AWI Quarterly

Elephant Seals Hot Iron Branded


Elephant Seals Hot Iron Branded

Hot iron branding has caused terrible pain to animals, both wild and domestic. Photographs of branded elephant seals, with hot iron brand marks covering a significant part of the animals' sides (both sides so scientists can read the number easily) were published in the Sydney, Australia Mercury.

According to the March 29th Mercury, "The evidence collected shows the brands have created large weeping and infected wounds on many seals." The Parks and Wildlife Director, Max Kitchell, said, "a significant number of seals were left with horrific injuries which could be life-threatening."

The brandings, part of a 10 year population study, have now been mercifully stopped by the Macquarie Island government.

Mexican Ecological Group Blockades Logging Road to Save Forest


Mexican Ecological Group Blockades Logging Road to Save Forest

Under the headline "Jailed Mexican Wins Environmental Prize" Sam Dillon wrote a report of Rodolfo Montiel's heroic struggle to save the forest near his village north of Acapulco (The New York Times, April 5, 2000). The transnational Idaho logging company, Boise Cascade, and all the government officials to whom Montiel wrote, were unmoved by his reports that laws were being broken, rivers drying up, and thousands of fish dying.

"Our defense of the forest is a struggle for our way of life," he wrote, "The earth without trees becomes a desert, because the soul of the water lives in the cool of the forest."

Montiel's formal education ended after first grade, but his lyrical plea for the trees was wisely followed up in spring 1998 by his peasant group's blockade of logging roads to stop the timber trucks. According to Dillon's article, "Gunmen have since killed several members of Mr. Montiel's rural ecological organization and last May soldiers seized and tortured Mr. Montiel, he said, accusing him of drug and weapons crimes.

"The charges were riddled with contradictions, but were enough to send him to a penitentiary pending a felony trial. One of the human rights lawyers defending him has been kidnapped, twice."

Now the Goldman Foundation has awarded him its prestigious $125,000 environmental prize and Amnesty International declared him to be a prisoner of conscience.

ACTION Write to the President of Mexico protesting the mistreatment and imprisonment of Rodolfo Montiel. Address your letters to President Ernesto Zedillo,
c/o Embassy of Mexico,
1911 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Washington, D.C. 20006

Political Spin


Political "Spin" and Wildlife Conservation
CITES 2000

By Adam M. Roberts

The Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) concluded in Nairobi, Kenya on April 20, 2000. The 151 nations that are signatories to the Convention considered over sixty proposals regarding levels of protection for wildlife threatened by consumption for international trade. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction and are or may be affected by international trade and are subject to a prohibition on international commercial trade; Appendix II species are not yet threatened with extinction but may be at risk without strict regulation of the legal international commercial trafficking in these species' parts and products made from them; Appendix III species are identified by individual Parties as subject to internal regulation to prevent over-exploitation. 

AWI's positions on these proposals were supported in over half the votes—clear victories; in about a third of the votes we clearly lost; and the remaining proposals were amended in some compromise fashion (for instance, not changing the species' status, but specifically disallowing trade in specimens, known as a "zero quota").

Did animal advocates or wildlife exploiters prevail overall at this CITES Meeting? It depends on whose reports you read. Politics and political debate in Washington, DC is often dominated by political "spin" when policy debates end, each side attempts to portray itself the victor in the press and to the public. 8,000 miles away from Washington in Nairobi, molded media messages bombarded the news on a daily basis as opposing forces claimed triumph on a host of issues.

In 1997, CITES Parties undermined the nearly decade-long ban on the global trade in elephant ivory by downlisting from Appendix I to Appendix II the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to allow sale of hunting trophies, live animals, hides and leather goods (for Zimbabwe), and a total of 59.1 tons of raw ivory to Japan.

Elephant poaching escalated once the ivory trade was reopened. Numerous reports circulated in Nairobi revealing the carnage. The Born Free Foundation's Stop the Clock Report analyzed elephant poaching and ivory confiscation data for a number of countries. While the CITES Secretariat's official figures claim "235 elephants poached" in 1998 and 1999, Born Free's analysis shows a conservative figure of 6,159 elephants poached in 1998 and 1999 26.2 times the "official" record. Considering potential for underreporting, Born Free estimates the actual kill may be up to five times higher.

But despite reported rampant poaching across Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe petitioned to open the ivory trade further to allow a combined 24 tons of ivory to be exported annually and for all three countries to trade in elephant hides, leather goods, trophies, and live animals. In addition, South Africa proposed to downlist its elephant population to allow 30 tons of ivory to be sold as well as other elephant parts and live animals.

Kenya and India, both facing an upsurge in elephant poaching since 1997 and desperately underfunded and understaffed in their anti-poaching efforts, proposed putting all elephants back on Appendix I and opposed South Africa's new weakening proposal.

"Consensus building" was a clear theme of the Meeting especially regarding African elephant range state opinions on the future of elephants and the trade in elephant ivory. Anticipation of an explosive debate evaporated when Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe all withdrew their proposals (thus leaving their elephants on Appendix II but not allowing further trade in ivory); Kenya withdrew its uplisting proposal; and South Africa's proposal, which was amended to remove the ivory sale, was adopted by consensus.

This is where the biggest media "spin" begins. If one reads pro-ivory trade organizations' literature, such as a press release from the International Wildlife Managers Consortium -World Conservation Trust (IWMC) the compromise was a "Win for Sustainable Conservation of Elephants and Patience of Southern African Nations." The President of this pro-use organization is actually Eugène Lapointe, former Secretary-General of CITES. But for us, the clear message is that the ivory experiment failed once more and bloody ivory is again illegal in international trade.

A disturbing element of the elephant debate (or ultimate lack thereof) was America's impotence. Historically a vocal opponent of the ivory trade, the U.S. voice was silent throughout. In fact, the "final" U.S. negotiating position on the elephant proposals was not final at all it was "pending." The U.S. would have opposed proposals that permitted any ivory trade but would have abstained on the proposal by Kenya and India to put elephants back on Appendix I.

In another example of political spin, when President Clinton issued a one-paragraph statement saying that the U.S. would oppose proposals "to reopen trade in elephant ivory," the IWMC's pro-use propaganda reported: "U.S. Congress, President Clash Over Elephants." Why this supposed "clash?" Six Members of Congress sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Delegation urging support for the expanded ivory sale. What's purposely excluded from this report is reference to other letters from the Legislative Branch to the same Head of Delegation urging opposition to the ivory trade and support for Kenya and India -- not one meager letter signed by six Congressmen, but 4 separate letters: one signed by Congressman George Miller, the Ranking Minority Member of the House Resources Committee, one signed by the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the House International Relations Committee, one signed by 20 Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and one signed by 25 Members of the United States Senate. The Senate letter concluded: "At this critical juncture, we believe it will take the full energy and commitment of the United States delegation to return to elephant populations the protections they still need." Unfortunately, the U.S. exerted little energy and displayed little commitment toward the legislators' laudable goal.

Shutting down the ivory trade again - even without U.S. help - was vital, but the tone of the dialogue makes it clear that the issue will resurface repeatedly. Over the next two years, much time, effort, and money will be devoted to establishing a monitoring system to examine illegal killing of elephants, and when the "system" appears to work, in all likelihood, legal ivory will flow again. The problems with this approach are too numerous to detail here, but in brief, the millions of dollars spent establishing this system would be better spent on anti-poaching efforts in elephant range states. Instead of monitoring elephant killing, why not try to stop elephant killing? There will never be a legal ivory trade that does not result in the illegal slaughter of elephants; machinations to find ways of facilitating such trade are a waste of time and resources that could be better focused on conserving wild, live elephants.

Clearer hard-fought victories came for whales and sea turtles. But reading the "spin" from the High North Alliance, a pro-whaling organization, one might think the whales were doomed: "A majority of government delegates to [CITES] today voted in support of Norway's proposal to open international trade in minke whale products." Although the vote was 53 in favor, 52 opposed, and 8 abstentions, CITES requires a 2/3 vote to approve a change in a species' status not a simple majority.

Three other whale downlisting proposals by Japan regarding gray and minke whales were all soundly rejected with the closest vote still having 18 more nations opposed than in favor far from even a simple majority. Together, Japan and Norway consistently try to weaken protection for these whale species and undermine the current moratorium on commercial whaling. There is no enforcement regime in place to control international trade in whale products and illegal whale meat recently has been found for sale in Japanese markets. Downlisting any of these whale populations would pose an enormous threat to all whale species.

Not surprisingly, each attempt to weaken whale protection at this CITES meeting was undertaken by a secret ballot. Nations advocating use of the secret ballot on controversial votes claim it is necessary to prevent retaliation from developed countries and conservation nongovernmental organizations that somehow if we know who votes for the whale downlisting we will try to eliminate their foreign aid. For instance, during the whale debates, a vociferous delegate from Antigua and Barbuda argued against the "strong-arm tactics of those countries who don't think we have a right to exploit our natural resources."

This conspiracy theory is all the more fascinating given that an article in the London Guardian Weekly from 18 November 1999 reports, "Japan has admitted for the first time that it is using its overseas aid budget to persuade developing countries to join the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and vote for a resumption of commercial whaling." The revealing article continues to note that IWC Secretary Ray Gambell alleged that "Japan was using the same tactics" at CITES.

The simple message from CITES is that the IWC has primacy in cetacean protection and that CITES should respect the IWC's ban on commercial whaling. Of course, Japan and Norway will continue their attempts to profit from slaughtered whales when the IWC meets in Adelaide, Australia this July.

Although elephants and whales dominated the debate, CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers accurately noted in his opening statement "This meeting is not about elephants, it is also about elephants, it is not about whales, it is also about whales."

Strong rhetoric surrounded the dialogue on downlisting critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles from Appendix I to Appendix II to allow trade in stockpiled turtle shell from Cuba to Japan and establish an annual quota of not more than 500 specimens. A report from the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society asserts that "Reopening of international trade of "bekko" [tortoiseshell] will also increase the possibility of its smuggling by reactivating Japan's domestic market for it."

Even though this proposal claimed to be restricted to the "Cuban population" of hawksbills, there is no discrete Cuban population of this species. Imagine being a poor sea turtle who mistakenly swims through Cuban waters at the wrong time! Already the hawksbill has been subjected to an 80% worldwide population decline. Clearly, as with whales and other species, allowing the sale of sea turtle shell will encourage sea turtle poaching in other regions and illegal sale of those shells and products made from them.

The debate was filled with high emotions and not-so-subtle political jabs at the U.S. for its embargo on Cuba (an argument that to compensate for lost national revenue as a result of the embargo, Cuba should benefit financially from wildlife exploitation). Ultimately, the proposal was defeated, again by secret ballot.

In addition to preserving the protection for whales and sea turtles, notable increases in protection were given to the manatee-like Australian Dugong, the Horned and Uvea Parakeets of New Caledonia, China's Melodious Laughing Thrush, Asian Box Turtles, and Madagascar's Mantella Frogs.

Marine fish species did not quite fare as well. The Parties refused to list three species of sharks: great white sharks, whale sharks, and basking sharks. All three species have low reproductive rates and declining populations, and are killed for their fins and other body parts. Fins float in high-priced Asian "shark fin soup;" basking shark skin is made into leather goods; great white shark livers are used for medicines, and shark meat is sold for human consumption. Unfortunately, all three proposals were defeated on the grounds that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has competency over fisheries management. (The FAO has begun considering shark conservation and has developed an "International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.")

CITES also considered over 50 resolutions and other documents and on many of these issues we had success. On the trade in bear specimens, the Parties again fell short of advocating a global moratorium on the trade in bear parts such as the gallbladders and bile that are used in traditional Asian medicines. However, it was recognized that the illegal trade in bear parts and derivatives has not been demonstrably reduced, a goal the Parties agreed upon in 1997. This year, the Parties agreed to continue seeking information about national legislation to control the illegal bear parts trade, to share forensic technology to help distinguish bear parts in trade, and to consider introducing measures to implement CITES with respect to the trade in bear parts and derivatives. The issue will be revisited again at the next CITES meeting.

For the first time the Parties have addressed the issue of "bushmeat," the consumption, and increasingly the cross-border sale, of wild animal flesh including elephants, primates such as gorillas, and other species. What was once an issue of local consumption has become a growing international crisis, fomented by unsympathetic logging companies. In an editorial in The Washington Post on April 8, 2000, Dr. Jane Goodall advocated the "simple, straightforward step" of forming "an official working group that would be charged with the development of ways to control the illegal trade in bushmeat." That is exactly what the Parties agreed to in Nairobi.

The Parties also agreed that immediate action is necessary to save the fewer than 75,000 remaining Tibetan antelope (chiru) from the trade in their wool known as "shahtoosh." It is estimated that western demand for this luxurious fabric leads to the illegal slaughter of between ten and twenty thousand chiru annually. At this rate, the species may be gone in just 5 years. The resolution approved by the Parties urges a number of actions including adoption of comprehensive legislation to eliminate the commercial trade in shahtoosh with adequate penalties to deter such illegal commerce. Just after the close of the Conference, the Jammu and Kashmir high court issued a judgment banning the shahtoosh trade in the Indian state of Kashmir. And, here in the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the chiru under the Endangered Species Act. The Service has until October to make its final ruling.

Ultimately, CITES Parties made advancements on important issues of wildlife conservation. Stopping over-exploitation of wild species in international trade is an ongoing process. As we look toward and beyond the next Conference in Chile in 2002, the message to the world is: "no ivory, no whale meat, no sea turtle shell" and substantial protection for scores of other wild species. As always, the lingering question is: "but for how long?"

Top Photo, African Sunset by Adam Roberts

Second Photo, The bond of wild elephant families is incredibly strong.  Elephants, The Deciding Decade, that elephants seem to have "displayed compassion and awareness of death.  There are stories of elephants using leaves and grass to bury elephant and human remains, and shattering the tusks of dead elephants against trees or rocks."  Although CITES has reinstated the international prohibition in ivory commercialization, the elephants of South Africa, Botswana, Nambia and Zimbabwe may still be hunted as trophies, for meat and other non-ivory products, and sold live to zoos and circuses across the globe.  Continued vigilance is needed to save elephants for future generations. (Katy Payne)

Third Photo, A young elephant at Daphne Sheldrick's wildlife orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.  Daphne and her committed corps of specialized animal handlers help rear young orphaned wildlife including elephants, rhinos, and zebras with the ultimate goal if reintroduction in the wild. (Adam M. Roberts/AWI)

Fourth Photo, Minke whale butchered on a Japanese whaling boat in the Antarctic. (WDCS/Mark Votier)

Fifth Photo, According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, despite the 1986 IWC ban on commercial whaling, Japan and Norway kill over 1,000 minke whales each year. (Robert Pitman)

Sixth Photo, CITES Parties rejected Cuba's attempt to sell a stockpile of hawksbill turtle shells to the avid wildlife consuming nation of Japan. (Yves Berard/1997 Oceanographical Museum of Monaco)

Bottom Photo, A logging vehicle in Central Africa transports both hunters and their fresh kill for the bushmeat market.  Numerous species are involved in the trade including chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, elephants, duikers (as pictured) and other antelopes. (John Sidle)

Random Source Dog and Cat Dealers Under the Microscope

ALTHOUGH NO ACTION WAS TAKEN on the Pet Safety and Protection Act in the last Congress, the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations bill and the FARM bill were adopted; both include language regarding random source Class B dealers who sell dogs and cats for experimentation.

They call for an independent review by a panel of experts to determine how frequently animals sold by Class B dealers are used, and make recommendations regarding such use. In addition, the Agriculture Committee leadership in both the House and Senate called for a Government Accountability Office study on the subject.

In response to Congress's call for action, the National Academies Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) formed a committee to "address the use of Class B dogs and cats in research funded by the National Institutes of Health." The 10-member committee representing a broad spectrum of individuals, from vocal opponents of Class B dealers to scientists who purchase and use such animals, is expected to issue its report this spring. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been tasked by Congress to review any recommendations proposed and report how they may be implemented to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Most of the committee's deliberations have been private, but during two half-day public sessions, an array of people spoke, including Cathy Liss of the Animal Welfare Institute. Liss provided a statement, showed footage from dealer premises, presented extensive documentation and answered questions based on her 28 years of random source dealer experience.

Two representatives from a licensed Class A dealer facility (a breeder of purpose-bred animals), gave an impressive presentation describing their ability to provide a wide variety of animals and services to the research industry. The breeding facility is able to meet the research demands for dogs and adapt as these needs change. Unlike random source dogs, the health status and genetic background of Class A animals is known.

Another detailed presentation was given by a genetic expert on cats from the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity. He described how to breed cats to ensure genetic diversity, emphasizing that it can in fact be done.

The USDA's Animal Care staff gave two separate presentations and has submitted data to the committee. One chart notes that from November 2007 to November 2008, 2,863 dogs and 267 cats were sold by Class B dealers to research facilities. Currently, just 11 such dealers remain. Compared to historical figures, these numbers clearly represent a dying industry.

Recently, Animal Care has revised the manner in which it conducts tracebacks intended to assess the accuracy of dealer records identifying from whom they purchase their dogs and cats.

Tracebacks are an extensive and costly process, yet they cannot provide assurance that the dealers' transactions involving animals were legal. A significant loophole in the AWA is that any person who claims to have bred and raised a dog or cat can sell the animal for profit. Dealers can exploit this loophole knowing it is virtually impossible to disprove their claim.

The suggested machinations to tighten controls and provide oversight of Class B dealers are mind boggling. Based on the evidence provided, it seems inconceivable that the committee can justify a research need on scientific grounds to use any dogs and cats obtained from these dealers. While the vast majority of researchers get their animals from other sources, it is time for the foot-draggers to follow suit.

Dogs at a Class B dealer facility.

Polar Bears Suffer In The Suarez Brothers Circus

By Adam M. Roberts

Amidst the cold Arctic snow and ice of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia massive polar bears travel hundreds of kilometers in search of food and mates every year. They swim in frigid waters, eat and sleep in the open, and hunt for their food of meat and blubber, notably from seals. Fewer than 30,000 polar bears exist in the wild today.

Bears, panting in temperatures over 110oF, are repeatedly whipped and hit in the ear and face with a rod to force them to climb stairs and go down a slide on the other end. (PETA)

In the Suarez Brothers Circus of Mexico, miserable polar bears suffer in confinement and only travel where the circus takes them-even to the warm-weather Caribbean. They live in oppressive heat, exhibit the stereotypic behavior of rocking back and forth insanely in their cages, have little access to water or air conditioning, and eat whatever food is given to them, including dog chow and lettuce. Seven polar bears languish in these horrid conditions.

The circus is currently in Puerto Rico and faces cruelty charges brought by the Puerto Rican Department of Natural Resources-charges the circus has twice tried, and failed, to have dismissed. A separate suit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of Puerto Rico, and private individuals has been filed in a federal court in Washington, DC to keep the bears in the US. Marianne Merritt, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the federal case, stated: "Allowing these arctic animals to be maintained in a tropical climate in such inhumane and deplorable conditions is an abdication of the government agencies' legal duties.  Maintaining polar bears in Puerto Rico is akin to placing an African elephant on the North Pole."

Diana Weinhardt, Chair of the American Zoological Association Bear Technical Advisory Group, visited the facility and observed that some bears flinched when the bears' trainer approached them with a camera and a four and a half foot "fiberglass stick with a blunted point on the end." She added, "The actions I thought were an indication that they have been hit with this stick possibly on a regular basis as a guide to get a desired behavior."

A Puerto Rican veterinarian and zoologist, Dr. Pedro E. Nunez, observed bears "caged individually in spaces too small for their size as the lengths of their bodies were practically reaching from one end to the other." He graphically continued, "They didn't have access to a pool and you could see that some bottles of drinking water were dirty with tomato, lettuce and carrot. A large quantity of bloody diarrhea, with a lot of mucus, was draining from one of the cages, accumulating on the floor, and several flies, attracted by the apparent bad odor of the blood, were clearly visible."

Bears, panting in temperatures over 110°F, are repeatedly whipped and hit in the ear and face with a rod to force them to climb stairs and go down a slide on the other end. (PETA)

According to a Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) review of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports for the circus and a video of the facility, Suarez Brothers is repeatedly out of compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. The polar bears have only occasional access to pools of water and fully air-conditioned holding areas and are receiving poor veterinary treatment. In a letter to the acting administrator of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the MMC offers this synopsis of the polar bears' conditions: "The animals are constantly swaying and panting, suggesting that they are distressed. It appears that neither the air conditioning system nor the fans were operating. The time and temperature are recorded as being 10 a.m. and 112.8 degrees, respectively. The tape also shows that the bears are being maintained in filthy conditions and that waste products, when they are being removed from the transport enclosures, are being deposited directly on the ground adjacent to the enclosures."

At least one animal already has died at Suarez Brothers. According to the MMC, "'Yiopa' died of heart failure due to dirofilariasis. With proper treatment, this should not have been a life-threatening condition. However, that animal was not provided veterinary care until he was in an advanced stage of deterioration and was not treated in a timely fashion after the diagnosis was made."

There is also a looming question about whether these polar bears were captive born or taken (illegally) from the wild. Dr. Terry Maple, President and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, notes that the circus's claim that one of the polar bears was born in Atlanta is false. "These documents are not accurate, since the Atlanta-born bear ("Snowball") died in a German zoo in 1994," Dr. Maple wrote. He noted that the bear must have had another origin and that the circus's records must have been doctored.

While the cruelty case is proceeding, at least 55 Representatives and 16 Senators have weighed in to urge the USDA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) to take appropriate action to ensure the well being of these animals, including confiscating and relocating the polar bears. According to Congressman George Miller (D-CA), "It is disturbing that the two federal agencies responsible for protecting polar bears would allow arctic animals to be held in tropical climates." Several bipartisan measures have been introduced in Congress, including an amendment to the contentious annual "farm bill," to prohibit the exhibition of polar bears by carnivals, circuses, or traveling shows.

There is widespread agreement that it is inhumane and inappropriate for polar bears to be in the Suarez Brothers Circus. Now the Courts, Congress, and the Administration can each take appropriate action to ensure the poor bears' long-term well-being.

Two Bear Stories

China Still Jails Bears

Just months after being awarded the 2008 Olympics, two illegal bear bile factories in China were uncovered by undercover journalists for China's Central Television. Thousands of bears are still kept in cramped cages in China and elsewhere throughout Asia, regularly milked for their bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicines and can fetch prices higher than gold or heroin on the black market. Reuters reports, "footage showed bears yelping in pain as keepers extracted the bright green liquid....At the second factory, the bears have their teeth and claws removed so they are not a threat to their handlers."

Dead Grizzlies Not
Welcome in the EU

After a partially successful campaign that saw trophy hunting of grizzly bears stopped or reduced in many areas of British Columbia (BC), Canada, last year, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has announced that the 15 European Union (EU) countries have taken the additional step of banning the importation of grizzly bear trophies into the EU from British Columbia.

According to EIA, "The EU accounts for up to 30% of the 120 BC grizzlies killed on average each year by fee-paying foreign hunters. The total hunt including bears killed by Canadians averaged 300 grizzlies per year during the last decade, from a population which independent biologists [estimate] could be as low as 4-6,000."

The United Kingdom and Germany called for the ban to stop the unsustainable BC hunt. Daniela Freyer, International Campaigner with the German organization, Pro-Wildlife, said, "More BC grizzlies end up decorating houses in Germany than almost any other country, so it is fitting that along with the UK it was Germany leading the call for an import ban."

The Water Keeper Alliance Institutes Legal Attack on Pig Factories

On December 6, 2000, at press conferences in Washington, D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Water Keeper Alliance announced the launch of a broad legal assault against America's large pig factories. The Water Keeper Alliance and a coalition of supporters have turned to private attorneys and law firms to pursue enforcement of environmental protection regulations. This is necessary, said Kennedy, since "Federal environmental prosecution against the meat industry has effectively ceased because Congress has eviscerated the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement budget while the political clout of powerful pork producers has trumped state enforcement efforts. This collapse of environmental enforcement has allowed corporate hog factories to proliferate with huge pollution-based profits."

The plaintiffs are seeking enforcement of state and federal laws, including the federal Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Clean Air Act. Kennedy added: "What we are dealing with here is a crime….  And they should have to stop today so we can get back to the family farmers and the tried and true way of preserving America's landscape and waterways." Describing the confinement of sows in crates so small they cannot walk or turn around, Kennedy called pig factories "extraordinarily cruel." Jan Schlictmann, a renowned environmental attorney, referred to modern hog factories as "animal concentration camps."

Attorneys who are committed to "civilizing" industrial hog operations stood with Mr. Kennedy and coalition members at the press conference. Coalition members and press conference speakers included family farmers Terry Spence and Rolf Christen of Citizens Legal Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), Sierra Club representative Scott Dye, Leland Swenson, President of National Farmers' Union, Brother David Andrews of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) and Diane Halverson, Farm Animal Advisor of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Following are excerpts from the statement made by Diane Halverson. "Industrial hog producers have driven independent farm families out of business, and in doing so, have decimated the culture of humane husbandry that once characterized American farming. Traditionally, farm families took joy in good stockmanship and pride in the robust health of their herds. Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, calls animals into existence, and before it kills them, makes them suffer.

"For the corporate investor the animal is not a sentient creature, but a 'production unit.' The corporation is intent on three things: maximizing the number of 'production units' in each building; eliminating the need for husbandry skills among workers; and minimizing the number of workers. To do this, sows on the industrial farm are permanently confined in coffin-like crates, unable to walk or even turn around. All pigs are denied bedding in order that their manure can be liquefied for easy handling; this liquefaction makes it possible to concentrate huge numbers of animals on one site. Liquefied manure, running into streams, seeping into groundwater and emitting toxic gases, causes the environmental and public health problems discussed today. It is inevitable that a system which grossly violates the biology of the animals inside the factory will wreak havoc on everyone and everything outside of the factory.

"Sow deaths are common inside factory sow operations. The death rate of some herds is as high as 20%. The factory system is characterized by widespread routine application of antibiotics to promote growth of piglets, promote sow productivity and to prevent outbreaks of disease in the hostile conditions of the factory. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the routine, subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture as a major contributor to antibiotic resistance in humans. WHO recommends switching from industrial management of animals to more extensive, enriched housing methods to reduce the distress caused to the animals and thereby reduce the need for antibiotics.

"AWI is proud to support the effort announced today, to expose and rein in an industry characterized by callous disregard for society, our environment and animals."

Top Photo: Attendees included attorneys fighting the hog producers and representatives of organizations supporting the legal battle. Among others pictured here: Sue Jarrett, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment; Scott Dye, Sierra Club; Terry Spence, CLEAN; Leland Swenson, National Farmers' Union; and Brother David Andrews, NCRLC. 

Bottom Photo: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Water Keeper Alliance, and Diane Halverson holding a pig.

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