In January 1989, 55 members of the Rocky Mountain Humane Society made a five-mile trek to the Denver Livestock Exchange Building. At that center of agricultural enterprise they held a memorial service for the unfortunate victims of humankind’s “flesh eating addiction.”
In 1987, the University of California Veterinary Diagnostic Research Laboratory in Davis suffered $4.3 million in arson damage, the fire set by a group opposed to animal experiments.
The previous winter Mitch Fitzgerald, a Sonoma, California, veal rancher, discovered his calf barn had been broken into and vandalized. Several calves had been stolen during the night by members of the Animal Liberation Front who left spray painted slogans “Meat is Murder” and “I want my mama”—on the side of the building. ALF claims responsibility for over 77 incidents in the last decade, “freeing” 3,000 animals and causing almost $6 million in damages.
Last July, Fran Stephanie Trutt pleaded guilty to the possession of two pipe bombs in her Jackson Heights, New York, apartment. She was also charged with planting another bomb outside United States Surgical Corporation the November before. According to news paper reports she said that she had only wanted to “scare” the company’s chairman. (US Surgical uses live dogs to demonstrate its surgical stapler.) A Midwest farming magazine has refused to publish articles dealing with animal rights for fear of violent reprisals.
One of the fastest growing corporate shareholder resolution issues is the matter of animal rights. Consumers are taking notice in a big way. So are the nation’s farmers and livestock producers.
Far from being a concerted effort of a cohesive organization, the slogans, burnings, theft “liberations,” marches, parades, and night raids are the products of over a thousand separate animal welfare/rights organizations nationwide. Begun over a decade ago, the American movement is made up of some seven thousand individual animal protection groups, with combined memberships of ten million, and total budgets topping $50 million annually. The Animal’s Voice, one of two primary animal rights publications, included a list of 120 groups in their April 1989 issue—groups that now promote the main stream interests of animals ranging from household pets, to the genetically hairless mouse in a laboratory, to the steer standing in a Midwest feed lot.
Representing the extreme is the Culture and Animal Foundation, headed by Tom Regan, a North Carolina State professor of philosophy. Regan decries the use of animals for any human need: “Women do not exist to serve men, blacks to serve whites, the poor to serve the rich . . . scientifically informed and morally impartial [people deny] that animals exist to serve us.” In the June 1989 Agri Marketing, Regan further states that “It is not larger, cleaner cages that justice demands in the case of animals used in science . . . but empty cages; not ‘traditional’ animal agriculture, but a complete end to all commerce in the flesh of dead animals . . . the total eradication of these barbarous practices.” A pacifist, he opposes any violent means of bringing about these changes, preferring instead a program of educating public sympathies.
Regan’s position-and he has a growing following-echos the “speciesism advocacy” of Marjorie Spiegel, whose book The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (1988) draws parallels between slavery and the practice of keeping animals as pets and sources of food. Both of these writers feel the lowest kind of human behavior is the willful use of other forms of life.
Moderating Regan et al.‘s extremism is the middle-of-the-road Humane Society of the United States. Its spokesman, veterinarian Michael Fox, contends that the economic agricultural treadmill is at the root of this evil, beginning when “factory farms” replaced traditional family operations. “Factory farming is a metaphor for the industrialized exploitation of animal life for human profit at the expense of animals’ rights, environmental resources, consumer health, and the integrity of ecologically sound family farm operations . . . part of ‘agricide.'”
The issue for these animal rights moderates is not that farm animals are being used as sources of meat, milk, and fiber, but the quality of the creatures’ lives. They are opposed to such practices as hot-iron branding, ear tagging, castration, dehorning, tail docking, the close confinement of chickens, veal calves, or hogs, placing cattle in unshaded feed lots, long-distance transportation of live animals, and certain religious slaughter practices. (The Humane Society’s position further states that “agri-farming” is not only destroying the environment, depleting the wilderness, and starving Third World peoples by feeding grain to our livestock, it’s also contributing to heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes in those of us who elect to eat meat, eggs, and milk.)
Not to be outdone is the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which recently launched an international boycott of Avon cosmetics. Avon—like many other make-up manufacturers-has used animal based testing of their cosmetics lines, a practice that is opposed by a broad spectrum of rightist groups. In response to the boycott, Avon claims they have not used certain animal tests since April. Noxell Corporation, maker of Noxema skin creams and Cover Girl brand cosmetics, eliminated two live animal tests this year that had been criticized by activists.
Rightists concerns are not without some basis, as some farmers will admit. One livestock industry specialist declared that “legitimate abuses do occur—but it’s not a matter of intentional injury to an animal. No producer has ever said, Tm in favor of cruelty to animals.’ Accidents and ignorance are the two primary causes . . . and you can’t legislate either one of them away.”
For their part, the activists, even the moderate ones, are guilty of ignorance about the realities of farm life, naiveté, and sometimes downright misrepresentation. “These people are educated, articulate, concerned, and well funded,” says Gary Varner, University of Missouri Livestock Extension specialist. “They can tell a convincing story to recruit allies. They are also misinformed.” Janice Grauberger of the American Sheep Industry Association in Colorado echoes Varner’s conclusion. “These people are suffering under serious misinformation; they do not understand the realities of producing meat and fiber.”
Take the case of veal. Animal rights activists complain that veal calves are confined for all of their hundred days or so of life, often in crates that only barely give them room to lie down or take one step forward. They are purposefully kept anemic and denied roughage so that their meat will be white as the market demands; they are denied exercise and sometimes even water in an attempt to make them gain weight as quickly as possible. To this Dean Conklin of the National Live stock and Meat Board in Chicago says, “It’s dear from what we’ve seen-and what’s been shown repeatedly-that the [animal rightists] have not gotten the facts straight [about veal production], and haven’t tried to. Their view is extremely one-sided and unbalanced.”
The veal situation has been sensationalized to urban readers—whose only prior contact with beef may have been at meal time. One representative ad, which has appeared on California billboards and in national publications, shows a plump veal calf in a traditional stall under the heading, “Q: Why can’t this veal calf walk? A: He has only two feet.” Reading the smaller print, one discovers that the reference is to the width of the calfs stall, not the condition of his appendages. Conklin asserts that “[c]alves do have the ability to move around, stand up, lay down, socialize. The animals are well-treated; they grow and do well in this environment . . . and they don’t have a constant battle for space, over feed, and so forth.”
“Part of the problem,” Gary Varner says, “is that most animal rightists are people who live in cities, who are several generations away from livestock and farm practices.” It’s not uncommon for urbanites to assume we can treat farm livestock the same way we treat our pet dog. “What is just common sense to a farmer may appear indiscriminate or cruel when you don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
Varner mentions the widespread practice of beef cattle dehorning and castration. “Uncastrated bulls with a set of sharp horns will do a tremendous amount of damage to each other. It’s their nature to fight.” Castration and dehorning allow the animals to coexist in relative comfort.
A routine practice on most sheep producing farms, like mine, is the docking of lambs’ tails-another point of contention with activists. Sheep have foot-long tails at birth, which are cut to a short stub sometime during their first month of life. It is not a pleasant business, and undoubtedly causes the animals a certain amount of discomfort. To the nonfarmer, this ritual must seem barbaric at the very least—as it did to me, when I was an urbanite.
The reason, however, is that undocked sheep grow a Huffy Ay incubator directly beneath those long tails, where urine- and feces-soaked debris accumulate. This condition is known as “fly-strike,” and happens without the slightest visible outward sign until it is well advanced. Then the tell-tale slight dampness on the outer layer of wool can be parted to reveal a boiling sea of maggots, feasting on the sheep’s muscle, or abdominal organs, or other live tissue. Sheep with small areas of fly-strike can be dosed with pesticides and may recover; for those with advanced attacks, there is virtually no hope. The farmer’s hard choice is between performing one unpleasant task, or waiting for something much worse to happen.
This is a good example of one of the fundamental errors rightists make—confusing “animal rights” with “animal welfare.” Darryl Salsbury, a veterinarian involved in the production of livestock health-care products, states, “We’re all in favor of animal welfare. Anyone who’s got livestock must be constantly concerned with what is best for them; if you don’t take care of them, they won’t produce. Animal rightists, though, go beyond welfare.” He notes that he supports people not eating meat, if that is their preference—he just doesn’t think rightists should demand their choice from the rest of society, animal industries together maintain four billion farm animals and ninety million laboratory animals annually. Until very recently, though, there have been few efforts to publicize modern animal production and handling methods. Industry-wide concerns about the animal rights movement are prompting a reevaluation of consumer goodwill—and promoting a new form of advertising aimed at the nonfarmer. Stories about livestock growers engaging in animal welfare and good husbandry practices are beginning to appear in nation al publications. Grower organizations, such as the Pork Council Women, have formed speakers’ bureaus to help inform the buying public.
Institutions that use experimental lab animals are a different case. There is no question here that many animal experiments put the animals through pain and sickness, a trade-off for the greater goods of learning about the brain or curing disease. “You can’t re create live tissue in a test tube,” one industry representative noted. “If there were no live animal tests, there would be no new vaccines, no improvements in health care-for humans or animals.” To some activists this is not good enough. PETA head Ingrid Newkirk stated in last September’s Vogue that if an AIDS vaccine was found through the use of live animal experiments, rightists should oppose its use. The solution for labs has been to simply disappear: signs designating experimental facilities have come down; names have been changed fo be less revealing of the nature of their business; scientists refuse to discuss the nature of their work.
What all this will mean in terms of legislation is unclear. Activists have introduced anti-veal bills in New York, California, and Maryland. As of mid-1989, all the proposed legislation had been defeated. The Maryland bill was countered by veal producers who made home videos of their calf-housing barns, and offered legislators tours of their facilities. Lawmakers apparently didn’t find conditions as deplorable as rightists said they were. The pressure for change-which means more legislation—is nevertheless great, and probably growing.