January 30, 2004

Animal Activists Call for Change

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A group called Responsible Policies for Animals (RPA) has requested that land-grant universities across the country, including Cornell, reconsider the way animal science is taught. RPA claims that current animal science departments are obsolete in modern society and promote and support methods that perpetuate the suffering of animals.

“Systems are set up so that billions of animals each year live extremely short lives and are never treated humanely; I don’t see much of a way that that could change as long as schools are teaching people to run those systems that have animals enslaved,” said David Cantor, president of RPA.

RPA has been engaged in letter-writing campaigns to land-grant university chancellors and presidents, explaining the organization’s “10,000 Years is Enough” campaign, aimed at ending the teaching of animal agriculture. Currently, RPA has received no official response from Cornell.

The animal science department in Cornell’s college of Agriculture & Life Sciences is responsible for teaching, research and outreach, which provides education and information to animal-related industries in New York State and around the world.

Prof. Alan Bell, chair of the animal science department, disagrees with the contention that animal science education advances irresponsible practices within the animal agriculture industry.

“I would suggest that modern animal science departments actually promote more enlightened and responsible attitudes toward animal welfare and environmental stewardship than those industries did in times gone by,” Bell said. “Animal agriculture is not going to go away. What we have to do is manage it responsibly and ethically.”

Still, Cantor hopes RPA’s campaign will spark intellectual debate about the value of animal science education.

“Where do we get that somehow no matter how agriculture transforms itself, no matter how it consolidates itself into huge corporations — how do we get that these are courses that have to remain in the academy and that taxpayers and tuition payers always have to pay for?” Cantor said.

One animal science undergraduate at Cornell believes that animal science does still have a place in academia, but that modification and modernization would be beneficial.

“I think perhaps they should have separate tracks of the major for people who are pre-vet versus people who are more interested in agricultural animals, whether they’re pre-vet or not,” she said. “I have considered switching out of the major because of the emphasis on that area which doesn’t really interest me.”

She also suggested that animal science departments are not the root of the problem.

“I think the problem isn’t just with the major, it’s deeper than that; it’s with agriculture processes, and all the major is doing is teaching us those practices,” she explained.

Clair Whittet ’04, president of the Cornell Coalition for Animal Defense, expressed doubts about the possibility of changing or eradicating animal science education.

“Why would [animal science educators] want to talk to people who ultimately want to see their jobs disappear?” Whittet wondered.

“Still,” she added, “I hope the efforts of the RPA might open dialogue at Cornell about the need to drastically change the way animals are treated on modern industrial farms.”

Bell stated that professors within the department already challenge students to reexamine the status quo.

“We hope that our students are encouraged to question traditional practices and get out of here with open minds,” he said.

Cantor hopes that current methods can be changed by stimulating discussion among those already involved in the teaching and practice of animal agriculture.

“Things that would represent progress would be private discussions within the universities, discussions between the university and the egg, dairy and meat industries, and between the universities and state legislators, because there are serious problems with the state laws that require the teaching of these industries,” Cantor said.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith