This month nine states are considering legislation to criminalize the documentation of animal abuse on farms. “Ag-gag” or anti-whistleblower bills prevent the exposure of photos or video showing the unethical and often highly unsafe practices that all too often occur on industrial farms. This kind of evidence has recently led to cruelty prosecutions, massive food recalls and industry reform. The ASPCA is working hard to make sure these dangerous bills do not become law and you can help by reaching out to your representatives.
There is a reason that footage of farm animals is controversial. The vast majority of U.S. farm animals are raised on factory farms in filthy, overcrowded ammonia-filled sheds. They lead short lives full of suffering and frustration, are bred for unnaturally excessive growth and production, and are regularly dosed with antibiotics to compensate for their wretched surroundings. They also, way too often, are subject to cruel and depraved acts of violence.
The good news is that awareness of farm animal welfare is on the rise in all sectors: among consumers, farmers, legislatures, retailers, prosecutors and even food corporations. Better treatment of farm animals has simply become an ethical imperative, and the ASPCA is on the scene, educating the public, fighting for stronger laws and supporting more humane farming practices.
The findings of a dairy farm investigation were released last week, and they aren’t pretty. Video footage reveals workers beating, kicking, jumping on and shocking cows at Bettencourt Dairies, a major Idaho dairy. In one appalling scene, a cow, apparently unable to stand, is dragged by her neck with a chain attached to a tractor. Five Bettencourt employees have been fired and three face charges of animal cruelty.
As hard as the video is to watch, these acts of cruelty are sadly not unusual. With every new investigation released, we learn that cruelty is rampant on factory farms all around the country. Some of the cruelty comes in the form of obvious violations like in this recent investigation, while some is inherent in the standard practices of factory farming. Unsurprisingly, cruelty and cleanliness are often linked, and raise food and worker safety issues: This video showed extremely unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Farm investigations are one of the few tools animal advocates have to bring criminals to justice, and to pressure the food industry to adopt higher standards of animal welfare and food safety. Aware of the power of these videos, Big Ag lobbies to criminalize investigative workers and keep consumers in the dark. “Ag-gag” bills, introduced over the last few years in states around the country, attempt to make it a crime to document animal abuse on factory farms. Last year we fought hard to defeat these bills in many states. But this year will likely bring a fresh onslaught. Ag-gag bills will continue passing until every one of us stands up to the industry’s effort to block reforms for both consumer and animal welfare.
Guest blog post from Suzanne McMillan, ASPCA Director of Farm Animal Welfare.
Last week, we helped organize a Capitol Hill briefing alerting legislators to the animal welfare dangers of misusing antibiotics—something commonly done on factory farms. While antibiotics are essential for treating sick animals, they’re often given on farms to compensate for overcrowded, filthy and stressful conditions. The horrible living conditions, coupled with the overuse of medications, create an added threat of the animals contracting a superbug that can’t be treated with antibiotics.
The briefing was hosted by Representatives Slaughter and Schakowsky, two supporters of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) bill, which aims to tackle this problem. It was gratifying to see these Congress members, who have shown interest in the human health implications of antibiotics for quite some time, showcase the animal welfare impacts, too.
Because the chicken and turkey industries, in particular are notorious for keeping birds in horrific conditions, where they live in their own waste on the floors of sheds packed with tens of thousands of birds, the ASPCA brought farmer Frank Reese to the panel to address the use of antibiotics in poultry farming. Reese raises chickens and turkeys at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a farm that raises heritage (non-factory farm-bred) birds on pasture, allowing them to be true to their nature. Reese explained that, in contrast with factory farmers, he avoids subtherapeutic antibiotics by raising genetically healthy birds in a low-stress, spacious, pastured environment where they do not endure mutilations.
We will continue spreading the word about the dangers of raising animals by relying on subtherapeutic antibiotics, and we hope you will, too! Check whether your senators and Congress member are co-sponsoring PAMTA. If so, thank them; if not, urge them to!
Thumbs up to Rhode Island for enacting two critical measures to protect farm animals. The new laws ban the intensive confinement of veal calves and female breeding pigs and prohibit the inhumane tail-docking of cows.
"These two new measures are a significant step toward improving the lives of farm animals in Rhode Island, who all too often endure lives of agony and frustration on factory farms," says Suzanne McMillan, ASPCA Director of Farm Animal Welfare. "All animals, including those raised for food, deserve to be treated humanely."
S.2191/H.7180 prohibits two of the most horrible factory farming abuses: veal crates for calves and gestation crates for female breeding pigs. Veal calves and female breeding pigs on factory farms are often confined in crates so tiny that they are unable to lie down, stand up or turn around freely. Eight other states have already passed similar humane legislation, and 16 Rhode Island farms came forward in support of the state ban.
S.2192 prohibits the inhumane practice of "tail-docking" cows. This process involves the partial amputation—typically without pain killers—of up to two-thirds of a cow's tail. Despite claims from some in the dairy industry that tail docking is needed to help ensure cow cleanliness and udder health, the scientific evidence shows that tail docking creates no benefit to the cow or quality of milk produced. Instead, the practice causes cows pain and distress and often results in increased fly attacks. The American Veterinary Medical Association, theNational Milk Producers Federation, and numerous dairy industry representatives are highly critical of the practice and oppose routine tail docking of dairy cows.
"We thank Governor Chafee for protecting Rhode Island's animals from some of the worst factory farm abuses," says Debora Bresch, Esq., ASPCA Senior Director of Government Relations for the Eastern Region.
Guest blogpost from Suzanne McMillan, ASPCA Director of Farm Animal Welfare.
Last week, I attended a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board—the body that advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)on organic standards—to suggest stronger protections for animals living on organic farms. Animals who are raised organically are not necessarily raised humanely. In fact, many organic farms are still factory farms, often confining animals indoors using severe devices for most of their lives.
My efforts focused on the welfare of chickens, turkeys and ducks. Specifically, I asked the board to urge the USDA to adopt rules addressing some of the worst industry practices, including beak trimming, force feeding, crowding, failing to maintain clean air and unnaturally accelerating animals’ growth rates. Along with detailed written recommendations, I delivered a three-minute oral summary of our suggestions, which you can watch here: