AR-News: Chicago Tribune article on COK
mpark at cok.net
Mon Sep 15 12:13:28 EDT 2003
Sunday's Chicago Tribune ran a slightly modified version of The Washington
Post's feature on COK.
Letters can be addressed to ctc-TribLetter at Tribune.com. The Chicago Tribune
requires letter writers to include your name, address, and phone number.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Small But Mighty Rights Group Tries Gentler Approach
By David Montgomery
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- Thursday and Friday evenings outside the subway station in
Foggy Bottom or Dupont Circle, it's time for FaunaVision.
The side door of a white van is open to display a television screen. Curious
about the flickering images, people on their way to dinner pause and watch.
They see sows living in crates so narrow they can't turn around.
Chickens caged for life so tightly they can't flap their wings.
Baby chicks getting part of their beaks burned off.
Pigs and cows dangling from chains on the slaughterhouse line, twitching.
But this greatest-horrors collection of undercover video, shot by
animal-rights activists, contrasts with the sunny style of the group working
the crowd, Compassion Over Killing. Clean-cut in khakis and golf shirts,
they've decided that the animal-rights message--so often associated with
shrill moralizing and PETA-style fake-blood-spattering guerrilla
theater--might go down better with a spoonful of sugar.
"We need to stop looking at this as all or nothing, black or white," said
Paul Shapiro, 24, who founded Compassion Over Killing as a high school club
at Georgetown Day School. "For most people," giving up meat and dairy "might
be a daunting endeavor. What if we convert two people to be vegetarian half
the time? That's the same as converting one person to be vegetarian all the
time, and it's probably easier."
It's not a message of compromise. It's something perhaps more shrewd: a
message of welcome to flesh-eaters, on the theory that this will more
effectively bring about the meat-free millennium. COK members gave up
carrying coffins to McDonald's and now hand out free vegetarian food.
They befriend, rather than condemn, purveyors of pastrami and persuade them
to add a vegetarian sandwich to the menu. And they work the federal
bureaucracy, filing complaints with the FDA, USDA and FTC alleging that the
egg industry is misleading consumers about hen welfare.
Though the group has a small budget--only three paid staff members--segments
of the food business consider it a nemesis. A headline last year in an
egg-industry newsletter said, "Compassion Over Killing: Demonstrating that
you do not need to be big to have an impact."
PETA Takes Note
They've caught PETA's attention too. "What COK is doing is as effective or
more effective than any small local group I can think of," said Bruce
Friedrich, PETA's director of vegan outreach.
Americans eat more than 9 billion land-dwelling animals a year, the vast
majority of them chickens, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Something like 99 percent of animals killed by humans become meals. COK
decided that the most efficient way to reduce animal suffering is to get
more people to stop eating them and advocate better treatment of creatures
raised for slaughter.
"We wanted the biggest bang for the buck," Shapiro said.
Last year the group raised $163,000. The three staff members are paid from
$15,000 to $21,000, Shapiro said. There are five nearly full-time volunteers
and 2,500 dues-paying members.
In the last couple of years, COK has focused on the egg industry. The
activists' tactics--so friendly toward individual meat eaters and restaurant
owners--turn tough when it comes to gathering depictions of vegan hell for
the group's Web site, www.cok.net.
Most laying hens live in group cages and are allotted significantly less
room to stand on than a sheet of typing paper. They never touch the ground,
run, flap their wings, see the sun. As chicks, the top halves of their beaks
are trimmed with a hot knife, supposedly to prevent aggressive behaviors.
COK members have clandestinely videotaped inside four Maryland henhouses.
The videos show what COK says are rotting corpses in cages, hens with their
necks caught in the bars, hens that have fallen into the manure pit.
"That's not symptomatic nor is it representative" of the industry, said Ken
Klippen, vice president and director of government relations for United Egg
Producers, the industry trade group. He said that there are bound to be
isolated problems in a henhouse that may contain hundreds of thousands of
healthy hens, and that Compassion Over Killing just picks out the
"An egg producer does his very best to go in there and look and be sure that
the chickens are treated humanely and any sick or injured hens are removed
from cages," Klippen said, noting that it is illegal for COK members to
COK members have never been charged as a result of their uninvited henhouse
No Reason to Skimp
Gregg Clanton, vice president of ISE America, an egg producer, would not
comment on images that COK said came from one of his company's henhouses in
Cecil County, Md., but he said a producer has nothing to gain from skimping
on animal welfare.
"If the birds are uncomfortable and not in a good environment, they will not
perform the way they are designed to perform," he said.
The egg producers agree with Compassion Over Killing on one thing: The hens
should have more space. To reassure consumers that the industry cares about
the hens' well-being, in 1999 the producers convened a panel of university
scientists who specialize in poultry production and welfare. Adele Douglass,
an animal-welfare advocate who also served on the panel, said the group was
independent and free to criticize industry practices.
The panel said the industry's average amount of space for each caged hen--48
square inches--was insufficient. The scientists said hens should have at
least 67 square inches. In response, the industry has agreed to a voluntary
goal of 59 square inches by this year and 67 by 2008. (A sheet of typing
paper is 93.5 square inches.) The egg cartons of producers that an outside
team has declared to be in compliance with the guidelines can carry an
"Animal Care Certified" logo with a check mark. Producers and retailers say
the logo means the hens live in "humane" conditions.
To COK, this is good and bad news.
A Bit More Room
"I'd be in favor of them adding one inch of cage space," Shapiro said. "What
we don't want is egg suppliers to lie about what they are doing. To go ahead
and label it humane is where the disagreement lies."
COK has "rescued" about 30 hens from Maryland henhouses that seemed in
direst need of veterinary attention. Now those hens live cage free on rural
property owned by allies. One Monday, Shapiro visited one of these homes, a
couple of hours' drive from Washington.
He stood among the snow-white birds, watching them run around the yard,
pecking the ground with what's left of their beaks. He contentedly ticked
off the natural behaviors that he said they could not do in the henhouse.
"One of them is taking a single step. Another is foraging. Dust-bathing.
Feeling the sun on her back--that's another thing she never gets on a
factory farm. Flapping her wings."
He added, "I think they're leading happy lives."
That thought seems to make him happy too.
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
More information about the AR-News