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As the cheerful host of The Price is Right for nearly four decades, Bob Barker served as the country’s most visible advocate for animal welfare, signing off every broadcast of the immensely popular CBS game show with a reminder to “help control the pet population — have your pet spayed or neutered.”
A tireless protector of all creatures great and small, Barker has given away tens of millions of dollars to various animal rights groups over the years. In 2004, he donated $1 million to Columbia University School of Law to further the study of animal rights law. In 2010, he wrote a check for $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group that fends off Japanese whaling boats.
Now 91 and eight years into retirement, Barker still has plenty of fight in him.
On Wednesday, he stood behind a podium in an eleventh-floor conference room at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. His mission: to publicly shame Foster Farms — among the biggest poultry producers on the West Coast — for cruelty toward animals.
Also in his crosshairs is the Washington D.C.-based American Humane Association, who in 2013 gave the family-owned company its first-ever “American Humane Certified” seal of approval. That’s the same group that monitors the treatment of animal performers used in TV and film shoots, and the subject of an in-depth Hollywood Reporter investigation in which multiple abuses and avoidable animal deaths were documented.
Reporters at Thursday’s event were shown a secretly taped video, narrated by Barker and shot in May and June at two Foster Farms slaughtering plants in Fresno, Calif. The video showed scenes of thousands of chickens being carelessly hung by their legs on conveyor belts. Factory workers execute the process with brutal efficiency, occasionally punching live birds and plucking out their feathers.
In another scene, chickens that miss the “kill blade” are dunked into a vat of boiling water while still alive. Shots follow of birds crushed by delivery trucks and large crates filled with hundreds of chicks being dumped several feet onto the ground, sometimes resulting in disfiguring injuries.
The video was undertaken by Mercy for Animals, a national animal protection organization. Its founder, Nathan Runkle, introduced the footage by calling it “some of the worst we have ever seen,” adding that the group called Foster Farms hotline and Fresno law enforcement to report the abuses. No action was immediately taken, Runkle said.
On the morning of the press conference, however, Foster Farms announced its own investigation. Says spokesman Michael Fineman in a statement: “The behavior of the individuals in this video is inappropriate and counter to our stringent animal welfare standards, procedures and policies.” The AHA, meanwhile, maintained its dedication “to the humane treatment of all animals.”
Barker, however, would give that assertion three strikes.
“Believe it or not, when I was younger, I was the fair-haired boy of the American Humane Association,” Barker said. “They used to do a thing called the PATSY Award — it was like the Academy Awards for [animals]. I thought it was just wonderful because I assumed the American Humane Association was protecting these [creatures]. I even had them in my will.”
“But,” he continued, “I was suddenly made aware of what they really are, and I have absolutely no respect for the American Humane Association. I think they have failed miserably in their efforts to protect animals in the movie industry, and obviously they have failed miserably in any protection for animals in this food industry.”
Back in 1979, Barker swore off meat on moral grounds. He quickly noticed a change in his own physiology. “I felt better, I got more done, it worked for me,” he later told THR. “I did Price of Right until I was 83 years old. It’s a big show, full hour, all ad-libbed and moving all over the stage. I don’t think I could have gotten through it had I not been a vegetarian.”
Asked what Hollywood figure might carry on the animal-rights torch for him, Barker sighed, the twinkle in his eyes momentarily gone.
“I don’t think there is anyone doing that, unfortunately,” he said.
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