Farm Sanctuary co-founder talks animal friendship in Cape Breton

Bringing the message that animals should be "our friends, not our food," Gene Baur, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary accepted an invitation to come to Cape Breton University this week for a series of public talks.

Gene Baur says we could feed far more people by eating plants instead of animals

Julia, who once lived on a factory farm as breeding stock, enjoys a dip in the Farm Sanctuary pond on a hot summer day. (Farm Sanctuary/Jo-Anne McArthur)

Bringing the message that animals should be "our friends, not our food," Gene Baur, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, accepted an invitation to come to Cape Breton University this week for a series of public talks.

Sponsored by the Animal Ethics Project, the series is intended to make people aware of animal abuse in the food production chain, said CBU assistant sociology professor Tracey Harris, one of the founders of the ethics project.

"Gene just seemed to be the perfect person to bring in to raise that awareness," she said.

Baur, a committed vegan who has gained international attention for his work in rescuing farm animals, has been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and Alec Baldwin as he crusades for better living conditions for farm animals.

His quest began in the 1980s when he became acutely aware of some troubling issues surrounding food production, he said. At that time Baur and his associates began visiting farms to document conditions, and what they found was disturbing.

"We would find living animals thrown on piles of dead animals," he told CBC's Information Morning. "So we started rescuing them."

Gene Baur is visiting Cape Breton to take part in a series of talks about the environmental impact of factory farms. (CBC/Hal Higgins)

From that point his organization set up sanctuaries in New York and California, with a current population of about a thousand rescued animals. A new sanctuary will be established in New Jersey by television personality Jon Stewart and his wife Tracy, who joined the movement after reading Baur's book.

Among the more notable examples of the livestock he and Farm Sanctuary have rescued is Julia, a breeding pig taken from a factory farm after she was "beaten to such an extent that she collapsed."

"They live their whole lives in these two-foot wide crates," Baur said, referring to conditions endured by some animals kept strictly for breeding purposes.

At the sanctuary pigs like Julia can run free in an open pasture, root in the soil and wade into ponds.

'Counter-cultural in Canada'

People need time to digest what Baur is saying, acknowledges the CBU's Harris.

"It is very counter-cultural in Canada to say that we shouldn't eat meat," she said.

But after hearing him describe the conditions in slaughterhouses and factory farms, effects on workers, and sometimes the risk to consumer health and safety, she said the listener is "really not too happy with it either."

Political science professor Terry Gibbs, one of the other founding members of the Animal Ethics Program, said many students gathered around Baur after his presentation.

One, she said, moaned "I'm glad I came, but ouch," and added, "I feel like I'm an addict that's just come to an intervention."

Eat plants, not animals

Baur makes the argument that raising animals for food is environmentally unsound, and the practice should end in favour of growing crops for human consumption.

"Many people believe we have to eat animals for nutrition, which is completely untrue," he said.

"It's very inefficient to grow crops and harvest those crops to feed to animals. We could feed 10 times more people if we ate plants directly."

Baur also insists a plant-based diet is healthier than one centred around meat. He said some elite athletes who've adopted that lifestyle are getting great results because "it helps reduce inflammation when they have heavy workouts." 

Among his speaking engagements, Baur made a presentation this week to young people who are part of what's known as Children's University at CBU. Then he delivered a lecture entitled Veganism 101, also at CBU.

Tonight he'll talk at the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation in downtown Sydney from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

With files from Information Morning