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July 09, 2007

Forging Ahead for Farm Animals

Yellow baby chick in person's handsWhen I was elected President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States in April 2004, The Washington Post ran an article entitled, “Vegan in The Henhouse: Wayne Pacelle, Putting Animals On (and Off) the Table.”

The fact that I’m the first vegan CEO of The HSUS has brought some additional measure of attention to the plight of farm animals, and I’ve received many questions from the public on this issue. One point I emphasize is that farm animal protection has always been a concern of The HSUS—some of our earliest campaigns related to farm animal transport and slaughter. And with the enormous growth in factory farming in the last 40 years, The HSUS has never hesitated in criticizing this ugly turn toward intensive confinement of animals by the billions.

In short, we did not change our philosophy when I took the reins; rather, The HSUS simply grew its programs in this area to respond to what had become a devastating and unavoidable animal welfare problem. We sought and found some of the best and most capable talent to fight more effectively on factory farming issues—with Paul Shapiro, Josh Balk, Miyun Park and Dr. Michael Greger making just remarkable contributions to the cause. We have since added other tremendously talented staff, and I say proudly that the team we have assembled to take on factory farming and improve the welfare of farm animals has never been stronger.

We are not orthodox at The HSUS. We welcome vegans and vegetarians as staff and as members, but there is no requirement to adhere to such a diet to be part of our team. We welcome anyone into the fold who helps animals in any way, including those who make incremental steps on farm animal issues. For those people who choose not to go vegetarian, we urge them to reduce their total consumption of animal products and to always abstain from purchasing animal products from factory farms. By making these small course corrections in their diet, individual consumers can dramatically reduce farm animal suffering.

Black and white cows in grass field

Vegetarian eating—whether adopted as a personal lifestyle or simply chosen as a meal from time to time—is becoming more mainstream and accessible to the general public. Wolfgang Puck recently decided to add more vegetarian options at his restaurant locations, and Gourmet Magazine recently dedicated a cover story to vegetarian eating.

One publication we created for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike is our HSUS Guide to Vegetarian Eating. If you want to go vegan or vegetarian, it provides enormously helpful information. And if you just want to reduce your consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products, it allows you to blend some great vegetarian options into your standard fare. Take a moment to request or download this document—for free, of course—and read it if you would.

Mother pig with baby pigs The average American eats approximately 80 animals a year. If everyone in America reduced that number by half, we would spare billions of animals a lifetime of confinement on factory farms. By replacing or reducing our use of animal products, we can prevent a large measure of suffering and lessen our impact on the environment.

But the work that occupies the largest share of our farm animal advocacy efforts is refinement. In short, we are working to end the most egregious cruelties endured by farm animals by advancing some simple principles to lawmakers, corporate leaders and voters and consumers. Farm animals shouldn’t be confined in cages so small they can barely move their whole lives. They shouldn’t be shackled while fully conscious at slaughter plants and risk death by drowning in scalding tanks of water. They shouldn’t be force-fed to induce a state of disease in their livers, which are then marketed as a “delicacy.” They shouldn’t be forced to suffer in such egregious ways.

Scientific research is on our side and the side of farm animals, and most Americans agree with us on these principles. Our primary task is to see that public and corporate policies conform to these elemental and humane concepts.

No form of social change is self-executing. It requires human agency. Each one of us has to be part of the solution for farm animals in the era of factory farming.

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