, has devoted more than $800 million in the last 20 years to alternatives development. And Procter & Gamble, maker of the Cover Girl line, has spent almost $225 million. The EU government is also funding research and development, with the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods playing a leading role.

I asked Dr. Martin Stephens, our vice president for Animal Research Issues, to comment. Here's what he had to say:

In addition to the EU Cosmetics Directive, there are other policy and scientific developments driving change. The EU’s REACH legislation calls for industry to assemble toxicity information on tens of thousands of existing chemicals that lack full safety information—a task that would be too time-consuming and expensive if industry relied exclusively on animal-based methods. And here in the United States, the National Research Council recently issued a vision for the future of toxicity testing that calls for a move away from animal testing and towards more modern and efficient non-animal methods.

The HSUS family of organizations, including Humane Society International and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, is playing an active role in ushering in a new era of non-animal testing. A partial list of our involvement: serving on the NRC panel that issued the new vision, lobbying for animal-friendly amendments to the REACH legislation and for transatlantic harmonization in validated alternative methods, and preparing to launch a website devoted exclusively to non-animal methods of testing. We've also lobbied for federal appropriations to fund alternatives development and to require the use of alternatives in California and New Jersey.

The challenge now is for disparate stakeholders in industry, government, academia and nongovernmental organizations to better coordinate their efforts in developing alternative methods, and for the United States to play a greater role in these international efforts. The HSUS will continue to do its part to hasten the day when no animal is used in safety testing.

November 20, 2007

Defiant Slaughter at Sea

In 1992, presidential candidate Ross Perot spoke of a giant sucking sound—referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement and how its adoption was going to take away American jobs. Well, the giant sucking sound today is coming from Japan and China, whose governments and people are devouring marine and terrestrial animal life on a monumental scale to serve their consumption habits and self-professed cultural traditions.

Humpback whale underwater
The once nearly extinct humpback whale
will be targeted in Japan's hunt.

Japan and China have established themselves as two of the world's most rapacious wildlife-killing nations. China is abetting the killing of elephants, tigers, bears, turtles and so many other creatures by providing markets for their products and allowing their sale to its billion-plus population. Several tons of turtles are exported every week from Sumatra to China, and that's just one species from one country. But the Japanese are reminding the world that its own destructive policies are every bit as pernicious, with its latest launching of a flotilla of ships to attack and kill up to 1,000 whales in the southern Pacific and the Antarctic.

The sad fact is, much of the whale meat that its commercial whaling fleet returns to the nation does not even get consumed. Killing humpbacks, fin and minke whales now seems just a point of pride to Japanese fishing leaders, who thumb their nose at the global animal welfare and conservation community and encourage the slaughter of the greatest living beings ever to live on our planet.

These creatures are larger than the dinosaurs that roamed the earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and killing them for these frivolous purposes is a moral crime against nature. Our descendants will judge the Japanese harshly, and we will never forget the failure of leadership in an educated and economically stable nation. It is greed, pride and a lust for killing that animates the nation's behavior—and there's nothing good or decent about it. We can only hope that young Japanese, worldly and connected to the happenings across the globe through the entertainment and the telecommunications industries, rebel and assert a more rational and sensible set of policies.