The Satya Interview with Miyun Park
As president of Compassion Over Killing for over a
decade, Miyun Park established herself as a substantial advocate for
animals. Her work investigating
animal factories, live animal markets and slaughter facilities, and
conducting open rescues garnered widespread media attention and had
on the animal abusers scrutinized.
Last year, Miyun and other COK members raised eyebrows when they made
a strategic move to join the ranks of the Humane Society of the United
States. As Vice President
of Farm Animal Welfare she supervises a team of activists working on farmed
animal issues. In between multiple business meetings, Miyun
some time to answer
Catherine Clyne’s questions about the direction of the animal rights
movement and the global impacts of factory farming.
For farmed animals, what do you think should be the top priorities for the animal
rights/liberation movement, both in the U.S. and internationally?
As the numbers of individual animals raised and killed by the meat, egg and
dairy industries far surpass those animals with whom we have any other relationship—whether
they be those seen as fabric, target practice, test tubes, companions, or side-show
spectacles—we need to be calculated in our strategies to reduce the greatest
amount of suffering for the greatest number of animals in the most cost-effective
way. Of course each animal’s exploitation matters. Of course each one of
us wants to help every individual being. But the painful truth is we can’t,
no matter how smart we are, how hard we work, and how savvy our tactics. Too
many of us were shocked to learn in David Wolfson and Mariann Sullivan’s
powerful “Foxes in the Hen House” essay (Animal Rights: Current Debates
and New Directions) that the reality is 98 percent of all animals caught in the
cogs of human use are those seen as breakfast, lunch and dinner—or their
unwanted “byproducts.” Moreover, 99 percent of animals who are eaten
are birds and fish. To give a sense of the scale, about one million chickens
are slaughtered in the U.S. every hour. I think it’s incumbent upon us
to turn our attention to helping to improve the welfare of those chickens raised
for meat (termed “broilers” by industry) and eggs (“layers”),
as well as the uncounted billions killed annually by the rapidly growing aquaculture
industry. It’s unconscionable that today’s broiler chicken is so
genetically manipulated that he suffers chronic pain from skeletal disease; that
a factory-farmed egg-laying hen is so intensively confined that she cannot even
spread her wings inside a battery cage; and that billions of aquatic animals
languish in squalid, filthy, overcrowded tanks. If we accept that we cannot eliminate
all animal suffering in our lifetimes, we need—at a minimum—to
help the greatest numbers of animals in the food industry, both domestically
You recently had a meeting with IFC officials. What was that about?
The International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World
Bank, has been developing an animal production system “Good Practice Note,” a
document that endeavors to address the need for farm animal welfare considerations—not
only to publicize the IFC’s own internal investment preferences, but to
help encourage the understanding that less inhumane treatment of farm animals
is both the growing global trend among more financially secure nations, as well
as fiscally responsible. While I wish I could say that the IFC will refuse to
give multimillion-dollar loans to entities constructing animal production facilities,
it is my hope that it will follow the spirit of its soon-to-be released publication
and give strong, if not exclusive, preference to extensive, rather than intensive, “farming” systems.
Can you tell us a little about how world financing institutions are
directly related to the exploitation of farmed animals and what you’re
doing to change that?
Most of the growth in factory farming is happening overseas. China is now the
world’s largest producer and consumer of farm animals. As U.S. farm animal
industries and/or their intensive factory-farming practices increasingly move
into countries like Brazil and India, banks are providing financial support for
start-ups. Since national borders are disappearing, thanks to globalization,
treaties and trade, we need to do what we can to influence these lending entities.
At the invitation of the IFC, myself and representatives of a number of other
animal advocacy organizations gave extensive comments on early drafts of the “Good
Practice Note” and followed up with data that will hopefully help make
the voluntary guidelines document a better tool for advancing farm animal welfare.
Can you tell us about the work you’ve been doing with ICFAW
and the OIE?
The World Animal Health Organization (OIE) is made up of 167 member countries,
and one of its charges is to improve the health and welfare of animals globally, “provid[ing]
a better guarantee of the safety of food of animal origin and to promote animal
welfare through a science-based approach.” On behalf of the Humane Society
of the United States, I’m part of the International Coalition for Farm
Animal Welfare, a group that reports to the Permanent Working Group on Animal
Welfare for the OIE and have been able to review and comment on draft guidelines
Globally, what are some of the trends you have seen, both good and bad?
Throughout Europe, we’re seeing significant improvement in the way legislatures,
policymakers and corporations are incorporating farm animal welfare into their
respective arenas, which is heartening. Conversely, as intensive agriculture
systems find their way into regions that haven’t historically been home
to animal factories, we’re reminded that we need to work just as hard internationally
as we’ve been pressing along domestically, perhaps strategically using
the U.S. as a case study showing why societies should embrace extensive practices
to avoid the myriad negative effects factory farming has on the environment,
worker safety, public health, property values, community sustainability and,
of course, animal welfare.
In the U.S. we’re seeing a proliferation of standards and labels popping
up for more humane farming conditions. What’s up with that?
I think the increasing number of guidelines and labels found in the marketplace
clearly reflects that consumers are becoming more educated—realizing that
children’s book images of Old MacDonald’s Farm are a far cry from
the realities of animal factory farming. Whether the logos and/or claims have
meaningful implications for improved welfare is another story, of course—particularly
since we know that some industrialized agribusiness industries are printing deceptive
claims asserting a higher level of welfare than animals receive. We just need
to look at Compassion Over Killing’s success in getting the United Egg
Producers’ misleading “Animal Care Certified” logo off of egg
cartons to illustrate this. With its ACC label, the UEP led consumers to believe
that battery-caged hens—typically beak trimmed, force-molted, and intensively
confined in barren, restrictive enclosures stacked inside football field-sized
windowless warehouses—benefit from good “care,” when the
average shopper would never associate such practices with humane treatment
Do you think labels such as “Certified Humane” and “Animal
Compassion” validates, encourages or reduces meat-eating overall?
The U.S. has some of the worst farm animal welfare conditions in the developed
world, and meat consumption is higher here than anywhere. In contrast, the
UK has among the best farm animal conditions in the developed world and the
rate of vegetarianism. If you look at egg consumption in Switzerland, consumption
has gone down following the Swiss ban on cages. Welfare reforms cost money,
which tends to drive down consumption. So I don’t think improvements in welfare
assuage consumers into buying more animal products. If we really believed they
did, then wouldn’t the next step in our argument necessarily require us
to make animals as badly-off as possible, hoping it would turn more people away
from animal products? That’s clearly absurd. Also, welfare campaigns
educate consumers by giving us unprecedented press about farm conditions.
What are your thoughts about the increasing association of animal
groups with the meat industry, for example, endorsing Whole Foods’ efforts
to standardize their humanely raised animal products, or advocating switching
eggs or pink veal?
We would be irresponsible and unjust if we did not support meaningful and positive
reforms that move industry away from the worst practices within animal agriculture.
I can’t see how, as animal advocates, we can turn away from supporting
a policy that would get a gestating sow out of a crate so small she can’t
even turn around or remove an egg-laying hen from the confines of a battery cage
in which she can’t even flap her wings or unchain the neck of a calf raised
for veal. Each step we take is a leap in the right direction. We can’t
forget that we’re talking about ten billion land animals raised and killed
for human consumption in a single year just in the U.S. If we ignore opportunities
to help reduce their suffering until we’re presented with a proposal that
eliminates animal agriculture as a whole, we’ll have allowed billions—possibly
trillions—of animals to suffer needlessly. I’m not willing to accept
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