Farm Animal Well-Being Task Group Chucked by U.S. Department of Agriculture
“This administration is interested in the welfare of producers, not animals.”
–Peter Singer, President, Animal Rights International
On May 7, 2002, Dr. Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, President of Animal Rights International and author of Animal Liberation, met with Bill Hawks, USDA's Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, to discuss the future of the Farm Animal Well-Being Task Group, a body of USDA officials which had agreed to meet periodically with the heads of farmed animal protection organizations to address issues of farmed animal well-being with a view to developing initiatives that reflected decisions made at the meetings.
United Poultry Concerns was one of a handful of national organizations, headed by Animal Rights International, that met with the Task Group to discuss issues including the forced molting of laying hens, humane treatment of downer (nonambulatory) animals, enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act, debeaking of poultry, and forced rapid growth problems in broiler chickens and turkeys resulting in painful lameness and susceptibility to heart attacks.
Following our meeting in 2000, the USDA declined to meet with us in 2002 as was planned, but would meet only with Peter Singer. During the meeting, Singer suggested that as Hawks runs the school lunch program, which makes substantial purchases of eggs, it could refuse to buy eggs from hens who are force molted. Singer also suggested that through its extension and research programs, the USDA could do a lot in areas where it has no regulatory powers but still has significant influence.
However, Mr. Hawks and his associates maintained that the USDA does not have regulatory authority over any animal welfare issues except Humane Slaughter, which comes under a different Under Secretary and excludes all birds, i.e. 98 percent of animals slaughtered in the U.S. He bewailed the difficult economic situation of producers today, and suggested that the way for the animal movement to progress is to convince people not to buy products produced in ways we do not like.
Peter Singer indicated that if the animal movement could not obtain changes in the conditions under which farmed animals are kept in this country, we would have no choice but to publicize the cruelties involved and urge the public to boycott animal products. He said the United States should not allow itself to fall further and further behind Europe on animal welfare issues. It emerged that none of the government representatives there knew about recent European development in farmed animal welfare, but this did not spark any interest in continuing the Farm Animal Well-Being Task Group.
"My overall impression was decidedly negative," Singer said following the meeting. "This administration is interested in the welfare of producers, not animals. I fear that further discussions would not lead to any real changes and that we must use other means to advance our objectives."