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josh_balkJosh Balk is the outreach director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign, where he works with corporations to end their purchasing from factory farms that use the most intensive confinement devices, such as battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates. As part of HSUS’ “No Battery Eggs Campaign,” grocery stores, fast food chains, food service providers and hundreds of universities have moved away from buying and selling eggs from caged hens. Josh took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions regarding his activism, what brought him to the movement and how even one person can make a difference for animals.

 

What was your “a-ha” moment when you decided to go vegan?

I went vegan about eight years ago after watching the documentaries The Auction Block and Hope for the Hopeless. The first video is about the cruelty endured by dairy cows and other animals at livestock auctions and the second is about the battery cage-egg industry. Ironically, prior to coming to HSUS, I went on to work for Compassion Over Killing for three years, where I conducted undercover investigations, worked with Washington, DC, restaurants to add vegan items to their menu and did tons of vegan outreach to consumers. 

 

Could you describe the industry cruelties you saw in those two documentaries?

The Auction Block, filmed by Compassion Over Killing, is a behind-the-scenes look at several farm animal auctions where dairy cows, their calves and other animals are sold to the highest bidder, many times to factory farms and slaughterhouses. Inside the closed doors of auction houses, animals are often kicked, shocked with electric prods, dragged by their legs and beaten. I can’t imagine the confusion and fear they’re undergoing, especially the calves who only a short time earlier were taken away from their nursing mothers.

Hope for the Hopeless, another Compassion Over Killing documentary, shows what’s it’s like inside a giant egg factory farm where hundreds of thousands of hens are confined inside barren battery cages. These living, feeling beings are turned into egg-producing machines within an industrial assembly line. There’s little consideration for their welfare other than providing them water and food — the barest necessities to keep them alive for another day’s worth of production. They’re given so little space they can’t even spread their wings. It’s like forcing someone to live in an elevator with six other people for your entire life.

 

You’re well known in the movement for working with college campuses, getting their dining halls to buy cage-free eggs. Does that take up the bulk of your activism?

So far, more than 350 universities in the country have eliminated or reduced their use of battery eggs. While I’d love to take credit for this enormous success, most of the victories are due to the relentless and effective activists on college campuses I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.

That said, most of my time is spent working with major retailers, helping them move away from using the cruelest animal products and adding vegan items to their product line. Working with corporations to enact purchasing policies that help animals is one of the most effective things we can do for farm animals.

 

Can you explain what the Cage-Free Campus campaign is?

The Cage-Free Campus campaign is one of HSUS’ signature campaigns to help abolish battery cages. University cafeterias often use hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of eggs a year. Whether anyone likes it or not, this will be the case for the foreseeable future. The question is: Is it better that these eggs come from hens confined in cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives, or from hens living in a cage-free environment where they’re at least able to lay eggs in a nest, dust bathe, perch, flap their wings and walk? I think the answer is clear.

Of course, “cage-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “cruelty-free.” However, while cage-free hens can and do still suffer, it doesn’t mean we should ignore that the alternative for most major egg buyers, including universities, is eggs from caged hens who are given less space to live than a single sheet of paper. In other words, cafeterias aren’t likely to stop serving eggs anytime soon, but they may stop serving the cruelest types of eggs.

I think most animal advocates would agree that putting an end to battery cages would reduce an immense amount of animal suffering. It’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and force millions of hens we all know are going to be exploited to wait until a future utopia exists before they’re at least freed from the misery of battery cages. In order to so, we have to get major egg users in the country to stop buying eggs from these extreme confinement systems. 

 

You’ve also helped activists overseas working on the same goal. For example, Mahi Klosterhalfen has made some real progress for hens in Europe. Are you open to working with activists in other parts of the world to help them with cage-free campaigns?

Over the past few years I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best animal advocates from around the world. Mahi’s unbelievable work in Germany getting major retailers to end their sales of eggs from caged hens is a testament to his tenacious and effective activism. He’s one of the best activists the animals have; Compassion in World Farming is lucky have him run its German campaigns.

Up in Canada, Bruce Passmore has engineered a campaign that has resulted in numerous cities passing government resolutions opposing battery cages and has convinced some of the largest universities in the country to stop using battery eggs in their cafeteria.

And down in Australia, Kathleen Chapman is launching a veg commercial campaign similar to what Compassion Over Killing and Mercy For Animals have done in the U.S. This is after she got her university to be the first to switch away from battery eggs.

There’s no reason why others can’t duplicate the efforts of these dedicated individuals. I’d be more than happy to work with anyone from any part of the world on campaigns to help farm animals. Billions of animals suffer worldwide, and it’s going to take a global effort to win tangible advances for them.

 

What’s the best piece of activism advice you ever received?

Something I learned from many of my heroes in the animal protection movement is that I should make strategic decisions as an activist with the end goal being reducing as much animal suffering as possible. Since roughly 95 percent of animal exploitation in the U.S. goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms, I’ve made it may life’s mission to help those animals raised for food. You get the best bang for your activist buck, so to speak, by working to help farm animals.

The path I chose — corporate and university outreach ― isn’t the only way to help farm animals, but it’s the way I think I’m most effective. Others, like one of my heroes, Jon Camp from Vegan Outreach, give out tens of thousands of booklets every year to college students encouraging them to eat less meat as part of the Adopt-A-College program. Another hero of mine, Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League, is in the midst of transforming her hometown of San Diego into the most vegan-friendly, anti-factory farming city in the country. Whatever our interest or our skill set, there’s always something each of us can do to have a major impact in the lives of farm animals. 

 

Can you offer any parting advice to the individual activist who doesn’t work with an organization? Are there any simple things they can do to reach out to restaurants, for example, or approach their college?

The great thing about animal activism is that one person can make a tremendous difference. One way for students to get involved ― on the individual level ― is to meet with their dining director about moving away from using eggs from caged hens and/or add vegan options to the menu. There are numerous universities that have stopped serving battery-caged eggs and added vegan options because one student brought this issue to the attention of the dining staff.

For instance, at Georgetown University, just one student met with the director of dining, and only a few weeks later the entire university ended its support for battery-cage confinement and went exclusively cage-free. The university used one and a half million eggs a year, meaning that one victory led to improving the lives of literally thousands of animals. If someone is interested in doing this type of effort at his or her university, they should feel free to contact me at jbalk@hsus.org.  

For countless generations every spring, pregnant seals have gathered on the placid ice floes off the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence east of Quebec to give birth to their babies. And every spring, thousands of Canadian fishermen descend upon the helpless mothers and their newborn pups, bludgeoning, shooting, clubbing and skinning between 270,000 and 335,000 seals, depending on the quota set by the government. Most of the dead seals are only weeks old. The fishermen call this a “hunt,” yet the animals cannot hide or escape the armed fishermen, who simply walk up to the seals and kill them. As Paul Watson described it in his 2002 book Seal Wars, “The slaughter of the seals is an annual baptism of blood.” And it’s subsidized by the government.

Despite worldwide condemnation, Canada will proceed with its yearly massacre of seals in March. Last December, the Canadian government quietly passed new regulations regarding the slaughter. The new rules ban the use of the hakapik ― the spiked club that has come to symbolize the atrocity ― for killing any seal older than one year. Instead, the seals are supposed to be shot. The hakapik ban was an effort to placate the European Union, which proposed legislation in July that could prohibit the import of Canadian seal pelts and other products; a decision is expected in April. (Because it’s the European designers who set the fashion trends for the rest of the world, the belief is a ban on seal fur in the EU would doom the Canadian seal slaughter, even if seal products are allowed in Russia and elsewhere.)

Banning the hakapik was also meant to mollify animal activists. But Humane Society International’s Rebecca Aldworth, a Canadian who has long campaigned against the commercial “hunt” of seals, says removing the spiked club would actually increase the suffering of seals because seals who are shot during the hunt are often only wounded by the first bullet. Now sealers will have to cut open live, conscious animals, which Rebecca stresses is not only “an extremely cruel act,” but a violation of regulations.

I asked some animal protection groups around the world how they intend to campaign against Canada’s seal slaughter this year, and I’ll wrap this up with five things you can do to help.

 

Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC)

 

Animal Alliance of Canada is working with the Humane Society of the United States to get restaurants, grocery stores, “seafood” companies, chains, hotels, resorts and casinos not to purchase Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends permanently. “Fishermen are the ones who kill baby seals in their off season specifically for fur and leave their bodies to rot on the ice,” says Karen Levenson, director of AAC’s Canadian Seafood Boycott campaign. Karen says that to date, 5,000 restaurants, hotels, casinos, grocery stores and seafood companies have signed on to the campaign. 

AAC is also investigating claims made by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regarding the importance of the seal hunt. “During the seal hunt, we will be monitoring the media to ensure their reporting is unbiased and factual,” says Karen. “During previous seal hunts, journalists from Canadian Press who cover the seal hunt and work mostly in Newfoundland have reported very one-sided accounts and have included numerous statements by the DFO that were factually inaccurate.”

 

Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN)

 

“In March, as per every year, Animal Rights Action Network will be staging another high-profile demonstration to raise awareness of Canada’s seal hunt,” says ARAN’s founder, John Carmody. “We also have plans to release the 2009 slaughter footage from an international campaign group we are working with, plus we intend on doing a photocall [publicity event] outside the Canadian Embassy. Also this year we’ll be calling on Irish MEPs to ensure that the EU trade ban goes ahead and that the Irish Government shows their support for such a ban also.”

          John believes this is an issue everyone should be involved in. “I would suggest getting in contact with your local animal protection group to see what they are up to, or some of the main groups campaigning for an end to the seal slaughter like HSUS, IFAW, Sea Shepherd or Harp Seals.” He also recommends sending letters and emails to lawmakers in your country, voicing your opposition to the slaughter. “Of course,” he adds, “there’s no better way to highlight the killing than to organize a peaceful protest or photocall with the press — it works every time!”

 

Anti-Fur Society

 

“We are working with various groups, including one in Canada, on a campaign to convince EU parliamentary members to ban seal products to all European countries,” says Rosa Close of the Anti-Fur Society. “You may know well just how much Canadian authorities are working to have EU members vote against the ban. In fact, there is a Canadian delegation in Belgium right now doing all they can to stop the ban, and unfortunately, it seems that the EU is inclined to vote against a ban.

          “The European Parliament must hear from people all over the world so they may make at least some humanitarian requirements from the Canadian government. But, I am afraid things don’t look too promising.”

 

Campaigns Against The Cruelty To Animals (CATCA)

 

“CATCA has been busy doing high-level lobbying in Europe with the decision makers on this issue,” says the group’s president, Ericka Ceballos. “This year, we are waiting to see what happens for further action, but we sent several E-Campaigns on January 3rd for everybody to write to Ministers and MEPs crucial on the upcoming decision to be taken about the Resolution on the trade of seal products at the European Parliament and Council.”

CATCA has listed campaign information here.

 

Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

 

As part of its Protect Seals campaign, HSUS is encouraging consumers not to buy Canadian seafood until the seal slaughter ends. In addition to the 5,000 grocery stores and restaurants mentioned above, more than 600,000 individuals have pledged not to buy seafood from Canada since HSUS launched its boycott in 2005. The organization hopes the Canadian government will realize the economic impact of a fisheries boycott is too high a price to pay for the seal hunt.

 

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

 

“The International Fund for Animal Welfare has documented hundreds of criminal acts of cruelty in the seal hunt,” says Corrie Rabbe of IFAW-Canada. “Unfortunately, due to lack of enforcement of regulations, most serious acts of animal cruelty ever documented continue to go unpunished. To date, we have submitted video evidence of more than 660 probable violations of Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations — including the skinning of live seals — to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Not a single charge has been laid in response.”

          Corrie says that his year IFAW will continue to lobby European officials to put a ban on all seal products in place. “This is where most of our energies will be concentrated,” she says. “We will also be going out to monitor the hunt as we do every year so we can show officials our documentation and inform the public about what really happens. In addition, we will continue to conduct research and spread public awareness about this important issue.”

IFAW will continue their lobbying efforts across Canada, and Corrie says that this is where activists can be of great assistance. “IFAW believes that is it important that the Canadian government is aware of how strongly people feel about this issue, and for that reason we are asking supporters to let their views be known through writing letters and signing petitions.”

IFAW also has a site for community involvement.

 

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

 

Sarah Gawricki, assistant activist liaison, says PETA is still brainstorming what they’ll be doing to protest this year. In the meantime, though, Sarah suggests activists join PETA’s A-Team, which notifies members of upcoming events, demonstrations, breaking news and urgent alerts.

 

And Sea Shepherd?

 

Unfortunately, the group so well known for confronting Canada’s shameful “hunt” will not be engaged in any direct action against the seal slaughter this spring. “We intend to give the European Parliament the opportunity to end this atrocity through the implementation of a ban on all seal products,” reads a statement on Sea Shepherd’s Web site.

“Last year the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat was assaulted in international waters and two crewmembers, Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Netherlands and 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, were charged with approaching closer than a half a mile to a seal being slaughtered. The witnessing or documentation of a seal kill is considered a crime in Canada under the strange Orwellian name of the Seal Protection Regulations.

“The Canadian government still holds the Farley Mowat hostage although no charges have been laid against the ship and the two Sea Shepherd officers are scheduled to be tried in a Nova Scotia court in April 2009.”

Sea Shepherd is promoting the international boycott of Canadian “seafood” products as a means to strip the commercial seal hunt of all economic value and force it, by financial means, to end. (See #2 below.)

 

Yes, You CAN Help!

 

Here are 5 things you can do to help end the Canadian seal slaughter:

 

1. Write letters to Canada

 

Corrie Rabbe of IFAW-Canada recommends people write to both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, to express your disapproval of the annual slaughter:

 

The Honorable Stephen Harper                                  

Office of the Prime Minister                                         

80 Wellington St.                                                         

Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A2                                             

Fax: 613-941-6900                                         

Email address: pm@pm.gc.ca

Web site: http://pm.gc.ca/eng/default.asp                     

Fax: (613) 995-7858

 

The Honorable Gail Shea

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

House of Commons

441-S Centre Block
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A6

 

Be sure to mention you’ll be boycotting Canadian products until the annual slaughter is ended for good.

Canadian residents: Please write to your local MP on this issue. You can find out who this is from this Web site. For more tips on how to lobby your MP, please click here.

 

2. Boycott Canadian “seafood” and Red Lobster

 

If you eat fish, please boycott “seafood” from Canada and ask your family and friends to do the same. Boycotting Canadian seafood targets the very people who slaughter the seals, since it is the fishing industry that runs the seal “hunt” for off-season fishermen.

You can begin by not patronizing Red Lobster restaurants. Red Lobster is the number-one seafood restaurant in the U.S. and the world’s largest purchaser of Canadian seafood. Red Lobster purchases millions of dollars worth of Canadian seafood each year, including lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops and salmon ― animals caught by fishermen who also club and shoot baby seals or pressure the government for increased seal quotas. Despite repeated requests from animal protection organizations, Red Lobster refuses to join the boycott of Canadian seafood or take responsibility for their role in enabling the seal massacre to continue. You can learn more, and contact Red Lobster, through this link.

According to Sea Shepherd, the most optimistic estimated value of the seal hunt is $16 million; exports of seafood to the U.S. are about $3.3 billion; therefore, the seal hunt value is less than 0.48% of the value of exports to the U.S. If we can achieve just a 25% decline in the wholesale price in the U.S., that’s $825 million, or 51 times the value of the seal hunt.

“It is individual citizens who have the most power to make this campaign a success and also help us end the seal hunt,” says AAC’s Karen Levenson. “By using their purchasing power, and by letting the restaurants and grocery stores know when they do so, they can pressure companies to stop purchasing some or all Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends.”

 

3. Send letters to editors

 

The Letters page is one of the most highly read sections of newspapers and magazines, so a letter to the editor is one of the best tools animal activists have for making our message heard. You can send letters on the seal slaughter now, expressing your outrage; please do not wait until the killing begins this year. Click here for tips on writing letters.

 

4. Educate others

 

Unfortunately, many people believe that Canada banned the killing of seals for their fur years ago. Talk to family and friends about what is happening; let them know this is an ongoing issue that you’re concerned about. And don’t forget to post campaign information and undercover videos on MySpace, Facebook and other social-networking sites.

An auto-signature on your email is another great way to spread the word. You can include a link to one of the many organizations campaigning against the slaughter (a few are listed below), and you can encourage people to join the boycott of Canadian products and speak up for the seals!

You can also forward this post to others or link to it online.

 

5. Contact animal protection organizations

 

The killing of seals each spring in Canada is one of the few issues that animal rights, animal welfare and environmental groups all seem to agree must be stopped. Contact one or more of the following organizations to learn more on this issue, and, if they take contributions, consider making a donation to further their work on behalf of seals.

 

Animal Alliance of Canada

Animal Aid UK

Animal Rights Action Network

Anti-Fur Society

Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition

Campaigns Against The Cruelty To Animals

Harp Seals

Humane Society of the United States

International Fund for Animal Welfare

PETA

Respect for Animals

Scandinavian Anti-Sealing Coalition

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

 

Incidentally, the average Canadian agrees the carnage should stop. Last April, in a lengthy review of the economic impact caused by subsidizing the slaughter in the face of boycotts and the EU trade ban, Murray Teitel wrote in Canada’s leading business newspaper, The Financial Post: “Enough already. This is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. And the sealers? Sealers should prefer these monies be used to train them for jobs in the 21st-century economy, rather than to preserve them as relics of a hunter/gatherer one.” Nearly every Canadian who posted a response online supported an end to the slaughter.

 

Thank you for helping the seals!

Xinhua

Harp seal pup, Gulf of St. Lawrence. Photo: Xinhua

 

 

 

mahi_klosterhalfenIf you live in Europe, remember the name Mahi Klosterhalfen. Maybe you’ve already heard of him. From his home in Düsseldorf, Germany, Mahi has made incredible progress on behalf of egg-laying hens in just a few years. Though he’s had a little help from advocates in the U.S., Mahi is clearly an unstoppable activist who has set his sights high on behalf of animals. He now serves as German Food Business rep for Compassion in World Farming, and he’s the vice president of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation. Mahi and I exchanged emails over several days, resulting in this interview.

 

How and when did you become involved in animal activism, Mahi?

Three years ago I started listening to Erik Marcus’ podcast on Vegan.com, and he regularly reported on the great progress that the Humane Society of the United States’ Cage-Free Campus campaign was making. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with Josh Balk from HSUS to discuss how we could bring the campaign to German campuses. After negotiations with the director of dining and some signature gathering, the University of Düsseldorf quickly went cage-free. That got me hungry for more, and I started coaching students all over the country. By now 15 percent of German campuses have gotten rid of cage eggs, and we hope to keep that number growing quickly. These successes have caught the attention of Compassion in World Farming and Germany’s Albert Schweitzer Foundation, and I was soon able to start a professional career as an animal protectionist. 

 

Wow, you really jumped right in. Erik and Josh have inspired me, too.
I owe a lot to these guys, but they are both too humble to admit that.

 

Were you vegan before you started listening to Erik’s podcast?
Yes, for a couple of weeks. I read Gandhi’s autobiography and became a vegetarian. Two months later, I figured that I didn’t want to support the veal industry or the killing of male chicks, either. [Male chicks are of no value to the egg industry and are killed shortly after hatching.] Erik was the one to convince me that getting involved is more important than finding out whether the glue of my postage stamps contained any animal products. He also got me thinking about how to become as effective as I could possibly be. I read Meat Market and picked up a copy of Ethics Into Action right afterward because I was curious why Erik said that Peter Singer hadn’t written a more important book so far. Erik was right: Henry Spira’s approach immediately defined the way I think about activism, and his lessons probably are the most valuable asset I can add to the German movement.   

 

What was it about Henry Spira’s approach that inspired you, and how have you applied what you learned from him into your own activism?
It was highly motivating to see what a single person can accomplish with a smart approach.  It was important for me to understand that decision-makers who don’t immediately follow my suggestions are not automatically my opponents. Executives, for example, are mostly interested in revenues and profits; that’s their job. It’s our job to convince them that acting on welfare issues will pay off sooner or later — and there are usually more elegant methods of persuasion than threatening to launch a campaign. Just recently an executive told me he decided to work with us because he felt that we had an understanding of what’s feasible for his company and what’s not. Internalizing Henry Spira’s lessons on what’s possible on a cooperative level certainly opened a lot of doors and took my activism to another level.

 

Speaking of which, what does a German Food Business rep do?

My job is to introduce Compassion in World Farming’s Good Egg Awards to Germany and Austria. We’re giving European companies and institutions the chance to show that they are market leaders when it comes to improving the lives of the 300 million laying hens who are kept on this continent. So I spend a lot of time convincing CSR [corporate social responsibility] and PR people that it’s important to change their companies’ purchasing policies regarding eggs. I’m also in touch with politicians, asking them to support the awards. The Austrian government is very keen on doing so, as it has just outlawed the production of cage eggs and now thinks of ways to keep imports of such eggs at a minimum.

I like this kind of work because it’s about building positive relationships and because it’s highly effective. So far our winners have helped 15 million hens out of their cages, and we’re planning to double this figure in 2009.

 

With 300 million laying hens, the European continent has about the same amount as the U.S. About how many of those 300 million hens are in battery cages?
Around three-quarters of them are housed in battery cages. But that number is steadily declining thanks to consumers and businesses making more compassionate choices. In Germany, for instance, we ― the Albert Schweitzer Foundation ― and several other animal protection groups have just convinced the entire retail sector to stop selling cage eggs. This huge victory turned the German egg market upside down, and it sends a very strong message to egg producers all across Europe. I don’t see why anybody would want to invest in cages nowadays, and even if they do, it’s getting harder and harder to find a bank willing to give loans for an investment that is so reactionary.

 

You say the Austrian government supports the Good Egg Awards; what about Germany’s politicians?
That very much depends on the party and the individual politician. It’s safe to say that our current government isn’t the most animal-friendly one we’ve ever had, but there signs that it is starting to take animal-issues more seriously, so I do keep my hopes up.

 

What information do you use when you coach students and approach campuses about not buying eggs from caged hens? Did HSUS provide you with literature, or did you have to create your own?

Josh and I figured that the situation in Germany differs so significantly from how things are in the U.S. that I should use my own material. Over here, everybody knows that hens are kept in cages so small they can barely move and that this is a bad thing. Even so, a lot of Germans are slow to make purchasing changes. Groups like Vegan Outreach show that the situation in the U.S. tends to be the other way around: people oftentimes do not to know about factory farming, but they have a much stronger tendency to reduce their support for such farming methods once they find out about them.

We don’t use any materials when we approach the directors of dining. They’ve already seen the pictures of hens crammed into cages. We just have to convince them that cage-free eggs are safe and that students are more than willing to pay a couple of extra cents per egg. This can be quite tricky as the cage lobby has successfully spread the rumor that the risk of salmonella and other infections is a lot higher when you use cage-free eggs.

Independent science, however, comes to the conclusion that the opposite is true. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of reasons why some directors of dining hesitate to make the switch ― and a much longer list that shows why they don’t have to worry about these things. So whenever something comes up, my friends will know how to respond kindly and convincingly.

 

That’s a smart move. Does your activism involve any animals other than laying hens?
Mostly laying hens for now, but this is bound to change during the next months. The EU Pigs Directive is due to be reviewed this year, and we’ll do our best to let European politicians know that the time is ripe to significantly improve the conditions these highly intelligent creatures have to endure. 

I also cannot stand the fact that 30 millions rabbits are raised and slaughtered every single year in Germany without any protection by our law. We’ll try to work with the legislative and the retail sector in order to stop the worst cruelties.

Finally, Germans will be given the opportunity to vote on the state, national and European level this year. Every single party ― we have lots of them ― claims to care deeply for animals, and it’s our job to educate the public about who takes this statement seriously and who doesn’t. 

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is reporting (complaining, actually) that donations to some of the world’s largest animal rights and animal protection organizations have gone up.

 

According to a study carried out by this coalition of agribiz producers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry and retailers, “In 2008, there appeared to be an increase in well-funded animal rights activities directed at animal agriculture…. In 2007, the latest reporting period available for review, charitable donations to animal rights groups rose 11%, providing activist groups funds to develop activities such as California’s Proposition 2, undercover video operations, legislative initiatives and legal actions. Donations to the extremist People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its subsidiaries increased 11%.”

 

“Much of this increased funding is attributed to donors who are not fully aware of the anti-animal use campaigns of many of these groups,” said Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Alliance. “It’s unfortunate many portray themselves as mainstream and working to improve animal care, yet their funding is primarily spent on campaigns to ban or restrict essential uses of animals such as being raised for food or for research to find cures for diseases.”

 

Donations to Humane Society for the United States (HSUS), the largest animal rights activist group in the U.S., remained about the same as last year when including subsidiary organizations the Fund for Animals and Doris Day Animal League.

 

On the international front, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) increased its donations by 80%, displacing PETA as the third-largest activist group targeting modern animal agriculture.

 

Total donations to the most significant domestic and international animal rights groups reached nearly $330 million in 2007. “This level of funding will only improve the ability of animal rights groups worldwide to continue their multi-dimensional efforts attacking animal agriculture and other animal use businesses,” says an editorial on AgWeb.com.

 

So, if you can afford to donate to an animal rights or animal protection organization this year, please do so. Let’s keep animal abusers on the run.

If you’re into animal rights/animal welfare, have an idea for activism you’re dying to share and love speaking in front of hundreds of people, you’ve come to the right place.

 

The organizers of Taking Action for Animals, one of the largest conferences in the animal advocacy movement, are looking for workshop ideas for this summer’s event. Proposals for “creative, relevant, and innovative workshops that will give attendees the tools to take action for animals” are being accepted until January 16 using this form.

 

The conference will be held July 24-27, 2009, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.

 

Opportunities are limited, and not every proposal can be accepted. The Humane Society of the United States says it will be selecting workshop topics and speakers at its sole discretion and may reject a proposal for any reason.

 

Speakers receive complimentary conference registration; however, financial assistance is not available for speakers’ travel or hotel expenses, says HSUS.

This is the first in a series of postings about books animal activists can learn a lot from. These won’t be reviews, per se, but musings on why such books are relevant to the movement and important for activists to know.

 

Generally, when someone mentions “animal rights books,” we think of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, or perhaps one of Tom Regan’s books. Such works are worth reading, of course, but there is a wealth of other books that deserve attention.

 

I’m going to begin with a book that came out just last year: Why Animals Matter: The Case for Animal Protection by Erin Williams and Margo DeMello, two extremely experienced and dedicated animal advocates.

 

why_animals_matter_medium_rwcz1I met both Erin and Margo about four years ago at a fundraiser for the House Rabbit Society (HRS), and since then I’ve followed with great interest their activism and writing endeavors. Margo is a longtime writer, scholar and animal advocate as well as a nationally known expert on rabbit behavior. In fact, her book Stories Rabbits Tell (which she co-authored with Susan Davis) is a must-read for anyone who lives with rabbits or is interested in these often-misunderstood creatures. Margo worked as the director of HRS, and today she combines her volunteer work for this group with work for two other nonprofits: Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary in California and Prairie Dog Pals in New Mexico. Oh, and she also teaches sociology, cultural studies and anthropology at Central New Mexico Community College.

 

You’ll find Erin Williams at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), where she puts her sunny personality and polished writing skills to work as communications director for HSUS’ Factory Farming Campaign. (She was part of the HSUS team that helped usher California’s Prop 2 into existence.) A former 4-H student, Erin grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois, where she helped raise countless animals but refused to sell them at the end of the season; instead, she found homes for them or they stayed on the farm. One animal, however, made an especially powerful impression upon her: a cow named Zelda. Zelda was a Brown Swiss who was unable to conceive and so she could not lactate, which is a liability on a dairy farm. Sadly, Zelda was slaughtered, and Erin didn’t find out until a week later. Soon after, she stopped eating meat. Among her work for animals, Erin has also been a wildlife rehabilitator, a campaign director and a shelter director for HRS.

 

I offer this background on Erin and Margo to emphasize that these women have a tremendous amount of knowledge and real-world experience to offer readers; they aren’t simply journalists reporting on what others are doing.

 

As I re-read Why Animals Matter for this post, I was struck by how comprehensive this book is. It is divided into sections covering animals used as food, game and pests, clothing, research tools, companions (yes, the pet industry contributes to animal abuse) and amusement. I was also impressed by the tremendous effort it obviously took to research so much information and present it in a straightforward manner: Despite the overwhelming amount of animal abuse covered within its 405, well-documented pages, Why Animals Matter remains a remarkably accessible book, inviting all readers to consider how the institutional abuse of animals has impacted not only the their lives, but our planet and human health.

 

Although the book covers nearly every animal cruelty you can think of, the Animals As Food section is by far the largest, and for good reason. As Erin and Margo explain, “Of all the ways that humans exploit animals, the suffering endured by animals at the hands of the meat, egg, and dairy industries is the worst by any order of magnitude. The number of animals who we hunt, experiment on, wear as fur, use for entertainment, or abandon at shelters is but a tiny fraction of the billions of animals who we kill for food each year.”

 

Sidebar stories told throughout the book highlight animals’ ability to recover from abuse and learn to accept care from compassionate humans. There’s Jacob, the Holstein calf who had fallen off a transport truck and now lives at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary; there’s Blue Boy, a nilgai whose broken horn saved his life, since it made him less desirable to trophy hunters; and there’s Timber, a mixed-breed shepherd-malamute who went from a lonely existence chained in a backyard to a life of luxury with a new, loving family. The story of Lucy (formerly Lucky) the rabbit had a special impact on me:

 

At first glance, Lucky seems similar to most other rabbits. Petite and curious, she enjoys the company of people as well as her two rabbit companions, and she always welcomes a treat. What makes Lucky distinctive is that, despite surviving a horrible act of cruelty, she has not lost her trust in people.

 

In 2004 Lucky’s owner, Nick, duct-taped her to a quarter-stick of dynamite and threw her into a California lake. The fuse did not detonate, and Nick and his friends retrieved her from the lake. Shockingly, the young people debated whether to relight the fuse. They also documented their efforts to blow her up, placing photos of the bedraggled and terrified rabbit online.

 

Soon afterward, a House Rabbit Society (HRS) rescue volunteer saw the images and alerted authorities. Officers rescued Lucky and released her into the care of the organization. After providing her with medical and foster care for three weeks, HRS adopted her to Rachel Hess, an experienced rabbit guardian. Now named Lucy, she lives with a permanent, loving family, including two other rabbits, Abigail and Benny, who play with her during the day and snuggle with her at night. Rachel notes that when she and her husband first adopted Lucy, she was the “beta” female bunny to Abigail’s alpha bunny. But Lucy exerted herself and is now the alpha female. All three bunnies are still bonded and they cuddle and groom, but Lucy definitely is the lead bunny. She knows she is home, she is loved, and she has a permanent family.

 

If you haven’t read Why Animals Matter: The Case for Animal Protection yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. Better yet, pick up a few: this is an ideal book for compassionate family and friends, and gift-giving season is right around the corner. You’re not likely to find a better or more comprehensive treatise on the topic of animal exploitation anywhere.

 

 

 

Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have promised their daughters that win or lose in November, they are getting a dog.

The Clintons had Socks. The Bushs have Barney. The tradition of a First Dog or First Cat goes all the way back to George Washington, who had more than 30 hounds.

The American Kennel Club is offering to help the Obamas find a dog, but most animal advocates would like to see them rescue a companion animal. “With 3 to 4 million dogs and cats killed in public and private shelters, there are many lives to be saved, and the simple act of giving a home to a dog who might have faced euthanasia would do wonders for the cause of adoption from shelters,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

 

Please contact Barack Obama and urge him to consider adopting a dog from a shelter or breed rescue group.

 

The Honorable Barack Obama

John C. Kluczynski Federal Office Building, Ste. 3900

230 South Dearborne

Chicago, IL 60604

Email

 

Update: The Obama family has announced they plan to adopt a dog. Thanks to everyone who contacted the Obamas to voice your support of rescuing an animal from a shelter vs. buying from a pet store.


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