When animal welfare groups fall short

Many different types of organizations are fighting for animals. Some focus on companion animals, others advocate for wildlife or animals in captivity, like zoos and circuses. Still others promote vegan living. And while many groups don’t always agree with each others methods and priorities, they usually have the same goal: saving animals.

However, the Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) fell short of that goal recently.

I learned that they were the main sponsor of Hoofin’ It, a farm-to-table culinary tour in Denver where, as the website says, “a different hoofed animal will be featured at all of the stops each evening.” That’s right. The Humane Society sponsored an event where people eat animals. Bison on the first night, sheep on the second, pigs on the third, and cows on the last.

hoofin' it webpage

The HSUS celebrates that these animals were raised in a “sustainable” way and weren’t part of the factory farm system. Unbelievable! This highlights the main difference between animal rights organizations and animal welfare groups.

I’m an abolitionist. I don’t believe any animal should be exploited, abused, or eaten. That said, I also recognize that the world won’t wake up vegan tomorrow. So I appreciate efforts to make the miserable lives of farmed animals slightly less hellish. Ban gestation crates for breeding sows. Ban battery cages for laying hens. Ban tail docking, dehorning, and castration without anesthesia. Sure. It helps the animals in the system, but it’s not the answer. It’s not the end goal.

It’s one thing to fight for better conditions for farmed animals. That’s not a stamp of approval. But sponsoring a meat-based event is incredibly irresponsible and near-sighted. The HSUS is condoning the commercial exploitation and killing of animals by being a sponsor. They’ve made strange bedfellows by praising farmers who practice free-range animal-rearing methods while criticizing factory farms.

Let’s pretend Hoofin’ It was about a dog-eating festival, right here in the good ol’ US of A. Would the HSUS be a sponsor? No! Because we love dogs and cats. Sponsoring a let’s-eat-farmed-animals event is speciesist. “Grass-fed” doesn’t change the fact that an animal’s life is cut short by a brutal killing (no, there is no such thing as humane slaughter). Free-range animals fight for their lives just as hard as factory-farmed animals. And the slogan of the festival is “respect your dinner.” What a disgrace!

respect
I don’t usually criticize other groups’ tactics. But in this case, I have to speak up. The HSUS is setting back the vegan movement by condoning meat-eating. Additionally, grass-fed, free-range meat is expensive, so they’re being elitist. Even if everyone in the world could afford this type of meat, there wouldn’t be enough grazing land in the entire world to support it. Obviously the people at HSUS haven’t seen Cowspiracy.

I’m never donating to the HSUS again and I’ve told them. There are a lot of great cat and dog rescue groups that I’ll give to instead: Soi Dog in Thailand rescues street dogs and is fighting the dog meat industry in Southeast Asia, Rudozem is working to save street dogs in Romania, Best Friends Animal Society is a no-kill shelter that works nationwide in the US, the Beagle Freedom Project rescues animals from labs, and Darwin Animal Doctors helps wild animals in the Galapagos by promoting a spay/neuter program for cats and dogs. I’m sure you know of smaller, local groups that are worth supporting.

Furthermore, I’m going to continue to support Vegan Outreach, a group that promotes veganism and doesn’t pander to special interest groups that exploit animals.

I suppose the HSUS is doing what it always has. They don’t rock the boat–and as a result they rake in big donor dollars. They advocate for “pets,” they push limited farmed animal welfare changes, and everyone goes to bed at night feeling good about themselves. Discovering the Hoofin’ It event was like discovering there’s no Santa Claus. It’s disappointing, but I kind of knew it all along.

Is there such a thing as humane slaughter?

Humane (adj.) – Marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals.

Slaughter (verb) – To kill animals for food (butcher); To kill in a bloody or violent manner;  To kill in large numbers.

The words humane slaughter seem oxymoronic to me. One can either be compassionate and considerate, or one can kill animals violently and in large numbers.

painting of pigs

I recently read an article in OnEarth.org about Russ Kremer, a man they call the Pope of Pork. He’s being held in such high regard for the wonderful ways he treats his pigs–before he kills them. I realize that there are people who treat animals much worse than he does, but I have a few problems with his approach:

As a boy Kremer worked on his dad’s farm and helped nurse pigs back to health. There’s no victory in saving an animal only to send it to slaughter later. The only gain is financial.

As an adult, Kremer operated his own factory farm, where pigs were warehoused in dark, confined buildings. They were sick, pumped full of antibiotics, and lived above their own waste run-off.  Kremer eventually sold all the pigs he owned, but not until after he got injured by a boar and contracted a nasty virus. The virus was the same antibiotic-resistant version that his pigs had. It wasn’t the pigs’ welfare or the meat-eating population that got Kremer to quit. It was his own brush with death and his own sense of self-preservation.

He didn’t quit farming though. He started raising free-range, organic pigs. The new model nets him $50 more per pig. Again, money is at the root of his choices, not the humane treatment of animals.

I dislike the “new” way of farming because it lulls people into thinking they’re doing the right thing. The “new” method is really just going back to the old, pre-factory farm way. That makes it marginally better than a factory farm, but it still involves extensive use of land, feed, and water. Free-range pigs still produce the same amount of waste that their crated cousins expel. They all still get slaughtered. And when they become sausage, their flesh will clog your arteries just the same.

Neither free range or factory farm is an option from a pig’s point of view. It’s like moving from a prison cell to a mansion. The mansion sounds better but if you’re going to be executed in a few months, what difference do your living conditions make? I bet your biggest concern would be avoiding death.

Throughout the article, Kremer’s pigs are compared to dogs. They’re described as “piglets the size of obese beagles,” and “puppy-like.” But if you talked about how your dog was “bred for well-marbled, tasty meat” people would have you committed! And if indeed you did slaughter your dogs, you’d be arrested. Kremer seems well-meaning, but he’s a businessman. He’s marketing faux-compassion–and it sells. There’s a complete disconnect between the way he “lovingly” raises his animals and the fact that he kills them for money. It’s not euthanasia. He’s not alleviating the suffering of a dying animal, he’s killing healthy animals in the prime of their lives.

Kremer’s business model assumes animals are property, that they don’t have the right to live, and that they are meant for our consumption. No slaughter is good slaughter. Animals deserve to live their own lives; they are not ours to profit from or consume. We don’t need meat to be healthy. Pigs don’t need to die in vain. The only humane choice is to be vegan.