NY Times Publishes Stunning Article on Meat Animal Research Center; Consider Signing Petition

Hi folks,

Just a quick but timely post. The New York Times has recently published a stunning article about some of the concerns regarding animal welfare at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. What these animals have had to go through in the name or productivity is repulsive and arguably, not justifiable. Take a read regardless of where you stand on the issue and if you feel that the reports are unacceptable, consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States to halt research at the facility.

Also, if it interests you, check out HSUS’s “State of Animal Union”, a parallel to the President Barack Obama’s recent “State of the Union”.

Until next time, fellow Hermits.

Federal Judge Overturns Foie Gras Ban; You Still Don’t Need to Eat it

In a setback for animal advocates, a federal judge struck down California’s Foie Gras ban this past Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the ban was unconsitutional because it clashed with existing federal laws on poultry products. Foie Gras is a product that has been under fire due to its controversial and cruel method of production: force feeding a duck or goose until it develops liver disease, resulting in a fatty liver. Considered a French delicacy, California was the first and only state to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras through a bill passed by its state legislature in 2004. The bill went into full effect in 2012.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

This ruling raises concerns regarding the future of California’s battery cage egg ban. The LA Times states that, “Experts said the ruling would have no bearing on California’s new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens, because eggs aren’t covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.” However, an issue around the 2013 Farm Bill (read our article about it here) was the King Amendment, which although not ultimately passed, attempted to regulate states’ ability to regulate any agricultural products that impacted interstate commerce, such as egg production. This bill was introduced by Iowa Senator Steve King. This is no surprise as California, the most populated state by far, consumes an enormous amount of eggs while Iowa produces the most. Back in 2013, I went back and forth with Pennsylvania (another large egg producing state) U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson on this issue.

There is hope, however. While there is reason to be skeptical that voters and representatives can regulate agriculture in their own communities, the Foie Gras ban, as well as other organizations, have brought light to this issue. If you oppose Foie Gras, you probably won’t eat it. Individual decisions can have just as strong of an impact as any state law. Refuse Foie Gras and avoid establishments which serve it.

And if you do eat it, well, you’re just an asshole.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foie-gras-ban-lifted-20150108-story.html

Images:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Foie_gras_en_cocotte.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Foie_gras_-_gavage_in_Rocamadour,_France.jpg

An Important Piece on Egg-Laying Hens

We live in a world where people have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. Productivity is not the only thing that matters, as social factors, such as values, attitudes, and norms have a profound impact on peoples’ expectations of how food is and should be produced. Animal agriculture is a particularly hot topic because it raises numerous concerns regarding sustainability and our obligations to sentient beings that are entirely dependent on us.

In this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, Deb Olin Unferth has penned a beautifully written and powerful piece about the debate over how to best house egg-laying hens and some of the problems plaguing this industry in general. She concludes:

Any way we look at it, it seems impossible for the egg industry to meet all our demands: happy hens, cheap eggs, an unlimited supply. The question of the cages turns back on us: How much are we willing to pay? How much are we willing to make the hens pay? If we continue to eat eggs at the current rate—a historically unprecedented high number—the hens who produce them will be treated horribly (Deb Olin Unferth 2014:50).

Although to view Harper’s online, you need a subscription, the non-profit United Poultry Concerns has posted a copy. Click here to read the article and be sure to share it with others!

Also on the topic of proper animal housing, I have been thinking a lot about the fight for fire safety in animal agriculture. Animal agricultural facilities are not held to the safety standards required in many of the buildings we live and work in (i.e. smoke detectors, sprinkler infrastructure). This, however, is problematic as the high stocking densities and confinement found in large operations are extremely dangerous to these animals when fire or other natural disasters strike. For example, just this past month, approximately 13,000 pigs were burned to death in Minnesota and 20,000 chickens died in Pennsylvania due to barn fires. The installation of basic fire safety equipment could have prevented the death of thousands. Click here to learn more about this issue.

I encourage you to think of the impact you have on egg laying hens and all animals in agriculture. Small changes and taking responsibility for our footprints can make a HUGE difference!

Until next time,

Urban Hermits

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits November 2014

King Amendment Defeated!

Senator Steve King (R-IA), the namesake of the amendment. (From his official website).

Senator Steve King (R-IA), the namesake of the amendment. (From his official website).

If you have been following the Farm Bill (which has been quite a long process this time around) or you read our post back in June, you may be familiar with the King Amendment. It is an addendum which sought to strengthen and centralize the federal government’s regulation of interstate agricultural commerce. In response to a letter I wrote some months ago to my representative, Glenn Thompson (R-PA), he explained that the debate was largely fueled by:

[A] California law through a ballot initiative that established state standards regarding the housing of chickens on farms. As a result, eggs cannot be imported from any other state, unless the eggs were produced in accordance with California’s standards. Because the U.S. Constitution expressly states that the authority to regulate interstate commerce resides with the federal government through the “Commerce Clause” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3), many elected officials from both political parties have voiced concerns over California’s law.” -email from Glenn Thompson, Nov. 13th, 2013.

Later, I criticized Thompson, a republican, of denying states the right to chose how to regulate their own agriculture and food products, which seemed weird for a conservative. The bills namesake, is Iowa representative Steve King. I am sure it is no coincidence that his state produces the most eggs by a huge margin (click here for egg production by state)(American Egg Board).

This bill had serious implications for animal welfare and the regulation of animal agriculture as it threatened to nullify not only California’s law (and California’s foie gras ban), but various other animal welfare laws in many states, including Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, the Northern Mariana Island, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Rhode Island (HSUS).

This past week however, animal advocates and those who value agricultural transparency and freedom celebrated as the Farm Bill Conference Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives released the final version of the Farm Bill, in which the King Amendment was omitted (Green, ALDF, 2014).

With the exclusion of this dreaded amendment, various animal welfare and agriculture groups are now urging representatives to pass the farm bill. Click here to see how you can help!

Sources:  Green, Chris. 2014″King Amendment Officially Rejected!”From Animal Legal Defense Fund. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://aldf.org/blog/king-amendment-officially-rejected/

“Egg Industy Fact Sheet”. American Egg Board. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://www.aeb.org/egg-industry/industry-facts/egg-industry-facts-sheet

“The King Amendment:A Potential Disaster for Protecting Animals”. The Humane Society of the United States. Accessed January 31, 2014 from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/king-amendment.html

http://steveking.house.gov

Sustainability, Ag-Gag, and the Fight to End Animal Cruelty

If you haven’t seen it, Rolling Stone has released a disturbing but well-done piece of some of the horrors of large scale animal agriculture, as well as considerations of sustainability and the menacing threat of ag-gag, which I previously declared war on. The piece is titled “Animal Cruelty is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat” (click title to access the article). Thanks to Paul Solotaroff for this effective piece of journalism and bringing attention to one of society’s most threatening social problems in a mainstream magazine. Its a sad read and feel free to avoid the videos if you don’t care for graphic content, the words are enough. Share this with who you think would benefit. This article explains a lot of the motivations for why I am who I am today.

Your Farmers Market!

As fall turns to Winter and farmers harvest the rest of their produce before fields turn fallow, it is a great time to stock up on some produce at your local farmers market! If you haven’t been to one yet, consider this a wonderful opportunity to support local growers and learn about what sort of agriculture is taking place near you. Whether you live in a large city or a small town, farmers markets are becoming increasingly present and popular. Growing up near Detroit, Michigan, I loved spending a Saturday at Eastern Market, the city’s legendary market district where farmers from all over Michigan and Ohio would arrive early in the morning to deliver city-dwellers fresh produce, small operation meats and dairy, and other craft items. During college in Ann Arbor, MI, I enjoyed the Ann Arbor Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. From fresh berries in the late spring, to christmas gifts and hot chocolate in the December, it was a great place to celebrate my community.

This past week, I had the pleasure of exploring the State College Downtown Farmers Market. This provides students and residents an opportunity to enjoy locally grown foods, largely from the nearby Amish farms. Above are two photos of some of the great purchases I made. I tried Tiger-Eye Beans for the first time, which I highly recommend, as well as a variety of hot peppers. Django was able to enjoy the haul (see below).

Django enjoying some salad!

If you haven’t enjoyed a farmers market, yet, or you are not sure where the nearest one is, check out this handy website that locates them for you! In the meantime, I have some cooking to do, cheers!

Thanksgiving is Coming! Let’s Talk Turkey!

Thanksgiving is around the corner! If you are like me, you are waiting for an excuse to put work aside and see your family and loved ones, perhaps hit the bar with old friends! In the meantime, preparations are necessary. This Thanksgiving, choose compassion over violence, and for that matter, balance out your gluttony with some pacifism! Last month, I posted about my trip to the wonderful Farm Sanctuary, a shelter for rescued farm animals, that provides both advocacy and education about a lot of the animals we take for granted. During this Thanksgiving season, they are promoting an Adopt-a-Turkey program. On behalf of the Penn State Vegetarian Club, others and myself adopted one of the friends we spent time with at the Watkins Glen, NY sanctuary: Turpentine! (pictured below). Sponsorships start at a very reasonable $30 dollars. This is something great to do yourself or with family or friends. This Thanksgiving, don’t enjoy a turkey, enjoy it with a turkey!

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Turpentine at Farm Sanctuary! Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits

Mark and Lauren Go Places: Farm Sanctuary!

Hey everyone,

In our latest installment of Mark and Lauren Go places, we take you to Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY! Although Lauren was not present, she was there in spirit and would have certainly enjoyed the trip. Farm Sanctuary is an organization that focuses on rescuing farm animals, educating the public, and advocating for animal welfare. They are funded by a grant from the America Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). They have three locations, one being Watkins Glen, and then two in California (Orland and Los Angeles). If you are interested in finding out more or donating, definitely check out http://www.farmsanctuary.org. I purchased an awesome American Apparel hoodie in their shop that states, “Vegans: Saving the World with Every Bite!”, which is available in their online shop if you would like to support them in that way.

My trip to Farm Sanctuary was with the Penn State Vegetarian Club, based in State College, PA, which I am a part of. For more information about the club, check us out on Facebook! Below are some photos I took. I just bought a new camera and am still figuring it out, so excuse the timestamps!

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Photos by Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits

The EPA’s Failure to Track Factory Farms

A recent brief by the Food and Water Watch breaks down the inefficient and outdated regulations by the EPA to track CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). The EPA chose to withdraw on the proposed 308 rule, which would have required “all CAFOs nationwide to submit basic information to the EPA, including: the owner name and contact information, the location as defined by latitude and longitude or street address, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage, the maximum number and type of each animal in confinement, and the acres of land available for land application of manure. The EPA proposed the rule in October 2011 and withdrew it under industry pressure in July 2012.” The EPA is turning a blind eye to incomplete or missing information on factory farms and seemingly prefers to stay in the dark on the issue.
Read the full report here.

In the spring of 2013, three environmental organizations
obtained documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The documents related to the EPA’s process of gathering data
about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Those
documents were shared with several organizations, including
Food & Water Watch. On April 4, 2013, the EPA took the un-
characteristic move of asking for the original set of documents
back due to pressure from the livestock industry and Con-
gress, offering a limited subset of the documents as a replace-
ment. Food & Water Watch declined to return the original
documents to the EPA…

Neither the EPA nor any other federal agency collects compre-
hensive data on the number of CAFOs or their size or location.
This lack of data impairs the EPA’s ability to enforce permitting requirements, identify sources of severe water quality
problems, and evaluate CAFOs’ overall impact on water
quality.

The EPA has facility-specific information for other point
source polluting industries and shares that information in public
databases, such as the Toxics Release Inventory, but the agency
has not achieved the same level of transparency for CAFOs.
The proposed 308 Rule would have required all CAFOs na-
tionwide to submit basic information to the EPA, such as the
location, contact information, number and type of animals,
permit status, and land available for waste application. The
EPA inexplicably withdrew the 308 Rule, claiming that the
agency would rely on existing data sources, but this analysis
demonstrates that those sources are weak and incomplete.
The EPA’s own findings contradict its rationale for withdraw-
ing the 308 Rule, and the EPA does not otherwise justify its
change in position. That’s why Food & Water Watch, Iowa
Citizens for Community Improvement, the Environmental
Integrity Project, the Center for Food Safety and the Humane
Society of the United States are suing the EPA to force it to do
what it should have done in the first place: create an accurate,
publicly available database of all CAFOs in the United States.

Source: Food and Water Watch, The EPA’s Failure to Track Factory Farms, August 2013

Photo: Smithsonian Science, 28 August 2009

Ag. Gag and my Declaration of War

aggagmininava

Wow, I just read this article from Mother Jones this past week. It was written by Zaineb Mohammad and was published on July 25th. I found this to be a powerful and infuriating piece that touches up on the current state of the meat industry and its lack of transparency. It also makes points about the abuse animals experience, as well as the humans that have essentially no choice but to work in this degrading industry. Please take the time to read this article, I couldn’t recommend it more: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/07/utah-ag-gag-lawsuit-animal-rights

These injustices against human and non-human animals alike remind me why I have chosen the path in life I have. With grad school beginning, articles like this help me refocus. Needless to say, I am declaring war on any representative, corporation, or group that supports ag-gag and seeks to further prevent transparency and compromise the first amendment.

If you are unfamiliar with Ag Gag laws, check out this site from the Humane Society of the United States. If you’d like, take the pledge to fight Ag. Gag laws here.

That being said, enjoy your weekend!

-Mark

Image: Mother Jones.com