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Making Farm Animal Rights a Fundamental Green Issue

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range page and our Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

Conservation organizations have long sought to protect pandas, polar bears and pelicans, but the welfare of farm animals has largely been left to activist animal-welfare groups like the Humane Society of the United States, which calls itself "the nation's largest and most effective animal protection organization." For the past 10 years, the organization has been headed by the politically savvy Wayne Pacelle, who has greatly increased its visibility and influence. Under his leadership, the society has successfully lobbied to curb what it calls the worst excesses of "factory farms," notably the use of gestation grates to confine pigs.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Marc Gunther, Pacelle talked about how treatment of farm animals is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, why his group is promoting "meatless Mondays," and why consumers should be willing to pay more for products from animals that are sustainably raised.

"Opposition to animal cruelty has become a universal value," he says. "If that opposition has any meaning, it must be applied to animals in agriculture."

Yale Environment 360: Just what is the Humane Society of the United States trying to accomplish?

Wayne Pacelle: Our mission statement is "Celebrating animals, confronting cruelty." We are the number one direct care organization in the United States for animals, but we're also the biggest advocate for animals. And that leads us into many different domains of human interactions with animals, whether agriculture or wildlife, animal testing and research, equine protection, and companion animals.

e360: Let's focus on animal agriculture and its environmental impact. How do the goals of the animal welfare movement align with environmentalism?

Pacelle: Animal agriculture has an enormous global impact. There are about 70 billion terrestrial animals raised for food every year, and many of those animals are fed crops as a way of growing the animals. That means that a tremendous percentage of the corn and soybeans that we grow are fed to animals to inefficiently convert that plant matter to animal protein. We are using an enormous amount of land to raise feed crops for animals, and we have all the problems associated with that-pesticides and herbicide applications, erosion of topsoil. We have other issues related to grazing of cattle on our Western lands and the destruction of riparian areas; massive predator control in order to make public lands safe for grazing cattle and sheep.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, including some of the most powerful greenhouse gases such as methane. That's a concern of the Humane Society along with the animal cruelty issues associated with industrial confinement of animals on factory farms.     


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