50 Millions Deaths is an Acceptable Cost of Business

Seth Victor

I’ll keep this short and sweet, because we’ve made this point on the blawg several dozen times. NPR reports that the recent outbreak of H5N2, or Avian Flu, has caused economic hardship for American farmers, to the point that the USDA is importing eggs from the Netherlands to meet demand.

Although it is mentioned in the lead paragraph, the fact that nearly 50 million chickens and turkey have been slaughtered to stem the virus is played off like any other economic number. As you read the article, look at the wording: these animals have been “destroyed,” not “killed” or “slaughtered.” The rest of the article is about the business model and bottomline consequences. It might as well be about how many iPhones had to be recalled for defective touch screens. These aren’t living things, remember; they’re just animals, cogs in the machine. Nowhere in the article is any suggestion that this outbreak could be avoided by not housing birds in CAFOs in the first place, save for one link that claims humans might be spreading the virus by entering CAFOs. Instead, the US government has taken the position that this virus is the fault of wild birds. Any guesses as to which lobbying group might have had a hand in that statement?

We. Can. Stop. This. H5N2 is not some mystery beyond comprehension. It is a result of the way we raise farmed birds. Stop purchasing eggs and meat from CAFOs, and they cannot exist without your dollars. It really is that simple.

Can California regulate egg production under the Commerce Clause?

New standard for chickens

New standard for chickens

Seth Victor

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of California, asking the federal court to overturn a 2010 California law requiring the same standards for in-state chickens be applied to out-of-state chickens. In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a ballot measure that increased the standards for egg-layers, providing that such chickens must have enough space to spread their wings without touching another chicken, and be able to stand up and lay down. Animal producers in California, however, complained that because they couldn’t stuff as many birds into the same space, they are at an economic disadvantage when competing with out-of-state producers selling in California. In response the state legislature passed a law requiring that all eggs sold in California be held to the same standards required under Proposition 2. The law will take effect in 2015. While California maintains that the additional law was enacted for health safety given the atrocious conditions of battery cages, Missouri counters that the law is an unlawful attempt to regulate conduct outside of California’s boarders, and an impermissible protection against out-of-state competition, both of which are in violation of the Commerce Clause. Continue reading

Why the King Amendment is Hypocritical

Seth Victor

Recently Angelique Rivard explained some of the dangers inherent in Rep. Steve King’s amendment to H.R. 6083, the Farm Bill. What makes this amendment maddening is that Mr. King has cited law to support this measure that he would decry as the product of an overreaching government in almost any other circumstance. There is no doubt that Mr. King’s proposal is intended to end state protection for farmed animals; his website proudly declares that he hopes to terminate the efforts of animal rights groups, ensuring “that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.”

King has hardly been the darling of animal rights before this foray, as Stephen Colbert nicely summarizes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund both gave him a 0% rating in 2012. This came after a 2010 statement at a National 4-H Conference that “the HSUS is run by vegetarians with an agenda whose goal is to take meat off everyone’s table in America.” King has also previously voted against broadening the definitions of the Endangered Species Act in 2005 which would have enabled better listing criteria.

Continue reading

McDonald’s and Target Drop their Relationship with their Egg-Supplier, Sparboe Farms

Heather Schlemm

            Mercy for Animals revealed an undercover video of five egg producing farms in three states that both McDonald’s and Target purchase from. Mercy for Animals had its people hired at Sparboe farms and wired them with hidden cameras from May 23rd to August 1st to document the animal abuse occurring. Sparboe Farms is one of the nation’s largest egg suppliers and has facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado. Target Corp. was purchasing from the Litchfield Minnesota one and has now agreed to pull all eggs from this farm off its shelves. Target claims to have just been made aware of the facilities conditions and that is why they are immediately stopping their purchases. McDonald’s had purchased from the Vicent, Iowa plant for all its west locations and now says it will never work with Sparboe again. McDonald’s and Target released full statements on their decision to stop using Sparboe. Continue reading

Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Cartons should be Regulated

Sheila Rodriguez

Most Americans care about the welfare of farmed animals. Egg companies

Image courtesy of Compassion Over Killing

know that, and many market their eggs with labels claiming the hens were treated well. What consumers don’t know is that many of the animal welfare claims on egg cartons are meaningless.

In my article, The Morally Informed Consumer: Examining Animal Welfare Claims on Egg Labels, I argue that egg consumers have a right to know how hens are raised. Most hens are packed eight or nine birds to a cage. The cages are so small that hens are unable to stretch a wing. The overcrowding causes them to fight, so their beaks are cut off to prevent them from injuring other birds. The fewer than 5% of eggs in theU.S. that are not produced under these conditions are from hens that were not even allowed outside. Continue reading

Finding the Factory Farms

David Cassuto

We’re often told (because it’s true) that 10 billion animals are killed for food in this country every year.  The implications of that number for climate change, water and air pollution, and animal suffering are well-documented and appalling.  But most of us have never seen a factory farm.  Agribusiness counts on the “out of sight, out of mind” effect to keep the population quiescent and, for the most part, the strategy works.

So where are those 10 billion animals?  Continue reading

Some Further Thoughts on Ohio

David Cassuto

I’m back in the northern hemisphere, missing the tropical juices and proximity to the beach but enjoying my family (human and non), my friends, and my deck with its accompanying martinis.  I’ve also been pondering the Ohio deal I blogged about before getting on the plane last week.  As you may recall, the ballot initiative in Ohio containing important agricultural reforms has been indefinitely postponed in exchange for a number of concessions.    Continue reading

Some Measurable Poultry-Related Success in the U.K.

David Cassuto

A while back, I relayed some info about the `Quash the Squash´ campaign by the RSPCA in the UK aimed at improving the lot of chickens.  Apparently, the campaign was/is very successful.  Despite the recession, British consumers are increasingly willing to spend more money on `higher welfare´chickens.  And, more importantly, they are buying less chicken in general.  Excellent trends, both.  Particularly the latter.  Read more about it and take a brief poll here.

Gluttony

Seth Victor

            Gluttony is the big sin, the flagship of cruelty against animals, and because of that it is the hardest for me to put into original words. So many advocates before me have written so well about the consequences of over consuming animals. The message is simple, and is articulated best by Michael Pollan: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. That is a message aimed at fixing American health problems, which stem from our poor diets. In becoming better eaters, we will also become better stewards to animals. The poor treatment of factory farmed animals is a disaster, and it leads to the downfall of our health, our environment, and our economy, to say nothing of the animals who live in hell because of our dietary indulgences. CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are an apt topic for any of the sins, but I’m sticking with the obvious one.  That the omnivore’s dilemma is the biggest and most oppressive issue in the animal rights world should come as no surprise to any of this blawg’s regular readers. For those of you just visiting, take some time read this post. Or this one. This one, too. It’s kind of a big deal.                Continue reading

Ohio Issue 2 Aftermath

David Cassuto

Reports of the death of animal advocacy in Ohio in the wake of last fall’s passage of Issue 2 have been greatly exaggerated.  Ohioans for Humane Farms has begun the process of getting an initiative on the ballot that would:

1. Require the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to establish minimum humane standards for certain farm animals within six years after adoption of the amendment. The minimum standards would:

  • Prohibit a farm owner or operator from tethering or confining any calf raised for veal, pig during pregnancy, or egglaying hen, on a farm, for all or the majority of a day, in a manner that prevents such animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending his or her limbs, or turning around freely. This prohibition would not apply during certain times set forth in the amendment, including, but not limited to, during veterinary treatment, certain livestock exhibitions, and scientific or agricultural research. Continue reading

Cooped Up for another Decade

Angela Garrone

Photo from Monroe County Humane Association

Photo from Monroe County Humane Association

An important bill concerning animal rights issues was signed into law this week in Michigan.  As most of those who follow animal rights issues, specifically the treatment of animals that are processed and used in the food industry, California was the first state to ban the use of battery cages (or laying cages) in 2008.  California has also banned the use of veal crates and gestation crates.  This week Michigan has followed suit.  On October 12, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed HB 5127, which mandates pen sizes for veal calves, egg-laying hens and pregnant sows.  The law was created in collaboration with the Humane Society of the United States, which has a nationwide campaign to stop the use of battery cages, as well as gestation crates. (See Michigan’s Humane Society webpage for a complete list of other proposed Michigan legislation to protect animals, as well as feedback from the Humane Society.)  Michigan is now the second state to ban battery cages, the fifth to ban veal crates, and the seventh to ban gestation crates.

Continue reading

Ohio’s Issue 2

Laura Schierhoff

In February, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) met with members of Ohio’s livestock industry to discuss passing humane legislation in that state.  HSUS had its eye on Ohio to pass legislation to ban the use of poultry cages, veal crates and gestation stalls.  Agribusiness in Ohio knew this was not such a far fetched idea, given California’s Proposition 2 landslide ballot-initiative win last November.  Proposition 2 banned the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.  (Arizona and Florida have also passed similar measures.)  The meeting was said to be “extremely cordial” according to a member of the Ohio Farm Bureau.  However, with the fear of something like Proposition 2 going on the ballot in November, big agriculture in Ohio was scared.

Continue reading

Post Prop 2 — The Struggle Continues

826eggIn case you were wondering whether the passage of Proposition 2 would make factory farmers go quietly into that good night… Welcome to the brave new world of “colony cages.”

–David Cassuto

On Animals, Death & the Media

chickens-734793A Cal-Maine industrial egg facility in Texas caught fire last Thursday.  The facility was damaged but fortunately, no one was hurt.  Oh yeah, and 800,000 hens died.

Stephanie, over at Animal Rights – Change.Org, lays bare the media’s indifference to animals.

–David Cassuto

What to do About our Non-Vegetarian (vegan) Loved Ones

my freezer, 7:26PM (It's not my fault!)

my freezer, 7:26PM (It's not my fault!)

I always struggle with how to deal with my non-vegetarian (vegan) loved ones. On the one hand, I love them to death and don’t want to alienate them by continuously explaining to them the immorality of some of their food choices. On the other hand, I feel that I have a moral obligation to let them know how I feel and to at least try to get them to make food choices that are morally acceptable.

As you would expect, this becomes a big problem during holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Trying to convince someone to stop eating meat when s/he  has had turkey for both holidays for the last thirty years is a daunting task.

In my case, the problem is compounded by my Puerto Rican roots. As anyone who has visited the island knows, meat (usually factory farmed) is an essential part of the Puerto Rican diet. Trying to convince a Puerto Rican to give up eating “lechón” (roasted pig) during the holidays is close to impossible.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to deal with this problem by doing two things. First, I explain to my loved ones why I decided to become a vegetarian and why I strongly believe that our food choices have significant moral implications. Second, I try to do what I can to influence their food choices. The latter is particularly difficult to do, as I’ve noticed that the only thing that seems to (sometimes) change my loved ones eating habits is asking them to at least buy meat that is humanely raised. In essence, I ended up adopting an incrementalist approach to the problem.

Has it worked? Partially. I think that my loved ones are more aware about the moral implications of their food choices than before. They also try to buy meat and egg products from free ranging chickens. On the other hand, I just checked my freezer (see picture above), and there’s still meat there, and I suspect some of it is not humanely raised (I didn’t buy it, in case you’re wondering….).

I’m curious to know how the readers of the Animal Blawg deal with this issue. Any suggestions/anecdotes/comments/pictures of your freezer are welcome.

Luis Chiesa

Large Eggs, Small Eggs, No Eggs

David Cassuto

This article about how the British Free Range Egg Producers Association encourages consumers to eat smaller eggs has been getting a fair amount of play (including this post at Feminist Law Professors).  The producers note that (for obvious biological reasons) it is harder and more painful for a hen to lay a large egg than a small or medium sized one.

One could hardly quibble with the notion that laying large eggs causes more stress to the hen.  It bears emphasizing, however, that this recommendation comes from the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.  Whatever one thinks of the efficacy of free range (some varying views, here, here and here), both in the US and abroad, the practice has at its goal a less stressful environment for the hens (though it still involves the mass killing of male chicks).  If one is consuming factory farmed eggs, the size of the eggs doesn’t matter a whit.  The hens that lay the eggs live in battery cage hell for as long as it takes for them to become utterly spent, following which they get discarded like garbage (except that there are so many of them it has created a disposal problem).  Worrying about egg size when the animals endure conditions whose cruelty defies the imagination is like worrying about a blood blister on a sucking chest wound.

Prop 2 and a Divided California

number-21

Today’s New York Times includes this article about a renewal of interest in a division of California into two states – coastal counties in one and inland counties in another. According to the Times article, this latest iteration of the state subdivision movement arises out of farmers’ angry responses to Proposition 2, a state ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008.  Here’s how the Times describes Prop 2 (here):

Proposition 2 . . . banned tight confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and sows.  While many food activists and politicians in the state hailed the vote as proof of consumers’ increasing interest in where their food comes from, the proposition’s passage has angry farmers and their allies wanting to put the issue of succession to a vote, perhaps as soon as 2012.

The farmers interviewed for the article represent just some “farmers’ perspectives.” In pitting “farmers” against “food activists and politicians,” the story leaves out growers interested in organic farming and locally grown products.  There are farmers who want to reduce animal suffering.  The National Black Farmers Association, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Family Farm Defenders, and Farm Forward all supported Prop 2.  The Times story got sensationalists quotes (one farmer describes supporters of Prop 2 as “think[ing] fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and chickens should run loose”), but the Times didn’t tell the whole story.  That’s because quotes from people who think that “chickens should run loose” don’t play into the historic (and romantic) American archetypes of the pioneer-farmer.

— Bridget Crawford

RSPCA Report Measuring Animal Welfare in the UK

According to a report released today by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), concern about animal suffering in the UK has increased substantially over the last couple of years. David Bowles – the RSPCA’s head of external affairs – believes that the findings of the report  “are extremely impressive as they show that the plight of animals is a hot topic at the moment”. Visit the RSPCA’s website here for more information.  

Luis Chiesa

Egg Production in a Post Proposition 2 World

Will the passage of California’s Proposition 2 lead to an increase or decrease in egg production? The answer is not obvious. Some animal advocates contend that egg consumption will increase because the public will feel better about the way that egg-laying hens are treated in the post Prop 2 world. If this turns out to be the case, Proposition 2 will not meaningfully reduce animal suffering.  On the other hand, the spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) recently stated that “[t]he impact of Prop. 2 is pretty obvious…[w]ithin a few years, it will be impossible to find California eggs in stores.” If the CFBF is right, Proposition 2 will not only improve the conditions of confinement of egg-laying hens but also significantly reduce the amount of hens raised for egg production.  For the reasons that I fleshed out in my reply to Francione, I’m inclined to believe that egg consumption will not change significantly as a result of the passage of Proposition 2.  Who’s right? Only time will tell.

Luis Chiesa