Archive for June 2013

funerals-296-1226348580VH2IThere is a series of television commercials for a particular vacation destination in the U.S. One of them starts out with a number – the number of mornings each of us gets in life based on the average number of days in a person’s lifetime. I was at a funeral today – not as a mourner but as a volunteer helping at the service. I had a chance during a relatively quiet moment to think of all the animals killed every minute of every day – in slaughterhouses, in laboratories, in the wild, on fur farms, by individuals in acts of cruelty, in shelters, and everywhere else they die – mostly unseen and unknown by the vast majority of people. The sadness that overcame me was crushing and nearly took my breath away. I started thinking what would the world look like if we honored every one of those lives the way we try and honor the lives of people who have passed? How many funerals would we have to have? And how much of an impact would it have on our lives if we all had to witness and work around the acknowledgement of all of the lives taken?

To use one country as an example, the number of animals killed in the United States each year by humans for the reasons stated above is in excess of 60 – 70 billion per year – and that is probably a very conservative estimate (breakdown at the end of post). A little math determines the rest. If each of the approximately 30,000 incorporated cities and towns in the U.S. hosted funerals for the animals killed, that would mean that each city and town in the U.S. would have to conduct 5,479 funerals EVERY DAY for the entire year. Think about how just one funeral or two in a town can be noticed – lines of cars, pedestrians crossing the street to get to their cars – sometimes traffic jams resulting – not to mention the emotional toll. And that is from one funeral. There would have to be over 5,000 funerals every day in every town in the country to honor the lives taken each year – lives taken intentionally and unnecessarily. Obviously, that number of funerals, for whatever species, would overwhelm the resources of any town or city – and that is the point. The volume is overwhelming, and the suffering is unknowable. The number of animals killed by humans for voluntary reasons is almost too high for the mind to truly comprehend, which is one of the reasons I did this mathematical exercise. I wanted to present a concrete image of the amount of death that is really involved due to the human choices for food, clothing, entertainment, scientific curiosity, and neglect of companion animals. And the image, at least for me, is horrifying.

Estimated number of animals killed in the U.S. per year:
Land animals killed for food: 10 billion
Sea animals: 51 billion
Shelters: 4 million
Laboratories: 20-70 million
Fur slaughter facilities: 4 million (mink only – more if other species are included)
Hunted on land: 200 million
Hunted in sea – non commercial (also referred to as sport fishing): up to 25% of fish catch of some species
Killed as “bycatch”: almost uncountable – millions upon millions

Sources:
ASA
ASPCA
Free From Harm
Greenpeace
IDA USA
Science Daily
Vivisection Info

veganism4182898562_cfcf720592_b_wide The recent news that obesity is now going to be considered a disease by the U.S. American Medical Association could have very far reaching consequences – for individuals, doctors, insurance companies, the food and pharmaceutical industries – and animals? Maybe. There are many concerns about how this new classification of obesity is going to affect the practice of medicine, the distribution of health care dollars, and the personal investment of individuals trying to lose weight. Since this blog is about animal rights, though, I am going to let others sort out the economic and policy issues of this decision. But in terms of animal rights, this decision could make a difference. IF the focus becomes lifestyle over medicine and food choices over the latest-greatest weight loss pill, it COULD make a difference. If a vegan diet is seen as a real treatment option rather than just the choice of a few people who are concerned about animals, it COULD make a difference.

Excluding weight issues in those for whom weight gain is due to a primary medical condition (and there are some), most medical and weight-loss experts agree that weight management has to do with diet more than any other lifestyle feature. Sure, exercise is important for creating a calorie deficit and building muscle, and getting enough sleep is important for hormone balance. There are many important aspects to losing weight, but the most important by far, is WHAT WE EAT – day in, day out, month after month, year after year. And on this point, the science is clear. Individuals who consume a plant-based diet have lower body fat and cholesterol, lower bmi and blood pressure, and are at reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. It has even been shown to create conditions that may slow the human aging process. The very visible physical transformations of high profile plant eaters, such as President Bill Clinton, who is now following a diet that is very close to vegan (reports are that he occasionally eats fish), only drive home the point that eating a plant based diet is healthier. It is more conducive to weight loss and maintenance. It lowers risk for a variety of diseases that are weight related, as well as diseases that are a result of too much salt, cholesterol, or pesticide or hormone intake. No matter how much the farmed animal industry might wish to deny it, it is healthier.

The question is, with this new classification of obesity as a disease, will the patients trying to lose weight be treated differently? Will there be more of a focus on a healthier diet? Will physicians educate their patients on the benefits of a plant based diet? – assuming, of course, that they physicians are themselves educated on the issue. Will the interests of science and medicine be able to stand up to the farm and pharm lobbies, who will be only too happy to try and breed a lower fat cow or whip up a new weight-loss drug?

IF the emphasis can be focused on individual lifestyle choices, IF people are willing to see the reality which is supported by science, and IF the desire of people to lose weight and be healthier is stronger than the influence of the groups who do not want to hear about the benefits of a plant based diet because it hurts their bottom line, then yes, there is a chance that this latest reclassification of obesity as a disease could not only end up helping many people, but many animals as well.

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This week, something remarkable happened for surrendered and abandoned companion animals. The commission in Miami-Dade County in Florida approved a shelter animal plan which is nothing short of revolutionary. With the new plan, up to 20 million dollars could be raised annually to cover costs associated with widely offered spaying and neutering services, public education on responsible companion animal care, and additional veterinary services for shelter animals. The result? The new plan could save 20,000 lives and make the county shelter very low or even no-kill. The goal is to increase the “save rate” to 90% and to drastically reduce the number of animals who end up in the shelter in the first place.

The coolest part of this program? It was voted on by the taxpayers, who voluntarily agreed to an increase in property tax in order to fund this innovative plan. The citizens of Miami-Dade, despite all of the economic woes of the past few years, chose to put lives first – they made their choice clear at the ballot box with a 65% “yes” vote.

If this plan meets hopes and expectations, it could be a new model for cash-strapped cities and towns who very much want to save lives but feel they have run out of option. As it becomes refined over time, it could serve as a good example for other municipalities to follow. Hopefully, people in other cities and towns have the same will and desire as the people of Miami-Dade to put animals first and to be willing to invest a few additional dollars to save a lot of lives.

It is a great day for humane leadership – and this time, it was the people themselves who took the lead.

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Chimpanzees in laboratories may soon be classified as endangered species if the recommendation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is implemented. The current status of chimpanzees in the wild is endangered but it is only threatened for captive ones. This difference in classification, the only split status ever, does little to protect the thousands of chimpanzees under private control, including those in research facilities. Upon urging from animal rights organizations, USF&W has put forward the proposal that ALL chimpanzees be classified as endangered. They determined that there is no provision in the Endangered Species Act for wild and captive animals to be assigned to different status groups.

Unfortunately, a number of countries still keep and experiment on monkeys, but the United States stands alone among developed countries regarding apes. The U.S. has continued to subject apes to a variety of experiments, while such research has been banned for years in Europe. This proposal, if adopted, will mark yet another step of progress towards the end of subjecting primates to research experiments. Earlier this year, the NIH took a step closer to releasing to sanctuary most of the chimpanzees in its research colony. In addition, the recent news that Harvard is closing its primate center was another welcome development in the effort to end primate exploitation and abuse in laboratories.

The tide is clearly changing. Based on a recent US poll, support for vivisection in general is dropping, particularly among younger people. This recent trend towards reducing and ultimately eliminating primate research is just another indicator that this is going in the right direction. One of the interesting things here is that, although much of the concern regarding primates is for ethical reasons, it has also been shown that primate research in many areas just doesn’t work. Chimpanzees do not function as a model for human physiology as well as some scientists hoped. And what about that? If our closest genetic relatives are not reliable predictors of reactions and responses to various experimental manipulations, what makes us think that species even more distantly related to us will? It is becoming more and more clear that, although there are many similarities across the animal kingdom, response in one species to a certain stimulus cannot accurately predict the response to that same stimulus in a different species. Even mice, the standby for scientists, are not reliable as models. Clinical human studies and in vitro testing using human tissues are much safer and reliable methodologies.

As primates become obsolete in labs as a test animal, both because of ethical concerns and because the science just doesn’t support it, the next logical step becomes clear. If chimpanzees and other primates should not be used because they experience pain and suffering, what about the dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, and other species subjected to invasive, painful experiments? Do they not have the same ability to feel pain? Do they not have the same neurological and emotional make-up that causes them to suffer as well? Of course they do. And that fact will become more evident as the line between “us” and “them” becomes more blurred. Once we fully recognize that the dividing line between human animals and nonhuman animals is an arbitrary one put in place by humans, it will become increasingly more difficult to justify vivisection at all, no matter what the species. Hopefully this will signal the beginning of the end of experiments on ALL animal species in research settings.

Additional sources:
Dr. Ray Greek
NPR
St. Louis Today
photo: Vera Kratochvil via publicdomainpictures.net

daily-Ag-gag

Ag-Gag laws made news on The Daily Show – it may not seem like much, but it means something. TDS has a large and demographically young audience – people who may be making decisions about not only policy, but who often re-evaulate their personal dietary practices. On Wednesday, June 12, The Daily Show did a video piece about pending bills and already-passed laws in several states which were crafted and supported by big agriculture – bills/laws that are designed to criminalize videotaping of animal cruelty in slaughterhouses. These laws are known as Ag-Gag laws. Naturally, the facilitators of this systemic cruelty don’t want people to see what really happens to the animals that are going to be neatly packaged and sold as a food option at a supermarket near you. In the piece, the spokesperson for the Animal Agriculture Alliance (i.e., the animal slaughter industry) had plenty to say about Ag-Gag laws. I think it is important to look at the primary arguments made by the industry, because they are arguments and tactics that clearly do not have staying power in an environment where people are fed up with being patronized and lied to by large corporations only interested in making a profit.

First, she claimed that the organizations making these videotapes were showing them “…with a false narrative.” Really? So what is the true narrative behind footage of people beating animals with tools, torturing them with cattle prods, and tossing them around as they would a football? She never did explain what a true narrative of those circumstances might be. Translation: Even though the videos are of actual events, the people making them are somehow lying about the (clearly visible) content. Again, she was unable to explain in any way how this phenomenon of altering a witnessed reality occurred.

Second, the spokesperson for the big ag PR group claimed that what we were witnessing were “standard industry practices” and went on to explain that if she saw a video of someone doing surgery, she would have no way of knowing whether that surgeon was a hack or a gifted practitioner. Translation: the public is too stupid to know the difference between an effort to conduct a more humane kill and someone laughing while they torture a defenseless creature. Not to mention the very long list of legal industry practices (castration, tail docking, debeaking, all without anesthesia, just to name a few) which, although legally allowed, are hardly humane and which would shock and horrify the average person even if shown as is. In fact, there were many “industry practices” throughout history which today would be seen as indefensible. Mentally ill people used to be kept in confining cages, often drugged or restrained, in deplorable conditions. At the time, it was the industry practice. In the United States, people used to be legally owned by others as slaves and were at the total mercy of their captors. They were routinely beaten, separated from their families, and raped. It was standard industry practice at the time until a war which claimed over 600,000 lives was fought to pave the way for human freedom. So calling something “standard industry practice” hardly qualifies it as being acceptable, humane, or ethical.

The final attempt by the slaughter industry to appear to have a legitimate response to these undercover videos came in the ploy of the desperate: attacking the messenger. The spokesperson tried to denigrate the activist featured in the story by wondering what name he might go by next – the attempted implication being that he is somehow shady, deceitful, an evil interloper who can’t be trusted. This truly is an indication that nothing substantive could be offered by the spokesperson as a response to the content of the videos. When one has to resort to insulting the messenger, one clearly has no justifiable response to the message.

So what can we take away from this video piece on a show which is often comedic while simultaneously targeted in its analysis of the facts? TDS has an average audience of 2.3 million viewers (2011 statistic). Many of them are young and likely to be very tuned in to the issues of veganism, animal rights, and corporate greed. These images and messages are getting out, and they are getting out to the very people who will be poised to make significant changes for these suffering animals. And that is a reason to be hopeful.

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If we asked everyone who works in any capacity towards ending animal suffering, my guess is that many would say the work brings a lot of fulfillment. It also brings a lot of pain. Unable to go through life in ignorant bliss, we know, see, and hear things that many of our fellow world citizens will never know. Whether on factory farms, in shelters, fur farms, the oceans, or in laboratories, immense suffering is all around us, and sometimes when we can’t sleep at night, we know why – we are haunted by the memories, the images, the sounds–of suffering. I have had several occasions recently to speak with others on the journey who have expressed a feeling of overload – the bad news has just been too much lately. So that knowledge, combined with the fact that it is approaching the end of the week, and that summer has begun for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, inspired me to look for some good news to share. And I am happy to say I found some – a good amount, in fact. So much that I had to make decisions about which links to include and which to leave out. How’s that for good news?

So here are some recent and hope-inspiring developments in the continuing fight for our fellow creatures

In laboratories

The European Union banned cosmetics with animal tested ingredients

Harvard University is closing its primate research center

The USA’s National Institutes of Health is expected to release to sanctuary most of the 451 chimpanzees currently in research facilities

Support for vivisection is dropping, especially among young adults (USA survey)

Our companions

The American Board of Veterinary Specialties has designated a new specialty in the College of Animal Welfare, and the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists has an Animal Welfare Chapter

More than 2,000 US stores representing all 50 states will no longer sell puppy mill puppies and will promote adoption instead

The city of Toronto, Canada has banned pet stores from selling puppy mill puppies and kitten mill kittens

Israel has banned the declawing of cats

In the wild

Japan had its worst whale-murdering season ever thanks largely to the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Society

Poaching in Kenya will be classified as a capital crime, eligible for a life sentence

Unarmed drones to monitor poachers will soon be a critical tool in the war against poaching

Bolivia, Peru, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Greece have all banned wild animal circus exploitation, Portugal and Denmark are on the way to banning, and the UK will probably not be far behind

The hideous atrocity of torturing moon bears for their bile has been exposed for all the world to see – and pressure is mounting on the few remaining countries to stop

Factory farms

In vitro meat is coming and may put an end to killing animals for human consumption

The agri industry’s attempt to hide the truth about the horrific cruelties on factory farms (knows as AgGag laws) will ultimately not stand

Gestation crates for sows are being phased out all over Canada

Several major food companies, such as Burger King, Kroger’s and Chili’s, will be phasing out their use of suppliers who do not follow a no-gestation crate practice

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Newton, Massachusetts – a suburban town in the greater Boston area which has a reputation for being a nice place to live and work. But not if you are a young, lost, frightened bear. On Sunday, Environmental Police shot and killed a young black bear who was stranded in a tree (not the bear in the photo). The report claims that tranquilizers were used and that they did not subdue the bear. Perhaps a young, healthy bear needs a larger dose so that it could be safely removed? Just a thought. The other glaring discrepancy about this story is that the reason given for killing the bear was a concern for public safety – that they were concerned that it would fall out of the tree onto the highway, causing injury. So what is their solution? To shoot the bear, CAUSING IT TO FALL which is what they were trying to avoid in the first place. Fortunately for them, the poor creature fell on nearby train tracks and not on the highway, but no thanks to the officials on the scene.

I have to say I am getting fed up with people living in suburban or rural areas who think the approach to wildlife is to kill them. To be fair, most of the discussions I have seen show a majority of people critical of this particular decision. But it speaks to a larger issue. That being, of course, our behavior. WE decide to move farther and farther out into areas populated by a variety of wild creatures, and then when those creatures behave in a way that is consistent with their nature, or, out of disorientation or loss of habitat, make more appearances in our backyards and parks, we feel the need to remove them. So the timeline goes like this: humans move into and develop areas where a variety of indigenous species live and have lived for a long time. Humans decide that they are afraid of these creatures, annoyed at them searching for food or mates (in other words, acting naturally), and then humans decide that the only reasonable action is to remove the creature from its own habitat, often times by killing it.

It’s Mark Bittman all over again. I recently expressed my displeasure at Bittman’s use of the term “vegan” to describe himself, even on a part time basis. Although he admits that terrible, horrific things happen to animals as they are being killed to become human food, he feels that it’s ok to eat them sometimes because people like to. Very different circumstances, same attitude. The animals are here for US. The environment is here for US. And when it is convenient or pleasurable to kill, consume, or manipulate the world and creatures around us, it is completely justified, as long as it is for something WE want. It has been almost 500 years since Nicolaus Copernicus figured out that Earth was not the center of the universe but rather is a tiny participant in a complex system embedded within other complex systems. I think we need another Copernicus, this time to remind the human species that we are not the center of the universe, or even the planet. We are a player in a system of life and ecosystems, and, if not for advances in technology, would be only a small player in that arena. That many use our advanced technology and knowledge to control, kill, and manipulate rather than to prosper, grow, and nurture the life around us is deeply, deeply sad. But there is still time to reverse the course – if humans have the will to do so.
Photo: Jon Sullivan via Public-Domain-Photos.com