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COMMENTARY:

Obama’s Record on Animals

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 21 December 2009

"This year, USDA has doled out hundreds of millions of tax dollars in subsidies to the factory farming industry, but has required nothing of these industries in terms of reforms that would improve animal welfare and public health."

I know from comments and emails that a lot of Unsilent Generation’s readers care about animals, so I’m passing on this report card from the Humane Society of the United States on Obama’s first year in office. After noting that “This administration is far better than the last one on animal protection issues,” HSUS highlights some positive and negative developments in the last year.

A smart looking wolfBasically, it’s been a good year for polar bears (if you don’t count climate change) and a bad one for wolves (even without Sarah Palin). On most other points, it’s a mixed bag. But HSUS rightly focuses on one area where the U.S. government not only ignores animal cruelty, but subsidizes it:

This year, USDA has doled out hundreds of millions of tax dollars in subsidies to the factory farming industry, buying up pork, meat from spent hens, and milk, but requiring nothing of these industries yet in terms of reforms that would improve animal welfare and public health. These industries operate in a deregulated environment when it comes to animal welfare, and they essentially do as they please. The passage of Proposition 2 in California and similar initiatives in Arizona and Florida demonstrated that the American public wants to see an end to these intensive confinement practices, and the Administration should help push that along, rather than continue to prop up inhumane, environmentally destructive, and dangerous confinement systems.

A smart looking pigThe Farm Sanctuary, a rescue, education, and advocacy group for farm animals, notes Obama’s recent decision to ban the slaughter of “downed” cattle–animals too weak or injured to walk, who experience additional cruelty on their way to their deaths. The group currently has a “Petition for the Pigs” urging the president to do the same for pigs and other livestock.

Keep in mind that these are pretty modest demands, which address only the most extreme brutal practices. Anyone who takes a slightly more radical approach is subject to the wrath of federal law enforcement, acting on legislation that broadly defines animal rights activism as “eco-terrorism.” Will Potter’s excellent blog Green Is the New Red tracks the latest outrages and absurdities (including infiltrating vegan potlucks) that are committed under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, passed in 2006 largely at the behest of animal-related industries.

There’s no sign that anything has changed on this front since Obama came into office. Far right web sites may be alive with promises of armed insurrection and threats against the life of the president , but according to the FBI, it’s still the animal rights crowd that we really have to worry about when it comes to domestic terrorism.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on December 22, 2009.