Thursday, September 2, 2010

153. Humane treatment is long overdue

In a stunning turn of events, those that support the ethical treatment of farm animals claimed a small victory when the Ohio Farmer's Bureau recently agreed to make some improvements in the way animals are raised on their farms. The deal was brokered by Governor Strickland, which immediately suggests the deal was more political than ethical. In fact, the deal was only made after the group Ohioans for Humane Farms had collected enough signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment.

The ballot initiative would have instilled ethical standards similar to those passed by voters in other states across the country. If you recall, farmers feared these changes were coming and tried to circumvent the process by passing Issue 2 last year as an amendment to the Ohio State Constitution. Issue 2, which created the so-called "Standards Board," was largely supported by the Governor and Ohio Legislature, including Representative Boose, a member of the Huron Farmer's Bureau who consistently misrepresented the issue, and Senator Morano, who proudly notes her endorsement by the Ohio Farmer's Bureau and is on the agriculture committee.

The changes do not do enough for animal welfare, and take years to be implemented, but it is an improvement to Ohio laws, which were largely considered among the weakest in the country. The deal includes the banning of veal crates by 2017, a ban on new gestation crates starting in 2011, and a ban on the strangulation of farm animals.

When a written standard is needed to stop the strangulation of farm animals, it suggests that it is not like factory farmers across the state suddenly got a conscience and decided to treat animals better. Farmers had just spent millions last year in an attempt to preserve their ability to set their own farming standards by passing Issue 2, and even though their leadership tried to spin the agreement, the responses left on Ohio Famer's Bureau website by members expressed their rage.

The agreement also comes on the heels of video released by Mercy for Animals of an Ohio dairy farm, which received national attention because of the graphic abuse. In addition, the award-winning documentary "Peaceable Kingdom" recently premiered in Cleveland. The film presents a powerful moral and ethical look into the world of factory farming-told by the famers themselves. In one moving scene, a farm owner tearfully stated, "I am not worthy of forgiveness." When this film is available, I hope that anyone who is concerned about the ethical treatment of his or her food will watch it.

As I emphatically tried to communicate with voters last year, there is a misconception among the general public when it comes to farming in this country. Many share a traditional view of a farm, where animals live long lives on acres of pasture. In fact, factory farms are defined as Concentrated (or Confined) Animals Feeding Operations (CAFO). On these farms, more so than the local farms, animals live short, confined, force-fed lives where they are injected with hormones and antibiotics to grow as quickly as possible to return as much profit as possible. While it may provide affordable meat, it comes at an ethical cost-as well as health considerations.

Unfortunately, dairy farms are just as unpleasant, and many people do not realize that in order for a cow to produce milk, she must be lactating from the birth of a calf. The calf is immediately taken from her (the males are often sold as veal) and the milk is collected from the grieving mother cow. This happens repeatedly until the mother cow is sent to slaughter. I am not sure why this tradition of drinking cow milk survives-it's cruel and unnatural.

Finally, when it comes to eggs, another documentary "Foul Play," has been released detailing the egg industry and may soon be available on Netflix. Many do not realize that male chicks on egg farms are immediately suffocated or otherwise killed because they are of no use as a rooster (chick culling).

The governor made a gentlemen's agreement, and Ohioans for Humane Farms can use the signatures collected this year in next year's election if the agreement is breached. The proposal will soon be heading to the Standards Board for approval and I hope the governor keeps his word. In the meantime, consumers can demand the ethical treatment of farm animals with their spending-by becoming educated and choosing meat and dairy products from local farms.

Some of video from "Peaceable Kingdom" literally shocked the crowd, leaving them horrified and in tears. It is inexcusable that in 2010 sentient animals are treated with such disregard. While it might be unreasonable to ask people to go vegetarian or vegan, it is not too much to ask that they act responsibly. Maybe we can even start with our legislatures; after all, it is their job to be informed.

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