The USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center (MARC) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) are now back in the spotlight with the release of the USDA Inspector General’s interim report on alleged animal abuse at the center. This documented abuse goes back some 30 years and sparked outrage when it was exposed in a New York Times article in January.
I’m deeply upset by these allegations as corroborated by a number of employees and visitors at the center. Earlier this year, I personally met with Dr. James Keen, a veterinarian and employee of 24 years at the MARC who had the courage to bring this abuse to the surface.
While his testimony was very disturbing, it was genuine and compelling. The torturous experiments conducted at the MARC are troubling enough, but even more concerning is the USDA’s report which claims the negligent practices at the center are essentially in line with the industry norms.
As a multigenerational livestock farmer myself, I find this characterization offensive, as it implies that the majority of livestock producers are animal abusers. I take issue with that implication, and it’s certainly not a label that I want to wear.
I can take a fair view of the claim that MARC and UNL have both produced some research over the years that has benefited many farmers like me. But that in no way excuses the reckless protocols that were used to design abhorrent experiments that had no merit or practical application in the real world of livestock production. This cruelty and negligence, in regards to animal care at the MARC, demonstrates either a lack of basic animal husbandry skills or an uncaring attitude or perhaps a combination of the two.
We should all expect more from our state’s land grant institution and we should be outraged that the USDA is spending our tax dollars to abuse animals. Both entities had a duty to ensure that these animals were taken care of, but neither is willing to take responsibility for its actions, and the funding agency itself seems to be turning a blind eye now.
I’m disturbed even more because I am starting to see a pattern of agency indifference. The USDA recently decided to allow suffocation as a means of euthanasia in flocks of chickens and turkeys infected with the bird flu. That means poultry farmers will be allowed to turn off the ventilation systems and crank up the heat, essentially baking the birds alive in their poultry barns. Such inhumanity threatens to give all American farmers and ranchers a bad name. The American public has made clear that it expects wise and caring animal husbandry on farms, and that’s what the best farmers and ranchers stand for. We have a right to expect better, and we should join together, all of us, to insist upon the highest standards of animal care in agricultural research, just as we do on the farm.
Kevin Fulton operates Fulton Farms near Litchfield.