Tag Archives: 2012

It’s All Already Been Said

The Huffington Post recently featured an editorial by William T. Talman, M.D., defending animal research.  It’s a…poisonous little read, interesting primarily in that it runs, as though on rails, through the scientific community’s long-standing, standard responses to the animal welfarists’ long-standing, standard objections to animal testing.  There is nothing new here, and everything he says has already been thoroughly debunked.  My inner angry person wants to scream and shout and take down every argument he presents, but it has already been done, in the excellent work Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, by C. Ray Greek and Jean Swingle Greek, which came out more than ten years ago.

If I start pointing out all the errors in this editorial, I will be up all night attempting to re-write Sacred Cows.  I would just like to point out that the man can in no way be considered an unbiased source: here’s a sampling of his rat-based research — any beneficial results of which will still need to undergo testing on humans (“Really!”) before being officially adopted.  (And dude?  People do volunteer to be research “guinea pigs”.  In fact, your own facility has a web site where people can sign up for that very thing.  Why are you dismissing the idea of skipping the “animal” part, and just doing the human research you will still need to do anyway?)

In fact, Talman’s job is trying to convince people that animal research is a great idea.  Here’s an issue of The Physiologist, published by the American Physiological Society — he’s the chair of the APS Public Affairs Committee (or at least he was in 2006 — check out page 44/266 of the PDF).  This is not a disinterested party listing verifiable facts — this is an invested participant feeding you propaganda.

For what it’s worth, my aversion to his arguments is not just automatic denial.  Despite all that I have seen I still think it’s possible to perform animal-based research humanely.  Do I think that we are doing so right now?  Particularly in research?  God no.  Do I think any of Talman’s arguments in this article are valid?  No.  I call absolute shenanigans on this man, and I really wish the Greeks hadn’t written Sacred Cows already, because the urge to explain why this man is wrong is making me want to write it again.  Perhaps I should just mail him a copy.

When Did This Become Normal?

PigletToday’s water-cooler article (here passed around by the Huffington Post) concerns an undercover video from the group Mercy For Animals (whose web site is usually mercyforanimals.org, but right now it’s redirecting to walmartcruelty.com, which features the original video).  The video, taken at Christensen Farms — or, rather, at one of Christensen Farms’ many subsidiary farms — shows horrific, awful things: sows confined in tiny, body-sized crates, like those used for veal calves; pigs and piglets with untreated, open sores and wounds; piglets being “euthanized” by what the farm — and the industry — euphemistically refers to as “blunt trauma” — i.e., by being swung by their hind legs and slammed into the floor head-first; and newborn piglets having their tails docked — and being castrated — with dull clippers, and without anesthesia.

What gets me is the quote from the Official Industry Representative:

“We have reviewed the video and have noted no exceptions to our company procedures or industry.” — Christensen Farms chief executive, Robert Christensen

And it’s entirely true.  There’s not a thing in that video that isn’t an official pork industry procedure.  Check it out — here’s the National Pork BoardSwine Care Handbook“:

  • “Stalls allow the sow to stand, lie, eat and drink, but may not allow them to turn around… Varying sizes of gestation stalls can be used without negatively affecting welfare… Sows may be penned in farrowing stalls from late gestation until weaning of the piglets.” (pg 8)
  • After birth, the following procedures may be performed on piglets: Clipping needle teeth; tail docking; ear notching; castration.  Note that only piglets older than 14 days of age “should” receive anesthetics for these procedures.  (pg 9-10)
  • Under Euthanasia, they recommend the National Pork Board booklet, “On Farm Euthanasia of Swine – Options for the Producer“, which describes “blunt trauma” as “effective”, but notes that some people find it “aesthetically objectionable”.  They also support “additional research on methods of neonatal euthanasia” — more ever-useful research into whether or not death is stressful.  (pg 31)
  • The general consensus seems to be that you have four options (pg 37) with a sick or injured pig: treat it (costs money); slaughter it for human consumption (you get paid normally for the carcass); cull it (“substandard slaughter”!) for pet food (you get less money for the carcass); or euthanize it (costs money, plus you have to dispose of the bits).  Which do you think most meat producers will choose?  Why pay to treat an injured animal when you can just kill it a little prematurely instead?

By not paying attention, we’ve created a space in which the things on that video are normal.  They are USDA-approved.  There are people who go to work every day, and cut the testicles out of squealing newborn piglets, and don’t think a thing of it, or, if they do, they don’t say anything for fear of being fired, because everyone else, especially the boss, is acting as though cutting the genitals off a conscious, unanesthetized piglet is appropriate behavior.

It’s possible to raise pigs in other ways.  You can keep farrowing sows on pasture.  You can use actual humane methods of euthanasia on culled piglets.  You can even use anesthetic for castration, or not castrate the piglets at all.  It’s just that it’s expensive to do it that way, and takes more time and effort, and that makes the meat cost more.  So, ironically, we, the consumers, are actually in control of this process: As long as we’re willing to buy cheap pork (and other meat; this stuff isn’t just happening to pigs), producers will keep making it this way.

Coyote: Compare and Contrast

Nehalem Bay State Park coyote

Aggressive coyote at Nehalem Bay State Park. Photo has many attributions — It’s probably from the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, via a visitor who snapped a photo of what is believed to be the relevant coyote.

On June 21, 2012, a 20-pound female coyote attacked a five-year-old girl in Nehalem Bay State Park in Oregon.  The girl is fine.  The coyote is not, but you wouldn’t know it from this National News article, which reports, both in its headline and in the text of the article, that the offending coyote was “removed” from the park.  That sounds like it was live-trapped and relocated, doesn’t it?  Only at the end of the fourth paragraph do we see what really became of the coyote — apparently it was “safely taken from the park by lethal means“.

“Safely taken”…by “lethal means”?  Not safely for the coyote, surely.

For contrast, here’s an alternative article, about the same event, whose angle implies the coyote was “tracked down and killed”.

Here’s an article that says the girl was “nipped” by the coyote; here’s one that says she was “bitten”; here’s one that says she was “attacked”.  Here’s an article calling the event an “encounter”, using a headline which carefully implies the coyote was not necessarily at fault (“Coyote killed after encounter left 5-year-old girl injured“), and specifically not using the word “bitten”, yet still using the word “attacked” later in the article.  And here’s one that deliberately emphasizes that the attack was made upon a “little girl”.  What do you suppose actually happened?

And, as a bonus, here’s the first article published verbatim by a different news agency without the original byline.  Notice that they changed the headline to include the word “attack”, even though the word “attack” appears nowhere in the article?

This is why I never trust information from just one source.  Journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but it doesn’t often happen that way.

400 Die In One-Vehicle Crash

Sheep.  Photo by penywise at morguefile.com.

Sheep. Photo by penywise at morguefile.com.

A while ago, I noted a flurry of articles which casually mentioned that, when two barns  at an egg farm burned down, 470,000 chickens died.  No-one seemed to find it a cause for concern that this meant each barn had held 235,000 hens.

Today I noticed many articles about a truckload of sheep which “crashed, rolled, and hung over an Australian overpass” on May 31, 2012.  (As a bonus, that particular article also begins with the highly professional and journalistic sentence “Counting sheep has never been so horrific.”)  Sheep rained over the side of the overpass and fell on motorists below.  This article has a little more detail, and some rather sad photos if you’re feeling brave.

And again, a major point is being missed….

FOUR HUNDRED SHEEP?  On one truck?  Four HUNDRED sheep?

There’s no information about the model of truck involved (there are photos though, including some here, here, and here), but, concerning the maximum size of haulage vehicles, the Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales mandates:

A trailer built to carry cattle, sheep, pigs or horses on two or more partly or completely overlapping decks must not have more than 12.5 metres of its length available for the carriage of animals, measured from the inside of the front wall or door of the trailer to the inside of the rear wall or door of the trailer, with any intervening partitions disregarded.

12.5 meters is approximately 37.5 feet.  From the same document, we know the trucks are at most 2.5 m (7.5 ft) wide, so one level of the truck has (37.5 x 7.5) = 281.25 square feet.  281.25 square feet x (let’s be generous, and hope this truck, like this one, has four levels) 4 vertical levels = 1125 square feet in the entire vehicle.  That gives us…2.81 square feet per sheep?  What?  For an animal which can weigh 150-350 poundsThree square feet?  150-200 pounds is about an average human…can you fit in three square feet?  (That’s a little more than three sheets of typing paper, by the way.)

I’m not insane, apparently — this is a real thing, against which people have been protesting for a while.   Why aren’t we hearing more about it?  A Google search for “australian sheep truck” turns up pages and pages of nearly verbatim reposts of this story — why isn’t anyone curious as to how four hundred sheep got onto one truck, or why they are allowed to be crammed in that way?

Orangutan Prostitution Appalling, but Thankfully Not “Common”

Orangutan.  Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Orangutan. Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Another horrible thing wandered across my radar today, under the lively title “Orangutans being used as prostitutes!!”  The attached text (which was written by a random Facebook friend, not a journalist) implied that hundreds of orangutans are being snatched from the trees and used as prostitutes in villages in Borneo.  It included a link to a Care2 petition begging everyone to stop the orangutan prostitution industry.

So, some quick research.  There’s a bunch of stories on this floating about, and they all seem to reference this story, written on October 3, 2007 by Jack Adams of the online magazine Vice, which appears to be something of a news outlet but whose main-page stories (as of 5/27/12) also include articles like “If You Don’t Like The Spurs, You’re A Wall-Eyed Moron” and “Dave Hill Wrote Some Stupid Book“.  The orangutan story is extremely short (9 paragraphs, including the introduction) and does not go into a lot of detail.  It also does not in any way imply that orangutan prostitution happens outside of this one incident.

The interview is with Michele Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991.  The BOSF web site does not mention Pony or prostitution at all.  Neither does Michele Desilet’s Facebook page.  You would think that if orangutan prostitution was a huge industry (or even an industry at all), there would be mention somewhere.  Instead, we have a tweet from Michele personally (dated April 2012, and directed at someone else who was researching the petition site’s allegation): “The case of Pony the orangutan was the only case we have ever come across of this type.  It is NOT common.”

Is the use of animals of any kind (and, arguably, of humans) in a brothel an unforgivable atrocity?  Yes.  Is it terrible that this happened (and it does seem to have happened), and that the perpetrators won’t be punished (there are no laws forbidding this kind of behavior in Indonesia)?  Yes.  Is this a sad, sad example of how low some people will sink?  Yes.  Are hundreds of orangutans being captured for use in Indonesian brothels?  No.

What is really threatening orangutans?  Habitat loss due to deforestation, related to the palm oil industry.  Want to help stop the idiocy?  Don’t just sign an online petition — get out there and donate some money, try to reduce your use of products containing palm oil, (here’s a handy wallet card!) or, at the very least, Facebook or tweet about the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (or the animal support group of your choice), and get people angry about a problem that actually exists.

470,000 Die, Receive Brief Mention In Local Paper

Just a little something I noticed today….

An egg farm near Roggen, Colorado, owned by Boulder Valley Poultry, burned to the ground on April 30.  The extremely brief article (which matches other, extremely brief articles in other papers) declares the event an accident, and winds up by reassuring consumers that their supply of eggs is unlikely to be affected.

Oh, yeah, and 470,000 hens died.  In two barns.

What an interesting, unremarked, casual aside.  These aren’t unbelievably huge buildings.  235,000 chickens in each one?  To give each chicken one square foot of floor space in an open-floor plan (an extremely minimal investment), the barns would need to be 100 ft x 2,350 ft (almost half a mile long).  How densely were these chickens packed?

Also, “many local producers have agreed to step up production”.  How do you do that, I wonder?

Horrible but Responsible

Foal photo by Taliesin, morguefile.comI read with mixed feelings an article from the Toronto Sun (which appears to be the original source) about the results of a decision ending provincial funding for the area’s harness racing industry.  The article is a tad suspect, because no sources are really named — “a number of sources”, including “an area horseperson, who asked not to be identified”, are quoted as saying “an unknown number” of foals are being euthanized “moments after birth” because breeders are facing an unanticipated, severe economic downturn.

Apparently, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission has decided to stop funding harness racing (and, it appears, other equestrian activities) with a portion of the annual revenue it gets from slot machines.  The Commission will instead be funneling the monies into funding things like hospitals and schools.  The Canadian equine world is not pleased about this, and neither are a lot of people involved in the gaming industry.

Knowing this, the article looks less like “news” and more like a desperate effort to smear those responsible for the shutdown.  I’m interested that they’re not saying, “People are losing jobs!” but “These poor baby horses are being killed!”  This smacks of some media person trying to pull on heartstrings.  It is likely true that someone, somewhere, may be euthanizing some of their herd due to the economic slam.  However, since horse slaughter is legal in Canada, it is much more likely that a breeder finding themselves with extra horses and no money will simply sell the unwanted animals by the pound for slaughter — a much more profitable enterprise than paying a vet for chemical euthanasia and disposal.  Thus I seriously doubt this story — no dates, no names, no sources, no traceable facts — just a lot of people suddenly terrified that the decision is putting people out of a job is funding necessary government programs might result in someone killing baby ponies!

Honestly, if I heard that a breeder was humanely euthanizing their suddenly unwanted foals rather than trying to, say, sell them for slaughter, give them away for free on Craigslist, or just passively neglecting them to death (please don’t make me find links to examples — I assure you there are plenty), I would be amazed that the breeder was taking such responsibility for the animals under their care.  Sure, I’d be happier if they were finding loving homes for the horses, but, in a world of awful realities, there just aren’t enough homes for everybody.  I’d so much rather the breeders took responsibility for making sure the babies under their care never got given to an inappropriate home, sent to slaughter or allowed to slowly starve to death.

The world is really messed up when I read a story (however journalistically dubious) about baby ponies (often accompanied by heart-wrenching photos of adorable, fuzzy baby horses presumably being menaced by this scourge) being euthanized because their owners are threatened by sudden economic crisis, and immediately think, What responsible owners!  Good for them not letting the poor things rot or selling them for meat!

Context is Needed

chimp and tigerThis photograph, from this article (and many others), has been wandering around the net for a bit recently.  The animals are billed as being from the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Bangkok, Thailand.

Okay, this is adorable.  However, please think to look closer:

Look in the background of the pictures.  Look at the big cat cubs kept alone in small dog kennels.  There’s a pair of them playing unsupervised on the floor.  Look at the stacks of cheap dog kennels — does this look like a reputable zoo to you?  How reputable does this photo from their “elephant show” (taken from this web site) look?  Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.com – apparently the primary moneymaker for this facility is selling crocodile skin.  It started life as a crocodile farm and seems to have picked up some random exotics for the extra cash.

Is this what you want to support?  Quit sharing this “cute” picture without the full context.  It encourages people to think you can keep chimps and tigers as pets (hint: bad idea), and it’s generating publicity for a facility which encourages tourists to pose feeding and holding baby exotics (I can only imagine they pay for the privilege), mishandles them in “shows” (more photos here, here, here, and here, and in piles from Google image search), and slaughters crocodiles for leather and meat, as well as encouraging other facilities to do the sameFacilities like this routinely mistreat their animals.  The previous example mentions China, but it happens everywhere, Thailand (and the US) included.  Don’t support this kind of thing.

You like tigers?  Go here and support them.  Love chimps?  Go here and support them.  Put your effort into places that deserve it.  Don’t lend your time or blog space to this facility, unless this is the kind of animal husbandry you wish to support.

Activists’ Surveillance Helicopter Shot Down by Hunters

A while ago I commented on the discovery, by a man flying a model aircraft equipped with a camera, of a “river of blood” behind the Columbia Packing Company, a Dallas, Texas meatpacking plant.  I was interested that the immediate public reaction, in some forums, seemed to be not “What is that river of blood doing there?” but “Wasn’t that photo a violation of the packing company’s privacy rights?”  I felt that that kind of attitude could make it difficult for anyone to document anything — including animal rights violations — which happened to be taking place on private property.

Recently, a South Carolina animal rights group with the acronym S.H.A.R.K. sent a reconnaissance helicopter over a group of hunters who were, on private property (Broxton Bridge Plantation), having a “pigeon (or dove) hunt” (according to them — probably one of these) or a “pigeon shoot” (according to S.H.A.R.K.).  S.H.A.R.K. planned to shoot video of the event.  Of course, the hunters promptly shot down the drone.

Ironically, both the pigeon hunt and the drone launch in this case were apparently perfectly legal.  The shooting of the drone might or might not also be legal, but neither it nor the launching of the helicopter was probably the most enlightened way to make the feuding parties’ respective points.

Colorado Tourists Feel Threatened By Sheepdogs

As someone who used to work extensively with wolves, I have something of a background with, and fondness for, livestock guarding dogs.  These dogs are a primary, generally quite effective, defense for ranchers against local predators, including wolves.  They live and roam with the flock, providing 24 hour protection, at little cost.  The process works via carefully raising dog puppies with the flock, so that the pups become socialized to the sheep — the pups become kind of “honorary sheep” and fiercely defend their adopted “conspecifics”.  This can be protection for both predator and prey.  In Africa, dogs are employed to defend livestock against cheetahs — protecting the stock from the cheetahs, and the cheetahs from the wrath of the livestock owners.

Today I found myself looking at an article which suggests the dogs might be a little too fierce.  The dogs “snarl”, and “on some occasions, chase” tourists around the Molas Pass area in the San Juan National Forest.  I am curious as to how close the tourists are getting — in the wild back country of Colorado, which I recall being a very wide-open place — to the flocks for the dogs to become alarmed.  The dogs generally do not roam far from their flocks and do not usually become aggressive unless they, or the sheep they protect, are directly and closely approached.

In any case, “snarling” and “chasing” things that get too close to the sheep are kind of required behaviors for livestock guarding dogs.  They aren’t trained to be aggressive, but they are not specifically bonded to humans, either.  They are designed to deter the approach of unfamiliar mammals (and that includes humans) to their adopted flock.  Wasn’t that kind of the point?

However, this is just a briefly trending argument between two groups of people (ranchers and tourists) who want to use the same piece of land for two different activities, and it isn’t a particularly new thing (people have been arguing about land use for years and years).  What is most interesting to me is the photo accompanying the article I first saw (which was not the original, source article).  The original, source article has photos of Akbash guard dogs doing what they do 99% of the time — standing in a field, quietly surrounded by sheep.  The article I first saw used a “file photograph” of two dogs fighting to illustrate the exact same story.  Also, contrast the two titles: the original title, “Problem dogs in backcountry?“, and the title of the story with the fighting dog photo, “Fierce sheepdogs alarming tourists in SW Colorado“.

Same article, two entirely different slants — brought about simply by changing the title and the accompanying photo.  Another good reason to always check the source of an article, no matter where it’s published.  (For full disclosure, the photo I used for this post came from this site.)