Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Reason to be Hopeful...

I just heard about the protest against Factory Farming in Berlin last weekend. A record 25,000 turned up to protest under the motto "We've had enough - No to genetic engineering, factory farming and export dumping." (Source)

Specifically, protesters targeted subsidies that go to factory farming. There were lots of small farmers at the demonstration who advocated what one protester called "appropriate animal husbandry." Maria Heubuch, head of the Association of Small Farmers, set the tone for many of the protesters when she said:
Factory farming and genetic engineering is a dangerous dead end for farmers and an increased risk for consumers. Animal-friendly husbandry and feeding with local grain and protein feed without genetic modification - this is our future! (Source)
This protest is extremely encouraging. The coalition consists of 120 organizations, including small farming advocates, animal rights activists, and vegan groups. The protests were triggered by the recent so-called "Dioxin Scandal," in which it was discovered that substantial amounts of animal feed - thousands and thousands of tons - had been tainted with dioxin.

When the frightening dioxin story broke earlier this month, Germany froze the sale of tainted poultry, pork and eggs. Apparently, the crisis had a huge impact on ordinary German people and it has done a great deal to mobilize them to resist factory farming and the profit-starved food production sector.

We can learn some lessons from our German brothers and sisters. They're on the march. They're taking back their food industry. They're giving it back to the people. And along the way, many are learning that veganism is the only truly ethical option and the best hope for a sane world.

These protests are refreshing. They give us hope. They give us inspiration. These men and women are role models. They're part of a tide that is slowly rising. The tide is impossible to resist. It will shake humanity to its core, convince us of the need to live ethically and nonviolently and, at long last, end the consumption of animal products.

This is a great movement. I'm just thrilled we're all alive to witness and support it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Don't Forget the Fish

The wonderful folks at Mercy For Animals (MFA) performed a detailed, undercover investigation of a fish-slaughtering facility in Mesquite, Texas, called "Catfish Corner." The results of the investigation were disturbing, to say the least.

MFA investigators went into the place with hidden cameras that picked up some of the worst of the abuses. The fish are alive and conscious when they're being skinned and dismembered. And if there is a soul out there who still thinks that fish don't feel pain - excruciating pain - think again.

MFA's undercover video captured the following:
  • Workers using pliers to pull the skin off of live fish
  • Dozens of fish crammed into buckets and baskets, gasping for oxygen
  • Skinned fish still moving and gasping on the cutting table
  • Fish flailing and struggling to escape the workers’ knives
  • Live fish sliced and split in half
  • Workers tearing the heads off of live fish

  • "Treating [fish] like inanimate things is cruel and ethically abhorrent," said Dr. Jonathan Balcombe, author of the extraordinary book Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals. "Handling such as that shown in the footage is extremely cruel and heartless and should be outlawed immediately." (Source)

    Added veterinarian Lee Schrader: "To subject fish to an obviously painful procedure such as the removal of their skin, while they are alive and responsive, is cruel, inhumane and without excuse." (Source)

    Please watch the video if you get a chance. Even if you're one of the converted. We need to know what we're up against. The scenes are heartbreaking. The fish are convulsing and flopping and jumping wildly as they're being cut open and beheaded and handled in the most violent fashion imaginable.

    Watching these fish, imagining the intense pain they're feeling in the final moments of their life, one cannot possibly adhere to the callous belief that fish have no feelings.

    I remember there was a moment in time as I was transitioning from omnivore to vegan (I didn't go through the vegetarian phase - not more than about a week, anyway) when I was considering keeping fish in my diet. "They're different than animals," I told myself. "They don't feel any pain."

    What nonsense. I'm glad I woke up. I watched films like this one and realized they feel just as much pain as mammals. And scientific test after scientific test backs me up on this one. Fish experience agonizing deaths when they are turned to food. It is impossible to rationalize the mass murder of these aquatic beings without jettisoning a big chunk of your humanity first.

    I'm just thankful there are groups out there like Mercy for Animals that remind us of this profound truth. Fish feel as much pain as pigs, chickens, cows, and they feel as much pain as human beings. I remember one of the first Hollywood films I ever saw about fish, Jaws (1975), featured a massive, razor-toothed protagonist that devoured human beings. To these fish, humans are the brutal predators. And until human beings change their ways and stop eating fish once and for all, cycles of pain and suffering - like the ones captured in this video, and like the millions and millions of other instances not recorded on film - will continue.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    State of the Animal Union: Not Much to Be Thrilled About

    U.S. President Barack Obama used his State of the Union Address to help heal wounds and bridge deep divisions in the United States. He emphasized America's gradual economic recovery, referred to a plan to help military families, and spoke of the need for Americans to rise above their political differences. The following passage was fairly typical:
    Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, (the Tucson, Ariz., shooting) reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family. (Source)

    Obama has come under a lot of fire from his critics on the right, no doubt about it. Meantime, those on the other end of the political spectrum tend to circle the wagons around the president and praise his performance in the White House, warts and all.

    There aren't many people who are taking the president - or any political leaders, for that matter, Democrat or Republican - to task over the federal government's terrible policies on animals. In fact, when it comes to the issue of animal rights, you'd have a hard time making an argument that one of the political parties in the United States is any better than the other.

    Sure, you'll run into the occasional elected official who has made animal rights and/or veganism an issue. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is a prime example. He's a vegan, and a very proud one at that. I'm sure if you racked your brain you could come up with some others.

    But animals are not really on the agenda of either political party. The Obama administration has done no more to help (or hurt) animals than the Bush administration. Government subsidies continue to go to factory farms under Obama, just as they did under his predecessors. Meanwhile, the federal government is notorious for failing to protect animals. This is as true under Obama as it was under Bush. In many cases, animals are actually harmed by government policies. Take, for example, the announcement just a few days before Obama's State of the Union address that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) admitted it was responsible for poisoning hundreds of birds in South Dakota. The reason? The birds were targeted because they were eating food at a Nebraska feedlot and leaving their droppings there, too. (Source)

    And then there's the Obama administration's policy of rounding up wild horses, which was noted very eloquently on the blog Straight from the Horse's Heart:
    While thousands of Americans lost their homes and tens of thousands lost their jobs the Obama administration was spending millions of dollars chasing wild horses, killing some and penning up the rest with no regard to science, proper research or the bottom line.

    Sad as it is to say, most liberals aren't any more "progressive" than conservatives when it comes to animals and their well-being. One would think that left-leaning folks, with their emphasis on the "underdog," would be natural allies for the animal rights struggle. Some are, no question about it.

    But many aren't. I read a dreadful piece in the left-wing Nation magazine last month, written by Melissa Harris-Perry (professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton), about football player Michael Vick, notorious for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. Oddly, Harris-Perry used her bully pulpit as an opportunity to slam the Animal Rights Movement for not being sensitive to racial issues. At one point, Harris-Perry wrote:
    Not only have animals been used as weapons against black people, but many African Americans feel that the suffering of animals evokes more empathy and concern among whites than does the suffering of black people. For example, in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina dozens of people sent me a link to an image of pets being evacuated on an air conditioned bus. This image was a sickening juxtaposition to the conditions faced by tens of thousands of black residents trapped by the storm and it provoked great anger and pain for those who sent it to me. (Source)
    The column was a cheap shot, obviously written by someone who has no awareness whatsoever about the Animal Rights Movement, or the fact that it has numerous African American adherents, both famous and not-so famous.

    In December, when Obama gave the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles a high five for giving Michael Vick another chance, the president of the United States made a very deliberate decision that sent out a clear message. The message: Obama doesn't care about the dogs that Vick abused. By extension, it could be argued, he doesn't give much of a damn about animals.

    There are some people who are hoping Obama will experience an epiphany or a change of heart on the issue. In Utah, kind-hearted Francis Battista runs the Best Friends Animal Society, which took in many of Michael Vick's traumatized Pit Bulls. The caring folks at Best Friends are now rehabilitating these amazing dogs back to good health and wholeness. The photo (above) was taken at the Society and originally appeared in USA Today. Volunteers at the Best Friends sanctuary have taken to calling the sweet and inspiring rescued Pit Bulls the "Vicktory Dogs" (a play on Vick's name). Battista announced in December that he is waiting for a telephone call of support from Barack Obama, in the wake of Obama giving the Philadelphia Eagles owner the high five. As Battista noted:

    While we no longer wait by the phone for a call from Mr. Vick asking after his dogs, the likelihood of a call from the president has brought new esprit to the switchboard team and I've put together some notes on those we call the Vicktory dogs in case someone puts the historic call through to me by mistake. The conversation will go something like this: "Mr. President, what a surprise! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to commend us for giving the Vicktory dogs a second chance. Sure, I've got a few minutes to fill you in..." Kind of a presidential briefing, I guess. (Source)

    Here it is, late January, and that phone call hasn't come yet. If I could give one piece of advice to Battista, it would be this: Don't hold your breath.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Tragedy in Georgia

    On January 13, there was another devastating factory farm fire, this one in Norman Park, Georgia. Death tolls vary, but most sources pin the death toll at approximately 12,100 chickens perishing in the horrible flames that swept through a facility owned by International Poultry Breeders. Most of the chickens who were burned alive were still young chicks. Firefighters believe the fire started due to a faulty heating system in the building.

    These sorts of incidents have become far too common in factory farms. They generate puny headlines in newspapers (if at all), and the stories often focus on the challenges the farmers have to confront after losing so many animals, rather than the horrors experienced by these sentient beings in the last moments of their short and violent lives.

    See what I mean in the following passage, from the report by local news station, WALB Channel 10:

    Firefighters... say the deaths of the chicks is a substantial loss to the company, and the cost to build a replacement house is around $100,000. But they have full confidence they'll recover, despite the economic blow. International Poultry Breeders has five other chicken houses on the site.

    The online source Claims, a prominent website of the insurance industry in the United States, echoed the tone of WALB's coverage, only it placed the death toll at 17,000. As Claims noted:

    Rockingham County Fire and Rescue assistant fire marshal Mike Armstrong says most of the 4-week-old chickens died from smoke inhalation. Armstrong says the fire inside the steel-framed structure was mostly out when firefighters arrived.

    And what of the 12,000 - or was it 17,000? - precious beings whose lives were cut short in the most excruciatingly painful way imaginable? Where are their obituaries? How will their truly fleeting drop from the egg to the inferno be remembered, if at all? Are they to be reduced to statistics? Figures in profit and loss statements? Who is going to remember their lives? Why did they have to be robbed of the opportunity to live their lives; to run outside on a warm spring day; get to know each other; to savour a pleasant Sunday with other chickens? Hell, we don't even know if 12,000 died, or 12,100 died, or 17,000 died. All three figures were used in the press coverage of the tragedy. Sadly, these figures have been reduced to meaningless number crunching. Stats. Miles to Pluto.

    The time has come for us to stop viewing animals as commodities. It is this same mindset that has led to the construction of factory farms, which are nothing more than efficient mass-killing machines. Imagine how you would feel if these were your children who died the searing hot flames.

    Morbid though it may seem, it is only by thinking in those terms that we are able to feel the sorrow of this event and develop a real, heartfelt empathy toward these chickens. For so long, I was one of these types who devoured chicken without even contemplating these matters. I can't bring back those lives I destroyed, and I'll regret that until the day I die. What I can do - what we can all do - is learn the truth about how horribly these chickens suffer. And we can vow that we will do everything we can to transform these "miles to Pluto" - 12,000, 12,100, 17,000 - into individual beings with a purpose and a life and dignity.

    This is the key to achieving a more compassionate society, one that does not tolerate the mass murder of animals.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    If Oda's odious bill passes, it will be a shame for Utah

    In Utah, state Rep. Carl Oda (R-Clearfield) has authored a bill that, if passed, will enable residents of the state to kill feral animals, including cats, "by shooting, clubbing or decapitating" them. (Source) Not surprisingly, Oda has been bombarded with emails from animal rights activists recently. Of the 500 such emails he's received in recent days, about 50 of have been "nasty, vile and vicious." As Oda revealed to the Salt Lake Tribune:
    Some e-mails were on the edge. Some said ‘I’d rather see you dead than a cat.' They didn’t say they were coming to hurt me, but that they’d rather see me dead. These are the same people that want to put animals above human beings, who really would want to see a human being dead rather than an animal dead.

    Blogger Amy Boshnack, who "is not an animal rights activist by any stretch of the imagination," put it best when she explained the ultimate significance of this law:

    This proposed law is over-the-top, especially since the animal doesn't even have to be noticeably aggressive or sick to be shot. It just has to be considered, by the shooter, to be feral. It seems terribly dumb to give rights to every person in the state to shoot or kill these animals by way of clubbing, decapitation, or a bow and arrow. Yes, you read that correctly. I mean, if you can't afford a gun you should be able to participate too! (Source)

    The good news is that Oda's bill has triggered a firestorm of criticism. Even the moderate Ogden Standard Examiner editorialized:
    Davis County state Rep. Curt Oda is simply not qualified to make decisions as to how feral animals should be killed. His proposal to change Utah animal cruelty laws to allow feral animals to be quickly killed -- in a violent manner -- should die in the Legislature for lack of oxygen.

    We can only hope this bill dies. But I am familiar enough with Utah to know that this bill stands a good chance of passing. This is the same state whose Supreme Court in 2006 overruled a ban on students bringing guns onto the University of Utah's campus. (Source) Alas, allowing Utahns to be animal-murdering vigilantes can't be that far off.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    The Lonely Fight is Always Worth It

    Gwen Dunlop is a vegan from Toronto who is on a mission.

    Each Sunday, she appears outside the buildings that house Toronto Abattoirs Ltd. and Quality Meat Packers Ltd. and holds her own one-woman vigil to speak out against what happens inside of those places.

    She started this vigil on December 13, 2009, and has been at it day in and day out ever since then. As Gwen writes on her Blog:
    My vigil takes various forms but mostly it entails meeting the truckers as they arrive, witnessing the unloading of the females of the pig species, (called sows by some, who I call my soul friends and my tribe) and then seeing the truckers (who have no option but to pass right by me, my conscience and I hope and I know, in some cases, theirs) turn out of the driveway on route to wherever home is, to sometimes far-enough-away parts of Ontario.

    Her Blog truly is one of the most powerful I have ever read. Gwen is brutally honest about her experiences. She is also humble. She writes without a hint of self-aggrandizement. She has engaged in lots of soul searching over the past year-plus. Her experiences have been a compelling mix of harrowing, boring, pathos-filled and intense. She has been yelled at by angry truckers and workers at the slaughterhouses. She has struggled to stay true to her beliefs and not let the violence she witnesses on a regular basis erode her humanity.

    The most powerful passages on her Blog discuss her experiences during her vigils. Gwen writes:

    I don’t always or only stand in the same place. I have had deeply meaningful, if not at times, intense interaction with the truckers, “super” visors, security, police, City of Toronto public workers (who share the same driveway), residents from the area, one of the care-takers of the numerous feral cats having sought refuge nearby, passers-by and even on one occasion, a waiter from a nearby restaurant. I’ve heard personal stories and extended hugs to someone who came across me and was moved to tears by what I was doing, but moreover through hearing the cries of pain and terror, of the animals themselves. I have had a slaughterhouse worker scream at me: “Who are you…some stupid, f’ing, psycho bitch?” only to very quietly say moments later: “I have nightmares you know…we all do”.

    I have seen the inside of the holding area, the ugly red welts and deep gashes near sensitive parts of the animals’ bodies, their precious behinds fire-engine red and sore. I have seen the pile-up of bodies of those who didn’t survive transport, who I originally hoped might have found some modicum of comfort with each other until the realization set in that they were dead. I’ve run up one of the ladders attached to the holding compound and with my head stuck in a truck, screamed for leniency regarding the severity of the beatings. On at least a few occasions, I’ve lost my composure and done my own fair share of screaming, (I am no saint) raising my voice not in anger but as an appeal for humanity, theirs and mine.

    The cynic might ask: What good does Gwen do by going out and conducting a one-woman vigil? What has she changed? The pigs still get slaughtered. The meat still goes to market wrapped in plastic and styrofoam. The killing continues. The system remains unchanged. So why do it? Why show up each day and hold these vigils? Why not simply concede defeat and move on?

    Years ago, in 1958, World War II veteran-turned-pacifist Albert Bigelow sailed his ship, the Golden Rule, to the atolls in the Pacific where the United States was conducting atomic tests. He and a small group of his pacifist friends put their lives on the line - and put themselves in harm's way - to speak out against the insanity that was the arms race.

    When they did this, back in 1958, it was a very gutsy thing to do (hell, it would be a gutsy thing to do now). This was back in the depths of the Cold War, when anticommunist hysteria had reached a fever pitch, and few people dared protest the arms race.

    But Bigelow and his friends took that risk. Did they stop the insane escalation of nuclear arms? No. Did their actions halt the tests in the Pacific? No. So exactly what good did they do?

    Right after Bigelow's daring protest, Dissent - a tiny, humanistic monthly magazine run by Irving Howe and other anti-Stalinist left-wing intellectuals - published a piece that explained the importance of Bigelow's protest. The article's author, Martin Oppenheimer, eloquently wrote:
    If, as they admit, their effort may bring no real change, why do it at all? . . . They did it because they could do no other, because no one else did it for them, because politics failed to do it, because the hour was late and because they had to. Effectiveness had little to do with it. This was the individual act undertaken against a state and a condition which seemed omnipotent; above all, this was propaganda of the deed, one's physical body thrown into a void where no other bridge seemed to exist. (Source)

    Today, 53 years after that article appeared in Dissent magazine, Oppenheimer's words could also be used to describe Gwen Dunlop's actions. Sure, she is not going to single-handedly stop the slaughter. Yes, pigs will continue to die in huge numbers to satisfy the human demand for a kind of food that is not necessary for our survival. The insanity will continue.

    But in this tiny little corner of a huge, dark, cold universe, one woman is taking a stand. A candle is flickering in the wind. One person is standing against the madness. On a few occasions, she has even been joined by others who have come out to show their support. Thus, a few more candles are lit.

    Does this create a revolution? Maybe not. But imagine how much darker, how much emptier, this universe would be if that one little candle weren't lit. If there is any hope of stopping the tragedy and the madness that surrounds us, it comes from the Gwen Dunlops. Great changes have always come from the lonely, the weary and the discouraged, who somehow find, within themselves, the courage to fight for their beliefs, even against impossible odds.

    Especially against impossible odds.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Insanity 101: The Mystery Animal Deaths Explained (or: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fringe Crackpots but Were Afraid to Ask...)

    Oh boy. Oh boy. Oh boy. My Blog Pals, take a moment to watch this video if you need a daily dose of pure lunacy. In it, Cindy Jacobs, a religious fanatic, blames the recent rash of mysterious animal deaths on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell policies. It is well worth the two minutes and eleven seconds it takes to watch it.

    Many of us who support animal rights are also avid human rights supporters. I personally rejoiced when the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was passed in Congress. Now it appears that the military is heading in a welcome direction, and that gays and lesbians in the armed forces will no longer be forced to go underground when it comes to their personal lives.

    Unfortunately, some people disagree. Cindy Jacobs is one.

    Fanaticism takes on lots of forms. Sometimes, it comes in the form of ideology. Sometimes, it manifests itself as violence. And here it comes in the form of a nutty little sermon, full of all kinds of loopy observations. It really has to be seen to be believed.

    Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that people like this are only a bad figment of my imagination. Turns out they're all too real...

    So Far, 2011 is Not Getting Off to a Promising Start...

    For those of us who support animals and animal rights, 2011 has not gotten off to a very promising start.

    First, there have been the numerous mystery animal deaths, which have defied any explanation. "Dead Birds Fall From the Sky in Italy," said a headline in the Huffington Post. The Discovery News website (affiliated with the Discovery Channel) echoed the Huffington Post: "'Aflockalypse' Hits California." Animals have been falling over dead or washing up on shores in huge numbers in Chicago and Arkansas, in Louisiana and Sweden, in England and Brazil.

    Nobody really knows why it's happening. Some scientists have talked about changing magnetic fields. Others emphasize global warming. Toxins have been blamed in certain circles. And the born-again Christian actor Kirk Cameron insists that these mass deaths are the fault of "pagan mythology." (Source)

    To make matters worse, the treatment of factory farm animals around the world continues to be deplorable. Just before Christmas, 1,000 pigs were burned alive in a fire in Rostock, Ontario. (Source) In Quebec this past weekend, 20,000 rabbits and 4,000 piglets perished in two separate factory farm fires. (Source) In Germany, large numbers of pigs and chickens were recently given contaminated feed that contained, among other things, dioxin. (Source) Across Europe, countless pigs and chickens have been slaughtered.

    But the worst slaughter is going on in South Korea, where an astonishing one million pigs have been buried alive due to an epidemic of Foot-and-Mouth Disease that broke out in November. To quote one report from South Korea (Source):

    The South Korean government has so far refused to vaccinate pigs against the disease and is now slaughtering them in record numbers despite appeals to stop. On January 4 in one area of Gangwon-Do, 33,900 pigs alone were destroyed, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

    It turns out that Foot-and-Mouth Disease does not infect human beings, even if they eat the meat of animals infected by the disease. The situation in South Korea has been nothing short of catastrophic, as the Straits Times reports:
    Nationwide, more than 1.3 million pigs, cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals have been slaughtered or will soon be culled, the agriculture ministry said, as the outbreak showed no sign of abating.

    The situation has been so horrific in South Korea that the government is providing therapy for workers who have been traumatized from having to slaughter so many poor, innocent animals. "We've heard reports of people suffering from insomnia, fearfulness, hallucinating sounds and a lack of appetite." (Source)

    The horrors occurring in South Korea are unquestionably the most insane example of what happens when we turn animals - sentient beings with thoughts, feelings and emotions - into commodities, whose value is to be measured in profit and loss columns.

    Those of us who love animals have a mission in 2011. Our goal is to fight for them. And I don't mean fight for "reforms" and "tinkering" - such as cameras in slaughterhouses or regulations that reduce animal pain in factory farms, or stricter laws that govern fur production. I mean we need to advocate for the total and immediate liberation of all animals, based on the fact that they are not ours to exploit, bury alive, place inside of highly flammable and unsafe factory farms, or murder for their meat or other parts.

    Let 2011 be the year that animal liberation becomes a more mainstream goal. We may not be able to control the mystery animal deaths, but we can guarantee that animals are no longer exploited and slaughtered. Animals are not ours to use in any way. This is the message of a truly civilized society.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    A Great Message for 2011!

    A truth we would all do well to remember...

    (Thank you to Sherry Vas Burnett for bringing this wonderful image to my attention on Facebook!)