Oprah – Proposition 2

Oprah Bits reporting again...  The subject of today's Oprah was "How We Treat The Food We Eat." Oprah announced that the purpose of this episode was to allow her audience to make informed conscious choices.  The episode dealt with animal welfare, and talked about Proposition 2,The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, a California initiative on this November's ballot.

According to Oprah's research 99% of farm animals in America spend their lives caged and indoors.

The episode was divided into three specific segments dealing with laying hens, pregnant pigs, and veal calves.  The specific animals targeted in Proposition 2.  Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS, was in Oprah's audience and defends Prop 2, saying these animals should have the ability to move around a little bit.   Before things really got going Oprah reminded us that the commercial farmers operate under a different set of assumptions, that the animals are viewed as commodities and the objective is to produce as much product as cheaply as possible.

The first segment dealt with the egg industry.

  • The average American consumes 254 eggs per year.
  • 75 billion eggs are produced in this country annually.
  • 95% of eggs consumed in this country are produced in caged facilities.

Pacelle pointed out that each bird is allotted 67 square inches, a space equivalent to 2/3 of a  standard sheet of paper, for the 2 years they are alive.  Wow.

Oprah also had a few commercial farmers in her audience who defended their positions.  These farmers defended their practices by saying they're basically necessary.  They claim, probably rightly so, that if Prop 2 passes we won't be able to find affordable eggs produced in California.  It is likely that consumers motivated by price, will choose eggs produced in states without legislative restrictions on housing, or even eggs imported from Mexico.  Costs are already increasing because of higher costs of grain.

The representative for Californians for Safe Food, Julie Buckner, then commented that she was more interested in human welfare than animal welfare.  She stated that if this measure passes, the cost of these foods will increase, and the California egg industry will collapse.  She also went on to say that the increased space needed to house these animals would negatively impact the space available for human usage.  In my opinion Ms. Buckner spoke badly and did nothing to help her cause.

The next segment dealt with breeding pigs.

The commercial farmer interviewed in this segment stated that the gestational crates used are "a way we can take care of a lot of animals conscientiously.  They protect the sows from aggressive nature of other sows.  People who come in here and see these pigs in these stalls.  I understand that some people have some concerns about gestation crates.  A (pregnant) sow is looking for something to eat, drink and go to sleep. I think they're very comfortable and content."

Pacelle points out that each sow has 7-10 successive pregnancies.  They could be in crate for 3 years before they are spent and shipped off to be slaughtered.

One of the farmers in the audience commented that the term "factory" (as in factory farm) is perceived by most people as an operation that is only concerned with  pumping out product.  He'd like to think of a factory as a highly efficient place where people are happy to come to work and are concerned with animal welfare.  (Does he believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy too?)

Interestingly, Europe will ban all gestational crates by 2012.

The final segment dealt with veal calves.

The video we were shown indicates calves are kept in 22 inch wide crates for the 16 weeks they're kept alive.  They are fed an all liquid diet, intentionally kept anemic.  They have intestinal problems due to their diet.  Some are so weak they cannot stand up.  Many have sores on their bodies from constant rubbing and standing in their own waste.

The American Veal Processors Association representative, claims this is not representative of the industry. "We have a quality assurance program in place for our members. The barns are inspected every year, reviewed and audited by a veterinarian."

The veal industry is mandating its own changes, however.  By 2017 calves will live in group housing. There will be 6 calves to a pen.  They'll be free to roam in their own area without tethers or restraints, with the exception of vaccinations and early socialization.  My guess is that the industry has come to this on its own because the general public has a pretty good idea about how veal is raised and many people refuse to eat it.  Money is a great motivator.

The organic farmer claims that it actually costs less to raise free range veal.  There is no formula to buy, no antibiotics, no/fewer buildings, and there is less hands-on activities for the farmers.  Not to mention the benefits... it's better for planet and better for calves.

And that's it for the hour-long episode (minus many, many commercials and a lot of recapping).  Oprah says you can start making conscious choices about the food you eat. "California voters, Proposition 2 will be on your ballot next month.  The rest of us can vote at the grocery store with the food we buy for our tables."

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I highly commend Oprah for having the nerve to air a show like this on national television.  It's a great beginning.  It was a bit too sanitized, however.  The commonplace practices of debeaking chickens and clipping hogs ears/tails, were not dealt with.  The farms we visited were pristine looking.  Lisa Ling complained of the odor in the chicken farm, but really that makes little impact without smelling it yourself.  No mention was made of the method of transporting animals to slaughter or what goes on in slaughterhouses.  But hey, I would never have expected to see something like this on television today.  THANK YOU OPRAH!!!

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For further reading:

And, if you haven't seen it already, we suggest you watch Earthlings, the 2003 documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.  It will change the way you think about animals.

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Comments

  1. I missed the show – thanks for the thorough breakdown. Sounds like it went pretty much like a figured – a bit sanitized… Oh well, hopefully many went on the internet for more information.

    Much appreciated – keep up your great posts :)

  2. Thank you very much for summarizing the show. I don’t have a TV but was anxious to know what happened. Sounds like Prop 2 will likely pass. I’ve already cast my vote!

  3. I have it recorded but haven’t watched it yet. I’m sure part of the reason it seemed so “sanitized” is lingering fear of the animal industry. After the law suit she went through in Texas (with Howard Lyman) she seemed to stay far away from the subject.

    I’ll be sure to mention the episode in my Vegetarian Awareness Month blog-a-thon soon. It’s good to see the issue getting out to the public.

  4. Julie Buckner also said the following about the facility that Mercy for Animals found abused its chickens:

    “The [Norco] ranch maintains thorough veterinary records and was recently inspected by the county of Riverside during the same time period in which the video was apparently shot,” said Julie Buckner, spokeswoman for the No on Prop. 2 campaign. “The inspection report notes that the ranch’s proper handling of hens was appropriate, conforms to industry-accepted standards and found the ranch to be in ‘excellent’ standing.”

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-chickens14-2008oct14,0,2315593.story

  5. I think that Oprah’s show has to “sanitize” these issues due to the wide viewer demographic, as well as the meat industry.
    People find these topics distasteful – and if you push it too much they will think you are some crazy animal liberation person and take no notice. But it’s good that the conditions these animals are being kept in has made the mass media.

  6. Hi Bea,
    Thank you! As for Oprah sanitizing her show, it’s certainly to be expected. Hopefully this is a step along the path and Oprah will follow up with something stronger next time.

    Hi Mark,
    There’s also a reasonable summary on the Oprah site too. Link here

    Hi Robert,
    Yes, of course that lawsuit is probably brought up by her attorneys every time she approaches any topic remotely related… It might be why she has Lisa Ling reporting too. Although I would believe she’s far to busy to do any investigative reporting on her own.

    Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for sharing that. It would have been nice if there was some real discussion about what the legally acceptable standards are versus what truly ethic standards should be…

    Hi Kate,
    You have a very valid point. My mom, who alerts me to what Oprah will be covering, will not watch these episodes. She knows what goes on (she grew up on a farm), but she does not wish to be confronted with it.
    I believe this episode was probably a disturbing surprise for a number of Oprah’s viewers.

  7. Great, informative show. I dont see how anyone could oppose this proposition unless their only focus is $ and not welfare of living creatures. That Julie Buckner is something else. Wayne Pacelle is amazing! Yes on 2!

  8. Hi Chandra,
    It was rather informative, and we were so happy to see that this issue is being brought to the mainstream. As for who might vote no – there are a number of people who are animal rights activists who feel this proposition doesn’t go far enough, nor does it force change early enough, and they are advocating a “no” vote.
    We’ll be watching the news on Tuesday night to see how things are going.

  9. I’m heartened to read this blog. I’ve struggled back and forth through the years with my dietary beliefs. Trying to discuss this stuff with my family is like trying to talk about an alien invasion. Kudos to Oprah for bringing this into the mainstream limelight. I guess we all just have to keep plugging away and have the integrity to stick up for what we believe in.

  10. It’s a shame that Oprah is now promoting KFC.

    http://tinyurl.com/qwgb83

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