Tag Archives: chickens

Egg-producing factory farm focus of undercover investigation

The Humane Society of the United States on June 7 released findings from an undercover investigation at New England’s largest egg-producing factory farm that supplies eggs to several states.

The facility in Turner, Maine, is operated by Pennsylvania-based Hillandale Farms and owned by Jack DeCoster, described by the Humane Society as a notorious egg magnate whose “filthy facilities in Iowa led to a 2010 Salmonella outbreak that was the largest in the industry’s history and that sickened tens of thousands of people.”

The investigation was conducted in the spring at the complex — about 70 warehouses confine about 4 million laying hens, according to the investigators.

In the 10-unit factory farm where the HSUS investigator worked, about 450,000 hens produce 420,000 eggs each day.

The investigator found hens sharing cages with dead animals. Some of the birds were mummified and stuck to the wire cage floor, meaning they’d been lying dead in the cages for months.

• Hens confined in cages packed so tightly, the animals couldn’t spread their wings.

Hens were found trapped by their necks, wings and feet in rusty cages.

Hens were found with bloody prolapses.

Hens were found with facial abnormalities.

Hens were found standing in waste.

Equipment was found coated in cobwebs, chicken feathers and feces.

Poisoned rodents were found and cages and combined with chicken manure to sell for fertilizer.

Chicken manure build-up in barns oozed on floors.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, wrote in a statement, “The last year has seen a torrent of announcements from major companies like McDonald’s and Walmart touting that they’re starting to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs.

“As important and exciting as these corporate policies are, as of today, nine out of 10 egg-laying chickens in the United States are still locked inside cages where they can’t even spread their wings. We must accelerate the transition away from these inherently inhumane production systems and embrace a cage-free future.”

Hillandale Farms issued this statement in response to the investigative report:

“At Hillandale Farms, we take great pride in the quality of eggs we produce and have high standards for hen care and egg safety.

“When we took over management of the Maine farms last July, we were aware the barns were aging. Since then, we have invested in equipment and process upgrades to enhance our production operations, as well as expanded training for our team members.

“We reviewed the video and we are investigating the practices in the barns where this footage may have been captured to ensure this is addressed immediately. The worker who shot the video did not meet Hillandale’s standard of care and is no longer employed by us. For example, it is our practice that any mortality be removed from cages within a day.

“We have engaged our farm veterinarian, food safety and quality assurance teams to act swiftly to assure that we meet or exceed all animal health and food safety guidelines. In addition, we have reached out proactively to ask the Maine Department of Agriculture to conduct an immediate inspection.”

On the Web…

The egg industry in the United States.

Undercover investigation of a Hillandale egg farm in Maine. — The Humane Society of the United States
Undercover investigation of a Hillandale egg farm in Maine. — The Humane Society of the United States

Grocer pledges to sell eggs from cage-free hens

SUPERVALU, one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, recently pledged to ensure 100 percent of the eggs it sells come from cage-free hens by 2025.

“Our decision to move toward selling only cage-free eggs reflects our ongoing commitment to improving animal welfare practices across the industry,” said Mark Van Buskirk, SUPERVALU’s executive vice president for merchandising, marketing and retail. “Because there is currently a limited supply of cage-free eggs, the transition will take time.”

The Minnesota-based grocer operates about 3,400 stores, including Cub Foods and Save-A-Lot. The company is the latest to commit to ending the practice of confining hens to battery cages so tightly that the birds can’t spread their wings.

“SUPERVALU’s policy is going to improve life for millions of animals,” said Josh Balk, a senior policy director at The Humane Society of the United States. “We appreciate the company’s work with us and urge the few remaining top grocers lacking cage-free commitments to join the rest of their industry in getting chickens out of cages.

SUPERVALU could phase in the new policy more quickly, depending on available supply, affordability and demand. “We will continue to work with our suppliers to move as quickly as possible toward a sustainable, 100 percent cage-free egg supply chain,” Buskirk said.

Other companies committed to the cage-free movement include:

  • Retailers: Ahold, Albertson’s Co., Aldi, Bashas’, BJ’s Wholesale, Costco, CVS, Delhaize, Kroger, Loblaw, Metro, Raley’s, Sobey’s, Sprouts, States Bros., Target, The Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Wawa, Weis Markets and Whole Foods.
  • Restaurants: Au Bon Pain, Bloomin’ Brands, Bob Evans, Boston Pizza, Burger King, Caribou Coffee, Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, Cheesecake Factory, Chick-fil-A, Cracker Barrel, Darden, Denny’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Einstein Brothers, Golden Corral, IHOP, Jack in the Box, Qdoba, Krystal, Le Pain Quotidien, McDonald’s, MTY Group, Noodles & Co., P.F. Chang’s, Panera Bread, Quiznos, Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, Shake Shack, Shoney’s, Sonic, Starbucks, Subway, T.G.I. Friday’s, Taco Bell, Taco John’s, The Second Cup, Wendy’s and White Castle.
  • Egg producers: Gemperle Farms, Hickman’s, Michael Foods, Rembrandt Foods, Rose Acre .
  • Food manufacturers: Barilla, Campbell Soup, ConAgra Foods, Flowers Foods, General Mills, Grupo Bimbo, Hood, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Heinz, Mars Inc., Mondelez, PepsiCo, Nestle, Schwan’s and Unilever.
  • Hospitality industry: Carnival Corp., Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Virgin America.

Just days before SUPERVALU’s announcement, PepsiCo committed to using 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2020 in North America and 2025 globally.

“Being the world’s second largest food manufacturer, PepsiCo’s initiative to exclusively commit to cage-free eggs by 2025 speaks strongly toward this becoming a global industry standard,” said David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, a grassroots group dedicated to ending the caging of hens in the egg industry.

Animal rights advocates emphasized that cage-free is an improvement for hens, but it does not mean “cruelty free.”

Battery cage vs. cage-free

The vast majority of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined to battery cages, according to The Humane Society of the United States. On average, each caged laying hen is afforded 67 square inches of space — less space than a sheet of letter-sized paper. These hens cannot spread their wings and are among the most intensively confined animals in agribusiness.

The HSUS says cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests. Most cage-free hens live in flocks that can consist of many thousands of hens that never go outside. The majority of cage-free hens live on farms that are third-party audited by certification programs that mandate perching and dust-bathing areas. However, caged hens also can suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust-bathing.

Also, both battery-caged and cage-free hens come from hatcheries that typically kill male chicks. Both battery-caged and cage-free hens can have part of their beaks burned off. And the hens in both systems are typically slaughtered at less than 2 years old.

“While cage-free does not necessarily mean cruelty-free, cage-free hens generally have significantly better lives than those confined in battery cages,” the HSUS says. “The ability to lay their eggs in nests, run and spread their wings are tangible benefits that shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Abuse video leads McDonald’s and Tyson to cut ties with chicken farmer

McDonald’s and its supplier Tyson Foods say they’ve cut ties with a chicken farmer after an an animal welfare group released a video taken with a hidden camera showing abusive practices at the farm.

The video was released by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group that says it has released more than 40 similar videos in the past.

The footage shows people scooping chickens into a bucket by whacking them with a pole with a spike on the end and standing on birds’ heads to break their necks.

Tyson Foods Inc. said in a statement that it was investigating the situation, but that it terminated the farmer’s contract “based on what we currently know.” McDonald’s Corp. said in a statement that it supported Tyson’s decision to terminate its contract with the farmer in question.

“We’re working with Tyson Foods to further investigate this situation and reinforce our expectations around animal health and welfare at the farm level,” McDonald’s said in a statement.

The farm in Tennessee identified by Mercy for Animals could not immediately be reached.

The farm supplied chicken for McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, according to Mercy for Animals. McDonald’s said the farm may have also supplied chicken for menu items including grilled and deep-fried chicken filets and its McChicken sandwich.

Tyson said in its statement that the video doesn’t reflect the treatment of chickens by the thousands of farmers that supply it. But Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, said the group’s investigators walk away with images that “shock and horrify” every time they go on site at a farm.

“Unfortunately this type animal abuse runs rampant in the animal agriculture industry,” Rice said.

Mercy for Animals is asking McDonald’s to adopt a number of animal welfare policies, such as giving chickens more space, ending breeding practices designed to make chickens grow so quickly that they develop health problems, and the installation of video monitoring on farms.

Rice said Mercy for Animals has requested meetings with Tyson, but said the company has declined its requests. A representative for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, said Tyson has previously offered to meet with the group.

On the Web …

http://www.mercyforanimals.org

http://www.mcdonaldscruelty.com 

Dunkin’ Donuts sets goals for eggs from cage-free hens

Dunkin’ Donuts has set goals to eventually require all eggs to come from cage-free hens and also require that its pork suppliersnot use gestation crates.

The company said it mapped its international supply chain to best understand the feasibility of transitioning to 100 percent cage-free eggs globally and, based on the assessment, established immediate and longer-term goals.

As an immediate step, 10 percent of all eggs sourced for Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwiches in the United States will be cage-free by the end of next year.

Also, Dunkin’ Donuts will source only gestation crate-free pork in the United States by 2022.

The company announcement was made in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States, which said Dunkin’ Brands is working with suppliers and the animal welfare group to update policies and reach the goals.

Christine Riley Miller, senior director of corporate social responsibility for Dunkin’ Brands, said in a media statement, “Dunkin’ Brands and our franchisee community care about the welfare of animals and their humane treatment. We set a goal to source 5 percent cage-free eggs by 2013, an accomplishment we are proud to have achieved. Now, working with our suppliers and The Humane Society of the United States, we are setting new commitments to help the egg and pork industries eliminate cages to demonstrate our responsibility to animal welfare and sustainable, ethical sourcing.”

At The Humane Society, senior food policy director Josh Balk, stated, “Dunkin’s commitment to improve the lives of farm animals is taking another positive step. This new policy is further testament that consumers and companies are aligned in shifting the egg and pork industries away from confining animals in cages.”

The Humane Society said the company’s commitment to animal welfare will be included in the its corporate social responsibility report, which will be released later this spring.

Humane Society: Hens scalded alive at Minnesota slaughter plant

An undercover investigation at a “spent” egg-laying hen slaughter plant in Butterfield, Minnesota, revealed inhumane treatment of animals and potentially illegal cruelty, according to The Humane Society of the United States.

The animal welfare group conducted the investigation at Butterfield Foods and then released video and other results of the investigation and reported possible illegal activity to authorities, followed by release to the news media on Jan. 5.

A news release said the investigation was the first undercover operation at a “spent-hen” slaughter plant in the country.

Spent hens are egg-laying birds no longer considered commercially profitable. The hens are used for cheap meat after a lifelong confinement producing eggs in “battery cages.” The meat is often so low-grade and unsafe that many battery cage facilities cannot even sell it for human consumption. Hens and other poultry are not covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent nine out of 10 animals slaughtered for food in the United States.   

The HSUS, in its investigation, documented:

• Many birds each day were scalded alive, forced upside down into tanks of scorching hot water in which they drown. In just one 30-minute period, the HSUS investigator witnessed approximately 45 such animals. This possible violation of Minnesota’s anti-cruelty code has been reported to local authorities.

• Hens arrived in trucks packed so tightly they could barely move. Birds had broken bones, others were dead on arrival, and some were so covered in feces they looked black. If a truck could not be emptied by the end of a processing day, the remaining hens continued to suffer on the trucks until the next day.

• Hens were removed from crates and shackled upside down while alive and fully conscious. Removal began with workers jabbing metal hooks into the densely packed transport cages to rip hens out of the cages by their legs.

• Birds were ineffectively stunned and inhumanely killed. After being shackled, the line of upside-down birds moved through an electrified trough of water designed to stun them—though that outcome was not necessarily reached. Many hens tried to right themselves, while others were hung too high; these birds missed the water entirely and arrived to the next station—the neck cutter—fully aware.

• Sick and injured birds thrown against the wall or tossed in the trash.

“Egg-laying hens suffer tremendously, locked in cramped cages their whole lives only to then be inhumanely slaughtered when their productivity wanes,” said Paul Shapiro, HSUS vice president of farm animal protection, in a news release. “Consumers can help reduce the suffering of animals in factory farms by eating less chicken, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help poultry by requiring slaughter plants to switch to higher-welfare systems such as controlled atmosphere killing.”

The HSUS has information to support the claim that some major egg producers in Minnesota do not even meet the voluntary space allotment standard established by the United Egg Producers, the national trade association of the egg industry. That voluntary standard, widely considered to be inhumane because it immobilizes birds, may cover about 75 percent of laying hens in cage confinement. Some major producers in Minnesota keep hens in 48- or 54-inch space allotments, which amounts to extraordinary deprivation and suffering for the birds. 

“Laying hens in Minnesota are suffering from birth to death, and every step of the process is filled with misery for so many millions of these birds,” added Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS.

On the Web…

A video from The Humane Society of the United States: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM-JsyyfSmE 

Starbucks to switch to cage-free eggs, implement new animal welfare policy

Starbucks this week announced the planned elimination of the sale of eggs that come from caged hens throughout its supply chain. The company will switch to cage-free eggs, including for its pastries.

The policy was announced a week in advance of new animal welfare legislation in California — Proposition 2 and AB1437.

Proposition 2 is the 2008 California ballot measure banning the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves in cages so small the animals cannot stretch their limbs, lie down or turn around.

AB 1437 is the 2010 law that requires all shell eggs sold in the state to be produced in compliance with Prop 2.

Both measures have been under attack by food manufacturer associations and producers but are set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Starbucks’ new animal welfare policy includes:

• Phasing out cages for egg-laying hens and the use of gestation crates for pigs.

• Eliminating artificial growth hormones and fast-growing practices that cause chickens to suffer chronic pain.

• Ending the dehorning, tail docking and castration of animals without anesthesia.

• Moving away from “inhumane” chicken slaughter practices.

The company has more than 2,000 stores in California, and more than 12,000 stores in the United States. The new policy applies to Canada and Mexico as well.

“California voters have made it clear that extreme confinement of farm animals is inhumane and unacceptable,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Starbucks is meeting and exceeding the standards of California’s new farm animal welfare laws, and we applaud them and ask for other food retailers to make similar announcements. The best enforcement of Prop 2 will come from retailers who decide not to purchase eggs from hens in any kind of cage.”

Whole Foods, Burger King and food service giants Compass Group and Aramark also have made cage-free pledges, according to The Humane Society.

Wisconsin group exposes factory-farms and mislabeled ‘organic’ foods

A Wisconsin-based farm policy and research group is pursuing formal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations that are producing dairy, eggs and meat being wrongfully marketed as “organic.”

The group, the Cornucopia Institute, said it took action after years of inaction by the USDA and contracted for aerial photography over factory farms in nine states over eight months.

The group, in its report released on Dec. 11, said it documented “a systemic pattern of corporate agribusiness interests operating industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities providing no legitimate grazing, or even access to the outdoors, as required by federal organic regulations.”

Representatives of several companies took issue with Cornucopia’s claims, saying the report contained inaccuracies and false accusations.

Mark A. Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst with the group, said, “The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture. The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100 percent of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.”

Kastel and Cornucopia emphasized that family-scale farmers who helped grow the organic movement in the 1980s did so, in part, because agribusiness consolidation and control of the food supply was squeezing profit margins and forcing farmers off the land.

Consumers made organics a rapidly growing market sector by supporting farmers and processors willing to produce food to a different standard in terms of environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry and economic fairness for farmers.

“Shoppers, who passionately support the ideals and values represented by the organic label, understandably feel betrayed when they see photos of these massive concentrated animal feeding operations masquerading as organic,” Kastel said.

Cornucopia has created organic brand scorecards for consumers.

“Many of our dairy farmer-members have animals they truly care for, that have names, not numbers,” Kastel said.

Cornucopia filed its first legal complaints against industrial operations in 2004 and, as a result, the largest dairy supplying the Horizon/Whitewave label was decertified and the USDA placed sanctions against Aurora Dairy, which produces private-label organic milk for Walmart, Costco, Target and other retailers.

Cornucopia remains concerned with other producers and suppliers.

“The inaction by the USDA places thousands of ethical family-scale farmers, who are competing with a couple of dozen giant dairies, at a competitive disadvantage,” said Kevin Engelbert, a New York-based dairyman, milking 140 cows who, along with his family, was the first certified organic dairy producer in the United States.

He added, “Allowing … illegal dairies to continue to operate is a travesty and significantly undercuts the supply-demand dynamic that should be rewarding farmers in the marketplace and providing a decent living for our families.”

In the chicken industry, the USDA has allowed corporate agribusiness to confine as many as 100,000 laying hens in a building, sometimes exceeding a million birds on a “farm,” and substituting a tiny screened porch for true access to the outdoors.

The organics loophole, “porched-poultry,” was first allowed in 2002 in a case involving The Country Hen, a Massachusetts egg producer, to confine tens of thousands of birds in a barn with an attached porch that might, at best, hold 5 percent of the birds in the main building.

How does this little piggy get to market? | What producers don’t want you to know

At any given moment at Reichardt Duck Farm in Petaluma, California, about 200,000 ducks are living in tightly cramped pens, suffering disease, injury and starvation until they join the ranks of the million ducks the farm slaughters in a year for the food industry.

That’s a fact only known to the world at large thanks to the activist group Mercy for Animals, which in late October released “Ducks in Despair,” a secretly-filmed video that quickly went viral as viewers saw workers burning ducklings’ beaks and brutally breaking injured ducks’ necks. The images were captured by an undercover Mercy investigator working as a barn-cleaner on the farm, and also show birds being denied access to food, water and veterinary care.

Reichardt is no isolated incident. Other viral videos, filmed by Mercy and other undercover investigators, show animal abuses on farms providing dairy, eggs, beef, pork and poultry to consumers nationwide.

Videos show calves, being raised for veal, crammed into feces-covered boxes so small they cannot lie down. 

Videos show pigs being stowed in crates so small they can’t turn around, and being beaten with metal rods.

Videos show live chicks getting tossed into machines to be mashed into feed.

And here at home, a Mercy investigator released hidden-camera footage in early 2014 from Wiese Brothers Farms, a dairy farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, where workers were shown kicking, stabbing and whipping cows, even dragging downed animals around by chains attached to their legs and necks.

More recently, on Nov. 12, Mercy released an undercover video from Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, showing workers kicking and punching cows, hacking at their tails with pruning shears and dragging animals by their necks with ropes attached to tractors. The dairy was identified as a supplier to Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese, one of the largest cheese companies in the country and a supplier to major grocery chains. 

“The handling of the dairy cows in this video is not acceptable,” Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert, said after reviewing the footage.

More than 80 undercover investigations have been conducted at U.S. factory farms in the past decade, resulting in dozens of videos that reveal animal abuse and real threats to food safety. And even as campaigns are launched to implement policies that can prevent such cruelty, counter-campaigns are trying to prevent undercover investigations in the first place. 

Earlier this year, the state of Idaho enacted an “ag-gag” law that criminalizes undercover investigations, making unauthorized recordings punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

The measure is not the first of its kind, and it likely will not be the last.

Model ag-gag bills have been circulated by the right-wing, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council as early as 2002. ALEC, the organization behind so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation and anti-immigrant bills, published a draft that year misleadingly titled the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act that would prohibit “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”

Seven states have thus far passed ag-gag measures aimed at blocking whistleblowers from revealing abuse or unsafe conditions at livestock facilities. Advocates say farmers and livestock producers need the laws to guard against intrusions into their homes and businesses.

progressive pushback

But a broad progressive coalition has come out against the bills, with constitutional challenges pending against ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho. It is a cause that intertwines animal welfare, the environment, labor rights, free speech, freedom of the press, food safety and consumer protection.

Some 70 groups have publicly stated opposition to ag-gag laws. Plaintiffs in the federal challenge to the Idaho law include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Food Safety and Farm Sanctuary.

The law is “deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech,” says professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “It would even criminalize a whistleblower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

In fact, an undercover investigator punished in Idaho faces far more severe penalties than a farmworker who abuses animals. Animal cruelty in the state can result in a mere six months in jail; people caught filming abuse face up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

Those who shoot, circulate and defend the hidden-camera videos say the films do much more than shock viewers. The videos obviously can have an immediate impact on how people shop, and what they put on the dinner table. But the videos also impact how workers, farms, factories, corporations and government regulators operate.

Seven years ago, a Humane Society of the United States investigation at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California, revealed workers using forklifts and chains to push and drag cows too sick to stand to the killing floor. Much of the meat from the slaughterhouse was for the National School Lunch Program. The undercover video pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to order the nation’s largest meat recall.

More recently, a Mercy for Animals investigation of an egg farm where dead chickens were rotting in cages with egg-laying hens prompted major retailers and restaurant chains to drop the supplier.

The full impact of the video from the Andrus Dairy in Wisconsin isn’t known. But quickly Great Lakes Cheese issued a statement of outrage and said it would no longer accept milk from the farm.

And Mercy’s investigation at the Wiese farm resulted in arrests and convictions of the animal abusers, as well as a corporate pledge of change. The Brown County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men for animal cruelty in connection with the Wiese video, and all four were convicted on multiple counts of animal cruelty and ordered to pay fines.

Mercy, in statements, praised the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office for “taking swift and decisive action in pursuing justice for these abused and exploited animals.”

The organization’s efforts in that case extended far beyond Wisconsin. At the time the footage was taken, Wiese Brothers supplied cheese to DiGiorno Pizza, owned by Nestlé. And Mercy called out the company for its association, with Mercy’s executive director Nathan Runkle saying in a news release, “No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate and neglect animals. Due to its complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards, DiGiorno has allowed a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”

Nestlé publicly deplored the abuse and, last January, announced changes in how it scrutinizes suppliers. “We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better,” a company statement read.

By August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had announced what Mercy called “the most comprehensive and far-reaching animal welfare policy of its kind.”

Nestlé vowed to eliminate many of the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse from its supply chain, including an end to:

• Tail docking and dehorning of dairy cattle.

• Castrating piglets without painkillers.

• Confining calves in veal crates, pregnant pigs in gestation crates and egg-laying hens in battery cages.

Nestlé also vowed to phase out pharmaceutical growth promoters for poultry.

Runkle, in a statement, said, “We are heartened that Nestlé not only took notice, but also took action after egregious cruelty was exposed at one of its dairy suppliers. Nestlé’s new industry-leading policy will reduce the suffering of millions of animals each year and hopefully inspire other food providers to implement and enforce similar animal welfare requirements.”

Opponents of the ag-gag laws say Nestlé’s response to the documented abuse at a dairy farm and to the U.S. government’s response to abuse and health and safety issues at the California slaughterhouse prove the value of whistleblowers and undercover investigations.

Still, animal welfare activists expect a dozen ag-gag bills to be introduced in state legislatures in the next two years.

On the web…

http://www.gotmisery.com

Studies showing the intelligence of farm animals fuel new campaign of reform and awareness

There’s extensive evidence that pigs are as smart and sociable as dogs. Yet one species is afforded affection and respect; the other faces mass slaughter en route to becoming bacon, ham and pork chops.

Seeking to capitalize on that discrepancy, animal-welfare advocates are launching a campaign called “The Someone Project”, which aims to highlight research depicting pigs, chickens, cows and other farm animals as more intelligent and emotionally complex than commonly believed. The hope is that more people might view these animals with the same empathy that they view dogs, cats, elephants, great apes and dolphins.

“When you ask people why they eat chickens but not cats, the only thing they can come up with is that they sense cats and dogs are more cognitively sophisticated than the species we eat – and we know this isn’t true,” said Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, the animal-protection and vegan-advocacy organization that is coordinating the new project.

“What it boils down to is people don’t know farm animals the way they know dogs or cats,” Friedrich said. “We’re a nation of animal lovers, and yet the animals we encounter most frequently are the animals we pay people to kill so we can eat them.”

The lead scientist for the project is Lori Marino, a lecturer in psychology at Emory University who has conducted extensive research on the intelligence of whales, dolphins and primates. She plans to review existing scientific literature on farm animals’ intelligence, identify areas warranting new research and prepare reports on her findings that would be circulated worldwide via social media, videos and her personal attendance at scientific conferences.

“I want to make sure this is all taken seriously,” Marino said. “The point is not to rank these animals but to re-educate people about who they are. They are very sophisticated animals.”

For Marino and Friedrich, who are both vegans, the goals of the project are twofold – to build broader public support for humane treatment of farm animals and to boost the ranks of Americans who choose not to eat meat.

“This project is not a way to strong-arm people into going vegan overnight but giving them a fresh perspective and maybe making them a little uncomfortable,” Marino said.

“Maybe they’ll be thinking, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know cows and pigs could recognize each other and have special friends,’” she said. “That might make them squirm a little, but that’s OK.”

The major associations representing chicken and pork producers are not pleased with the project. 

“While animals raised for food do have a certain degree of intelligence, Farm Sanctuary is seeking to humanize them to advance its vegan agenda – an end to meat consumption,” said David Warner of the National Pork Producers Council. “While vegans have a right to express their opinion – and we respect that right – they should not force their lifestyle on others.”

A pig’s life

Some researchers say pigs’ cognitive abilities are superior to 3-year-old children, as well as to dogs and cats.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a section on its website entitled “The Hidden Lives of Pigs,” which depicts them as social, playful and protective animals with a vocabulary of more than 20 different oinks, grunts and squeaks.

“Pigs are known to dream, recognize their own names, learn tricks like sitting for a treat and lead social lives of a complexity previously observed only in primates,” the website says. “Like humans, pigs enjoy listening to music, playing with soccer balls and getting massages.”

The website recounts news stories of pigs saving the lives of imperiled humans and saving themselves by jumping off trucks bound for slaughterhouses.

Treatment of pigs has been a political issue in several states due to efforts to pass laws banning the confinement of breeding pigs in gestation crates. In fact, the treatment of factory-farmed animals is so cruel and brutal that industrial farming corporations in some states actually have pressured lawmakers into passing laws making it illegal for activists to videotape abuse. Opponents say these “ag-gag” laws violate free speech, food safety and animal and worker rights.

For instance, a law in Iowa makes it illegal for investigative journalists and activists to take jobs at animal facilities for the purpose of recording undercover footage. The laws were enacted after videos were posted on the Web showing such horrors as workers kicking, beating and electrically torturing “down cows” – cows that are weakened  from sickness and starvation  or crippled from their long, overcrowded ride to the slaughterhouse.

“(Legislators) would recoil in horror if dogs and cats were subjected to the same conditions,” Friedrich said.

Bob Martin, a food systems expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said he developed an appreciation of pigs’ emotional complexity while serving recently as executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.

“Pigs in gestation crates show a lot of signs of depression,” he said. “When I went to a farm operation in Iowa where pigs were not confined, they came running up to greet the farmer like they were dogs. They wanted to interact with him.”

Bernard Rollin, a Colorado State University professor who teaches both philosophy and animal science, said he expected increasing numbers of meat-eaters to join the ranks of those demanding changes in the way pigs are housed at many large facilities.

“You have to have ideological blindness to think these animals are not intelligent,” Rollin said. “I hope we go back to an agriculture that works more with the animals’ biological and psychological needs and nature rather than against them.”

“The trouble is, we’re used to seeing them as herds,” he said. “You see 1,000 cows or pigs and think, ‘Oh, they’re all the same.’ But there are actually huge individual differences.”

According to Farm Sanctuary, cows become excited over intellectual challenges, chickens can navigate mazes and sheep can remember the faces of dozens of individual humans and other sheep for more than two years.

There is existing research suggesting that campaigns such as The Someone Project may make headway in influencing consumers.

In one recent study examining doubts that people might have about eating meat, University of British Columbia psychologists Matthew Ruby and Steven Heine concluded that the animal’s level of intelligence was the foremost concern.

Another recent study by university researchers from Australia and Britain concluded that many meat-eaters experience moral conflict if reminded of the intelligence of the animals they are consuming.

“Although most people do not mind eating meat, they do not like thinking of animals they eat as having possessed minds,” the researchers wrote in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Dena Jones, manager of the Animal Welfare Institute’s farm animal program, predicted that public awareness of farm animals’ intelligence would steadily increase, leading to more pressure on the farm industry from food retailers and restaurant chains.

“It’s the retailers who are going to force the industry to bring their practices into line with consumer expectations,” she said.

Louis Weisberg contributed to this article.

On the Web

HBO’s “Death on a Factory Farm”