Quick Hit: CAFO Pollution in Wisconsin

Report details CAFO pollution

In Wisconsin, dairy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) hold 434,547 animal units — equal to 303,879 cows, assuming they are all milking and dry cows —and can produce more untreated waste than 69 million people. That’s more than 12 times the population of Wisconsin.


I actually don’t even know if that’s the worst one. This may be worse:

Over time, the DNR has issued fewer citations to factory farms, despite rapid growth in the number of operations. In 2012, the DNR issued just three violation notices for animal waste from CAFOs — down from 13 in 2011 and 15 in 2010. The agency has also never turned down a permit request.

Here’s a picture of the immense beauty of Wisconsin. This is what we are fighting for when we oppose factory farms in our state and when we pursue plant based diets and lifestyles. Learn more about animal farming’s effect on the environment here, and how to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle here.

Devil’s Lake, site of very fond childhood memories.

Wisconsin Ag-Gag: What We Know, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do

What We Know

1. The Wisconsin Dairy Business Association is introducing the legislation, and Representative Nerison is sponsoring it.

2. We don’t know the entire text, but we know that the bill pertains to “recording or photographing at an animal agriculture facility without the consent of the owner.”

From this, we are extrapolating that the bill is an “ag-gag” bill, which criminalizes the whistleblowers from undercover investigations.

Why It Matters

1. If you care about animals (which, if you read this blog, you probably do), this bill is aimed at stopping undercover investigations, like those of Mercy for Animals, that expose horrible animal cruelty to the public. This video from Dannika Lewis’ interview with Melissa Tedrowe shows just a snippet of that cruelty. There have been two recent undercover investigations in Wisconsin, Andrus Dairy, and Wiese Brothers. Those links show much longer graphic footage.

2. It is a blatant affront to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

3. Hiding the conditions in which animals are raised to become food puts human health and our environment at risk, and it’s disrespectful to the public, who deserve to make informed choices.

For more on why this matters, or for suggested talking points, email alliance@allanimals.org.

What You Can Do (thanks to our friends at HSUS and MFA!)

1. Leave a comment on the Wisconsin Dairy Producers’ Facebook Page letting them know how you feel. My example:

Please reconsider. Consumers deserve transparency. “Report not Record” is a catchy slogan, but not a good reason to take away that transparency. Employees may not feel comfortable telling their boss what they see simply because of the power differential. Having concrete evidence can help them come forward.
Wisconsin is the Dairy State, and Wisconsinites deserve more from the people who gave it that name. Please make a stand for informed consumers, exposed animal abusers, protection of human health and the environment, and upholding of free speech and free press and withdraw your support from the ag-gag bill.

2. Contact your legislators and use your own words or borrow HSUS’s suggested text:

“As a constituent, I encourage my legislator to oppose the ag-gag bill. Whistleblowers who expose animal cruelty and food safety violations on factory farms should be thanked, not punished.”

3. Send a letter to the editor (keep under 250 words). Here’s mine:

As an animal lover and lifelong Wisconsin citizen, I was disturbed to hear about the Wisconsin Dairy Industry and Representative Nerison’s proposed new bill. The bill would criminalize photography and video of farms taken without the owner’s permission. Such a bill is a shocking violation of free speech and freedom of the press. In addition, it keeps consumers in the dark, threatens public health, and hurts animals by shielding animal abusers from public scrutiny and criminal liability. 

There is a name for this type of bill – “ag-gag.” Had it been law just a few months ago, it would have prevented the undercover investigation at Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood (WI), which uncovered workers shooting cows in the face with high-pressure water hoses, cutting off their tails, and more egregious abuse. 

Wisconsin has some of the weakest animal cruelty laws in the nation. Yet, instead of strengthening these laws, our lawmakers choose to penalize whistleblowers that bring animal cruelty to the public’s attention. Undercover investigations are a major form of transparency between industrial agriculture and the public. I don’t understand why the Wisconsin Dairy Industry fears that transparency. If dairy farmers’ practices are so ethical, what are they afraid of?

I encourage my representatives to vote no if this bill finds its way to them. The Wisconsin I know and love deserves more.

4. Share the above videos of undercover investigations and the HSUS alert with others.

5. Thank the news studios and news casters who have covered the issue so far. You can comment directly on the article or send feedback to the organization.

Dannika Lewis, Channel 3000

NBC Green Bay

Wisconsin Gazette

Feel free to add any I missed in the comments.

Thank you to HSUS and Mercy for Animals for all they have done and are continuing to to, and THANK YOU for your swift attention and action. Let’s stop this thing and keep Wisconsin transparent!

Please email alliance@allanimals.org with any further questions.

Awesome Mystery Animal of the Week: “Beelzebub’s pup”

Awesome Mystery Animal Facts:

1. This little guy stores fat in his tail, and the sign of a healthy one is a big tail.

I don’t think you’re ready to bump this jelly

2. Jaws can open wide enough to create enough force to bite through thick metal wire (or bone and skin, in natural environments)

I’m just imagining the Kids in the Hall skit with the guy who crushes heads: “I crush you!”

3. Eat 15% of their body weight in a day, but can eat up to 40% in 30 minutes

Man, all this eating is making me sleepy.

4. Originally believed to be a kind of opossum, but the closest phylogenetic relation is to this guy:

5. Linus Torvalds temporarily replaced “Tux,” the typical mascot (pictured below), with a form of this animal, in support of a campaign to save their species.

Pengwing! For some reason, the only image I could link to was Italian Tux! But you get the idea.

There are your clues! Who is the mystery animal of the week? Post your answer in the comments below!

This Is The Worst Thing I’ve Read In A While

UPDATED TO ADD: Here’s how Wisconsin is responding!

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has directed agency staff to create and deliver an updated Animal Welfare Strategy plan within 60 days, according to an internal email reviewed by Reuters New Service.

Two days earlier, the agency said it was looking into livestock conditions at its Nebraska-based center, in the wake of a New York Times report stating that facility staff had failed to follow basic animal welfare standards when conducting decades of research.

Full article here.

* * *

If you’re reading these posts, you either identify as a believer in animal rights, or you’re someone who cares about animals. Within the animal rights movement, we often create this dichotomy of rights vs welfare. Well, as we know, all dichotomies are false dichotomies. Yes, there are things the two groups disagree on, but our aims are broadly similar – we want better lives for animals. So here’s an article both groups can get behind: U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit.

The subtitle? “Animal Welfare at Risk in Experiments for Meat Industry.”

Basically, in an attempt to breed animals that

produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise

the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is creating sickly animals that perish immediately, providing inadequate care that results in animals dying from starvation and treatable maladies, and shoveling all the bodies into a “dead pit.”

According to one employee:

“They pay tons of attention to increasing animal production, and just a pebble-sized concern to animal welfare,” said James Keen, a scientist and veterinarian who worked at the center for 24 years. “And it probably looks fine to them because they’re not thinking about it, and they’re not being held accountable. But most Americans and even livestock producers would be hard pressed to support some of the things that the center has done.”

Everything in this article is horrible – piglets being crushed when their mothers roll over, newborn lambs killed by predators and starvation – but worst of all are the numbers:

Last Mother’s Day, at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend’s toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes.

Of the 580,000 animals the center has housed since 1985, when its most ambitious projects got underway, at least 6,500 have starved. A single, treatable malady — mastitis, a painful infection of the udder — has killed more than 625.

And all that I shared is just in the FIRST PART of the story. There are NINE more sections. I don’t know about you, but I think I need a baby animal picture before we continue.


Oh hey! Were you talking about me?


So, the good news is, we aren’t the only ones horrified by this. The Editorial Board of the New York Times wrote an Op-Ed called Farming Science, Without the Conscience. The article begins in a promising way:

You don’t have to be a vegan to be repulsed by an account in The Times revealing the moral depths to which the federal government — working as a handmaiden to industrial agriculture — has sunk in pursuit of cheaper meat and fatter corporate profits.

And the ending is even better:

The humans who work at the center are not necessarily oblivious to its failings. Some veterinarians and researchers told The Times they were appalled by the suffering and abuse. They should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work. Congress founded the center 50 years ago. It should oversee it and reform it — or shut it down.

It’s often easy to skip over the effects of such brutal work on the people involved. Slaughterhouses are correlated with increased rates of violent and sexual crimeMany slaughterhouse workers suffer PTSD. Slaughterhouse workers are primarily low income people of color, many of whom are undocumented and threatened regularly with deportation by their bosses.

Human Rights Watch wrote an entire report on rights violations in the meat industry. The veterinarians referenced above are in a more privileged position than many of these workers, but the fact remains still that workers

…should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work.

For more on slaughterhouse workers’ points of view, read Gail Eisnitz’s “Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry.” Eisnitz’s book contains many interviews with workers, and some of what they say can be really hard to read. I’m also partial to Steve Striffler’s “Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food“. Striffler is an anthropologist, and he gives an honest and comprehensive view of the chicken industry, while keeping the descriptions straightforward enough that it isn’t too painful to read. Also, it’s super interesting. I learned a lot! And, of course, the book that started it all, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Free on Project Gutenberg! And still a pretty accurate depiction of the meat industry, despite these years that have gone by.

We can do better by these animals. To find out more, visit our Ethical Lifestyles page, or write me at alliance@allanimals.org.

(h/t Ann)

Feel Good Article of The Day: Animal Friendships

Complete with ADORABLE pictures of interspecies relationships like this:

(I mean, not actually this picture, but pictures like it. The actual images in the story are copyrighted.)

As with any article that tries to use “human” terms for animal interactions, there are cries of anthropomorphism:

Yet until recently, any suggestion that interspecies relationships might be based simply on companionship would probably have been met with derision, dismissed as Pixar-like anthropomorphism. That has changed as research has gradually eroded some boundaries between homo sapiens and other animals. Other species, it turns out, share abilities once considered exclusive to humans, including some emotions, tool use, counting, certain aspects of language and even a moral sense.

And a fair part of the article is dedicated to questioning the accuracy of the interspecies relationships we call “friendships.” But you can just skip all that and watch the adorable videos and read the adorable stories.

The Dairy Industry is Running Scared

According to the AP’s article, Milk Industry Fights Back Against Anti-Dairy Folks. (h/t Ann)

Check out these numbers:

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, people drank an average of 14.5 gallons of milk a year in 2012. That’s down 33 percent from the 21.8 gallons a year in 1970.

Total milk sales volume has declined 12 percent since 2009, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

Its main competitor?

This guy.

…retail sales for almond milk are estimated to be up 39 percent last year, according to Virginia Lee, a packaged food analyst with Euromonitor.

The article talks about a brand new campaign that’s supposed to set the record straight on dairy’s health benefits. Interestingly, the only health information quoted in the article is this:

…the British Medical Journal published a study suggesting drinking lots of milk could lead to earlier deaths and higher incidents of fractures. Even though the study urged a cautious interpretation of its findings, it prompted posts online about the dangers of drinking milk.

I’m really impressed by the depth of the coverage. I didn’t think that most people knew about that study!

Just when you think this article couldn’t get any better, our people even get a shout out!

Animal welfare groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are also a thorn in the milk industry’s side. On its website, PETA notes that “no species drinks milk beyond infancy or drinks the milk of another species” and details the cruel conditions dairy cows are often subject to.

That’s one of the reasons Valentin Vornicu, a 31-year-old resident of San Diego, California, said he stays away from milk. Vornicu became a vegan four years ago and says he has more energy and has never felt better.

“It looks like a scene from the Matrix. ‘You see a picture of that and you’re like, I’m drinking this? ,” said Vornicu, citing footage he’s seen of cows hooked up to milking machines.

It’s exciting to win anything in this field, because the losses are so great. Of course, cheese is still a major product, but the fact that milk is on the way down is really heartening, because it may mean fewer cows have to suffer in the role of dairy cow.

When the Farmed Animals Committee tables at local events, we hand out samples of tofurkey sausages and different flavored almond milks. People are still wary about the tofurkey, but almost everyone takes a sample of almond milk. To add to the anecdata, a family that I babysat for very regularly a couple of years ago was the most anti-vegan family I’ve ever met – but their refrigerator held almond milk.

Oh almonds, what can’t you do?

To learn more about the dairy industry, check out Humane Myth’s Happy Cow slideshow. (N.B. the images aren’t super graphic, but they may be upsetting.) For alternate perspectives, here is a neat infographic, my favorite article about the mother-child connection called Don’t Take the Babies, a similar article called Veganism is For Mothers,  and Ari Solomon’s The Feminist’s Dilemma.

Or, if you’re the rare guy reading this article (hi! way to counter the statistics!), you can always rely on this advice from Pumping Iron:

If you live in the Madison area, you can get non-dairy alternatives at coffeehouses like Barriques, Starbucks, and, of course, Mother Fool’s. (I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of others! Feel free to comment below.)

And as always, if you want some help transitioning to plant based milks, check out our vegan mentor program. You can get cooking advice, schedule shopping trips, or just talk out your concerns with your mentor, one on one.