Posts Tagged ‘Farm Sanctuary

Gene Baur: The Activist’s Activist

» April 6th, 2015

Gene Baur, a friend and fellow marathoner, is what you might call the activist’s activist. He’s articulate, charismatic, and a rare blend of incredibly friendly but serious at the same time.

The range of his activism runs the gamut. He travels relentlessly to give talks about his work at Farm Sanctuary and the benefits of living a compassionate “animal-friendly life” (in fact, when I first met Gene he was rambling through town in a VW Bus on a cross-country tour promoting veganism); he lives out his ideals by rescuing and raising farm animals at the nation’s leading farm sanctuary that he founded in the late 1980s; and, to top it off, he is a best-selling and elegant writer—author most recently of the Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, which is just out in paperback.

Gene’s book is a rare combination of attributes. It’s a strong plea for a plant-based diet, a guide to animal-friendly consumer and environmental ethics, an overview of farm-animal sentience, and a range of recipes that help us put our values on the plate in an especially delicious way. My favorite recipe section is “handheld meals”—and the Just Mayo chickpea salad sandwich (p. 164) has become a go to (in fact, it’ll be my lunch today).

What comes through powerfully in this book is the inspiring notion that—and I admit to doing battle with this idea—individual choice matters when it comes to creating a better world for animals. “I believe that everyone can make a significant change in their lives when they’re ready to make that change,” Baur writes. Don’t let the simplicity of the statement fool you. After reading this book, even the most worn skeptic will be softened to the possibility.

If all this sounds too good to be true, you can check Gene out for yourself. This evening he’ll be on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Tune in.

And tune in.


“A Certain Degree of Intelligence”

» August 30th, 2013


The Associated Press ran a story yesterday with this lede: “There’s extensive evidence that pigs are as smart and sociable as dogs. Yet one species is afforded affection and respect; the other faces mass slaughter en route to becoming bacon, ham and pork chops.” Pretty amazing, huh? Not that pigs are as intelligent as dogs but that this basic truth is making its way into the mainstream press without snark or snide remarks. I’m aware that recognition of animal intelligence is hardly a barometer for how we treat animals, but it’s not irrelevant either, and thus I was pleased to see this piece. A snippet of hope, this.

At the core of the story is something called The Someone Project. Good title. According to the AP article, The Someone Project, led by psychologist Lori Marino, “aims to highlight research depicting pigs, chickens, cows and other farm animals as more intelligent and emotionally complex than commonly believed. The hope is that more people might view these animals with the same empathy that they view dogs, cats, elephants, great apes and dolphins.”  Of course, we abuse the daylights out of these animals, but at least we don’t raise them by the billions to kill and eat them, so this approach strikes me as useful. Or at least not useless.

Farm Sanctuary is coordinating the project. Bruce Friedrich, of Farm Sanctuary, was quoted in the piece as saying, “When you ask people why they eat chickens but not cats, the only thing they can come up with is that they sense cats and dogs are more cognitively sophisticated that then species we eat—and we know this isn’t true.” And: “What it boils down to is people don’t know farm animals the way they know dogs or cats . . . We’re a nation of animal lovers, and yet the animals we encounter most frequently are the animals we pay people to kill so we can eat them.” Wise words from Bruce.

Perhaps the best part of the piece was watching the pork council veritably squeal in discomfort. David Warner of the National Pork Council said, “While animals raised for food do have a certain degree of intelligence, Farm Sanctuary is seeking to humanize them to advance its vegan agenda—an end to meat consumption” . . . While vegans have a right to express their opinion—and we respect that right—they should not force their lifestyle on others.” Yes, vegan. Don’t you dare instruct others not to kill sentient beings that are smarter than your pre-schooler.  And how dare we meddle with someone’s “lifestyle” or make them squirm with our arbitrary “opinion.” The nerve!

Gwen Venable of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association was even more ludicrous in her logic: “Consumers should be able choose their food based on their own dietary preferences and nutritional needs and without being unduly influenced by any one group’s personal agenda,” she wrote. “We do not feel that Farm Sanctuary’s campaign is reasonable, as the campaign’s ultimate goal would be to eradicate poultry and pork from consumers’ diets.” Well, duh!

Even the pig would get that.



Steve King Has a Dream

» May 17th, 2013


You have to give the Humane Society of the United States credit for scaring the snot out of Big Agriculture. For those who persist in thinking that HSUS and other welfare organizations are in some sort of dark conspiratorial cahoots with our nation’s most powerful producers of animal products, I would urge you to look closely at the current Farm Bill.

In particular, consider the recent addendum snuck into the bill by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) during the latest House Agriculture Committee session.  An excellent overview of this sordid episode came yesterday from Mariann Sullivan, of Our Hen House. Read it here.

The King addendum stipulates that any state requiring minimal welfare standards in animal agriculture—think Prop 2 in California—cannot ban the importation of animal products from states that lack those standards.  This unctuous loophole effectively negates any and all local initiatives to seek better conditions for farm animals. In so doing, it leads to what Sullivan rightly calls “a race to the regulatory bottom.” Hard to imagine that we could get much lower.

Concrete if hypothetical example:  If you’re an egg producer in California, the motivation will be, under the King amendment, to move to Nevada (or Idaho or Montana . . .), abandon the costly welfare standards imposed by Prop 2, but still maintain access to lucrative California markets.  Frankly (and maybe they did), the political advocates for animal welfare improvement should have seen this one coming all the way from Iowa. King’s dream cannot be that much of a surprise.

Still, this is the cynical politics of fear, a politics inspired in part by the HSUS’s successful efforts to push “minimal” (that’s Wayne Pacelle’s own description) improvements onto animal agriculture on the state level.  It is, however, also the politics of politics, something more sinister, and something that one enters at his peril, or at least armed with low expectations and a regiment of lobbyists.

It’s hard to get much of anything done in a top-down sort of way in our Federalist system of government, much less the imposition costly welfare reforms for the voiceless. The horse-trading, as it were, began in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention and has since only intensified to make centralized change more costly and difficult than it need be. Sadly, frustratingly, the King amendment is just another loophole in the Swiss cheese of political reform for farm animals.

This ease with which the King hole was punched suggests very strongly that organizations such as HSUS are better off spending their time seeking change on the corporate rather than the political level. I don’t mean to overstate the dichotomy here between corporations and government, nor do I think political pressure is useless. However, I think that a successful melding of documented consumer interest in welfare standards with persistent corporate advocacy has the potential to render efforts by madmen such as King moot, or at least limit their effectiveness to serving as desperate cries for help under the immense pressure of compassion that’s still struggling to find its loudest bullhorn.


What to do? Here’s this, from Gene Baur at Farm Sanctuary:

I need your help. Right now, please call your Representative in the U.S. Congress and ask that she or he work to remove the King Amendment from the House Farm Bill, which passed by a voice vote on Wednesday night.

The King Amendment could negate most state and local farm animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, horse slaughter, and foie gras (along with other laws related to environmental protection, worker safety, and more).

Please make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representativeurging opposition to the King Amendment. You can say simply, “Hi. I live in CITY, I’m calling to ask that Representative NAME oppose the King Amendment to the Farm Bill, which could slash protections for animals and violates state’s rights.” If the person you speak with doesn’t know your representative’s position, please leave your name and phone number, and ask for a call back.

After calling, please submit this form to automatically send a follow-up message.