LE: Farm Sanctuary’s work regarding the rescue, treatment and care of chickens is critical to educating the public about the depth of their abuse. Can you talk more about the policy work you are doing in terms of protecting chickens?
AA: At Farm Sanctuary, we are working both to let the world know who chickens are —that they are friends, not food, as Gene likes to say— and to stop some of the worst abuses of chickens.
So as just one example, it’s worth noting that every aspect of chicken slaughter would warrant criminal charges if these birds were covered by the Humane Slaughter Act, which the USDA insists on applying exclusively to pigs, cattle, and other mammals.
It’s unforgivable that the USDA refuses to include poultry, since they represent more than 98 percent of slaughtered land animals. Put differently, Americans eat 250 chickens for every cow and 100 chickens for every pig. And yet, the USDA refuses to grant birds any meaningful legal protection from abuse that is surely beyond any of our worst imaginings.
So we have joined with the Animal Welfare Institute to file a 24-page legal petition with the USDA, demanding that the agency grant chickens some legal protection at slaughter. When we are successful, slaughter conditions will improve for close to nine billion animals every single year.
Readers can read our petition and take action in the “Get Involved” section of FarmSanctuary.org.
LE: Farm Sanctuary is involved with many aspects of helping farmed animals, including rescue, advocacy and education. One of your current projects is the “Someone, not Something” project. Can you talk about how ethological work can be applied to help farmed animals?
AA: Of course, intelligence and behavioral aptitudes are beside the point — we don’t grant human beings greater compassion or justice based on how intelligent they are. Other animals feel pain in the same way we do, and to the same degree, and they are worthy of our compassion. For the same reason we would not eat a dog or a cat, we should not eat a chicken, pig, or any other animal.
That said, we have seen in the real world that many, many people continue to eat chickens or pigs out of a misunderstanding about who farm animals are, and we’ve seen a fascination with ethological work with animals, such as apes, dolphins, and elephants, which leads to more protection and respect based on this new science.
Recent studies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in chimpanzees have been instrumental in getting more rights for them; in fact, one of our scientific advisors, primatologist and medical doctor Hope Ferdowsian, explains that, “Recent events, fueled by emerging science, have resulted in the de facto termination of chimpanzee experimentation in the United States.” Similarly, recent studies of cetaceans (i.e., whales, dolphins, and porpoises) led to a declaration of rights for them that was presented to a packed room at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. There’s no reason ethology can’t do the same thing for farm animals, who are complex individuals and are more like us than they are unlike us.
When we tell people that chickens learn from watching other chickens on TV, that fish can learn to escape a net and remember what they learned for years, and that cows experience “eureka” moments similar to humans when they solve a problem —and that all of these animals are capable of experiencing fear, pain, and psychological distress— it moves people in a way that a more general discussion of farm animals as our friends often doesn’t. We want more people to understand who farm animals are, and a part of that process is presenting the science that proves their individuality, so that people see them as animals who are worthy of respect —as someone, not something.
Readers can learn more in the education section of FarmSanctuary.org.
LE: One of the areas of major concern in the animal advocacy movement is the implementation of bills such as the Ag Gag bills that seek to criminalize investigative work that is central in changing the plight of farmed animals everywhere. What is Farm Sanctuary’s involvement in challenging these bills?
AA: We are an active part of the massive coalition that has been fighting these bill since they first started being introduced—four in 2011, ten in 2012, eleven in 2013, and 9 this past year. The coalition is led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the ASPCA, and it involves most of the groups that work on farm animal protection issues, as well as environmental and worker-focused groups, first amendment and journalist groups, and lots of others.
We’re also plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state of Idaho for their ag-gag bill; that suit is being led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the ACLU of Idaho.
Farm Sanctuary is our Featured Animal Ambassador for August 2014.