October 2010 Blog Home December 2010

24 posts from November 2010

November 30, 2010

Finding Sanctuary in South Africa

I’ve written many times about the life-changing work of our global affiliate Humane Society International (HSI). HSI extends the work of The HSUS all over the globe, providing relief in the wake of natural and human-caused disasters, securing better protections for threatened and endangered species, fighting factory farming, helping street dogs, and empowering and training local animal protection groups.

Today though I want to tell you about HSI’s work with the SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa and extend a personal invitation to you to join us at the sanctuary.

For more than 20 years, SanWild has been rescuing orphaned, injured, neglected and abused wild animals and then, once their health is restored, releasing the animals into the large sanctuary to spend the rest of their life in settings largely free of adverse human impacts.

Each of the residents has a story that illustrates both woe and hope. Among SanWild’s thousands of inhabitants are two giraffes, Kariba and her mother Sindisa, who were saved after Sindisa was discovered caught in a poacher’s snare where she’d suffered for 10 days before being freed.  Nine elephant residents were saved from certain death when the owners of the land they inhabited wanted them removed. There is also a pack of rambunctious wild dogs rescued from a deficient zoo, and two hippos rescued from a travelling circus.

As part of our new Humane Travels program, we’re now offering the opportunity to travel with HSI to experience South Africa and the SanWild sanctuary firsthand, while providing much-needed funds for wildlife protection programs. Throughout the weeklong visit, participants will explore South Africa’s many natural wonders on daylong excursions and learn about and observe the country’s amazing wild animals—a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

You can learn more about the tours and see a schedule here, and learn more about SanWild in this video. Below are a few photos, courtesy of the sanctuary.

P.S. I wanted to thank you for your support so far in the Pepsi Refresh Project. Today is the final day to vote for The HSUS and while we're currently in first place, we still need your votes—please help us ensure our hold in the top spot by voting today and spreading the word. You can vote twice; through the Pepsi Refresh website and via phone by texting 104206 to Pepsi (73774). If successful, we’ll use the $250,000 grand prize to help fund our animal rescue work and further our efforts on behalf of animals suffering from abuse and neglect.

Herd of impalas grazes at SanWild
  Elephant enjoys his freedom at SanWild
A herd of impalas grazes peacefully.      An elephant enjoys his freedom.
Blyde River Canyon, one of South Africa's natural wonders

  Rescued lions play at SanWild

Blyde River Canyon, one of South Africa's natural wonders.      Rescued lions play affectionately.

November 29, 2010

Hijacking Humane

Would you consider animals to be “humanely raised” if they were forced to spend much of their lives suffering from chronic leg problems and crippling lameness only to be later shipped to a slaughter plant and shackled upside down, dipped into an electrified vat of water, and finally conveyed to a neck-cutting machine? If the neck-cutting machine doesn’t get the killing right—and USDA claims that millions of birds annually miss the cutting blade—they might even be plunged alive into scalding water, which is designed to loosen the feathers of an already dead bird.

Perdue product labeled as humanely raised
Perdue product labeled "humanely raised."

Perdue, the nation’s third-largest poultry producer, apparently thinks so. Perdue’s standards allow chickens to be regularly subjected to this kind of treatment, yet the company markets its products to unsuspecting consumers as coming from chickens who were “Humanely Raised” in order to capitalize on the rapidly growing demand for improved animal welfare.

Today, a member of The Humane Society of the United States filed a class action lawsuit, on behalf of consumers, alleging that the company is illegally marketing its “Harvestland” and “Perdue” chicken products as “Humanely Raised” in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and other laws. The complaint details how Perdue has based its claims of humane treatment on the so-called “Animal Welfare Guidelines” of industry trade group the National Chicken Council, even though animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D. has noted, in an article in an industry trade journal, “[t]he National Chicken Council Animal Welfare audit has a scoring system that is so lax that it allows plants or farms with really bad practices to pass.”

Perdue’s phony “humane” claim is especially offensive because the USDA interprets the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to exclude poultry, so there is simply zero federal requirement to slaughter these animals by methods that render them insensible to pain before they are killed.

And it’s especially misleading because alternative, higher welfare poultry slaughter methods currently exist in the marketplace, but Perdue isn’t using them. Controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK) or stunning (CAS) systems work by using a mixture of gasses to kill or render birds unconscious before they are removed from their transport crates. A number of poultry producers, including Jaindl Farms and Mary’s Chickens, have switched or are in the process of switching to these systems.

With opinion polls showing that consumers are willing to pay more for higher welfare products, the response of major producers should be to shift to more humane methods, not to do things the same way and simply rebrand the same old product.

Humane treatment of animals means something. And we’ll be there to keep a careful eye on the companies that misrepresent their conduct and take advantage of consumers who put their faith in the law and the integrity of the companies to do as they say.

November 24, 2010

More than Pardons: A Thanksgiving Wish for Turkeys

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving—a holiday grounded in the principles of celebration and gratitude.  Here’s one holiday that does not smack of commercialism, and it is instead a time for families and friends to assemble around the dinner table, to talk, and to feast. In the broadest sense, so many of us do indeed have much to be grateful for, including the bounty of American agriculture, and tomorrow is a day to reflect on that good fortune.

It is also a holiday built around the consumption of turkeys.  Sadly, the domesticated birds sold from factory farms look like a caricature of the wild birds from which they descend.  Today’s industrially produced birds have been selectively bred for enormous body mass and, as a consequence, many of them cannot stand or walk after only a few months of life. They have so much breast meat that they are even incapable of copulation—reproduction now occurs only through artificial insemination.  They are not healthy animals, and they suffer chronic pain.  Some of them die from heart attacks—suggesting that something is deeply wrong in their physical make-up when baby and juvenile animals perish from maladies we associate with old age.

This week The HSUS took a look into one other grim facet of industrial turkey production.  We had an undercover investigator at the largest turkey hatchery in the nation, Willmar Poultry Company (WPC) in Willmar, Minnesota, for 11 days in October, and the investigator documented an awful practice associated with the disposal of baby birds not fit for production. These poults, as they are known, are killed by dumping them into a giant grinding machine. It’s death by maceration, and it is an unpleasant and little-known process of disposal.

Many of the little turkeys put into the grinder at day’s end had been injured by the machinery of these industrial facilities.  Fast-moving conveyor belts carry the baby birds through the factory to have their back toes amputated and their beaks seared with lasers—both with no painkillers at all. And if there are problems with the birds or the process, they are redirected for grinding.  Others are ground alive because they are simply not needed to fill orders for that day—too many hatched and not enough demand on those days.

We found sick and injured baby turkeys languishing throughout the day before being sent to the giant grinder after hours of suffering. Other poults who had fallen off conveyors or out of plastic bins wandered the floor of the factory, following after the workers on whom they seemed to have imprinted.

I’ve written to Willmar’s President and CEO, Ted Huisinga, to see if we can get a dialogue going with the company about improving handling, care, and euthanasia of the turkey poults who are, right now, treated so much like garbage—the collateral damage of an industry driven solely by the bottom line. Our investigator was told that if a consumer buys a turkey in a major grocery store, there’s a 50 percent chance the bird came from WPC.

Our investigation has attracted some considerable media attention, and I hope it makes people think twice about getting birds from these factory farms.  Here are some links to stories in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Associated Press, West Central Tribune, Daily Mail (UK), and ag trade journal Brownfield.

Thanksgiving is a celebration.  But it is also a time to think about others.  I cannot stop thinking about these turkeys, especially the babies, and their sad fate on industrial farms.  At The HSUS, we all should be conscious consumers, and Thanksgiving is a good day to put thoughts into action.

November 23, 2010

Breaking the Cycle of Horse Roundups

There is a raft of major horse welfare issues in America, and one of the most important is the treatment of wild horses and burros on our federal lands.  These horses are living symbols of the American West, yet too many horses are rounded up and removed from our public lands, causing unnecessary stress for horses at an enormous and unsustainable long-term expense to taxpayers.

Horse in field
© SXC/lightbl

We need new approaches to break the gridlock on this issue. Fertility control provides a new pathway. We want to replace gather-and-removal practices with the humane capture of mares in order to treat them with the immunocontraception vaccine PZP and release them back to the range (also known as capture/treat/release). We want to replace gathers using helicopters with passive gather techniques, such as water and nutrient-bait trapping (placing water or nutrients in an area where they are scarce to gradually lure and then build a temporary corral around the horses). And we want to develop and use efficient techniques for remotely delivering PZP to mares on the range so gathers are no longer needed.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is starting to embrace this way of thinking. In the coming weeks, the BLM plans to conduct capture/treat/release programs at 11 wild horse herd management areas in the near future. This is a tremendous step forward in creating a more humane and sustainable wild horse management program and we applaud the BLM for its efforts. Once the BLM fully embraces this approach, it will save millions of tax dollars and get the agency off the treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them in long-term holding pens on the government dole.

Field researchers for The HSUS are currently studying the use of passive gather techniques to gently lure wild horses to areas where they can be treated with the PZP immunocontraception vaccine and released without ever being captured. In the Sand Wash Basin management area, our researchers recently reported that they were able to successfully treat 82 percent of previously treated mares via remote delivery, without the need for any type of gather.

For more than 20 years, The HSUS has been conducting wildlife contraception research and we’re confident that PZP is a valuable tool for the humane and efficient management of wild horses. We also understand that, as with any new technology, there may be skepticism or concern that the vaccine may have unintended consequences. We encourage anyone looking for more information to browse this webpage, which more broadly describes our vision for wild horse management and answers some frequently asked questions about PZP.


November 22, 2010

TV Time for Our End Dogfighting Campaign, One "Lucky" Dog

Benjamin Sykes and his rescued dog Lucky
Benjamin Sykes and Lucky.

We all know it’s important to pass laws to prevent cruelty. But what happens when the perpetrators aren’t hardened criminals, but misguided kids who grew up thinking dogfighting is normal?

Most kids have an instinctive connection to animals. But in many of America’s cities, this connection is being turned on its head and young people are turning against animals and setting the stage for their own troubles to come in society.

It takes far more than punitive measures to stop the cycle of abuse here. We need to touch the hearts of these kids and show them a different way. That’s exactly the goal of The HSUS’s End Dogfighting campaign.

In this recent PBS Chicago Tonight video segment, you’ll meet the people working on the ground in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods—offering free dog training and pet resources, and conducting programs in schools.

You’ll also meet 14-year-old Benjamin Sykes and his dog Lucky. When Ben found Lucky, the pit bull was near death in an alley. Ben gave Lucky compassion, though he didn’t have the tools or knowledge to properly care for him. That’s where The HSUS stepped in. Watch how we are changing lives—both human and canine.

November 19, 2010

Breaking: Bill to Ban Crush Videos Passes Congress, On to President Obama

Today, the U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval to legislation to ban the creation, sale and distribution of obscene animal crush videos, the culmination of an intensive effort that began on April 21 of this year—the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal cruelty depictions statute that we helped to pass in 1999. The original law, nullified by two federal courts as overbroad and an infringement on free speech rights, had effectively dried up the market for these sickening videos.


In the wake of these court rulings, however, creators and purveyors of crush videos stepped into the void and resumed their gruesome commerce, appealing to people with a deviant sexual interest in these videos.

We worked with a bipartisan host of congressional champions to narrowly tailor the new measure so it would be able to withstand a constitutional challenge while effectively cracking down on this horrific abuse. At The HSUS, we operate every day under the protection of the First Amendment, but we also know that stomping on or setting fire to animals is not a form of speech, but reckless and cruel conduct that has no place in our society.

We just sent out a press release a few minutes ago. Now this critical legislation goes to the desk of President Obama. We are urging him to sign it without delay.

It’s a day for all of us to celebrate. The people who perpetrate this malice and cruelty will soon be on the wrong side of the law again, just where they belong.

November 18, 2010

Country's Clucking About Cruelty of Cage Confinement, Food Safety Risks

A day after our press conferences in Washington, D.C. and Houston detailing the findings of our undercover exposé of Cal-Maine, the nation’s largest egg supplier, it’s obvious that the press and the public are coming to the subject with an elevated understanding of the connection between extreme confinement of animals and food safety. National outlets like ABC, CNN, and MSNBC, as well as television stations in Houston, like KIAH-TV Houston, Fox News Houston, and CBS Houston, are conveying that the mistreatment of animals at factory farms has real-world implications for consumers, as well as for animals.

Hens caked with feces at Cal-Maine factory farm
Hens caked with feces from birds above at Cal-Maine facility.

I’d like to pay a special thanks to Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, for joining yesterday’s press conference stressing the vital link between animal welfare and food safety. And, of course, credit is due to our investigator who documented the problems at Cal-Maine during his time there.

We essentially got no substantive response from Cal-Maine. And the Texas Farm Bureau refused even to condemn the cruelty that was so obviously documented on video, instead arguing this was an isolated case rather than a discovery of anything systemic. That is exactly the opposite conclusion they should have reached.

Our point is not that the people at Cal-Maine are particularly cruel or vicious toward animals. The point is that cage confinement of this type is inherently inhumane, and the industry-wide movement toward these systems has been an animal welfare disaster and put consumers at needless risk. Responsible animal welfare cannot be achieved in systems that crowd together so many birds and essentially immobilize these animals. They have behavioral and emotional needs, and those needs cannot be met if they are trapped for their entire lives in small cages.

Take a look at some of the coverage above, and know that our movement to have the nation move away from these extreme confinement systems is gaining ground.

November 17, 2010

Shocking, Unacceptable Conditions Revealed at Nation’s Largest Egg Producer

An HSUS investigator has gone undercover again to take a behind-the-scenes look at the living conditions of laying hens confined in battery cages—in this case, at a facility run by Cal-Maine, the largest egg producer in the country with 26 million birds under its control. Cal-Maine’s 2010 Annual Report to shareholders says that the company’s shell eggs are sold to “a majority of the largest food retailers in the U.S.” Among its customers are retailers such as HEB and Publix.

See video from an HSUS investigation of Cal-Maine, the largest egg producer in the United States

The findings are deeply disturbing, and about as grim as the stuff we uncovered last April at Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises, which are, respectively, the second and third largest egg producers in the nation.

At Cal-Maine’s factory farm in Waelder, Texas, which confines about 1 million birds in 18 barns, our investigator documented hens in overcrowded cages, with some of the birds laying eggs on top of the rotting corpses of dead cage-mates. While most of these birds can barely move in their cages, some were immobilized in an even more gruesome way; they got trapped or tangled in the wires, left there to languish and perhaps to die from starvation or dehydration. Our video shows hens with bloody uterine prolapses, broken legs, and facial abscesses, some of them covered almost head-to-back in feces from the hens in the upper-tiered cages. Some of the dead hens—still in the cages—appeared almost like carpets on which other hens could step without having to touch the cage floor. The investigator also videotaped hens who had died after becoming trapped under the feeding troughs of their cages, with their decaying heads resting on the moving belt that carries the eggs from the cages.

When you have such consistent problems revealing themselves—remember now, we are talking about the nation’s top three producers with nearly 50 million hens under their control—it is clear that something is rotten in the industry. There is no meaningful on-the-farm oversight by state or federal authorities when it comes to animal welfare, and you have confinement systems that are inherently inhumane. Even the best-managed cage systems present animal welfare problems that cannot be solved by careful stewardship and adherence to best practices.

The trade association for the industry, the United Egg Producers (UEP), says it maintains an animal welfare program. We’re glad it acknowledges the need for such a program, and glad that one exists, since the situation could be even worse. But the current program is miserly when it comes to the care of these creatures (read more here). If animals cannot even extend their wings, if they never get out of an overcrowded cage, and if they live on wire floors in barren cages without perches, nest boxes, or any enrichments, what does the animal welfare standard really mean?

In September, I wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and asked her to meet with us about the results of our Rose Acre and Rembrandt investigations. At Rose Acre and Rembrandt, our investigator had documented conditions similar to those discovered by the FDA at two other Iowa factory farms that were responsible for a Salmonella outbreak that caused illness in more than a thousand consumers. A whopping half billion eggs were recalled from those two farms—Quality Eggs and Hillandale—and the FDA was called before Congress to testify as to the agency’s role in protecting consumers from bad eggs. I’ve written again to Commissioner Hamburg but this time about Cal-Maine and the hideous conditions we’ve again documented. Let’s hope the FDA heeds our warning—after all, the company just had to issue an egg recall earlier this month for Salmonella concerns. Something has to change within this industry, and minor tinkering with the rules is not going to turn around the situation. Today, the Senate may take action on the Food Safety Modernization Act to update food safety regulations and increase the FDA’s regulatory authority.

In 2009, the FDA passed the Egg Safety Rule which has very general requirements related to egg safety. I’ve asked Commissioner Hamburg to reopen the Egg Safety Rule and propose a phase out of cage confinement of hens, grounded on the argument that there is an understandable and compelling connection between these confinement systems and food-borne illness.

But it’s not just the government that must step up. Retailers and consumers must, too. If you buy eggs, please don’t purchase eggs from caged hens. The marketplace now offers higher welfare choices, such as cage-free, free-range, and organic options that offer the animals a better life than that of their caged counterparts.

The HSUS will continue to fight for the proper care of these animals. Today’s announcement is part of our broader effort to expose the worst problems in industrial agribusiness and to call people of conscience to act and make things better.

November 16, 2010

Reading Roundup: Six New Book Recommendations

There has been a remarkable surge in publishing about animals within the last decade. They range from the practical to the awe-inspiring, and I’d like to tell you today about just a few of the books that I’ve scanned or read recently.

Tamar Geller 30 Days to a Well-Mannered DogIf you’re looking for information on training your dog, there is no shortage of experts who can help you teach your dog to sit. Our friend Tamar Geller wants to do more—to empower you and your dog to work together as a team. Her new book, “30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog: the Loved Dog™ Method”, is a day-by-day guide for coaching your dog and building a strong bond with your best friend.

Gotham Chopra ranks the influence of his dogs on his life second only to that of his famous father, Deepak. In “Walking Wisdom,” Gotham relates musings, memories, and meditations about life, families, relationships, and dogs—wisdom often shared while walking with his father, his toddler and his dog, Cleo. It’s a book that is both spiritual and humorous, that honors the importance of the people and animals in our lives.

“Finding Danny,” by Linzi Glass, is a work of fiction for young people. But this tale of a young girl who finds a purpose through the loss of her dog is rooted in Linzi’s experience as an author, and an animal rescuer. The main character’s dedication to helping animals in shelters is reinforced by information at the end of the book from The HSUS about how children and teens can help animals in real life.

Sometimes, important messages about animals are found in unlikely places. Nigel Barker, photographer and judge on America’s Next Top Model, has authored “Beauty Equation.” The book is generally a guide to beauty. Nigel’s idea of beauty, however, isn’t all about cheekbones and skin tone. His message is also about inner beauty, which includes helping others. Among the “others” for Nigel are the harp seals in Canada, victims of an annual slaughter for their fur. Nigel has been a tireless spokesperson for our Protect Seals campaign, traveling to the ice to document the seals, and producing a documentary on their plight. Now, he’s introducing his many fans and readers to the issue and The HSUS through his book.

I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird” is a book of remarkable photos taken by National Geographic photographer, Robert B. Haas. Soaring in a helicopter, Robert captures the awesome beauty of wild animals on land and in the sea, from Africa to Brazil. You may remember Robert Haas as the photographer/author of another stunning book about wildlife, “African Critters.”

Hal Herzog Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We EatFinally, I just finished Hal Herzog’s “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.” It’s a fascinating and intelligent examination of the contradictory attitudes we hold in society toward animals. Herzog, who is a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, has not just mined the literature on human attitudes and behavior toward animals, but he’s also gotten his hands dirty and talked to people involved in some of the animal-use practices under increasing scrutiny today.

Working and living in the southern Appalachians, he’s sat shoulder-to-shoulder with cockfighters, been on farms and in slaughter plants, and talked to all manner of people on both sides of the animal protection divide. He’s an ethnographer of sorts, and his book provides an accounting of forward progress in animal protection, but also a sobering argument about the cultural and sociological complexities of major reforms in a society with such conflicting emotions about animals.

November 15, 2010

In Harm's Way for Wildlife: Conservation Officer Killed in Line of Duty

Even compared with some of the most hazardous jobs in the law enforcement field, game wardens face tremendous risk. Their job is also one of the most difficult, given that so few officers must police hundreds of millions of acres. The degree of difficulty is compounded because the potential victims of wildlife-related crime cannot speak, and there are so few potential witnesses to criminal acts committed in areas that are uninhabited or only sparsely so. Between all state and federal wildlife agencies, there are only about 8,000 officers—less than one quarter the number of police employed by the city of New York, which is all of 300 square miles.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove.

Last Thursday night, Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove was on patrol near Gettysburg, Pa. Grove was arresting a man who he had seen spotlighting and then killing deer near a residential area. The alleged poacher, Christopher L. Johnson, 27, of Fairfield, Pa, shot and killed Grove in a gunfight, according to news reports. Johnson, who is now in police custody, is a convicted felon.

David Grove was described by those who knew him as a great friend, brother, son, and uncle—a man with “exemplary moral character,” who was “well-respected,” and “willing to do a lot of things to help without the need to be in the limelight.” They said he laughed often, but took his job very seriously.

An editor for The Gettysburg Times was working on a profile of David Grove before the fatal encounter occurred. The writer posed some questions for the story and Grove returned his answers Thursday, just hours before his death. One of the questions asked how he would like to be remembered. Grove responded, “That I did my job with enthusiasm and passion and that I treated people with the same respect that I would want to be treated with.”

Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and colleagues at the Pennsylvania Game Commission as they mourn this terrible loss.

At The HSUS, we celebrate the heroic work of law enforcement personnel like David Grove. We run a nationwide anti-poaching program to help them with their demanding and dangerous work. Since our program began, we’ve offered more than $260,000 in reward funds on poaching cases, sponsored K9s that sniff out poachers, run anti-poaching public education campaigns, donated decoys and forensic equipment to state agencies, and much more.

We also believe that law enforcement deserves to have the best available anti-poaching laws at their disposal to deter would-be violators and bring those who wantonly exploit wildlife to justice. Wildlife criminals are an enemy of wildlife, animal advocates, and hunters, and our nation should exhibit little tolerance for the cruelty and mayhem they foster.