Good Grief, Charlie Brown! Dairy milk is misery milk!

Icons come, and icons go, but “Peanuts” abides. Beginning in 1950, ending in 2000, and living on in syndicated reprints, the round-headed kid and the bodacious beagle are cultural fixtures for generations of American and world citizens. Baby Boomers have spent our entire lives–60+ years!–under the influence of “Peanuts.” And 17,897 published strips later, it shows no sign of waning:

It’s hard to overestimate the “Peanuts” phenomenon: it’s both a warm, familiar, daily presence and a seasonal treat–a beloved friend arriving for the holidays. And that’s why it feels so darn wrong to see the gang pushing milk–(chocolate milk, in this case, “The Official Drink of Halloween“)–a product whose origin lies in animal suffering.

In 2010 “Peanuts” was acquired by Iconic Brand Group in an 80%-20% partnership with the family of the strip’s creator, Charles M. Schulz. Said son Craig Schulz, “Peanuts now has the best of both worlds, family ownership and the vision and resources of Iconix to perpetuate what my father created throughout the next century with all the goodwill his lovable characters bring.”

How it is: Click image

How it is: Click image

But there’s no goodwill found in the dairy industry where cows–kept pregnant and lactating–endure miserable lives fraught with disease, suffering, and cruelty. As mothers, they suffer emotionally when one calf after another is whisked away to early death in veal production (if male) or to her own short, painful life of milk-producing servitude if female. Factory farmed cows are spent and sent to slaughter at four years old on average; according to Born Free USA, “fully 25% of dairy cattle are slaughtered before they are 3 years old. Only 25% of dairy cattle live more than 7 years, although the natural life span for cattle is 20-25 years.” Good grief, Charlie Brown, where’s the compassion?

Humans, of course, are the only mammal that drinks another species’ nursing fluid, and the only animal that continues to drink it into adulthood (unless common sense or lactose intolerance strike first). But the dairy industry has a powerful public relations machine constantly and cleverly convincing us that something not good for us really is. Admired celebrities sport milk mustaches while the “Got milk?” campaign plays on a “milk deprivation strategy” (running out of milk when you need it most–the horror!)–something we humans apparently hate. Oh,Schroeder, are you THAT shallow?

But any talk of deprivation that fails to focus on what bovine individuals endure is just self-indulgent, speciesist blather. Factory farmed cows are deprived of any semblance of a life worth living until their profitability declines and they’re trucked off to premature death at the slaughterhouse like disposable commodities. Lucy, girlfriend, where’s your heart? (Sure, Barbie sold out, but you’re…well, you’re BETTER than that!)

There’s only one logical conclusion we can draw here: The “Peanuts” gang simply doesn’t know. They’ve been duped. Hoodwinked. Co-opted. Linus?–sensitive Linus–faithfully awaiting the Great Pumpkin to rise up out of the most sincere pumpkin patch? No, he would never be a shill. Can you imagine gentle Linus endorsing milk if he had seen the undercover video of dairy cows being painfully de-horned? Or kind-hearted Charlie Brown jumping on the milk bandwagon had he viewed footage of routine tail docking performed without anesthesia? Wouldn’t little Sally dissolve into tears at the sight of calves being dragged away from their bellowing moms, as documented by Mercy for Animals? Aren’t you pretty sure (I am!) that even crabby, self-centered Lucy would stand up and shout, “Hey blockheads, this is wrong! It’s sadistic and cruel! Stop it! (That’ll be five cents, please.)”

No, Snoopy would never agree to this disingenuous marketing ploy if he knew the suffering (open wounds, physical abuse, “downer” cows left to die) (aaugh!) his four-legged kin endure for that chocolate milk mustache. But U.S. milk sales are at their lowest level in decades, and drastic times call for drastic measures: “Milk is an important part of a healthy diet for growing children, so PEANUTS is happy to support the iconic ‘got milk?’ campaign,” said the Chairman and CEO of Iconix Brand Group, owner of Peanuts Worldwide.

Countering this obsolete dietary dogma is Dr. Frank A. Oski, chief of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine: “At least 50 percent of all children in the United States are allergic to cow milk, many [of them] undiagnosed,” he claims in his book, “Don’t Drink Your Milk—New Frightening Medical Facts About the World’s Most Overrated Nutrient” (source). And listen to Dr. Gary Huber: “If you search the literature as I did, you will find studies that support both sides of the argument,” says Huber. But “if you read any article not funded by the Dairy Council (if you can find one), you see milk is not good food. It is neither healthy nor necessary for kids or anyone else.”

It should be clear by now that the “Peanuts” gang–those lovable ambassadors of goodwill–are being exploited. They’ve been suckered. Deceived. They’re unwitting tools. Patsies (*sigh*). And that is a real downer.

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Sentient animals: We’re all on the same team, right?

Grizzlies and bobcats are more than just native wildlife here in Montana. The University of Montana Grizzly football team (go Griz!) takes on the Montana State University Bobcats (grrrr) in the Brawl of the Wild every year–the state’s biggest, most ferocious rivalry. This past year, when both teams were heading to the FCS quarterfinals, ESPN didn’t offer television coverage and the scat hit the fan.

In less than a week, the outrage spread to 90,000 Facebook users. More than 23,000 signed a petition. ESPN was bombarded with messages. A state university system regent sent a plea. One fan contacted a law firm. Montana’s congressional delegation intervened, and finally, a pay-per-view solution materialized. Wrote one protester on his Facebook page: “You just don’t push a Bobcat and a Grizzly into a corner without someone getting hurt…and it ain’t gonna be the wild critters.”

This got me to thinking about the real wild critters–the ones whose admirable qualities we love to appropriate as our own–and how the reverse is true: the wild ones do get hurt when they pursue their interests too close to human concerns, prejudices, and appetites. When they are intentionally killed for their behavior (“euthanized,” we like to call it) or their fur, petitions seldom circulate and viral protests don’t materialize.

Take grizzlies. Despite the rare, fatal mauling, bears are usually on the receiving end in human encounters. In 2010, according to a Missoulian article, “humans killed at least 50 grizzlies in and around Yellowstone Park, mostly by accident or for getting into livestock or other human food sources.” Up in northwest Montana, 28 individual bears were captured 44 different times in 2011; six of those bears were killed. If they are sows with cubs, the kids are carted off to zoos, their lives as wild bears terminated. Within roughly a week at the end of November, six wild bears were ejected from the game when two moms were executed (let’s call it what it is) and four cubs captured. They had gotten into accessible attractants–chicken coops, animal feed, and pigs.

Let’s review the play: Humans encroach in griz territory; they provide attractants to which bears become habituated; they blame the animals (label them “problem bears”), call a foul and demand a penalty. While it might seem logical and ethical that humans should alter their behavior to accommodate their wild neighbors, MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the state management agency, calls a different play: “As the (Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem) grizzly bear population continues to grow, FWP can be more aggressive with removing those females and males that continue to conflict with humans.” Humans get to punt away their responsibility and accountability AND keep the ball. Go team!

Bobcats? Brought down by baited traps in their own territory. In seven trapping districts across Montana, a total of 1,925 bobcats can be killed (some districts exceed their quota). At $411.84 each (2010-11 prices–this year’s will likely be higher), trappers can walk away with just under $793,000 for someone else’s skin. No wonder Montana is called the Treasure State! But the bobcats themselves pay–in pain, terror, exposure to intense cold and predation, and the final “dispatch”–provided they survive their time pinned in the trap (there’s no required trap check interval in Montana). Bobcats are also subjected to hunting and chasing with hounds, including a “chase-only” overtime season that extends to mid-April.

It’s a sad world where our mascots garner more passionate support than the real-life counterparts who inspired them. But this is a human conundrum—our fascination with animals, our admiration and proclaimed love for them, coupled with our willingness to exploit them or let them be exploited while we stand by, mute. This is particularly true for animals “grown” to be eaten. Though their wildness was domesticated away thousands of years ago, they still feel pain, know fear, love their babies, and would choose to walk into the sun, if only they could escape the industrial hell into which they’re born, they live, and die. To deny them even this much consideration is to deny 500 years of advancement in ethics and science.

But whether factory farmed or wild, animals are at the mercy of humans, and our species hasn’t been particularly merciful–allowing even our beloved cat and dog companions to be killed by the millions every year. If we prefer to relate to our fellow animals in the abstract–in heart-warming movies, as “ham” instead of pig, or wearing our team’s jersey–we’ve already won.

But if we want more for them–and us–we need to change the rules, if not the game itself. A new year is the perfect time to recruit compassion and fair play to our side because, when the clock runs down to zero, we’re all on the same home team.

A shorter version of this post appeared in the Missoulian on 1/9/12.

Fur farms: Whom would Jesus skin?

fraser-lynx-money-shot41“It’s farming. It is just a different type of farming.” So said Larry Schultz in a bid to move his bobcat fur farm from North Dakota–away from the hustle and bustle of booming Bakken shale oil production–to Fergus County, Montana.

The term “fur farm” makes stomachs churn with apprehension—if not horror–depending on how much one already knows. These shadowy enterprises don’t throw their doors open to public scrutiny, so what we know of them comes from undercover investigative reports and video. But calling it “farming” can’t legitimize an ethically-bereft industry that turns sentient, nonhuman animals into jacket trim.

According to the Great Falls Tribune, “the purpose of the facility is raising and selling bobcats and then harvesting them for their furs…” It’s unclear if the animals will be sold alive or killed on the premises; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ (FWP) environmental assessment (EA) doesn’t mention disposal of fur-stripped carcasses—an oversight if animals are to be killed onsite. An August 1st inquiry seeking clarification from the game warden in charge has gone unanswered.

The EA submitted by FWP for public comment (8/29 deadline) deals strictly with facility siting, physical and human environmental impacts, and security—no mention of animal cruelty or commodification of wildlife. (While fur farmed animals must be captive-bred, what are bobcats if not wild animals?) Indeed, state code defines “all furbearers lawfully raised on a licensed fur farm (as) the private property of the licensee.” A state license costs $25 with an annual renewal fee of $15–making fur farming a lucrative business when fur prices are high and compassion is not.

Life existence down on the farm

Fur farms are secretive places for good reason: their inmates suffer existences of emotional and physical deprivation and anguish. Confined for life in wire cages, they stand on wire their entire lives, too—to allow their waste to drop out of the cage. They tend to exhibit the same abnormal behavior we see in other captives (zoo and circus animals; puppy mill breeding dogs)—circling, pacing, head bobbing, and other repetitive, compulsive behaviors including self-mutilation. Unable to act on their instincts and deprived of everything natural, they are the stir-crazy victims of capitalism at its most depraved.

6396053And then there’s the end of existence. One common fur farm practice is anal electrocution (video), where a powerful current is sent surging between a metal rod clamped in the animal’s mouth and a rod inserted in the anus (ask yourself: what kind of people can actually do this?). Gassing, neck-breaking, and lethal injections—sometimes gruesomely crude—are also employed. If animals aren’t slaughtered onsite, they face the stress of transport prior to death.

As cash crops, furbearing animals can’t look to human laws for protection. No federal laws protect fur farmed animals; in Montana, where fur farming is a considered a form of agriculture, state agency oversight is minimal. Because the fur farm in question will increase tax revenue and agricultural production for Fergus County, FWP’s preferred alternative is to grant a license to the man who maintains that raising bobcats is no different than raising cattle or growing wheat. I agree with him about cattle (as a vegan, I can avoid that moral morass). But wheat?

Click image

Click image

Whom would Jesus skin?

The Fergus County fur farm–should it be approved (update: it was; see article)–won’t be Montana’s first by a long shot. As of July 2013, 15 licensed fur farms were doing business in Big Sky Country, according to the commercial wildlife permit manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Enforcement. (Update: Currently, 16 are licensed.)

The Fraser Fur Farm, another wildcat operation doing its evil business east of Ronan, MT, was targeted by animal activists (“ecoterrorists,” according to the Ronan Valley Journal) earlier this year. Reportedly, breeding records were destroyed but cages remained unbreeched due to security measures.

“I feel violated,” the operation’s owner told the Lake County Leader (Polson, MT) following the incursion. (Oh please. For the last word on violation, let’s consider anal electrocution.) “They are not nice people,” she said of the activists.

Whenever exploiters use Jesus for cover, I’m involuntarily visited by disturbing mental images. After a local equine activist used the bible to justify horse slaughter (“a biblically sound practice”), I pictured Jesus wielding a captive bolt gun in a slaughterhouse, his white robe splattered with the blood of the innocent. Now here he is on a fur farm–maybe the Fraser fur farm–inserting the electrode into the frightened animal’s rectum.

Would he pause–perhaps moved by mercy and compassion–to consider the sentient life whose fate he held in his hands? Would he look into the terrified eyes of the suffering and the doomed and see a fellow being who simply wanted to live?

Or would he see a cash crop–a “resource” to be “harvested” like so much wheat? Would he flip the switch and reach for the skinning knife?

Learn more:

  • Born Free USA: The fur farm fallacy – here.
  • Human crimes against animals: Fur Farms, from
  • “Skin Trade” the movie — includes 2-minute trailer
  • Danish organization Anima footage from Danish fur farms (2009-10). Conditions documented included animals with large wounds, animals that exhibited stereotypic behaviour, cannibalism, etc. The footage comes from one farm where more than 100 injured animals were found.
  • First person account from an adult recalling childhood on grandpa’s fur farm in Idaho.
  • Seton Hall Law eRepository; Student Scholarship: “A Federal Ban on Fur Farming Across the United States: Long Overdue Legislation” here.
  • Fur farming propaganda: “Fur Farming Ethics” video. Ask yourself how many “mom & pop” fur farms hiding out in rural America run operations that look like this?

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