Farm Sanctuary opens hearts and minds

Gene Baur will be giving a free presentation with a catered reception at 7 p.m., Oct. 2 in the Coffman Union Theater.

Every year, 10 billion farm animals are raised and slaughtered in the United States for food. They are victims of genetic manipulation, overcrowded, filthy living conditions, brutal handling and cruel slaughter. Some are packed so tightly into cages and crates that they can’t walk or even turn around. The idea of animals living in filthy, inhumane conditions is repugnant to most consumers, and the only reason these conditions are allowed to continue is because they are hidden from public view.

The physical and psychological suffering farm animals endure before being killed is the dirty secret of industrial agriculture, and the ramifications of this kind of suffering have caused a multiplicity of other medical, ethical and environmental problems on a global scale.

Farm Sanctuary has taken a comprehensive approach to ending the practice of factory farming. Combining direct animal rescue with education and advocacy, we have worked for more than 20 years to confront and expose the cruelty of factory farming, and provide safe haven for its victims. At Farm Sanctuary, animals who have known only pain and suffering can live the rest of their lives free from abuse and fear.

Treated with compassion, they learn to trust people again, and their own distinct personalities are allowed to blossom. Our shelters in New York and California make it possible for animals to have second chances, and they also make it possible for people to have second chances. People who visit our shelters are able to connect with animals and reflect upon what it means to treat animals as mere commodities that are known to exist only for our consumption. For the first time they have the whole story – the truth about what is on their plate. And for the first time as informed citizens they can make a clear choice – not one driven by slick agribusiness advertising campaigns.

When I think about these second chances I always think of one lucky calf named Opie. Opie was found in a stockyard alleyway, left for dead on the day he was born. It was a cold day in upstate New York; he was suffering from severe hypothermia and was not expected to live through the day. But he did. He was brought to our shelter and was able to make a full recovery. He now weighs nearly 3,000 pounds and is known as a gentle giant. When people meet Opie they are amazed not just by his size, but by his sweet temperament, as if he’s returning the compassion he was shown by his rescuers tenfold.

Over the years, support for the work we do has blossomed, and it has become obvious to us that rejecting cruelty is something all of us hold in common. In recent years, citizens from across the social, political and economic spectrum have started asking questions and paying more attention to the source of their food, and they have started speaking out against factory farming cruelties. Mahatma Gandhi said you can judge the moral progress of a nation by its treatment of animals.

If that is the case, our nation has some soul-searching to do. Some of the most extreme forms of animal confinement, such as “gestation crates” (two-foot-wide enclosures where female breeding pigs are kept for years, unable to walk, turn around or even lie down comfortably) have been banned and are being phased out in a few states.

With more open discussions about farming practices, even industry representatives have acknowledged that “bad has become normal” on today’s factory farms. This is why we are seeing a growing number of laws and ballot initiatives being drafted to address these issues. Kindness and empathy toward animals is an indication of a humane culture. It can become contagious and spread, just like cruelty and callousness. At Farm Sanctuary we continue to fight for the rights of animals and for the rights of citizens to make informed choices about what they eat, how they spend their money, what impacts our global ecosystem.

Contrary to what cynics might think, our experiences have given us a great deal of faith in people and in legal processes. When people see suffering and injustice they want it stopped, they make laws, and they enforce them. It is this faith that lets us know the days of factory farming are coming to an end.

Gene Baur is the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary. Please send comments to [email protected].