April 2012 Blog Home June 2012


21 posts from May 2012


May 15, 2012

Could Pork Become the New Veal?

The HSUS and Denny’s today announced that this popular restaurant chain―with annual sales of more than half a billion dollars and more than 1,600 restaurants―will take immediate steps to get gestation crates out of its pork supply chain. Combined with the similar announcements we’ve made this year―with McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Compass Group, Bon Appétit, and Safeway―this represents a sea change in what’s going on in the food retail sector with respect to animal welfare. Each one of these gestation crate announcements is a landmark, and taken collectively, they add up to breathtaking change in the world of factory farming.

Even just from a public relations perspective, it’s shocking that the pork industry continues to fight this trend and to defend gestation crate confinement, while so many of its largest corporate customers are making it clear that gestation crates must go. In the absence of dramatic reform, pork may well be on its way to becoming the new veal―with one abusive practice (think gestation crates for veal crates) coming to define the broader domain of industrial farming and confinement agriculture. The release of images from The HSUS’s latest undercover investigation last week, showing deeply disturbing mistreatment of pigs at a gestation crate facility run by Wyoming Premium Farms, made the point more dramatically than words could ever convey.

Pig in gestation crate from Oklahoma pig investigation
The HSUS
Many breeding sows are forced to live in cramped
gestation crates for almost their entire lives.

The American Veal Association recently released data showing that more than 70 percent of veal calves raised by AVA member farmers—which represent a majority of U.S. veal production—are now housing their calves in groups, instead of individual confinement crates long derided by veterinarians and animal advocates as inhumane.

Images of calves locked inside tiny crates defined what’s wrong with factory farming: a harsh, unforgiving business, where animals are treated as machines, and just about anything goes in order to drive production. For years, the veal industry defended its practices, but when we helped pass a law in Arizona in 2006 to ban veal crates, some foresighted people within the industry made a rapid turn-around. Within months, the AVA was urging its producers to phase the crates out, and leading veal producers were converting their operations to group housing.

As the veal industry makes animal welfare progress, the question must be asked: why is Big Pork defending the losing issue of gestation crate confinement? Doesn’t its rigid, unethical, and scientifically unfounded defense of gestation crate confinement―along with its effort to subvert legislation backed by The HSUS and the egg industry to transition away from barren battery cages―threaten its core business model in the long run? Do pork industry leaders think consumers are not paying attention?

It’s time for this industry to realize that it operates within a broader cultural and economic setting, in which consumers—including corporate consumers—care about animals and don’t want to see them treated like machines. Until the industry makes the switch and recognizes where mainstream sentiment exists, it will continue to draw down its finite political capital, and we’ll see if the damage to its brand will be as enduring as the images of veal calves in crates were for a sister industry in the domain of animal agriculture.

May 14, 2012

A Wing and a Prayer: Rescuing More than 100 Parrots

Our Animal Rescue Team works with local law enforcement and humane agencies to help and rescue animals in distress, whether from puppy mills, animal fighting rings, natural disasters, or other cruelty and neglect situations. Our team is used to dealing with all kinds of challenging scenarios, and last week was no exception.

Mitred conures at Ohio bird rescue
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Many parrots form strong bonds; this conure refused
to leave his crippled mate.

In this case, the great folks at the Humane Society of Greater Dayton called The HSUS in to help seize more than 100 parrots and other birds from alleged neglect and cruelty in Moraine, Ohio―a suburb of Dayton. The birds were living in filthy, nearly barren cages in a rodent-infested storefront. Many lacked access to clean water and fresh food; others appeared to suffer from chronic illness and injury.

Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty investigations for The HSUS, told me that the air inside Wings Over the Rainbow was so noxious that he had difficulty breathing. Parrots have extremely sensitive respiratory systems―it’s hard to imagine how they could live in this kind of filth and squalor, day in and day out.

HSUS rescuers worked with volunteers to carefully remove each of the birds from the building and load them onto our rescue vehicle for transport to the emergency shelter, where they’re now receiving veterinary care. Adam described several heartbreaking scenes from the several hours they spent inside that store: a mitred conure who would not stray from his severely crippled mate; a parakeet with what appeared to be a tumor half the size of her body; dozens of nearly featherless birds; and one cockatoo missing her entire upper beak.

How many of these conditions and ailments were due to neglect or cruelty at Wings Over the Rainbow is still unknown. But it’s fair to say that many were the unfortunate outcomes of a life in captivity.

When I visited the Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary in 2009, I met several birds who habitually plucked their feathers from psychological stress they’d endured at some point while someone’s pet. Sanctuary executive director Matt Smith (also on the scene at the Ohio rescue last week) says that parrots are highly intelligent and social. They have complex language and problem-solving skills and form deep emotional bonds with other birds.

It’s their beauty and their keen minds that capture the imagination of would-be owners. Yet these birds often live in terrible conditions even with a well-intentioned caretaker. Without adequate psychological and emotional stimulation, parrots frequently develop psychological disorders. Frustration, feather-picking, and other behavioral issues are common.

The presence of bird-mills and bird sellers catering to an expanding market for exotic birds has resulted in a large-scale animal welfare and practical challenge for the humane movement. Parrot rescues and sanctuaries are overwhelmed with birds relinquished by owners who had no idea about what they were taking on in getting a highly intelligent, demanding animal with a life expectancy of 80 years. Wings Over the Rainbow brands itself as a sanctuary, and Matt believes that many other similar operations exist around the country: independent groups that may have begun with the best of intentions, but they lose control of the situation and things turn for the worse. In just a few years, it has become a problem of epidemic proportions.

“Part of the answer is accreditation,” according to Matt. “Because the number of parrots in need has grown exponentially in the past decade and because there is comparatively very little financial support for even the best of organizations operating in a limited capacity, parrots will continue to find themselves languishing in cruel and neglectful situations.”

You can help parrots by supporting carefully vetted sanctuaries and rescues. And if you’re interested in providing a home to a parrot, consult with a reputable rescue group.

May 11, 2012

Investigation Exposing Cruelty at Tyson Pig Supplier Stirs Outrage, Response

This week, we announced our latest agribusiness undercover investigation—the fourth factory farm investigation The HSUS has released in 2012 alone. The response to the sickening cruelty we documented and exposed at a Tyson pig supplier was visceral and overwhelming.

Breeding sow in a gestation crate at Wyoming Premium Farms
The HSUS
Take action to help pigs today.

More than 100,000 people so far have taken action by contacting Tyson Foods and urging the company to stop lagging behind its competitors on the gestation crate issue. Thank you to every single one of you who’s spoken up for pigs by contacting the company. In addition to TV broadcasts of this story all across the country, in the days since the investigation broke, about 200,000 people have watched the video on YouTube. I just returned to my office a few minutes ago from CNN where I taped a segment for tonight’s Jane Velez Mitchell’s show on Headline News.

At first, Tyson misleadingly claimed that it had no connection with Wyoming Premium Farms, the facility we investigated. However, the information we assembled proved that a wholly controlled subsidiary of Tyson Foods did indeed buy pigs from this factory farm―which Tyson admitted. The company then pledged to temporarily suspend purchases while its own investigation goes forward.

Tyson temporarily suspending purchases from one factory farm in Wyoming is a start, but not nearly enough. Rather than defending gestation crates and allowing its suppliers to cruelly confine animals in them, Tyson should announce an end to its support for these torturous and archaic devices. On Monday, prior to our investigation, Safeway announced it is the latest company to commit to purging its supply chain of pork from operations that rely on gestation crates. With this week’s investigation, Tyson has no excuse to delay any longer in making a similar announcement.

May 10, 2012

Our Big Chance to Stick up for Puppies

We’ve conducted dozens of raids with law enforcement to rescue dogs in distress at puppy mills. There are so many stories of woe―and then redemption. But one that sticks in my mind is Rudy the dachshund, who was living in a filthy, unlicensed West Virginia puppy mill with about 1,000 other dogs when The HSUS and other groups intervened. When pulled out of his cage, he was fearful, trembling, and had never known the kindness of a person. After Rudy was adopted, he then became best friends with another puppy mill survivor.

Dachshund with puppies at West Virginia puppy mill
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
The unlicensed puppy mill where we rescued Rudy
and about 1,000 other dogs in 2008.

The people who owned Rudy were online sellers of dogs. And under federal regulations, if a dog breeder sells directly to the public, there’s no federal license and no USDA inspections. That gives some of these operators free rein to deny dogs even the basics.

Soon, animal advocates will have one of their biggest chances ever to make a difference for the dogs still suffering in unlicensed puppy mills.

Today, the USDA announced that it’s publishing a proposed rule to finally close this loophole and require large-scale commercial dog breeders selling puppies over the Internet to be federally licensed and inspected. This is a victory for dogs and for the more than 32,000 people who signed an HSUS/ASPCA petition on the official White House website urging the Obama administration to crack down on unregulated mills. It is similar in content to bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, which collectively have more than 235 cosponsors. And a big nod to our affiliate, the Doris Day Animal League, for demanding action on this issue as long as two decades ago.

Please take action to help dogs in unlicensed puppy mills »

HSUS investigations have time and again exposed the problems with online puppy-selling websites, many of them linked to substandard, unlicensed puppy mills.

Rudy, a dachshund rescued from a West Virginia puppy mill
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
Rudy after being adopted into a loving home.

While USDA oversight is not without its deficiencies, this is an important step in dragging thousands of unlicensed, uninspected puppy mills out of hiding once and for all. Some of these facilities have been churning out hundreds of puppies a year, often in deplorable conditions, without ever undergoing a single inspection for even the most basic standards of care. Aside from the animal welfare problems associated with the regulatory circumstances, it’s just plain unfair from a business standpoint―with one class of dealers inspected and the other not at all.

Now that this rule has been announced, we’ll need your support to ensure its swift approval. Please stay tuned here for upcoming details on how you can take action in support of this protection for puppies. [Editor's note: You can now take action here.]

May 09, 2012

Woof! Your Captions for Sutter the Corgi

Sutter Brown with Jennifer Fearing of The HSUS

Last week, I shared the story of a California corgi on a road trip to spread the word about spaying and neutering.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s dog, Sutter, traveled with our senior state director Jennifer Fearing from Sacramento to Los Angeles—where they joined the governor and other notable public figures to promote California's new spay/neuter license plate, which will fund programs to reduce pet overpopulation in the state.

Many of you sent in creative captions about what Sutter might have to say, and here are a few of my favorites:

“Golden State, don’t overpopulate! Buy Sutter’s awesome license plate!” ―B. Sheehan

“Turn left, please. I said turn left. Right now, before it’s too late for my treats!” ―Liz Conley

“Road trip! Road trip! I bet I can spot more new spay/neuter license plates than you. Don't forget to buckle me in, though.” ―Charlotte Anne Bond

“Recycle love; adopt a shelter dog/cat!” ―Kim Kempton

"Just saying, I did it and so can you. Spay and neuter and you'll be cuter! And...you will save lives." –Lynn Gillespie

"Arf! Let's roll!" ―Joanne Hedge

And here are a few more snapshots from the rest of Sutter and Jennifer’s trip:

 

Jennifer with Sutter and license plate         Sutter Brown smiling

May 08, 2012

Abhorrent Abuse of Mother Pigs and Piglets Uncovered at Tyson Foods Supplier

[Please note: Includes graphic descriptions of animal abuse.]

Breeding sow in a gestation crate at Wyoming Premium Farms
The HSUS
Take action to help pigs today.

Time and again, The HSUS’s undercover investigators have exposed appalling abuses of animals―at animal fighting pits, at puppy mills, at slaughter plants, and, with unnerving frequency, at industrialized factory farms. Our investigators have seen it all, or so we thought. The investigation  we announced today―conducted at Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to the meat industry giant Tyson Foods―is a case of sickening and blatant cruelty. It cannot be excused and should not go unpunished either by law enforcement, by regulators, or by the food retailers, including Tyson, that do business with this factory farm―to say nothing of the company’s management, which ought to feel shame and revulsion.

At this gestation crate confinement facility (see video), workers punched and kicked mother pigs. They kicked piglets like soccer balls, whipped them around by their hind legs, smashed them into concrete floors, and threw them high into the air. A few even threw piglets’ testicles at each other and fed them back to the mother pigs for “fun.” The people who engaged in this behavior should be prosecuted, and the callousness they exhibited should be a matter of serious concern to everyone, not the least of all their co-workers, neighbors, and family members.

Pregnant pigs with rectal and uterine prolapses were refused proper treatment. Pigs died in their gestation crates and were left there for days. One dead pig was half-buried in grain from an automatic feeder. One dying pig, barely even able to move, was desperately trying to inch her way to water, and the only hydration she received came as an act of mercy from our investigator. There were other cases of sadism and cruelty that I’ll leave unsaid here.

 

Why does it take The HSUS to expose this cruelty? Where are the company executives who run this factory farm? Where are the responsible leaders in this industry? Are they actually paying the least bit of attention to how their employees are behaving or what’s happening to the animals in their facilities? This is one major problem with the movement away from family farms to industrialized factory farms—the owners are nowhere to be found, and often a bunch of poorly paid, untrained, desensitized, and violent people are watching over the animals—with horrid consequences.

Just yesterday, Safeway—the nation’s second-largest grocery chain—announced that it will work to eliminate these gestation crates from its supply chain. And since February, other major food companies like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Compass Group have made similar announcements. This series of decisions should be a signal to the pork industry that there’s a crisis in conscience not just among members of the public, but among leading food retailers.

How about the images that we are transmitting today? Why would Tyson Foods buy from a wretched place like this? And where is the National Pork Producers Council, the trade association for the industry? How many cases of extreme cruelty must we uncover before the industry acknowledges that there’s something rotten at some considerable number of industrial pig farms throughout the nation?

And what about the NPPC's frequently trumpeted Pork Quality Assurance Program? The pork industry says self-regulation is working and there is no need for new humane standards, but time and again our investigators are uncovering unspeakable cruelty in a broken system. Rather than spend its time and resources trying to thwart legislation in Congress backed by The HSUS and the egg industry to improve the treatment of laying hens, the NPPC should clearly turn its attention to cleaning up the problems in its own industry.

In fact, I can’t think of a single time when the pig industry called out one of its own. Instead, the leaders in the industry spend their money and their political capital defending extreme confinement. They even oppose efforts by other industries, notably the egg industry, to create national standards to improve the treatment of laying hens. They and their political allies seek to suppress the activities that reveal and document such cruelties by every means necessary, including ag-gag bills in our state legislatures. How can they show such disdain for animals, even though they make their livelihoods from them?

What kind of people are they, and are they so arrogant as to think that the drumbeat of exposés, as well as the routine images of extreme confinement, will go unnoticed by the American public?

May 07, 2012

Stop the Killing of Wildlife with Americans’ Tax Dollars

At The HSUS, we believe that there must be standards of behavior enshrined in the law, since there are people who would otherwise choose to take advantage of animals and exploit them for profit and other motives. Animal fighting, horse soring, and killing of endangered species are just a few examples of why the law must speak and prevent people from engaging in cruel acts. Obviously, the government must enforce the law―through the work of regulatory agencies, law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts. We cannot have a successful animal protection movement without a strong and meaningful government presence.

Coyote in the grass
Lindsey Sterling Krank/The HSUS
Take action to help stop wildlife poisoning.

But government can also be put to use to facilitate the killing of animals. In Canada, it is the provincial government of Newfoundland and the federal government in Ottawa that are keeping the seal hunt alive. No one wants to buy seal pelts in the marketplace, but the government is doling out millions of dollars to buy pelts, put them in storage, and prop up the industry.

In the U.S., examples of detrimental government action or subsidy include using chimpanzees in laboratory experiments, military testing on animals, payouts to factory farmers, and so much more. 

Yesterday, The Sacramento Bee provided the final news report in its three-part investigative series on USDA’s Wildlife Services program―one of the most destructive and indefensible government programs that causes untold suffering to animals.

As reporter Tom Knudson wrote in yesterday’s piece, “Since 2006, employees have trapped, shot and poisoned more than a half million coyotes and other predators, along with 300-plus other species, from non-native starlings and pigeons to red-tailed hawks, prairie dogs, beaver and other native birds and mammals. In the process, they have also accidentally killed more than 50,000 non-target animals, from domestic dogs to golden eagles to black bears.”

In short, our federal government is running a wildlife-killing program to benefit private ranchers, trophy hunters, and other special interests. This mischief continues because it gets political support in Congress from ranchers, the hunting lobby, and state agriculture and fish and game departments. Efforts to block it have failed for years, because of the alliance of defenders who benefit from this de facto subsidy.

We at The HSUS have said there’s a useful government function to be had here, mainly in developing non-lethal methods of wildlife management and helping private citizens and businesses apply them. The HSUS has a whole program designed to put best practices to work to humanely resolve conflicts with wildlife. But the way Wildlife Services is run is archaic, cruel, and wasteful. As Knudson points out, it doesn’t even work―it’s just a psychological salve for ranchers and other resource users who dislike wildlife and don’t want to have to contend with wild creatures.

In the same edition of the paper, the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee urged Congress to end lethal predator control. It’s high time that happened. At the very least, the government’s use of poisons, leghold traps, and aerial gunning is an outrage, and the public shouldn’t stand for it. Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., asks, why continue a program that is "not very effective, has a number of unintended consequences and costs millions of dollars"?

If you haven’t already, please contact Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and urge him to stop the use of two especially cruel poisons by Wildlife Services.

May 04, 2012

Baby Foxes Saved from Path of Construction (Video)

Whether we realize or not, wild animals are all around us. Wildlife face threats every day from human development, roads, vehicles, and intolerant or poorly informed property owners―as well as abusive practices like poaching.

Red fox

That’s why our urban wildlife, or human-wildlife conflict, work is such an important part of our animal protection portfolio at The HSUS. The personnel associated with this work provide solutions to these conflicts and seek to foster great tolerance of our wild neighbors.

I wrote earlier this week about a federal government program that kills predators and other wildlife with your tax dollars, but at The HSUS we focus on finding humane and non-lethal solutions to wildlife conflicts.

Recently, our Humane Wildlife Services program set up remote video cameras, not far from The HSUS’s Maryland office, to monitor wildlife activity in a forested area about to be leveled for a new housing development. The cameras captured a remarkable sight: a red fox caring for her young. Take a look at our video of the baby fox kits exploring and being fed by their mother, just a stone’s throw from a busy highway. It’s a marvel to see how adaptable wild animals are, and how they can survive in the presence of such human-dominated landscapes.

 

Because of this development activity, our staff―following state law―carefully relocated turtles, snakes, and other small animals from the property. Working with the developer and a local wildlife rehabilitation center, we were also able to make sure these fox kits are out of harm’s way. If you find baby wildlife, our website has tips on how to help them (and when to leave them be).

May 03, 2012

Tune in for a Star-Studded Celebration for Animals

Each year, The HSUS hosts The Genesis Awards to recognize journalists in the news business and producers and directors in the entertainment industry for their contribution to building awareness of animal protection issues. The exposure of animal issues has become richer and more probing, it seems, and the history of The Genesis Awards is actually a remarkable chronicle of our progress as a movement.

Carrie Ann Inaba with Uggie
Tim Long Photography
Host Carrie Ann Inaba with dog Uggie.

This weekend, you can catch the awards on TV if you didn’t attend in person. Don’t miss The HSUS’ inspiring 26th Genesis Awards to see Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Ian Somerhalder, Colbie Caillat, and other stars celebrating this year’s winners. The awards ceremony airs on Animal Planet this Saturday, May 5, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, May 6, at 8 a.m. (both Eastern/Pacific time).

Our host is dedicated animal advocate and "Dancing With the Stars" judge Carrie Ann Inaba, with a little help from Uggie―the canine hero from the Oscar®-winning film "The Artist." Don't forget to set your DVRs to join in the celebration. You can also RSVP for our Facebook event and find recipes, ballots, and place cards on our website to throw your own Genesis viewing party. And you can text GENESIS to 30644 for a text message reminder to tune in (message and data rates apply).

 

P.S. I also wanted to share good news from California on the foie gras issue, which I’ve written about a couple of times in the last few weeks. Yesterday, after a gaggle of chefs traveled to the state capitol in Sacramento to urge a repeal of a law banning the sale of foie gras from force-fed ducks, Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez announced that they wouldn’t take up any bill advanced by critics of the law. It’s a truly fabulous outcome, and we are so grateful to California’s legislative leaders. See our statement issued last night. The ban is set to go into effect on July 1.

May 02, 2012

Caption Contest: California’s First Dog Hits the Road

Today Jennifer Fearing, The HSUS’s California senior state director, is heading to Los Angeles with a very special passenger: a Welsh corgi named Sutter, the dog of Gov. Jerry Brown. Sutter is a popular dog with his own Twitter account and Facebook page, and he’ll be helping promote California's new spay/neuter license plate at a press conference this afternoon. Proceeds from the plate will fund programs to reduce pet overpopulation in the state.

Jennifer sent over this photo of California's First Dog with her this morning. What do you think Sutter would say about their road trip, or about helping other animals? Let me know by submitting a comment or sending an email to blog@humanesociety.org. I’ll feature some of my favorite captions next week.

For California drivers, now is the time to pick up the new license plates. If we hit the right number, we should be able to take a big bite out of euthanasia in the state.

Sutter Brown with Jennifer Fearing of The HSUS
Email your caption ideas to blog@humanesociety.org.

P.S. Yesterday, I was in Salt Lake City and toured the dramatic expansion of the shelter of the Humane Society of Utah. When complete, it’s going to give the organization tremendous new capacity. Last week, I toured the Wisconsin Humane Society, one of the finest humane organizations in the country. Both groups are doing such life-saving work, and it was a great privilege to visit with their leadership and their staff and the best of the humane movement. We’ve got great people in our field fighting every day to drive down euthanasia rates and to promote the bond with animals.