Animal Rights Take Front Seat at Fordham

Activist and Author Gene Baur Speaks to Students


Gene Baur encouraged students to consider a vegan lifestyle and raise awareness about animal rights issues. (Alex Palomino/The Observer)

Published: April 3, 2008

The largest beef recall in U.S. history this February would not have taken place without Gene and Michael Baur, brothers and co-plaintiffs in the case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which resulted in the banning of “downed” animals—animals that are too sick to walk or stand prior to slaughter—from human consumption.

On March 6, Gene Baur spoke to students and faculty at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) about animal rights, global warming and his new book, “Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food.”

On Jan. 30, a video was released that captured farm workers abusing “downed” animals to make them stand up to pass a mandatory inspection implemented in 2003 by the USDA. The workers and animals featured in the video belonged to a farm in California known as the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company. The company slaughtered these animals for meat supply against the USDA’s regulation, causing a recall of 143 million pounds of meat.

“I’m sorry to say that I don’t believe that this is a unique case; what is unique about it is that it was videotaped,” Gene said regarding the recall. He said that this video is just the tip of the iceberg and that forcing “downed” animals into the food supply is a much more common practice than what is currently known.

Gene is the president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, an organization that works to prevent inhumane farming practices. Michael, who received his law degree from Harvard, is a professor of philosophy at Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH).

Michael said that the reason it is so hard to document what is really being done to farm animals is because “cattle ranchers and factories are very aggressive about enforcing laws about trespassing.” Moreover,  Michael said “the farming industry in particular has a very strong financial interest in not letting people know how bad the conditions are, so it is not easy to get these videos.”

Gene said that the mission of Farm Sanctuary is the follwoing: “To connect people to where their food comes from and encourage people to think a little bit about their food choices.” Farm Sanctuary also operates two farm animal shelters in New York and California, where it provides life-long care for more than 1,000 animals that have been rescued from abuse and slaughter.

According to a recent United Nations report called Livestock’s Long Shadow, Gene said, “The livestock industry is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to a series of environmental problems of every scale, from global to local.” He added that the “livestock sector is a major player responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, which is a higher percent than transportation.”

Gene continued by stating that consuming meat and dairy is actually harmful to the body because it contains cholesterol and animal fat that, when consumed in high doses, can cause cancer and heart attack. Animal products are also a source of pathogens, some of which have become resistant to antibiotics because of the irresponsible overuse of antibiotics in animal farming. Additionally, Gene said that farm animals have various diseases (such as mad cow disease and avian influenza) that are not yet well understood and can threaten consumers’ health.

Rachel Filippetti, FCLC ’08, who was present at Gene’s talk, said, “It was an excellent presentation. What I most like about Gene Baur and the Farm Sanctuary is that they don’t try to pressure people to become vegan. They simply tell the facts, show pictures, and encourage people to cut down on meat and dairy consumption whenever possible.”

When asked what Fordham students could do to help farm animals, Gene said, “Fordham students could each look at what they’re eating and consider a vegan lifestyle, and they can also get involved with our programs here in New York City as volunteers, doing things like educating others, helping raise awareness about these issues, and encourage others to consume in a way that is less harmful.”

Filippetti, who is adapting to a vegan lifestyle, said, “The food part is easy. The not wearing leather part is the most difficult! It was definitely hard for me to part with some beautiful shoes and bags that I bought around NYC, London and Paris, but I was able to do it and feel like a much better person now that I did.”