A new group comprised of Illinois farmers and animal welfare experts will promote farms where animals are raised humanely while attempting to further expose animal abuse by some of the state’s industrial livestock producers.
Marc Ayers, Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said he began coordinating the group last year after a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed that state officials had failed to investigate allegations of animal cruelty in Illinois’ 900-plus hog confinement facilities.
The Tribune series also found that hog waste spills accounted for nearly 500,000 fish killed in Illinois water pollution incidents over a 10-year span and impaired 67 miles of waterways.
“The [Tribune investigation] exposed everything that goes on behind the scenes, whether it’s of environmental or animal welfare concern,” Ayers said. “And I want people to realize that there are farmers out there who are doing it in the completely opposite way that the factory farmers are doing it.”
The new group, called the Illinois Agricultural Advisory Council, will be formally announced Aug. 25 during a panel discussion on animal abuse linked to factory farming in the state. Illinois is the 12th state where the Humane Society has set up agriculture councils to highlight farms that treat animals humanely and adhere to environmental standards.
Ayers said he is still meeting with potential members, including farmers, ranchers and other agriculture professionals. Like other state agriculture councils, the group will advocate for improvements to animal welfare policies and assist family farmers who want to implement higher animal welfare standards.
Ayers, who served as rural affairs and environmental policy director for former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, said the advisory group will also promote humane farming practices such as providing animals proper shelter, food and space to move around.
“The goal is to really showcase what these guys are doing and also by default showing what the factory farmers are doing on the opposite spectrum,” Ayers said, referring to large-scale confinement facilities where incidents of animal cruelty have been documented. “Every day, these animals are stuck in these cages and crates. Some of them literally can’t turn around. The only good day is when they’re finally taken out of that misery.”
Next week’s event will include discussion about an effort to pressure Illinois’ largest hog production company to end the use of gestation crates, tight metal stalls that keep female pigs in one position for the majority of their lives. The cages, about 2 feet wide and 7 feet long, are banned in 10 states but not in Illinois, which is the fourth-largest pork-producing state.
A Change.org petition by Jessica Chipkin of the nonprofit Crate Free Illinois calls on The Maschhoffs LLC to phase out the use of gestation crates on family owned and contract farms. The Maschhoffs, based in Carlyle, Illinois, is the third-largest U.S. pork producer.
In its investigation, the Tribune uncovered allegations of animal abuse at facilities in Illinois run by the company.
“As in any industry, consumer attitudes and behavior drive change,” Chipkin said in a press release. “The Maschhoffs are successful business people, so we are hopeful they recognize the growing intolerance of extreme confinement practices and will join other producers already transitioning to 100 percent crate-free production.”
As of Wednesday, Chipkin's petition had nearly 163,000 online signatures.
In response to the Tribune’s investigation, lawmakers proposed four bills this spring that would strengthen environmental protections and give local residents legal standing to challenge hog confinement facilities in court.
Ayers said the new advisory group will track the legislative efforts and provide lawmakers with guidance from farmers.
See Crate Free Illinois’ announcement for more information on the Aug. 25 event.
Aug. 14: Illinois will become the first state to ban the use of elephants in circuses and other traveling exhibitions, putting an official end to a practice that animal rights activists have been protesting for decades.
March 28: The ethical debate over zoos – and whether animals belong in them – has resurfaced over the past year, and now Brookfield Zoo is joining the discussion.
June 16, 2016: Two Chicago-area institutions are the first in the nation to receive certification in a new program that assesses the well-being of animals held in captivity.