CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a young man, Gene Baur knew he wanted to do something to change the world, he just wasn't always sure what. With a degree in sociology from California State University, Baur began his career in activism, campaigning for human rights and environmental change.
But in1986, during the tour of a stockyard, Baur saw something that defined the rest of his life. What he saw was a sheep, later named Hilda, lying on a "dead pile," where the carcasses of animals that died in transport were discarded. He said as he walked past, Hilda raised her head and looked him straight in the eye. It was in that moment he knew he had to get her to safety, and Farm Sanctuary was born.
In the 27 years since that first rescue Baur and the staff of Farm Sanctuary have expanded their focus from the need to provide immediate respite and shelter for injured, suffering, former farm animals to a wider attempt to deal with the problems caused by factory farming.
These problems extend beyond just cruelty to animals in the food chain; Baur said the negative impact of the food system has a much greater reach.
Baur will expand on these thoughts and speak about his new book, "Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food," Wednesday, August 21. when he visits Charleston with stops at Mission Savvy and Haddad Riverfront Park.
"The environment suffers."
According to Baur, the amount of natural resources used to create meat, eggs and dairy is enormous. He quoted a New York Times article from 2008 that compared a traditional meal, featuring meat, with a vegetarian alternative." It takes 16 times more fossil fuel to make a meat meal than it does to make a vegetarian meal."
In this figure, Baur included the fossil fuels used to grow the plants fed to animals, the cost of transporting that feed, the amount of fuel used to transport the animal to slaughter, and the cost of employing people who work in the system.
"Animals and people become commodified."
Baur said the people employed in factory farming are another casualty of the system.
In his new book, Baur wrote, "I have been saddened by the desperation of family farmers as they struggle to do the right thing by the animals they raise in the face of a system that treats both humans and animals as expendable commodities."
He goes on to detail how people in the industry are desensitized by the cruelty they see day in and day out. Baur said standing on an assembly line, slitting the throats of cows eight hours a day wears on the mental and emotional well being of the people employed in the slaughterhouses. Also, that the poor treatment of the animals in the factory farm skews the perspective of the farmhands -- cruelty becomes a way of life.
"We eat far too many animal products."
He said the scope of harm is even wider reaching than just the people who work in the factories or the animals that suffer. Baur believes by eating a diet centered on animal products, Americans are endangering their own health with every meal.
According to numbers released last year by the Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in farm animals. Those animals then go into the food system. According to Baur, this significantly increases the risk of antibiotic resistance in the general public.
Even if someone is skeptical of the antibiotics connection, Baur said there is the fact that a diet high in saturated fat, mostly found in animal products, contributes to the two leading causes of death in America: cancer and heart disease.
Pushing for reform.
Baur wanted to address what he said "most citizens are unwittingly buying into. This system of purchasing animal foods from factory farms without recognizing the kind of harm that they are contributing to, not only to animals and the planet, but to themselves."
He said he wants to educate the public about how and where food is sourced.
Baur's belief that the American public deserves to know where their food comes from, how it is raised and how it is processed has led him and the advocacy department of Farm Sanctuary to lobby Congress to defeat what he called "Ag Gag" laws.