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Ansel. Photo by Tara Baxter

Ansel. Photo by Tara Baxter

My calendar says it’s International Rabbit Day, so what better time to remind you of the many ways you can help these remarkable animals? Despite being one of the most popular companion animals in the country, rabbits are among the most exploited.

Domestic rabbits—cherished for their playful, gentle natures—are skinned for their fur, blinded to test cosmetics, bred for show, drugged for science, clipped for wool products, pulled out of magicians’ hats, killed in vivisection labs, sold as food for pet snakes, and raised and shipped by breeders. To add insult to all this injury, we chop off their paws and tout the rabbit’s foot as a “good luck” charm.

So here are 10 things you can do—and not do—to make their lives a little better.

1. Adopt, Don’t Shop. If you decide a rabbit is right for you, adopt one from a local animal shelter or the House Rabbit Society rather than buying one. You’ll save a life and discourage rabbit breeding.

2. Make Companion Rabbits Part of Your Family. Don’t relegate a rabbit to a backyard hutch or cage. These are affectionate, playful animals who deserve to live with you indoors, where they are safe from predators and inclement weather.

3. Don’t Buy Clothing or Accessories Made from Rabbits. Or any other animal. That means no rabbit-fur hats, no angora sweaters, no fur-trimmed coats, no leather—you get the idea.

4. Treat Wild Rabbits with Kindness. Free-living bunnies mowing through your vegetable garden or digging holes in your backyard? Please use humane methods to deal with them, such as these compassionate suggestions from the Humane Society of the United States.

5. Ask Your Market Not to Sell Them. You may be aware that Whole Foods Market recently announced it was going to stop selling bunnies in their meat cases. While this is great news, other stores still offer bunny meat. If the market where you shop does, fill out a customer comment card or speak directly with the manager and ask that they stop selling rabbits.

6. Don’t Patronize Restaurants That Serve Bunny Meat. Better yet, ask them to stop.

7. Don’t Buy Products Tested on Rabbits. No law requires it, but many U.S. companies routinely “safety test” their cosmetics and other household products on rabbits and other animals. Corrosive chemicals are dripped into their eyes, toxic compounds already known to be fatal to humans are pumped into their stomachs, caustic irritants are rubbed into their skin, or they may be subjected to an assortment of other unspeakable tortures that result in a painful death. Look for the Leaping Bunny label. In fact …

8. Support the Humane Cosmetics Act. Ask your U.S. Representative to support H.R. 2858, the Humane Cosmetics Act, which will prohibit animal testing for all cosmetic products manufactured or sold in the United States.

Photo by Tara Baxter

Photo by Tara Baxter

9. Volunteer at Your Local Shelter. There is plenty to do: Socialize the rabbits, clean their cages, bring them hay and veggies, and do whatever they need to keep them healthy and happy and to make them more adoptable. (You may need to attend a training session with the shelter staff in order to be a shelter volunteer.) Check out these tips from the House Rabbit Society for more information about volunteering.

10. Support Rescue Nonprofits. There are so many wonderful rabbit groups out there, and they all need your support, either as a donor, volunteer, or bunny foster parent. Some of my favorites include the House Rabbit Society, Rabbit Haven, Rabbit Rescue, Rabbitron, SaveABunny (from whom I adopted all my rabbits), Special Bunny, and Zooh Corner. Check Google for a group near you, or ask the House Rabbit Society for the closest chapter in your area.

 

Note: If you like the photos that accompany this post, you’ll love the Tallulah & Rabbit Friends Facebook page, maintained by Tara Baxter.

white-rabbitTwo important comments have long been made about testing cosmetics on animals in the United States. The first is that it is an extremely cruel practice responsible for the torture and death of countless rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals.

The second is that no federal law requires it. (Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, cosmetics companies are prohibited from manufacturing and marketing misbranded or adulterated products, and they are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before those products reach the market. It does not say products must be tested on animals.) Nevertheless, manufacturers are encouraged to conduct whatever toxicological tests they believe are appropriate to substantiate the safety of their products. Thus, in an effort to cover their assets in the event of a lawsuit, companies subject conscious animals to an extensive range of painful “safety tests” in which corrosive chemicals are dripped into their eyes, toxic compounds already known to be fatal to humans are pumped into their stomachs, caustic irritants are rubbed into their skin, or an assortment of other unspeakable tortures that result in a painful death.

We can now add a third comment about testing cosmetics on animals in the US: Banning it might be just around the corner.

This week, a federal bill that would end animal testing for cosmetics was reintroduced* by US Representatives Martha McSally (R-AZ), Joe Heck (R-NV), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA). If passed, HR 4148—the Humane Cosmetics Act—would make it illegal for any company to conduct cosmetic animal testing, or sell cosmetic products that have been tested on animals. (The US bill comes just days after a similar bill was introduced in Canada.)

I asked Pascaline Clerc, senior director of policy and advocacy of Animal Research Issues for The Humane Society of the United States, for more information about the bill and how the public can help get it passed.

Many countries around the world—including India, Israel, and the European Union—have banned cosmetics testing on animals. What keeps the US from prohibiting it?

People thought that animal testing for cosmetics was an issue of the past. Our #BeCrueltyFree campaign in the US, and worldwide with the help of Humane Society International, had to raise awareness on this issue.

There is really nothing keeping the US from prohibiting animal testing of cosmetics:

– multi-national companies have been investing in developing alternatives, and they already have to comply with such regulations in the EU and India by using faster, cheaper, and more predictive alternatives to traditional animal tests to test new ingredients.

– more than 30 countries have legislation in place banning animal testing for cosmetics.

– our neighbor Canada has introduced similar legislation last week.

– the issue has rallied bipartisan support.

– China, where animal testing is still required for imported products and for post-marketing monitoring, is slowly making progress, and our organization is actively working in the country to change policy and educate scientists on state-of-the-art in vitro methods to test cosmetics instead of using live animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs. The HSUS, HIS, and the Human Toxicology Project Consortium, in partnership with the Institute for In Vitro Sciences, provided intensive laboratory-based training.

What do you believe the chances are for this bill becoming law?

More than 30 countries—home to more than 1.7 billion consumers—now have legislation in place banning animal testing for cosmetics. Similar legislation to limit or end such testing is also under consideration in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, and now in the US. Of the 13 biggest importers of American cosmetics, eight countries have bans in place, legislation introduced or in negotiation, so if the US wants to remain a leader in the industry, the US will have to align their regulations with the rest of the world.

Multi-national companies have been investing in developing alternatives, and they already have to comply with such regulations in the EU and India by using faster, cheaper, and more predictive alternatives to traditional animal tests to test new ingredients. So, it would only make sense for them to have to follow the same regulations in the US and take advantage of cutting-edge technology.

Additionally, this bill has brought an unprecedented bipartisan quartet of sponsors.

What can the public do to help this bill pass?

There are two easy things that any consumers can do:

1st: Take action by urging your representative to support the Humane Cosmetics Act here.
2nd: Use your buying power to drive changes by only buying products from cruelty-free companies that you can find at http://www.leapingbunny.org

 

*This bill was previously introduced by former Representative James Moran (D-VA) in March of 2014. This new version focuses on economic issues and would go into effect in one year.

Hayden Panettiere and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle. Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty

Hayden Panettiere and HSUS President Wayne Pacelle. Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty

This may not be the biggest animal rights news of the year, but it’s still pretty cool. Actress and animal activist Hayden Panettiere recently halted shooting on her show Heroes after she accused a crew member of being cruel to birds nesting in a nearby tree. Hayden was apparently upset when a crew member used a large leaf-blower to knock the birds out of the tree because the birds were disturbing filming of the series. Hayden reportedly shouted at the worker: “What are you doing? How would you like someone to blow that thing inside your house?”

 

The actress insisted the birds were only flying in front of the camera to get back to their nest. Her objections were reportedly so strenuous that the director eventually decided to move the scene to another location.

This is not the first time Hayden has been in the news for defending animals. In 2007, she joined a group of peaceful protestors in an effort to save a group of pilot whales (who are part of the dolphin family) and faced violent opposition from some Japanese fishermen. The confrontation took place in the sea off Taiji, an historic whaling town. She and five other protesters paddled out on surfboards in an attempt to stop the whales from being driven into a nearby cove and killed in Japan’s annual slaughter of the animals.

 

In March 2008, the Humane Society of the United States honored Hayden with the Gretchen Wyler Award, given annually at the Genesis Awards to a celebrity who brings attention to animal causes. She has also won the Compassion in Action award from PETA.

 

Hayden’s actions no doubt inspire her fans to consider the welfare of animals they might otherwise not think twice about ― and maybe even stand up to the bullies who abuse them.

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

 

 

 

One of the most exciting results of Proposition 2 — California’s successful campaign to ban battery cages for hens, gestation crates pigs and veal crates for calves — is that it energized activists across the United States, introducing a new generation of animal advocates to the horrors of factory farming. Many of these people had known little, if anything, about agribusiness practices. But they literally took up the Prop 2 banner, getting involved in the fight to end the use of intensive-confinement devices in California.

Battery-caged hens. Photo by Compassion Over Killing

Battery-caged hens. Photo by Compassion Over Killing

Now, taking advantage of the momentum generated by the California voter initiative, a group of activists has formed the Farm Animal Protection Project (FAPP). Located in Sonoma County, FAPP is an all-volunteer group that will use the knowledge, skills and tactics learned during the year-long Prop 2 battle and apply them to a permanent campaign for animals. The group will use leafleting, tabling, food outreach, film screenings, special events and other tactics to educate companies, schools and the public on how easy it is to reduce cruelty to animals, including not buying eggs from caged hens — or, better yet, not buying eggs at all.

“Throughout the Prop 2 campaign, we heard from farmers who were concerned that people would buy cheaper eggs from out of state once the measure passed,” says FAPP Director of Campaigns Hope Bohanec, who served as the Sonoma County coordinator for the Yes on Prop 2 campaign. “So FAPP will be reaching out to restaurants, grocers and school campuses in Sonoma County, urging them to support California egg producers once Prop 2 takes effect in 2015.”

Hope suggests that every county in the state form a grassroots organization similar to Sonoma’s FAPP. “Imagine the power this would create,” she says. “We’ll be able to say, ‘See how well Prop 2 works!’”

Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Factory Farming Campaign, applauds the new group. “Prop 2 was the most important victory for animals to date, but it’s only one chapter in the movement’s history, and it’s time to start writing the next chapters,” he says. “As much momentum as we have from Prop 2’s overwhelming passage, progress is not going to be self-executing. Progress requires that we remain vigilant and active. We want to make sure that the advocacy community that was cultivated throughout the Prop 2 campaign continues to wage more and more victories for farmed animals. By working with local retailers to get them to stop using eggs from caged hens, we can make sure that progress does indeed continue.”

Although FAPP will be focusing on factory farming, the group’s campaigns will benefit other animals as well. “Helping people go vegan brings attention to fur, circuses, vivisection and other animal-related issues,” explains Hope. FAPP will offer monthly potlucks, bake sales, cooking classes and more, all outlined in an e-newsletter. The group will meet one Sunday each month in Rohnert Park.

With FAPP blossoming, two smaller animal rights groups in the county are folding. Members of Sonoma People for Animal Rights, co-founded by Marianna Mayer and Paul Toussiant 25 years ago, and Vegan Voices, which Hope founded in 1994, recognized the sense in channeling their energy and limited financial resources into one larger grassroots organization, thus compounding their outreach ability. (Other animal- and vegan-advocacy groups in Sonoma County include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, headquartered in Cotati, and Organic Athlete, located in Sebastopol.)

Hope says the Farm Animal Protection Project will be reaching out to other social-justice causes, such as the environmental movement, to work together. You’ll be able to learn more about FAPP at www.FarmAnimalProtection.org (the site is still under construction).

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. 

Jon Camp, leafleting for Vegan Outreach

Jon Camp, leafleting for Vegan Outreach

If there’s ever a Leafleters’ Hall of Fame, I expect to see Jon Camp up on stage among the first inductees. As the longtime national outreach coordinator for Vegan Outreach, Jon is one of those powerhouse activists whose work is both inspiring and, well, a little humbling. I got to know Jon a bit when I interviewed him for Striking at the Roots, and I thought his story and insights would be the perfect way to introduce the topic of activism, so that’s exactly how the book begins. Jon kindly took a few more questions from me, even as he’s busy gearing up for his spring leafleting tour with Vegan Outreach.

 

Hi, Jon! First off, what’s the deal with Takoma Park, Maryland, where you live? I know so many activists who live there. Why is it such a magnet for progressive people?

Takoma Park is a pretty, progressive town bordering Washington, DC, and it’s sometimes referred to as the Berkeley of the East Coast. It has the feel of a small town, while offering easy access to DC. The DC area hosts a number of animal advocacy groups, and Takoma Park is a desirable option for living. I live in the same neighborhood as some of the folks from Compassion Over Killing and The Humane Society of the United States. We’ve tended to gravitate toward each other because we share many similar beliefs on advocacy and because we genuinely like and respect each other. It’s always nice having friends whose way of living encourages you to be a better, more effective person; that is certainly the case here.

 

How did you get involved in animal advocacy?

In 1995, I took an Ethics course at the College of Lake County, a community college in Grayslake, Illinois, and learned about the modern-day treatment of farm animals.  I went vegetarian, eventually vegan, and started doing simple things like writing letters to the editor. In ’98 or ’99, I learned about Vegan Outreach while reading an Ingrid Newkirk book. I ordered some literature from Vegan Outreach and was so impressed by their calm, pragmatic approach of vegan advocacy as a way to reduce the most amount of animal suffering. In 2000, I went to a Compassion Over Killing feed-in in DC, got my feet wet leafleting and started to slowly ramp up my efforts. In 2004, Jack Norris, president of Vegan Outreach, asked if I’d like to work for Vegan Outreach, and I said yes. Since then, it has been a labor of love, and I’m still utterly thrilled to be doing this work on a full-time basis.   

 

What is Vegan Outreach’s Adopt-a-College program and how can activists get involved?

The basic gist of the AAC program is that individuals leaflet colleges in their respective neck of the woods. The program got off the ground in August, 2003, and we’ve individually handed out just shy of 3 million booklets at over 1,200 schools. We find college students to be the ideal demographic as they’re in the time of life when they’re really willing to question the status quo and make changes. And when you get young individuals to change, you’re reaching those who will have many years ahead of them to make a great impact for animals. Those interested in getting involved in this work can go to veganoutreach.org/colleges or feel free to contact me. We’d love to have you on board!

 

Vegan Outreach offers several different pieces of literature. Why is that?

Different situations bring out different people, and some activists prefer certain booklets over others. I like the more mild Compassionate Choices booklet when dealing with, say, young kids, while those of college age might be better suited for the more graphic Even If You Like Meat booklet.

 

What tips can you offer someone just starting to leaflet?

If you’ve never leafleted, it might help to start off with someone who has leafleted before.  If no such opportunities exist, then be brave, take the plunge, and get your feet wet!  Most everyone who leaflets ends up being surprised by how easy and painless it is and how receptive individuals are. We can increase receptivity by smiling, keeping a positive disposition and by being somewhat assertive. There is nothing wrong with asking someone if they’d like to consider information, and the animals will be so much better thanks to you having done this. It’s pretty much on a daily basis that we at Vegan Outreach hear from individuals who have gone veg or vegan as a result of being handed one of our booklets.  Lastly, many find our Adopt a College Yahoo Group to be helpful and inspiring; more information on this can be accessed on our AAC site.

 

Last fall, the Adopt-a-College program handed out a record number of leaflets. Can you tell us what went into reaching that milestone? How many colleges and VO activists were involved?

For the fall ’08 semester, over 200 individuals got out to leaflet a grand total of 657,850 booklets at 684 schools. We reached this milestone due to a great number of activists stepping up their efforts and because of the generosity of donors deciding that this was work they wanted to invest in. The success of Vegan Outreach will always hinge on the efforts of many; it was great to see so many individuals involved last fall.

 

You have a Spring Tour of colleges coming up. When does it begin and where will you be?

Starting on February 9th, I’ll be on the road for just about three months. I will be leafleting, as well as giving some talks, in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and upstate New York.

 

I assume you’ll be couch-surfing. Are you still looking for places to stay?

Keeping activists on the road and stocked with literature, to the degree that we do, costs a considerable amount of money. Therefore, in order to reach as many people as possible with the animals’ plight, we take steps to make our tours as cost-efficient as possible. As a result, those of us who travel sleep on the beds, couches, futons and sometimes floors of those generous enough to house us. I currently need to find housing throughout the southern half of Georgia, northern New York and the Tallahassee, Florida, region. If you’d be so kind as to house me, please let me know!

 

Why do you think leafleting is so effective?

In general, most people don’t wish to cause unnecessary harm to animals but don’t necessarily think about how eating animals causes them harm. While animal agribusiness goes to great lengths to keep the general public from thinking that animals lead anything but contented lives, leafleting gives us, as activists, the chance to bring the miserable conditions of factory farms and slaughterhouses directly to the general public. Moreover, when distributing credible, compelling literature and coupling this with welcoming, polite activists, you’ve got a powerful tool for enacting change on a person to person level.

 

My own experience with leafleting is that most people are very polite. But how do you deal with the occasional person who is antagonistic?

Yes, the overwhelming majority of those we leaflet are polite. When the occasional antagonistic person comes by, I just do my best to respond in a calm, sometimes even humorous manner. If individuals wish to make a scene (which is rare), I just do my best to dispel the situation. While antagonism is rare, it is better than apathy, and such situations give us the opportunity to display our level-headedness and kindness.

 

Does outreach work ever get you down, and if so, what do you do to avoid burnout?

There is always going to be cruelty and injustice and apathy; this can be hard on so many of us. But as we know, keeping ourselves miserable only adds to the level of misery in the world.

I get a great deal of joy knowing that I’m doing what I can to push the ball forward for animals, that I’m living for something greater than myself. And when we really think about it, what can be better than spending our days deliberately working to make the world a kinder, more just place? We may not be able to change everything, but through our actions, we can play a sizable role in fostering change.  

On a practical level, I always make sure I take the time to do simple things like reading, spending time with friends and getting good exercise. If we wish to be in this for the long haul, we need to take an approach that is sustainable.  

 

You spend a lot of time traveling. How do you find nutritious vegan food?

As I stay at homes and not motels, I often have better access to stoves and such for cooking. And good, healthy vegan food is becoming more available with each passing year. While at times I do have to rely on foods that aren’t as healthy as would be ideal, I usually manage to find enough nutritious food. The good news is that I’m still alive and kicking!

 

It seems like every year Vegan Outreach outdoes itself. Does Vegan Outreach in general or you specifically have any outreach goals for 2009?

With the economy in the shape it is, we might not be able to have the record year that we would love to have. But we’re still going to have a very solid year and will continue to work our hardest to make sure as many of today’s youth as possible are reached with a full and compelling case for choosing compassion. We’re very good at converting funds into booklets. So if any readers would like to support this work, that would ensure that many more college students are reached!

 

How about helping to make 2009 a great year for Vegan Outreach? If you’d like to house Jon, leaflet with him or even have him speak to your group, please email him at jon[at]veganoutreach[dot]org.

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.

 

 

 

It’s certainly no secret that animal agribusiness regards animal-rights activists pretty much the way the Chinese government regards supporters of a free Tibet. And in the same way His Holiness the Dalai Lama keeps up to date on his homeland’s Communist oppressors, it is imperative that animal activists get into the heads of animal exploiters ― not just under their skin.

 

Well, here’s a great opportunity to learn what someone with 25 years of agribiz experience thinks of efforts by HSUS, PETA and others to impinge upon their ability to torture and kill farmed animals. The Cattle Network just published an in-depth interview with Steve Kopperud, senior vice president of Policy Directions, Inc., which lobbies on behalf of agribusiness.

 

I’m only hitting the high notes here: be sure to check out the entire article.

Q.  Steve, we know the animal rights organizations tend to be well-funded, sophisticated communicators.  Let’s define them, first.  What are the organizations we should watch and what are their agendas?  Tell me about the size of their memberships and their war chests.

A. Fifteen years ago we were confronted by about 150 animal rights organizations, subject to infighting and competition. Today, the movement is defined by the Humane Society of the U.S. and its president, Wayne Pacelle. When Pacelle joined HSUS as vice president, he declared he would create the “NRA (National Rifle Assn.) of animal rights, and he’s well on his way. The organization leverages its public image as a dog/cat, spay/neuter, pet adoption group, positioning itself as “moderate” in comparison to the PETAs of the movement. When you peel away the layers of public image, you’re left with an HSUS agenda that is anything but moderate, and not too radically different than that of PETA. You need only look at the organization’s legislative agenda, the comments of some of its officers, to see where HSUS would eventually hope to see animal agriculture wind up.

 

HSUS claims to have about 10 million members – 20,000 per congressional district – and has an annual budget in excess of $130 million.  Through mergers with smaller organizations, HSUS has grown, and under Pacelle’s watch, created the Humane Legislative Action Fund (HLAF) not-for-profit association with no limits on its lobbying activity – HSUS, by virtue of its 501(c) (3) status, is limited by IRS rules to about spending 20% of its previous year’s program spending on “advocacy,” so the HLAF is an important tool.  On the international front, Humane Society International works as an arm of HSUS. 

 

PETA continues to be the noisemaker; its apparent role is to keep the issue in the press, thereby keeping it mainstream. Its income each year continues to hover in the $20-30 million range, allowing it to maintain its global network of offices and harassment.  However, PETA has so marginalized itself in policy discussions as to be almost a non-player. 

 

PETA continues to frighten corporate targets, major brands which fear PETA will begin boycotts, pickets, disrupt annual meetings, etc. PETA’s outrageous behavior and unrealistic demands enable groups such as HSUS to contact the same target companies, offering itself as the “moderate” group with which the company can work. The company believes that by working with HSUS, it’s somehow protected from PETA. Not so. The company is only protected as long as it toes the line, issuing public statements about animal housing, care and such.  The worst thing any company can do is try to negotiate with any animal rights group. It signals weakness and fear and sets the company up as a perpetual target for other groups.

 

Farm Sanctuary, with a budget of about $1 million a year, operates almost as an independent subsidiary of HSUS, acting as HSUS’s foot soldiers on the ground in the various states in which HSUS has begun referenda campaigns, etc. 

 

Q. One of the things I’ve been watching is the process you’ve often described as getting “pecked to death by ducks.” First, Florida outlaws gestation crates.  Burger King covers its backside from a PETA push and earns that organization’s praise by declaring they will no longer buy eggs or pork from suppliers that keep their animals in cages or crates. Now, we have California’s Prop 2, which won with about 60% of the vote and will force huge changes in the farming practices of the biggest agriculture state in America.  Can we expect animal rights groups to press for similar legislation in other farm states?  And what will an expansion of similar laws do to the price of food at retail?


A. The strategy being followed by savvy animal rights groups is what the late animal activist Henry Spira, founder of Animal Rights International, called the “step-wise approach.” It translates into “We get a little bit this year, a little bit next year, and before you know it, we’ve forced real change.”  Spira once said to me that farmers and ranchers are their own worst enemies because they’re “too nice,” meaning, I think, that we expect the animal rights movement to operate on rules of honorable engagement and conventional issue management. I can assure you, after battling successfully animal rights initiatives for nearly 25 years, I’ve learned there is nothing conventional about “managing” the animal rights issue, and I think it’s this reality that industry – from farm to fork – must acknowledge. Managing the animal rights issue takes outside-the-box thinking and strategy. 

 

In a way, perhaps we are “too nice,” as we steadfastly avoid public confrontations with the animal rights groups.  We somehow believe that by confronting these groups, calling them out in the media, on Capitol Hill or in a state legislature, we will suffer some worse consequence than allowing these zealots to prevail.  We think because what we do is so fundamental to every citizen’s quality of life, that the “crazy people” cannot prevail.

 

The animal rights issue cannot be fought using statistics, economics, science and fact alone; it must utilize strategies that inspire positive emotion among consumers toward farming and ranching. There will be no gain without some pain, but it’s our job to ensure that the “pain” we feel is merely the temporary discomfort that comes from shifting away from a traditional approach to a more progressive one.

 

California’s Proposition 2 is a classic example. Proponents of that measure had no facts to support their demand that sow gestation stalls, veal stalls or egg layer cages were inhumane on their face because the overwhelming public testimony of vets and animal scientists showed just the opposite to be true. Instead, supporters ran TV ads that included video of downed animals and other emotional images of animal neglect and abuse, fully aware Proposition 2 would do nothing to solve these alleged problems. Why? Because emotion rules the day when it comes to human interaction with animals, no matter what the species or the animal’s ultimate fate. When you’ve got the attention of a politically overwhelmed constituency, you use images and emotion, not rhetoric. What thinking, feeling person condones any form of animal “abuse”?


Q. Every industry has its bad actors. We’ve seen them up close and personal, thanks to the undercover videos shot by HSUS undercover agents. Wayne Pacelle, HSUS CEO, says the practices exposed on those videos are endemic; Ag organizations say they’re anomalies, a position backed by industry experts like Temple Grandin. Regardless, it’s footage that, in the public’s eye, is damaging.  How would you go about reversing the damage?


A. Our responses to these episodes of unauthorized entry and video-taping of our facilities have been lukewarm. These episodes are anomalies, but not one can be tolerated as they paint the entire industry with the same brush, allowing HSUS leverage them to make its case that all producers are uncaring and that our industry needs state and/or federal regulation. When episodes of wrong behavior occur – and they will because no industry is perfect – then we must call them out as we see them with appropriate outrage, telling the public what they’ve seen is unacceptable and then swift and public action must be taken to rectify the situation. The public must understand that we share their concerns.

 

Having said that, I repeat my call to begin talking to the public consistently and loudly that we take animal wellbeing seriously, that it is and always has been the highest priority of our producers and processors, and that the public can trust the men and women who work in our industries. We must reintroduce the public to farming and ranching, explain who we are, what we do, how well we do it and that we share the public’s value of good husbandry. This must be as much a part of our product promotion and sales effort as the creation of recipes, new products and market development. When checkoff boards sit down to decide how those producer payments are to be spent in the best interest of the industry, selling the producer and the process must be every bit as important as selling the product. 

 

Again, readers, please take a moment to read the entire interview.


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