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Arizona Catholic Fights for Humane Farming Initiative
By Rebecca Bostic
The Catholic Sun, June 15, 2006

Fighting against factory farms has been a passion for Abby Glackin since college. The devoted Catholic experienced frustration with the Church because of the lack of attention many churchgoers, priests and religious leaders gave to animal rights and environmental issues.

“Over the years when I’ve talked to fellow Catholics and religious, nuns and priests, they’re either not aware of it or they’ll just say ‘oh you know, we have to get our food and God put them on the Earth for that reason.’ And I’ve gotten kind of angry over the reactions at times,” Glackin said.

She recently returned to good terms with the Church as a result of her participation in a signature-gathering drive for the Arizonans for Humane Farms citizen initiative.

When she became involved with the campaign, she decided to try gathering signatures at local Catholic churches.

“I really just had to put all of my faith into the Church one last time even though, like I said, the people I’ve spoken to haven’t always been supportive of the initiative,” Glackin said.

She decided to meet with her pastor, Fr. Albert Francis Hoorman of Corpus Christi Parish, about the possibility of gathering signatures. Fr. Hoorman not only allowed Glackin to collect signatures after Masses, but he also encouraged parishioners to sign the petition.

“He was really the one that got the signatures for me, is how I look at it,” Glackin said. “He invited me to come out and set up my table after all these Masses.”

Glackin attained more than 300 signatures from Corpus Christi parishioners alone.

A Grassroots Project

Glackin is not the only Arizonan passionate about humane farming. A grassroots effort supported by the Humane Society of Arizona and other animal rights organizations has been gathering signatures supporting the initiative for months.

The initiative needs 120,000 signatures to secure a spot on the November ballot. It could then be made law if it wins the popular vote.

The groups supporting the initiative are trying to gather 200,000 signatures — to buffer any signatures that might be thrown out — by July 6, the due date for citizen’s initiatives in Arizona.

The Arizonans for Humane Farms initiative would “outlaw the cruel and intensive confinement of pregnant pigs and veal calves on industrialized factory farms,” according to the group’s Web site.

The group is fighting against small gestation crates, undersized areas hogs and calves are kept in for nearly their entire lives. Space in the crates is so confined the animals are unable to turn around.

“Farm animals as a group, there’s just no legal protection for them,” said Stephanie Nichols-Young, president of the Animal Defense League of Arizona and supporter of the campaign. “There’s a federal humane slaughter law and some transportation laws, but as far as conditions for animals when they’re held on farms, there’s virtually nothing as far as humane conditions.”

Nichols-Young admitted that the hog and veal industry in Arizona is small. There is only one large-scale hog operation that utilizes gestation crates for approximately 16,000 hogs in Snowflake, she said.

However, the groups collecting signatures for the initiative hope not only to improve treatment of the hogs in the Snowflake facility, but also to prevent additional large-scale hog or veal operations from entering Arizona.

“At this point we haven’t seen a lot of them move in at one time,” Nichols-Young said. “In Colorado and Utah, in some of the states in the Midwest and the East, once they start moving in, they just don’t stop.”

Nichols-Young is also concerned about the effects the large-scale hog operations have on the environment.

“It’s like having a human community of 16,000 people without a proper sewage treatment plant,” she said. “Maybe they have lagoons… do you put all this kind of pollution out into the air, water and soil without the same kind of treatment that you have for a concentrated population?”

Jim Klinker, executive secretary and chief administrative officer for the Arizona Farm Bureau, one of the organizations opposing the initiative, had a few questions of his own for the sponsors of the potential law.

Most importantly to Klinker is the fact that the implementation of the Arizonans for Humane Farm initiative would cause negative economic effects on the Arizona meat industry.

“You have to put all of this in the context of American agriculture operating in a free market system on a world market,” Klinker said. “What we raise has to be competitive to what China raises, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, the European countries — we have to be competitive.”

Klinker argued that large gestation crates would force farmers to charge more for their meat. Meat companies would then take their business to countries with lower health standards, he said.

“We are dictated by what the price of a commodity is. Corn is a commodity, pigs are a commodity,” Klinker said. “In the world market, food is a commodity… you have to put yourself in our industry’s position of ‘OK, how do we compete?’”

While Klinker doesn’t mind the term “factory farm” — large-scale hog operations that hold hundreds of hogs at a time and produce meat for large meat companies — he argued against the idea that the hogs in Snowflake are treated poorly, accusing initiative supporters of a lack of experience with large-scale hog operations.

“They have not seen a modern hog operation and they have not seen the conditions in which these hogs are raised in terms of healthiness, cleanliness, veterinary services and rations that are designed for a healthy, strong-boned animal,” Klinker said.

“They haven’t seen the drainage system, the state-of-the-art lagoons that take care of the waste. They haven’t seen that it can lie down, the hog can spread its feet out.”

The pigs “cannot turn around, but that hog is taken care of,” he said.

Klinker attested that the gestation crates keep the hogs, which he said are aggressive animals, safe from one another.

The largest opposition Klinker has to the initiative is the support the Arizonans for Humane Farms is receiving from animal rights groups outside of Arizona. The same groups that worked to get a similar law passed in Florida — effectively shutting down two family farms with 200 and 500 pigs — are working on the Arizona initiative, he said.

“The reason they targeted Arizona is because we’re a small hog operator,” he said. “They thought this would be another easy target, just like Florida.”

Nichols-Young denies that allegation, saying the group will accept “help where we can get it,” and pointed to the in-state support of the initiative.

“There are groups in our steering committee, one is based in New York and one in California,” she said. But the local grassroots effort consists of “volunteer signature gatherers who are Arizona residents and who strongly support this measure.”

Nichols-Young also believes that the initiative is written in a way that will support the financial situations of farmers. The group included a six-year phasing-in period to allow farmers to meet the new standards of the potential law as they replace old equipment due to wear and tear.

“If you look at the initiative language, it’s very narrowly drafted,” Nichols-Young said. “People can still produce beef, they can produce pork… It’s not going to do anything to stop meat production in this state.”

Ultimately Nichols-Young values the life of the hog above economic issues.

“These are really smart animals, they aren’t stupid animals by any stretch,” she said. “They literally spend their life in these cages that are the size of their body. They can’t turn, they can’t stretch, they can’t move and they basically go into all these kind of aggressive psychotic behaviors and they live their whole lives that way.”

The Catholic Responsibility

Are all Catholics called by the Church to defend animals in the way the Arizonans for Humane Farms initiative suggests?

Bro. Keith Warner, OFM, director of the Faith, Ethics and Vocation Project at Santa Clara University in northern California, thinks so.

An expert in the area of environmental theology, Bro. Warner suggested Catholics look at the importance Pope John Paul II gave to the environment in more than two dozen encyclicals that contained a component of environmental theology.

“Because we believe that God reveals Himself to us through the sacraments, through our senses, because we believe that God created the Earth and called it good and it still good despite human sin, the material world is of particular concern to Catholics,” Bro. Warner said.

“We are not only concerned about the afterlife,” he said. “We are concerned about the here and now, and that’s been a consistent part of our tradition.”

In regards to animal rights issues, Bro. Warner thinks that the Catholic Church has a moderate stance.

Animals “are morally significant and that is part of what flows from our sacramental worldview, and it’s substantiated by the catechism,” Bro. Warner said. A good reason not to abuse animals is because “it says something about us, just as the way in which we are destroying the fabric of life on Earth says something about us.”

“The Earth is not ours to do with anything that we please and efficiency is not the supreme value. Stewardship is,” he said. “We have been given responsibility to care for the Earth, to care for each other.”

According to Bro. Warner, abusing the Earth and animals speaks to the prerogative of many persons that are “primarily interested in economics and less interested in the moral person, which is of course inconsistent with the Catholic worldview.”

Bro. Warner suggests a reflection on the “sacramental character of food” for Catholics that are struggling with determining a stance on the Arizonans for Humane Farms initiative.

“I think that things like local foods, farmers markets, fair trade, various kinds of labels that talk about method of production, these are all really appropriate things for people to talk about as an expression of faith,” he said.

Backed by Church Teaching

Glackin uses quotes from Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on posters when she collects signatures at Catholic churches.

“It’s kind of like a lot of things in the Church. Different priests and religious have their opinions about things or their stances or their passions, but when it comes right down to it, if the two popes in our day are this in touch with it and are against it” then it must be an important issue, Glackin said.

As Glackin found mounting support for the abolishment of factory farming in magisterial teaching, her relationship with the Church rekindled.

“I think I’m going to hold on to this refreshing feeling for a long time that I’ve gained from finding out what the leaders of the Church think about factory farming, she said.

Copyright 2006 The Catholic Sun Newspaper. All Rights Reserved.


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God's Creatures Ministry is committed to spreading God's compassion to all He has made based on The Scriptures. Although we are a Christian Ministry, we encourage all to have their own animal welfare committee in their community. We extend our resources to those who would like to learn more or begin their own God's Creatures Ministry as an extension of us. God created us to have a vegetarian diet and commissioned us to protect His animals. Instead, we have exploited them for our entertainment, fashion, appetite and useless, torturous research. These creatures have the right to live as they were created to live. Because we live IN this world, but are not OF this world, we strive to bring God's mercy and justice to all. We live in God's Kingdom now where Jesus, The Sacrificial Lamb, The Prince of Peace, The Lion of Judah reigns. We look forward to that day when all of creation will be 'set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God' (Romans 8:21) where a little child will lead and guide God's creatures (see Isaiah 11:5-9).

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