Wake Up Weekend Videos Now Online

Calvin College has posted the videos from this winter’s “Wake Up Weekend”–an annual celebration of animal advocacy–online. They are very much worth watching for anyone wanting to learn more about animal rights, animal advocacy, veganism, and factory farming.

The following video–just one of many–is of Nekeisha Alexis-Baker’s talk on “Speciesim, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions.” We wrote about her talk over the winter and were quite impressed by it:

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Local and Michigan Headlines: GRPS Cuts Approved; PETA Opposes Horse-drawn Carriages in Holland

Here’s some local and Michigan headlines:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

“Humane” Meat Labels Do Little to Protect Animal Welfare

Factory Farming

In recent years, animal abuses in the meat industry have received increased attention. In response, some consumers have demanded meat produced in a “humane” fashion, giving rise to labels such as “free range,” “cage free,” and “organic.” Unfortunately, according to a new report from Farm Sanctuary, these labels are often misleading and mean relatively little in terms of animal welfare.

Farm Sanctuary’s report–“The Truth Behind the Labels: Farm Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices”–traces the origins to the problem of corporate-dominated animal agriculture. With consolidation has come increased mechanization and animals have come to be viewed primarily as productive units. Meat, dairy, and egg farmers are concerned with how much can be produced, not how animals are treated. This has led to a number of abusive practices such as “battery cages” and “debeaking” that allow a greater number of animals to be kept in small locations. While meaning that animals are treated worse, it has helped to secure greater profit.

In some cases, this has lead to a backlash. Animal rights activists have criticized abusive agriculture practices and there have been some successes in illuminating the abuses that happen on factory farms. In response, meat producers have responded by producing a variety of products that purport to be free of the worst abuses. This is a niche market in which consumers pay a premium for “humane” products.

Farm Sanctuary’s report analyzed these various labeling schemes and found that in many cases they mean little for animal welfare. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows produces to use a variety of terms–“cage free,” “free range,” “free roaming,” “pasture raised,” “grass fed,” “organic,” “natural,” and “naturally raised”–but they have vague and informal definitions and in most cases have no form of verifying compliance. This often means little improvement in the conditions in which animals are kept.

Two of the most common–“cage free” and “free range”–are particularly vague:

  • Farmers are not required to provide “cage free” laying hens with access to the outdoors. Often, hens are crowded by the thousands into large barns where each bird is allotted approximately one square foot of space.
  • “Free range” birds raised for meat often lead lives very similar to their factory farmed counterparts. They may be crowded by the thousands into factory-like warehouses with no flock size limits, and the outdoor area may be little more than a barren dirt lot that is difficult for them to access.

The animal agriculture industries have sought to produce their own voluntary standards and interpret federal standards in a way that allows for inhumane factory farming practices. They have taken only the most minimal steps to improve the conditions in which animals are treated and most of their labels seek only to alleviate consumer concerns rather than actually improving the conditions under which animals are raised.

Overall, Farm Sanctuary argues that it is next to impossible for consumers to know if animals are treated humanely. While some third-party standards have been developed with animal advocacy organizations, Farm Sanctuary says that even if those standards were followed, animal agriculture is by its very nature “inhumane” as it is based on commodifying and slaughtering animals.

Animal Advocates Win Victory in Montcalm County

042809-pound_release.jpg

Back in January, MediaMouse.org reported on an ongoing debate in Montcalm County north of Grand Rapids over animal research and the county’s relationship to it. At the time, Montcalm County had just decided to temporarily renew a contract with R & R Research.

Animal advocates have long been critical of a relationship between R & R and the county. R & R received unwanted animals from the county in exchange for disposing of the county’s euthanized animals. Last year, that meant around 150 animals went to R & R. It later sells those animals to research facilities including colleges and hospitals. R & R is under investigation for how it obtains animals by the USDA, while critics charge that the company improperly obtains animals, including pets.

We’re happy to report that following the review of an ad-hoc committee, Montcalm County has decided to end its 30-year relationship with the business.

In response, animal advocates with the group Concerned Citizens Coalition Montcalm posted the following message on their website:

WE WON!!!!!!!!!

In a 6-3 vote on Monday, April 27th, Montcalm County commissioners voted to end the contract with R&R Research!! We had over 80 people at our rally and well over 150 at the commissioners meeting! Because of all of you, our pets will no longer be sold by a Class B Dealer to be used for research!!

Thank you ALL for your support!!!

Unfortunately, it isn’t too often that MediaMouse.org gets to report on victories, so let’s savor this as an example of what can be done when people undertake solid grassroots organizing campaigns.

Organizers plan to continue their work, shifting focus to a Michigan House of Representatives bill that would ban “animal dealers” from taking animals from public shelters and selling them for research.

FBI Places “Animal Rights Extremist” on Most Wanted List

Animal Research Bombing

Today, the FBI announced that it has placed an animal rights activist on its list of “Most Wanted” terror suspects. The activist, Daniel Andreas San Diego is the first “domestic terrorist” to make the list. San Diego is wanted for the bombings of two companies conducting animal research. The bombs caused only “minor damage” according to news reports. The FBI has issued a $250,000 reward for information leading to the capture of San Diego, an amount that is five times higher than rewards offered for other so-called “eco-terrorists” and “animal rights extremists.”

The bombings were undertaken as part of an international campaign called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). SHAC was an international direct action campaign that sought to put Huntingdon Life Sciences–Europe’s largest contract animal testing corporation–out of business. Activists targeted not only Huntingdon, but also investors, business partners, and other companies that had a relationship with Huntingdon. Over the years, SHAC almost brought the company to the bring of collapse.

Bombing was Notable Escalation of Rhetoric

The bombing was claimed by a group called “The Revolutionary Cells” in a strongly-worded communique that marked an escalation in rhetoric by animal rights activists:

It is time for this war to truely have two sides. No more will all of the killing be done by the oppressors, now the oppressed will strike back. We will be non-violent when the these people are non-violent to the animal nations.

The communique was full of references to personal harm towards the scientists engaged in animal research. At the time, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) wrote:

Never before has the otherwise completely nonviolent animal rights movement witnessed such threatening rhetoric and explicitly aggressive intentions. SHAC does not materially, vocally or strategically support the use of violence against any human or animal. SHAC does not support terrorism.

Since 2003, other actions claimed by The Revolutionary Cells–an autonomously and loosely structured group that likely has no defined membership–have also targeted scientists doing animal research at UCLA, but no lives have been harmed.

The radical animal rights movement has also largely continued to use its traditional tactics–harassment and economic sabotage–rather than adopting the more violent approach advocated by The Revolutionary Cells.

Factory Farms a Global Food Problem, Connected to Michigan

Michigan Factory Farms

In January, Newaygo County upheld a preventative state regulation against pollution from factory farms. The Michigan Farm Bureau questioned whether the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could require all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to obtain pollution discharge permits, as it began to do in 2003. Farm groups expressed the opinion that the DEQ should only require permits after a CAFO has actually had a discharge of manure that caused pollution.

According to the Grand Rapids Press, there are 250 CAFOs operating in Michigan, and at least 30 have illegally discharged manure into surface waters.

History of Factory Farming

Factory farming began in the 1920s, when vitamins A and D were discovered – when these vitamins are added to the feed, animals no longer require sunlight and exercise for physical growth. The majority of animals used for food in the U.S. are raised in factory farms – CAFOs that keep the animals indoors, confined to small cages and pumped full of hormones. Antibiotics and other chemicals in order increase their “productivity.”

Health and Environmental Factors

Factory farms are also cited as the cause of a considerable amount of water and air pollution that can be harmful to residents in the surrounding areas. Manure from 10,000 cows creates the sewage equivalent to a city of 230,000 people.

According to the American Public Health Association, the practices of factory farms can affect those who live far from CAFOs as well. The overuse of antibiotics given to animals in factory farms is creating antibiotic resistant bacteria that will be a threat to human health.

Lynn Henning, Sierra Club CAFO Water Sentinel and a leader of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), spoke on CAFOs in Michigan:

“Factory farm dairies in Michigan are so bad that they’re a tourist attraction. Federal and state regulation of CAFOs is so bad that my community has been targeted for European dairy operators to move in here, buy up cheap land and operate without the kind of public health, water and air protections that are required in their countries. Showing just how bad it is in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties is one way to advocate for stronger laws here as well as to make sure Europeans don’t weaken their laws to allow these horrible facilities to move into their communities.”

Michigan Factory Farming Information Sources

MediaMouse.org has previously written about a documentary video by the Sierra Club which brings to light how a community in Michigan has been affected by the presence of CAFOs.

The ECCSM web site shows photographs of water pollution from CAFOs in local waterways (many of which provide drinking water) in Michigan communities such as Hudson, Morenci, Adrian and Blissfield. The site also provides a map of local CAFOs and sustainable alternatives to factory farming.

FBI Targeting of Animal Rights Activists Could Happen Here

The FBI Has Targeted Legal Activists and Charged Them with Terrorism

On Monday, I wrote about the arrest of four animal rights activists on terrorism charges. The activists are the first to be targeted under a law called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) that allows the federal government to label a broad range of activism as “terrorism.”

Journalist Will Potter has obtained a copy of the FBI complaint in the case, which raises further questions about the investigations. According to the complaint, the FBI spent time using video surveillance to track activists distributing leaflets, used Internet surveillance to track activists accessing publicly available information, and used DNA testing to confirm that a bandannas were worn by the activists. Moreover, the most serious act alleged by the government–an attempted “forced entry” at the home of an animal researcher–is not even blamed on the four arrested activists. Instead, they are simply accused of being present at the protest.

Possible Ramifications for Grand Rapids?

Back in 2005, MediaMouse.org published a number documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act showed widespread surveillance of antiwar activists in Grand Rapids. The documents revealed–among other things–surveillance of websites like MediaMouse.org, the use of undercover officers at protests, and collaboration with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to target protestors. The Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) also used undercover officers to infiltrate activist meetings. However, this didn’t die out with the decline of the antiwar movement–there have been reports from local activists that police infiltrated a meeting over the summer.

Such surveillance is disturbing in its own right, but if it was applied to animal rights activists, it could be used to target activists with “terrorism.” Well-known and well-organized activists who were effective–say in a campaign targeting a fur store with the goal of getting it to close–could be charged with “terrorism” for effecting the business’ profits.

Two Scenarios with Grand Rapids Ties

In recent years, Grand Rapids also has a rich history of activism, some of which has used confrontational tactics–for example leading an antiwar march to the home of Congressman Vern Ehlers. Under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, such a march–if it went to the home of someone connected to animal research–could be construed as “terrorism” because it might intimidate the target.

Another example could be the frequent protests held outside of circuses in Grand Rapids. Back in 2004, a group of activists smashed a door at the Van Andel Arena, vandalized other parts of the building, and defaced a circus train. In the California case, activists who are not accused of property destruction are being tied to two fire bombings against animal researchers simply because leaflets they produced allegedly encouraged such behavior. Under the new law, activists handing out leaflets at a circus in downtown–a completely legal activity–could have been swept into an investigation and possibly charged as terrorists, especially if they had done other legal activity–like demonstrate outside of a fur store–that had encouraged people not to shop there. Under the law, such activity would be “intimidating” and “harassing” and potentially threaten profits, thereby becoming “terrorism.”

Fighting Repression

These government attacks on activism and free speech affect everyone, not just animal rights activists. The techniques might be used currently to target animal rights activists, but they can easily be expanded in the future. U.S. history has shown that the state always has a keen interest in repressing activist movements and that it often develops techniques to target one group before moving onto another.

That’s why it is important that we work to abolish laws such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and that we defend other activists–such as “the RNC 8”–that have been portrayed as “terrorists.”

Animal Rights Arrests Target First Amendment Activity

Animal Rights Activists Arrested Last Week for Legally Protected Activity

In California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the arrest of four animal rights “extremists” last week. The FBI is charging the activists–who are part of an ongoing campaign to stop animal research at the University of California system–with the “use of force, violence, or threats to interfere with the operation of the University of California in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.”

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is a piece of legislation that was passed in 2006 that allows the federal government unprecedented power to stifle political speech and charge activists engaging in legal behavior with terrorism.

This is certainly what is happening in this case, with the four activists being arrested for four actions that are either protected by the First Amendment, or in the worst case, misdemeanors. The FBI says the four:

  • Held a protest at the home of a UC researcher: “The group, some wearing bandanas to hide their faces, trespassed on his front yard, chanted slogans, and accused him of being a murderer because of his use of animals in research. The professor told police he was afraid, and felt harassed and intimidated by the extremists.”
  • Held a series of protests at the homes of UC researchers: “At each residence, extremists dressed generally in all black clothing and wearing bandanas to hide their faces marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences. One of the researchers informed authorities he had been previously harassed and the incident had caused him to fear for his health and safety.”
  • Scuffled with a researcher’s spouse at the researcher’s home: Details of what exactly happened at this event are sketchy, but there appears to have been a minor scuffle between activists and the spouse of a targeted researcher. The FBI is hyping the action as a “home invasion” with “forced entry.”
  • Distributed fliers: According to the FBI, the four activists were tied to the “production and distribution” of fliers that criticized animal research at UC and listed the home addresses of researchers. The FBI is says this preceded two unrelated firebombing attacks.

The events described above–at worse misdemeanors–are far from being “terrorism.” However, the arrests reflect how animal researchers, corporations, and the federal government plan to use the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act–which bans a broad range of activity–to disrupt activism and criminalize First Amendment activity.

Montcalm County Renews Animal Contract

Montcalm County Animal Research Policies Criticized

North of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Montcalm County has been the site of a fierce debate over animal research and the Montcalm County government. For over thirty years, Montcalm County has maintained a contract with R & R Research to give unadopted animals from the county’s animal shelter to the company. In exchange, R & R Research euthanizes animals for the county and disposes of their bodies.

The relationship has been a target of animal advocates for years, with the contract–which is typically renewed every five years–being a frequent target of opposition. Monday night saw a similar outpouring of opposition, with 150 people commenting against the renewal of the contract at a Board of Commissioners meeting. In response, the County crafted a “compromise” solution where the contract would be renewed for six months and a so-called “blue ribbon” committee would investigate the relationship and report back to the Board of Commissioners.

At Issue: Pound Seizure

A group called the Concerned Citizens Coalition – Montcalm has been organizing much of the opposition to the county’s contract with the Howard City based R & R Research.

R & R Research obtains animals through a process called “pound seizure:”

“Pound seizure is the practice of releasing or selling lost, stray, or abandoned cats and dogs from municipally funded animal shelters for use in biomedical research, product development, safety testing, and educational demonstrations.

Animals from shelter, commonly called “random source animals”, are used to practice surgery by medical and veterinary students and are then euthanized. Hundreds of dogs and cats taken from shelters are used every year in painful or long-term experiments or programs.”

R & R Research is what is referred to as a “Class B Dealer.” Class B Dealers acquire animals and then sell them to research facilities. According to the Concerned Citizens Coalition, Class B Dealers get animals from “random sources” such as “auctions, flea markets, “free to good home ads” in the paper,” and shelters like the Montcalm County animal shelter.

Montcalm County is one of only four counties in Michigan who release animals to shelters–the others being Gratiot, Mecosta, and Osceola. There are only ten dealers in the country that still obtain animals from shelters, including three in Michigan.

Pound Seizure Criticized by Advocacy Groups

National animal advocacy groups have been critical of Class B Dealers. The Humane Society of the United States is opposes the use of Class B Dealers saying that:

“…poor conditions and horrendous animal suffering are still prevalent in the Class B system, where disease is a constant problem, leading to significant health care problems, including diarrhea, heartworms, and sarcoptic mange. As an investigator in Missouri for many years, HSUS staffer Curtis Ransom personally witnessed “dead, injured, emaciated, lethargic, flea-infested, mange-ridden, hair-matted, parasitic, hairless, and unhealthy animals” at Class B facilities. Class B dealers also routinely transport animals in a manner that causes behavioral stress, physical harm, and sometimes even death.”

Pound Seizure has also been criticized by the National Animal Control Association that specifically recommends against policies like the one in place in Montcalm County.

R & R Research’s Troubled History

“I’m sorry, they may have been a pet at one time, but at the point R & R becomes involved, they are an unwanted, unclaimed animal about to be euthanized… Animals are not equal, given the choice of using a choice to advance knowledge that can benefit man and save lives, or euthanize an unwanted or unclaimed animal, the choice is clear.”

Jim Woudenberg of R & R Research

R & R Research has also been the target of animal advocates before the most recent controversy. According to an email circulated by opponents of the county’s pound seizure policy:

“In 2006, USDA records reveal R & R Research of Howard City, Michigan grossed $196,723 from the sale of 621 dogs and cats. Moreover, R & R flaunts an unethical history. A 2006 USDA citation shows R & R illegally transported dogs chained to a livestock trailer. In 2005, R & R was cited for procuring dogs and cats from Howard City, where there is no pound. Apparently officials sold their strays to R & R.

Before that, the Michigan Attorney General ordered R & R to pull its “animal shelter” listing in the yellow pages. In the 1990s, a WOOD TV investigative video portrayed R & R owners gassing animals in a corroded ‘CO2 barrel.'”

Woudenberg had also been criticized for not being licensed as an animal control officer or a veterinarian.

Montcalm County Shelter Criticized

Beyond its dealings with R & R Research, animal advocates have been critical of Montcalm County Animal Control. The county uses an antiquated and unnecessarily cruel method of gassing animals that it euthanizes. Moreover, it has a dismal adoption record and its previous director resigned over allegations of animal abuse.

What You Can Do

While the contract was temporarily renewed, the findings of the investigative committee must be weighed before the contract can be renewed again. Those concerned about the situation are encouraged to follow developments at MichAnimalNews.com and to sign onto a petition circulated by the Concerned Citizens Coalition.

Speakers Deliver Compelling Talk on Race and Gender and their Relationship to Animal Advocacy

Vegan Speakers on Race and Gender at Calvin Animal Rights Event

Friday and Saturday, Calvin College held their third annual Wake Up Weekend! event hosted by the College’s Philosophy Department and a variety of student groups. The weekend featured a number of speakers addressing animal advocacy issues, including oft-neglected issues of race and gender and how those topics relate to animal rights. While the vegan brunch and chili cook-off was great, this talk was the highlight of the weekend for me!

Thinking and Eating at the Same Time: Reflections of a Sista Vegan

Michelle Lloyd-Page, Dean for Multicultural Affairs at Calvin College, shared stories of what it means to “eat like a vegan” as an African-American woman, and the stumbling blocks and victories she has faced in her own community and family.

Living in Muskegon Heights, a predominately Black community, Lloyd-Page spoke of not only the availability of vegan food and organic produce, but also what it means to make the choice of rejecting meat and dairy products. She explained that for many low income African-American families, like those in her neighborhood, being able to work enough to afford such a luxury as chicken, is a large step. When many families see this as a luxury, telling them what they can and can’t have is an action directly tied to race, privilege, and education.

She went on to explain that people of color often make the assumption that becoming vegan is just as simple as cutting something out of your diet and then replacing it with vegetables and other healthier plant-based alternatives. The problem with this approach, she has learned through experience, is that you are taking away their perceived “staples” and long-standing traditions associated with them such as various Soul Food dishes. This is problematic for white people to not only think it’s only a matter of simplicity associated with a vegan lifestyle, but also to deny the strong cultural and identity ties to meat eating, as well as saying “I’m telling you what you can and can not eat”, when African-Americans have been told that by white people for generations.

Beyond cultural associations to meat, Lloyd-Page also talked about what it means for her and how it feels to be a Black woman and be vegan. For example, popular conceptions of veganism almost always exclude people of color. She explained that if this movement wants to reach out to other people, we have to have these conversations about race and even gender, otherwise it will stay white. In turn, she spoke about her own experiences in her community of being accused of trying to be white, be better than everyone else, be perfect, and leaving her own traditions and roots – something that most white vegans may have not even considered before.

While race is often ignored by the animal rights movement, Lloyd-Page spoke with insistency that our approaches in engaging in conversations about veganism have to be careful but can be done successfully. She explained that we have a problem when “white college kids will save a chicken, but not a starving child.”

For example, telling someone they should eat something outlandish that they have never heard of and can’t find in their neighborhood, might not be as good of an approach as making traditional recipes vegan and talking about the many health benefits of becoming vegan.

Lloyd-Page concluded her portion of the panel by explaining that all oppressions are linked together and that we cannot just fight animal cruelty alone, we have to fight them all or else we are not acknowledging their connections, thus allowing them to continue.

“Speciesism, Sexism, and Racism: The Intertwining Oppressions”

The second panelist, Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, recent graduate of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and co-founder of Jesus Radicals, was segued nicely by Lloyd-Page’s closing remarks on the importance of recognizing the interconnectedness of the oppression of people and animals.

Alexis-Baker began her presentation by showing a projected picture of herself smiling and holding a baby raccoon, Edward, she had rescued and became friends with. She told of her own experience with Edward as teaching her how we treat non-human animals and what that implies of our society in general. She discussed the ideologies of racism, sexism, and speciesism, and how they all use a process of “othering” which not only allows for the mistreatment of animals and humans, but makes this classification socially acceptable.

During this discussion–through the lens of slavery–Alexis-Baker went on to incorporate the mistreatment of women as well. Through images she explained the level of desensitization our culture has adopted when it comes to cruelty, the many forms it takes and ways it is carried out, the legacy of the past, and how that has allowed us to glorify this mistreatment.

An example that was discussed was the comparison of African-American slaves to cattle. She explained the acceptability of shackling, branding, whipping, and breeding slaves was due to the fact that they were seen as the equivalent of cattle–solely raised for consumption by white people, particularly white males. This is especially true in the case of lactating Black women who continued to be wet due to nursing their own children and being forced to feed their “master’s” children as well. Alexis-Baker strongly stated that here there was no difference in the status of a Black woman, nor the status of a cow, because clearly they were both being bred and used to be subservient to their “master”.

In addition to this cattle/slave relationship, she also highlighted the fact that this “situation”, if it could even be simplified as such, of people of color who have been dominated by white men, could not even be considered oppression at the time, because only humans can be oppressed, and the status of a slave was below that–it was one of a non-human animal.

The link between slavery and the mistreatment of non-white humans today, to the mistreatment of animals was explained wonderfully and described in the most “easy to understand” terms when Alexis-Baker said, “They are desired, dismembered, and devoured, both figuratively and literally” they are both “…valuable in satisfying the male” as well as being “interchangeable bodies between non-human animals and women, both being objects.”

Sexism and Speciesism

She explained how this touches almost everything in our culture, even to the point of being incorporated in to the well intentioned animal rights movement at times. An example of this was a projected picture of a scantily, if not naked, clad woman in a suggestive pose with cuts of meat drawn all over her body.

The image, put out by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), was intended to invoke shock to the viewer by comparing the consumption and dismembering of animals and its acceptability, to the unacceptability of a person being treated in the same manner. While the intentions may have been good, in the end PETA chose to portray a young, thin, white woman to seduce the viewer into understanding their message.

Alexis-Baker emphasized the problems behind not noticing the intertwining of oppressions. In this situation women were being oppressed, while animals were trying to be freed. Her conclusion, along with Lloyd-Page’s, was that no one is free when others are oppressed. For Alexis-Baker, this means realizing that being vegan is one way to deal with these oppressions, and that as a Black woman, she has no choice but to strive for a liberation that involves everyone.