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A Farmer Sees The Light in THE LAST PIG

August 4, 2015 by Leave a Comment


Opinion

Emmy award winning filmmaker Allison Argo has released the trailer to her highly anticipated documentary. THE LAST PIG, the story of a farmer in upstate New York who struggles to align his livelihood with his principles, chronicles Bob Comis’ final year raising pigs for slaughter, intimately documenting his personal journey from killer to advocate. Watch the extraordinary trailer:

Unlike Howard Lyman, an animal rights activist who once farmed animals on an industrial scale, Mr. Comis became a “humane” pig farmer to offer an alternative to factory farming. According to Argo, he “labored to provide a near-idyllic life for his pigs, digging mud wallows in the summer heat; planting fields of corn where they can feed freely; and providing pigs with acres to roam with their herds.” But after ten years of farming pigs, Mr. Comis reached a tipping point. How could he continue to slaughter the very pigs who follow him around like his beloved dog and who show signs of stress when their friends vanish?

Last-Pig-Comis

“I’ve come to understand that their eyes are never vacant. There’s always somebody looking back at you.”

In the film, we see Comis embrace the feelings that he worked for years to suppress — that pigs are sentient beings who want to live and that slaughter cannot be reconciled with “humane” farming: “I don’t want to have the power to decide who lives or dies anymore.”

Bob Comis at his farm in upstate New York

Bob Comis at his farm in upstate New York

The film delivers subtle, but unmistakable messages about animal rights. Among them is our arbitrary cultural bias – regarding dogs as companions and equally intelligent pigs as commodities. Comis’ dog Monk, who follows him around the farm, serves a constant reminder of this bias, especially when he sits in the front of the truck while the slaughter-bound pigs languish in the back.

"This communion is a lie. I am not their herd mate. I am a pig farmer."

“This communion is a lie. I am not their herd mate. I am a pig farmer.”

Comis’ decision to transition from a pig to a veganic, vegetable farmer did not come easy because of the risk to his financial security: “I have to give up my job, my livelihood, in order to live in line with my ethics. It’s a colossal effort. It’s a terrifying effort. It’s overwhelming. But I’m committed to doing it.”

Your Turn

THE LAST PIG will be released in spring of 2016. Thus far, filmmaker Allison Argo and cinematographer Joe Brunette have funded production from their own pockets, but they need support with finishing funds. Please contribute, if you can. Follow the progress on Facebook.


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Mayor de Blasio: Keep Your Promise to Ban NYC’s Horse-Drawn Carriages

July 2, 2015 by Leave a Comment


Opinion

During his campaign for Mayor of NYC and for several months after his victory in 2013, Bill de Blasio so frequently and adamantly declared his intention to ban horse-drawn carriages that some people are under the impression that they are already gone. Eighteen months after he took office, however, the horses remain on NYC’s streets, hauling tourists in the summer heat by day and languishing in cramped midtown buildings by night. What happened?

See “Watch me do it!” compilation video:

In December, 2014, a year after taking office, Mayor de Blasio introduced legislation to phase out the carriages by 2016. Since then, he has spoken about the issue rarely and only in response to questions. Neither carriage accidents nor lies in the press about his motives have triggered him to talk about the issue or his plan.

The Mayor made no comment when a carriage horse escaped from his stable and ran down a Manhattan street.

The Mayor made no comment when a horse escaped and ran down a Manhattan street in 10/2014

The Mayor, a seasoned politician, knows that city lawmakers will vote against his legislation unless he lobbies them to support it. He also knows that no amount of lobbying or advocacy by animal protection groups can get the bill passed if he doesn’t exert his leadership on the issue.

The Mayor’s silence in the face of mounting opposition to his legislation is a mystery not only to advocates but also to New Yorkers who remember that banning carriages was a signature component of his campaign platform. “Watch me do it,” he would say to the cameras.

Can the Mayor preserve his credibility when he runs for re-election if he walks away from this explicit promise? Can he turn his back on NYC’s animal advocacy community, which campaigned for him; toppled the candidacy of his chief (anti-animal) rival; and helped catapult him into Gracie Mansion?

In 2011, Council Member Mayor de Blasio (now Mayor),  joined fellow Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito (now Speaker) and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (now Comptroller) to express his support for a ban on horse-drawn carriages

In 2011, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (now Mayor), joined fellow Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito (now Speaker) and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (now Comptroller) to express his support for a ban on horse-drawn carriages

Since the Mayor took office, advocates with local and national animal protection organizations have spent countless hours lobbying City Council members and hundreds of thousands of dollars educating the public. They have also identified sanctuaries for the horses. But they need the Mayor to do his part. If the Mayor doesn’t demonstrate a commitment to his own legislation, then why would Council Members, who would open themselves up to attacks by the media and labor unions, support it?

Advocates can lobby, educate and protest, but they cannot get the Mayor's bill passed without his leadership

Advocates can lobby, educate and protest, but they cannot get the Mayor’s bill unless he gets behind it

So why has Mayor de Blasio been silent? Only he and members of his administration know what his intentions are. What we do know is that the hundreds of advocates who have dedicated their lives to taking the horses out of harm’s way will hold him accountable until he follows in the footsteps of his counterparts in Mumbai and San Juan, cities that banned horse-drawn carriages in 2015.

Your Turn

Share video to urge Mayor de Blasio to keep his promise to ban horse carriages.

Tweet: Urge NYC Mayor @BilldeBlasio to keep his promise to #BanHorseCarriages! http://youtu.be/0QlPNkuob04 #FreeTheHorses

Contact Mayor de Blasio’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Emma Wolfe, to ask her to fulfill the Mayor’s unmistakable promise to ban horse-drawn carriages: Ewolfe@cityhall.nyc.gov

See article Eight Reasons Why Horse-Drawn Carriages Cannot Be Operated Humanely or Safely in NYC.


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What’s the Bird Flu News — “Millions Dead” or “Eggs Prices Could Increase”?

May 4, 2015 by Leave a Comment


Opinion

In media coverage of the bird flu outbreak, reporters have delivered the news that million hens have been “destroyed” as though they were delivering the weather report — with virtually no emotion. In fact, the mass extermination has not been treated as news at all. It has been provided as background information to what media outlets regard as the real news: the impact of the flu deaths on on egg prices, egg exports and human health.

AP LA-Times USA-today

The media’s disregard for what, in a just world, would have been THE news – “Millions Dead!” – reflects the larger problem that society deems farm animals as commodities and objects instead of sentient beings. If millions of humans were, through no fault of their own, stricken with a virus and killed, the media would report on the tragedy around the clock for weeks, and they would do so with emotion.

Chicken cull in Hong Kong (photo: Philippe Lopez

Chicken cull in Hong Kong (photo: Philippe Lopez

Humans are the only animals who are destroying the planet, yet society has brainwashed us into thinking that we’re superior to those who live in harmony with it. We see ourselves as so superior, in fact, that we can kill animals by the millions without taking a moment to reflect on the pain and suffering they endure – which is caused by us.

Humans behave as though in charge of - instead of a part of - the planet.

Humans behave as though in charge of – instead of a part of – the planet.

The irony in this tragedy is that the 5.3 million birds who were killed are lucky compared to those who are forced to live. There are some fates worse than death, and spending one’s life intensively confined in a factory farm is one of them.

battery cage hens

The vast majority of egg laying hens spend their lives in cages so small that they can’t spread their wings.

In its bird flu coverage, the media also glanced over the conditions on factory farms that facilitate disease transmission. When thousands of animals are stuffed into sheds with no space to move, pathogens that enter spread quickly. Shouldn’t the media report on these conditions, which the industry intentionally hides, so that the public can make informed decisions about what (and who) they purchase at the grocery store?

Bird flu outbreak in China in 2013 (Photo by ChinaFotoPress, Getty Images)

Bird flu outbreak in China in 2013 (Photo by ChinaFotoPress, Getty Images)

The infectious diseases, mass slaughter, public health risks, cruelty and environmental devastation wrought by animal agriculture could be altogether eliminated if people adopted a plant-based diet. Perhaps renowned author Jonathan Safran Foer said it best, “Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else?”


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Ringling: From Exploiter to Caretaker?

March 16, 2015 by Leave a Comment


Opinion

When Ringling Bros. announced plans to eliminate its elephant act in 2018, the company stated it would retire the traveling herd to its Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

Ringling's "Conservation Center"

Animals are trained to perform tricks at a “conservation” center?

To the general public, the center sounds like an idyllic home for the elephants because “conservation” conjures up images of freedom, safety and care. But, for several reasons, Ringling’s facility is the wrong place to retire these elephants:

The “Conservation” Center is the training facility where Ringling “breaks” baby elephants. When babies destined for the circus are born at the center, Ringling trainers kidnap them from their mothers, chain them for up to 22 hours a day and beat them with weapons until they perform circus tricks on command. Ringling is therefore not retiring the elephants to a loving home; they are returning them to the people who broke them and stripped them of everything that makes life worth living. To the elephants, who have very long memories, the Conservation Center is a place that signifies pain, anguish, deprivation, domination, brutality and terror.

Ringling trainers tie down the baby elephants and  assault them with weapons to break them

Ringling trainers tie down baby elephants and assault them with weapons to break them

Conservation Center employees carry bullhooks, weapons to control the elephants’ behavior. In its own promotional video spinning its training and breeding facility into a “conservation” center, Ringling employees can be seen carrying bullhooks. How can living in constant fear of assault and being surrounded by people who terrorized them constitute a humane retirement?

Employees use bullhooks at Ringling Conservation Center

Employees carry elephant weapons at Ringling’s Center For Elephant Conservation

The Conservation Center is entirely inadequate. Ringling’s facility is closed to the public, and that is probably because the company doesn’t want visitors to see babies being broken and elephants living in small enclosures, often chained on two legs in a concrete barn.

Ringling Training Center.2jpg

Ringling’s facility is not – and can never be – a sanctuary for the elephants who were abused there

One woman who did manage to see the center posted this video, which shows an elephant swaying in her enclosure — a sign of boredom, frustration and/or grief.

When Ringling stops training elephants for the circus, the company will assuredly find ways to continue exploiting them for profit at its conservation center (after expanding the enclosures) – perhaps through selling tickets for visitors to view them in a zoo-like setting and/or to take elephant rides.

Ringling has always treated its animals like commodities. In fact, they plan to continue forcing the elephants to travel in box cars and perform in circuses until 2018. And they intend to continue using other wild animals in the circus indefinitely. The public should therefore have no reason to believe that, three years from now, Ringling’s owners will suddenly put the elephants’ interests ahead of their own.

In the wild, elephants don't form "conga lines."

In the wild, elephants don’t balance on stools and form “conga lines”

The elephants should be relocated to an accredited sanctuary and placed in the hands of caregivers, not trainers. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has stated it would welcome the Ringling elephants onto its 2,000 acre reserve.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee would rescue Ringling's elephants

The 2,000 acre Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee would rescue Ringling’s elephants (photo: The Elephant Sanctuary)

The fact that Ringling describes its training and breeding facility as a “conservation” center will be the subject of a future story.

Your Turn

Please sign the petition demanding that Ringling retires its elephants now — not in 2018.  Ringling’s facility is not yet equipped to accommodate more elephants, so retiring them now would mean that they could be sent to an accredited sanctuary.


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SeaWorld’s Attempt to Silence “Radical” Professor Backfires

March 12, 2015 by Leave a Comment


The News

Those who exploit animals for profit – and their publicists – routinely describe animal rights activists as extremists, radicals and terrorists in an effort to discredit, marginalize and disempower them. Through campaign contributions, they also recruit elected officials, who have the public’s ear, to use the same incendiary language. Sadly, it’s an approach that works, with members of the public often embracing those terms when referring to animal rights activists.

Those who exploit animals for profit often characterize activists as "extremists" to discredit them

Exploiters often characterize activists as “extremists” to discredit them

But what happens when an exploitive company uses this tactic to discredit and silence an authority figure, who is not perceived by the public to be a “radical extremist?”

In November, The American Cetacean Society invited Dr. Thomas White – a reputed university professor; the author of In Defense of Dolphins, and a critic of cetacean captivity – to participate in a panel discussion on orca captivity at its annual conference. Before the session, SeaWorld, which was also represented on the panel, successfully requested that it not be recorded – a move that is highly unusual and unethical at a scientific conference where presentations are made available to the public.

Dr. Thomas White silenced by SeaWorld at a scientific conference

Dr. Thomas White silenced by SeaWorld at a scientific conference

In a video he made about the incident, Dr. White said that SeaWorld’s request was based on the company’s desire to  silence a presenter who they could not portray as a “radical” once his remarks were made available publicly: “They characterize us as radicals, not serious researchers. And, it’s easier to maintain that picture of their critics if there’s no evidence to the contrary.”

In addition to making a public statement about SeaWorld’s effort to marginalize and silence him, Dr. White posted his presentation from the conference on YouTube video, which will likely reach more people than it would have if SeaWorld didn’t muzzle him in the first place.

This is not SeaWorld’s first attempt to tamper with science. In 2014, an Orca Research Trust investigation of SeaWorld’s 52 scientific papers demonstrated, among other things, that the company was using vitamin supplement and artificial insemination studies to justify captivity even though these studies are “unlikely to be useful to wild populations.”

Photo: CTV News

SeaWorld uses research irrelevant to wild orcas to justify captivity (Photo: CTV News)

SeaWorld’s attempts to silence scientists, misrepresent research and spin cruelty into conservation will only motivate “radicals” and “non-radicals” to continue waging a war against the company until it empties the tanks. It will also motivate activists to ensure that public knows that the real extremists and radicals are those who terrorize animals for profit.


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