My San Antonio Life: Who Defines “Humane Treatment?”

Cathy M. Rosenthal

Who Defines Humane Treatment?

By Cathy M. Rosenthal

April 25, 2010, San Antonio Express-News


While this column focuses on companion animals, my background includes time on Capitol Hill, where I worked on companion animal, wildlife and farm animal issues.

So I am going to step off the curb and address an article by Mike Barnett, publications editor for Texas Agriculture Talks, a publication of the Texas Farm Animal Bureau, about a bill introduced in Congress called the Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act, HR 4733. (Visit to link to the article).

The legislation would prohibit the government from purchasing animal products that are not “humanely” produced for school lunch and other federal programs — a step in the right direction for farm animals.

Barrett poses the question, “So who defines ‘humane?” He is worried it will be animal rights groups.

To address this question, I called Adele Douglass, who founded Humane Farm Animal Care about a decade ago to recognize farmers for their transition toward more humane treatment of farm animals. Douglass is not a vegetarian; she believes, though, that farm animals should be treated humanely from birth to death.

So I asked Douglass, “Who should define humane treatment?”

“How about the animals?” she said.

“Right now, current industry standards define humane treatment by whether the animals are producing, eating and growing. If they aren’t growing fast enough, they are given hormones. If they are confined too closely, they are given antibiotics to prevent disease. These are not natural living conditions for the animals.”

Douglass said gestation stalls, battery cages and other confinement  housing systems do not allow animals to move naturally.

To put this in terms most people can understand, she quoted Dr. Temple Grandin, who not only serves on the Humane Farm Animal Care’s highly regarded scientific committee but also is considered one of the nation’s top authorities on the development of humane protocols for farm animals.

“Temple once said that a pig housed in a gestation stall is like you and I spending our entire lives in an airplane seat,” Douglass said. “Do you think that would be OK as long as you were fed regularly?

“Pregnant sows (female pigs) have a natural nesting instinct. Animal scientists have filmed what happens to these sows in these stalls, right before giving birth. They are exhibiting extreme frustration while trying to dig in a space that is barely big enough to contain them.”

Douglass assured me that humane protocols have been developed by veterinary and scientific experts to ensure the behavioral and psychological needs of farm animals are part of those measurements. Several farmers have adopted these protocols, but they are still in the minority, she said.

“There is no funding attached to this legislation to help farmers convert their current housing systems to more humane housing systems,” she said. “Without a funding component, small family farmers will go out of business. If consumers really want to pass humane legislation for farm animals, this or any other legislation needs to have a funding mechanism to help farmers make the changes that will mean real humane treatment for farm animals.”

Look for Certified Humane® products to support farmers who have made the change.