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May 3, 2005 > Protecting the rights of students in agricultural education

Protecting the rights of students in agricultural education

by Nancy Lyon

Because of a tremendous number of requests to repeat the documentary "The Emotional World of Farm Animals," Public Broadcasting Station KQED-TV aired this compassionate film again in April. In a series of absolutely remarkable and surprising segments, it reveals that farmed animals, which many of us consider with less concern than our companion animals, have deeper feelings, greater intelligence and more complex social lives than we give them credit for. Most people can acknowledge these qualities in other people and in our companion animals, but are often reluctant to acknowledge these qualities in farmed animals because of the callous way we treat them.

It is a wonderfully moving program for viewers of all ages about the thinking and feeling side of animals that are all too often just viewed as food. It follows the personal journey of Jefferey Masson, author of "When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love." Masson leads viewers through the experiences he underwent while writing his latest book, "The Pig Who Sang to The Moon." This book is a journey into the sentient, emotional lives of farmed animals that brings Masson to animal sanctuaries around the country where caregivers and the animals themselves tell their harrowing stories of escape and rescue. He delves into the rich ancestry of these curious and intelligent beings and interviews top experts in animal behavior who offer scientific perspectives on these amazing creatures.

"The Emotional World of Farm Animals" also includes the heart rendering experience of children enrolled in animal agricultural programs. It was made all the more poignant to me having recently viewed a film at an animal welfare conference dealing with our treatment of farmed animals. That film was an extremely difficult documentary to watch as it graphically depicted the terrible conditions of factory farms and the ultimate horrors of the slaughter we inflict on "food" animals.

Most of us are unaware that across California our tax dollars are being used to slaughter animals on public school property - all in the name of "education." High schools with animal agricultural programs allow farm animals to be slaughtered on school property as part of the program. Students in these programs are encouraged to take responsibility for an animal (usually a cow, pig, sheep or chicken) and after months of dedication and caring for this animal, students watch as the animals are killed.

Observing the slaughter of animals is a violent act that desensitizes students to the pain and suffering of others. Educators and child advocates contend this is an inappropriate activity and can be traumatic for some students.

In 1992, a law was passed in California that gave students in biology classes who object to animal dissection on moral grounds the choice to opt out and complete alternate assignments. However, students of animal agriculture are not afforded the same choice.

The Animal Place, a non-profit sanctuary for farmed animals and producer of the PBS documentary, and the Humane Society of the United States have written a legislative bill that would stop the slaughter of any animal on public school grounds in California. It would also give students the option to not participate in a slaughter activity held off school grounds, and instead complete an alternative assignment. If a school believes children must witness the slaughtering of an animal, they can watch a film of the procedure or take a field trip to a slaughter plant.

Assembly Bill 1685, Protecting the Rights of Students in Agricultural Education Bill, has been introduced by California Assemblyman Johan Klehs and will be heard in the California Assembly Committee on Education in early May. If passed, the bill will give students in agricultural education a right to choose.

If AB1685 passes it will proceed directly to the Assembly Floor for a vote. You can check on the progress of this bill by contacting the office of Assemblyman Alberto Torrico (District 20) at (916) 319-2020 in his Sacramento office or (510) 440-9030, his Fremont office. Ask Assemblyman Torrico to support AB1685 and give students in agricultural education a right to choose.

California legislative updates can be obtained online at the following website: www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html. By entering the number of the bill, you can access the bill text and status and, in the future, committee analyses and roll call votes.

A DVD of the "Emotional World of Farm Animals" is available on the Animal Place website: www.animalplace.org.

 
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