United Poultry Concerns
Promoting the compassionate and respectful
treatment of domestic fowl

PO Box 150 • Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(757) 678-7875 • FAX (757) 678-5070

May 22, 2002
Contact: Karen Davis 757-678-7875
Farm Animal Well-Being Task Group Chucked
by U.S. Department of Agriculture
"This administration is interested in the welfare of producers, not animals." --Dr. Peter Singer, President, Animal Rights International

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 animals.

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 www.UPC-online.org

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