For most of his life, Gene Baur has been a forerunner in establishing animal rights and speaks out against the consumption of animals and animal products. In the 1980s, Mr. Baur began visiting factory farms and slaughterhouses and was appalled by the inhumane treatment the animals received leading up to their deaths. As a journalist, he further investigated the situation and exposed the cruel realities of the factory farm world to the rest of the world. Mr. Baur wanted not only to expose the mistreatment, but, to be a part of the change so that these animals would at least have a chance at living decent lives. In 1986, Mr. Baur became one of the founding partners of Farm Sanctuary, which is the first animal rescue organization established for farm animals. Prior to the development of the Farm Sanctuary, Mr. Baur became a vegan on the principal that no animal should suffer or be killed for human consumption. Since making those decisions in the 1980’s, Mr. Baur has been committed and dedicated to fighting for animal rights by expanding the Farm Sanctuary vastly, being a part of passing legislation to protect animals, and has become a best-selling author for his revealing book Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food.
Mr. Baur has had a successful career and brought about great changes for animal rights, so I inquired what exactly brought him to first notice and learn about the abuse of animals at these farms. His answer was simple and genuine, saying, “I always wanted to do something positive in the world.” Mr. Baur spoke about how he was raised in a time of chaos and war, with the Vietnam War and Cold War persisting, and desired to see something positive amongst all of the negative things happening in the world. He followed his ambitions and became a volunteer at a children’s hospital and soon after joined environmental and animal rights organizations. Through his involvement with animal rights organizations, he came to see that industrial animal farming “was an assault on animals who were treated horribly and an assault on the environment that was being destroyed.” Mr. Baur was unnerved that “consumers were unwittingly being encouraged to abuse animals through buying their products.” During this time, animal rights were receiving very little attention, which prompted Mr. Baur to sneak onto these industrial farms to videotape and witness these atrocities, which he would later share with consumers.
Delving deeper into the consumer aspect, I asked Mr. Baur what most people do not realize about animal treatment on factory farms. The answer is simply that “most people don’t think enough about the way animals are being treated and as a result support horrible cruelty” through the purchase of meat, eggs, milk, and many other products. He continued to depict the brutalities these animals face; they are crammed into small cages in which they can barely move, they are mutilated, and then slaughtered at young ages. The mutilations that some of these animals, for example chickens and pigs, face include parts of beaks, toes, and tails being cut off. He continued to explain how people are unaware that these animals are killed at very young ages for their meat, for example “chickens are killed at just six or seven weeks old and pigs are killed at just six months old.” When he informs people of the harsh lives the animals live and the young ages in which they are killed for food, they are surprised, which is understandable he explains because “most people are humane and would not choose to support that kind of cruelty.” The real issue is revealing the truth to people because a lot of it is kept hidden, and if more people knew the reality they would not continue to support these industrial farm factories. One of the goals of Farm Sanctuary is to encourage people to think about the food they are eating, where it is coming from, and “to make choices that are more aligned with their own compassionate values.”
My next question for Mr. Baur was, “What percentage of animal products purchased are likely to have come from an abused animal?” From his perspective, any animal that has been raised and killed for food on a factory farm has been abused. Mr. Baur clarified his answer by explaining that the degree of abuse varies, “some animals are mistreated more than others,” but they are abused nevertheless. The majority of farm animals are raised in confinement, never able to see the sun, an astounding number of which he estimates to be about 98-99%. The remaining 1-2% may live “a halfway decent life while they are alive, but then are slaughtered… and humane and slaughtered don’t go together very well.” Due to the overwhelmingly high percentage of abused animals, I wondered how consumers can be informed of whether or not the product they are purchasing comes from an abused animal. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine the truth behind the labels on animal product packages because, Mr. Bauer revealed, labels are misleading and “sound a lot better than they are.” One example of a somewhat misleading label is “free-range.” The label provides a false sense of confidence in the consumer that the chicken they are buying lived a good life and roamed freely outside instead of being cooped up all the time. Although some of these labels are true, many stretch the definition and still apply it. According to Mr. Baur, the condition under which a chicken can be defined as free-range is that it requires the animal has access to the outdoors. The key word is access; many industrial factory farms apply the term loosely. He continued to paint the disturbing picture of many farm animals’ reality; thousands of animals are raised in a warehouse where there is one small door leading to a dirty paddock which is classified as access to the outdoors. Despite the fact that the animal has never had real accessibility to the outdoors and may have never had the chance to actually leave the warehouse, it is sold and marketed as a “free-range” animal.
Mr. Baur’s goal is to establish rights for these animals so that they can live good lives as well as to inform consumers of what they are buying and putting into their bodies. He continues on his journey to spread the truth and by embarking on a speaking tour to promote healthy living and animal rights. To find out more about Gene Baur and the Farm Sanctuary, you can visit http://www.farmsanctuary.org/about-us/#.