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September 07, 2012

It's Time to Unite for Animals

Our anti-gestation crate campaign is something of a locomotive barreling down the tracks and heading in the direction of the finish line—which, in my mind, is the day that these extreme confinement crates are relegated to the dustbin of history. I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know we are getting closer to that goal every day. 

This week, we announced that fast-food giants Jack-in-the-Box and Wienerschnitzel have announced with us that they’ll transition to procure pork from operations that do not confine sows in gestation crates. Since our announcement on McDonald’s in February, we’ve worked with company after company—including Costco, Safeway, Burger King, and Sodexo and more—to sound the horn that gestation crates have no future in our society.

Potter quoteThis progress is a watershed for our movement and for the humane treatment of animals. To me, it’s not just a “good news” story—but a great news story.  The takeaway is, all animals deserve moral consideration, including those raised for food, and some practices are simply beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated.

You can understand why many industrial pig farmers and the trade associations that represent them are unhappy with our progress. But it’s a little harder to understand why some animal advocates decry these efforts, and assert that this progress is somehow counter-productive for animals.

I’ve been a vegan for more than a quarter century, and I understand their perspective. But I don’t agree with it. I do  largely agree with the essay in Slate published today by James McWilliams, who is one of the best-published vegan writers—someone who is often critical of reformist efforts in this realm.

He notes, correctly, that no group strikes more fear in the hearts of agribusiness advocates than The HSUS. His message to vegan advocates: It doesn’t help animals to join the meat industry’s leadership in attacking The HSUS.

We must all face the fact that we live in a very diverse world, and that eating meat is one of the most ingrained activities there is. The HSUS has always been a pragmatic and realistic force in humane work, and that is why we take the positions we do on this topic. I understand there are some who want dramatic societal dietary change overnight. I respect their judgment. While meat consumption is on the decline in the U.S., dietary patterns of Americans and people across the globe are not going to turn around tomorrow, or even next year, and perhaps not in a decade or even in 50 years. Moreover, there is a range of legitimate choices people can make if they wish to be part of the solution.

Since animals are being raised for food by the billions, I am not willing to sit back and allow animals to languish in cages barely larger than their bodies, on the faint hope that some are miraculously going to turn people into vegans in vast numbers tomorrow. I am going to campaign to stop the worst abuses and align with humane-minded farmers committed to a different way, while at the same time promoting initiatives like Meatless Monday to continue the reduction in per capita animal consumption. At current levels, it is unsustainable in all respects.

Moreover, the American public just doesn’t support this type of extreme, harsh confinement, and The HSUS is doing all that it can to align American production practices more squarely with public attitudes.  These creatures are suffering horribly. They need the relief, and the incredible litany of successes—related to battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates, and tail docking of dairy cows—are a cause for celebration. It’s time to unite to finish the job.

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