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September 05, 2014

Japan Plots New Attacks on Marine Mammals

Japan is making news on the marine mammal front, not only with the start of the barbaric dolphin drive in Taiji, but also with the launch of its Pacific whaling fleet today, and its announcement that the island nation intends to continue its whaling in the Southern Ocean. In March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program in the Antarctic was illegal and thus a violation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling approved by the International Whaling Commission in 1982. After the ICJ verdict was returned, Japanese officials were quick to say that Japan would abide by the ruling and many took this, quite reasonably, to mean that the country would end its lethal scientific research program. 

Minke Whale
At the International Whaling Commission meeting, Japan will propose a new research plan that would allow the killing of minke whales. Photo: Alamy

Now, it is taking another tack, and plans to propose a new lethal research plan at the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Portorož, Slovenia, later this month. While reportedly giving up any future planned killing of humpback and fin whales in the Southern Ocean, Japan intends to continue to kill southern minke whales, smaller and more numerous than other hunted baleen whale species.

Certainly, it was the hope of many concerned parties that Japan would not only accept the ICJ decision but would “cash out” of whaling altogether, affirming its respect for international law and the obligations it has taken on as a signatory to relevant global treaties. Japan’s constitution sets the highest standard for the nation in this respect: “We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal, and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.”

Japan’s JARPAII program in the Antarctic was controversial not just because the research was usually lethal, but also because the meat from the whales was sold on the commercial market in Japan. In fact this is allowed under Article VIII, a clause in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling treaty that authorizes the killing of whales for the purposes of scientific research. But, as has been clear for many years, Japan was effectively carrying out a commercial whaling program thinly disguised as science. Now, Japan regrettably intends to take advantage of that portion of the ICJ ruling that provided guidance as to the conduct of any future programs under the provisions of Article VIII.

This pivot by Japan is shameful, and the meeting in Slovenia, which might have marked a turning point in the shift of values and approach to the question of whaling, promises to become a bog of division and discord over this and several other proposals advanced by Japan and its allies. Even as the world community moves to meet the many threats to ocean health and the preservation of marine creatures, we are trapped in a debate over the morality of whaling that should have been resolved long ago.

Humane Society International’s team in Slovenia will urge delegates of the Commission to press the Japanese government to take heed of the ICJ decision and not pursue any further commercial whaling, including in the guise of Article VIII whaling, in the Southern Ocean or the North Pacific Ocean. In the meantime, you too can take action to save whales from the threat of the harpoon.

September 04, 2014

Mobile Clinics Deliver Life-Enhancing Services to Pets on U.S. Reservations

The day starts early at a makeshift veterinary clinic — conducted by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association — in rural Grays Harbor County in Washington State. Fifty students, volunteer veterinarians, technicians and staff members wake up at 5.30 a.m. in the community gymnasium where they are bedding down for the week, roll up their sleeping bags, and grab a cup of coffee and breakfast prepared by local community volunteers. They are ready to start a 16-hour workday at the temporary clinic they’ve set up at the gymnasium.

HSVMA clinic
Over 10 years, HSVMA staff and volunteers, working out of makeshift, week-long clinics like this one, have trained over 4,000 veterinary students and cared for more than 90,000 animals. Photo: Holly Hazard

By the time the doors open at 8, there is already a line of people with their pets waiting outside. There are animals with mange, broken bones, wounds, and those in need of spay and neuter services. Taholah, on the Quinault Indian reservation, is a small community of just 240 households. A third of its residents live below the poverty line. The people waiting at the clinic cannot afford to take their pets to veterinarians. The free, week-long HSVMA clinic may be their only resource to ensure that their animals get professional care.

This scenario has been repeated over and over again this summer in remote and impoverished reservations across the United States, as it has for the past 10 years – a period during which HSVMA staff and volunteers have trained over 4,000 veterinary students and cared for more than 90,000 animals — providing more than $18 million in free veterinary services for pets in poverty.

But there was something different this year: the 200 veterinary students who participated in the clinics were supported with $70,000 raised by the HSVMA through a crowd-funding website called Crowdrise: an innovative fundraising tool that gives charities the ability to compete and raise funds for worthwhile projects.

An affiliate of The HSUS, HSVMA harnessed the students’ own enterprise for this crowd-funding effort. Each clinic was turned into a fundraising team, and every student was given a minimum sponsorship goal. The highest fundraisers on each team would get special perks in the field (first shower, prime sleeping space in the gymnasium, a little care package, etc.). At the end of the year, the team that has raised the most funds will receive a prize (HSVMA books). Students have been reaching out to friends, family and social networks and are highly motivated by the support they’ve received so far.

Dogs at HSVMA clinic
At the Taholah, Washington, clinic these puppies waited while the HSVMA team used its creativity and resourcefulness to nurse their mother, Hunter, back to health. Photo: Melissa Rubin

All of the students, veterinarians and technicians pay their own travel costs and the buildings where the clinics are held are provided by the communities, which helps ensure that all of the  funds raised go toward helping the animals – including a sweet Boston Terrier named Hunter who arrived early one morning at the clinic in Taholah with six puppies in tow. She had experienced a difficult pregnancy, and her family was concerned that if she had another litter she might not survive. They were relieved to have the opportunity to have her spayed. But while Hunter’s surgery went well, she was slow to recover.

As a field operation, the HSVMA clinic doesn’t have access to all of the diagnostics of a full-service veterinary hospital, but the team is well-equipped, experienced and resourceful. Using their creativity and available resources, the team nursed Hunter back to health over the course of a day and sent her back home happy and healthy. And the students learned a valuable lesson in diagnostics and innovative medicine that could not have been replicated in a classroom.

"It was so inspiring,” reports my colleague Holly Hazard. She recounted to me an instance where it took 30 students and five veterinarians just 19 minutes to convert an empty cafeteria into a six-table surgical clinic. “It was like a military exercise, and something to behold.”

The HSVMA-Rural Area Veterinary Services Crowdrise campaign will continue for another month as the team works to raise funds to cover all of the medical supplies needed to treat nearly 5,000 animals like Hunter. This year the program will reach pets on 11 domestic reservations in five states, including Arizona, California, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington. Your support in making these clinics possible is integral to the work that these dedicated volunteers do every day to help these animals.

September 03, 2014

Evangelical Leader Advocates for Stewardship, Not Cruelty

I had a chance to interview one of the nation’s leading evangelical Christians, Dr. Ed Stetzer, and his daughter Jaclyn, a powerful duo advocating for animal welfare. The discussion is part of our larger Faith Outreach program at The HSUS, which seeks to engage religious leaders and scholars and to remind people of faith that their own traditions condemn cruelty and uphold mercy and kindness toward all creatures.

Ed and Jaclyn Stetzer 1
Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research, and his daughter Jaclyn, who is a passionate equestrian, with her horse, Smudge. Photo: Donna Stetzer

Dr. Stetzer is Executive Director of LifeWay Research, an organization that advises church leaders on church health and effectiveness, and the lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He has planted, revitalized and pastored churches, and trained pastors and church planters on six continents. Dr. Stetzer holds two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. "He is one of the leading thinkers on the earth in the areas of evangelism, church planting, and movements," according to one Christian publication. He is contributing editor for Christianity Today, and is frequently cited or interviewed in national news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is also executive editor of The Gospel Project, a Bible study curriculum used by over 400,000 individuals each week.

It’s been particularly exciting for me to see the response to our message of concern for animals within the evangelical Christian community, and I so enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Stetzer and Jaclyn who, among other things, is a passionate equestrian.

WP: I understand that a passion for animals is a family affair in the Stetzer household. How did the topic first come up as a family discussion item?

Jaclyn: The topic first came up as a family discussion item about a year ago before church. When we were driving to McDonald’s, I remembered watching Eating Mercifully the day before, and I asked my parents if we could change our eating habits.

Ed: Yes, we continued the talk over dinner conversations—and, talking about animal welfare over dinner seems odd but actually makes a lot of sense. It helps us connect our lives—even our eating—to bigger issues. Jaclyn would be the one who has been most vocal, but it has impacted all of us.

First, there was a general concern about animal welfare around us. We are involved with a local shelter— we give financially and Jaclyn volunteers there. Second, there was a concern for factory farming and how we might eat in a way that is the most humane way possible. We want to be sure that our lifestyle does not cause animals to be treated in an inhumane manner.

I think Jaclyn would prefer us all to be vegans, but we have all agreed that it is part of our stewardship to care what happens from the farm to the table.

Third, we have our own pets— dogs, birds, and a (shared) horse. Our home too often smells like a barn, but our animal friends know they are part of our family!

There are plenty of apologists for cruelty who invoke the Bible to justify exploitation of animals, saying that man has “dominion” over the animals. But dominion, to those of us at The HSUS, is not a synonym for domination. What’s your view?

Ed: Our view is that is stupid — animal cruelty is not a result of dominion. Actually, stewardship should be the result of dominion.  

Jaclyn: My view about God giving us dominion over animals is that we do have the right to rule over them, but in a kind and humane way. Since God has given us dominion over animals, we should rule them like any good ruler — with love, kindness and respect. And that applies to all animals; not just our dogs and cats. The excuse for cruelty, “God gave us dominion over animals,” is invalid because God knows we should take care of animals. The Bible even talks about being kind to animals: “A righteous man cares about his animal’s health” (Proverbs 12:10). We should be kind to animals because dominion is a responsibility we shouldn’t abuse!

We refer to a band of states from Alabama and Mississippi up through Ohio as the cockfighting corridor, because anti-cockfighting laws in this region are so weak.  Do you see some potential for an alliance between animal protection groups and evangelical Christians to allow us to turn around this problem?

Ed: I hope so. A lot of evangelicals are wary of animal rights groups (and are more open to animal welfare groups), but they often do not distinguish between the two. However, if there is a correlation between Bible belt locations and cruelty locations (and there is), I think that churches need to teach people what stewardship is and why it matters. I appreciate the work your faith outreach people are doing to bridge that gap.

Jaclyn: I do believe that Christians and animal protection organizations can come together to help end cockfighting. Both Christians and animal protection organizations believe that we should respect living creatures. We both believe that animals should be treated humanely. The Humane Society of the United States was founded by a pastor. Maybe that’s a sign of how we can work together! 

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act provides the necessary systems and focus needed to address horse soring, says Dr. Stetzer. Photo: The HSUS

Horse soring — where trainers intentionally and illegally inflict injuries to the feet of Tennessee walking horses to induce an exaggerated gait for horse show performances — is centered in your home state of Tennessee. Two Tennessee lawmakers, Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, want to maintain the status quo and they are leading the fight to block enactment of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act in Congress.  Where do you stand on these issues?

Ed: I asked my member of Congress about this since she has been involved with the issue. Congresswoman [Diane] Black sent me helpful information and a very nice note. She is co-sponsoring the Horse Protection Amendments Act, which has a lot of support among the Tennessee house delegation, and is particularly championed by the people you mentioned.

But, that does not do all that Jaclyn and I think it needs to do.

Ironically, this is not a Democrat vs. Republican thing here in Tennessee. It’s just a difference in perception about what is needed. I think that some leaders think that the industry needs more time to figure it out (and need some limited pressure to do so), but as Jaclyn just said to me, “They don’t seem to be figuring it out.”

So, we are actually supporting another bill (also by a Republican, ironically, but this time from Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield). H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act provides the necessary systems and focus needed to address this issue. 

We’re encouraging Congresswoman Black, Congresswoman Blackburn and Senator Lamar Alexander to change course and support H.R. 1518. Tennessee can do better and Tennessee walking horses need better.  

 Jaclyn: Thanks, Mr. Pacelle for sending me Eating Mercifully and letting us do this interview!

September 02, 2014

Unilever: There Must Be a Better Way for Day-Old Male Chicks

I’m a firm believer in the notion that the marketplace has a major role to play in helping animals. Every commercial enterprise, by making intentional choices, can build humane practices into its business models and provide consumers with choices that improve the lives of animals. In fact, consumers are hungry for this kind of leadership from corporate America.

Chicks on belt
Each year, hundreds of millions of baby male chicks are dumped into meat grinders while fully conscious or thrown live into trash bags to suffocate. Photo: Compassion Over Killing

One recent and sterling example comes from Unilever, the food manufacturing giant that owns Hellman’s mayonnaise, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and other major global brands.

Unilever has already earned our applause for its decision to end the use of battery cage eggs in its supply chain by shifting entirely to cage-free eggs. And today—following discussions with The HSUS, Farm Forward, The Humane League, and Compassion in World Farming—the company announced yet another move to reduce animal suffering in the egg industry. It’s going to work to prevent the destruction –via maceration and suffocation – of baby male chicks in the egg industry, dealing with a very ugly, largely hidden and once seemingly unavoidable animal welfare problem.

Maceration, a little known part of egg production, is the mass killing of male chicks—of no use to the industry since they don’t lay eggs. Discarded like trash, these baby birds—hundreds of millions of them a year, just in the United States alone—are dumped into massive grinders while fully conscious, or sometimes simply thrown live into trash bags to suffocate, on the first day of their lives.

While no egg company has pledged to address this systemic abuse in the near term, Unilever announced today that it’s going to do so, having judged the mass killing of the chicks unacceptable in the long run. The company is now working to make a technology commercially and scientifically viable that would determine the sex of embryos in eggs long before they get out of the egg, so that they don’t hatch and create a terrible moral problem. Needless to say, success in this effort would eliminate a vast amount of suffering—chicks endure stressful handling even prior to being killed in hatcheries—for hundreds of millions of animals annually.

Unilever's statement also highlights its exploration of plant-based ingredients to replace eggs in some of its products. To address the numerous severe problems associated with factory farming, all tools should be at our disposal, including the use of plant-based proteins as substitutes for eggs in certain situations.

These steps—ending the mass grinding of male chick births and moving toward plant-based ingredients in products that have long required eggs—are indicators of how innovation driven by animal welfare sensibilities is helping to start critical conversations in the food industry. And that sort of discussion and drive is an antecedent to practical solutions. Last month, we announced ground-breaking changes from Nestlé, and now we have this major action from Unilever. It’s my hope that Kraft and other competitors, and ultimately the egg industry itself, will follow in Unilever’s footsteps and join the push for reforms that will please consumers and that are simply the right thing to do. When it’s the right moral decision, it’s typically the right business decision, too.

August 29, 2014

More Tricks From Horse Soring Crowd as the Spotlight Shines on the Celebration

As the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration culminates this weekend, there is controversy and cover-up again marring the biggest event in the walking horse show world.  

For decades the walking horse show industry has tried to hide the intentional injuring of horses’ feet and lower legs – a practice known as “soring," which produces an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” Photo: The HSUS

For decades now the walking horse show industry has tried to hide the intentional injuring of horses’ feet and lower legs – a practice known as “soring," which produces an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” This horse abuse is not confined to small venue shows, but it is widespread, conducted even at its grand championship show where the spotlight is brightest.  There’s no way that horses will step as high as they do without foot injuries; it’s a pain-induced behavior.

This year’s ruse to hide the cruelty comes in the form of the Celebration’s “Veterinary Advisory Committee,” created supposedly to improve inspections of horses.  The fact is, it’s a cover-up, and a poor one at that, and its practical effect is to offer the appearance of oversight when there are medically accepted and scientific procedures already in place and undertaken by personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has spent years developing the most reliable methods to identify evidence of soring, and its veterinary medical officers will be implementing these techniques and overseeing inspections at the 2014 Celebration to try to keep cheaters from bringing sore horses into the show ring.

The “big lick” segment of the walking horse industry doesn’t like the results of the agency’s accurate, comprehensive, science-based testing methods, so it has hired “independent” contractors to give it outcomes it likes. The Veterinary Advisory Committee’s mouthpiece is Tom Blankenship, who has supported and defended the big lick faction for years. Blankenship worked as an attorney for the Walking Horse Trainers Association, and in this role he condemned enforcement of the USDA’s scar rule that excludes from competition horses that exhibit evidence of injury to the forelegs indicative of soring. He further encouraged former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s attempt to eliminate the rule.

But as the Celebration begins, the Veterinary Advisory Committee and its credibility have completely fallen apart, and it’s been exposed in the press. It’s now come to light that not only are these three veterinarians not required to attend the Celebration, but that one of the vets named, Dr. Dallas O. Goble, has stated that he has nothing to do with the committee. “I am not involved,” Dr. Goble told The Tennessean unequivocally. “I haven’t been involved from the start.”

This is just another sad, embarrassing installment in a 40-year effort by the walking horse industry to trot out false assurances or to set up dummy scientific groups while the illegal conduct continues. In 2012 the industry touted a “swabbing initiative” at the Celebration to purportedly test every horse for the presence of illegal foreign substances. It was later learned that only relatively few horses were tested: the actual numbers were never made public, and the handful of violators identified by the initiative received only a slap on the wrist. In contrast the USDA’s testing that year found that a remarkable 76 percent of horses it tested had been treated with caustic, numbing or masking chemicals. There can be no other conclusion but that there is widespread corruption and flagrant disregard for the law in the industry.

The walking horse industry will continue its cat-and-mouse game with the USDA, but in the end, there must be consequences for these lawbreakers. Congress must pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406 to eliminate stacks and chains (implements integral to the soring process), abolish the industry’s failed system of self-regulation and strengthen penalties for soring. The PAST Act is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Horse Council and a multitude of horse industry and breed organizations. It also has the backing of everyone who wants to end the abuse of walking horses, including 363 members of Congress.

When Congress returns from recess on September 8th, lawmakers would do well to express their disgust with the conduct within the industry and to pass this common-sense, bipartisan legislation to crack down on reprehensible animal cruelty.

August 28, 2014

A Whale of a Reaction to Blackfish and SeaWorld

* This version includes a correction to the paragraph about the Georgia Aquarium's bid to import beluga whales.

The HSUS has been making the case against marine mammal captivity for a quarter century, long before the remarkable sequence of developments we have all seen unfold since February 2010, when the captive orca Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau during a performance at SeaWorld Orlando, triggering the release of David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish.

The dramatic erosion of public support for SeaWorld and other aquaria seeking to capture and display marine mammals is nothing short of stunning. Photo: iStockphoto

Yet, even for those of us who were involved in laying the groundwork for the vigorous debate now underway about the ethics of captivity, the dramatic erosion of public support for SeaWorld and other aquaria seeking to capture and display marine mammals is nothing short of stunning. The month of August has delivered a cascade of news on this front.

First came the company’s August 13th revelations concerning its underwhelming financial performance over the course of 2014, a year in which SeaWorld’s credit rating and stock value plummeted as investors lost faith with the company in what analysts are calling “the Blackfish effect.” Standard and Poor placed SeaWorld at BB, a credit rating equal to junk status, while earnings for the company are down 22 percent based on second-quarter reporting of lower attendance. The year also saw more than a dozen scheduled musical acts and its longtime corporate partner, Southwest Airlines, abandon SeaWorld and leave it without that support and those cultural moorings.

Two days later came SeaWorld’s announcement that it would expand the size of its orca whale tanks, best answered by the late night comic Conan O’Brien in this funny but astute tweet.

Then, on August 19, SeaWorld dropped its challenge to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruling that prohibited trainers from entering the water with whales, a performance routine that SeaWorld had insisted it would never relinquish. 

Finally, on August 20, the Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld’s partner in a bid to import 18 beluga whales taken from the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia, went toe-to-toe with the government in a lawsuit seeking to compel the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to issue the import permit.

The fraying of SeaWorld’s business model will one day be the subject of case studies in business schools and schools of communications. For now, it’s providing one of the most vivid examples in the turn of fortune for a major corporation that is on the wrong side of public opinion on a long-standing humane concern. In just a few short years, the company has lost its feel-good cachet, seen its value downgraded, mishandled a tragic incident by re-victimizing Dawn Brancheau, and maintained against all available evidence that its revenue model and business prospects were not being affected by swelling public skepticism and rejection.

Whenever I talk about the SeaWorld situation with animal protectionists who came into the field in the mid-1980s, as I did, we keep coming back to the notion that it would have been impossible to conceive of the dramatic change in attitude that we’re seeing. And when The HSUS launched its anti-captivity campaign in the mid-1990s, I still thought it would be a long time coming, even though we could properly argue that orcas were not endangered, that captivity was not good for them, and that orca performances are less conservation-minded and more vaudevillian.Once the other shoe drops on the Georgia Aquarium’s gambit to bring those beluga whales to the United States, perhaps we’ll know for sure that the end of the era for captive display of whales for entertainment is truly within sight.

August 25, 2014

False Claims About Wolves, Frightful Cruelty to Wildlife in Michigan

An Upper Peninsula farmer, John Koski – operating in the far western portion of Michigan – has played an outsize role in the debate over whether the state’s small population of wolves should be hunted. Koski’s farm was the site of more than 60 percent of all wolf attacks on livestock in Michigan, and lawmakers hell bent on opening up a hunting season on wolves regaled downstate lawmakers with their vivid stories of marauding wolves in the north. 

Gray wolf
On Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers will take up a third wolf-hunting bill, disregarding voters who stayed the first two bills by referenda. Photo: iStockphoto 

It turned out, according to a months-long investigation by John Barnes of the newspaper consortium MLive, that Koski had been baiting wolves with deer and cow parts and then bellyaching about wolf incidents – in addition to getting financial compensation for it. Barnes determined that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was working hand in hand with Koski, and “found government half-truths, falsehoods and livestock numbers skewed by a single farmer distorted some arguments for the inaugural hunt.” Some months after the MLive series ran in papers throughout Michigan, Koski pled guilty to animal neglect for starving guard donkeys that the state gave to him to ward off wolves.

Now comes another case from the Upper Peninsula – deeply troubling in its own way – that could also influence the debate in Michigan over how to treat wolves. I wrote some weeks ago about two hunters from Gogebic County who engaged in unspeakable acts of cruelty against coyotes. This time, John Barnes reported, based on the release of a YouTube video The HSUS found, that these two men released a pack of dogs on a wounded coyote who couldn’t fend for himself. “This is going to be some live action," a man says as he aims the video camera. The two men and one of their kids watched the mauling like a spectator sport, goading the dogs to maul the defenseless animal. “There he his. There he is. Get him, Doc. Get him. ... We're going to get Cooter in here. He's a machine.” 

Today, MLive released a second videotape apparently created by the same men, in which they ran over a coyote intentionally, and wouldn’t put the animal out of his misery. Instead, they took the same gleeful approach toward the wounded coyote, killing the animal after some time elapsed—this time, allegedly witnessed by one of the men’s 12-year-old son.

In Wisconsin, where there is no ballot initiative or referendum process to check the excesses of state agencies and hunting groups intent on slaughtering wolves, it is legal to hunt wolves with dogs. If we don’t succeed with our current referenda campaigns in Michigan, we can expect that state authorities will open trapping and hounding seasons on wolves, in addition to trophy hunting of wolves with firearms – just as they have in Wisconsin. In fact, in Wisconsin, more than 250 wolves were killed during the hunting season there, including 80 percent with traps or hounds.

And the Michigan lawmakers who cooked up the case against wolves are at it again. On Wednesday, the Michigan House of Representatives is set to take up a third wolf-hunting bill – after the first two were stayed by referenda qualified by citizens.  It would be an unprecedented third try to subvert the will of Michiganders by these legislators, in their zeal to allow the killing of wolves for no good reason. 

These lawmakers, mainly from the Upper Peninsula, fear the exercise of the vote by the people of Michigan. They know that the entire case for wolf hunting has been built on a series of exaggerations and falsehoods. And they see the behavior of some of the people who want to hurt animals just for trophies or for pure hatred.  They know they’ll be drubbed at the polls, so they are making extraordinary efforts to deny the people a vote.

Just about every major newspaper in the state has called on lawmakers not to pass a third wolf-hunting bill and to let the issue be decided by voters. If they take this action, they’ll not only be opening up wolves to cruelty, they’ll be subverting the right of citizens to decide issues guaranteed to them by the Michigan constitution. 

If you live in Michigan, state House members need to hear from you now.

August 22, 2014

The Price of Progress – How Our Victories Breed Enemies

Precisely because The HSUS is so effective, we are the target of disinformation campaigns from our political adversaries. The king of disinformation is Rick Berman, the guy “60 Minutes” dubbed “Dr. Evil” for his work attacking public interest groups on behalf of anonymous corporations.  

Horse slaughter
Among many successes this year, we prevented the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil.
Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

If you’re new to Berman’s brand attacks on The HSUS, the Center for Public Integrity has a new investigative piece on the topic – building on exposés done by Bloomberg, The Boston Globe, TIME magazine, The Agitator, and many other sources. Here’s a man who’s shilled for interests defending drunk driving, smoking in public places, tanning beds, trans fats, the consumption of mercury-laden fish by pregnant women, and now a wide range of animal abuse – with a particular focus on defending pig factories, the mistreatment of elephants in traveling circuses, puppy mills, and seal slaughter.

Of course, there’s no mystery why animal abusers fund Berman’s attacks on us. Many businesses grounded on animal exploitation believe our work threatens their profits. For instance, consider just a snapshot of some of our accomplishments over the last year:

  • Just yesterday, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, announced that it will cleanse its supply chain of animal products that come from the most abusive factory farming practices.  Earlier this year, we joined the biggest names in meat production – Cargill, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods – in announcing movement away from gestation crates.
  • We helped pass felony-level penalties for cruelty in South Dakota – making it the 50th state to adopt severe penalties for animal abuse. We also made it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.  And we helped secure a landmark federal appeals court ruling upholding the federal law banning the sale of depictions of animal cruelty.
  • We prevented the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil, and we have brought together more than 350 U.S. Senators and Representatives in support of a bill to halt the barbaric soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.
  • We led the fight to kill the King Amendment – a nefarious provision in the Farm Bill that could have nullified anti-cruelty laws across the nation. This year alone, we’ve had a hand in passing more than 84 state laws, targeted at gas chambers for cats and dogs, shark finning, the trade in ivory, the pet trade in dangerous exotics, fox penning, and so much more.    
  • We helped secure a landmark World Trade Organization ruling upholding the EU’s ban on the import of slaughtered seals and a landmark International Court of Justice ruling striking down much of Japan’s commercial whaling program, along with over a dozen other legal victories for animals.

Most people following our work in the field know of Berman’s charade. There’s one character, however, whose charade is less well known, and that’s Brad Miller, the long-time director of the Humane Farming Association. He spent most of the 1990s and the first decade of this century attacking Farm Sanctuary, a highly reputable organization fighting factory farming. Within the last decade, Miller has focused his attacks on The HSUS – at the very same time that we were amassing our biggest advances against the industrialization of agriculture.

Miller and HFA have no record to speak of in securing tangible gains for farm animals. While California is HFA’s home state, the group refused to support Prop 2 (the groundbreaking campaign to ban battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates), instead choosing to remain neutral and allow the rest of the animal movement to fight the agribusiness industry. In similar anti-factory farming ballot campaigns in Arizona, Ohio and Florida, HFA was a bystander while other groups such as The HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals shouldered the burden of advancing farm animals' interests. In fact, while HFA condemns farm animal protection bills that it thinks don't go far enough, it has never taken part in any campaign that has succeeded in banning any farm animal confinement practice anywhere.

HFA even opposed successful efforts to ban the sale and production of foie gras in California, which will save countless ducks and geese from hideous abuse and took effect in July 2012. HFA not only opposed the measure to outlaw this hideous factory farming practice that causes extreme animal suffering; in fact, Miller’s organization took out advertisements against the bill urging its defeat. HFA is an organization founded upon hollow rhetoric and direct mail fundraising, one that only pretends to have a farm animal defense program. 

Here at The HSUS, we wear attacks from Berman and Miller as badges of pride. We’re in the crosshairs of those who oppose the advancement of animals precisely because we are achieving transformational change. 

And I want you to know that no matter how loud our opponents are and no matter how dishonest their attacks, we won’t be deterred by them. With your support, we will continue to confront the worst cruelties to animals, no matter how powerful the abuser, or how deceptive they are.

August 21, 2014

Nestlé to Overhaul Farm Animal Treatment Across the Globe

The world’s largest food company has spoken: cruelty on factory farms has got to go. Nestlé is the single-biggest maker of food across the globe, with dozens of widely known brands such as Dreyer's, Lean Cuisine and Butterfinger. Today, the company announced an industry-leading animal welfare program that will eliminate many controversial-yet-currently-standard practices within its worldwide food supply chain. The announcement is the latest, and one of the biggest, in a series of actions by major food retailers, moving them away from an industrial-type production system that is callous and unforgiving toward animals.

Veal crates
Nestlé’s new program will cleanse its supply chain of calves in veal crates, sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Particularly, Nestlé’s new program will cleanse its supply chain of the following practices: confinement of sows in gestation crates, calves in veal crates and egg-laying chickens in cages; the forced rapid growth of chickens used for meat products; and the harsh cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers. Bundling all of these reforms together, this announcement marks the most comprehensive and ambitious animal welfare program by a global food retailer to date. It builds on the enormous momentum we have created for moving away from the intensive confinement of animals on factory farms and marks new progress on issues related to the routine mutilation of animals. It also sounds the death knell for selective breeding practices that compromise the health of animals in order to achieve accelerated growth.

Nestlé is also encouraging food sustainability by promoting the global Meatless Monday movement via on-package messaging on Lean Cuisine products.

Nestlé’s policy follows dialogue with animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, Mercy For Animals and World Animal Protection. We are pleased to work with our colleagues in the field on such a major advance in farm animal welfare and sustainable agriculture. And we applaud Nestlé’s leadership for this game-changing commitment.

August 20, 2014

Fighting Factory Farming – With Every Tool We Have

We are in a pitched battle against factory farming – a battle to transform agriculture and the way consumers think about and consume food.

Gestation Crate
Animal agriculture has become thoroughly industrialized, with animals forced to live in windowless, overcrowded, stinking, ammonia-laden buildings. Photo: The HSUS

Our society is raising too many animals for food – nine billion in the United States, and perhaps 70 billion worldwide. Producing and raising that many animals requires huge inputs of resources – billions and billions of bushels of grains, enormous tracts of land, and vast quantities of fresh water and fossil fuels, to name a few. The rearing, transport and slaughter of these billions of living creatures adds dangerous levels of methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, warming the planet and threatening our communities. On top of all that, we throw away more than a billion animal bodies a year, raising them, putting their meat on our plates, and then dumping them in the trash. We throw out 22 percent of all meat.  That’s a disgrace, a colossal waste of animals’ lives, and a moral crime against animals and humanity.

Our society is raising so many of those animals harshly and inhumanely. Within the last 50 years, agriculture has become thoroughly industrialized, with the forced migration of animals from pastures and into windowless, overcrowded, stinking, ammonia-laden buildings. In some cases, factory farms immobilize the animals in small metal cages and crates barely larger than their bodies. They cut off parts of the animals’ bodies as routine management practices.  And they alter their growth rates and size, so much so that some animals are unable even to stand. They suffer from chronic lameness, inflammation, and other catastrophic health conditions within their short, brutish lives.

I could say much more about the ills of factory farming, including its impacts on public health and personal health issues and its role in pollution and the dissolution of many of our rural communities.  But I’ll get to the point of today’s blog – which is to ask for your understanding and your help.

At The HSUS, we are taking on factory farming from every angle – because the magnitude of the problem requires our full focus and a wide range of tactics. We are banning confinement practices through legislative and public policy work. We are working with food retailers to reform the treatment of animals in their supply chains (we’ve got a ground-shaking announcement coming tomorrow, so check the blog at 9 a.m.). We are suing factory farms for polluting and threatening the environment—and winning. On Monday, for example, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with The HSUS and members of a community fighting a massive new gestation crate pig factory in Todd County. This facility planned to drink up eight million gallons of groundwater per year. 

As part of that fight, we’re asking consumers to eat more plant-based foods and empowering them with the tools they need to do so. In fact, we just worked with the Houston school system to expand its Meatless Mondays commitment and to offer healthier, plant-based foods to kids.  And when consumers do eat animal products, we’re asking them to seek out the highest welfare products available.            

We’re also fighting internationally, making gains in Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, the European Union and other parts of the world.

When you take on such challenges, there’s pushback.  The Farm Bureau, the pork producers, the cattlemen and their political allies are all on the attack against The HSUS.  They push legislatures to pass ag-gag measures to thwart our investigations or “right to farm” measures” – in effect, to freeze their abusive current policies in place and to forbid any future reforms. They hire PR hit men and scammers like Rick Berman, who sets up phony front groups to attack us and to try to sow division within our movement. We know who they are and we’ve got their number.

But we do take a different type of pushback very seriously – from stalwart animal advocates who share our commitment to animals, but disagree with an occasional tactic of ours. We respect their views and want to address their concerns.  Through our HSUS Colorado Agriculture Council – which consists of farmers and ranchers who are HSUS members – we sponsored an event in Denver where several restaurants touted the fact that they are offering more humanely and sustainably raised animals products and abstaining from offering factory-farmed meats. We heard from more than a small number of supporters that the event – and our sponsorship – made them queasy. Indeed, I think they are right that the very name – Hoofin’ It – sounded disrespectful to the animals, and that alone raised alarm bells with caring people.

We get that not everyone is going to be comfortable with all of our approaches to fighting factory farming, and we’ll be mindful of getting involved with events that drive our end goals of reducing suffering and driving consumers to make more conscious eating choices. But we are asking everybody to stretch –corporations, consumers, lawmakers, farmers, and even our supporters and colleagues within the animal protection movement. The kind of change we are seeking won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen if we all head down the same path. If we want solutions in a pluralistic society, we need pluralism when it comes to tactics. We are investing in and promoting plant-based foods so that people have good vegan and vegetarian choices in the marketplace to reduce or replace their meat consumption, and we also want real options supplied by real farmers for people who eat meat and want products that don’t come from abusive factory farms. 

Our policy, our strategy and our program commitments make it clear that we’re serious about this approach. What you get with The HSUS is a group that will be fearless in taking on the big fights.  We are going to aim big, and we are going to tip over some tables and challenge some orthodoxies in doing so. In the end, we ask everyone who cares about animals to do their part. Everyone has a role to play and is part of this cause – vegans and vegetarians, farmers and cowboys, chefs and conservationists, omnivores and inveterate carnivores.

We ask for your tolerance of these diverse approaches, and we ask for your participation in this critical fight against factory farming, with so much at stake for animals and the whole of society.