It’s a heart breaking problem. According to the UN 820 million people suffer from hunger. Starvation kills, and it hurts to have to go to bed malnourished and hungry. Hunger and malnutrition are some of the most serious problems facing humanity. Children are especially vulnerable. But there’s something we can do about it. Read more
In polling, 94% of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of the nearly 10 billion farm animals raised each year in the U.S. suffer in conditions that consumers would not accept if they could see them. Most of our meat, milk and eggs come from industrial farms where efficiency trumps welfare—and animals are paying the price.
A factory farm is a large, industrial operation that raises large numbers of animals for food. Over 99% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, which focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare.
While most Americans expect our laws to protect farm animals, the reality falls far short. Animals raised for food are among the least protected class of animals in our nation. Farm animals are not the only ones suffering because of these unnatural, inhumane conditions. Human health, the environment and farmers are being hurt by the intensive farming systems employed on factory farms.
The best way to help farm animals is to follow a plant-based diet. There’s never been more foods to choose from and saving the animals never tasted so good.
Many people have noticed the dedicated people who volunteer at the many animal welfare organization booths at Vegfest. One of them is Mercy for Animals. Mercy For Animals is one of the largest and most effective international charities focused exclusively on preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies.
It has often been said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegetarians. Outraged by witnessing the abuse of a baby pig, 15-year old Nathan Runkle founded Mercy For Animals and devote his life to advocating for animals. Eighteen years later, with a staff of over 100 and thousands of dedicated volunteers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, and China, Mercy For Animals is a global force for changing hearts and diets, and winning corporate policy and legal victories on behalf of billions of cows, pigs, chickens and other farmed animals.
According to Mercy for Animals, many farm animal abuses, which would warrant felony level cruelty charges if inflicted on a dog or cat, are sadly perfectly legal when inflicted on cows, pigs, or other farmed animals. While the challenge is significant, the tide is turning. Mercy for Animals is winning victories and improvements for farmed animals that were once thought impossible. By taking a pragmatic approach and creative strategies, Mercy For Animals is transforming laws, policies, and eating habits across the country and around the world.
Mercy For Animals has conducted more than 60 eye-opening undercover investigations of farms, slaughterhouses, and hatcheries across North America. These investigations have led to sweeping animal welfare policy changes by the world’s largest food companies, including Nestlé, McDonald’s, and Walmart.
Mercy For Animals’ corporate outreach has led scores of major food companies, including many of the largest grocers and restaurants in the US, Canada, Brazil and Mexico, to end the worst abuses in their supply chains. Collectively, these policy changes will reduce the suffering of over one billion animals each year across 90 countries. Many of these corporate policy changes were prompted by pressure generated from our hard-hitting undercover investigations.
By reducing the demand for animal products, Mercy For Animals’ education work has spared tens of millions of animals each year from a lifetime of misery on factory farms. Our team has inspired school districts and other major institutions to reduce their use of meat, motivated many people to go vegetarian and provided personal support to hundreds of thousands of individuals to help them change their diet.
Voters in Massachusetts voters just passed a far reaching law to protect farm animals from extreme confinement. Even the governor, Charlie Baker, voted for it.
The ballot measure targets practices that severely constrain animals for virtually their entire lives, including the use of veal crates for baby calves, gestation crates for mother pigs and battery cages for egg-laying hens. Eleven states have passed laws banning one or more of those practices. The Massachusetts measure would prohibit all three, and then go further. It would also ban the sale of meat and eggs produced using those methods, even if the animals were farmed outside the state.
The measure passed by a wide margin, reflecting the increasing upset that voters feel when they are made aware of farm animal suffering under the harsh conditions of large scale industrial farming. While several agribusiness groups opposed the initiative, they spent little to campaign against it, since presumably they knew of the moral outrage of the voters.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court approved this ballot initiative proposing that Massachusetts prohibit breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens from being held in confined spaces. The initiative prohibits the sale of eggs, veal, or pork of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending its limbs, or turning around. The measure proposes a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation which could add up very fast on a factory farm.
Of course, even with this law the animals can hardly be said to be living natural lives. The bill may remove the worst excesses, but conditions will still be harsh and the animal will still end up in the slaughterhouse. The best thing we can do for the animals is still to go veg!
For farm animals half the misery is just getting there. We’ve written before about the severe and harsh condition on both the factory farm and in the slaughterhouse but the transport from one to the other is just as bad.
Even under the most controlled conditions within the industry, farm animal transport is stressful and harsh. The animals are deprived of food, water, and bedding during transport. Trucks are so overcrowded that animals are unable to rest, and may trample or fight with one another in search of space. Chickens are so cramped that they can’t even turn around or spread their wings. The risk of injury is particularly high during loading and unloading, when electrical prodding and other painful handling methods are often used to move fearful and disoriented animals. Trucks waiting in line to unload is a serious problem, too; animals in trucks that are stalled in queues or stuck in traffic, especially on asphalt in hot weather, are extremely stressed and may even die as a result.
One brave woman decided to do something about this sad state affairs. To help ease suffering during transport, a Toronto Canada woman, Anita Krank, would go up to the trucks and give the animal water through the little spaces on the side of the trucks in Toronto . For this she was charged with a criminal mischief and faced jail time or $5,000 fine. Anita says, “I just find it unfathomable that someone would be charged for giving thirsty animals water.” Fortunately, the Judge found no basis in the charge and declared her not guilty.
While we’re happy she was found not guilty, the best answer to the transportation problem is the same as for the factory farm and slaughterhouse problem. A vegetarian diet helps all three. The solution to this problem also means better health for us and the environment.
This story about farm animals is different from most of the others, not only because it has a happy ending, but whereas most stories about the plight of the farm animals are written by people, this story was written by the animals themselves.
We’ve often admired the excellent work done by Farm Sanctuary in New York and its founder Gene Baur. However, we wondered what the animals thought about being saved from the slaughterhouse and taken to live at Farm Sanctuary.
To get their perspective on things we turned to a wonderful new book, Our Farm by the animals of Farm Sanctuary. In this delightful book, we can read what life looks like from the animals’ point of view. We can also hear the animals say thank you in a poem:
Thank You, by Hilda, a sheep
Thank you to the wind that blows,
Thank you to the moonbeams that shine,
Thank you to the field of wheat,
and to the soft grass below,
Thank you to the sunflowers that sway,
Thank you to the sky above,
Thank you to the kind hearts and hands that brought me to my new home.
Hilda the sheep teaches that all the animals want are the simple things in life, and how much good can be done by kind hearts and hands.
Our Farm, beautifully illustrated, is gentle and sensitive enough to teach children about farm animals and insightful enough for adults to gain a new and deeper appreciation for all the lives a vegetarian diet will save.
For those adults who would like to learn more about the harsh realities facing farm animals in the slaughterhouses that a vegetarian diet would prevent, see out of sight slaughter and for the realities facing the workers, see forgotten casualties.
How did you first get interested in the plight of animals and of farm animals in particular?
I have gravitated towards helping animals for as long as I can remember, especially feeling a drive to rescue and save injured, abandoned and neglected animals. Undercover footage of factory farms opened my eyes to the cruelty farmed animals endure and I immediately stopped consuming animal flesh. As I learned more about the condition of animals used for dairy and eggs, I eliminated those items from my diet as well. The same for eschewing leather, fur, wool and honey, my behavior changed as I learned more. My journey to be vegan has been a path of progression. The urge to protect animals is the driving force behind every choice I make.
What moved you to work with The Humane League?
The Humane League’s vision of seeing a world where animals are treated with respect and compassion really appealed to me. I have worked with companion animals in shelters and through internships with HSUS, I was able to work on projects about marine animals, equines, animals in research and blood “sports.” Even so, the magnitude of suffering on factory farms far outweighs all other animal suffering, over 9 billion land animals are killed for food in the US each year! This was an area where I felt I could make a difference for a lot of animals. I was impressed to learn The Humane League is certified “Best” by Independent Charities of America, and rated as one of the two most cost-effective animal protection charities in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators.
Tell us something about what The Humane League does?
The Humane League advocates for farmed animals, promotes a vegetarian diet and works to end the suffering of as many animals as possible. The methods of advocacy we employ are researched and tested for efficacy through our research division, Humane League Labs. The three pillars of our work are outreach, education, and campaigns. Our humane education program offers free presentations about factory farming and the impacts on animals, health and the environment. I provide these presentations to high schools and colleges in the greater Seattle area. Outreach efforts include distributing free vegetarian starter guides in news racks around the city, handing out booklets on factory farming and veg eating at universities, concerts and events, and tabling with vegetarian information at festivals. While we work on a variety of campaigns, my current focus is bringing Meatless Mondays to Seattle Public Schools – this program would spare 25,000 animals a year. I’d also love to see the City of Seattle adopt a Meatless Monday resolution, which aligns with the city’s climate action plan where reducing meat consumption is already encouraged. Numerous other cities have already adopted similar resolutions, to include South Miami County, FL; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Boone, NC; Oakland, CA; and Philadelphia, PA!
What are some of the things you wished people knew more about or understood better about farm animals?
I wish people knew that these incredible sentient beings are unique, with distinct personalities who have the ability to experience pain and pleasure, and they have a desire to live – like we do. Pigs have dreams, chickens can count to ten, and fish rub against each other to relieve stress. Like dogs and cats, farmed animals are intelligent and emotional creatures that deserve our moral consideration and protection. I encourage people to spend time at farm sanctuaries and develop our innate bond with animals.
Do you see progress, are you optimistic about the future?
Yes! I am optimistic about the future and I’m seeing progress. Sometimes the progress seems too slow or too small given the enormous challenges ahead, but I appreciate it is still movement in the right direction. I’m inspired by the next generation of animal advocates who are seeking professional training to become more effective for animals and the number of students pursuing humane education and careers that will benefit animals. I’m watching this movement become an unstoppable force!
Frequently these days, people who care about the plight of farm animals are taking their case to court. Thanks to a number of laws passed with the support and backing of groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), those concerned with animal welfare are able to use the legal system to protect the farm animals.
A federal appeals court has ruled California can keep in place its ban on selling foie gras. A Los Angeles court will still hear the case against the ban, but in its decision, the ninth US circuit court of appeals expressed doubt that opponents of the law would be successful. The law bars state farmers from force-feeding ducks with a tube, the procedure used to produce foie gras. It also bans sales of the delicacy. The legislature concluded tube-feeding ducks and geese to engorge their livers is cruel. Read more
Farm Sanctuary is special. While there are a number of animal welfare groups out there, some of which go beyond cats, dogs and wildlife to include farm animals, there are very few which devote themselves solely to the farm animals. Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 in response to the abuses of factory farming, and to encourage a new awareness and understanding about farm animals. Today, Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s largest and most effective farm animal rescue, protection and advocacy organization. Starting at the sanctuary in a rural region of New York State, they have now established sanctuaries in Northern California and in the Los Angeles area. While the work is hard, their attitude remains so positive and warm. Vegetarians of Washington is proud to be a sponsor of their upcoming event, Walk for Farm Animals, and we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview their founder, Gene Baur:
How did you first get interested in the plight of farm animals?
I first learned about the plight of farm animals in high school (in the late 1970s), when my grandmother told me about the cruel treatment of calves raised for veal. Over time, I learned more about animal cruelty, the environmental waste involved, and the inefficiency of animal farming, and I became vegan in 1985.
What moved you to found Farm Sanctuary and what kind of work do you do there?
I founded Farm Sanctuary because I was appalled by the widespread harm caused by factory farming. Citizens unwittingly support this abusive system, and they can play a huge rule in correcting the problem by becoming more educated and mindful, and by making food choices that better align with their values and interests.
At our shelters, Farm Sanctuary currently cares for about 1000 animals. We host farm events and conduct tours so that people can meet cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other animals face-to-face, and to get to know them as living, feeling creatures. Through these encounters, they begin to see them as friends instead of food. We tell the animals’ stories, from their horrendous existences in factory farms to their healing and lives of peace and joy today at our sanctuaries. They are ambassadors for the billions of animals exploited by the food industry every year.
Tell us something about “Walk for Farm Animals”?
The Walk for Farm Animals comprises dozens of walk events in communities throughout North America. Citizens sign up to walk, and they reach out to their friends, family, and social networks to encourage people to support them. It’s a great way to introduce people to factory farming issues, to raise funds for Farm Sanctuary, and to get people thinking about the consequences of their food choices.
What are some of the things you wished people knew more about or understood better about farm animals?
I wish people thought more about the fact that farm animals, like all animals, have feelings and complex emotional lives. They are similar in that way to cats and dogs even though we treat them very differently. And I wish more people understood that we can live very well by eating only plant-based foods and no animal products.
Do you see progress, are you optimistic about the future?
Yes, I see progress, and I am optimistic about the future. I believe we are in the midst of a food movement whereby factory farming practices are being challenged and, in some instances, outlawed. Most importantly, there is a broader public discussion taking place about the need to reform our broken food system. Consumers are beginning to think about the profound consequences of their food choices on their own health, and about the well-being of other animals and the planet. Farmer’s markets with local produce are spreading across the country, and, for the first time, the number of animals raised and slaughtered in the United States has started to decrease.
One of the most powerful motivations to become a vegetarian, for people sensitive to the plight of farm animals, is the harsh conditions on what are known as factory farms. For instance, on these farms chickens are routinely confined to battery cages so tightly they can’t even turn around, and pigs are immobilized in gestational crates for months on end. However, the suffering in the slaughterhouses, where numerous abuses and atrocities take place, in some ways is even worse than on the factory farm.
As the old saying goes, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we‘d all be vegetarians”. Few people have actually seen a factory farm or the inside of a slaughterhouse themselves. To be aware of these conditions, we have to rely on a combination of photographic documentations by journalists and activists, and reports by government inspectors.
Unfortunately, we’re now starting to lose both. A number of states have enacted so-called ag-gag laws. These prohibit the videotaping of “animal enterprises,” which includes both farm and slaughterhouses. The other problem is that now government inspections are being ignored. While the ag-gag laws have been one obstacle to “seeing” what’s really going on, we would like to highlight the lack of government inspection and enforcement.
A federal investigation released last month shows that many animals still suffer needlessly in slaughterhouses. The federal audit found that meat inspectors unevenly enforce humane-slaughter rules, or don’t enforce them at all. That’s because their bosses won’t support them, two whistle-blowing meat inspectors recently told The Kansas City Star. For instance, after federal meat inspector Jim Schrier documented problems late last year at a Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, he said he was transferred to another plant miles from his home.
Even efforts by the government’s “humane handling ombudsman,” hired last year to improve enforcement, reportedly were ignored in one recent case. Kansas-based meat inspector Judy Kachanes, a 26-year veteran of the agency, said she contacted the ombudsman, Mark Crowe, after her bosses failed to take action on her complaints about humane-slaughter violations at a small meat plant in McPherson, Kan. No action was ever taken, and Kachanes has since been reassigned.
Temple Grandin, a meat industry consultant and a widely acknowledged expert on the humane treatment of animals, agrees there are still problems. Inconsistent enforcement and vague regulations mean some plants get away with “really mistreating animals and doing bad stuff,” she said.
Humane Society President, Wayne Pacelle, said these cases show that the Agriculture Department has bent to the will of the meat industry. “USDA has historically been more a protector of the meat industry than a serious-minded enforcer of the laws,” Pacelle said.
Consequently the inspectors, and there are far two few of them, can’t effectively report what they see, and so the public is unaware of what’s really going on in the nation’s slaughterhouses. It’s slaughter out of sight, which is exactly what the meat industry is depending on.
With an increasing number of ag-gag laws being enacted on the state level, and inspectors being ignored on the federal level, perhaps now more than ever, a vegetarian diet is the best way to prevent animal abuse.