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.

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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

(h/t Ann)

Campus Connection: UW eyes resuming decompression sickness studies with sheep

6 hours ago • TODD FINKELMEYER | The Capital Times |

After surviving a legal scare a little more than a year ago and then helping convince the Legislature to exempt researchers from state animal cruelty statutes, UW-Madison is taking steps to potentially begin a new series of decompression sickness studies using sheep.

“We are certainly alarmed about this development, although I can’t say we’re surprised,” says Rick Bogle, an outspoken critic of the university’s animal research projects and the co-director of the Madison-based Alliance for Animals.

Eric Sandgren, who oversees animal research at UW-Madison, says that although plans to resume the studies are far from finalized, it would be “irresponsible not to consider their resumption” due to a range of “valuable information” past university research on this topic has produced.

“For over three decades, diving physiology and submarine rescue studies have been productive and valued research programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” says Sandgren, who directs the university’s Research Animal Resource Center.

“A goal of the research is to develop protective accelerated decompression strategies for submarine escape and rescue operations. Decompression tables derived from Wisconsin research are used worldwide and provide vital information for decompression injury risk prediction and management.”

Local controversy over this research reached a peak in 2010 when animal rights groups convinced a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to decide whether nine UW-Madison scientists and officials should be criminally charged under a Wisconsin statute that makes it illegal to kill animals by decompression. The researchers used sheep to examine what’s commonly called “the bends,” and multiple animals died in the studies, which were funded by the Navy.

Madison attorney David Geier, the special prosecutor, ultimately determined in May 2011 that university employees did not violate the law — although he ripped university officials in his report for not having a better system in place for making scientists aware of pertinent state and federal laws.

The legal action by animal rights groups put a significant scare into the university’s animal research enterprise, which currently features about 1,100 animal care and use protocols, according to Sandgren. He notes that about 20 percent — or $200 million — of the university’s roughly $1 billion in research awards are associated with animal studies.

In an effort to better protect this research, university officials helped push for a provision that was slipped into Wisconsin’s 2011-13 biennial budget that exempts scientists from state law prohibiting crimes against animals as long as they follow protocol approved by an educational or research institution that already must follow federal animal welfare laws. The exemption also covers “bona fide scientific research” involving species unregulated by federal law.

“After the court decided not to prosecute the university, then it was able to go to the Legislature and have the law changed and now it’s back to business-as-usual,” says Bogle. “The researchers now have a blanket exemption from state law as long as it’s an approved thing the university wants to do.”

Sandgren says the university currently is “in the early stages of discussing whether to re-initiate the submarine rescue studies using sheep.” A protocol describing the proposed work was initially reviewed July 9 by the Graduate School’s Animal Care and Use Committee, which must sign off on any such experiments.

However, that oversight body has not yet given the green light to the protocol, and is asking for more details on how animals will be monitored by veterinarians. Sandgren says the university is in the process of designing and updating an area for these studies at UW-Madison’s Biotron facility, and any research wouldn’t begin until renovations are completed and the animal care committee inspects and approves the space.

Finally, research funding for such a project also would have to be secured, although it likely would come from the Navy.

The sheep decompression sickness experiments started gaining public attention in August 2009 when the Alliance for Animals lodged a complaint against UW-Madison researchers who used sheep in sometimes fatal decompression experiments. Then-District Attorney Brian Blanchard agreed the studies violated a Wisconsin law against killing animals by decompression, but he refused to prosecute, saying it was not a wise use of resources.

The Alliance for Animals and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) then filed a petition in March 2010 asking that criminal charges be brought against five UW-Madison officials and several researchers for violating the law when 26 sheep died as a result of the Navy-funded experiments on decompression sickness that use a hyperbaric chamber, which regulates air pressure.

Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith agreed there was probable cause to believe that some intentionally or negligently violated the law, and assigned Geier to the case as a special prosecutor in June of that year. He was tasked with deciding whether animal cruelty charges should be filed.

Nearly a year later he issued a report stating that university employees did not violate state laws. However, he did question the value of conducting future decompression research using sheep, noting that the Navy had pulled its grant from UW-Madison and that “in reviewing the more recent literature, it appears that the efficacy of these types of studies is now in question.”

Bogle’s read on the report was that part of the reason Geier didn’t press for charges is the fact that the university stopped its research back in 2009 when it first came under review and that the Navy stopped paying for the research.

But Geier said this week that’s not the reason he did not recommend filing a criminal complaint and the court decided no further action was necessary.

“I looked at the law,” Geier said this week. “I did note in my report that the university had stopped the research, but I didn’t take that one way or the other. Somebody could argue that by stopping the studies, that’s an admission on the university’s part that they’re doing something wrong. But I talked to a lot of people on this thing, and the university’s lawyers felt that it was prudent that until this thing got resolved they should stop the research. I came to my decision by strictly looking at what the statute said.”

One state statute examined by Geier doesn’t allow killing animals by decompression. Another exempts veterinarians and those practicing “bona fide” scientific research from the statute that prohibits treating animals in a “cruel manner.” Geier concluded the intent of the law forbidding “decompression” was to outlaw decompression as a form of euthanasia at humane societies. Nonetheless, in his report Geier did note that he believed the sheep experiments were “cruel” and questioned whether they represented “bona fide” research.

But today, researchers are exempted from these state animal cruelty statutes.

“I guess the good news is that the university didn’t restart these experiments immediately following the release of the (2011) report,” Geier said this week. “From the time drag, I’m hoping that they’ve sat down and really thought seriously about the report and the issues raised by the animal rights people. I also think the people on the animal care committees really do care about the animals. What you never like to see is someone get seduced by the dollars, and I don’t care if it’s these people, the athletic department or whatever. I would have been much more skeptical of the university’s intent if, immediately after the Legislation was enacted, the next day it would have gone full-bore ahead with the exact same research.”

Sandgren says that any future decompression studies using sheep wouldn’t simply repeat previous research, but build off previous results with the hopes of producing new information.

“One of the criticisms the activists level at this, and they typically do this with any long-standing project, is that ‘you’re just doing the same thing over and over again,’” says Sandgren. “That’s fundamentally a misunderstanding of the kind of research that we allow for long-term projects. You follow up on existing work to take it one step further.”

Read article here:

Campus Connection: UW eyes resuming decompression sickness studies with sheep.

Melrose area couple charged in animal neglect case – WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI

Jackson County (Press Release)-Authorities in Jackson County have taken custody of 67 animals on a search warrant that was executed on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at N2420 Blackberry Road in Melrose Township, Jackson County after receiving information that there may be animals on the property in need of care due to neglect.

The animals seized consisted of dogs ranging in age from puppies to adults; horses, mules, sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, ducks and a pig. Many of the animals found appeared to be in various stages of neglect due to improper care and lack of nourishment.

Two persons have been arrested in connection with the abuse and are identified as Renee Smithey, age 58; and Tarry Smithey, age 52. Both parties were booked on a single felony count of animal mistreatment and were later released on a $1,000.00 signature bond. Conditions of bond are to possess no animals and to cooperate with the State Veterinarian, the Jackson County Humane Officer, and the Jackson County Health Department. Two other adults residing at the residence were not arrested and to date have not been charged.

Assisting in the seizure and assessment of the animals and living conditions was the Jackson County Animal Shelter, State of Wisconsin Veterinarian and the Jackson County Health Department.

The animals seized in this matter have been provided with proper shelter, medical treatment and nourishment. Some of these animals will be available for adoption. Many of these animals are in need of special care. Anyone interested in adopting an animal should contact the Jackson County Animal Shelter.

This matter remains under investigation by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office

Read full story here:

Melrose area couple charged in animal neglect case – WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports.