Urge the USDA to Protect Farm Animals in Extreme Weather

Each winter, plunging temperatures, bone chilling winds, and massive snowstorms endanger the lives of millions of Americans. In addition to the human impact, farm animals frequently suffer and die from these extreme weather events. Instead of prioritizing animal welfare and disaster preparedness, some industrial farm operators take little or no precautions to help animals during natural disasters, treating them as nothing more than replaceable commodities.

In last week's storm, close to two thousand dairy cattle died from exposure to freezing wind and snow. Extreme weather events in recent years have led to even more catastrophic losses of life: In 2013, tens of thousands of cattle froze to death during a blizzard in South Dakota. In the aftermath, witnesses described trails of cattle carcasses dotting the plains. In 2018, Hurricane Michael killed more than 2 million chickens in Georgia alone.

Over the past few years, the USDA's Livestock Indemnity Program reimbursed farmers hundreds of millions of dollars for weather-related farm animal deaths, regardless of whether the farm operators had taken any steps to minimize the loss of life. In fact, some of the largest payouts have been due to animal deaths from winter storms. The Livestock Indemnity Program actually creates a disincentive for farmers to prioritize animal welfare in disasters.

Severe weather is a foreseeable occurrence, and the USDA should not reward those who abandon their animals or fail to take necessary precautions to protect them. Join the Animal Welfare Institute in asking Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to modify the USDA's Livestock Indemnity Program by requiring farm operators to develop preparedness plans to ensure the welfare of farm animals in the event of extreme weather or other types of disasters.

Subject Line: Protect farm animals from extreme weather

Dear Secretary Perdue:

Recent cold weather events in the Midwest illustrate a dire need for extreme weather preparedness plans to protect farm animals. Millions of farm animals across the country are affected annually by extreme weather events such as polar vortexes, major floods, and unbearably high temperatures. Unfortunately, many succumb to death or experience severe discomfort because of the lack of emergency preparedness plans at agricultural operations.

The current lack of a mandate to protect farm animals during extreme weather and other types of disasters has led to immense suffering, while allowing the agriculture industry to continue to treat farm animals as mere commodities. In recent years, the USDA has reimbursed farming operations approximately $300 million for weather-related farm animal deaths without requiring these operations to have any kind of disaster preparedness plan in place.

The USDA's Livestock Indemnity Program creates disincentives for farmers to prioritize animal welfare in disasters. I do not want my taxes used to reward farm operators who abandon their animals and fail to prepare for how the animals' basic needs (food, water, and shelter) will be met during extreme weather or other natural disasters.

As a concerned citizen, I respectfully ask that you modify the Livestock Indemnity Program by requiring participating farmers to demonstrate that they have developed a preparedness plan aimed at prioritizing farm animal safety and welfare during natural disasters. Given the potential for these disasters to strike with increased frequency, these types of plans are ever more important. Farmers should not be reimbursed for losses unless they proactively plan to keep their animals safe.

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