Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Gene Baur On the Evolution of the Farm Animal Protection Movement

Baur & Lovvorn

Gene Baur (left), president and cofounder of Farm Sanctuary, spoke to the Law, Ethics & Animals Program (LEAP).

On February 25, 2020 the Law, Ethics & Animals Program (LEAP) at Yale Law School, the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and the Yale Animal Law Society hosted Gene Baur, president and cofounder of Farm Sanctuary. Speaking in conversation with LEAP Faculty Co-Director Jonathan Lovvorn, Baur discussed his history as a pioneer and leader of the farm animal protection movement and his perspective on the movement’s future.

WATCH: Video of Gene Baur's and Jonathan Lovvorn's conversation

For over 30 years, Baur, whom Time Magazine named “the conscience of the food movement,” has been a leading spokesperson and strategist advocating for the humane treatment of food animals. As Lovvorn noted in his introduction of Baur, “It would not be an exaggeration to say that Baur was the inventor of farm animal advocacy.”

An early pioneer of undercover investigations, Baur visited hundreds of farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses starting in the 1980s to document their conditions. To secretly infiltrate factory farms, Baur recalled, “I just walked in and acted like I belonged.” Though he now characterizes this approach as “naive,” it was effective. Baur’s undercover photos and videos exposing the reality of factory farming aired nationally and internationally, educating millions of people about the plight of modern farm animals. Baur said that he hoped to show that “harming other animals removes part of our humanity and empathy.”

Witnessing this abuse firsthand led Baur to cofound Farm Sanctuary in 1986 as refuge for animals rescued from the U.S. factory farm system. Baur recalled how he and collaborators raised funds to support their work in the organization’s early days by selling veggie hotdogs from a Volkswagen van in the parking lots of Grateful Dead concerts. Since then, the organization has become one of the nation’s largest farm animal rescue and advocacy groups, and has rescued and cared for thousands of farm animals at sanctuaries in New York and California. These sanctuaries also play an educational role, enabling the public to connect with farm animal “ambassadors” as individuals with personalities and emotions.

Though his work enabled him to save thousands of individual animals, Baur also aimed to inspire broader, systemic change within the animal agriculture industry. He expanded his efforts to include public and legislative advocacy within the farm animal protection movement. Farm Sanctuary’s first “No Downer” campaign, for example, publicly criticized the common practice of allowing non-ambulatory animals — animals too sick or injured to stand or walk — to be slaughtered for human or animal food.

Through persistent protesting and lobbying, Baur and his coactivists were ultimately successful in outlawing the slaughter of downed cows for beef in 2007 and downed calves for veal in 2016. Farm Sanctuary continues to advocate against the slaughter of downed pigs, goats, sheep, and other farm animals, which remain legal.

Baur characterizes his approach to animal activism as one distinguished by a capacity to empathize and a willingness to listen respectfully to people who disagree with him. In September 2018, for example, Baur appeared on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News. Despite Carlson’s initial skepticism of Baur’s views, the ensuing conversation prompted Carlson to admit that he agreed with many things Baur said. Baur attributes his empathic perspective to “being on the ground,” having many conversations with people of different viewpoints, and understanding that “the world and the people in it are complex.”

Baur emphasized the interconnectedness of systems of injustice and oppression in the future of the animal protection movement. He maintained that change must occur “from the bottom-up,” giving power and voice back to local communities. By supporting systems of humane and sustainable farming, Baur believes farm sanctuaries can serve as models for a more just food system and society.

The Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School is a new initiative that leads and coordinates a diverse program of activities. It seeks to contribute to defining, expanding, and advancing the field of animal law. Recent speakers include Annie Osborn and Lingxi Chenyang.

By Sebastian Quaade