‘How I became first an animal lover and second a politician’ – U.S. Congressman Sam FarrPosted: August 11, 2012
While covering The Humane Society of the United States Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) conference recently, Animal Issues Reporter.org’s correspondent Catherine Cowan heard an impassioned speech by U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, a Democrat from California. TAFA and Rep. Farr’s staff members kindly provided the following transcript.
Speech at TAFA conference by Rep. Sam Farr:
You’ve asked a politician to say a few words tonight to a group of prominent animal lovers.
I thought it would be interesting to relate how I became first an animal lover and second a politician.
When I grew up in the forties and fifties there was no TV, no Sesame Street, no Disneyland to visit. There was radio, Big John and Sparky and reality… the outdoors.
I had an idyllic life growing up in Carmel, California. I was always outside.
There were so few cars that the streets were our playground and the beach and tide pools were our adventure.
Real life animals were our pets. I loved collecting them. Rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs.
For my sixth birthday I was given “Oofie,” a dog who belonged to the neighbors but whom I loved. The neighbors were moving and couldn’t take the dog with them. I was overjoyed—not so much because they were moving but because I got to have the dog.
That dog was my best friend and a family icon. She went everywhere with me, even to my elementary school where she would often wait for me in the play yard until it was time to go home at the end of the day.
Oofie died when I was 22 and away in the Peace Corps.
To have a pet that was treated like a family member for all those formative years left me forever in love with animals.
My younger sisters were jealous of my relationship with Oofie so they got cats. My youngest sister Nancy name her cat Striped Pickle.
Isn’t it interesting that no one forgets their pets’ names, but can forget just about everything else?
After graduation from college with a biology major, I joined the Peace Corps. I was sent to a poor barrio in Medellin, Colombia to help the neighborhood organize themselves so they could petition their municipal government to build water pipes, sewers, schools, health centers and playgrounds.
With such poverty in my barrio, just to do anything would be an improvement. What I learned living in a culture of poverty was that humane values have to be taught. “Kick the dog” is a reality.
The culture of poverty means you have no access to education so no one can read or write or understand the bus designation or count to know if you got the correct change.
It means you have no access to health care if you’re sick or your baby is dying. It means you spend your entire day getting food, preparing it, washing and mending your clothes.
Animals like dogs and cats are not loved. Chickens and pigs are of economic value but have to forage for their own food.
So why am I telling you all this? Because it relates to my job and your work here tonight.
Because here in the United States we still have a culture of poverty. People who can’t read, can’t get access to health care and can’t afford to treat their pets humanely.
We have mega-industrial corporations that only see animals for profit. The cheaper you can raise them the more profit you can make.
Just this week, I read comments by a leading pork industry lobbyist that disturb me, as the ranking member on the House Agriculture Appropriations committee.
He said “So our animals can’t turn around for the two and a half years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn round. The only real measure of their well-being is the numbers of piglets per birth and that number is at an all-time high.”
How far removed from our humanity are we that so many cannot see the value in protecting the welfare of our farm animals?
In a quest to make just one more dollar, have we lost touch with our soul? Do we really believe that an animal can be happy in a space so cramped it is unable to even turn around?
Comments like these from people in a well-educated, affluent country call me to action.
In Congress, we began the fight so that we, unlike those poor pigs, can turn around—turn around some of the abusive practices of the animal farming industry.
As a proud member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, I am an original co-sponsor of the Egg Products Inspection Act. This common sense legislation would double the space per hen, provide environmental enrichments such as perches and nesting boxes, and ban starvation molting.
It would allow consumers to make informed purchases by requiring a label on all cartons with information on whether the eggs came from caged or cage-free hens.
What started as a grassroots movement to promote the healthy well-being of [hens in] egg production as a ballot initiative in California has now grown into a national agenda.
I helped broker a deal between The Humane Society [of the United States] and United Egg Producers to insure that the standards we set in California are met at the national level. As I always say, as goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. Let’s create a level playing field—at the California level, at the more humane level.
A perfect example of that is the work we did to provide more humane traveling conditions for horses in California.
As a state Assemblyman, I was able to push through legislation that would prevent the use of double-decker livestock trailers when transporting horses.
By outlawing the transport of cramped horses, making them susceptible to disease or injury, that bill changed the entire nature of livestock transport.
The federal government recognized the wisdom of that law and I was able to get that provision into the 1996 Farm Bill.
Additionally, I co-sponsored the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, which would require ‘downed’ livestock to be humanely euthanized and prevent them from entering our food system and the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would prohibit the slaughter and selling of horses to be used for human consumption.
And to the opponents who say, “Where will we put all of those horses?” I point to the Red Wings Horse Sanctuary. This is a retirement home for abandoned horses. I was involved in brokering a deal with ranchers and nonprofits for space and responsibility of older horses.
But it’s not just farm animals that need our protection. Domestic, wild and marine animals also need our support.
You know I come from California and California is the home to Hollywood. And that means a large number of performing animals who need a home after their career has ended. Which is where Pat Derby, the president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society or PAWS, comes in. Her mission is to care for the exotic animals that are used in showbiz, zoos and other public displays. Together, we pushed legislation that set the standard for the care and handling of captive wildlife.
“Captive” wildlife: capturing wild animals is almost as bad as keeping them. I have worked to end the use of barbaric steel leg-hold traps by hunters. Any trap that causes an animal to chew his own leg off or leads to death by thirst or starvation has no place in our society.
I mentioned Pat Derby and PAWS and let me tell you, the circus industry could learn a lesson from the people at PAWS. The circus’ use of bull hooks on elephants is unethical and should be outlawed.
Elephants are the largest land mammal and should be treated with the dignity those majestic creatures deserve.
The great animals of the land remind me of the great animals of the sea. In Congress, I took on the good fight against sonar use that disturbs marine mammals. It is an ongoing fight but back home in California, we are working with the Navy to find ways to balance the impact on aquatic wildlife with our national security needs.
I have taken on these fights throughout my career because I believe that in order to be responsible stewards of the earth, we must insure the protection of all animals.
We must protect them, not just because it is the humane thing to do but because once we are able to hear their voices, animals have so much to teach us.
Who among us hasn’t been “taught” by the pets we own? The cats and dogs in millions of American homes teach us patience and unconditional love.
My dog Oofie came to me from a neighbor but so many other dogs have less auspicious homes, originating instead from abusive breeders. I have long opposed puppy mills. In California, I fought to assure consumers that the pet they bought was bred in a healthy environment.
As a result, pet stores that used to crowd store windows with puppies have disappeared. And today I am leading the fight here in Congress to get APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture) four million dollars in funding to increase oversight of the [puppy mill] industry, and pushed the Department of Agriculture to reexamine their regulations governing it. I’m happy to say there is progress on that front.
Every day, your efforts have saved thousands of animals from life-threatening cruelty. You have strengthened dog fighting laws, enacted stricter breeding standards and addressed the cruel shark fin trade.
But I stand before you tonight to tell you we still have work to do.
We have to work harder to end canned or captive hunts of exotic animals. Hunting a caged animal is not a sport and it has to end.
We have to work harder to stop abuses that occur in animal testing and pass the Great Ape Protection Act, which would phase out harmful research on chimpanzees in laboratories.
And we must work to change people’s mindset so that every farmer understands that a pig wants enough space to turn around—even if some lobbyist in Washington is unable to hear that plea.
Change is not easy. How many of us have struggled with diets? It’s hard to eat differently. It’s even harder to evoke change in politics where mindsets are hardened against new or different thinking.
Politics, as in relationships, start with compromise. A half a loaf is better than no loaf. Your working with the United Egg Producers is an effective start. And start you must; politics is not a spectator sport—it demands audience participation. Urge your family and friends to get involved.
This is an election year. Elections have consequences. They can advance the well-being of planet earth or set us back. Your vote decides the direction.
On my part, I promise to listen to the voices of all the neglected, mistreated and abused animals whose message right now is going unheard.
And with your help, together, we can amplify that voice so that it becomes a roar. A roar so loud it ensures no animal will ever have to suffer again.
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Catherine Cowan has 18 years of experience in writing, editing, and communications. Starting as a reporter at a small-town newspaper in Indiana, she worked her way up to nation and world news editor at a top newspaper in Kentucky before moving into an editing role at a magazine on issues facing state governments. She has also done communications for a non-profit health care company and a state university research center. She is owned by four rescued and adopted cats and has a long-standing interest in animal issues and human-animal interactions.
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