If “victories” for farmed animals meant beans, that would be a substantial improvement
BALTIMORE, Maryland; WASHINGTON D.C.––David Bennett, 57, who on January 7, 2022 became the first human to receive a heart transplanted from a genetically-modified pig, died on March 8, 2022 at the University of Maryland School of Medicine hospital.
“The biggest barrier to using organs from another species,” explained BBC News, “is ‘hyperacute rejection.’ The body sees the tissue as so foreign that it starts to kill the donated organ within minutes.
“The hope was the 10 genetic modifications made to the pig meant its organs would be acceptable to the human body,” BBC News summarized.
18 days gained in 38 years of animal experimentation
Elaborated Lauran Neergaard and Carla K. Johnson of the Associated Press Health & Science Department, “At first the pig heart was functioning, and the Maryland hospital issued periodic updates that Bennett seemed to be slowly recovering.”
But Bennett lived for just 59 days after the transplant surgery.
“Bennett survived significantly longer with the gene-edited pig heart than one of the last milestones in xenotransplantation,” noted Neergaard and Johnson, “when Baby Fae, a dying California infant, lived 21 days with a baboon’s heart in 1984.”
Other pundits and medical authorities in effect declared “victory” because, after another 38 years of animal experimentation, an animal heart transplant recipient exceeded the previous survival record by a little more than two and a half weeks.
Not first human to receive a pig’s heart
Bennett, incidentally, though the first human to receive a genetically modified pig’s heart, was not the first human to receive a transplanted pig’s heart.
That distinction went to Purna Saika, 32, of Sonapur, Guwahati region, Assam state, India, who lived for seven days after receiving a pig’s heart on January 1, 1997, from cardiac surgeons Dhani Ram Baruah, also of Sonapur, Guwahati region, Assam state, India, and Jonathan Ho Kei-Shing, of Hong Kong.
Both Baruah and Kei-Shing were arrested under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, which was meant to stop the collection of human organs for resale, and were imprisoned for 40 days after arguing unsuccessfully that the act should not apply to transplants of organs from animals.
Kitty Block admits Ronald McDonald snookered the cause
Thirty-eight miles south of the University of Maryland School of Medicine hospital by I-95, Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block faced up to the consequences of a premature “victory” declaration involving not just one unfortunate pig put to human use, but millions, over three decades.
The McDonald’s restaurant chain on February 16, 1994, 28 years ago, wallowed in good publicity after agreeing to issue a statement of humane principles to all the meat and poultry slaughterhouses that supplied their franchises, with a request that it be forwarded to all the farmers who sold animals to the slaughterhouses.
An abbreviated edition of the statement was also to appear in the 1993 McDonald’ s annual report to shareholders.
McDonald’s general counsel and senior vice president Shelby Yastrow agreed to ratify and distribute the statement in exchange for the withdrawal of a stronger and more specific statement advanced as a shareholder resolution by Henry Spira of Animal Rights International and Nanette Coco of the Franklin Research and Development Corporation, represented by senior analyst Simon Billenness.
The 1994 McDonald’s statement was widely interpreted, though it actually said no such thing, as a first step toward requiring suppliers to make reforms including no longer housing egg-laying hens in battery cages and no longer confining pregnant sows in gestation stalls within which they can barely move.
But there was no further sign of progress from McDonald’s for more than five years.
Spira, already fighting pancreatic cancer, died in 1998.
Then-People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals director of vegetarian outreach Bruce Friedrich took up the campaign to persuade McDonald’s to take meaningful action in 1999. An 11-month series of PETA-led protests against McDonald s ensued.
McDonald’s in 2000 began nominally enforcing a code of humane standards for egg and pork product suppliers which required little more of most farmers than business as usual.
In 2002, however, Bruce Friedrich told media that McDonald’s egg suppliers––according to McDonald’s––had “moved from an industry average of seven or eight hens per cage to a maximum of five, and the death rates fell from almost 20% down to two or three percent per year. For those who are alive, that’s a significant improvement,” Friedrich said.
And it would have been, had Ronald McDonald, Mickey Dee, or whoever else spoke for McDonald’s told the truth. Unfortunately there seems to have been no independent verification of the McDonald’s claim.
Shareholder resolution went nowhere
Responding to a request from the Animal Alliance of Canada and a coalition of 40 other Canadian animal advocacy groups, PETA submitted a shareholder resolution asking McDonald’s to internationalize the standards it had already implemented in the U.S.
PETA and Trillium Asset Management, a socially conscious investment firm that had worked closely with Spira, won a legal battle with McDonald’s to ask McDonald’s shareholders to vote on the proposal to extend the U.S. standards for suppliers to all 121 nations in which McDonald’s did business.
The shareholder resolution, unfortunately, won the approval of only 5% of McDonald’s shareholders.
PETA during the next two years appeared to quietly drop the McDonald’s campaign in favor of stronger vegan advocacy.
The Humane Society of the U.S. became involved after then-director of legislation Wayne Pacelle ascended to the HSUS presidency in mid-1994.
Compression in World Farming
A decade after Spira’s death, in 2008, after four years of quiet behind-the-scenes negotiation, McDonald’s “confirmed to the animal welfare organization Compassion In World Farming [CIWF] that they will only use free-range eggs from now on,” and was honored with a “Good Egg Award” from CIWF.
Several rounds of victory declarations on the battery caging front later, recalled Kitty Block in her March 9, 2022 “Humane World” blog post, “In February 2012, McDonald’s and HSUS jointly announced the company’s commitment” to “ending gestation crates in its pork supply. In May that same year, the company issued a second press release stating that it would end these crates for pregnant sows by 2022—this year.
“In both releases,” Block wrote, “the company’s language was crystal clear: no gestation crates for pregnant pigs.”
HSUS learned in 2017 that McDonald’s cheated
Pacelle touted that “victory” for years, including in his December 15, 2014 appeal to holiday season donors, in which he called it “part of what has become an unstoppable movement away from this cruel practice,” claiming “HSUS has been the lead driver of this change.”
But what change actually occurred?
Recalled Block, “In 2017, McDonald’s reached out to HSUS to let us know that it was only buying pork from suppliers who shared that goal. That sounded great, but given that there were no major pork suppliers who’d pledged to end gestation crates, we were puzzled as to how it could be true. So we pressed McDonald’s for details. And that’s when it became clear to us that McDonald’s was not actually “ending” gestation crates for pregnant pigs, as it had publicly declared, but merely reducing their use.
“Here’s how it works,” Block explained. “A pig’s pregnancy lasts 16 weeks. Rather than getting pigs out of crates for that entire time, McDonald’s decided to let its suppliers continue to lock pigs in gestation crates for the first four to six weeks and only then move them into group housing.
“That amounts to a reduction of gestation crate confinement,” Block acknowledged, “but certainly not the end of it. And because pigs in these settings endure several pregnancies a year, McDonald’s approach means they still spend much of their lives locked up.
“From 2017 to 2020, we privately challenged McDonald’s on this,” Block said, “but the company refused to budge.”
Nonetheless, as late as January 8, 2018, less than a month before Pacelle resigned his HSUS presidency amid a sexual harassment scandal, Pacelle was still touting how “we worked with many of the biggest names in American food retail to pledge to eliminate their procurement of pork from factory farms that use gestation crates in their supply chain,” citing first McDonald’s.
“Vague public relations statements”
Neither did HSUS under Pacelle ever admit that the McDonald’s statements about battery caging were anything less than a “victory,” or suggest that the CIWF “Good Egg” award should be rescinded and replaced with a Humane Farming Association “Rotten Egg” award, the Humane Farming Association having been the only farmed animal advocacy organization worldwide to express extreme skepticism of Pacelle’s dealings with the egg industry.
Block, to her credit, blogged on June 21, 2018 that, “Dozens of other major food companies have pledged to overhaul the way chickens are bred and raised for their products. But McDonald’s has chosen to make vague public relations statements about animal welfare instead.
“For example, while other companies have announced concise, meaningful, time-bound commitments to eliminate the worst abuses chickens suffer as a result of the way they’re bred, McDonald’s has said that it will ‘study’ the issue.
“And while other companies have announced very clear mandates in terms of providing more space, environmental enrichments, improved air quality and better lighting conditions, McDonald’s statements around these issues remain imprecise and noncommittal and any of the standards the company has set fall far short of being meaningful.”
“Imprecise, noncommittal” and “a game-changer”?
But even while in directly admitting that the many HSUS declarations of “victory” pertaining to McDonald’s and battery caging amounted to less than the deep sawdust litter that free range hens poop into, Block in her June 21, 2018 blog posting praised McDonald’s “plans to end the gestation crate confinement of mother pigs in its pork supply chain” as “a game-changer.”
The “game” must have been a barnyard version of three-card monte.
Concerning McDonald’s and gestation crates, Block on March 9, 2022 recounted that HSUS “eventually made its remarkable double-speak public in our 2020 Food Industry Scorecard (McDonald’s earned an “F” grade), but McDonald’s still wouldn’t move.
“Meanwhile, the company continued issuing misleading statements about its progress—maintaining that it was ‘phasing out’ gestation crates.”
Another shareholder resolution
Finally, Block said, “In November 2021, as stockholders of McDonald’s, HSUS filed a shareholder proposal with the company (which will be voted on at the company’s annual meeting this spring) about its misleading gestation crate claims.”
That’s nice. But McDonald’s has already evaded pressure from shareholder resolutions for 28 years. The “victories” for both pigs and chickens won by HSUS and others over all this time still amount to little more than the 18 extra days of life that David Bennett got from receiving a genetically modified pig’s heart, as compared to the 21 days that Baby Fae received from a baboon’s heart.
ANIMALS 24-7 would like to see far fewer declarations of “victory” from all directions, and a lot more tangible evidence that people’s hearts are in the right place, including for pigs, chickens, baboons, human babies, men whose hearts would have been much healthier had they not eaten pigs, chickens, and other animals, and yes, humane donors whose hearts are repeatedly broken by non-implemented promises that animal advocacy organizations tout as if they mean something before the proof is in the pudding.