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Helping All Creatures Great and Small

Petition effort would block beating, strangling animals

By Kevin Osborne · May 26th, 2010 · News
Gene Baur remembers the complaint well. In a scene reminiscent of the film Fargo, some farmers in southern California called about a neighbor who was throwing live hens into a wood chipper to kill them.

The hens were older and no longer producing as many eggs, making them unprofitable to keep.

“There were living animals being ground up alive, and the noise was awful,” Baur says. “Some neighbors saw this and were appalled.”

As part of his work with the nonprofit group Farm Sanctuary, Baur (pictured above) helped the neighbors file an animal cruelty complaint against the person slaughtering the hens. But, as with most state animal cruelty laws, there isn’t a legal violation if the method used is considered a common practice or an industry standard. A judge ruled that using a wood chipper on a live animal was acceptable. The erstwhile executioner wasn’t convicted.

“Most citizens are humane and don’t think it’s OK to mistreat animals,” Baur adds. “But they usually don’t know about a lot of what’s going on.”

Baur, who has been advocating animal welfare issues for more than 20 years, is president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary. The organization’s volunteers visit farms, stockyards and slaughterhouses to document conditions and recommend more humane practices.

Also, the group rescues abused animals — many often literally left for dead — and takes them to either a 175-acre shelter in upstate New York or a 300-acre shelter in northern California to get well and live out the remainder of their lives in peace. Nearly 800 animals now live at the two sites, and the group has rescued more than 8,000 animals throughout its history, placing 2,500 in safe environments using its adoption network.

Equally as important, Farm Sanctuary works to help pass state laws banning cruel and inhumane farming practices.

So far, such laws have been approved in Michigan, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine and Oregon.

In conjunction with the U.S. Humane Society and others, Farm Sanctuary is collecting signatures to get the Ohio Livestock Care Initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment, on the November ballot. The groups need to collect 402,275 valid signatures by June 29.

The amendment is designed as a countermeasure to last year’s Ohio Livestock Care Standards, which was Issue 2 on the ballot. That measure — pushed for mostly by agribusiness and large corporate-owned farms — created a board to establish standards for the care and well-being of livestock and poultry on Ohio farms. But 12 of the 13 board members are political appointees, meaning they likely will be vulnerable to political influence from big donors like agribusiness, which generally wants looser standards.

The Humane Society and others believe last year’s Issue 2 was approved by voters because its wording was misleading and sounded innocuous.

Harold Dates, president of the Cincinnati Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has since been appointed to head the board.

Not surprisingly, both gubernatorial candidates — Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich — oppose the petition-led effort to impose standards. Strickland asked the Ohio Farm Bureau for help in defeating the measure, while Kasich has called it the work of “outsiders” who are trying “to destroy our farms.”

Hogwash, animal advocates reply. The proposed standards would include simple rules like prohibiting a farm operator from confining a calf, pig or hen on a farm, for all or most of the day, in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending his or her limbs or turning around freely.

Further, the proposal would prohibit the killing of cows and pigs on farms by strangulation. Those are hardly extreme standards, advocates say.

In an act of fortuitous timing, another national advocacy group — Mercy for Animals — held a press conference May 26 at a downtown Cincinnati hotel. It aired video footage secretly taken at an Ohio dairy farm that showed workers punching cows in the face with crowbars, stabbing them with pitchforks and punching, throwing and kicking newborn calves.

“Factory farming is a real problem,” Baur says. “They treat animals like commodities, not living, breathing creatures. The number of farms are decreasing, but the size is increasing. It’s a focus only on profits. The bottom line is to make as much money as possible by spending the least amount possible.”

Baur has written books about current practices including the national best-seller Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food. He recently gave a talk about farming abuses at Xavier University, where he was invited by the APEX (Animals, People and Earth) Club.

“I believe that factory farm practices are ethically very problematic,” says John Sniegocki, an XU theology professor. “These factory farm operations are responsible for massive animal suffering. They are also a primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of ecological degradation, such as water and air pollution.”

Sniegocki noted that Pope Benedict XVI — while he was a cardinal — spoke against factory farming.

In an interview, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said, “Certainly a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”



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