The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) recently released a Public Service Announcement featuring Tiffani Thiessen (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) encouraging people to make more humane food choices.
However, some facts in the PSA are misrepresented. Some of the video is misleading. And consumers should consider the other side of the story when it comes to the PSA’s specific recommendations of choosing cage-free eggs, free-range poultry and grass-fed beef.
What the PSA shows: A farm animal with a rope through its nose.
The implication: This is a food animal that is being abused or mistreated.
What our experts say: Judging by its coat and swept-back horns, this animal appears to be a Vietnamese Water Buffalo – a working animal. Not only is it not used to produce meat or milk, it can’t even be found in the U.S. The rope through its nose is there for handling purposes, much the same as an old ring through a bull’s nose. It doesn’t hurt the animal; it’s like having a pierced ear.
What the PSA shows: Several pigs lying on their sides, in stalls.
The implication: These animals are mistreated because they’re in a confined space.
What our experts say: The pigs are housed in gestation stalls, which are widely used and widely accepted among hog producers. The stalls prevent sows – which can weigh up to 350 pounds – from rolling over on and crushing their piglets. According to an American Veterinary Medical Association report, gestation stalls:
- Reduce the rate of injury among sows, compared to group housing
- Minimize aggression and competition among sows
- Protect sows from environmental extremes, including precipitation and temperature
- Reduce injury, pain and disease by reducing pigs’ exposure to certain hazards
- Allow daily access to appropriate amounts of food and water
- Enable the farmer to observe and tend to the health of individual sows
What the PSA says: Shoppers should “look for cage-free eggs and free range poultry.”
The implication: Hens raised indoors or in battery cages are being mistreated.
What our experts say: According to the LayWel project, summarized on the AVMA website, hens raised in a free-range environment are subjected to increased mortality rates, exposure to disease, internal parasites, infection/inflammation of the feet, and exposure to predators, compared to hens furnished with cages. Hens have natural behaviors, including establishing a “pecking order” – in which stronger chickens literally peck at weaker ones – and engaging in cannibalism. Conventional cages protect chickens by preventing those behaviors.
What the PSA says: Eat “grass-fed meat.”
The implication: Feeding corn to cattle is somehow bad.
What our experts say: Corn is classified as a grass. So when they eat corn, cattle are essentially eating the seeds of a grass plant. Corn is higher in energy than standard grass, and it gives beef the marbling and taste quality that American consumers demand.
What the PSA says: “I’m not asking you to be a different person–maybe just a better one.”
The implication: You’re not a good enough person if you don’t do what the PSA says.
What we say: If someone is trying to shame you into changing your behavior, perhaps he or she should offer the whole story for you to consider.