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Archive for April 2010

Time to ban barbaric tools of the circus trade

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By Debbie Leahy

The recent death of an animal groom at a Shrine-sponsored circus in Pennsylvania is a tragic end to an already tragic situation. Elephants have been beaten, battered and broken by the circus industry. Is it any wonder they snap from the stress?

Bullhooks look like a fireplace poker—they are batons with a sharp metal hook on the end. They are the standard tool that circuses use to break and manage elephants. These ugly devices are designed to cause pain and can rip and tear skin and leave bloody wounds.

Longtime elephant trainer Tim Frisco was caught on videotape viciously attacking terrified elephants with bullhooks and electric prods during an elephant training seminar. Frisco instructs other trainers to hurt the elephants until they scream and to sink the bullhook into their flesh and twist it. He also cautions that the beatings must be concealed from the public. The elephant who killed the groom in Pennsylvania is believed to belong to Terry Frisco, Tim Frisco’s brother.

Let’s imagine this scenario. A man with a dog act is hired to perform at a kids’ party. He doesn’t have the dog on a leash, he just carries a fireplace poker. When he wants the dog to walk with him, he uses the metal hook on the poker to catch the dog under the chin and yank. When the dog takes more than a step or two away from him, the man uses the poker to jab the dog under her armpit or behind her ear until she is so frightened that she stops moving and just cowers.

Can you picture how upset the children would be? Can you imagine any parent paying someone to do that in front of their children? And yet, that’s exactly what generations of parents have been paying the circus to do—to elephants.

Whenever a captive animal crushes, drowns or mauls a trainer or bystander, those who profit from their misery are quick to write it off as “play” gone awry, or they claim that the animal was trying to “protect” the person from some unsubstantiated threat. Such explanations are transparently self-serving and downright disingenuous.

Elephants are exceedingly intelligent animals who know the difference between play and aggression. A few years ago, an elephant at the Pittsburgh Zoo fatally crushed a handler who had been prodding her with a bullhook. Only months earlier at the zoo, an elephant injured a former Ringling Bros. Circus elephant trainer who had been hired by the zoo, causing a collapsed lung and leg injuries. There’s nothing puzzling about an abused animal finally deciding that they’ve had enough.

Recently, Bolivia imposed the world’s most comprehensive ban on the use of animals in circuses, prohibiting both domestic and exotic species. Singapore, India, Finland, Austria and many other countries around the world have also placed restrictions on the use of animals in circuses.

It’s long overdue for our federal authorities to—at the very least—ban bullhooks once and for all. And it’s time for parents and grandparents to say “enough” by opening their hearts and closing their wallets.

Debbie Leahy is a director with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm

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You can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist

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April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Founded by former Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the original Earth Day put environmental protection on the national radar, leading to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Forty years later, Earth Day has gone global. One billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day celebrations this month, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Tokyo, Japan.

That’s all well and good. But planting trees and cleaning up rivers won’t mean much in the long run if we continue to trash the planet with our meat habit. To truly “go green,” we must start with what’s on our plates.

Raising and killing animals for food wastes so many resources and causes so much destruction, it’s hard to know where to begin.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, 30 percent of the Earth’s ice-free land is now involved—either directly or indirectly—in livestock production. As the world’s appetite for meat increases, countries around the globe are bulldozing huge swaths of land in order to make more room for animals and the crops that feed them.

Then there’s the energy required to operate factory farms, feedlots, slaughterhouses and trucks that transport animals and the amount of water that is squandered on animal agriculture (it takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a single meat-eater compared to 300 gallons needed for a vegan). And don’t forget the edible crops that are used to feed animals instead of hungry, malnourished people.

What else do we get from all the grain, fossil fuels and water that go into making meat and milk? More waste—in the form of tons and tons of feces.

Pound for pound, a pig produces four times as much waste as a human does. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, factory farms generate about 300 million tons of manure every year—more than double the amount produced by the entire human population in the U.S. 

No federal guidelines regulate how factory farms treat, store and dispose of the trillions of pounds of animal excrement that they produce each year. This waste—untreated, unsanitary and bubbling with chemicals—may be left to decompose in huge lagoons or sprayed over crop fields. Both of these disposal methods result in run-off that contaminates the soil and water and kills fish and other wildlife. There are numerous reports that humans who live near factory farms have been made sick by the pollution—many suffer from respiratory ailments, neurological problems and more.

Today’s meat factories also spew out greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change. A 2006 United Nations report revealed that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gasses than all the cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world combined. The report attributed 18 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions to farmed animals, but new research indicates that the figure actually could be much higher. In “Livestock and Climate Change,” the Worldwatch Institute estimates that raising animals for food really produces 51 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions.

It’s time to face facts: Most people stop being environmentalists when they sit down to eat. Every time we consume meat, eggs or dairy foods, we contribute to ecological devastation and the wasteful misuse of resources on a global scale.

If we are ever to halt climate change and conserve land, water and other resources, not to mention reduce animal suffering, we must celebrate Earth Day every day—at every meal. 

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the author of several books, including One Can Make a Difference and PETA’s Practical Guide to Animal Rights. She can be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 20, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

If dinner is still twitching, don’t eat it

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Eating out is becoming a blood sport.

According to recent news stories, food adventure clubs—whose members sample “gross-out” dishes such as sautéed lamb’s brains and duck embryos—are springing up across the country. During one recent outing at a Korean restaurant in New York, a group of gastro-warriors dined on freshly vivisected lobster and live octopus. The lobster’s head watches as you consume the body, and the octopus writhes as a chef clips off his tentacles—which diners eat quickly while the limbs are still wriggling.

Apparently, it’s not enough that we eat all manner of dead animals—now we have to eat live ones too. But consuming live animals doesn’t just push the boundaries of good taste: It’s animal abuse.

“Live seafood,” which has been available in upscale sushi bars for some time, is increasingly finding its way onto the menus of more mainstream restaurants. Adventurous eaters might try live shrimp, “drunken prawns” (live prawns are plucked from a tank, doused in alcohol and set ablaze) or live flounder.

To prepare this last dish, chefs fillet the live fish down to the bone—leaving the head and tail intact—chop and season the raw flesh and return the meat to the fish’s skeleton. The flounder is pinned down with wooden skewers to prevent the fish from jumping off your plate.

Sea animals are not merely swimming vegetables, and it’s not OK to carve up their bodies as casually as one would a carrot or a rutabaga. Fish and octopuses are smart, have unique personalities—and are sensitive to pain.

Researchers know that octopuses, for example, are extremely intelligent and curious animals. They play, just as dolphins and dogs do, and are often mischief-makers in aquariums. Otto, an octopus in a German aquarium, has been observed juggling the hermit crabs who live in his tank. Another octopus, after being given a slightly spoiled shrimp, stuffed the offending morsel down the drain while maintaining eye contact with his keeper.

Scientists recently filmed octopuses in Indonesia collecting discarded coconut shells, emptying them out and using them as shelters—the first time an invertebrate animal has been observed using tools.

Lobsters recognize individual lobsters, remember past acquaintances and have elaborate courtship rituals. Fish “talk” to one another underwater and form complex social relationships. Scientists at Stanford University say that fish have the reasoning capacity of small children.

These animals also feel pain—as all animals do.

In December 2005, the European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare concluded that lobsters, crabs and octopuses are all capable of experiencing pain and distress and are worthy of legal protection.

After surveying the scientific literature on fish pain and intelligence, a team of researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada concluded that fish feel pain and that “the welfare of fish requires consideration.” Researchers who conducted a two-year study on fish pain at the Roslin Institute in Scotland reached the same conclusion.

Eating dinner so fresh that it squirms is nothing more than macho posturing. Here’s the great irony of the live seafood trend: It’s actually rather stale. You never hear about “adventurous” eaters taking on beer-battered seitan or coconut-grilled tofu. No, it’s always some poor animal. But there’s really nothing new or original about abusing animals for food—that happens every day in slaughterhouses and restaurant kitchens.

I have a challenge for foodies who truly want to push the envelope: Go vegan. Trade in your live octopus and pork brains for tempeh sausages and dairy-free tiramisu cupcakes—then you’ll really have people talking. 

Paula Moore is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Posted in vegetarian diets

Food inspectors failing the public—and animals

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By Dan Paden

 Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) veterinarian Dean Wyatt recently blew the whistle on his agency, telling a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that FSIS managers repeatedly ignored his warnings about unsafe and inhumane practices at slaughterhouses in Oklahoma and Vermont. While working at these facilities, Wyatt witnessed calves being dragged along the ground because they were too weak to stand, cattle being left to writhe in pain after they were haphazardly shot in the head with captive-bolt guns, pigs being trampled and crushed as they were unloaded off trucks and other atrocities. 

On the same day that Wyatt testified before Congress, the Government Accountability Office released a report concluding that FSIS personnel consistently fail to enforce humane slaughtering standards.

Why should this matter to you? The same uncaring system that allows workers to beat animals without provocation and to cut pigs’ throats while the animals are kicking and squealing (actions that were witnessed by Wyatt) also allows carcasses contaminated with feces and vomit, tumors and abscesses, to be sent down the line.

If the appalling abuse of animals in the meat industry isn’t enough to make you sick, the meat itself just might. In a new report, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Georgetown University estimate that foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. $152 billion in health-related expenses every year. This figure is far higher than previous estimates, which have ranged from $7 billion to $35 billion.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, 76 million people in the U.S. suffer from foodborne illnesses. Five thousand of them die. 

Animals on factory farms live mired in their own waste and breathe ammonia-laden air that burns their lungs and damages their immune systems. They are slaughtered on killing floors that are contaminated with feces, vomit and other bodily fluids—unsanitary conditions that have led to a rise in foodborne bacteria. When government food inspectors—pressured by supervisors—turn a blind eye to the filthy conditions in meat-processing plants, it’s little wonder that tainted meat enters the food supply.

It shouldn’t take an undercover investigation by an animal protection organization to prompt officials to act, but that’s often the case. After Wyatt told his supervisors about the animal abuse that he witnessed at the Bushway Packing plant in Vermont, he was ordered to attend remedial training classes—an unusual punishment for someone who has worked with the food inspection agency for more than 18 years. 

After an animal welfare group released footage of 1-day-old calves being kicked, beaten and electrically shocked at Bushway, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered Bushway to cease operations. 

When PETA released video footage from a 2001 undercover investigation showing Seaboard Farms workers in Oklahoma bludgeoning, beating and stomping on live pigs, the manager of the farm pleaded guilty to felony cruelty to animals. When Wyatt reported abuses at a Seaboard Farms meatpacking plant, he received a letter of reprimand from FSIS. 

These abuses are taking place on factory farms and in slaughterhouses day after day—whether or not animal protection groups are there to record them. Cows routinely have their limbs hacked off while they are still alive. Improperly stunned hogs kick and scream as they are drowned in tanks of scalding-hot water, which is used to soften their skin. Contaminated, filthy carcasses pass by USDA inspectors and head down the line toward your grocery store or favorite restaurant. In many cases, government inspectors stand by and do nothing, fearing retaliation if they report inhumane or unsanitary conditions.  

If the agency that is charged with preventing abuses at slaughterhouses cannot—or will not—properly do its job, then it’s up to consumers to take action. If you don’t want to support the suffering in the slaughterhouse or risk your health by possibly consuming tainted meat, then stop paying for it. Leave the broken bodies of animals off your plate.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 6, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

This Easter, stick with chocolate bunnies

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By Bobbie Mullins

Every year around this time, pet shops’ display windows start filling up with cute “Easter” bunnies. Who can resist those wriggly noses and fluffy cotton tails? My advice: You’re better off with the bunnies found in toy stores or candy stores—not pet stores.

The trouble is, a few months from now, many of those adorable Easter bunnies will have worn out their welcome, and what will become of them then?

I found out the answer when a neighbor discovered two domesticated rabbits hopping around in her yard one morning. We rigged a trap to nab the skittish bunnies, and I “temporarily” took them in. We later learned that the rabbits, now named Eddie and Lewie, had escaped from dilapidated hutches and that their owner didn’t particularly care if they never came back. 

With Eddie and Lewie now permanent members of my family, I know that despite their meek appearance, bunnies are high-maintenance animals. They need to be groomed regularly and fed a high-fiber diet to prevent potentially fatal hairballs (rabbits can’t vomit like cats do). They are prone to a variety of health conditions, including upper respiratory and ear infections, tooth infections and misalignment, bladder stones and cancer of the thymus.

Rabbits are safest and happiest living indoors—those who are forced to live in cages outside can suffer and die from heat exhaustion in the summer and exposure in the winter. They are also at the mercy of prowling predators—even if a raccoon or dog isn’t able to get into the cage, rabbits can literally die of fright by being trapped with no means of escape.

Unless they’ve been spayed or neutered, rabbits may mark their territory with urine. They love to chew on anything and everything—they must chew to prevent their teeth from growing too long. Perhaps worst of all, at least as far as kids are concerned, rabbits are easily startled and often don’t like to be held—a terrified leap out of a child’s arms can be accompanied by kicks and scratches, and the fall can break a rabbit’s back.

So it’s no surprise, really, that when those cute little Easter bunnies start chewing on lamp cords and spraying urine on the couch, many people either relegate them to a life of loneliness in a cramped cage or, perhaps worse, simply turn them loose. Unlike wild rabbits, domesticated rabbits cannot fend for themselves. A large white rabbit like Lewie might as well have a bull’s-eye painted on his back—Lewie wouldn’t have escaped the notice of the local hawks and foxes for long.

Impulse buyers who are a bit more conscientious turn their unwanted rabbits over to an animal shelter or rescue group, where at least they will be well cared for. One local rescue group almost always has several dozen rabbits in its care, most of whom are discarded Easter pets. Ironically, the group’s shelter is located nearly within view of the shopping mall where many of those rabbits were purchased.

Buying a rabbit from a pet store contributes to the rabbit overpopulation crisis in two ways—it takes a home away from a rabbit waiting in a shelter, and it adds to the number of unwanted rabbits when the purchased rabbit is discarded months later. It also supports horrendous breeding facilities. A PETA investigator at a facility that supplies PetSmart, PETCO and other stores documented filthy conditions and severe crowding that led to cannibalization. The investigator also revealed that workers crushed or hurled small animals to the ground in an attempt to kill them and threw live animals in the trash. Rabbits were subjected to crude neuter surgeries at the hands of a staffer with no formal veterinary training. Hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes were used to “disinfect” the bloody wounds.

This Easter, take a tip from Eddie and Lewie—don’t adopt a bunny without knowing what you’re getting into. If you are just looking for something to put in your kids’ Easter baskets, stick with chocolate bunnies.

Bobbie Mullins lives in Norfolk, Va., with rescued rabbits Eddie and Lewie and four former stray cats. She wrote this for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized