The farm animals, and all those who care about them, just won a big victory in court. A judge in Utah has ruled that the ‘ag-gag’ law – which makes filming and photography to document abuse in animal agriculture illegal – is unconstitutional. US District Court Judge Robert Shelby claimed the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech. According to Amy Meyer, who filmed the abuse of a cow outside a slaughterhouse and was later charge with a crime, the court’s ruling is a “vindication for anyone who stands up for what’s right and tells the truth.” Read more
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.
The farm animals badly needed this win. They have relied heavily on people documenting abuses on harsh “factory farms” and in the slaughterhouses, but a new law in Idaho would have made this illegal leaving the animals defenseless. So animal welfare groups cheered the decision on the Idaho law last week from U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The judge found the state’s “Agricultural Security Act” unconstitutional for criminalizing certain types of speech. This would have not only criminalized legitimate reporting by the news media and advocacy groups, they would have also criminalized whistle-blowing conducted by conscientious workers.
What about the handful of other states with similar laws on the books? Laws in Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa have also made it illegal for workers and activists to smuggle cameras into industrial animal operations. A new North Carolina law goes into effect in January 2016. But now those laws’ days could be numbered, according to the lead attorney for the coalition of animal welfare groups that sued the state of Idaho.
Had these laws gone into effect it’s not only the animals who would be hurt. As we have previously reported, abuse of slaughterhouse workers is also all too common. While reporting abuses is very valuable, it is still better to prevent them in the first place and the best way is through a healthy and oh so delicious vegetarian diet.
A new hotline (1-888-209-7177) was just launched by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) so that workers can more safely document the abuse of animals.
As the old saying goes, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians.” The slaughterhouse operators know this better than anyone, which is why they have pushed “ag-gag” laws through in a handful of key states. These ag-gag laws prevent the documenting of abuse by criminalizing undercover investigations of agricultural facilities. We have previously reported on the plight of both farm animals and workers in the nation’s slaughterhouses. While horrible conditions persist, the public is kept in the dark.
“The bleak conditions endured by animals on factory farms are often made worse by overt violence and neglect,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the HSUS. “Pigs are often beaten. Chickens are stomped on. Lame cows are left for dead. We want whistleblowers to know that help is just a phone call away.”
To tackle this problem, the HSUS established a hotline for reporting cruelty and neglect on factory farms, at livestock auctions, and in slaughterhouses. This will empower employees at those facilities who have witnessed cruelty or other unlawful acts.
The HSUS offers whistleblowers a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who have committed acts of cruelty to farm animals. Hotline callers will be assured anonymity if they desire it. The HSUS will work with the United Farm Workers to distribute information about the hotline to workers at factory farms, slaughterhouses and livestock auctions.
We applaud the HSUS for their new program and all those who have the courage to call it. Of course, the best way to end the harsh conditions and frank abuse in animal agriculture is simply to go vegetarian- a move the HSUS enthusiastically endorses.
Just when we thought the slaughterhouses couldn’t get any worse for workers, consumers and animals alike, new rules are coming out of Washington DC that will make the whole situation worse than ever.
Under the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule, a processing line could run at 170 carcasses per minute, and only one inspector- employed by the company that owns the processing plant- would be required to be on duty. The new rules do not even mandate training for these company inspectors, whereas USDA inspectors undergo extensive training to allow them to fulfill these tasks under the current inspection system.
“These rules essentially privatize poultry inspection, and pave the way for others in the meat industry to police themselves,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
With most meat inspectors replaced by untrained slaughterhouse employees, and the kill rate increased to almost 3 chickens a second, it is virtually impossible to do any reliable testing.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that this proposed rule would provide the framework for action to provide public health-based inspection in all establishments that slaughter amenable poultry species,” according to the rule’s official summary. However, reduced inspections make contamination with disease-causing bacteria all the more likely.
With the kill rate higher, worker stress is likely to get worse. Working in a slaughterhouse is already one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs in the country, as we’ve explained in a previous posting.
Last but surely not least, a higher kill rate is very likely to make matters even worse for the chickens. Many people are surprised to learn that unlike the very minimal legal protection that cows have, chickens have no laws to prevent cruelty at all. As the saying goes, if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarians!
The situation is so bad that 68 Members of Congress have signed and sent a letter sent to the USDA demanding rules that meaningfully protect all involved. The letter urges the USDA to “withdraw the proposed rule until the agency has thoroughly addressed its impact on the public, workers, and animals and adherence to good commercial practices.”
We can only hope that the USDA reconsiders the new rules. In the meantime there’s something you can do. Year after year the slaughterhouses continue to get worse and worse. The best solution to this problem is the vegetarian solution. By following a healthy diet composed of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes and nuts, you’ll be reducing the demand for chickens until, someday, there won’t be a need for any of them to be killed.
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.
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.