Last night, Calvin College’s Students for Compassionate Living hosted renowned animal rights activist Gene Baur. Baur, who is a co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, delivered a lecture on the treatment of animals by industrial agriculture and the need for a change in how people think about animals.
Much of Baur’s talk focused on changing the relationship between people and animals and moving from seeing animals as food to individuals. Baur used a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of animals in slaughter houses and contrasted those to the rescued animals that live at the two Farm Sanctuary farms. Baur said that once animals are moved from abusive situations, they slowly regain trust and are able to show affection. He made compelling arguments against the abuse of animals and convincingly made the case that industrial agriculture is inherently exploitive.
During his talk, Baur explained some of the many ways in which animals in the United States are abused for food. He said that farm animals are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act and that agricultural practices considered “common” are excluded from most state animal cruelty laws. Consequently, “common” practices such as debeaking chickens and confining animals to small cages are rarely considered “cruelty” by law.
On dairy farms, Baur told the audience that animals are forced to give birth each year only to have their calves taken away from them. The female calves are raised to replace the milking cows–which have a “useful” life span of just three to four years–while the male cows are sold for veal.
On poultry farms, meat and egg chickens are both abused. Egg laying chickens are packed into “battery cages” inside warehouses–some containing as many as 100,000 birds–where they are confined to cramped cages where they can barely move. After the hens have outlived their usefulness to the factory farm owners, the so-called “spent hens” are put in grinders and turned into pellets that are fed to other chickens. The meat birds are bred to grow twice as big and twice as fast as normal due to selective breeding and have many problems due to this rapid rate of growth, including skeletal deficiencies. Male chickens born at poultry operations are routinely thrown away because they are not profitable.
Baur also argued that animal agriculture is just plain inefficient. He said that plant based diets use less resources and can support more people. He said that while people occasionally consider the health costs of eating meat–Baur said that the way people in the United States eat is in part responsible for rising healthcare costs–the environmental consequences of animal agriculture often go unconsidered. Baur said that livestock is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and that it has an important role in land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortages, and water pollution. Similarly, as is the case with animal cruelty laws, animal agriculture is exempt from many environmental regulations.
Baur concluded by saying that people can work to improve the treatment of animals by making either a personal choice or getting involved in policy and legislative efforts. He urged the audience to make the personal decision to become vegan, stating that it would make a considerable impact on the treatment of animals. On the policy level, Baur encouraged people to get to know their representatives so that they can more effectively lobby them for legislation that protects animals.
The lecture was also recorded by G-Rad.org and can be listened to online.