Animal activist addresses farm cruelty

A nice juicy steak may sound delicious to many people, but each bite has implications.

National animal rights activist Gene Baur presented this message Saturday afternoon at the Burge Union, 1601 Irving Hill Rd.

Baur, who has worked to influence food policy for 25 years and runs Farm Sanctuary, a livestock rescue organization, stopped in Lawrence as a part of a national tour to raise awareness of instances of animal cruelty that occur in factory farming. Baur hopes that increased public awareness will influence businesses and the government to prevent instances of animal cruelty.

“The crux of the issue is, ‘Are we going to see them (livestock) as living feeling creatures or as raw materials?'” he said.

Baur presented a slide show documenting thousands of chickens kept in close quarters, female hogs unable to turn around in small gestation pens where they are kept during pregnancy, and “downed” animals, which he said were left to die in many instances at feedlots and stockyards.

“What’s going to make the massive change is when citizens start voting with their dollars,” he said.

According to Baur that change is already happening and picking up momentum. He cited the increase of vegetarian options at grocery stores and restaurants.

Baur said those wishing to make a difference didn’t have to quit eating meat, though he advocates it. Even eating a smaller portion or fewer portions could improve people’s health and the quality of life for animals.

Such a message may not play well in a state like Kansas, known for heavy beef and agricultural production, but Caleb Hall, a Kansas University law student in attendance, begged to differ.

“People outside of these groups see us as anti-agriculture, or anti-meat, but I’m not,” he said. “The reality is that these factory farms and the commodification of agriculture and animals has contributed to the rural diaspora.”

The event was a part of The Great Plains Conference on Animals and the Environment, a regional conference to empower and connect environmental advocates, event organizer Brendon McCampbell said. Humane Society Vice President of Farm Animal Welfare Paul Shapiro, who spoke at the conference, said that the turnout for the conference was good and said a lot about the community of Lawrence.

“Lawrence is an animal-friendly community, with the best animal laws in the state,” he said. “It’s great to see so many folks that want to create a more humane society.”