the Small Farm Ethic
The Satya Interview with Diane
Diane Halverson and Pigs in Iowa. Photo courtesy of Diane Halverson
The Animal Welfare Institute was founded in 1951 to
reduce the sum total of pain and fear inflicted on animals by people.
One of the greatest
areas of emphasis AWI concentrates on today is animal agriculture,
as they campaign to stop the expansion of factory farms, promote small
family farms, and develop “animal-friendly” husbandry practices.
They will be releasing their own set of standards and label later this
year. Diane Halverson is the Farm Animal Advisor for AWI and the author
of their humane on-farm husbandry standards for pigs, which are implemented
by a growing number of small family farmers, like those supplying Niman
Ranch. Halverson is also working with Whole Foods Market in creating
their Animal Compassionate standards.
Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to talk to Diane
Halverson about the emergence
of humane standards and labels, what it means for the animals, and the importance
of small operations.
Tell us about the work you’re doing on farm animal issues.
As an organization our goal is to abolish industrial methods of raising animals
for food. Our campaign includes both working to stop the expansion of animal
factories, especially in Eastern Europe where multi-nationals are trying to replace
the independent family farm with agribusiness operations. Here in the U.S. we
have worked with scientists and farmers to develop animal husbandry standards
for the various species of animals used for food. We visit farms that want our
certification and if they are approved, they can use the name Animal Welfare
Institute in their marketing. We will be releasing our label later this year.
Can you discuss AWI’s humane husbandry standards and the “Five Freedoms” used
to describe both the needs of domesticated animals and the duties of care owed
The idea of the five freedoms was to simplify and formulize the essential needs
of the animals. We make sure to specifically lay out each freedom so that they
are not misinterpreted. For example, with poultry they need freedom from any
physical impairment. You can give a typical broiler access to outdoors or a place
to perch, but because of their skeletal deformities and the fact that they are
bred to grow very rapidly, they are handicapped. They can’t enjoy the outdoors
or use perches successfully for their entire life. So we require standard bred
birds to avoid any of the animal welfare issues that come from enhanced breast
meat or faster growth. Our birds are physically able to dust bathe, to perch,
they can enjoy the outdoors the standards provide.
In particular, we have been working with pig farmers because they were the first
species we developed standards for. We have about 500 pig farmers who meet our
husbandry standards and the vast majority market through Niman Ranch. With pigs,
we would like them to have outdoor access but do not require it. If they do not
have access to outdoors, they must have deep bedding and a large opening that
would allow natural light to come in. We also require that the sow is able to
build a nest, that means they need enough space and proper materials, especially
for when she gives birth. We prohibit tail docking and require the use of older
breeds—the animals cannot be bred for leanness or fast growth because they
will have very little insulation to stand the temperature variations.
Your standards don’t just look at animal care but at how the farm operates
as well. Can you talk about the movement back to small, sustainable family farms?
We believe that it is in revitalizing this culture that the animals have the
best chance of being protected as individuals. It also gives us a chance to sustain
a humane ethic for generations to come. Part of our definition of family farms
is the people own the animals and depend on the farm for a significant part of
their livelihood. They also have to participate in the daily physical labor of
managing the farm and the animals so that the farmer, the family, works physically
close with the animals and that the individual animal will matter. We also want
to avoid absentee ownership—a model for distancing the caretaker from the
animal, making the animals more vulnerable to a system of cheap hired labor without
husbandry skills or interest in the animals’ well-being. We also require
that they are independent family farms. We are the only welfare standard that
takes this vital step against humane markets falling entirely into the hands
of agribusiness. Agribusiness is entirely too happy to keep animals in factories
if that’s what makes money, while taking advantage of a special niche market
as well. So we prohibit dual productions. Operators cannot have big factory systems
alongside their humane system. We don’t allow people to have their cake
and eat it too.
How much more expensive is it to follow these standards?
Most of the farmers already have land and can actually make a better return on
raising pigs on that acreage than by planting cash crops. The price for typical
row crops such as corn and beans is less than putting animals on that same land.
Farmers have said this to me, and it makes sense. I grew up on a family farm
and the price for cash crops these days is pitiful compared to the amount of
work that goes into them. We are talking about a really traditional way of raising
pigs. Our standards really formalize what farmers did for generations. These
are not energy and capital intensive factories.
But without constant monitoring, how can we trust that these changes will stay
in place? Who will be monitoring these farms?
Both AWI staff and Niman Ranch field agents do that. We sort of deputize them
to do our inspections. The standards are quite strict in the first place, and
our agents check everything out. The farmers also must sign affidavits to not
only Niman Ranch and AWI but to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even though
the USDA is not going to be routinely inspecting these farms, there is a legal
obligation, which I think is another indication of the farmer’s intentions
to meet our standards. They really have to want to do this. There are checks
at the slaughterhouse too, to see if tails are docked and periodic checks of
meat for antibiotic residue.
We at AWI only prohibit the non-therapeutic or routine low-level use of antibiotics.
We do not prohibit all antibiotic use because we want to encourage sick pigs
to be treated as individuals. Niman Ranch requires treating sick or injured pigs
as well, but cannot accept into their market any pig who has been treated with
an antibiotic. Retailers believe consumers want pigs without any antibiotics
at all. But it is really important to help protect the pig who steps on something
or gets sick. It is the misuse of antibiotics that affects human resistance—the
low-level use in the feed or water to control outbreaks of disease. Consumers
need to appreciate that difference and not demand an end of all antibiotics.
If farmers are prevented from selling that pig to the niche market, that is unfortunate.
They will have already put a fair amount of money and time and effort into that
animal. They aren’t making huge profits anyway, so every pig matters. And
it also means the animal realistically will be treated a little earlier and remain
in the specialty market.
Whole Foods is the first major grocery chain to create humane treatment standards.
What are your thoughts?
We are involved in the process of helping to develop the standards and are one
of the animal welfare groups at the table. I think it is a very important move
because it helps to raise the issue of how animals are suffering in industrial
agriculture and will allow consumers to reject factory farmed products. Which
is the whole reason AWI developed our standards—to give consumers the option
to reject those products. For Whole Foods to be saying that ‘the animals
matter’ is a wonderful effort.
Why are these companies suddenly so willing to take measures to reduce animal
Well, I think part of the reason is that Niman Ranch embraced our standards in
1997 and has had great success. I think the example of farmers embracing higher
welfare standards is reaching individual consumers. Plus the impact of welfare
on meat quality and taste is significant. I think our success has been an inspiration
and provided a lesson to retailers marketing Niman Ranch products. Consumers
are also being educated by animal protection organizations and are beginning
to ask questions about where their food is coming from. It is an actual example
of farmers meeting consumer expectations; they reflect the value systems they
claim to have.
But even those who want to regularly buy “humane” or “organic” meat
probably become confused or overwhelmed by the many labels.
True. There are many claims of higher standards and animal welfare, but these
programs are not equal. If possible, consumers should look up the standards on
the Internet. Many allow things that consumers will not support. There is one
humane label out there that, in the case of pork, their biggest supplier is part
agribusiness firm that simultaeously operates pig factories with thousands of
sows in gestation crates and sells breeding females to pig factories around the
world. But that’s not advertised on their website.
I think the whole issue of dual production is an important one. With animals
we are talking about sentient creatures. We don’t think it is right to
reward a company that continues to operate cruel systems, particularly if they
do it at the expense of small farms who have a humane ethic throughout their
farm. The larger operations can typically underbid these farms and put tremendous
economic pressure on small farms that don’t have the advantage of size.
Even if animals are raised in the “best conditions” the
end result is the same—mass slaughter, fear and pain. This fact cannot
be overlooked or ignored. How can death be humane?
When we describe what we try to do with slaughter we should stay away from the
word humane, because it means, well I think the act of killing an animal for
many people is the opposite of humane. But what we strive for is to see the animals’ death
is swift and merciful. That the animal is as comfortable as can be in transport,
unloading and in the staging area at the slaughterhouse. That the movement toward
the stun happens with as little fear as possible. That the animal is rendered
unconscious with a single stun. I think what we try for in this program is to
allow animals to enjoy their daily lives and make sure the last day of their
life is with as little pain and fear as possible.
Animals exposed to strange things are going to feel fear. When confined in a
factory system where all they see, all their lives, is four concrete walls, a
concrete floor, the animals in their immediate vicinity and one person who feeds
them, change will be very scary. Niman Ranch keeps their pigs outdoors where
there are lots of things happening—tractors coming and going, people working,
cars going by on the road. They know things. They will even be put in a hydraulic
trailer to be moved from the pasture to the barns in the winter. And they will
have had these things in a safe, familiar and friendly setting. So they are better
prepared for change when they are put in a transport vehicle and taken to slaughter
and unloaded again. Those things aren’t going to automatically inspire
It’s just that as long as people are using animals for food in the huge
volume they are, consumers just have to be given a choice in the marketplace.
And that choice has to be identified for them. And if an animal welfare group
doesn’t do it, then who is going to? And who is going to do it in a way
that truly protects the best interests of the animal?
To learn more, visit www.awionline.org.
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