When you think of the ASPCA, you likely envision Sarah McLachlan singing “Arms of an Angel” as images of abused and neglected animals were brought up on the TV screen. In the past, the ASPCA (or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) focused mainly on the suffering of domestic and household pets, including dogs, cats, and horses.
However, in recent years, they have broadened their campaigns to include animal agriculture.
While the ASPCA sometimes does good work, especially with providing shelter and veterinary services to animals in need. But they have missed the mark when it comes to food-production animals. The ASPCA spends only $86 million of its $270 million revenue on animals; the rest is spent on education, fundraising, and administrative costs like the CEO’s $760,000+ salary.
Some of these “educational” funds and money utilized for lobbying or policy work have been promoting a message that animal agriculture is inhumane.
Animal agriculturalists — whether raising beef, dairy, pork, or poultry — work hard to keep their animals happy and healthy. Inhumane treatment of animals leads to sick, poorly conditioned animals, which results in poor quality products. A skinny cow does not produce good beef or milk. A similar approach applies to an ill-treated pig, chicken, or any other animal.
Livestock owners would not be able to profit from animals that are not in good condition, so why do organizations continue to spread a message that farms are abusing animals?
The ASPCA supports new legislation titled the Farm System Reform Act, which seeks to phase out “factory” farms. Except, there is no such thing as a “factory farm” — outside of the activist lexicon, that is. This term has never been used by agriculturalists and is simply a fear-mongering word utilized by animal-rights activists to sway consumers into believing that livestock operations are inherently bad, especially if they are large.
In reality, larger farms are often more likely to have better welfare because they can afford more advanced technology and have more discretionary funds to spend on animal welfare. Some examples could include the purchase of automatic milking machines, improved beef cattle handling facilities, or herd health initiatives such as broader vaccination protocols and increased identification and treatment of sick animals.
Economies of scale play a huge role in a livestock owners’ ability to provide for their animals. Although all livestock operations do their best to provide for their animals, there is simply more available for those with larger operations and larger revenue streams.
The ASPCA claims on their website that the “ …majority of the nearly 10 billion land-based animals, plus countless more aquatic animals, farmed for food each year in the U.S. live in unacceptable conditions.” Yet they have no evidence to back this up.
Although the ASPCA claims to want to move toward a more “compassionate” livestock farming system, their actions and messaging relay a darker message: the end to all livestock production.
The “Shop with Your Heart” program touted by the ASPCA promotes primarily plant-based imitation products. Although the organization does provide a list of brands they recommend to be “Animal Welfare Certified,” each type of meat only has roughly 10 or less products available in stores for consumers, many of which are not available nationwide.
The ASPCA expects you to purchase high-end meats online, especially those with organic labels. Of course, they offer 20 to 30 or so plant-based options for each meat type. Regardless of these companies’ environmental impact or nutrition of the product, they find them superior simply for being plant-based.
Just a few clicks on recommended products finds that most, if not all, are only offered on a regional basis and are extremely expensive — one product was over $25 per whole chicken! This is almost four times the price of conventionally raised birds, making it extremely unavailable to those in the middle or lower income brackets.
For many years, the ASPCA has promoted a message stating you can help save animals for just “63 cents a day”, however it is clear that these funds could be utilized for much better. The nearly $250 a year you would spend with this donation could be sent directly to your local shelter (where it would be way more likely to have a real impact on helping animals), or donated to organizations that work hard to provide research-backed data to improve animal agriculture and the related legislative efforts.
Fear-mongering food hurts consumers in the end. Unjustified restrictions on animal agriculture will result in higher food prices, which will have drastic impacts on those already finding it difficult to eat a balanced diet.
Organizations such as the ASPCA should consult with agriculture-led organizations to get real insight into animal agriculture, and stop spreading messages that the U.S. food system is somehow corrupt or unsafe. If you have questions about your food, reach out to an agvocate or a farmer to get knowledgeable responses, or even take a farm tour!
If you choose to donate, I encourage you to consider organizations such as the Animal Agriculture Alliance, National Animal Interest Alliance, American Farm Bureau Federation for Agriculture, National Agriculture in the Classroom, a state or national cattlemen’s association, or one of many other valuable and informed agriculture organizations out there.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.