May 2012 Blog Home July 2012

19 posts from June 2012

June 14, 2012

Celebrate National Oceans Month with The HSUS and Humane Society International

“We are tied to the ocean,” President John F. Kennedy once observed, and that’s never been more true than today. The oceans still harbor billions and billions of animals, but human-caused actions threaten these vast areas and the great and tiny creatures who inhabit them. In the oceans, humans harpoon whales, they ensnare whales, dolphins and porpoises in commercial fisheries, they catch marine turtles in shrimp nets, they mine the coral reefs for tropical fish for the aquarium trade, haul in sharks by the tens of millions to slice off their fins, and deplete countless other species of fish in order to feed billions of people. 

Whale_Humpback_270x224Marine issues are an important concern for The HSUS and its affiliates. We weigh in on protecting the oceans and creating protected sanctuaries. In addition, we work against outright cruelty and unjustifiable killing. You know about our efforts to protect seals in Canada and Namibia and sea lions in the American Northwest, but in celebration of National Oceans Month this June, here’s some of the latest news about our other work for ocean creatures.


A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, with Humane Society International and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that the Japanese website of California-based Yahoo! continues to profit from the sale of whale and dolphin products. For example, in March Yahoo! Japan was offering 249 whale products, including sashimi and canned whale meat, for sale on its fee-based sales and auction sites. Several companies on Yahoo! Japan’s website were even selling endangered species such as fin whale. You can ask Yahoo! to stop selling these products here.

Sea turtles

The state of Orissa in India is home to the world’s largest nesting area for the olive ridley sea turtle, which is classified as vulnerable to extinction. HSI recently worked with a local group, Action for Protection of Wild Animals, and residents to survey the threats faced by nesting olive ridley turtles. A team of volunteers trained by HSI will patrol to protect the turtle nests from feral dogs, assist hatchlings into the ocean, and educate other community members and tourists about the issue.

Polar Bears

More than 13,000 supporters from 100 countries and all 50 U.S. states signed a petition submitted this week that asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose greater protections for polar bears at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The international trade in polar bears parts threatens these animals, already at risk from the effects of climate change. We are fighting efforts in Congress that would allow imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.


A bill awaiting the governor’s signature in Illinois would ban the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins. If enacted, Illinois will join California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington to provide critical protection to sharks and help preserve the health of the world's oceans. New York, New Jersey and Delaware are also considering bans on shark fin products.

Ocean animals in the aquarium trade

Hawaii is the world’s third-largest supplier of reef wildlife for the aquarium trade. According to a new omnibus poll conducted by Ward Research and commissioned by The HSUS and HSI, the vast majority of Hawaii's residents (66 percent) support ending the commercial collection of aquatic life for aquarium purposes. Close to half of these fragile reef animals die before reaching their destination, and those who do survive the journey to pet stores often die within a year.

How you can help:

You can help protect ocean animals with these actions to help whales, actions to help sharks, or actions to help reef wildlife.

June 12, 2012

Newspapers Flock to Support Bill that Would Help Millions of Hens

There are many ways to measure the power of an idea—and one of them is the ability of that idea to attract diverse support. When it comes to the surprising and unusual collaboration between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers to ban the barren battery cage and to require more space for laying hens, and to secure a ban on inhumane practices like starvation molting, it’s been remarkable to see the overwhelming range of support—from animal protection groups to agricultural organizations to veterinary associations to consumer groups to newspapers throughout the country. Today, USA Today endorsed the legislation, and as you’ll see below, so have other major papers throughout the country. We are not aware of any such papers opposing the legislation.

chickens in a crowded battery cage
photo: Compassion Over Killing

Pork and cattle industry trade associations do oppose the bill, as does the American Farm Bureau Federation, though none of these groups have expertise in egg farming or any economic investment in eggs. It’s amazing to see how these groups are trying to subvert farmers in the egg industry. These groups, so quick to object to outside interference in their own affairs, have turned on other farmers and are now engaged in precisely the same conduct they claim to decry.

And while the vast majority of animal protection groups favor the bill—from The HSUS to the ASPCA to Farm Sanctuary to Mercy for Animals to In Defense of Animals to the National Federation of Humane Societies—there are a few groups that oppose the legislation. But the main group against the bill has no history of achieving any policy progress on farm animal confinement issues, refused to endorse Prop 2 in California in 2008, and refused to endorse any other successful ballot measure on farm animal protection, all of which were driven by The HSUS. 

These editorial boards from across the country are among the many voices who have spoken out strongly in favor of this important federal legislation to phase out barren battery cages for millions of egg-laying hens. If you haven’t already, please contact your senators and urge them to cosponsor the Senate version of the bill, S. 3239, and vote for a parallel amendment to the Farm Bill offered by Senator Feinstein and a bipartisan set of cosponsors. You can call 202-224-3121 to reach the Capitol Switchboard.

“It's a small but important step, and it deserves to be enacted...The virtue of federal legislation is that it sets a minimum standard of care for animals while sparing responsible producers from the threat of being undercut on price by less scrupulous competitors.”—Chicago Tribune
“The story of how this deal came about holds a larger message for antagonists in weightier issues such as immigration, climate change and banking regulation: Pay attention and see how it's done…. Less than a penny an egg to treat animals humanely doesn't sound like too high a price. Especially if it comes with a rare lesson in how to get things done in deadlocked Washington.”—USA Today
“The congressional legislation that has resulted from this unusual alliance shows a good balance between real-world egg-production practices and the idealistic goal of free-range chicken farming...Congress, though, has a clear mandate to act from the farmers who know best how they want their eggs done.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“This bill...3798, deserves swift enactment. And the process by which it even got this far ought to be a model for politically warring factions everywhere.”—San Diego Union-Tribune
“It’s well past time to create a national standard that promotes more humane conditions everywhere. Yet the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association oppose the bill. They seem to fear that common sense and a humane regard for the well-being of farm animals will spread to their own industries.”—The New York Times
“In today's hyperpolarized world, that's not just a victory. It's an example of the way things should work.”—Arizona Republic
“Once at loggerheads, the nation's egg producers have joined forces with the Humane Society of the United States to support sensible bipartisan legislation in Congress that would require the industry to adopt the ‘enriched colony’ system for caged birds over the next 15 years...Egg producers, who are backing the legislation to head off a potentially costly patchwork of state laws, say eggs are likely to remain affordable, since farmers will phase in the colony system as part of their normal investment cycle—and hens are healthier and more productive in such an environment.”—New York Newsday
“Neither the producers nor the animal welfare advocates are getting everything they want. But the legislation would, not insignificantly, make egg farming in America more humane. And that's reason enough to support it.”—The Virginian-Pilot
“The new standards are based on sound science. Chickens living in enriched environments experience lower mortality rates and higher production rates than chickens in tightly confined cages.”—The Olympian
“Two former antagonists have come together to push for a national standard for the humane treatment of chickens raised for their eggs. The plan is a reasonable compromise and we hope they are successful in getting it through Congress—a place where too many people don't seem too interested in finding common ground these days.”—Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee, and Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star
“The legislation exemplifies how traditional adversaries can put aside their distrust and work together for each side’s mutual benefit.”—Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal and Green Bay (Wis.) Press Gazette
“A federal law is the only way to mandate uniform standards, and this smart and focused measure is supported by the United Egg Producers, which represents 88% of the nation's egg farmers. As legislation goes, it's a good egg.”—Los Angeles Times
“It's no sure thing that Congress will approve the national standard; pig producers opposed to any national farm standards already are raising objections. But the agreement on laying hens is a fair compromise.”—The Oregonian
“We know that animals feel discomfort and pain. We know that bad conditions can cause them great distress. Because the animals are in our power and helpless, we must avoid cruelty at all costs. Congress should pass the bill.”—Albany (Ore.) Democrat Herald
“This is an important measure, especially in Pennsylvania, which is the third-largest egg producer in the country...This is not just about providing better conditions for chickens, although that is important. The changes also give consumers better information about the eggs they buy. Wording will specify how the animals that laid their eggs are kept—from caged hens to those that are free to roam.”—Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News
“Even most confirmed carnivores would agree that cruelty-free agricultural methods are preferable. Allowing hens a little room to spread their wings and places to perch, nest, and scratch seems pretty reasonable...The accord between the HSUS and the egg producers is something to crow about.”—Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star
“Federal regulation of eggs and other agricultural products is not new. Most people in the egg industry want this updated legislation because it sets a uniform playing field for everyone instead of having states develop their own standards. Furthermore, evidence suggests that hens' egg production increases at farms that have installed the new cages.”—Clarksville (Tenn.) Leaf Chronicle
“There also are significant political obstacles, starting with cattlemen and other livestock interests who oppose the bill. But the same organizations successfully challenged a California law governing slaughterhouses, arguing in court that federal standards should prevail. Fair enough, let the same approach extend to egg farms.”—Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat
“Compromise offered the best possible outcome. Federal rules would benefit all 280 million hens rather than just 6 million Washington cluckers. The egg industry would get a nationwide standard to live by rather than a hodgepodge of state laws, and voters won’t have to make the call about how best to balance animal welfare and commerce. Would that more groups were able to settle their differences in such a way, without forcing the electorate into all-or-nothing scenarios that rarely come without major complications.”—Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune

June 11, 2012

Investing In a Better Future for Animals

At McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting last month—in front of a packed room of investors, board members, executives, and reporters—Paul Shapiro, HSUS’s vice president of Farm Animal Protection, engendered a round of applause for the company’s groundbreaking commitment to eliminate gestation crate confinement of pigs from its pork supply chain. 

The HSUS was at McDonald’s meeting as more than just a guest—we were also there as an investor, albeit a minor one. Since 2007, The HSUS has strategically acquired shares in nearly 100 of the nation’s largest companies whose business operations affect the lives of animals. Our portfolio spans the food, clothing, and pharmaceutical industries because companies in these sectors routinely engage in purchasing or testing practices that swallow up enormous numbers of animals.

Breeding pigs in gestation crates
The HSUS has strategically acquired shares in nearly
100 of the nation’s largest companies whose business
operations affect the lives of animals.

Like many investors, we care about the social responsibility of the companies we invest in. The humane treatment of animals is an important corporate concern, and we use our position as a stockholder to generate progress for animal welfare throughout these industries. Progress for animals improves the bottom line and helps these companies stay competitive in the marketplace. By filing shareholder proposals calling for reforms, attending annual shareholder meetings to address pressing issues with corporate executives (and to thank them, when they implement animal-friendly policies), and by challenging companies’ positions on animal welfare issues with regulators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, we are working to make sure that animal welfare is an essential part of the thought process for the companies’ leaders.

What progress, exactly, has all this helped bring about?  Here’s a sample of just some of the important steps companies in our shareholder portfolio have taken after The HSUS’s interventions:


  • Sears, Steinmart, Talbots, True Religion Brand Jeans and Iconix—which owns the Rocawear clothing line—stopped using fur altogether.
  • Clothing retailers Nordstrom and agreed to stop selling products that contain raccoon dog fur, and starting this fall, leading luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue will not accept products made with Chinese raccoon dog fur.
  • Dozens of major food companies committed to phase eggs from hens not confined in barren battery cages into their products.  These companies included: Pepperidge Farm, Carnival Cruise Lines, Cheesecake Factory, ConAgra Foods, Denny’s, IHOP, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Kellogg, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Marriott Hotels, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, and Wendy’s.
  • Some of those same food companies—and others—also committed to phase gestation crates out of their supply chains, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Denny’s, Kroger and Safeway.
  • Allergan—a major pharmaceutical company—committed to, developed, and secured FDA approval for a new procedure that avoids using animals in testing batches of Botox products.  This move  is expected to reduce use of animals in Botox testing by 95 percent within three years.
  • Idenix—another pharmaceutical company—committed to a company policy against the use of chimpanzees in invasive animal tests.

We are thankful to these companies that have moved in the right direction to improve animal welfare.

Whether through private dialogue with these companies, filing shareholder proposals calling for reforms, or challenging companies’ animal welfare policies at the federal level, we have made sure that countless animals—from chimps to chickens—now have better lives as a result of our work with corporate America. It’s a tactic we’ll continue to employ in order to help build a more humane economy.

June 08, 2012

A Critical Moment to Help Hens

The U.S. Senate turned on Thursday to opening statements on the farm bill, and over the next two weeks, the Senate will debate dozens of amendments to this omnibus farm policy measure before giving it final approval. We expect that one amendment may come from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. That amendment would encompass the content of their bill, S. 3239, to set up minimum space and enrichment standards for the care of the nation’s 280 million laying hens―essentially doubling space for each hen over a phase-in period (with benchmarks along the way) and within a year banning forced starvation-based molting, limiting ammonia levels, and setting up a labeling program. We are encouraging our supporters to call their two U.S. Senators (the switchboard is 202-224-3121) and to urge them to co-sponsor S. 3239 and support the Feinstein amendment to the farm bill.

White hen

The legislation comes as a result of a surprising and landmark compromise on the issue between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers, which have been political adversaries for years―most notably over Proposition 2 in California in 2008. Rather than fighting an expensive set of battles state-by-state over a decade or two, with an uncertain set of outcomes, the two groups agreed on a path forward to reform that will result in improved treatment for all 280 million birds in the U.S. egg industry and give that industry a greater degree of confidence in the regulatory framework it must abide by. 

Please take action to help hens today »

Since we announced the agreement last July, it’s attracted support from a long list of animal welfare groups, including the ASPCA, Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, In Defense of Animals, and others. These groups are pragmatic and focused on getting tangible results for animals. S. 3239, and the House companion bill, H.R. 3798, have also won the backing of the American Veterinary Medical Association and other veterinary and avian science groups. And the measures have been endorsed by Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumers League. Newspapers throughout the country―from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to the Chicago Tribune―have also endorsed this measure as a successful initiative in problem-solving.

But it’s no surprise that there are still groups standing in the way―mainly the pork industry and the cattlemen’s association. It would be an appalling outcome if industries with no direct stake in the egg industry could subvert something as positive and important as this agreement. It is the very reason why the American public is often disgusted with Congress and with hired-gun lobbyists―that some lawmakers don’t make judgments on the merits of a policy issues, but their decision-making is driven by pressure from special interests that divide the world along partisan lines and hew to their particular orthodoxy. In this case, their orthodoxy is that there should be no requirements in federal law related to animal welfare. Let’s remember, these are the same groups that opposed the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act when it was proposed a half-century ago and they’ve not relented in their opposition even to modest improvements for animals–in this case, for an entirely separate industry!

But one big question, especially as it relates to the pork industry, is this: shouldn’t pig farmers be cleaning up their own house first and not worrying about improvements that the egg industry now wants to move ahead with?  Since Jan. 1, many of the pork industry’s biggest customers have said they no longer want pork from operations that confine their sows in tiny crates that don’t allow the animals to turn around. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kroger, Safeway, and so many others have said they think these crates are unsustainable and they’ve set time frames to cleanse their supply chain of pork that comes from operations that confine the sows so severely.

With its customer base demanding change, and with the American public strongly disapproving of this method of extreme confinement, why is the pork industry telling the egg industry how to run its business? How arrogant and out of touch. And why would the Congress even give these guys the time of day? 

Lawmakers should do what’s right for animals and for this industry. It’s rare that common ground has been found on a contentious issue. It’s time to act.

Please raise your voice in the coming days and let your lawmakers know how you feel.

June 07, 2012

Jane Goodall’s Extraordinary Dedication for Animals

Last week I attended the World Animal Forum, which consists of leaders of several global animal protection groups, including The HSUS and Humane Society International―our worldwide affiliate. The purpose of the gathering is to foster cooperation between organizations and drive the animal protection agenda across the globe.

Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall at the 2005 World Congress on
Alternatives and Animal Use.

We had a long list of accomplished guests, and no one of them more significant or worthy of our gratitude and admiration than Jane Goodall.

I grew up reading about her studies of chimpanzees published in National Geographic, and her work helped nourish my budding interest in learning about and protecting animals. Today, decades later, she is largely out of the jungles and forests and spending more of her time in board rooms, behind speaking lecterns, or in front of a laptop.

I travel a great deal, but I don’t hold a candle to her; she’s on the road 300 days a year. She’s got fire in the belly for our cause, and she is such a remarkable force for the good. In my capacity as president of The HSUS, I get to meet a lot of extraordinary people. But she’s surely one of the most extraordinary. I am so grateful she’s devoted her life to fostering an understanding of the lives and intelligence of animals and reminding all of humanity about its responsibilities to other creatures.

It is our privilege to be able to work with her and her colleagues at the Jane Goodall Institute on a number of initiatives pertaining to the protection of chimpanzees in the wild and in captivity.

HSI has also teamed up with her environmental education program, Roots & Shoots Beijing of The Jane Goodall Institute China, to raise crucial awareness on the importance of protecting sharks. China’s demand for shark fins has fueled the cruel shark finning practice and decimated shark populations worldwide. Community events organized by Roots & Shoots student leaders and shark photo exhibits across Beijing have galvanized support for sharks in the country.

June 06, 2012

Common-Sense Ban on Dangerous Exotic Animals Signed in Ohio

Common sense, rather than tragedy, should drive public policy decisions, but sometimes it takes a high-profile event to focus the attention of lawmakers and government officials on key animal welfare issues. Michael Vick’s arrest several years ago made dogfighting a topic of national discussion and allowed us to upgrade 40 state laws related to animal fighting. The mass pet rescue that came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina put the issue of pets and disaster planning into the national consciousness, and now the legal and administrative framework has changed on that issue in a dramatic fashion.

Tiger in grass

The tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio, last fall may prove to be a pivot point on the issue of private ownership of exotics. Yesterday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed legislation to crack down on the trade in powerful wild animals as pets and roadside attractions, and you can draw a straight line from that event to yesterday’s signing ceremony. We are grateful to Gov. Kasich and Ohio lawmakers for standing firm on this issue and enacting a strong policy. The law:

-Bans new ownership of dangerous wild animals, including big cats, some smaller exotic cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, many non-human primate species, alligators, and crocodiles in Ohio;
-Grandfathers existing animals so people who currently have them can keep them, as long as they obtain a permit;
-Requires owners of exotic animals covered under the grandfather clause to acquire liability insurance or surety bonds ranging from $200,000 to $1 million;
-Requires existing owners of exotic animals to comply with housing and safety standards that will be established by the Ohio Department of Agriculture; and
-Requires criminal background checks for owners of existing exotic animals to qualify for a permit.

The enactment of this law marks the seventh major animal welfare reform adopted in Ohio since The HSUS negotiated an agreement with the former governor and the state’s leading agriculture organizations in July 2010. The state, at our urging and consistent with the terms of the agreement, is phasing out the use of (1) veal crates and (2) gestation crates. It outlawed the transport of (3) downer cows and established (4) humane euthanasia standards for animals on the farm.

It forbids the establishment of (5) new barren battery cage facilities in the state. It is phasing out the practice of (6) tail-docking of dairy cows. And with Gov. Kasich’s signature, the state has a new law governing (7) private ownership of exotics; there were no standards before yesterday.

The HSUS had identified Ohio as a real outlier on animal issues, and we decided to do something about it. There are two other reforms we are actively seeking there―(8) making cockfighting a felony and (9) creating standards to crack down on puppy mills.

Ohio is moving up the charts on animal welfare issues. We need to continue the momentum.

June 05, 2012

Stronger Federal Rule Announced to Impose Penalties against Horse Soring

The abuse of Tennessee walking horses has been in the news since The HSUS released video footage of one of the industry’s top trainers striking a horse in the face with a wooden handle and pouring injurious chemicals onto the feet of a horse. It was four decades ago that Congress passed the Horse Protection Act to prevent and criminalize “soring” and other abuses of horses. Tennessee state representative Janis Sontany wrote in a column in The Tennessean on Sunday: “Soring has been a well-kept dirty secret in this industry and it’s time for this nonsense to end.”

Tennessee walking horse
Photo: Lance Murphey
Abusive horse soring is a serious problem in the
Tennessee walking horse industry.

In 2010, The HSUS and a broad coalition of horse industry and animal protection groups filed a legal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture documenting that soring practices are rampant in the industry as part of trainers’ and owners' determination to produce the high-stepping gait, or “big lick,” glamorized in the show ring. The petition sought a number of regulatory changes to improve HPA enforcement―including the implementation of a mandatory penalty structure.

Today, in the wake of the furor that’s resulted from the public witnessing the abusive practices documented in HSUS’s investigation, the USDA announced that there will be mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the law. Through the years, industry inspectors (part of what are known as “Horse Industry Organizations”) cited some trainers for “soring” but penalties were not consistently meted out, and there was no therefore meaningful disincentive to stop the abuse.

Today’s announcement changes the equation and provides much-needed improvements in HPA enforcement―finally providing some level of deterrence for lawbreakers. I commend Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for issuing this rule today.

As pleased as we are with USDA’s action, there’s additional reform that’s needed in order to root out soring. Animal protection groups, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the USDA’s own Inspector General have argued that the current system of industry self-regulation is fundamentally flawed. USDA inspectors should be doing the enforcement work, since they don’t have the inherent conflicts that industry personnel have.

That’s a task that Congress must complete. Federal legislators must amend the HPA to eliminate the industry’s role in enforcement of the Act, close loopholes that violators often slip through, and give the USDA the tools to fully protect this wonderful breed of horse, as Congress intended when it passed this law 42 years ago.

Since McConnell’s indictment, we’ve been hard at work bringing this abuse to the attention of state and federal authorities, urging them to do more to enforce and stiffen existing laws. We petitioned USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to treat the use of numbing and masking agents (used to camouflage evidence that a horse has been sored) as felony interference in enforcement of the HPA. And we asked the Tennessee Attorney General to investigate whether the current state cruelty law is being followed in reporting and prosecuting soring at horse shows in the state.

A recent analysis of the violation history of the top 20 trainers in the industry’s Riders Cup high point program found that every one of them was cited for HPA violations in the past two years, with a total 164 violations among them. How many served a suspension penalty? A mere 7 percent―and of those, all but a handful were for a measly two-week period.

We will also be calling on the industry itself to take some common-sense steps, including ousting those who torment animals from the show ring, establishing a zero-tolerance policy for this criminal behavior, and adopting practices and policies that will secure a place in the future of American equestrian sport for this breed. We want to help the industry reform, rebuild, and regrow, with the good, law-abiding animal lovers at the helm, reaping the rewards of fair, humane―and legal―competition.

June 04, 2012

Breaking News: Nation’s Largest Grocery Chain Eliminating Gestation Crates

Forcing breeding pigs to live in narrow crates where they can’t turn around for nearly their entire lives is simply indefensible. I’m pleased to report to you that a tipping point has been reached on this subject. The news today that Kroger—the nation’s largest grocery chain—will work to eliminate gestation crate confinement of pigs from its pork supply chain provides even more evidence that there’s no future for these crates in our country. Kroger’s announcement comes on the heels of Safeway, the nation’s second-largest grocery chain, announcing in May that it’s eliminating gestation crates in its supply chain.

Pig in gestation crate from Oklahoma pig investigation
More and more companies are making plans to phase
out cramped gestation crates for breeding sows.

Just in 2012, there has been a cascade of other announcements toward ending this confinement. We’ve worked with the top three fast food chains (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King) to announce that they’re also eliminating gestation crates in their supply chains. Denny’s is doing the same. We teamed up with Compass Group―the world’s largest food service company, operating 10,000 dining facilities in the U.S.―to announce that it will eliminate gestation crates from its supply chain by 2017. And we partnered with Bon Appétit Management Company, another leading food service provider, to announce that it will be gestation crate-free within three years.

And two major producers―Smithfield last year, and Hormel this year―pledged to move to group housing systems for their company-owned operations by 2017. Another major producer, Cargill, is already 50 percent crate-free.

Clearly, these producers and these food retailers are trying to better align their business practices with their customers’ values. According to polling and voter initiatives, opposition to gestation crates is solid in states across the nation.

Some state pork producer associations―such as those in Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio―have rightly recognized that they must adapt to the well-established public opposition, and they’ve supported state bills to phase out the crates. Kudos to them.

But there still is strong sentiment from diehards within the pork industry that they will defend the use of these crates to the bitter end. In fact, they even oppose progress for animal welfare in other industries. For instance, the National Pork Producers Council is working against the national egg industry and its efforts to provide a rational, scripted transition away from barren battery cages.

I believe the industry is doing brand damage by defending these inhumane confinement crates, and standing in the way of other animal welfare reforms. 

It’s so clear that even Pork Magazine editorialized to pork producers, “[O]n the issue of gestation-sow stalls, at least, it’s increasingly apparent that you will lose the battle.” And the agribusiness publication Meatingplace editorialized, “Game over. For any pork producer still on the fence, the McDonald's announcement makes the move inevitable, whether or not they are a McD's supplier.”

So they don’t have to listen to The HSUS. They just have listen to voices within their own industry and among their customers.

June 01, 2012

OSHA Ruling Provides Further Evidence that SeaWorld Should End Orca Shows

In February 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a veteran orca trainer at SeaWorld Florida, was killed by Tilikum, SeaWorld’s largest orca. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency charged with protecting workplace safety, investigated Brancheau’s death and in August 2010 issued a “willful” citation against SeaWorld, meaning the agency considered SeaWorld to have shown “plain indifference” to its employees’ safety.

SeaWorld immediately contested the citation, leading to a 9-day hearing in fall 2011 before Judge Ken S. Welsch, an administrative law judge with the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. And this week, Judge Welsch’s ruling upheld the citation, but downgraded its severity from “willful” to “serious.”

Orca closeup
Orcas don't belong in captivity.

Boiling everything down, Judge Welsch concluded from the testimony of numerous witnesses as well as written documents that SeaWorld believed it was doing enough to protect the safety of its trainers, but that it was badly mistaken―and with tragic consequences for Ms. Brancheau. Although Judge Welsch downgraded the severity of the citation and lowered the fine, he upheld OSHA’s core claim that SeaWorld must abate the hazard posed to trainers through interaction with orcas by providing them with physical barriers or equivalent levels of protection. From this point forward, SeaWorld trainers are almost certain never again to perform in the water with orcas.

The HSUS concurs with OSHA that it is not safe for people to interact in the water with the world’s largest and most intelligent predator. An orca can easily injure or kill a human being even without intending to. Once a whale decides to prevent a trainer from exiting the water, there is nothing anyone can do until the whale is good and ready (which may be far too late for the trainer). This is precisely what happened to Dawn Brancheau―it took 45 minutes to wrest her body from Tilikum’s jaws, and only after he had been immobilized on the medical pool’s raised floor.

But increasing trainer safety doesn’t address the core animal welfare issue of keeping orcas in captivity, and it paradoxically decreases whale welfare since orcas are highly social. In captivity, trainers become part of their pod (poor substitutes for natural social partners, but the whales do rely on them for interaction), and the contact the whales have with them increases their well-being. So a behaviorally impoverished and deficient environment―with these enormous, wide-ranging animals living in pools with no ability to choose their social grouping or escape conflict, and not with their family members―will become even worse for the animals. Though OSHA and Judge Welsch made the right call here from a worker safety viewpoint―the only logical call they could make―no one wins in this scenario.

It’s time to end the use of orcas in theme parks. People love seeing these majestic animals up close, and who wouldn’t? These are remarkable creatures. But the price is too high for them, and here’s a case where we must exhibit some restraint. The physical setting at these parks just isn’t sufficient to provide for proper behavioral and social enrichment. It’s a part of our moral evolution to pause and stop breeding orcas and to retire them and place them in sea pens, where protected contact with caretakers will matter less to their welfare, because they will once again have real seawater, live fish, and more space to swim. Society will still flourish, and appreciation of whales will still grow. Yes, SeaWorld may see a reduction in profits, but that’s the occasional price of progress in our society.