Washington DC - On May 7, 2002, Dr. Peter Singer, DeCamp Professor of
Bioethics at Princeton University and President of Animal Rights
International, met with Bill Hawks, USDA's Under Secretary for
Marketing and Regulatory Programs, to discuss the future of the Farm
Animal Well-Being Task Group, a body of USDA officials which had
agreed to meet periodically with the heads of farmed animal
protection organizations to address issues of farmed animal
well-being with a view to developing specific initiatives that
reflected the discussions and decisions made at the meetings.
United Poultry Concerns was one of several national organizations,
headed by Animal Rights International, which met with the Task Group
to address issues that included the forced molting of laying hens,
humane treatment of downer animals, enforcement of the Humane
Slaughter Act, debeaking of poultry, and forced rapid growth problems
in broiler chickens and turkeys including painful lameness and
susceptibility to heart attacks.
Following our meeting in May 2000, the USDA declined to meet with all
of us in May 2002 as was planned, but would meet only with Peter
Singer. During the meeting, Dr. Singer suggested that as Mr. Hawks
was responsible for the school lunch program, which makes substantial
purchases of eggs, it could therefore take a lead by saying it would
not buy eggs from hens who are force molted. Dr. Singer also
suggested that through the extension program and research programs,
the USDA could also do a lot in other areas where it had no
regulatory powers but still had significant influence.
However, Mr. Hawks and his associates maintained that the USDA does
not have regulatory authority over any animal welfare issues except
Humane Slaughter, which comes under a different Under Secretary, Elsa
Murano, who deals with the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Mr.
Hawks spoke of the difficult economic situation of producers today,
of the low prices they are getting for their products. He suggested
that the way for the animal movement to make progress was to convince
consumers not to buy products produced in ways we do not like.
Dr. Singer indicated that if the animal movement could not obtain
changes in the conditions under which farmed animals are kept, it
would have no alternative but to publicize the cruelties involved,
and urge the public to boycott those products. Dr. Singer urged that
the United States should not allow itself to fall further and further
behind Europe on animal welfare issues. It emerged that none of the
government representatives there knew anything about recent European
development in farmed animal welfare, but this did not generate any
interest regarding the desirability of continuing the Farm Animal
Well-Being Task Group.
"My overall impression was decidedly negative," Dr. Singer said
following the meeting. "This administration is interested in the
welfare of producers, not animals. I fear that further discussions
would not lead to any real changes and that we must use other means
to advance our objectives."
Why Did the Farm Animal Well-Being Task Group Matter?
The Task Group provided a round-table opportunity for the heads of
farmed animal protection organizations to meet directly with USDA
administrators and present a shortlist of concrete concerns and
proposals for addressing these concerns. It was the only opportunity
currently available to U.S. animal protection organizations to
represent the interests of farmed animals to federal government
agencies who are in a position to improve the well-being of farmed
Unlike Europe and the U.K., the United States does not have a Farm
Animal Welfare Council or comparable policymaking body whereby
societal concerns about farmed animals are represented, shared, and
discussed with federal government administrators. Apart from the Farm
Animal Well-Being Task Group, and despite growing public interest in
farmed animal welfare, neither the American public nor farmed animals
have a venue that is separate from other considerations (manure
disposal, carcass inspection, pathogen reduction, food safety, etc.).
The overall purpose of the Farm Animal Well-Being Task Group Meetings
was to identify and accomplish specific goals that reduced and
eliminated specific welfare problems and improved the well-being of
farmed animals. This included not only the animals' condition but
what Dr. Ian Duncan of the University of Guelph has characterized as
"what animals feel-their sense of suffering and their strong negative
feelings of pain, frustration, and fear."
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. For more information visit