As president of the Humanist Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle leads a campaign to protect the environment from the detrimental effects of animal husbandry. In an interview with Environment 360, he talks about what we eat, how we raise farm animals, and how it all affects the world around us.
Conservation organizations have long taken up the issue of pandas, polar bears and pelicans, but the fate of farm animals still worries a few groups to this day. The “Society of Humanism” is one of the largest organizations that successfully works in this direction. Under the leadership of Wayne Pacel, the society lobbied for the worst extreme of the farm, the use of gestational bars to restrict the freedom of pigs.
Wayne Passel: Our mission can be described as “In defense of animals, against cruelty.” We are the number one organization in the fight for animal rights. Our activities cover all aspects – whether it is agriculture or wildlife, animal testing and cruelty to pets.
Passel: Animal husbandry is of global importance. We cannot humanely raise nine billion animals annually in the United States. We feed huge amounts of corn and soybeans to provide protein for our livestock. We occupy a huge amount of land for growing fodder crops, and there are problems associated with this – pesticides and herbicides, erosion of the topsoil. There are other issues such as grazing and destruction of coastal areas, mass control of predators to make the fields safe for cattle and sheep. Animal husbandry is responsible for the emission of 18% of greenhouse gases, including such harmful ones as methane. This worries us no less than the inhumane keeping of animals on farms.
Passel: The fight against cruelty to animals has become a universal value. And if that value matters, then farm animals have rights, too. However, over the past 50 years we have seen a radical change in animal husbandry. Once upon a time, animals roamed freely in pastures, then buildings with large windows were moved, and now they want to lock them up in boxes a little larger than their own body, so that they are completely immobilized. If we are talking about the protection of animals, we must give them the opportunity to move freely. We convinced major retailers in the United States of this, and they came up with a new purchasing strategy. Let buyers pay more for meat, but the animals will be raised in humane conditions.
Passel: Yes, we have some investments, and we are investing part of the funds in the development of a humane economy. Corporations can play a big role in addressing animal cruelty issues. The big innovation is the creation of plant-based proteins that are equivalent to animals, but do not incur environmental costs. In such a product, the plant is used directly and does not go through the stage of animal feed. This is an important step both for human health and for the responsible management of our planet’s resources.
Passel: Number one for our organization is animal husbandry. But the interaction between man and the animal world also does not stand aside. Billions of animals are killed for trophies, there is a trade in wild animals, trapping, the consequences of road construction. Species loss is a hugely important global issue and we are fighting on multiple fronts – whether it’s the ivory trade, the rhino horn trade or the tortoiseshell trade, we’re also trying to protect wilderness areas.
Passel: As a child, I had a deep and intimate connection with animals. As I got older, I began to understand the consequences of certain human actions towards animals. I realized that we are misusing our great power and causing harm by building poultry farms, killing seals or whales for food and other products. I did not want to be an outside observer and decided to change something in this world.