What a way to start the New Year: A New York Times Magazine story titled, "No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem." No sh*t! But before we get to that, and to the current US News & World Report story on "The Mainstreaming of the Vegan Diet," I am going to take us through a little tour of the top animal media stories of 2011.
In 2011 we saw agribusiness fight back against the avalanche of welfare reforms with attempts to use its buddies in state legislators to outlaw the driving factor behind those reforms -- the education of the public. Various state legislatures entertained bills that, as a New York Times editorial put it, had only one purpose: "to hide factory-farming conditions from a public that is beginning to think seriously about animal rights and the way food is produced." The laws would have jailed whistleblowers -- they would have made "terrorists" of those taking video of factory farming operations and criminalized news organizations that published their pictures and video. The goods news is that all of those bills failed -- though we are already seeing attempts to reintroduce versions of them for 2012.
The most fun coverage of the ag-gag laws appeared on the Mother Jones website in the form of a brief animated video. You can watch it on line at
For more information on the criminalization of animal advocates exposing conditions on factory farms, check out last Thursday's Los Angeles Times "Greenspace" story, by Dean Kuipers, titled, "FBI tracking videotapers as terrorists?" It is on line at http://tinyurl.com/7dpwcxv . It is fascinating reading, somewhat chilling, and could benefit from some more supportive comments on the page.
We saw, in July, an example of the welfare reforms the ag gag bills were designed to fight, when as the New York Times reported:
"Two groups that are usually squawking at each other egg farmers and animal welfare advocates announced an unusual agreement on Thursday to work together to seek a federal law that would require larger cages and other improved conditions for the nations 280 million laying hens."
If the terms of the agreement come to bear it will mean significant improvements for the lives of billions of laying hens. But frankly, their lives, in cages, will still be utterly pathetic, which is why the most important thing we can do for the animals is to keep "mainstreaming" that vegan diet.
The ag-gag laws were to some extent aimed straight at the extraordinary work of the group Mercy for Animals. MFA released numerous undercover videos throughout the year generating many thousands of major media stories that detailed the suffering of animals in our food production system. The group's undercover expose of conditions at Sparboe egg farms, for example, which led both McDonalds and Target to dump the farm as a supplier, taught millions of Americans about the egg industry. ABC got the ball rolling on that education with terrific coverage that you can watch on line at
Mercy for Animals has just released a new shocking video showing the abuse of turkeys on a farm that supplies Butterball. You'll find it on line at http://www.butterballabuse.com/ It has been picked up by hundreds of news outlets. If you see it in your local media please take a moment to respond with a letter to the editor or an appreciative note to the station.
The wolves got some beautiful coverage in 2011 in the form of a compelling article in December's O Magazine, which you'll find on line at
But overall wolves did not have a good year and nor did the Endangered Species Act.
The Wednesday, April 13, New York Times explained:
"Congress for the first time is directly intervening in the Endangered Species List and removing an animal from it, establishing a precedent for political influence over the list that has outraged environmental groups.
"A rider to the Congressional budget measure agreed to last weekend dictates that wolves in Montana and Idaho be taken off the endangered species list and managed instead by state wildlife agencies, which is in direct opposition to a federal judges recent decision forbidding the Interior Department to take such an action.
"While the language on the Rocky Mountain wolves was a tiny item in budgetary terms, environmental groups said it set an unnerving precedent by letting Congress, rather than a science-based federal agency, remove endangered species protections."
That article is on line at
Elephants fared better. Animal Defenders International has shown up as a force in the world of undercover investigations. While "Water for Elephants" was still in theatres the group released video of the film's elephant star, Tai, being tortured a few years earlier as she learned to do the tricks she does in the movie. We see her beaten and hear her scream as she is shocked with an electric prod. The vomitous video is on line at http://tinyurl.com/7byl5et . Please share it widely.
More undercover video from Animal Defenders International, showing a 57 year old elephant named Anne being beaten by her trainer, formed the basis of a campaign that led to British MPs unanimously backing a ban on wild animal circuses. I share the link to that video with a warning that it made me cry: http://tinyurl.com/69jslkl But how wonderful to know there is a happy ending! That happy ending has come thanks to much help from The Independent newspaper, which covered the story persistently and even mounted a petition that was signed by 32,000 readers. You can read a fascinating story about the campaign and vote, from reporter Martin Hickman, at http://tinyurl.com/5uzmqcg
The UK follows China, where a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses was declared by the government in early 2011.
We are behind here in the US, but gaining ground. In October, Mother Jones Magazine released an extraordinary nine page expose of Ringling Brothers titled, "The Cruelest Show on Earth." The subheading is: "Bullhooks, Whipping, Electric shocks. Three-day train rides without breaks. Our yearlong investigation rips the big top off how Ringling Bros. treats its elephants."
The article begins with bloody details on the killing of Kenny, a deathly ill baby elephant who was forced to perform -- against veterinary advice. It then brings us up to date on the lawsuit against Ringling Brothers, which was dismissed when the judge ruled that the animal protection groups did not have standing to sue, but which resulted in Ringling CEO, Kenneth Feld, having to admit under oath "that his trainers routinely 'correct' elephants by hitting them with bullhooks, whipping them, and on occasion using electric prods."
If you missed the superb Mother Jones article I strongly recommend you read it and share it. It is on line at http://tinyurl.com/3lmuyg2
The article notes, "But perhaps most disturbing still is the government's failure to act." However in November we got an update on the Mother Jones websites from which we learned:
"Following a yearlong Mother Jones investigation of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's elephant abuse, the USDA fined Ringling Bros. $270,000 for alleged Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations from June 2007 to August 2011. It's the largest civil penalty against an exhibitor in the AWA's four-decade history."
It's a start.
We are also gaining ground with regard to the use of chimps in entertainment -- and also in research.
In "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" we saw a strong anti biomedical testing message and a director's refusal to use chimp actors. Director Rupert Wyatt explains that "to get an ape to do what you want it to do you have to dominate it and manipulate it basically." You can read more of his thoughts on the issue in a terrific piece titled "Apes Director Rupert Wyatt: Why CGI is Now the Moral Choice" which is on line at http://tinyurl.com/7fx9x5k
Project Nim, a documentary on the sad life of a chimp named Nim who was reared in a human household is now shortlisted for an Oscar nomination. If you missed Peter Singer's CNN blog on the impact of these two films you'll find it on line at http://tinyurl.com/783as8o
McClatchy is the third largest newspaper company in the US, publishing approximately thirty daily newspapers with a total daily circulation of over two million. In April it released a three part series titled, "Chimps: Life in the Lab."
The three articles are titled:
"As Science Turns From Chimp Research, US Wants to Restart,"
"Some chimps never recover from stresses of research"
"Some lab chimps left with poor health, shortened lives"
The backdrop for the series was the battle over the 180 chimps being held at a federal primate facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, who the National Institutes of Health was attempting to send back into research.
We learn how the reporter got information on laboratory life:
"In Defense of Animals, an advocacy group, obtained the records after a five-year legal fight with the NIH. The group shared them exclusively with McClatchy with no strings attached; McClatchy conducted its own review of the records, which provide the most detailed look ever into the day-to-day life of chimp experimentation."
The series gives arguments for and against continuing to use chimps in research, but mostly against. If you missed it, catch it now and share it. It's on line at http://www.mcclatchydc.com/chimps/
In August the New York Times ran an opinion piece by Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican representative from Maryland, against the use of chimpanzees in research. That piece is on line at http://tinyurl.com/42t569m
Then in December the New York Times reported, "U.S. Will Not Finance New Research on Chimps." While that is a step in the right direction the chimps need the passage of the "Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act" which would phase out all research rather than some research on chimpanzees, bringing the US in line with the rest of the civilized world where such experimentation has already been outlawed. That Act would release the more than 500 federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries and prohibit future breeding of chimpanzees for purposes of conducting invasive research. Please find out more about it and what you can do to help; go to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's information page at
For the last few years, until November 2011, horse slaughter had been banned in the United States via language in the federal budget each year forbidding the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending money to inspect the facilities. When that language was removed many animal advocates were outraged. But back in December of 2008 I wrote on DawnWatch,
"The success of bans on the US slaughter of horses for human consumption cannot have a long-term positive outcome unless they are followed by the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act; that act also bans the transport of horses from the US to other countries for slaughter."
US horses have been slaughtered by the tens of thousands in the last few years: they have been shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. Reinstating funding for horse slaughter at least spares them the hideous journeys, and spares them horrifying long drawn-out deaths by stabbing in Mexican slaughterhouses -- the video of those deaths is unbearable to watch. Reinstating funding for horse slaughter was, of course, the wrong answer -- we need the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which was later renamed the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, and which would not only outlaw the US slaughter of horses for human consumption but just as importantly, if not more so, would outlaw the transport of horses for slaughter elsewhere. I will keep you posted in 2012 as to developments regarding that bill and what you can do to help.
Here's some terrific news from 2011: The trendy little city of West Hollywood became the first in the nation to ban the sale of fur! Won't it be nice to see others follow suit in 2012?
O Magazine is helping in the battle against fur -- and in so many other ways. The October issue featured a fur-free fashion spread and a column from the editor letting us know why O Magazine will never feature real fur. In November the magazine ran a compelling story on one woman's fight against factory farming. In December we saw the wolf story that I linked to above in this alert. In 2011 O Magazine also covered a rescuer who focuses on older dogs. Those of us who have worked in the animal rights field for some time (I started in 1999) have longed to see is the inclusion of animal issues as part of general public discussion. We are getting there, and in 2011 O Magazine was one of our greatest supporters on that journey.
The movement to get marine mammals out of captivity moved forward in 2011. Following the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recommended that SeaWorld trainers never again be allowed to be in close contact with killer whales unless shielded by a barrier. SeaWorld knows how badly that will cramp its style so in 2011 SeaWorld went to court to challenge the recommendation -- and we saw some good media coverage on the marine mammal captivity issue. The trial concluded in November and the Orlando Sentinel tells us: "It now falls to Administrative Law Judge Ken S. Welsch to decide whether to let stand a potentially industry-altering citation issued against SeaWorld by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration."
For the fourth year in a row at Thanksgiving I brought home two turkeys from a slaughterhouse who have now spent the holidays at my home. (I type this as the stunningly beautiful Russell and Perry Turkey groom each other in my front yard as passersby watch with delight.) I am so gratified to see the media coverage of this event grow every year. On Thanksgiving Day Los Angeles television viewers watched me and their favorite news reporters hanging out with, petting, and generally respecting these wonderful animals. In case you missed it I will share the Los Angeles Times web coverage as that also has a link to my little youtube video, which tells the Russell and Perry story and also gives a little turkey rescue retrospective: http://tinyurl.com/6utnk8c
The media coverage around the event has changed in tone over its four year life, surely reflecting a societal shift in attitude towards people who choose to help rather than eat animals. The new tone was epitomized this year when the huge Southern California news station, KNX 1070 radio, made their Thanksgiving week "KNX hero of the week" not somebody who was feeding turkey to the homeless, as one might traditionally expect, but me, somebody who was feeding two turkeys. We must be getting somewhere.
And that brings us to the best news by far: 2011's explosive growth of the mainstream acceptance of plant based diets. That mainstream trend began in 2010 when Bill Clinton told CNN viewers that his dramatic weight loss and newfound good health came from his new "essentially plant-based" diet. Then in 2011, the release of the film Forks Over Knives (knives referring to scalpels) which features the doctors that have guided Clinton's choices, brought tens of thousands of people on board. Celebrities with millions of followers have tweeted about the film, and Roger Ebert wrote: "Here is a film that can save your life." While our movement has many wonderful books and films I have personally found Forks Over Knives to be the most effective veganizing tool in my arsenal. I have invited groups of friends over to watch it at my place, with gratifying results. They are willing to come watch it because they know the film has no horrible animal cruelty scenes and they have heard that th
e information in it will be helpful to them -- and let's face it, humans tend to ruled by self interest. What I have noticed, however, is that once people are interested in eating less meat for the sake of their health they become more open to letting the ethical arguments sink in. So the FOK program works!
Examples of the vegan shift into the mainstream?
In January the National Public Radio show On Point aired, "Vegans Take America." The host closed that show with a song from Moby before which he read a quote:
"Could you look an animal in the eye and say my appetite is more important than your suffering?"
In February we read in Vanity Fair that a columnist decided to go veggie after enjoying lunch with Kathy Freston at Candle 79.
Also in February Oprah and hundreds of her staffers decided to "take the vegan challenge" for three weeks. At the end of it we heard from many who raved about how they felt and decided to keep eating that way.
In March, Martha Stewart did a vegan show, with guests such as vegan Twitter founder Biz Stone and Farm Sanctuary's Gene Bauer. Stewart referred to herself as not vegan "YET" but let us know that her daughter is, and left no doubt in her audience's minds that she thought of it as a superb way to eat.
We closed the year on a similarly wonderful note with a US News & World Report article on "The Mainstreaming of Vegan Diets." That article gives good information on the health benefits of vegan diets and their growing popularity. Its one weakness is the suggestion that vegan omega 3s are lesser than, and I point out in my own comment on the website that fish get their Omega 3s from algae and so can we, cutting out the middleman, the cruelty, and the environmental degradation. The article is well worth checking out and sharing, and please leave a supportive comment on the page. It is on line at http://tinyurl.com/7kxoz2h
Canadians, you can see similarly terrific year end coverage in the Montreal Gazette, which on New Years Eve ran the article "Critics Notebook: Cut down on meat after meeting 2012." It is on line at http://tinyurl.com/7bungt4
Why not start the year by sending a quick supportive letter to the editor? Wasn't one of your New Years resolutions to do more for the animals? The Gazette takes letters at email@example.com
And now, the new year, and our New Years Day present: The Sunday, January 1, New York Times Magazine article by Mark Bittman titled, "No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem." In it he writes that all of us make New Years resolutions to eat better, and he comments:
"If defining this betterness has become increasingly more difficult (half the diet books that spilled over my desk in December focused on going gluten-free), the core of the answer is known to everyone: eat more plants. And if the diet that most starkly represents this veganism is no longer considered bizarre or unreasonably spartan, neither is it exactly mainstream."
Well, we are glad US News & World Report sees the "mainstream" point differently, and that folks like Oprah and Martha Stewart are helping to mainstream this wonderful diet. Bittman plays it super safe, recommending that his readers go semi vegan, starting with a vegan meal once a week. And lets face it, if Bittman's columns regularly told everybody to go vegan right now he probably wouldn't have a regular column in the New York Times in which he could tell anybody anything. But our letters to the editor can let people know that there is no reason to go vegan just occasionally. So please write, sharing your wonderful experiences with full time plant based diets. If a letter supporting the one step at a time idea, which the superbly effective vegan advocate Kathy Freston calls "leaning into veganism," feels better to you then write suggesting that approach -- different angles will have more inviting effects on different readers.
Bittman's New York Times Magazine piece is on line at http://tinyurl.com/c5exmt6
It includes some great recipes!
And the New York Times Magazine takes letters at firstname.lastname@example.org
I sign off wishing this beautiful community of animal advocates a beautiful New Year. Throughout it may we all advocate for the animals with love in our hearts -- love for them and for the human animals who are only just learning to include the others among those who deserve our respect and compassion.
Yours and the animals',
(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts only if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.)
Please go to http://tinyurl.com/254ulkx to check out Karen Dawn's book, "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals," which in 2008 was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of The Year!"
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Date: Sun Jan 1 12:42:05 2012