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April 15, 2014

Seal Slaughter Resumes in Canada

Canada’s bloody commercial seal slaughter resumed yesterday, although with many fewer boats and participants than in past years. The offseason fishermen who seek to kill seals do so only because the federal government provides subsidies to help buy up the pelts. But their actions lead to an extraordinary loss of life in this seal nursery.  Today, I offer my latest video blog and commentary.  

You can help stop Canada’s senseless seal slaughter by making a donation to The HSUS’ Protect Seals campaign, which is hard at work to shut down the commercial sealing industry.

April 14, 2014

Even More Winds of Change Blowing for Whales

The latest pulse of good news for whales comes from an unlikely source – the tiny eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the site of whaling since 1875, when the immigrant Scotsman William Wallace launched a whale hunt there.  But recently, a number of whalers led by Orson 'Balaam' Ollivierre have decided to lay down their harpoons and join the whale watching industry as an alternative.

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iStockphoto
Whalers now realize there’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This sort of personal transformation is driven by the forces of economic progress and opportunity.  There’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This is the latest in a cascade of decisions and actions that are bringing us considerably closer to the end of whaling on our planet.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program in the Southern ocean was in violation of the global commercial whaling moratorium which has resulted in a suspension of Japanese whaling there and created great uncertainty about Japan’s future whaling.  On April 2, President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment for trading in whale meat, just as eight Icelandic members of parliament proposed a resolution asking the finance and economic minister to assess whaling from the perspectives of Iceland’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as its impact on Iceland's global position and stature with other nations.

And when it comes to the plight of whales in captivity, we’re seeing dramatic progress too.  On Friday, by a vote of 2-1, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected SeaWorld’s appeal of the 2012 OSHA regulatory safety finding that resulted in a prohibition on contact with whales in the water at SeaWorld.  The panel ruled that SeaWorld had violated its obligations as an employer by exposing its trainers to the "recognized hazards" of working with killer whales, and rejected the claim of a SeaWorld attorney that physical contact with killer whales was critical to his client’s core business.

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iStockphoto
As people begin to appreciate the opportunity to see whales in their natural environments, an enterprise like SeaWorld that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market. 

While SeaWorld is going to fend off California legislation, at least for some time, to ban the use of orcas in entertainment displays, the federal court ruling is a blow to the mega-entertainment company which must decide whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But before SeaWorld officials look to the nation’s highest court for a bailout, they might take a good hard look at the sweep of events concerning the protection of whales in the wild.  Whales, majestic creatures of the nation’s oceans, are meant to swim free, wild and unmolested. As more and more people throughout the world begin to appreciate and value the opportunity to see whales and to protect them in their natural environments, an enterprise that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market, just as the commercial whalers realize that there’s almost nobody who wants to eat whale meat.  Courts, parliamentarians and onetime whalers are all building a new consensus that ensures a square deal for whales in the coming decades. 

April 10, 2014

This Isn’t ‘Chicken Little’ Talk About USDA’s Poultry Slaughter Rules

Now would be the right time for leaders at the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step back and nix their dazzlingly reckless rush to proceed with a rule that provides for stepped-up poultry industry self-regulation - dubbed "Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection" - at chicken slaughter plants, which are concentrated in states in the South.

Sad Hen
Photo: Compassion Over Killing
Birds are not covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent 95 percent of all animals sent to slaughter.

The latest indicator that the USDA plan is a major step backward is that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has offered a rare public rebuke of a sister agency for misinterpreting its research findings on poultry slaughter line speeds.  Yesterday, NIOSH issued a letter criticizing the administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service for claiming that the health agency's study of slaughter operations in South Carolina did not recommend a slowing of line speeds.  "This statement is misleading," the NIOSH letter says. "Line speed affects the periodicity of repetitive and forceful movements, which are key causes of musculoskeletal disorders. Many of the NIOSH recommendations address the design of job tasks to minimize these factors."  The USDA, said NIOSH, had cherry-picked details from the study and was wrong to say that NIOSH's research showed that increasing line speed "was not a significant factor in worker safety."

It's sad but evident that the USDA intentionally misread NIOSH's study in its zeal to create additional political momentum for a rule that few people outside the poultry industry want or support.  In fact, consumer, worker safety and animal welfare advocates have all raised concerns about the proposal, submitting nearly 200,000 signatures in protest. And 68 members of Congress, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., have co-signed a letter to the USDA urging the administration to withdraw its proposed rule until all stakeholder concerns are fully addressed.

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Photo: Compassion Over Killing
Line speeds at poultry slaughter plants are already too fast. Speeding them up even more will compound the birds’ misery and produce more food safety problems.

The Washington Post has reported that line speeds are already too fast and that at least 1 million chickens are not properly stunned or slaughtered and drown to death when they are dumped into the scalding tank. This also jeopardizes the food supply, as the drowning birds may inhale the water contaminated with fecal material into their bodies. Speeding up the line even more would compound inhumane slaughter and food safety risks at poultry plants.

It's particularly troubling that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and his colleagues would put their energies into fast-tracking this proposal when there are other rules waiting for action that would demonstrably improve food safety and animal protection.  It's time to put this rule on the shelf and start focusing on standards that actually further food safety and animal protection.  One rule that's long overdue is to close the downer calf loophole by requiring immediate humane euthanasia for downer calves, just as the agency requires now for adult downer cows.  We've been waiting for over four years for the agency to issue this new policy, and we've conducted two undercover operations that reveal the worst sort of animal cruelty at calf slaughter plants.

More than half a century since The HSUS and other groups successfully made the case for a humane slaughter law, the USDA's failure to include birds under its protective aegis remains a true scandal, and one of the greatest sources of animal suffering and food safety risk in our nation. Moreover, if the USDA wishes to take on the issue of poultry slaughter and food safety in a serious way, it should be advocating that birds be protected under the terms of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act which requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter.  The USDA does not consider birds to be covered by the Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent 95 percent of all animals sent to slaughter.  Speeding up line speeds will only compound the birds’ misery, and produce more food safety problems and occupational injuries for workers engaged in extraordinarily demanding, repetitive motions as they handle and dismember birds by the billions on the slaughter lines.

April 07, 2014

See World From Orca’s Eyes

It’s been just a little over four years since the captive orca whale Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando. But largely due to a powerful documentary, “Blackfish,” so many Americans now see the issue of cetaceans in captivity from a different perspective, and there are serious questions about whether a business model built around captive display of orcas is either economically sustainable or morally acceptable.

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Orcas are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds

The HSUS has long opposed the display of captive whales and other marine mammals for entertainment, and in the early 1990s we created a program to make our case to the public. Orcas, in particular, are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds, which rival those of elephants and higher primates.

Yet we could not have imagined the sequence of events that has unfolded since Brancheau’s tragic death in February 2010. In May 2012, a federal judge affirmed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determination that SeaWorld had exposed its trainers to a hazardous environment, violating federal law, and affirmed OSHA’s recommendation that trainers never again be allowed in close contact with the animals unless protected by a physical barrier.

In 2012, St. Martin’s Press published the riveting book “Death at Sea World” by David Kirby, who spoke around the nation about the hazards for trainers and orcas at SeaWorld. “Blackfish” added the visual details to the narrative, and when it aired on CNN a number of times during 2013, it drew huge audiences, especially among young people. When I spoke just a month ago at the University of Oklahoma’s business school, it seemed as if all the students had seen the film.  The film had become a cultural phenomenon, and we recognized its director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, at our Los Angeles 60th anniversary gala a little more than a week ago.

We believe the book and the film provided an important backdrop as The HSUS and other groups pushed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2013 to reject a bid by the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.  And they also set the stage for the introduction of legislation to end the captive display and performance of orca whales in California. 

In fact, on Tuesday, California state lawmakers serving on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee in Sacramento will conduct a hearing on AB 2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, to phase out orcas in captivity in California.  Assemblyman Bloom’s legislation, if approved, would end the captivity of orcas for the purpose of entertainment in California. The HSUS supports AB 2140, and California residents can use our online alert to contact their Assembly members.

Scientific opinion over the last two decades or so has coalesced behind the case against keeping orcas and other marine mammals in captivity. We are too aware now of their intelligence, social needs, longevity, ranging habits and size, and it’s just harder and harder to accept their turning tricks for audiences day after day.

A few days ago, there were news accounts that attendance at SeaWorld facilities is down 13 percent. The company’s owner since 2009, The Blackstone Group, is filing to sell another 15 million of its shares in SeaWorld (SEAS), after selling off 18 million in December 2013.  That would make Blackstone a minority shareholder, which must make its ownership feel better given the run of events.  In the meantime SeaWorld is acquiring some of those shares, in effect trying to buy itself.  At this point, that may be the only option, since I cannot imagine many companies investing in an enterprise built around the controversial practice of captive display of orcas.  I don’t expect the public will want much to do with such an industry in the years ahead, and the sooner SeaWorld embraces a new model for doing business, the better.

April 03, 2014

Happy Birthday to our Leading Lady, Doris Day

Has there ever been a stronger individual champion of companion animals, or of the need for spaying and neutering pets, or of advocating compassion for all animals, than the remarkable Doris Day?  I can’t think of one, and today, as Doris celebrates her 90th birthday, I want to celebrate her magnificent generosity, spirit and resolve. 

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At 90, Doris Day continues to be a relentless advocate for all animals

Doris is a national treasure, and it was a proud moment in the history of The HSUS when we forged an incredible new partnership with her and her organization.  Since 2006, when the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) affiliated with The HSUS, Doris has continued to advocate for animals, strongly supported direct care work by The HSUS and other organizations, and pursued an active agenda to make animal welfare a national priority.  She’s been a giant in our field and added immensely to our cause.

Doris and her son Terry Melcher founded DDAL in 1987, but she had been standing up for animals for many years already.  She’s been rescuing dogs since her childhood in Ohio, and she’s still doing it. She’s been providing funds, for decades, to local societies doing vital work for animals, and she’s still doing it.  She’s been speaking out in a public way about cruelty to animals throughout her life, and she’s still doing it.  She’s going strong, and she’s made animal protection in the United States all the more strong by the consistency, tenacity and sincerity of her efforts.  Much of that work continues through DDAL and through the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

There are only a few entertainers who have established themselves as star performers in four separate mediums -- in her case, big band, radio, film and television -- and countless authorities in all of those fields have sung her praises.  But from our vantage point, former president George W. Bush truly said it best in 2004 when he recognized Doris with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors.  “It was a good day for our fellow creatures,” President Bush noted, “when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare.”

In constituting DDAL as a 501(c)(4) organization, Doris and Terry anticipated the contemporary phase of our movement, one in which animal welfare concentrates considerable attention on lawmaking and other public policy goals. DDAL inspired the formation of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which like DDAL applies its energies to a political agenda that prioritizes many of Doris’s greatest concerns. 

When it comes to The HSUS, Doris’s influence is also substantial.  At the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, the recently built Doris Day Equine Center trains volunteers in horsemanship and rehabilitation. On the last Tuesday of each February, World Spay Day, which DDAL initiated as Spay Day USA, we shine the spotlight on companion animal overpopulation and coordinate hundreds of events and clinics worldwide.  And in our work at every level, we place a special priority on the companion animal issues so dear to her heart.

One of my favorite stories about Doris is how, as a young actress, she had the courage to stand up to the formidable Alfred Hitchcock on the set of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” saying she wouldn’t work unless the emaciated animals on the set received proper care. To this day, she continues to be relentless in her quest to help all animals.  Only a couple of years ago, she released another album, “My Heart,” and whenever I talk with her, she’s full of energy and ideas about our common interests within animal protection.  I can’t wait to learn what she has in store for us over the next decade.  But for now, I just want to say congratulations, best wishes, and many happy returns to the animals’ sweetheart, Doris Day.

April 02, 2014

A Détente in Whale Wars?

Minke whale
A Minke whale photo by iStock

We’ve made more progress in our anti-whaling campaign in the last two days than in the prior two decades. Just 48 hours after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called for a halt to Japan’s whaling program – declaring it in violation of an International Whaling Commission moratorium – Japan has announced that it will not send a whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean this hunting season. For the Humane Society International (HSI), which incubated the idea of the ICJ challenge 15 years ago, this is cause for glee.

Every year, for more than a century, Japan has been killing whales in the Southern Ocean.  Since 1986 when the IWC moratorium went into effect, Japan has killed 10,500 whales in this region alone, using a loophole that allows countries to kill whales for scientific purposes. The majority of countries around the world, including the majority of parties to the IWC, recognize Japan’s actions as commercial whaling very thinly disguised as a scientific enterprise.

More good news came in late last night when Rakuten, the world’s largest Internet seller of whale and dolphin meat products, agreed to stop all sales of products derived from whales by April 30th this year. Rakuten joins Amazon and Google in refusing to sell whale and dolphin products.  The only remaining major Internet seller of whale and dolphin products in Japan now is Yahoo.  That company should cease sales, too.

Much work remains in making the oceans a safe and healthy environment for whales and other marine creatures. Marine debris, toxic pollutants, ship strikes and climate change are just a few of those threats. But when it comes to whaling, there is a sea change afoot. After the ICJ action on Japan, Iceland and Norway - the two remaining commercial whaling nations - would do well to put their harpoon guns in storage. There is no honor in being the last nation to participate in the intentional slaughter of some of the largest mammals ever to grace the planet.

 

March 31, 2014

A Whale of a Ruling

It’s rare that animal abuse ends with one blow to the head. Typically, it takes a thousand strikes before the perpetrator – whether it’s an industry, a nation, or an individual – moves on. That’s been the case with all of the major breakthroughs in civil rights, women’s rights, and so many other important causes. Such is the case, too, with the movement to stop the commercial slaughter of the biggest animals, with the biggest brains, who have ever lived on the planet: the many species of whales that swim the world’s oceans.

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A Minke whale photo by iStock

Today, Japan sustained its biggest strike since the 1982 global moratorium on commercial whaling with a ruling by the International Court of Justice that its current Southern Ocean whaling activities are in breach of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling. 

Humane Society International (HSI) was the incubator of this idea, nearly a decade and a half in coming to fruition. But it found powerful and decisive expression in a 12 to 4 ruling of a court created under the authority of the United Nations. 

Specifically, in 1999, HSI hatched an idea to challenge Japan at the International Court of Justice for its so-called scientific whaling programs. Japan has been violating the ban on commercial whaling since it first went into effect in 1986 – by using a loophole in the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling that allows countries to kill whales for scientific purposes. The majority of countries around the world including the majority of parties to the IWC – the body that regulates whaling – believe Japan’s science to be nothing more than commercial whaling thinly disguised as a scientific enterprise. Yet the IWC is unable to stop Japan because it lacks the ability to enforce the Convention’s rules.

We needed a new angle, a new point of attack. As our HSI team in 1999 prepared for the 2000 IWC meeting in Adelaide, Australia – led by current vice president Kitty Block, they crafted a legal argument laying the foundation to take Japan to the ICJ for its ongoing whaling. 

One hurdle was to find a country to bring the legal action. For a variety of reasons, we felt Australia was the right nation; we asked, and the Australian government accepted this important, bold challenge. That nation and our affiliate HSI-Australia, which won a significant legal victory against Japanese whaling companies a few years back, deserve a lot of credit on this historic day.

In the years since HSI’s whale campaigners forged this approach, the ICJ case has been ripening, and today’s ruling marks the most important announcement in the trajectory of the anti-whaling movement since the IWC passed the commercial whaling moratorium 1982. It is the strongest third-party rebuke of Japan’s disguised commercial whaling program ever, and it has the force of international law behind it.

But, in the end, this is not a time to focus on which countries won and lost in this legal battle. It’s bigger, much bigger, than that. This is an inflection point in the decades-long battle over whaling, and an opportunity for Japan to join the rest of the worldwide community in valuing live whales over dead ones. There’s much more money to be earned, and more national brand building to be gained, by transitioning entirely to a responsible whale watching approach and leaving the commercial killing behind. Indeed, there is a growing whale watching industry in Japan, and this is the future.

The new, humane economy beckons. The nations of the world, the courts of the UN, and the lion’s share of global citizens want Japan, and other whaling nations, like Norway and Iceland, to join them in protecting whales and recognizing the beauty and majesty and sentience of these remarkable beings.

 

March 28, 2014

From Russia with Love

Two days ago, it was former puppy mill dogs, rabbits, and birds from Arkansas arriving in D.C. Yesterday, to considerable and much warranted media fanfare, it was 10 street dogs from Sochi, Russia, who with our help made a trip across two continents to start a new life in America.   

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Jimmy in one of the open air enclosures at PovoDog, the first dog shelter in Sochi.

These transports and rescues provide glimpses of our never-ceasing, far-flung, and direct efforts to help dogs and other animals in need.

Humane Society International staff members have been working hard with Sochi based Povodog to help these dogs since the Olympic flame was extinguished, making arrangements to get them to the U.S., after the heroic efforts of Olympian Gus Kenworthy and his friend Robin Macdonald to draw attention to their plight.

As I’ve said before, street dog problems are a familiar challenge to us. We have street dog management programs at work in a number of Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and the Philippines, as well as in a growing number of Latin American nations.  We’d like to expand that work to Russia, and we are taking a look at the feasibility of that idea now. 

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Jimmy taking a break after a long flight from Russia. He then headed to the Washington Animal Rescue League, the Emergency Placement Partner taking in the ten Sochi dogs.

No group provides more hands-on care to dogs and other animals than The HSUS and our affiliates, and our work with dogs has an extraordinary footprint.  Just this month, we rescued 17 dogs from an awful hoarding case in Costa Rica, and we conducted our 18th and 19th puppy mill rescues in the last three years in North Carolina alone. 

Meanwhile, we are expanding the reach of our groundbreaking Pets for Life program throughout the country, providing critical pet care services to underserved communities. Thanks in part to support from PetSmart Charities, Pets for Life is now in 22 cities. And tonight, we’ll gather at an opening ceremony for our new dog-care center in Los Angeles, where we offer free pet care, dog training and other important Pets for Life services.

The HSUS’s opponents hate our effective advocacy campaigns against factory farming, dogfighting and cockfighting, puppy mills, sealing, the exotic pet trade, horse slaughter, and so many other areas.  They don’t want their cruelty or their exploitation of animals challenged, and I can understand they don’t like being confronted by a force like The HSUS. 

But it’s an amazing psychological process to see how such adversaries construct their own image of The HSUS, one that has so little bearing to reality, and try to twist the public’s perceptions of our organization and its important work. Time and again, for example, they falsely argue that our advocacy work crowds out our hands-on care of animals – somehow that we cannot do both.

The fact is, they are wrong – willfully wrong.  The HSUS and its affiliates are number one in advocacy and number one in animal care, and the dogs of Sochi and tens of thousands of animals we’ve helped throughout the United States and abroad are living evidence of that life-saving work.  Our advocacy work prevents much avoidable suffering and cruelty, and our direct care work meets the needs of animals in crisis.  It’s precisely the vision our founders championed and sought to implement sixty years ago.

March 27, 2014

Something is Rotten in Denmark

Take a look at two contrasting institutional responses to challenging circumstances with animals, which together give a clear measure of diametrically opposed value systems – one merciful, and the other ruthless.

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One of the dogs from Arkansas after arrival, ready to go to a placement partner so that he can find a home.

Yesterday, our HSUS staff greeted at our headquarters outside of Washington more than 55 dogs and an assortment of other creatures that our Animal Rescue Team rescued a month ago from a Jefferson County, Arkansas puppy mill. The dogs were living in filth and squalor, and they had a wide range of problems, including one dog who had lost the use of his lower jaw. We’ve been working hard over the last month to improve the health of these dogs, and yesterday, we handed them over to several of our Emergency Placement Partners after a 700-mile journey in one of our big rigs, for more tender care and then adoption in the weeks ahead. 

Then take a look at Act II at the notorious Copenhagen Denmark Zoo. Act I, involving the killing of a perfectly healthy 18-month giraffe named Marius, provoked widespread global outrage and condemnation not too long ago. The zoo said that it already had sufficient genetic diversity given the captive population of giraffes within European zoos and so officials there decided Marius was expendable - and should be killed. They did kill him and fed him to the lions.

It was not as if they loved the lions so much that they had to feed the big cats fresh meat. Two days ago, this same zoo announced it had killed four lions, including two cubs. Again, officials said they already had enough genetic diversity among captive lions, so these lions were expendable, too. What’s more, they were bringing in a new male lion and worried he’d kill the cubs.

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A lion cub in the wild. Photo by Alamy

“If the Zoo had not made the change in the pride now then we would have risked that the old male would mate with these two females - his own offspring - and thereby give rise to inbreeding,” said a statement from Copenhagen Zoo officials.

Apparently, the memos on the option of sterilizing the big cat, or the other cats in the pride, never made it to them.

When you think of animals as individual beings, with their own lives, you rescue them from crisis and then find a way to give them a good quality of life, as we did with the Arkansas animals. If you treat animals like a bunch of ambulatory exhibits or repositories of DNA, then you have the outcome that played out in Denmark. Sadly this outcome is all too routine in many of the zoos of Europe.

The World Associations of Zoos and Aquariums and other professionals in this field must condemn these unacceptable actions in the zoo community and remind officials like those at the Copenhagen Zoo that individual animals matter. 

March 19, 2014

Right to Farm or Right to Harm

PigsLet’s count the ways that our political adversaries try to thwart progress to help farm animals. They work hard to pass ag-gag laws to make it a crime to take pictures of animals on farms or to conduct undercover investigations. They work in Congress, with Rep. Steve King as their leader, to try to preempt state animal welfare laws that prohibit some of the worst abuses in factory farming. They seek to increase the degree of difficulty in qualifying ballot initiatives to help farm animals or other animals – either by raising the total number of signatures needed or by imposing an onerous distribution requirement – to block any future measures we might undertake. 

One of their latest gambits are the so-called “right to farm” measures now moving through some Midwest state legislatures and headed for the ballot or into law in others.

After trying to block all ballot measures related to animal welfare in 2002 – the same year we had an anti-cockfighting measure on the ballot – Oklahoma lawmakers are now seeking to place a measure on the November ballot that would guarantee that “the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”  The measure goes on to say, “The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the rights of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices.”  North Dakota voters approved a similar measure in November 2012, and Missouri voters will have a nearly identical measure on the ballot later in the year. 

No other industry is afforded such an unreasonable blanket protection in any state. Why should farming practices -- which for good reasons ought to be the subject of unending innovation and improvements -- be locked in place from a legal perspective, in a fashion that precludes voters or legislators from enacting reasonable standards that reflect our core values in society?

Has animal agribusiness been such a remarkable upstanding corporate citizen that its practices are beyond reproach? Some players within the industry confine animals to the point of immobilizing them for their entire lives. Others release enormous amounts of untreated animal waste into their communities. Others lace feed and water with antibiotics, threatening to develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could have dangerous consequences to the health of people throughout the nation.

This is not the kind of track record that warrants a policy response to forever inhibit state legislative standards. The “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment will not allow Missouri or Oklahoma legislators to impose common sense environmental and animal welfare controls on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Lawmakers will have no recourse to make sure that industrial farms don’t pollute our water, or to keep multinational corporations from bullying family farmers and driving them out of business. Or what about foreign corporations buying up farms and then doing whatever they want with the constitutional protections enshrined in law with “right to farm?” As an example, do we want foreign officials calling the shots on pig farms and chicken farms owned by the company or contracting with the company, in Oklahoma or Missouri?

And what happens if a giant hog farm wants to open near a new community development, or near a scenic trail or a high-use river? Can the state not step in and balance the interests? And who will decide what types of modern farming will be given constitutional protection? Will people have the right to farm horses or dogs for meat in a residential neighborhood? The result will be endless and costly litigation to sort out which regulations are allowed and which ones are trumped by the state constitution.

The Right to Farm measures are an unwarranted overreach by industries that want free rein, and don’t want accountability in our system of checks and balances. Consumers, government, and industry all have responsibilities to examine behavior and business, and the beauty of our system of government not only involves the interplay of these actors, but a continuous level of engagement between them all. To freeze the current policies, and to prevent legislators from touching an enterprise as fundamental as agriculture, is reckless and antidemocratic, especially at a time when the citizens of our nation are more interested in food policy than ever. 

I guess though, that’s the point of their effort. They don’t want to hear from consumers. Just eat what’s on your plate. They’re not interested in what you have to say or what you want.