Practical Issues > Politics

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) Speaks Out

On Monday, July 9th, 2001, Senator Robert C. Byrd delivered a powerful pro-animal speech on the Senate floor. Senator Byrd, who is President Pro Tem of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, began by denouncing the California driver who recently threw another driver’s dog onto a highway where the dog was run over and killed. The Senator proceeded to condemn our society’s horrible treatment of farmed animals, importantly linking individual acts of random cruelty like that of the driver to our systemic institutionalized abuse of billions of animals. Immediately following his speech, Senator Byrd amended the Supplemental Appropriations bill to provide an extra $3 million for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Slaughter Act (from which birds are excluded). Here is the crux of Senator Byrd’s compelling speech:

“Mr. President, I am concerned that cruelty toward our faithful friend, the dog, may be reflective of an overall trend toward animal cruelty. . . . Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric. Six-hundred-pound hogs—they were pigs at one time—raised in 2-foot-wide metal cages called gestation crates, in which the poor beasts are unable to turn around or lie down in natural positions, and in this way they live for months at a time. On profit-driven factory farms, veal calves are confined to dark wooden crates so small that they are prevented from lying down or scratching themselves. These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain. Egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. Unable to spread their wings, they are reduced to nothing more than an egg-laying machine.

“Last April the Washington Post detailed the inhumane treatment of livestock in our Nation’s slaughterhouses. . . . The law clearly requires that these poor creatures be stunned and rendered insensitive to pain before this [slaughter] process begins. Federal law is being ignored. Animal cruelty abounds. It is sickening. It is infuriating. Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be tolerated even if these animals are being raised for food—and even more so, more so. Such insensitivity is insidious and can spread and is dangerous. Life must be respected and dealt with humanely in a civilized society. “So for this reason I have added language in the supplemental appropriations bill that directs the Secretary of Agriculture to report on cases of inhumane animal treatment in regard to livestock production, and to document the response of USDA regulatory agencies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies have the authority and the capability to take action to reduce the disgusting cruelty about which I have spoken. . . . These agencies can do a better job, and with this provision they will know that the U.S. Congress expects them to do better in their inspections, to do better in their enforcement of the law, and in their research for new, humane technologies. Additionally, those who perpetuate such barbaric practices will be put on notice that they are being watched. I realize that this provision will not stop all the animal life in the United States from being mistreated. It will not even stop all beef cattle, hogs, and other livestock from being tortured. But it can serve as an important step. . . . ”

What Can I Do?

    Thank Senator Byrd for his impassioned speech on behalf of chickens and other farmed animals and for declaring that farmed animals “suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain,” and that the USDA has “the authority and the capability to take action to reduce the disgusting cruelty” we inflict on farmed animals.

    Urge Senator Byrd to introduce a Senate Bill that would include poultry under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Point out that although birds represent 98% of animals slaughtered in USDA-inspected slaughter plants each year, every day more than 25 million chickens, turkeys, and ducks are slaughtered inhumanely without any federal laws to protect them.

    In a separate letter (address only one issue per letter to Members of Congress, keeping each letter short, polite, and on point), urge Senator Byrd to introduce a Senate Bill that would ban battery hen cages by 2012, allowing the United States to join Europe in promoting “a new era of humanity for hens.” Write:

    The Honorable Robert C. Byrd
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510
    Ph: 202-224-3954
    Fax: 202-224-7665
    Email: senator_byrd@byrd.senate.gov