WASHINGTON – A candlelight vigil will be held Wednesday outside the White House to draw attention to farm animal suffering.
The vigil is part of a celebration of World Farm Animals Day, sponsored by the Bethesda-based Farm Animal Reform Movement.
The celebration is part of a continuing effort “to alert the public to the conditions under which farm animals are raised,” said Scott Williams, executive director of FARM, a nonprofit public-interest group that counts 11,000 people on its mailing list.
Some FARM activists support not eating any meat in light of potential health and environmental risks and the alleged brutality of the animals.
Going vegetarian is “a really truly civilized step to take,” said Karen Davis, a poultry advocate and former English professor at the University of Maryland.
But meat and poultry industry spokesmen deny that they abuse animals or endanger the environment. They also say that eating meat and poultry products in moderation can contribute to a person’s health.
The American Heart Association recommends people eat lean meat, fish or skinless poultry as part of a balanced diet.
Among the concerns raised by FARM are that the poultry industry brutalizes chickens. Davis said poultry farmers often keep fowl in cramped houses full of excrement and ammonia. These conditions cause the chicken’s immune system to break down and the bird to become sick, Davis said.
The crowding of chickens itself is inhumane, she said. “It is not nature’s way to crowd mammals and birds together in large numbers,” she said.
The poultry industry also hurts the environment by causing well water to be contaminated by chicken waste and carcasses and by clearing large amounts of land for poultry houses, Davis said.
But Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Broiler Council, said the poultry industry acts responsibly and treats animals humanely. “Discharges [from plants] are monitored and companies comply with regulations,” Lobb said.
The council states in a handout that the industry hires nutritionists to watch the birds’ diets and veterinarians to keep them healthy.
“To ensure that chickens arrive to the consumer healthy as well as bruise-free, producers must provide sufficient floor space in the buildings used to raise the birds,” the council states.
FARM activists also raise concerns about meat consumption. Alex Hershaft, founder of FARM, said eating meat contributes to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, and causes acute sickness such as food poisoning.
But Dr. William J. Martone, senior executive director at Bethesda’s National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said proper cooking and handling should lessen the risk of getting sick from eating meat or poultry.
Both Davis and Hershaft said all the nutrients a person can get from meat are in vegetables and grains.
But Peter Marigliano, manager of public relations for the American Meat Institute, said a person would have to eat a lot of vegetables to get some of the same nutrients found in meat. Calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and high- quality protein are low in the diets of those who eat no animal products, the AMI says.
Wednesday’s candlelight vigil will run from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of the north side of the White House. Davis, founder and president of United Poultry Concerns Inc., a Potomac-based nonprofit group focusing on domestic fowl issues, will speak at the Ellipse at 7:30 p.m. -30-