What lies beneath egg labels

John Clark Jr. of Lucky John Slow Market on Woodburn Ave., with his wife Beverly, their son Daewon, and a dozen eggs from Fishbach Farms.

“Ethical Eggs.” “All-Natural.” “Cage-Free.”  Are the approval stamps on egg cartons just marketing claims jostling for space on our grocery bills?  Or can they tell us something about the lives of hens?

This week’s half-billion-egg recall has brought egg production under sharper scrutiny, amid an already swelling river of documentary studies and social movements critiquing animal food production.  Last spring, Slow Food International opened a Cincinnati branch and hundreds packed into a lecture by food policy writer Michael Pollan at Xavier U.  Just two months later, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer surprised readers with a sweeping work of journalism and family history, “Eating Animals,” which includes a critique of Pollan’s arguments.  In 2009 and 2010, stakeholders and experts convened for the city’s first two Regional Food Congresses, to discuss “the Cincinnati food system, its programs and practices, and to create a vision for change.”  And this spring, over 500,000 Ohioans signed a petition in support of a referendum which would require that all of the state’s laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant pigs be given enough room in their cages to turn in a full circle and stretch their limbs.
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Governor Clinches Last-Minute Animal Welfare Deal; Humane Society Suspends Referendum

As of Wednesday, times are changing for animals on Ohio’s farms, kennels, and fighting rings—too quickly for industrial farmers and breeders, and too slowly for animal protection workers.

Heralding an abrupt change of focus for both communities, Governor Ted Strickland brokered an eleventh-hour agreement between the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), on eight major animal welfare issues.
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Farmers and Advocates to Discuss Humane Farm Bill at Xavier

Farmers and animal advocates will give Cincinnatians plenty to chew on in the coming week, during two public discussions of Ohio’s proposed farm animal cruelty prevention bill.  By requiring that pigs, chickens, and veal calves have enough space to stretch their limbs, the bill would require the state’s industrial mega-farms to operate more like the small, traditional animal farms which they have squeezed to a small corner of their market.  Aimed at protecting animals, the bill would likely reduce the competitive disadvantage at which these small farms find themselves.  In the long run, farmers and “slow food” enthusiasts hope it might keep small-scale farming viable for younger generations.

Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, will speak Saturday afternoon about his work and Ohio’s bill.
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“Animals built to move should be allowed to move.”

Volunteers Jan Hughes and Jamie Williams of Warren County, gathering signatures at Findlay Market; photo courtesy of K. Kil

One signature at a time, volunteers across Ohio are working to reverse the direction of the state’s rapidly-industrializing animal farming system. They have until June 31 to gather 600,000 voter signatures, in support of a November referendum that would crack down upon the most inhumane elements of industrial confinement and slaughter.

They call the main goal of the bill modest: to provide every laying hen, pregnant sow, and calf, with enough space to stand up, lay down, turn in a full circle, and extend his or her limbs.
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Ohio’s new humane farming bill: What’s it about?

Young cows await the auction pen at White's Livestock Auction in Indiana; a rooster looks on.

A proposed constitutional amendment that defines minimum welfare standards for Ohio’s farm animals, has been cleared by Attorney General Richard Cordray to move toward November’s ballot.  The bill is sponsored by Ohioans for Humane Farms, a coalition of local and national humane societies, consumer safety groups, and others.  The organization’s supporters have until June 30 to gather 402,275 valid Ohio signatures, for the amendment to appear on November’s ballot.

If the bill passes, Ohio’s still-unformed Livestock Care Standards Board will be required to enforce these regulations:
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Four Ways to Value a Goose

Animal policy lessons from Flight 1549

A gaggle of Canada geese crosses a path in Cincinnati's Sharon Woods. Photo courtesy of Konstantin Vasserman.

A gaggle of Canada geese crosses a path in Cincinnati’s Sharon Woods. Photo courtesy: Konstantin Vasserman.

A year ago today, the celebrated level heads of US Air Flight 1549’s captain and crew brought Americans together around a rare and villain-free moment of heroism. The plane had flown from New York’s La Guardia Airport into a flock of geese, lost the use of both engines, and landed safely on the Hudson River, saving 155 lives.

But the near-disaster shook the waters of animal policy-makers.  Representatives of ecology, animal protection, and hunting interests, long at odds over how human cities should treat geese, lobbed opposing arguments through the media for months.

Today, the accident’s lingering fallout reveals the vastly different ways of seeing geese that underlie those arguments, and make it hard for people to find common ground around wild animals.

An old problem

After the accident, New York City officials were quick to declare their commitment to preventing future goose airstrikes.

“Lives are at stake here,” said Queens City Councilman David Weprin. “We cannot afford to wait until another accident occurs.”

But the city faced the task of somehow cracking down on a problem they had already been battling for years: large birds sharing New York City’s airways.  Despite the use of techniques both lethal (shooting and gassing), and non-lethal (harassment and abortive “egg-addling”) to keep geese away from airports, the number of wildlife airstrikes increased from 1,759 in 1990 to 7,666 in 2007.

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Issue 2: What, Who, and Why?

What does Issue 2 propose?

Issue 2 would amend Ohio’s constitution to place future decisions about the treatment of livestock animals, in the hands of a government-appointed “Livestock Care Standards Board.”

The resolution does not define “livestock,” so it is unclear whether dogs raised on large-scale intensive breeding facilities–known by detractors as “puppy mills”–would be affected by this legislation.

An employee at White's Livestock Auction in Brooksville, IN, moves pigs into a waiting pen.

A White's Livestock Auction employee moves pigs into a waiting pen, in Brookville, IN.

Why has Issue 2 been proposed?

Issue 2’s proponents have been clear about their motive: to prevent animal welfare reforms backed by the Humane Society of the United States. An HSUS-supported referendum passed this year in California, which requires that all caged farm animals be given enough room to stretch their wings and legs, and turn around in a circle.  While small farms often meet this requirement, the large, industrialized indoor farms that provide most of America’s meat and eggs, often do not.

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An Episcopal Blessing of the Animals

Blessing 1

St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian monk who died 783 years ago, may be the most celebrated Christian voice to embrace the moral relevance of animals.  According to stories, he often spoke of humans’ sacred relationship with other animals, and addressed those around him as “brother hare” or “my sisters, the birds.”

In honor of his feast day (Oct. 4th), churches around the world included a Blessing of the Animals in their Sunday service.  At Cincinnati’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, a 5 PM service was held on the church’s front lawn beneath a bright evening sky, to the jaunty tunes of the city’s Celtic Ensemble.  Sunlight raked across the faces of several dozen (mostly calm) dogs, a few cats who appeared anxiously outnumbered, and three fish traveling in Mason jars.

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Animals and the Law

pitty on a train

The American Bar Association has devoted its latest issue of GPSOLO Magazine to the blooming field of animal law.  In ten articles, lawyers describe how they are adapting legal concepts such as guardianship and ownership, to reflect Americans’ evolving regard for animals.

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“When I got a dog I became a human again.”

"Bump!"  Last month at Cincinnati's Everything Pet Expo, Amy Hoh showed how her service dog, Cortez, opens doors for her.

"Bump!" Last month at Cincinnati's Everything Pet Expo, Amy Hoh showed how her service dog, Cortez, opens doors for her.

Amy Hoh, 51, is a Hamilton County employee with a strong voice, a glowing face, and degenerative disk disease that landed her in a wheelchair 5 years ago.

Cortez is a five-year-old German shepherd with bat ears that flicker constantly toward Hoh, waiting for a signal that she needs his help.

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