USMARC Takes First Step; Leaps Needed for Positive Change
Earlier this week, the ASPCA visited USDA’s U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Nebraska—the subject of a stunning front page exposé in the New York Times that revealed a culture of cruelty and indifference toward animal suffering. Animal protection organizations met with USDA staff at USMARC for a frank conversation about the imperative to direct agriculture and agricultural research toward reducing animal pain and suffering, not just increasing profits for meat producers. This includes focusing on animal welfare as a primary research goal as well as incorporating animal welfare practices into profit-focused research projects. There should never be room, especially in research, for animal disregard.
While others may prefer to polarize and disparage (Nebraska’s governor told the Secretary of USDA that the meeting with animal protection groups was “a wasted” effort), those present at the meeting had more faith in the value of dialogue. During a day of open discourse, animal advocates—among them veterinarians, animal scientists, and farmers—provided constructive recommendations to USDA staff and laid groundwork for an ongoing exchange of ideas. We appreciate that USDA reached out beyond its usual audience of ag-industry stakeholders and received us with an open mind.
As taxpayer-funded research institutions, USDA facilities like USMARC have a responsibility to lead when it comes to animal welfare. Neither the agriculture industry nor the researchers whose work determines how agriculture is conducted can ignore the American public’s desire to minimize animal harm. Americans are sensitive to the suffering of farm animals and expect no less from their government-funded programs and from the companies and individuals that produce their food.
The shocking practices at USMARC would have remained hidden if not for courageous whistleblowers who endured great personal risk and consequence to expose the truth about cruelty. The New York Times story forced USDA to come to the table. We hope that the agency will continue to engage with our organization and not shy away from the hard questions and the hard work that lies ahead to improve animal welfare at USMARC. While we don’t expect the culture at USDA to change overnight, we see the diplomacy exhibited on Wednesday as a small step forward. We look forward to seeing if and how USDA will incorporate our feedback, with action as the true mark of progress.