Posts Tagged ‘USA’

Is that what they mean by “All Natural”?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Leah Garcés with Craig Watts

Leah Garcés with Craig Watts

Midnight under a starlit summer sky and the North Carolina countryside is alive with the buzz of cicadas and the low blow-horn of distant bullfrogs. I’m in a Chevrolet four-wheel drive nestled unobtrusively amongst the sheds of a poultry farm. As we wait patiently for something to happen, it has all the hallmarks of a bizarrely memorable night; keeping out of sight so we wouldn’t be seen by workers; reacting to unexpected sounds or flickers of distant headlights. But despite the subversive feel, there was no fear of being caught by an angry farm owner; he was sitting right beside me in the driving seat.

I first met Craig Watts earlier that day to get a rare glimpse inside America’s poultry industry. It’s big business here in North Carolina, the fourth biggest ‘broiler’ chicken state in the USA, churning out 785 million birds a year worth $3 billion.  I arrived with Compassion in World Farming’s US director, Leah Garcés, to find Watt’s aboard a bright orange mower cutting the grass round his white clapboard homestead. He was ruggedly handsome in sleeveless t-shirt and dungarees, thick greying hair and engaging brown eyes.

Watts married Amelia, his childhood sweetheart, in his twenties and went into chicken farming because he wanted to be his own boss. However, he quickly found out he was anything but. Now 48 years old and with two young sons and a daughter, he farms chickens, lots of them, on contract to one of America’s biggest poultry processing companies.

Craig's broiler shed

Craig’s broiler shed

Like an army of contract growers across the country, Watts has been running on the debt treadmill to stand still. He invested around half a million dollars in four state-of-the-art buildings like long, low-slung warehouses for raising meat chickens. Watts provides the sheds, land and labour, the contractor company provides the chicks, the feed and specifies how they should be reared.

It was a unique chance to see the kind of conditions that all too often lie behind labels like “all natural” in grocery stores across the US. Watts beckoned us out of the blinding midday sun and into the dusty gloom of the chicken shed where a caustic feeling of ammonia-ridden air hit the back of my throat. My eyes adjusted to focus on the carpet of white motionless birds that stretched away, covering every available inch of what seemed like a 20,000 square foot corridor with whirring giant fans at each end. “I told you, a sea of white”, he quipped.

44276In this video, Chicken Factory Farmer Speaks Out, you can see what we saw; the effects of hothouse rearing, where the birds have been genetically selected to grow super-fast and fed a rich diet in intensive conditions.

I asked him what he sees as the future of the industry; “I think it’s almost going to have to be a start over. I think we’re past the rewind button here. I think this has gone too far.”

To find out how you can help our Better Chicken Initiative, click here.

Congratulations Unilever! – pledging solution to killing of male chicks

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
© istockphoto

© istockphoto

I am so pleased to share with you groundbreaking news that the major food manufacturing company, Unilever, has committed to searching for humane alternatives to the industry-wide practice of killing male chicks in the egg industry.

Since most commercial egg production uses specialist breeds deemed useless for meat and as the males don’t lay eggs, they are dispatched shortly after hatching, leading to the annual destruction of many millions of chicks every year.

In a statement released today in the US, Unilever has pledged funding support for technologies that would “eliminate the culling of male chicks in the industry” through being able to determine the sex of chicks before they hatch. It has also been looking at ways to replace eggs altogether as an ingredient in some of its products. Unilever’s decision could save over a million male chicks every year rough handling and from what is often an inhumane death.

This commitment by Unilever could have a profound influence on a serious animal welfare problem in the egg industry that has long been hidden from view. It is a hugely welcome development and has the potential to change the egg industry globally for the better. I am proud that Compassion in World Farming, along with colleagues at Farm Forward, The Humane League and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has been able to work with Unilever on developing this new commitment. We look forward to lending our full support to bringing it to fruition.

Male chicks of egg-laying strain are commonly killed soon after hatching

Male chicks of egg-laying strain are commonly killed soon after hatching

Unilever’s track record of animal-friendly policies is growing: It has committed to going cage-free on all eggs used in North America and is already more than half way there. Unilever’s leading brands, Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé, make up the largest dressings business in the world, and Hellmann’s is the world’s number one mayonnaise brand. In 2008, the company received a Good Egg Award from us at Compassion for committing to source only cage-free eggs for its dressings in Western Europe.

It made a further commitment to move to 100% cage-free eggs on all of its products, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé mayonnaises globally by 2020, a commitment already taking shape. Unilever won an additional Good Egg Award in 2012 for extending its cage-free commitment to its Hellmann’s brand in the US.

I am truly excited by this new pledge by Unilever which I hope will lead to an end to the killing of male chicks, a seemingly intractable problem until now.

Blowing the Whistle

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Investigations exposing the realities of factory farming and live exports have been a big part of why Compassion has been so successful. Some of them had to be undercover investigations. Otherwise it would have been impossible to know the truth about what happens to animals behind closed doors. Indeed, many like-minded organisations throughout the world now investigate, one way or another, how animals are reared, transported and slaughtered.

In the mid-1990s, for example, investigators from Compassion filmed appalling treatment meted out to animals exported from the UK to Europe. These video images made a tremendous impact. They helped galvanise a mass movement against live exports. More recently, our investigations have revealed the shocking truth about how farm animals are often treated throughout Europe.

We also rely on researchers, some of whom use the Freedom of Information Act, to track trends, follow key developments and obtain data. Then, we are in touch with whistleblowers; insiders with access to information and stories to tell, who alert us to practices that wouldn’t otherwise come to light.

Blowing the whistle in any way, shape or form is essential in a free society. Many farmers, are open about what they do and work with us to improve animal welfare. But, sadly, others don’t want the public to know what goes on, especially on factory farms.

This is why our office in the USA has signed onto an important initiative opposing what are called Ag-Gag Laws.

Ag-Gag Laws are legislative proposals designed to stop people like us from finding out what’s going on. They seek to criminalise investigations of farms that reveal critical information about animal production. They make illegal, for example, photography and filming without the farmers’ consent.

These bills threaten to perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms. They could also threaten workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, law enforcement investigations and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply.

The coalition that we are working with is vigorously opposing Ag-Gag Laws.  It includes about 40 organisations, ranging from Best Friends Animal Society to Earth Save and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. Every group in the coalition questions the constitutionality of Ag-Gag Laws as infringing First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press.

Just this month, Compassion USA, along with six other like-minded organisations, came together to oppose the introduction of an Ag-Gag bill in New Hampshire.  Previous investigations into farming practices in California led to the largest meat recall in the nation’s history. The investigation revealed horrific animal abuse.

No wonder the authorities in some US states want to stop people knowing the truth. They really do have something to hide. That is why we and others won’t rest until the truth is out and factory farming is brought to an end for good.

Everyone can play a part in making sure the spotlight is shone on farmed animal abuse. Please click here to learn what you can do.

Thank you!

Organic: When equivalent isn’t the same

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I’ve just arrived back from the USA where I’ve been working with our new US director, Leah Garcés.  Whilst there, Leah briefed me on a particularly worrying issue that’s arisen around organic foods.  Having labels that we trust is a big part of building confidence in our food system.  When the labels are misleading or meaningless, that is when things start to go wrong. 

Sadly, existing labels can be a minefield.  In the UK, our recent report showed how the ‘Red Tractor‘ label all too often assures little more on animal welfare than compliance with minimum laws.  It’s a position the scheme sadly hasn’t budged from since I analysed Britain’s main farm assurance schemes ten years ago. 

On a more positive note, our latest assessment shows the Soil Association organic label as coming top in the animal welfare stakes, just as it did a decade ago.    

Whilst in the US, I was deeply concerned to learn about a recent announcement stating that the world’s two largest organic markets – the EU and the US – had entered into an ‘equivalency’ agreement. This means that organic farm animal welfare products from the US can be sold as ‘equivalent’ to EU farm animal welfare products, and vice versa.  What’s the problem? Put simply, they are not equivalent!  In general, US organic standards for animal welfare fall well below those in the EU. In fact, some of the practices permitted in the US organic standards would be illegal in the EU.

For example, electric goads are banned outright in EU organic standards. They are permitted under some circumstances in the US organic standards. Another example, organic standards in the US don’t necessarily have to allow animals to have outdoor access, i.e. dirt beneath their feet and sky above their heads.  There are pending proposals to change this, but they are likely to take years to come into effect.  At present US organic farms may use so-called ‘porches’, which are areas enclosed with screens, concrete floors and a roof. That’s a far cry from what the EU consumer expects from an organic label. Ducks on US organic farms don’t have to be given access to a pool or lake to swim in. The list goes on. 

Next month, this agreement comes into effect.  EU citizens may see USA farm animal products on their shelves with the label ‘organic’, despite them not having to be equivalent to EU standards on animal welfare grounds.  It seems to me that this development can only serve to drag down the good name of ‘organic’ across the board; unless something is done, and quick.

Thankfully, there’s an opportunity to make a difference. At the end of May, the US National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will discuss revising these standards. We must urge the NOSB to make US standards truly equivalent. They need to put farm animal welfare first.

Our US director will be attending this meeting. We’ll be calling for urgent revisions to ensure that consumer expectations on animal welfare are genuinely met across both regions. Please help us by ‘liking‘ our action on Facebook so we can let them know how upset EU consumers are about this agreement.

At the same time, if you’re out shopping for meat, milk or eggs, please continue to look for products clearly labeled as ‘free range’, ‘Freedom Food’ or Soil Association organic.

As always, thank you.

On my travels

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Los Angeles: Wide awake with jetlag, I’m here in California at a conference preparing to speak on how to achieve better lives for farm animals. I will be meeting with foundations who generously support the work of like-minded organisations. I will talk to them about the reforms we’ve achieved for farm animals in Europe. And why there is still so much to do to end factory farming in Europe, the USA and throughout the world.

After the conference, I’ll be heading out to continue researching material for my forthcoming book. This will include visiting the almond groves where millions of bees are used to pollinate the trees. I’ve written before here about how the bees are exploited; highlighting this as yet another example of how industrial agriculture simply isn’t sustainable; and how factory farming of both animals and crops often go hand-in-hand.

I’m then going to Mexico to talk to people there about the problems of living with factory farming. It’s important for me to travel to meet with key players and see for myself farming practices throughout the world.

I wouldn’t be able to make these trips without Compassion’s staff who I know I can rely upon. I thank them and you for all your support.

Farmageddon on film

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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.