On Monday, the USDA released a report in response to a front-page New York Times story detailing horrific animal abuse at the tax-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC). The report attempts to let USMARC off the hook for the needless pain and suffering imposed on countless animals and demonstrates that the USDA continues to be its own best rubber stamp.
The New York Times piece made clear that there were serious problems at USMARC, and in some ways, the report backs that up. It acknowledges that USMARC’s animal welfare oversight committee was not compliant with certain policies and procedures. Specifically, the animal welfare oversight committee didn’t know what its job was, didn’t adequately review or oversee animal research to ensure it was humane, and didn’t meet regularly to discuss animal welfare.
But while it’s laudable that the report calls out those problems, that’s where the accountability ends. Inexplicably, the report finds that despite widespread systemic flaws, life for the animals at USMARC is just hunky-dory and no suffering results from the complete lack of structure and welfare oversight. This conclusion defies common sense and contradicts what we saw in the New York Times piece.
While USMARC was charging ahead with animal experiments outside of compliance with its own policies, the agency was failing to notice or act. Meanwhile, federal funds were doled out to pay for these projects—including experiments that allowed hundreds of lambs to freeze to death in fields, “twinning studies” that retooled cows to have more twins even while the calves died at higher and higher rates, and “libido studies” where heifers were restrained and mounted by bulls, causing the death of at least one cow from her injuries. If not for courageous whistleblowers, who knows when or if the USDA would have investigated?
This cavalier attitude toward animal well-being simply wouldn’t be tolerated at any respectable research institution. The fact that these deficiencies exist 13 years after the USDA instituted a largely ignored policy on humane animal care and use demonstrates all too clearly where animal welfare lies on the USDA’s priority list.
Chicken Scratch is an ASPCA Blog feature that highlights interesting news about farm animals and farm animal welfare.
A new investigative piece by online media company Fusion brings us behind the normally closed doors of America’s chicken industry, thanks to one fed-up farmer. The six-part series, which can be viewed here, reveals the inhumane, unhealthy conditions that define modern poultry factory farming deeply affect farmers as well as birds. “Producers” like Craig Watts disagree with the way they are forced to raise chickens, but fear of retribution by the big poultry companies has kept them silent—until now.
When Fusion investigative correspondent Mariana Van Zeller enters one of Watts’ poultry sheds for the first time, she is struck by its size and the stench of ammonia. As Watts says, the math is easy enough: 30,000 birds in a 20,000-square-foot shed means each bird has less than one square foot of floor space. With nowhere to move and fast-growth genetics that leave them struggling to carry their own weight, many birds develop raw, open sores on their undersides from languishing in their own waste.
These conditions are designed for maximum profit for the poultry companies, but they have profound consequences on the well-being of animals and the farmers. The poultry industry estimates a 3-5% mortality rate in broiler chickens on farms. That means more than 260 million birds die before they go to slaughter each year.
Although large poultry companies set the birds’ living conditions and have created crippling breed traits, it’s the farmers who are responsible for culling the sick and deformed animals. When Van Zeller asks Watts how he feels having to euthanize so many birds every day, he responds that it is “disheartening on two levels. One, having to do this to a live animal. And two, that I know it’s going to hurt me financially.”
The ASPCA is committed to improving the lives of chickens raised on farms across this country. If you are concerned about this issue and want to request that products from healthier, more humanely raised animals be sold in your local stores, take action at TruthAboutChicken.org today.
This morning ASPCA President Matt Bershadker stood on Capitol Hill beside Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon as he introduced new legislation to end government-funded and -perpetrated cruelty to animals used in agricultural research. The Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act, H.R. 746/S. 388, comes in response to the gut-wrenching animal suffering revealed by The New York Times at USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Nebraska—a tax-payer funded facility that performs research to make meat production more profitable.
The AWARE Act would require animal agricultural research at federal facilities to meet the minimal standards for humane handling, care, and treatment in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The bill would prohibit the type of disregard for animal suffering that is clearly ingrained at the USMARC.
To date, the USDA has provided no explanation nor expressed any remorse for its treatment of the thousands of animals that have been starved, crushed, tortured or left to die painful deaths at the hands of its researchers. While it’s disappointing that the agency with primary enforcement authority for our federal animal welfare statutes—including the Animal Welfare Act, which H.R. 746/S. 388 would amend—behaves so atrociously toward the animals in its own care, we are grateful to have champions like House cosponsors Rep. Blumenauer and Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick working to right these wrongs. We are also grateful to Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey for introducing the Senate version of the bill and to Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the U.S. for helping us lead the charge.
The National Chicken Council calculates that about 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed this Sunday, February 1, when much of America will be watching the biggest football game of the year.
When you see a platter piled high with wings, remember that every pair of wings represents an individual chicken. Here’s what his life was probably like in today’s age of factory farming:
Could barely fly The chicken industry has bred chickens to be up to three times bigger than they used to be, but that weight means they often can’t walk without pain, never mind get off the ground easily. Slower-growing, healthier chickens can perch and even fly up into low branches of trees.
Couldn’t balance Some chickens are so incapacitated by their ungainly bodies that they have to use their wings for balance (like crutches) to shuffle to a source of food or water. The practice is sometimes called “wing walking.”
Could barely move Imagine a football field full of chickens, from one end zone to the other. This is what a typical industrial chicken shed on a factory farm is like: Tens of thousands of birds are packed into giant, windowless structures, living in their own waste. This causes open sores on their chests and feet that can act as gateways to infection. With often less than one square foot of floor space each, birds have no ability to perch, forage or even move easily.
It doesn’t have to be this way! The ASPCA’s Truth About Chicken campaign is encouraging companies to use more humane practices to finally address the suffering stemming from unnatural growth rates and poor conditions.
Guest blog by ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker
This week, The New York Times published a comprehensive investigation into deplorable animal treatment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), a sprawling complex of laboratories in Nebraska with the overarching mission to help meat producers make more money.
There, according to the Times’ exposé, newborn piglets are accidentally crushed to death by their mothers, who have been scientifically bred to give birth to unnaturally large litters. Weakened and deformed calves are born to cows “retooled” to have twins and triplets when they usually bear only one calf at a time. And lambs born in open fields were left to die excruciating deaths during an experiment to see if their mothers, normally dependent on human help, would nurture their babies despite severe weather and predators.
This barbaric animal “experimentation” is not only cruel, but wildly out of step with modern sensibilities and ethical standards. It’s even more appalling that such activities—conducted with the goal of helping a private-sector industry turn a higher profit—are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.
You’d think we’d have laws protecting animals from such abject abuse. But farm animals—both in agricultural research and in on-farm production—are indefensibly excluded from the Animal Welfare Act, which sets standards for other kinds of animal research.
The problem doesn't stop there. This research feeds a larger agricultural system that treats animals like widgets—constantly striving to produce more, bigger, faster—with little regard for their pain. According to the Times, most of the research at USMARC is being done to help beef, pork, and lamb producers make up for an increased consumer interest in alternatives, like poultry. But widespread cruelty and genetic manipulation to speed the process are also rampant in chicken production. Most chickens raised for eating are bred to grow so huge, so fast, that they can barely stand up. Many collapse under their own weight and spend much of their lives lying in their own waste, with open sores and wounds. That’s why the ASPCA is actively involved in improving those conditions.
It doesn't have to be this way. More humane alternatives are available, and consumers are demanding better. If we are to live up to the ideal of a humane society, Congress must close the legal loopholes that allow such abject suffering, consumers must vote with their wallets, and the animal agri-business industry must respond.
What You Can Do Now Please take action: Use the form below to tell Congress to pass the newly introduced AWARE Act, which would require agricultural research at federal facilities to comply with certain standards of the Animal Welfare Act.