Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

Public Health and Agriculture: An Ongoing Debate

Posted by lisagbrown on August 28, 2009

pig-factory-farmsFor 2 1/2 years, a highly diverse group of experts from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) (a project from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) studied the practices of industrial farm agriculture, and came to the conclusion that the abundant use of antibiotics in farm animals has a detrimental impact on both humans and animals. Recent health scares like the Swine Flu and various salmonella outbreaks have forced the general public to look at how their food is produced, and most people seem to agree: there are fundamental problems with our agricultural system.  Americans are growing smarter about how their food is made. Time Magazine’s recent article Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food, the documentary Food, Inc and the success of similarly themed media suggest an increasing concern among consumers about what they are putting into their bodies and how it is made, not to mention the welfare of the animals that are sacrificed in the process. In response, the Obama administration is taking steps to reform the industrial farming industry, with a proposed banning of unnecessary antibiotics in farm animals.

All of this sounds like significant progress, except for a fly in the ointment: the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a response to the PCIFAP’s report, and makes the claim that antibiotic use in farm animals poses a possible risk, not a probable risk. The AVMA says  “We are concerned the Pew’s fear-invoking assertions are going to have an equivalent outcome to the ‘Y2K’ crisis that never happened on January 1, 2000.” They further go on to claim that the Pew’s report contains “major deviations from science and reality.” The AVMA sarcastically calls the Pew Commission’s report “grandiose” and accuses the panel of experts of being biased. With language that borders on slanderous, and a tone that is — at best — unprofessional, the AVMA takes on the Pew’s report as if it were an indictment of the practice of veterinary medicine itself. It most certainly is not, but it leads one to wonder why the AVMA is taking this so personally.

HSUS Vegetarian Eating Guide05I don’t think this will have much of an impact on the movement towards healthier, more sustainable and more humanely raised food. But I DO think that this will impact the way Americans view the AVMA. People who live with animals look to their vets as a source of knowledge and compassion about animals, and it is likely that most people assume the AVMA represents the overarching ideals of their own vets. Sadly, the notion that the AVMA represents the interests of animal lovers and individual vets appears to be as outdated as the AVMA’s perspective on industrial farming. And as a result, many veterinarians are actively and loudly voicing their disapproval of the AVMA’s stance.

With its response, the AVMA believes that it is revealing inadequacies in the Pew’s report, but I believe that it has unintentionally revealed something altogether different. What is now clear is that, rather than looking out for the health and well-being of humans and other animals, the organization is protecting the interests of big agribusiness — an industry that acquires its antibiotics from … veterinarians who work for the lucrative agribusiness. By framing their response as a rebuttal rather than a companion report, they come off looking like a lobbying group on behalf of industrial farm agriculture. Ultimately, if the AVMA’s response gains more attention, I suspect that they will have a PR nightmare on their hands. Shouldn’t an organization that has a mission to “improve animal and human health and advance the veterinary medical profession” want to distance itself from an industry that contributes to significant animal suffering and endangers the environment and human health?

Click here to read the Pew’s report and the AVMA’s response in full and to visit Center for a Livable Future. While there, please also read a fantastic response to the AVMA by Ralph Loglisci.

 *Update* 08/31/09 Please view this insightful response from Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States entitled “Talk Back: Veterinary Conflict of Interest” , who highlights the AVMA’s inherent conflict of interest in its criticism of the Pew’s report. Pacelle also posts responses by individual veterinarians, whose criticism of the AVMA is especially heartening, and supports my belief that the AVMA does not represent the ideals of the average veterinarian. (Also see Pacelle’s original posting, AVMA: Off course from veterinarian’s oath.)


Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Barack Obama, Ethics, Food Animals, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

Obama’s mutt

Posted by lisagbrown on December 12, 2008

obama_dog_pictureEveryone took notice when Barack Obama uttered his now famous words,

“Shelter dogs tend to be mutts, like me…”

It was a startling moment for many reasons. Had we ever heard a president-elect speak so self-deprecatingly? Had someone with such power ever spoken about companion animal issues to such a rapt audience? And finally, what did it mean for a person of mixed heritage — the president-elect, no less — to compare his own lineage to a dog’s? These were questions that felt too big to answer in a single blog entry, too daunting to address without serious rumination. Where would I even begin?

Thankfully, Frances Bartkowski has begun to peel back the layers of meaning behind Obama’s 8 small words. In her recent post on the Columbia University Press blog, Bartkowski suggests that to understand the power of this statement, one must recognize a new form of kinship that is emerging:

Aren’t we all, if we look closely or far enough back in our genealogies, mutts? …This is our object lesson, among others, whether to follow our curiosity and desire—to kiss, or to be led by our lesser selves toward animosity, what we sometimes like to cordon off as animality. Only by letting our human-animal borders become more porous can we let the future materialize out of our mixed pasts.

In Bartkowski’s view, Obama has revealed a way of bringing animals into the fold of family, and not just as individual companions. He has introduced a kind of shared ancestry among humans and nonhumans, one that integrates our history, if not our biology.

I believe Obama’s statement is one that people will turn to time and again for guidance, inspiration and contemplation, particularly those of us who work with or for animals. His 8 words are an endless meditation on race, individuality, animality, responsibility, history, welfare, and power.

To read Bartkowski’s full blog post, visit the Columbia University Press blog by clicking here. Bartkowski’s new book, entitled Kissing Cousins: A New Kinship Bestiary, is available on the site. Look for a review of the book on Animal Inventory in the coming weeks.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Barack Obama, Dogs, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Public Policy, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

Obama’s Puppy: Big News

Posted by lisagbrown on November 6, 2008


During Barack Obama’s speech on Tuesday night, he promised his daughters, Sasha and Malia, that they would be moving to the White House with a well-deserved new puppy. Those of us who follow the role of animals in popular culture took notice of the moment, but it turns out that we weren’t the only ones.  Check out the ever-growing list of high profile media outlets that chose to document Obama’s canine agenda:

Posted in Animals, Barack Obama, Dogs, Human-Animal Bond, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

President Barack Obama

Posted by lisagbrown on November 5, 2008


On my way to work on the morning after our country elected Barack Obama as President, the bus was eerily quiet. I sat among fellow commuters in silence. The usual cell phone conversations and loud chats about work, the tired early morning laughter and complaints about  traffic were replaced by an abundant and all-encompassing quiet. The only sounds were the screech and roar of the bus, and the gentle whoosh of the cars around us.

And yet, to say that the mood on the bus was one of calm meditation would be to miss the invisible, mute energy that was all around us. It was palpable. It was fizzy and alive. It was energy that seemed to fuel the movement of the bus, and it bubbled just beneath the surface.

How fervently we all (myself included) clenched our teeth and pursed our lips, as if we suffered a collective fear that if we opened our mouths — even to sigh, to breathe, to cough, to sneeze — what would spill out would be a mantra of epic proportions: the united cry of a small group of commuters on a single bus in a neighborhood of Boston. Once begun, our cheers would be unstoppable, and would ring out along the streets as we passed the polling stations where we cast our votes, weaving through traffic as we ascended the highway, men and women hanging their bodies out of the open windows, announcing our celebration to fellow commuters.

I wondered: would I be the one? Would I be the person to inadvertently let my lips fly apart and begin  the never-ending roar?  The 30 other voices on the bus would inevitably join my own, and there would be no sputters, no starts and stops, just a single, sustained, unified voice, whizzing past cars and buildings, pedestrians and cyclists.

But finally, as the bus pulled up to its last stop, and we all got off to part ways and begin the work day, I realized that my dream of a united bus had come to an end.

But I took solace in knowing that what happened last night was not a dream. That every voter screen touched, every lever pulled, every dot colored with marker, was a cry of “Yes We Can.”

And that instead of powering a bus, one man had managed to fuel an entire nation with sheer determination, inspiration and belief.

Posted in Barack Obama, Identity, Public Policy | 1 Comment »