Washington Post Brings Cruelty to the Forefront: Challenging USDA Policies

This past week, reporter Roberto Ferdman penned an article in the Washington Post discussing uncover footage collected by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing. The article states:

“An undercover video taken at one of the nation’s largest pork producers shows pigs being dragged across the floor, beaten with paddles, and sick to the point of immobility. By law, pigs are supposed to be rendered unconscious before being killed, but many are shown writhing in apparent pain while bleeding out, suggesting that they weren’t properly stunned. ‘That one was definitely alive,’ a worker says.”

The footage is from Quality Pork Producers, a Minnesota slaughterhouse affiliated with Hormel Foods. The graphic video can be viewed here, if you are interested. Compassion Over Killing describes the scene as, “USDA-Approved High Speed Slaughter Hell”.

The account of the investigator is very unsettling and the article raises some large marco-level concerns present in industrial animal agriculture in the US. There is a particular focus on the recently approved and controversial high kill line speeds that have been criticized as dangerous to workers, cruel to livestock (as they are often not properly stunned prior to slaughter), and difficult for inspectors to monitor. In fact, earlier this year, Kimbery Kindy wrote an article for the Post regarding USDA inspectors safety and welfare concerns about new line speed standards which would increase the rate of slaughter. To make matters worse, in an effort to cut costs, the USDA has called back its number of inspectors, allowing them to be replaced by industry-based inspectors. As the article asserts:

“Over the years, HIMP has drawn a growing number of skeptics, including former inspectors and factory workers, who say the changes allow processors to increase profits at the expense of animal welfare and food safety. They point to a key difference between the traditional inspection system and the pilot program, which places the responsibility for the initial stages of inspection — the sorting out of diseased and contaminated carcasses — on the plant instead of the government. This, they say, allows for companies to speed up the process, hide violations, and, ultimately, compromise the food supply.”

Shout out to the Washington Post for regularly bringing these issues to the forefront, demonstrating that the USDA continues to fail animals and consumers through cost-cutting, as well as the grim consequences our insatiable appetite for meat.


Tennessee Enacts Animal Abuse Registry…But Now What?

Folks, its been too long, but I knew I was setup for a comeback to the Interwebs. While my inspiration is diffused over many of the topics I have been thinking about since I last wrote, today I was motived by a story out of the Volunteer State.

Today, Tennessee made history by becoming the first US state to enact an animal abuse registry. This registry would work like many other criminal registries (think the sex offender registries many states require). In this specific case, individuals convicted of crimes related to animal abuse are required to self-register or face further penalties. First time offenders are registered for two years, and I am assuming repeat offenders are required to register for life.

Many organizations and governments have discussed animal abuse registries in recent years as a means to appropriately punish offenders of crimes against animals and to also provide a publicly accessible list of individuals who are unfit to care for or work with animals. Possible benefits could include shelters knowing which individuals are not suitable for adoption, who not to employ in an animal-based business enterprise, or simply making an informed decision as to hiring a petsitter.

While Tennessee is the first state to enact a registry, which is expected to go online in January, 2016, various other states such as California, Colorado, and New York have seen activism, both among government and non-government organizations, promoting a registry. In fact, in 2014, New York City approved an animal abuse registry. These accomplishments seem to be the beginning of a larger movement that will likely catch on in other cities and states.

While this is at face value a big win for animals, agricultural and laboratory animals continue to be left in the dark. The Tennessee animal abuse registry only applies to companion animals (and possibly wildlife…although not clearly specified at this time) and this appears likely to be the case for future animal abuse registries. This sets a dangerous precedent where the majority of the animals that we interact with in our society are being further excluded from legal protections. Obviously, this is done intentionally; the cost and resources needed to enforce animal abuse laws in animal agricultural industries, particularly industrialized operations, is high. It also challenges our often taken for granted relationship with agricultural animals. Finally and most importantly, preventing abuse in industrialized animal agricultural industries or laboraties is not simply a matter of prosecuting rogue workers; the whole system is abusive, providing inadequate care and fitness, both physical and mental.

More work is needed to be done on the behalf of not just companion animals, but those in industries, laboratories, and anywhere else where they are defenseless and subjected to human will. Extending legal protections to companion animals is a victory, but only a first step into awarding necessary protections to all and for becoming a more compassionate and just society.

To those dedicated to these goals, keep up the good fight.

A closing note: If you take an interest in Animal Rights issues, check out a book review I wrote for the open source (but peer-reviewed) journal Between the Species.

And for more stories related to animal abuse registries, check out the Huffington Post’s archive.





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


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!


Turpentine at Farm Sanctuary! Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits

Mark and Lauren Go Places-The Detroit Zoo

Have you been to a local zoo this summer? A few months back, Lauren, myself, and some friends had a great time visiting the Detroit Zoo on a warm summer day. I used to love the zoo and was skeptical how much I would enjoy it being 15 years older than those good old days. It did not disappoint, check out the photos below. If you’d like to see more photos, here is the link to our Flickr album.

Butterfly house and AviaryDSCN4544Scarlet IbisLovebird family living in the grates of the Aviary
Sculpture outside the Reptile House
Camels cuddling
Peacock strutting its stuff
White Rhinos!
Prairie Dogs
Anteater digging for ants
Duckling in the Lillypads

Are You Buying Ethical Gifts? Infographic

Below is a pretty powerful infographic about humans taking advantage of animals for materialism. This graphic speaks not only of animal parts, but also covers wood forested for products that are home to various species.

Source: Late Late Gifts, Visually, 19 June 2013;

“I’m Doing Something Beautiful” – Toddler Contemplates Animal Consumption

Young Luiz Antonio has an epiphany during dinner that meat is the result of lost life. After having a deep conversation with his mother over the issue, he decides he will only eat his vegetables. “When we eat animals they die!” he exclaims. “I don’t like that they die. I like that they stay standing up.” He then asks his mother why she is crying, baffled as this realization seems clear as day. “I’m doing something beautiful.”

Definitely. Can this just be my kid?

Source: Stephen Messenger, TreeHugger, 31 May 2013

Giant Swamp Rats and the Rights of Invasive Species


I have always tried to stand up for the rights of other beings and I believe that they at least deserve consideration. However, the issue of invasive species is challenging. On one hand, here is a creature that deserves the right to live and feed in its habitat, just as a human would. On the other hand, it is destroying the habitat and can drive native creatures to extinction. Matt Cantor from Newser Staff documents this dilemma in a Detroit Free Press article about Nutria, a cute species of swamp rat responsible for large-scale erosion in southern Louisiana.

While it is clear that the Nutria is disastrous for Louisiana, it also seems unfair to have them systematically eliminated, especially since humans were responsible for their introduction into the area (they were brought from Argentina for fur). Take a look at this brief article and keep this in mind when you consider the rights of invasive species. Think about what species have been problematic to the area you live in. What do you think is an effect strategy to contain them? Is there a humane option?

Source: “Louisiana is shrinking, thanks to giant swamp rats”. Matt Cantor. Detroit Free Press. 9 May 2013.

Image: Eustis Christine, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Poachers Ravage the “Village of Elephants”

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) reported earlier last week that 17 individuals armed with Kalashnikov rifles invaded Dzanga-Ndoki National Park to poach the reserves’ elephants. Apparently, some members of the group approached researchers asking for food and directions to the Dzanga Bai, also known as the “village of elephants”. Anywhere from 50 to 200 elephants group here daily to drink. After giving the poachers a false lead, the researchers heard gunshots and other sources witnessed men shooting from the Dzanga Bai tower overlook.

Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) in Dzanga Bai. Image © WWF / Carlos Drews

“Unless swift and decisive action is taken, it appears highly likely that poachers will take advantage of the chaos and instability of the country to slaughter the elephants living in this unique World Heritage Site.”, said Jim Leape, WWF International Director General. He continued, “Wildlife crime is not only a consequence of instability, but a cause. It fuels violence in the region, in a vicious circle that undermines the stability of these countries and their economic development.” Political turmoil occurring in the Central African Republic has opened the floodgate for chaos and monetary gain.”

The Huffington post later reported that at least 26 elephant were slaughtered, including four calves, were found near the Dzanga Bai on Thursday.

If this makes you as sick as it makes me, watch this video of locals in India working together to save a baby elephant.
There is still compassion in the world. You can help.

To learn more about elephants and ways to help end their suffering, visit the WWF.

Image: http://wwf.panda.org/

Sources: WWF, May 07 2013; Denise Chow, May 10 2013;