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."
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!!!
For further reading:
- Oprah - How We Treat The Food We Eat - Episode Transcript
- Proposition 2 - Yes or No -- Our Post - Your Comments
- Proposition 2 Revisited -- Our Post - Your Comments
- United Poultry Concerns
- Californians for Safe Food - They say "no" on Prop 2
- Humane Society's view on Prop 2 - They say "yes"
- Humane Society's Factory Farming Campaign
- Livestock’s Long Shadow (PDF file) -- The UN report on animal agriculture
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.