Promoting animal welfare

By John Walsh

There’s no doubt about it – Jillian Lowry ’11 loves animals. Her passion for them drives her to make sure they’re treated as humanely as possible.

The Chesterland, Ohio, native, who majored in communications at JCU, wants a career focused on animal rights. Currently, Lowry is scheduled to finish her sustainable agriculture and rural development master’s programme at University College Dublin in February 2013. The program focuses on different techniques and theories about how to make agricultural practices more environmentally friendly for the present and future generations in rural and developing areas. Lowry hopes studying farming will give her the knowledge she needs to understand farm animal welfare, which she plans on using when she becomes a lawyer. After earning her master’s degree, Lowry, a vegan, plans to attend law school in August in the U.S., eventually working on behalf of animal rights in a farm setting.

“Ultimately, I see myself working for a nongovernmental organization, government, or animal advocacy group, but I don’t know yet,” she says.

Lowry working on a farm in Ireland

Lowry’s choice to attend University College Dublin stems from a Berlin seminar course she took at Carroll that focused on the history and politics of the German city. Lowry and her classmates visited the city for more than a week a few years ago. As a result of that experience, she wanted to live and work in Germany and attend graduate school; however, she needed to speak fluent German to do so. So, she looked for an environmental farming program in an English-speaking, European country. Dublin had a program, and Lowry’s family ancestry traces back to the Emerald Isle, so she chose Ireland. She took classes from September through May of last year and came home for the summer. She returned to Ireland this past fall and is working on her thesis, which compares farm animal welfare legislation in the European Union and United States.

Lowry’s thesis also focuses on the sustainability associated with higher standards of animal welfare on farms. When farms – especially ones with high stocking densities, which are the majority of farms in the U.S. – have poor animal welfare, animals are at a greater risk of disease, which can quickly spread throughout the farm and eventually contaminate meat. Contamination causes human health problems and food insecurity and has negative consequences for the sustainability of animal agriculture production.

While conducting research in her master’s program, Lowry compared Ohio (which she says has some of the worst animal welfare protection legislation in the U.S.) and the U.S. with Ireland and Europe. In the U.S., federal animal welfare standards apply to every state in the country; in the European Union, standards apply in every member country. Compared to Europe – where there are various pieces of legislation that protect animals on farms, as well as during transport and at slaughterhouses – the U.S. has only two pieces of legislation designed to protect livestock (poultry isn’t protected under these laws) during transport and slaughter, Lowry says.

Voluntary guidelines implemented by producers are more frequent in the U.S. For example, the largest pork, egg, beef, and poultry producers have crafted their own set of guidelines to meet consumer demand for higher standards of welfare, which suppliers are required to follow. However, Lowry sees problems with the U.S. reliance on voluntary guidelines because the agribusiness prefers voluntary guidelines and self-auditing. Compared to legislation, noncompliance typically doesn’t have financial, legal, or public ramifications.

Lowry, who has organized circus protests in Chesterland, attended demonstrations on animal testing in Dublin, and continues to participate in different activist activities. She doesn’t have faith in the current food production system in which industries – pork, beef, chicken – police themselves volunteering to abide by self-induced guidelines for the humane treatment of animals.

“Groups that represent these industries make it seem like they’re doing more than they are,” she says. “The third-party certification system isn’t credible because third-party groups aren’t nationalized and are usually hired by the companies seeking certification.”

The bottom line for Lowry is to promote rights and welfare of farm animals. She cites the popular Five Freedoms that have been used to measure the welfare of farm animals in Europe since the 1960s: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; and freedom to express normal behaviors. To date, she hasn’t found anything that would standardize animal welfare, adding the U.S. Animal Welfare Act is window dressing that lacks verification because farm and other animals used in research aren’t covered by the act.

“Any time a person uses an animal to generate a profit means corners will eventually be cut to increase that profit, and humane treatment is the first to go,” she says.

Lowry, who learned the other side of debate at Carroll from Brent Brossmann, Ph.D., is irritated by the common view that if animals are destined to become food, it doesn’t matter how they’re treated, citing the industrialized agribusiness. Despite her belief that animals shouldn’t be exploited for any purpose – entertainment, clothes, research, food, etc., she realizes people will continue to consume animal products – but she believes animals should live decent lives before they are slaughtered. In her mind, a pig should be treated the same as a dog.

“I try to help animals that need help,” she says. “There’s no reason for animals not to be treated more humanely before it’s time to turn them into food.” JCU

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