As Big Ag continues its efforts to conceal the truth about how animals suffer on factory farms, the ASPCA and advocates continue our counterattack to protect the public’s right to know what goes on there.
"Ag-gag" bills, conceived and pushed by the agricultural industry to criminalize undercover investigations on factory farms, have been introduced in nearly half of all U.S. states. These measures are intended to silence factory farm whistleblowers—removing protection from vulnerable animals who need it and giving it to powerful corporations who hide behind it.
Last week, we launched #OpenTheBarns, a rallying cry of advocates representing interests as diverse as animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, environmental protection, and civil liberties.
On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media avenues, groups like Food and Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and the National Consumers League are sharing their reasons to #OpenTheBarns.
Because food workers fill our plates, and they deserve a voice #OpenTheBarns
Even some farmers are part of the movement, because those who have nothing to fear have nothing to hide. They include Maryland’s Carole Morison, the whistle-blowing chicken farmer who was featured in the documentary Food Inc.; Georgia farmer and American Grassfed Alliance vice president Will Harris; and Oregon farmer and Socially Responsible Agriculture CEO Kendra Kimbiraskas.
Average Americans are also speaking their minds, because these issues matter to them. In a 2012 poll, 94 percent of the American public agreed that "from every step of their lives on a farm, farm animals should be treated in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain and suffering possible." In the same poll, 71 percent of American adults said they support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent opposed making such investigations illegal.
In a 2014 poll, 81 percent of consumers said that chickens—the farm animals most often raised for food—should be humanely raised. That alone covers 9 billion animals.
Celebrities and Members of Congress are also adding their voices to the dialogue, including Portia de Rossi, Martha Stewart, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
One reason this alliance is so large is that animal abuse isn’t the only unethical activity Big Ag is trying to keep secret. Documented investigations of factory farms have revealed unsafe conditions that endanger workers, shoddy food safety practices that put consumers at risk, and practices that ravage our environment. Ag-gag legislation can even shield puppy mills, which can fall under the category of “agricultural activity” in some states.
Whistleblower revelations play an important part in reforming corrupt institutions. Decades of undercover investigations—the very kind these ag-gag laws are trying to suppress—have led directly to critical milestones including the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual establishment of the federal Food and Drug Administration. They have also led to reform in corporate practices and criminal liability.
A broad coalition of advocates, including the ASPCA, has helped defeat more than two dozen ag-gag bills to date. Despite this, Big Ag is showing no signs of letting up. There’s just too much money to be made.
In the first few months of the 2015 legislative session, ag-gag laws have been introduced in nine states, most recently North Carolina, where ag-gag proponents are making their third try in three years.
We have to keep fighting these laws and exposing their motives, for the welfare of the animals, but also for our right to know the ultimate price truly being paid for the food on our plates.
So please add your own voice to the #OpenTheBarns campaign, and tell the agricultural industry that animal cruelty—anywhere, for any reason—demands sunlight, not secrecy.
We think people who report animal abuse should be applauded, not prosecuted. But in states across the country, "ag-gag" billshave been introduced to criminalize the exposure of illegal, unethical and dangerous activities taking place on industrial farms.
If people can’t speak out about what they see in factory farms, horrific animal abuse, food safety problems, and environmental and human rights violations may go undiscovered and uncorrected. Some of these laws can even shield puppy mill operators from prosecution!
We don’t think Americans should be kept in the dark, and we need your help to take a stand against these dangerous laws.
Help us generate 10,000 social media posts against ag-gag by visiting aspca.org/openthebarnsand sharing one of our images along with the hashtag #OpenTheBarns. Then sign our pledge to be an Open Barns Advocate and we’ll keep you informed on more ways you can take action.
Yesterday 13 organizations representing food safety, organic consumers, and animal welfare joined the ASPCA in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve care standards for animals raised under the USDA’s National Organic Program (any animal used to produce products sold with the “USDA Organic” seal).
The Organic Program’s current animal welfare rules are far too lax. A 2014 survey [PDF] commissioned by the ASPCA found big gaps between consumer expectations and USDA requirements when it comes to things like space and outdoor access for the animals it calls organic. The ASPCA has sought better welfare for USDA Organic animals for years, and we now have a unique opportunity: The USDA will be revisiting its rules this year!
With this joint letter to the Secretary of Agriculture [PDF] we’ve made clear that the organic label needs to start meeting its obligations to both animals and consumers. The USDA’s National Organic Program has an obligation to ensure strong animal welfare.
We will continue working on this issue in the coming months and will let you know how you can help with this important effort!
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.