Once Again, Big Ag is Fighting Basic Fire Protection for Farm Animals
Imagine being trapped in a burning building with no way out. You’re paralyzed with fear as the smoke and heat engulf the structure. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to help yourself or the hundreds around you who are also trapped. No rescue comes and panic ensues. Instinctively, you realize you’re going to die. You fight against it with everything you have, until the smoke and flames take you.
That’s the gruesome fate that befalls hundreds of thousands of factory farmed animals every single year in the U.S. Why? Those massive barns — stuffed chock full of helpless, confined animals – aren’t legally required to have fire detectors, sprinklers or smoke control systems to combat fires.
Because it isn’t mandatory, industrialized farming facilities don’t bother to pony up the dough for that life saving equipment. That’s right — to industrialized farming operations, the lives of those animals aren’t worth the cost of installing sprinklers. Lose a few thousand chickens or piglets in a fire? No problem. We’ll make more. Many, many more.
The Shocking Scope of the Problem
“In 2012 more than 600,000 farmed animals — mainly chickens and turkeys — died in fires in commercial housing facilities in the U.S.,” according to United Poultry Concerns (UPC) founder, Dr. Karen Davis.
In 2014 so far, 400,000 farm animals have perished in barn fires. It’s a mind boggling number. Firefighters respond to about 830 barn fires every year in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Often, there are too few workers on hand to do anything to help the animals. By the time firefighters arrive, it’s too late.
While you may not hear about these fires often, they’re happening all the time. Most recently, for example, in early October 2014, over 4,200 piglets died in a fire at Deerfield Farms hog farm in Eagle Springs, N.C. Want more?
- In January 2014, 300,000 chickens at the S&R Egg Farm in La Grange, Wis., perished in a barn fire.
- Also in January 2014, 3,700 pigs were killed in a barn fire at New Horizons Farms near Hardwick, Minn.
- In February 2014 – 1,000 pigs died in a barn fire near Lafayette, Minn.
Those are just a few examples from the past eight months alone.
Don‘t We Care Enough?
There’s a huge and unfair inconsistency staring us all in the face here. Current rules — specifically the NFPA 150 Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities — already mandate sprinkler systems for facilities housing “Category A” animals. Those are animals that are dangerous or that cannot be easily moved in an emergency. Examples of Category A animals are elephants, bears and poisonous reptiles.
It’s the chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, goats and sheep, as Category B animals, that get exactly zero protection from identical fire risks. Why is that? Are they intrinsically less deserving because they’re on track to become “food”? Is it because Big Ag doesn’t want to pay for that level of protection and consumers – so far – aren’t willing to demand it loudly enough?
Until fire detection and suppression systems become a legal requirement for all animal housing facilities, this heartbreaking scenario will be repeated in gory detail, over and over. Farm animals will continue to choke and burn to death, while firefighters go on putting their lives at risk to battle flames that are deadly but entirely preventable.
It‘s Time to Change the Rules for Confined Farm Animals
The NFPA considered this issue in 2012 when it proposed an amendment to the NFA 150 standard that would require all newly constructed farmed animal housing facilities to be equipped with smoke control and sprinkler systems.
Big Ag, as represented by entities like the National Pork Producers Council, United Egg Producers, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and others, appealed this proposal. Sadly, they managed to squash it. The amendment was dropped from the 2013 iteration of NFA 150.
Fortunately, animal advocates keep pushing.
On Oct 7, 2014, the NFPA’s Technical Committee met in Baltimore and discussed once more the question of whether it’s time to make NFPA 150 equally applicable to all animal housing facilities. Matt Dominguez, farm animal policy manager for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is a member of that committee. He was there to speak on behalf of the animals and he did.
Unfortunately, he told Care2, pork and poultry industry representatives were there, too. They once again rose up at the meeting to vociferously oppose changing the rules.
Despite the fact that “it’s very clear in poll after poll that Americans want these animals protected,” Dominguez told Care2 in an interview, he perceived no likelihood that change is imminent. The question is why? For Big Ag, it’s all about the benjamins.
Farm Animals Are Not Fungible Commodities
“While babbling that ‘no one feels [the loss of their animals] due to accident, operational errors, disease or fire more acutely than’ farmers do, in reality the animal farming industry prefers to let the trapped chickens, turkeys and other captive animals burn to death in agony and terror, and simply replace them and the buildings with insurance money plus taxpayer dollars funded through the US Department of Agriculture,” UPC president Dr. Karen Davis noted in 2012.
Dominguez notes that Big Ag “will always point to cost” as the deciding factor on this issue. What we need to remember, he told us, is that installing fire detection and suppression equipment is expensive everywhere it’s needed, whether it’s a hospital, an office complex, a zoo or – yes – a barn housing thousands of captive animals.
Expensive or not, we install fire suppression systems because the beings inside those places need to be protected. That includes the farm workers and first responders to these incidents, by the way. More to the point, though, there’s no logical reason to exclude cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, turkeys and goats, but somehow we do. We do it because it means cheap meat. That tradeoff is plain wrong.
Farm animals aren’t fungible commodities, but we as a society treat them that way. That state of affairs pleases Big Ag. It’s good for business. It saves them money. What is wrong with us as a society that we allow our fellow creatures to be treated as such inconsequential “things”?
Farm animals are living, breathing, sentient creatures deserving of protection while in our care. They live awful enough lives as it is on dirty, crowded factory farms. Can’t we ensure they at least won’t burn or suffocate to death before we get around to slaughtering them?
The only way anything will change is if the public demands it, loudly. Ready to add your voice to this cause? You can demand the NFPA enact a requirement to install sprinkler and smoke control systems in all newly constructed farm animal housing facilities by signing this petition. Care2 will ensure it gets to NFPA’s leadership on your behalf.
Photo credit (all images): Thinkstock