Harboring cows, chickens, pigs, and other select farm “refugees,” the animal rights group Farm Sanctuary hides a rabid agenda behind those farm animals. The organization has grown from selling tofu dogs at Grateful Dead concerts into a multi-million dollar enterprise committed to the systematic abolition of livestock agriculture. And its political capital has grown even faster than its budget. Farm Sanctuary activists have already scored several victories in their quest to cripple livestock farms, and nothing — not even electoral fraud convictions — seems to slow their pursuit of that goal.
With a national reach, Farm Sanctuary’s most common approach is to lobby against livestock farmers among legislators and voters in states where little or no opposition exists. It conducted a sustained campaign to restrict hog farming in Florida, despite the fact that their initiative targeted only two farmers in the entire state. In California and New York, Farm Sanctuary pushed for wholesale bans on the production of foie gras (fatty duck or goose liver) in order to shut down a single family farm in each state. Most absurdly, in New Jersey the group successfully lobbied for a ban on the most common veal-farming techniques — even though there isn’t a single veal farm in the Garden State.
In the absence of organized local opponents, Farm Sanctuary’s anti-farming campaigns have gained momentum with these state-level victories, setting precedents for future campaigns. Undeterred by its electoral fraud convictions in Florida (detailed below), Farm Sanctuary has turned its attention to a more significant state in its hog war — Arizona. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, pork is the 11th largest agricultural commodity in the state. By contrast, hogs do not even break the top 25 in Florida.
The activists of Farm Sanctuary aren’t yet bringing their anti-livestock crusade to Iowa or North Carolina — the nation’s pork leaders — but Arizona clearly represents the next step in that direction. Arizonans for Humane Farms, Farm Sanctuary’s new coalition, is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative combining the anti-hog and anti-veal platforms into one massive anti-livestock farming proposal. A Farm Sanctuary press release detailing the new venture into Arizonan politics makes the connection quite clear, citing “a citizen initiative in Florida in 2002” as precedent to help justify the Arizonan expedition. Of course, that “Floridian citizens’ initiative” was facilitated by Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit incorporated in Pennsylvania with facilities in New York and California and no connection to Florida other than opportunity.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesman Bruce Friedrich declared that the Florida initiative “would help us lobby in Congress” and “could lead to similar… campaigns in other states.” Michael Markarian, then president of the Fund for Animals (another animal-rights group that helped fund the Florida effort), said that “a successful Florida initiative will encourage citizens in other states to push similar reforms.” Both the effort in Florida and the one in Arizona are indeed “citizen-driven.” It just so happens that most of the citizens involved (Farm Sanctuary, the Fund for Animals, and the Humane Society of the United States) are citizens of other states.
So how are these activists able to push through laws restricting agriculture? On top of the fact that its proposals are always floated in states with few potential opponents, Farm Sanctuary uses ballot initiatives to sidestep state legislatures. And while it’s vulnerable to activist fraud, the ballot initiative process sports a feature even more useful to Farm Sanctuary: the vast majority of voters will know next to nothing about what they are voting on.
Farm Sanctuary stacks the odds further against an informed electorate with an even more deplorable tactic: it never gives the full story, knowing that the urban audience for its propaganda doesn’t know much about livestock agriculture.
For example, in its New Jersey campaign against veal, Farm Sanctuary accused (non-existent) veal farmers of denying their calves fiber and iron. In fact, they don’t give calves fiber or iron because those nutrients aren’t healthy for a calf’s developing digestive system.
Surveying the scientific literature on calf nutrition in 2004, Rutgers animal science professor Michael Westendorf wrote in the journal Professional Animal Scientist: “Controlling iron intake may also reduce risks from iron-dependent pathogens in the small intestine. Pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escheria coli, require iron for growth. These bacteria often cause scouring and diarrhea, infections that are the leading cause of death in calves.” As for fiber, Dr. Westendorf cites several sources indicating that “veal calves fed straw or other high fiber feeds had increased abomasal lesions, ulcerations, or both.”
There is no question that veal farmers have an economic interest in keeping veal meat white. As Dr. Westendorf notes, “The amount of iron in the diet of veal calves is carefully controlled to produce the pale meat product demanded by the marketplace. This must be done while maintaining optimal health and nutrition.” Healthy calves are profitable calves — anemic ones don’t eat and don’t grow. Furthermore, in order to maintain optimal health veal farmers already give their calves more iron than they would receive in nature, since cow’s milk is naturally deficient in iron.
As for feeding calves fiber, farmers would do it in an instant if it were a healthy choice. Milk replacer, the standard feed for young calves, costs almost five times as much as the highest quality grain. It would be very cheap to give calves high-fiber diets, but calves lack the ability to digest that fiber, just as giving celery to a two-month old infant would wreak havoc on that child’s digestive tract.
Farm Sanctuary was no less duplicitous in its campaign against the use of gestation crates in Florida’s (tiny) hog farming industry. Its claim? Gestation crates keep sows from moving around freely. The truth? Gestation crates do limit farrowing sows’ freedom of movement — so that they can’t roll over and crush their nursing piglets.
Farm Sanctuary’s greatest political success to date has been the constitutional rights it secured for Floridian pigs. Meeting in West Palm Beach in 2000, Farm Sanctuary President Gene Bauston promised an assembly of animal-rights leaders that he would make sure the Florida hog campaign had enough financial support.
There’s no question that he kept his word. Using an illegal national direct-mail scheme, Farm Sanctuary sent over $465,000 in supposedly tax-exempt contributions directly to the Florida campaign’s PAC, supplying about a third of the campaign’s $1.4 million war chest. The Humane Society of the United States contributed about $180,000, and the Fund for Animals about $210,000. Not to be left out, PETA supplied armies of twenty-somethings with clipboards, flying them to Florida with frequent-flyer miles begged from PETA members.
Bauston and his group paid a $50,000 fine after the Florida Elections Commission
found them guilty of 210 counts of campaign finance fraud. The fine would have been much higher but for the fact that the commission prosecuted only the finance fraud committed against Floridians, declining to address the thousands of frauds committed against donors from the other 49 states. Of course, the fraud convictions were handed down weeks after the election — after the damage was done.
As of November 1, 2005 — with the next statewide election more than a year away — Farm Sanctuary had already poured $142,000 into a similar effort in Arizona.
Farm Sanctuary’s mission — the complete abolition of livestock agriculture — would be absurd if it weren’t already making headway. As implausible as this goal sounds, it remains the group’s undeniable motivation. Farm Sanctuary lobbies for “humane” slaughter laws, but at the same time insists that “there is no such thing as ‘humane slaughter.’ Whenever people eat meat, they support unnecessary cruelty and death.”
In a letter to the editor published in the Kansas City Star, Farm Sanctuary “investigator” David Cantor wrote: “Everyone who agrees unnecessary animal suffering should be ended must eat no animal food products.” (Cantor has since moved on to found Responsible Policies for Animals, an “abolitionist” lobby calling for an end to all animal domestication, including farming and pets.)
Has Farm Sanctuary president Gene Bauston openly declared that all dairy, egg, and meat production must be stopped? No. Farm Sanctuary’s radical animal-rights agenda must be concealed in order for it to gain any ground. As he observed in 2002 in the environmentalist magazine E, “If some of the legislators we work with on farm issues learn we promote vegetarianism and veganism, it tends to discredit us in their eyes.” When the Center for Consumer Freedom debated Bauston on the BBC in January 2004, he had literally nothing to say when asked to describe what “humane” livestock agriculture would look like. For Farm Sanctuary, even silence is preferable to publicly declaring its real motivation.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Though Farm Sanctuary’s ultimate goal of abolishing livestock agriculture seems farfetched, the steps its leaders take to achieve it are thoroughly practical. They do not seek to end livestock farming by a national ban; their strategy (much like groups such as the Humane Society of the United States) is far more subtle. Under the guise of “humane” legislation, these activists gradually drive up farmers’ costs, while simultaneously campaigning to reduce demand by promoting diets completely free of milk, meat or eggs. While outlawing gestation crates in Florida barely affects other American pork farmers, using that victory as momentum for further bans in hog-heavier states will take a much bigger bite out of farms in the long run.
A perfect illustration is the New Jersey anti-veal legislation Farm Sanctuary lobbied to pass in 2004. Beyond the fact that there are no veal farms in New Jersey, the bill was preposterous as a “humane” farming bill because it mandates feeding practices that actively harm veal calves. Laws requiring that calves be fed lots of fiber and iron sound nice to an uninformed voter, but the reality is that Farm Sanctuary is willing to hurt animals in order to hurt farmers.
What kind of animal-welfare group advocates laws that malnourish calves and crush piglets? None — but Farm Sanctuary is an animal rights organization. Just like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary misleads the public into believing that it is an animal-welfare group like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), concerned only with ensuring decent treatment of animals.