Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Food-Industry Story That Shocked The Beet-Eating Heeb — And Will Surprise You, Too

The Beet-Eating Heeb was driving (in his Prius) to his day job one recent morning when NPR aired a startling report that described such bizarre bedfellows … Well, BEH feels fortunate he didn’t drift off the road and into a ditch, he was so stunned.

What turned The Beet-Eating Heeb into a Head-Scratching Heeb, when he was supposed to have both hands on the wheel?

Are you sitting down?

Here goes: The Humane Society and United Egg Producers have joined forces to lobby together for a bill on Capitol Hill.

Just to put this in perspective, it’s akin to Planned Parenthood and the Vatican forming an alliance.

If you don’t find it shocking that the Humane Society and United Egg Producers are collaborating, it may be because egg producers don’t necessarily come first to mind when you’re thinking about the appalling practices of factory farming.

90% of America's egg-laying hens are crammed into tiny cages like these.

But they should.

The sordid truth is, when it comes to the sadistic treatment of animals, the egg industry ranks right down there with the cattle and poultry industries.

The Beet-Eating Heeb could devote an entire post, or even an entire book, to the horrors of industrial-scale egg production. Suffice it to say that, as NPR noted, the standard practice is to jam “chickens into long lines of wire cages, with hundreds of thousands of birds in a single chicken house.”

America’s 280 million egg-laying hens are typically allotted a mere 67 square inches of space each. That’s a smaller surface area than a sheet of 8.5×11 copy paper. In such cruel confinement, the hens can barely move.

Don’t get The Beet-Eating Heeb started.

Anyway, United Egg Producers, the main industry lobbying group, has long defended these horrific practices, while the Humane Society, last time BEH checked, advocates for the humane treatment of animals.

So why are Wayne Pacelle, a vegan and president of the Humane Society of the United States, and Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, strolling the halls of Congress together?

NPR reports that they’re jointly advocating for a bill that would allow egg farmers to keep their cages, but require them to provide twice as much space, plus perches and “nest boxes.” The new regulations would be phased in over 15-18 years.

Sixteen members of Congress have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, which has been sent to a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee.

Is the Humane Society Doing the Right Thing?

The Humane Society loves animals, so should we trust it that this compromise bill would significantly alleviate the suffering of egg-laying hens?

Animal-welfare organizations are deeply divided on that question.

Some are supporting the bill, while others are fiercely opposing it. The opposition within the animal-rights community has started a campaign called Stop the Rotten-Egg Bill.

Ed Duvin, editor-at-large of the Greanville Post blog, accuses the Humane Society of “settling for crumbs … at the expense of any hope for liberating hens from their heinous imprisonment.”

The Beet-Eating Heeb called fellow beet-eating Heeb Paul Shapiro for a response. Shapiro is the Humane Society senior director of farm animal protection.

He insists that their compromise with the egg producers offers the only realistic hope for hundreds of millions of hens.

“What is the alternative?” he asked.

Paul Shapiro

While California voters approved a ballot measure to improve conditions for egg-laying hens, the other big egg-producing states – Pennsylvania included – do not allow ballot initiatives, Shapiro pointed out. And most state legislatures – and Congress itself, for that matter – are firmly in the grip of the factory-farming industry.

Providing hens twice as much space, even if they would still be caged, is the best that can be achieved legislatively, he said.

“You can’t ignore the fact of what the status quo is. Hundreds of millions of hens are cramped in cages where they can’t even spread their wings,” he said.

Sadly, even the Humane Society-United Egg Producers compromise might not be realistic, in political terms.

The uber-powerful beef and pork industries have directed their armies of lobbyists to kill the egg bill. While cows and pigs don’t lay eggs, factory-farm lobbyists won’t tolerate any bill that regulates how animals are treated. From their perspective, United Egg Producers has gone off the ranch.

Business Week quoted a lobbyist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as saying, “It’s going to be a long time coming before we are willing to sit down with a group as extreme as the Humane Society of the United States.”

That quote speaks volumes about the mindset of the meat industry.

The Humane Society is extreme? Oh, please. Need The Beet-Eating Heeb even say this? The Humane Society is the most mainstream, most moderate, most respected animal welfare organization in the United States.

Nonetheless, despite the inanity of the beef and pork industries, they will in all likelihood succeed in killing the egg bill.

“This is an uphill battle,” Shapiro conceded.

The Beet-Eating Heeb is highly curious to know what the readers of this blog think, so please don’t hesitate to post your comments below.

One more thing: Don’t read this blog while driving.

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Meet and Greet The Beet-Eating Heeb

The Beet-Eating Heeb is here to save the day! Or at least to fill a void.

Blogs devoted to vegan and vegetarian Judaism have all but vanished.

Consider:

Heeb ‘n’ Vegan, once a thriving place in cyberspace, hung an “out-of-business” sign on its door in 2010.

Shalom Veg, another favorite of meat-abstaining Jews, recently went three months without posting new content.

The last thing the world needs is another blog. Except in this case.

As interest in all things vegan and vegetarian continues to grow, the Beet-Eating Heeb (BEH for short) has plenty of information to share, issues to discuss, and people to interview.

BEH has ambitious plans for this site. In fact, he originally named this blog “The Ambitious Beet-Eating Heeb.” But Wife of BEH astutely noted that “Beet-Eating Heeb” is hard enough to say.

So what is so ambitious about this blog? Here is some of what you can expect to find here in the weeks and months ahead:

  • A serious examination of what the Torah has to say about food. The laws of kashrut matter, but there is much more.
  • A curating and analysis of news about relevant food issues. The Beet-Eating Heeb spent 18 years in journalism, so he knows how to spot a good story, presumably.
  • Interviews with rabbis, food experts, activists, vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, pescatarians and carnivores. But BEH draws the line at freegans. (Google it. You’ll understand.)
  • A dose of humor. While the consequences of industrial food production are rather sobering, The Beet-Eating Heeb still enjoys a chuckle as much as the next beet-eating guy.
  • Most importantly, a sense of community. At least that’s what the Beet-Eating Heeb hopes to create. He sees this as a site where people can find fellow travelers on our shared road to spiritual and physical health, environmental conservation, and animal welfare.

BEH is a busy guy, what with a day job, a family, and even a grad-school class. But there is so much to talk about, so much to digest (pun intended), and so much at stake, he is committed to posting at least once every two weeks.

He hopes to see you then.

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