Guest blog post from Suzanne McMillan, ASPCA Director of Farm Animal Welfare
On March 22, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must address the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. The fact is, factory farms feed drugs like those in the penicillin family to animals even when they’re not sick. The drugs are used to speed up the animals’ growth and compensate for their unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, which are major breeding grounds for illnesses. Indeed, the same drugs that we take when we are sick are routinely fed to healthy animals!
The FDA Fails to Protect More than 30 years ago, the FDA first discovered the overuse of antibiotics creates drug-resistant bacteria that can spread to humans and cause hard-to-treat illnesses. So far, the FDA has failed to follow through on its findings. This new ruling will now require the FDA to withdraw its existing approvals for routinely using penicillins and tetracyclines on farm animals unless the farming industry provides evidence that their use does not threaten human health.
Did You Know…? Almost 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to food animals. In addition to its impact on animal welfare, the misuse of antibiotics also affects our own lives. If we want to keep antibiotics working for us, we must keep industrial farms from abusing them. The ASPCA applauds this recent court decision—not only for human health, but also in hopes that it will help ensure cleaner, more humane living conditions for animals on farms.
Americans overwhelmingly believe that food from our farms should be safe to eat and that farm animals should not be abused for its production. So it is disturbing that legislators in a number of states throughout the country are considering—and passing—legislation known as “Ag-Gag” bills that would cripple the ability of investigators to expose animal abuse and food safety concerns. Many Ag-Gag bills criminalize taking photos or videos on farms to expose problems such as animal cruelty, environmental and labor violations, and other illegal or unethical behavior. Simply put, Ag-Gag legislation poses a danger to the American public as well as to animals.
Four years ago, undercover video led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history. The video, taken at Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, California, revealed workers at the slaughter plant kicking sick cows, ramming cows with the blades of a forklift, and torturing crippled cows to force them to walk to slaughter. In that case, the slaughterhouse that was shut down was also the second largest beef supplier to the National School Lunch Program, so these irresponsible and inhumane acts endangered the health of scores of American schoolchildren.
Legislators bent on suppressing exposés through the passage of Ag-Gag legislation are not only harming animals, but putting all of us—including our children—in jeopardy by preventing our access to critical information about our food supply. They also threaten our constitutional rights by stifling dissemination of information and chipping away at our First Amendment protections.
It’s ironic when you think about it. The individuals targeted by Ag-Gag laws are not the criminals who are beating or stabbing animals (as seen on some undercover videos). Instead, the bills would punish the whistleblowers, the people who dare to lift the veil on these oft-hidden cruelties. The language in the bills varies somewhat state to state, but in many cases the penalties for exposing cruelty may be harsher than those for the actual commission of cruelty. In a number of states the proposed legislation would prevent documenting not only the abuse of farm animals, but also could prohibit investigations of puppy mills and dog racing.
Lawmakers who support Ag-Gag bills do so because they are accommodating the agribusiness lobby, not because it is in the interest of their constituents. In fact, a recent national poll by Lake Research Partners found that 71% of Americans support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms.
According to the Lake Research poll, opposition to Ag-Gag legislation is steadfast across demographic, geographic and partisan lines. A majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree that banning undercover investigations is wrong. Likewise, a majority of respondents in all regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West) oppose the criminalization of undercover investigations at farms. No matter the demographics, Americans don’t want to be deemed criminals for exposing wrongdoing.
Twenty-seven national organizations and experts—from animal welfare groups to civil liberties, public health and workers’ rights associations—have united to oppose Ag-Gag bills. These groups, including the ASPCA, have signed a letter stating, in part:
. . . These bills represent a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the United States. Not only would these bills perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms, they would also threaten workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply. We call on state legislators around the nation to drop or vote against these dangerous and un-American efforts.
Ag-Gag laws are an affront to many values Americans hold dear. If you live in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee or New York, you should be especially concerned since Ag-Gag laws are now pending in your state legislatures. Please contact your legislatorsto let them know that Ag-Gag laws are dangerous for people and animals.
Can we all agree that confining dogs in small cages for 20 to 23 hours a day, almost every day, is cruel?
True, this confinement doesn’t meet legal definitions of cruelty, but, legal or not, most of us who love dogs know that this is wrong. Yet this is the way of life for the thousands of greyhounds who are forced to race in this country’s greyhound industry.
Greyhound racing only occurs in seven states, with the majority of greyhound tracks located in Florida. This week, GREY2 USA, with funding from the ASPCA, released a report detailing the horrific conditions racing greyhounds are subject to in Florida. You can access a copy of the report here [PDF].
Racing greyhounds are in their cages nearly all the time. They are fed “4-D” meat, which means meat that comes from dying, diseased, disabled and dead livestock deemed unfit for human consumption. Their owners feed them this raw meat simply because it is the cheapest available, and they don’t even bother to cook it to destroy the bacteria.
Florida does not require its greyhound racing facilities to report injuries to the public, but we have documentation of dogs with broken legs, backs and skulls; dogs who have died of seizures after racing; dogs who have died of heart attacks; and a dog who was electrocuted. Racing dogs have repeatedly tested positive for drugs such as cocaine.
While the dogs suffer every day as part of this industry, few people even seem to notice. Attendance at greyhound races has dramatically declined through the years, and tracks actually lose money on the dogs. But since Florida law won’t permit dog track owners to continue gambling operations at those tracks unless those tracks hold dog races, the races continue.
Two bills (HB 641 and SB 382) are pending in Florida that would remove the requirement that dog tracks offer live greyhound racing in order to also offer card games or slots. If you live in Florida, please contact your legislators to ask them to support this legislation.
Most Americans strongly oppose the use of battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates to cruelly confine animals on factory farms—and so does the ASPCA. We are proud to announce that we will be joining a growing list of animal welfare, family farming, food safety and environmental groups in support of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act to end the extreme confinement of egg-laying hens in Washington.
Nearly six million egg-laying hens in the state of Washington are forced to spend their entire lives crammed in small wire cages with less space than a sheet of paper to live. If passed, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would require that egg-laying hens have enough room to turn around and extend their wings. The measure would also make the sale of eggs from battery cage facilities illegal.
“Intensive confinement of factory farm animals is not only inhumane, but also harmful to public health and the environment,” says Matt Bershadker, Senior Vice President of Anti-Cruelty at the ASPCA. “We hope that efforts such as the one in Washington will continue to spread across the country, and that the cruel practices of factory farms will be a thing of the past.”
If approved by voters, the measure will take effect in 2018, giving producers more than six years to transition to more humane housing systems.
Take Action! You can make a difference in the lives of millions of battery hens by supporting the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in any way you can. If you're a Washington resident, please visit www.humanewa.com for more ways you can get involved and help transform your state into a leader in humane farming.
On June 1, the ASPCA joined a coalition of animal welfare advocates, veterinarians, family farmers and environmental organizations in support of a citizen-backed ballot initiative to help prevent cruel factory farming practices in the state of Ohio. The coalition, Ohioans for Humane Farms, is asking the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to implement minimum care standards, including the humane euthanasia of sick and injured animals, a prohibition of cruel confinement practices, and the prevention of sick and injured animals from entering the food supply. Similar laws have already been enacted in Michigan, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine and Oregon.