An editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal recently asserted that there would be public outcry if a factory farm had been responsible for the 300,000 gallons of phosphorus-laden manure spilled on Nov. 24 into Six Mile Creek, a tributary to Madison’s lakes.
But in fact, factory farms are the cause of this spill. Two of the three principal dairy operations that pipe poop to the Waunakee manure digester are designated CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The three together hold about 3,000 cows. Some perspective: The EPA estimates that just 2,500 cows generate as much waste as a city the size of Miami.
Media reporting has placed only the digester in the spotlight of blame. And yes, equipment or human error there is the proximate cause, but it’s not the ultimate one. Cows excrete manure, not facilities.
Holding the digester alone responsible for this mess unfairly implicates its principal source of funding, the public. Taxpayers paid for most of this $12 million digester. The remaining money came from Clear Horizons LLC, which will be repaid from the sale of electricity the digester generates. The CAFOs themselves paid nothing toward the cost of construction. And they pay nothing toward its ongoing operating costs.
Imagine any other industry that could dump its pollution costs this way onto taxpayers. It wouldn’t be the manufacturing industry. Consider the recent experience of the Madison-Kipp aluminum die cast factory in Madison. For polluting nearby groundwater, it’s been ordered to compensate neighbors $7.2 million, and a state environmental lawsuit is pending. Why the difference?
The dairy industry justifies its governmental handouts with a fact we can all agree on: Food is vital. Well yes, food is vital, but dairy isn’t. You’ll find little support from nutrition professionals to the claim that cows’ milk is necessary for human health, except from those the industry pays or, like the USDA, it lavishly lobbies.
On the other hand, a growing body of evidence coming from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, Kaiser Permanente and other medical organizations challenges the claim that dairy is necessary for human health. On the contrary, they report that dairy products are actually harmful, contributing to prostate and ovarian cancer, diabetes, and cardiac illnesses.
The rationale of the digester was to keep manure out of the Yahara chain of lakes, not to produce electricity. And that’s a good thing. “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” issued by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, reports that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s cars, trains and planes combined. Its energy byproducts, like those from the manure digester, do not come close to compensating for the environmental damage this industry causes.
What to do? We need legislation at the local, state, and federal levels to hold polluters accountable for the damage they cause. We need governmental subsidies and policies for food that make sense for all of us, not just for the well-organized agricultural interests with deep pockets to pay lobbyists. Unfortunately, helpful changes like these are unlikely to happen anytime soon in the current political climate.
But we have other avenues for progress. Consider purchasing fewer dairy and other animal products. This once perhaps radical idea is going mainstream, and it’s not just those concerned about their health or about animals who are including more healthy, plant-based foods in their diets. It’s also people concerned about environmental issues, whether that’s the pollution of our nearby lakes or global climate change. There was other news at the end of November. Al Gore announced that he’d gone vegan. Our choices matter.
Charlie Talbert is board president of Alliance for Animals and the Environment.
Dear Editor: Some 6,500 residents living in 10 Wisconsin counties were recently asked, “Are you in favor of the use of trained hunting dogs to track wolves in Wisconsin during the upcoming wolf hunting season?”
By a resounding 94 percent, Wisconsin residents said “no.” Many individuals were shocked to learn that Wisconsin is the only state that allows the use of dog to hunt wolves.
I founded the Wisconsin Wolf Front, which sponsored the survey. The survey was conducted at public events each weekend during June, July and August by teams of at least three student volunteers from Wisconsin Wolf Front. Our student volunteers approached individuals at these public events, verified the individual was a resident of the county being surveyed and asked if they would take a few moments to participate in a short survey regarding a wildlife issue in Wisconsin. Surprisingly, only 2 percent declined comment.
The practice of using dogs to hunt wolves is based on poor policy. This is evidenced by the 23 hounds killed this year alone by wolves during the bear training season. Although state Sen. Fred Risser has introduced SB 93, which would ban the use of dogs to hunt wolves, the bill has been stalled in the Committee on Natural Resources since March.
It is important that we apply pressure to Sen. Neal Kedzie by asking him to move SB 93 out of committee. We must stop this archaic practice.
Wisconsin Wolf Front
As this column is published, I am in the 12th day of a hunger strike in solidarity with our bears and millions of other woodland creatures terrified by packs of dogs and traps, suffering and dying in this tragedy.
The Wisconsin my mother loved has turned into hell on Earth for me and my beloved innocent wild friends.
Cathy Stepp recently declared that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which she heads, will take direct control of the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, currently operated by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
What vital interest do Wisconsin taxpayers have in taking jobs from the private sector and adding them to the government payroll? Secretary Stepp explains that the state needs to recruit more hunters, anglers and trappers. Left largely unanswered is why all taxpayers must ante up to promote pastimes practiced by a dwindling few. The secretary has attempted to cost-justify her decision this way: “Hunting, fishing and trapping is our heritage, it is in our DNA, and it makes us Wisconsin.” More on that notion in a moment. First, consider the DNR’s current numbers about one of our legacies: trapping.
The DNR’s most recent fur harvest summary, for 2011-12, shows the commercial nature of trapping. Muskrats and raccoons comprised 87 percent of fur-bearing animals trapped and killed in Wisconsin, and the skins of 90 percent of them were sold. That 90 percent is about the same percent for the total of all 12 of the fur-bearing species tracked by the DNR. Of the 588,000 mammals snared and skinned, trappers made money on 516,000 of them.
These statistics raise the question: Who is buying all these skins? Most of the trappers’ “harvest” in the U.S. is sold overseas, especially to China.
The Chinese and other countries with low labor costs convert the fur into clothing, much of it exported back to the U.S. as trim on parkas and other winter wear.
But these days you seldom see a “made from” clothing tag that lists muskrat or raccoon, or the third most trapped animal in Wisconsin, opossum.
That’s because the clothing manufacturers know that most Americans have become repelled by the idea of wearing fur. Today many humane alternatives exist. So some manufacturers and marketers mislabel the actual fur as “faux fur” or “fake fur.” It’s a good deal for the trapper and dishonest dealer, but not for all involved.
Within the first 30 minutes of capture, a trapped animal can tear her flesh, rip tendons, break bones, and even knock out teeth as she bites the trap to escape.
Some animals will even bite off their own limbs in a desperate attempt to escape. The fact that an animal would sever her own limb shows how horrible the experience of being caught in a trap is. One study found that 28 percent of mink, 24 percent of raccoon, and 26 percent of trapped fox would actually bite their limbs off in hopes of surviving.
In Wisconsin centuries ago, clothing options were few. People often needed to trap to survive. But what in those days was a violent necessity — and they didn’t call it a sport — is today just a cruel money-maker.
Perhaps barbarity like this is part of our DNA, as Cathy Stepp suggests. But not all human urges deserve celebration or taxpayer support. If we want to use our past as a guide to our decisions and actions today, look to Wisconsin’s progressive heritage of adapting to the times — of challenging traditions that have become unjust, unwarranted and unnecessarily violent. That would be a vision of leadership desperately needed right now at the DNR.
Charlie Talbert is president of the board of the Madison-based Alliance for Animals and the Environment.
“Knowing her changes everything.” — Michael Smith, former hunter, who saved a fawn like Giggles from the DNR
The DNR continues to expand its national reputation for cruelty to wild creatures and the non-hunters who want to protect them. In July, 13 heavily armed people stormed the St. Francis No Kill Shelter in Kenosha to drag out a 2-week-old fawn in a bag. Even the way the DNR killed her was heavy-handed: “a bolt gun via depression of the cerebral cortex of the brain.” Though the DNR forbids citizens from raising deer due to health concerns, “Giggles” was not tested for chronic wasting disease. She was cremated. …
In June 2013, in a talk at the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., Dr. Elias Zerhouni, NIH Director from 2002 to 2008, ended his presentation with three key lessons. The agency’s online newsletter, NIH Reporter, summarized one of them like this:
“We have moved away from studying human disease in humans,” he lamented. “We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included. With the ability to knock in or knock out any gene in a mouse — which can’t sue us,” Zerhouni quipped, “researchers have over-relied on animal data. The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem. … We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”
More than 45,000 dogs and 68,000 monkeys have been killed in Madison at UW-Madison and Covance over the past 10 years, according to reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by each facility. Many of these animals have endured multiple experimental procedures and profound environmental and social deprivation.
Supporters of this use of animals claim that their suffering is justified by the medical advancements that are being made, but verifiable evidence of much medical progress as a result of using these animals does not appear to exist.
Once upon a time it was possible to learn something that might have shed some light on human biology by experimenting on animals, but those days are long gone. We don’t need to open a dog’s chest and watch her heart beat to understand the circulatory system. Questions about human biology that are being researched through animal experimentation today aren’t being accurately answered.
This lack of clear benefit has resulted in scientists calling attention to what is sometimes referred to as the “translation problem.” Translating the results of experiments on animals into improved health care for humans has proved to be devilishly difficult. Senior scientists like Zerhouni are questioning the fundamental and explicit claim that what’s learned from experiments on one species can be productively applied to another species.
It is becoming more commonplace for scientists to look carefully at the real results of animal experimentation and to ask whether or not human patients have benefited from the use of animals as models of human biology. In an article published in May from Independent Science News, “The Experiment Is on Us: Science of Animal Testing Thrown Into Doubt,” the writers report that a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a consortium of researchers suggests that product safety testing on animals (like much of that done at Covance on dogs and monkeys) may be worthless (Seok et al. 2013). The authors address the translation problem:
“The results of these experiments challenge the longstanding scientific presumption holding that animal experiments are of direct relevance to humans. For that reason they potentially invalidate the entire body of safety information that has been built up to distinguish safe chemicals from unsafe ones. The new results arise from basic medical research, which itself rests heavily on the idea that treatments can be developed in animals and transferred to humans.”
In late 2011, the National Academy of Sciences published a report on the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research and argued that most research using them or even keeping them in standard laboratory environments is unethical. Earlier this year, the NIH announced it was adopting most of the academy’s recommendations and dramatically reducing its sponsorship and involvement in medical research using chimpanzees. Both groups acknowledged that chimpanzees’ similarity to humans makes the standard experimental use of them ethically problematic.
This change in perspective and policy by such conservative bodies is due to the increasing recognition that many other animals share with us the capacity for both satisfaction and suffering, desire and a sense of loss. In fact, India announced just last month that dolphins are now “non-human persons” in the eyes of the law and has forbid the use of any cetaceans for entertainment purposes.
The change in NIH policy on chimpanzees brings the U.S. closer to the Western world’s norm. Prior to this change, only Gabon and the U.S. continued to allow experiments on chimpanzees. The NIH change is three-quarter’s of the way to endorsement of the modern ethical consensus.
These changes in understanding should cause us to think carefully and very critically about the thousands of dogs, monkeys, and other animals being hurt and killed in Madison in the name of science.
We should have an open discussion about this matter; increasing evidence of the very poor results from using animals, the realities of what they endure, and the accelerating consensus regarding their cognitive and emotional similarity to us — of at least the members of some other species — seems to demand this of us.
The secrecy that shields the laboratories’ use of animals from the public makes this hard to do. The lack of investigative journalism and reporting on the changing consensus and the many problems and accidents at the labs help to keep the matter hidden and out of sight. It’s past time for full disclosure and inclusive public discussion about the things being done to animals in the name of science and product safety here in Madison and throughout the country.
Madisonian Rick Bogle works for Alliance for Animals.
A recent Associated Press article about Washington farmer John Bartheld, who breeds miniature and full-sized cows, ended with Bartheld saying since he doesn’t have kids “these things are kind of like my children,” referring to his cows.
I often hear livestock farmers say similar things about the animals they breed, raise and even sell for slaughter. There is nothing remotely family-like about raising an animal, no matter how much affection one has for it during the process, then shipping it off to be slaughtered for food.
Many people are becoming more aware of the suffering behind the production of meat and dairy products and are embracing a vegan lifestyle.
Not only is it better for the animals, it has a positive impact on one’s health and our environment. Visit madisonvegan.com for local restaurants that offer delicious and healthful vegan options. Give one of them a try.
— Lynn Pauly, Madison, co-executive director, Alliance for Animals and the Environment