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October 21, 2013

Food for Thought for Consumers

This weekend, The HSUS’ board of directors met in Washington, D.C., along with our Humane Society International board colleagues and our national council and state councils, and one topic we took up was food and agriculture and the appetite that consumers have for making conscious choices and moving the market toward more humane and sustainable production practices. Nebraska cattle rancher Kevin Fulton gave a rousing speech about factory farming and how that system of production torments animals and unravels rural communities, receiving a standing ovation from HSUS members.

In the U.S. and in Canada, we’ve demonstrated that consumers will respond and make more informed choices in the marketplace if there is compelling information about animal cruelty and personal and public health – as with gestation crates, veal crates and battery cages. But it was particularly heartening to read the story on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post about how demand for shark fin soup has declined in China, perhaps by half, since a consumer campaign was mounted there about the cruelty of finning, which featured basketball icon Yao Ming in a publicity campaign led by the non-profit organization Wild Aid (along with student campaigns and outreach events held by Humane Society International and the Jane Goodall Institute China’s Roots and Shoots program). The seeming success of this campaign is a reminder that well-executed education efforts can produce change, even in the most challenging of settings. 

Cow herd
Kevin Fulton
Daily consumer choices have an enormous impact
on the lives of other creatures.

For the last couple of years, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof has been trying to wake up consumers about the evils of factory farming – about the overuse of antibiotics and misuse of animals, crammed into small cages and living in overcrowded, inhumane environments.  Yesterday, he tackled that topic again, writing movingly about his childhood experiences on the farm where he grabbed geese and delivered them to the chopping block, watching as “one goose would emerge from the flock and walk tremulously toward me, terrified but unwilling to abandon its mate. It would waddle after me toward the chopping block, trying to honk comfort to its mate.”

He argued that we should start to think about the lowly chicken, who is not as dull as we’ve been led to believe. We raise and kill nearly nine billion of them a year and they have been bred for ludicrously fast and unhealthy growth, and there are not even humane slaughter standards to guarantee them a merciful death.  “[J]ust as we try to protect dogs and cats from undue suffering, without necessarily considering them our equals, it makes sense to minimize animal suffering more broadly when we can,” he added. “So even when there are no salmonella outbreaks, there are good reasons to keep away from wretched birds raised in factory farms.”

Factory farming is a model that can produce a major yield of animal protein, but it comes with enormous costs for animals and for the whole of society. Sensible people cannot be in denial any longer. The factory farms are a calamity for animals and for our planet, and these systems operate only because we tolerate them and buy up their products. We must do better, make more conscious choices, and bring a sense of urgency to how our daily lifestyle choices have such enormous consequences for the lives of other creatures.

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