On Monday, June 11th, 2001, in front of a packed Mansfield Room of the United States Capitol, the Albert Schweitzer Medal was awarded to Andrzej Lepper. Lepper, who has vowed to stop "concentration camps for animals" from taking root in Poland, is the charismatic President of Samoobrona ("Self-defense" in Polish), a major Polish rural union. "The motto that I have adopted and that is adopted by the rest of Samoobrona," Lepper highlighted, "says that if a person is not capable of loving animals and nature they will never be capable of loving another human being."
Early in 1999, Samoobrona forced the Polish government to curb a flood of agricultural imports from the European Union by blockading roads across Poland. In September 1999, after visiting areas in North Carolina infested by industrial hog factories, Lepper launched a campaign, supported by AWI, to prevent Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork production company, from realizing its goal of building a network of hog factories in Poland. By June 2000, Smithfield CEO Joe Luter was forced to admit to the Washington Post that his plan to establish US "industrial-style" pig farming has no immediate future in Poland.
"Farm animals," Lepper once told the University of Michigan Law Society, "like any other living beings, possess natural instincts that need to be expressed. It is essential, therefore, to do everything in our power to allow animals raised on our farms an opportunity to live their lives in the most natural conditions possible, to treat them with respect, dignity and empathy. The right to dignity, in the case of farm animals, is the right to live without suffering and without being isolated from their natural environment."
In his remarks to the gathering (translated by Agnes Van Volkenburgh, who represents Poland on AWI's International Committee), Lepper criticized the globalists who "pursue money at all costs without paying attention to the health of people, without paying attention to the health and welfare of animals, without paying attention to nature." Lepper, the indefatigable Polish farm leader, warned Smithfield Foods Vice President, General Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Chairman, Richard Poulson, that in his efforts to expand into and invade Poland he "will always feel the breath of Samoobrona on his neck and if that is not enough he will have to feel the fist of Polish farmers." He concluded: "This medal is a huge honor not only for me, but for the entire Polish movement that's involved in this battle for the welfare of animals, the humane treatment of animals, for our environment, and for the safe future of our planet."
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of Water Keeper Alliance and a professor at Pace University Law School, presented the award. Water Keeper Alliance has 67 keepers around the country who seek to protect and restore waterways, including those ravaged by pollution from animal factories. Water Keeper Alliance is leading a broad legal assault against hog factories, which Kennedy has characterized as "extraordinarily cruel" and lamented what he termed the corporate hog farm's "pollution based prosperity." During the ceremony, Kennedy recalled a conversation he had with Lepper after the Polish leader toured corporate hog farms along the Neuse River in North Carolina. Kennedy remembered the poignant and provocative reaction that Lepper had, in which he was reminded of "the large state farms that were created during the communist years in Poland that were also notorious for their pollution and their capacity for treating not only the human beings who worked on the land but also the animals themselves as units of production, ignoring the consequences to the community and the environment and public health in their drive to produce short term cash."
Kennedy asserted: "I think the thing that Animal Welfare Institute has recognized better than anybody else is that the fate of animals is also our fate….We can't get away with this kind of cruelty to the creatures with whom we share this planet without having some dire karmic consequences to ourselves." Kennedy praised Lepper's heroism and courage for "standing up to these bullies" who try to move industrial hog production all over the world, and for Lepper's efforts to protect "our environment, human dignity, the dignity of these animals and of future generations." Kennedy congratulated him "for the successful battle that [he has] waged against this criminal, bullying, outlaw industry."
It was Tom Garrett, a rancher from Wyoming, who had the brilliant idea of inviting Andrzej Lepper and a delegation of Polish activists on a tour of North Carolina and Virginia to observe hog factory farming, then across the country to visit humane pig farms in the Midwest. Tom has been an advisor to the Animal Welfare Institute for many years on a variety of subjects from global wildlife Treaties to steel jaw leghold traps. Tom referred to the acute battle against corporate hog farms and the collaborative international war Samoobrona and AWI waged against them: "Through Diane Halverson's videos and Andrzej Lepper's political right cross, we stopped Smithfield cold in its grandiose scheme to take over Polish pig production with a big network of factory hog farms."
Diane Halverson, AWI's farm animal advisor, has devoted herself to preventing the suffering of millions of pigs condemned to life imprisonment in metal and concrete crates in hog factories. She wrote AWI's Humane Standards for independent family farmers who raise pigs on pasture or in straw bedded barns. Diane noted during her remarks that institutional cruelty such as that in corporate hog farms is often overlooked, but quoted Albert Schweitzer who said, "Whenever an animal is somehow forced into the service of men, every one of us must be concerned for any suffering it bears on that account."
The Animal Welfare Institute, celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, honors individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the protection of animals with the Albert Schweitzer Medal. This tribute, inaugurated in 1953, has been awarded to deserving individuals ranging from those of modest position who have significantly bettered the welfare of animals on a hands-on basis, to towering public figures who have engendered important changes that have improved the lot of hundreds of thousands of animals. Past recipients include Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Rachel Carson, Senator Bob Dole and Jane Goodall.
"The ethic of Reverence for Life prompts us to keep each other alert to what troubles us and to speak and act dauntlessly together in discharging the responsibility that we feel. It keeps us watching together for opportunities to bring some sort of help to animals in recompense for the great misery that men inflict upon them, and thus for a moment we escape from the incomprehensible horror of existence."
-Dr. Albert Schweitzer