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Archive for February 2010

Temple Grandin: Helping the animals we can’t save

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

This month, HBO premiered an original biopic starring Claire Danes about an extraordinary person, Dr. Temple Grandin. As a young woman, Grandin struggled with the isolating challenges of autism at a time when this disorder was almost a total mystery. Today she is one of the best known advocates for autism education. 

But I applaud Dr. Grandin for another reason, one that has angered some people who work in animal protection: I admire her work in the field of humane animal slaughter. PETA would prefer, of course, that no animals be killed for food, but we won’t ignore the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses just because we wish that they didn’t exist.

Throughout her career as an animal-science professor at Colorado State University and a consultant to the American Meat Institute, Grandin has worked to improve animal-handling systems at slaughterhouses—markedly decreasing, although never able to stop completely, the amount of fear and pain that animals experience.

In 2006, she described to National Public Radio (NPR) her experience watching cattle get vaccinated at feedlots during the 1970s. Some of the animals would just walk into the holding chutes, she said, while others refused. So Grandin did what no one else had bothered to do before: She went into the chutes herself. As she wrote in an essay for my book One Can Make a Difference, “[I]t seemed obvious to me to get down into the chute and see what the cattle were seeing.” She realized that visual details such as shadows, a reflection off a truck’s bumper or people standing up ahead were causing the animals to be fearful. 

These insights led her to design cattle-restraining systems that are now used by half the meat plants in North America. “[P]eople just wanted to get out there and yell and scream and push and shove,” Grandin told NPR, rather than “remove the things that the cattle were afraid of.”   

This may seem like a small victory—the cows are still going to be killed after all—but until the day that we get animals off the dinner plate altogether, is it too much to ask that we do everything we can to reduce the fear and suffering that they experience in the slaughterhouse?

PETA’s campaigns against the cruel practices of fast-food chains and against the use of intensive confinement systems that do not even allow animals enough room to stand up, turn around or extend their limbs have improved the living and dying conditions for millions of animals. As the industries change and evolve, these improvements will apply to billions of animals every year. 

The vast majority of people, if they care about animals—and consumer surveys show that they do—support such incremental changes, even if the increments are far from wholly satisfactory to the animals who would rather not be caged at all or hung upside down and killed. In November 2008, for example, California voters made history by approving a ballot measure to ban the use of veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages on factory farms. Last year, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a landmark bill that will phase out these same cruel devices in her state as well.

I completely understand the appeal of battle cries such as “Not bigger cages—empty cages!” and I encourage every kind soul who shares this sentiment to make a difference by going vegan. But, as Dr. Grandin has shown us, giving a little comfort and relief to animals who will be in those cages their whole lives is worth fighting for, even as some of us are demanding that those cages be emptied.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the author of One Can Make a Difference and the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 24, 2010 at 3:55 am

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Give fur the cold shoulder

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By Paula Moore

Old Man Winter is here—and he’s packing a punch. The wintry weather has snarled traffic, forced airlines to cancel flights, burst water mains and shut down schools and businesses. You’d better bundle up: According to the National Weather Service, 47 states currently have snow on the ground, and meteorologists warn that more arctic air is on the way.

The frightful weather might have you shivering, but unless you want to look as cold as you feel, don’t reach for a fur to keep you warm. As fashion guru Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame puts it, “Wearing fur is like wearing a big sign reading, ‘I’m in favor of inflicting cruelty and pain on animals as a fashion statement.'” Surely the frigid temperatures haven’t left you that frosty.

Every year, millions of animals are killed for their fur—and there is simply no kind way to rip the skin off animals’ backs. In the wild, animals are caught in snares and steel-jaw traps that slam down on their limbs, often cutting down to the bone and mutilating the animals’ legs and paws. Although steel-jaw traps are illegal in a few parts of the world, they are still permitted in almost all fur-producing countries.

Rabbits, foxes and other animals on fur farms are crammed into barren metal cages, with no protection from the driving rain or the scorching sun. Mother animals go crazy from rough handling and confinement. They often kill their babies after giving birth. Disease and injuries are widespread, and animals suffering from anxiety-induced psychosis chew on their own limbs and throw themselves repeatedly against the cage bars.

Fur farmers use the cheapest and cruelest killing methods available, including neck-breaking, genital electrocution, poisoning and gassing. When PETA went undercover on a fur farm in Michigan, our investigators documented that chinchillas writhed in pain and panic after their necks had been broken. Other chinchillas were electrocuted without prior stunning—meaning that they suffered the agonizing pain of a full-blown heart attack until their hearts finally stopped beating.

In China, the world’s leading fur exporter, not even dogs and cats are safe from the coldblooded fur trade. Chinese fur traders stuff cats and dogs—some of whom are still wearing their collars—into flimsy wire-mesh cages, transport them hundreds of miles without food or water and then bludgeon or strangle the terrified animals so that their fur can be turned into trim on a coat. 

Wearing real fur is coldhearted—and it’s not even the best way to beat the chill. Synthetics are both warmer and lighter than real fur, which is why revolutionary fabrics such as Polarguard, Thinsulate and Polartec are consistently chosen over fur and down for polar expeditions. And you can bet that mountain climbers, hikers and other sporty types who head outside when temperatures drop are not wearing mink coats to fend off the winter wind. Faux fur also retains heat as well as real fur, is more durable and, unlike real fur, can be tossed in the washing machine when it gets dirty.

As the arctic air settles in, don’t let it put your compassion in a deep freeze. With so many stylish and toasty alternatives to fur available, there’s simply no excuse to wear the real thing.

Paula Moore is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 11, 2010 at 10:36 pm

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Stop carping: Fish farms are the real problem

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By Chris Holbein

The humble Asian carp is causing big trouble in the U.S. Last month, the Supreme Court refused Michigan’s request to order the immediate closure of shipping locks near Chicago to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. For decades, the carp have been steadily making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers toward Lake Michigan. In December, Illinois officials dumped poison into a shipping canal—killing tens of thousands of fish—to stop the carp’s progress. A single Asian carp was found after the kill.

Instead of so much carping over carp, let’s focus on the real problem: fish farms. Asian carp would not now be making such a mess if they hadn’t been brought to the U.S. by catfish farmers looking for a cheap way to keep their ponds free of algae. In the early 1990s, flooding caused catfish farm ponds to overflow their banks, and carp escaped into local waterways. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Asian carp saga is important because it illustrates the dangers of fish farming. Now that half of the fish consumed worldwide comes from fish farms, this is something that we should all be concerned about.

Fish escaping is one of the risks. The Canadian group Living Oceans Society estimates that hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon escape every year. Almost all major species of fish that are farmed in Europe—including Atlantic salmon, sea bass, sea bream, Atlantic cod and rainbow trout—have escaped.

These escapees can spread disease and parasites to their wild cousins, and voracious eaters such as Asian carp can starve out native species. Asian carp are now the most abundant fish in some areas of the Mississippi River. And scientists are concerned about what will happen after genetically modified fish (which are more and more popular with the fish-farming industry) escape into the wild.

Many species of farmed fish are carnivorous, and fish are caught in the wild to feed fish on farms. It takes 3 pounds or more of wild ocean fish to produce 1 pound of farmed salmon or sea bass. And it’s not like we have that many fish to spare. According to a stunning article in the scientific journal Nature, commercial fishing has reduced populations of large fish by a staggering 90 percent since 1950.

Some fish farmers have even begun feeding fish oil and fish meal to naturally vegetarian fish to make them grow faster.

Densely stocked fish farms also produce tremendous amounts of waste—everything from uneaten, chemical-laden fish feed to fish feces. According to the Norwegian government, the salmon and trout farms in Norway alone produce roughly the same amount of sewage as New York City.

And let’s not forget about the fish themselves. Salmon farms are so crowded—with as many as 50,000 individuals in each enclosure—that a 2.5-foot fish spends his or her entire life in a space the size of a bathtub. On trout farms, as many as 27 full-grown fish are crammed into a bathtub-sized space. Fish constantly collide in the crowded conditions, causing painful lacerations and infections.

The U.S. has no regulations to ensure the humane treatment of fish, and slaughter plants almost never make an effort to stun fish before they are killed. Fish’s gills are cut, and they are left to bleed to death, convulsing in pain. Smaller fish are sometimes killed by simply draining water away and leaving them to suffocate slowly.

In an effort to combat the Asian carp, some chefs have suggested that we call them “silverfin” and start eating them. But isn’t eating fish what got us into trouble in the first place? Commercial fishing has all but emptied our oceans, and fish farms are turning coastal waters into open sewers and spreading invasive species. We’d all be better off if the “catch of the day” was a healthy, sustainable vegan choice instead.

Chris Holbein is the manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized