BY JIM MASON
An important meeting of animal rights advocates and animal agribusiness people was held September 10, 1981, in Des Moines, Iowa. Arranged by the Livestock Conservation Institute ostensibly “to define the issues,” the meeting brought out representatives from the veterinary and animal sciences communities, farm bureaus, animal commodity groups, and agricultural support industries to listen to Robert Brown, former director of the Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty Society, Dr. Michael Fox, director of The Institute for the Study of Animal Problems, Diane Halverson, researcher for The Animal Welfare Institute, Jim Mason, co-author with Peter Singer of Animal Factories, and other leaders from the animal welfare/rights community. American Cyanamid and Ralston Purina were there, as was the National Pork Producers Council, the National Meat Association, the Special Fed Veal Association of America, the Poultry & Egg Institute of America, and many other such groups.
At the outset of the meeting, Neal Black of the Livestock Conservation Institute explained that the purpose of the session was not to debate or discuss philosophy and ethics, but to identify and define the problems which the animal welfare/rights community sees as most pressing for reform. A synopsis of farm animal welfare issues prepared by Dr. Fox that had been circulated among animal welfare/rights people before the meeting provided the framework for most of the discussions during the day. It was generally and informally agreed among the welfare/rights people that Dr. Fox’s synopsis offered a comprehensive “laundry list” of problems that need immediate attention from the agribusiness community. In the interests of communication and coordination among activists, we reproduce Dr. Fox’s synopsis here verbatim:
“The major welfare issues that producers of livestock, poultry, and eggs need to address are:
Overall: Problems associated with overcrowding or overstocking; inadequate provision of first aid and veterinary care for sick and injured animals and for humane destruction; poor preventive medicine and preconditioning programs [dehorning, branding vaccinating, etc.] before shipping, auctions, etc., and lack of veterinary treatment on badly run farms. Inadequate provision for animals’ behavioral requirements in many confinement systems.
Swine producers: Transportation, handling, slaughter, and overstocking; ventilation and floor surface of finishing hogs; continuous tethering or single-stall penning of sows and gilts; design of farrowing crates and battery cages; tail docking and care of early weaned piglets.
Veal producers: Raising of calves in separate stalls or crates on slats, deprived of normal movement, iron and roughage, and feeding only twice per day. Present (European-developed) system for raising milk-fed veal is unacceptable.
Sheep producers: Impact of predators, notably coyotes and dogs; indiscriminate predator control; certain sheep confinement systems and feedlot-style finishing operations.
Dairy farmers: Western feedlot-style dairies (lacking shade, shelter, and lying areas); prolonged stanchion tying; rearing of replacement calves in single, narrow pens; dehorning and castrating without anesthetic; poor handling and care of sick and injured cows and calves en route to slaughter.
Beef producers: Lack of shade, shelter, dry lying areas, and rubbing posts in feedlots; lack of roughage in diet; transportation of young stock from Southeastern states; care in lairage at auctions; castrating and dehorning without anesthetic, and hot-iron branding; total confinement on slatted floors.
Broiler chicken (and turkey) producers: Ventilation of confinement buildings; catching, transportation, and slaughter; overstocking.
Egg producers: Design of most present battery cage systems; overstocking; debeaking; transportation, and slaughter.
“Some of the above practices need to be addressed immediately such as continuous confinement and crating or tethering of sows and veal calves, overstocking fattening hogs and keeping too many laying hens in small battery cages. Irrespective of the presence or absence of demonstrable animal suffering, these extreme forms of deprivation are unacceptable since these systems do not satisfy the animals’ basic behavioral requirement.
“Philosophically, such systems deny the animal’s natural right to experience some degree of its ‘speciesness’ or intrinsic nature, prior to slaughter, and the execution of its basic ’freedoms’ as established by the U.K.’s Brambell Committee (see M.W. Fox, Farm Animal Husbandry and Ethology, Garland Press, New York, in press).
“Other questionable practices need to be researched and humane alternatives developed, together with the drawing up of voluntary codes of compliance for certified producers to follow. Such self-policing and voluntary compliance is the kind of accountability that informed consumers are beginning to demand. It is also the kind of responsible and responsive professionalism that the livestock industry should be proud to adopt.
“Critics of the farm animal welfare movement should note that:
- It is not anthropomorphic to empathize with animals and to be concerned about their welfare.
- Animal “rights” philosophy does accept the notion that animals should be given equal and fair consideration, but not equal rights.
- It is unscientific to contend that productivity is an absolute guarantor of farm animal welfare.
- It is nonconstructive for the livestock and poultry industries to dismiss farm animal welfare concerns as having no scientific or ethical validity, or that such concerns are anthropomorphic or are motivated by the vegetarian’s belief that ‘animals have a right not to be eaten.’
During the discussion, Dr. Fox pointed out that the animal welfare/rights community is looking for “some of these band-aid solutions” at once and has a view for more substantial changes in the technology of animal production in time to come. He and other animal advocates stressed that we are not looking for mere increases in cage or crate sizes and other cosmetic reforms, but for thorough rethinking of the capital-intensive, ‘factory’ bias that runs throughout current animal production industries.
Fox called upon animal producers and their associations to come up with voluntary codes of practice now that they have heard from the animal welfare/rights community. When they do so, he said, the animal protection community will examine them, criticize them, and make further suggestions.
Throughout the day-long meeting, animal welfare/rights advocates did most of the talking and agribusiness people did most of the listening and note-taking. Although the atmosphere was polite and professional for the most part, it remains to be seen how agribusiness will respond and how it will characterize the meeting and discussions in its own publications.
So far, its response to the animal rights concern has been a mixture of paranoia and ridicule—neither of which, it may finally be learning, is very politically wise. Agribusiness people, now in the worst market slump of recent decades, may have to wake up to the reality and recognize that the rising concerns for animals, the environment, food safety and quality, are here to stay among the latter-twentieth-century public.
We’ll see how they respond to the Des Moines meeting. Stay tuned.
Originally published in the November 1981 issue of ‘Agenda’