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October 2006
Calculating Compassion
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 lasting effects 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 Park took 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 and globally.

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 and statements.

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 of animals.

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 highest 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 to cage-free 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 that.

To learn more, visit www.hsus.org.

 


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