AND THE PRACTICES THEY SUFFER THROUGH
By Jordan Ayres and Andrew Sottile
Eating animals has been a social norm for as long as humans have been around. In this day and age, however, is it necessary? By looking into the standard farm practices around the United States, it is evident that animal agriculture has become an industry filled with unnecessary suffering on the animal’s behalf. It is no longer a practice run by small family farms. Rather, gigantic, multi-millionaire companies have taken over the industry and made animal farming into something not unlike a fast-paced conveyor belt- pumping out thousands of slaughtered animals by the minute at each abattoir. Today, over 99% of farm animals in the United States are raised in places considered to be factory farms, which focus primarily on profit and efficiency rather than animal welfare. Each year, over 56 billion farmed land animals are killed for food- that number does not include the number of sea creatures, as they are measured in tons rather than lives due to the fact that the number of deaths is so immense, it would be impossible to count. In a world that moves this quickly, it is unsurprising that these numbers are laced with inhumane practices.
Let’s take a look at what animals go through before they end up on your plate.
We’ll take our first look at dairy cows. Surprisingly, not many people realize that a cow must have recently given birth to produce milk; just like every other lactating organism. Now, this impregnation is not natural. It all starts with artificial insemination, where sperm is forcibly taken from a bull, and then forcibly inserted into a female cow. Nearly 80% of dairy cows in the U.S. are forcibly inseminated once a year in a crude procedure that involves farmers inserting one arm up to the elbow inside the cow’s rectum to optimally position her cervix, while using the other hand to insert an “A.I. gun” full of semen into her vagina. Rectal violation plays no part in natural bovine copulation. Now, how does one get the bull semen to do that?
They get semen from bulls by forcing them to ejaculate using either an “artificial vagina,” or an instrument called an electroejaculator. With the first method, a steer is restrained and used as a “teaser” animal to be mounted (a ‘decoy’, so to speak). The bull is tethered and controlled with a nose ring. After the bull mounts the steer and attempts penetration, his exposed penis is grabbed by a worker and diverted to a long plastic sleeve or “artificial vagina” held in the worker’s other hand where he then is physically coerced to ejaculate. With electroejaculation, an anal probe is inserted into the bull’s rectum and electric shock is applied to the muscles that control ejaculation. (freefromharm.org)
Do either of those sound humane to you?
After a dairy cow has given birth, the baby is taken away from them. Female offspring are usually damned to the same fate as their mothers, whereas the males are put into veal crates or barren feedlots for approximately 22 weeks where they are denied moving room (for fear of gaining muscle, the meat must remain tender) and are fattened up quickly using hormones to become beef on someone’s plate. When transported to slaughter, there are almost 50 other calves shoved into the transport truck. During their journey, they are denied food, water and veterinary care. We will get more into the slaughter process later.
The female calves are quickly dehorned (they have tissue that would develop into horns, but that is quickly destroyed). This is a process that uses tools such as hand saws, hot irons, knives, chemicals, sharp wires or more. There is no anesthetic given to these animals, so they feel all of the excruciating pain that comes with dehorning. Remember, these calves are also newborns. They have just been taken away from their mothers. Their mothers, left hooked up to milking machines, are often reported crying for their offspring for weeks.
All dairy cows are sentenced to slaughter as well. All animal agriculture/factory farming cows, however, suffer from painful, premature deaths. Naturally, a cow can live up to 20 years of age. A dairy cow usually collapses from physical exhaustion after 4 years and is sent to slaughter. Calves that are forced to become veal usually only live for a couple of months before being slaughtered.
Now, how is a cow slaughtered?
After transportation, which forces the cows to withstand extreme temperatures (Many collapse from heat exhaustion and dehydration. In the cold, they sometimes freeze to the side of the trucks and have to be pried off with crowbars.) Once they reach their destination, many are too sick or injured to walk. These cows are tied by their legs with ropes or chains and are dragged from the transport vehicle. The cows that can walk, often do not want to leave the mock safety of the truck. They are shocked with electric prods or dragged off much like the others with chains. “Uncooperative animals are beaten, they have prods poked in their faces and up their rectums,” says a former USDA inspector (peta.org).
“In the summertime, when it’s 90, 95 degrees, they’re transporting cattle from 1,200 to 1,500 miles away on a trailer, 40 to 45 head crammed in there …. [In the winter], can you imagine if you were in the back of a trailer that’s open and the windchill factor is minus 50 degrees, and that trailer is going 50 to 60 miles an hour? The animals are urinating and defecating right in the trailers, and after a while, it’s going to freeze, and their hooves are right in it. If they go down—well, you can imagine lying in there for 10 hours on a trip.”
—Former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) veterinary inspector Dr. Lester Friedlander
Once unloaded, the cows are forced through a chute and shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun. These guns are meant to stun them, not kill them. Due to the fact that the lines move so quickly and that many factory farmers are not properly trained, even this part of the process is often times a failure. Therefore, the animals are not stunned and experience pain while completely conscious. Ramon Moreno, a longtime slaughterhouse worker, told The Washington Post that he frequently has to cut the legs off completely conscious cows. “They blink. They make noises,” he says. “The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. … They die piece by piece.”
Another worker, Martin Fuentes, told The Washington Post that many animals are still alive and fully conscious for as long as seven whole minutes after their throats have been slit open. “The line is never stopped simply because an animal is alive.” Because the industry makes more money the more animals it slaughters, workers who stop to alert officials risk losing their jobs. The meat industry thrives on employees made up of poverty-stricken and exploited workers, many of them immigrants who can never complain about poor working conditions or cruelty to animals for fear of being deported or taken from their families, much like the cows they are paid to slaughter have been.
That is the life of a dairy and meat cow.
Pigs have been studied for decades by scientists, many of which who have come to the conclusion that they are smarter than the average 3 year old human child. That puts them at a higher intelligence than dogs and even some primates! They are social animals who communicate with others and have the ability to form close bonds with other individuals. Winston Churchill is quoted saying “Dogs look up to man. Cats look down to man. Pigs look us straight in the eye and see an equal.”
Approximately 100 million pigs are slaughtered annually in the United States alone, and that number grows. As piglets, their tails are cut off to prevent tail biting. Tail biting occurs when starving pigs rip the flesh off of others to try and soothe their painfully aching stomachs. Removing the tails is done without anesthetic. Sometimes, they skip that practice all together and allow tail biting to occur with no means of prevention. By three weeks of age, 15% of the baby pigs will have died. Those who survive are ripped away from their mothers and crowded into metal-barred and concrete-floored pens within giant warehouses. Pigs live in these pens until they reach a slaughter weight of 250 pounds, usually at 6 months of age. This is where tail biting and other horrendous actions occur due to their deprived conditions.
“In the U.S. Pork Industry, more than 6 million pigs are used each year for breeding. Breeding sows are treated like piglet-making machines, living a continuous cycle of impregnation and birth, each sow being forced to produce more than 20 piglets a year. During their pregnancies, sows are kept in two-foot wide gestation crates, intended to allow pigs only enough movement necessary to stand up and lie down....At the end of their four-month pregnancies, the sows are moved into farrowing crates, where they spend about a month until their piglets are weaned. After the sows nurse their young for two to three weeks, the piglets are taken away to be fattened, and the sows are re-impregnated and returned to the gestation crates. This cycle continues for the pig’s entire life, about 3 to five years.” (mspca.org)
Naturally, pigs can live to be up to 15 years old! On factory farms, they are slaughtered after a mere 6 months of life. They are loaded onto trucks much like cattle are. Their snouts are very sensitive, so it is not uncommon for workers to beat them there to ensure they get onto the transport truck. They are denied food, water and veterinary care, and withstand the same kind of temperature and climate extremes that the cows do. According to a 2006 industry report, more than one million pigs die each year from transport alone. If one falls, it is immediately trampled by the other pigs. This pig rarely gets back up and dies from injuries inflicted by the other pigs stepping on him, crowding for just a little bit of space. Many others die of stress induced heart attacks.
“In 2004, a transport truck owned by Smithfield Foods and loaded with 180 pigs flipped over in Virginia. Many pigs died in the accident, while others lay along the roadside, injured and dying. PETA officials arrived on the scene and offered to humanely euthanize the injured animals, but Smithfield refused to allow the suffering animals a humane death because the company could not legally sell the flesh of animals who had been euthanized. After an accident in April 2005, Smithfield spokesperson Jerry Hostetter told one reporter, “I hate to admit it, but it happens all the time.”” (peta.org)
These pigs, having been kept immobile their whole lives, have very weak limbs and lungs. This causes hardship when unloading the transportation trucks, which is when the electric prods come out. Some of these pigs run for the first time in their lives out of adrenaline filled fear. The average slaughterhouse kills 1,100 pigs every hour. Due to the number of animals in line, it is impossible to give these creatures “humane” deaths. Again, they are victims of improper stunning. Often times, they are alive and conscious when forced into the scalding tank. Scalding is a method used to loosen hair before removal. For several minutes the hogs are submerged in a scalding tank at 113°F to 149°F. After scalding, the hogs are mechanically dehaired by abrasion and singed in a gas flame to complete the hair removal process.
A slaughterhouse worker can be quoted saying “There’s no way these animals can bleed out in the few minutes it takes to get up the ramp. By the time they hit the scalding tank, they’re still fully conscious and squealing. Happens all the time.” during an interview by PETA.
These pigs are then served on a plate as bacon or pork.
¾ of the world’s fisheries are exploited by fishermen or are almost completely depleted. It is possible we will be seeing a fishless ocean by 2048. Each year, 2.7 trillion sea animals are pulled from their lives in the ocean, and ultimately meet their demise above water. For every 1 pound of intended fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine life species are caught and promptly discarded as by-kill. 63 billion pounds (nearly 40%) of fish caught each year end up being discarded. Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed annually by fishing vessels, and this comes as no surprise when you take a look at the methods commercial fishermen use. 37-120 billion farmed fishes are killed commercially for food each year as well. These excessive numbers may help feed the human population, but at what cost? And is there a better alternative?
Bottom trawling and gillnetting are just some of the methods used to harvest and collect fish.
Bottom trawling essentially scrapes all life across the ocean floor destroying the fishes’ habitat as well as catching the fish desired for consumption. The destruction of the fishes’ habitat does not allow for any recuperation to happen, as the organisms occupying the area are unable to reproduce fast enough for their numbers to increase before they are depleted once more. Lots of unintended animals are caught in these large nets and either die from stress or get stuck in the fibers of the netting. Most of the by-catch is killed or dead by the time they reach the surface.
Gillnetting is another popular, inhumane way of catching fish.
Fish may be caught by gill nets in 3 ways:
*wedged – where they are held by the mesh around their bodies
*gilled – held by mesh slipping behind the opercula, bones that protect the gills and support facial structure
*tangled – held by teeth, spines, maxillaries, or other protrusions without the body penetrating the mesh.
However, this method is also not discriminatory when it comes to the kinds of sea life it catches. Like bottom trawling, they also catch unintended marine animals.
As you can guess, all of this is very stressful for the fish. This is evident by how hard they struggle to escape netting. Many people believe that fish cannot feel pain, and that they are “stupid” animals- but this is very far from the truth. It has been proven by multiple scientific studies that fish are as sentient as the rest of the animals we share this world with. Why wouldn’t they feel fear, pain and the aversion to it? All of those traits are what has helped them survive the ruthless oceans for an unimaginable amount of time.
Fish may be last when people think of animal welfare, but they are no less deserving of a life free from unnecessary exploitation.
CHICKENS & OTHER EXPLOITED BIRDS
Chickens are not safe from these barbaric practices either. Chickens exploited for egg production, in fact, are among the most abused of all animals.
“In order to meet the consumer demand for eggs, 280 million hens laid 77.3 billion eggs in 2007. From hatching to slaughter, egg-laying hens are subjected to mutilation, confinement, and deprivation of the ability to live their lives as the active, social beings they are.” (farmsanctuary.org)
Farmsanctuary.org has a very informative piece on the practices within factory farming with chickens.
“Because male chicks will not grow up to lay eggs and, therefore, have little value to the egg industry, 260 million are killed each year upon hatching. Methods include being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified “kill plate,” being ground up alive and fully conscious in a “macerator,” or being gassed.
Female chicks are “debeaked” at a young age, most commonly having a portion of their beaks seared off with a hot blade. Debeaking is meant to prevent the abnormal feather-pecking that can result from the stress of confinement in a battery cage. A chicken’s beak is filled with nerves, and debeaking can result in severe and possibly chronic pain. 95% of egg-laying hens spend their lives in battery cages. Battery cages commonly hold 5–10 birds, and each chicken may be given an amount of floor space equivalent to less than a sheet of letter-size paper. Constantly rubbing against and standing on wire cages, hens suffer severe feather loss, and their bodies become covered with bruises and abrasions. Today’s hen, selectively bred and artificially induced to yield high egg production, will produce more than 250 eggs annually, compared to 100 eggs annually a century ago.
In order to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle when production declines, hens are sometimes starved and denied any food for up to two weeks — a process known as “force molting.””
Chickens can live naturally up to ten years of age (though avoiding mishap or disease proves to be tricky). However, in factory farms, a hen’s egg production declines after 1-2 years and are then sent to slaughter. Chickens and turkeys are not included in the Humane Slaughter Act, a federal law that requires some animals to be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter. However, we know that law is generally not upheld within factory farms anyways.
Due to the declining market for “spent” hens, producers often choose to kill their chickens by gassing them with high concentrations of carbon dioxide. In many cases, the gas does not succeed in killing the birds. There have been reports of hens found at landfills crawling out from piles of countless decomposing, dead chickens.
“Chickens raised for meat are selectively bred to grow to “market weight” at an alarming pace. In the past 50 years, the amount a chicken used for meat grows each day has increased by more than 300%.
Chickens in the meat industry typically spend their lives confined to warehouse-like buildings, each packed with as many as 20,000 chickens. On average, the space per chicken is only slightly larger than a sheet of letter-size paper. This crowding can result in scratches and sores from the birds being forced to walk all over each other.
A 2006 study found that 55% of uncooked chicken purchased from supermarkets contained arsenic, which is known to cause cancer in humans. Arsenic is added to the feed of approximately 70% of the broilers raised each year because it is believed to promote growth.
Since more than one flock is sometimes kept on the same litter before the floor is cleaned, floors can be covered in the waste of tens of thousands of chickens. Excessive ammonia levels that can result from the waste breaking down can lead to health problems for chickens, including difficulty breathing.
The lights are kept on nearly constantly in the buildings where chickens raised for meat are confined. This can stimulate eating and unnaturally rapid growth and limits the opportunity for chickens to sleep and rest, all of which leads to serious health problems. Studies have consistently shown that approximately 26–30% of broiler chickens suffer from difficulty walking because their skeletons have trouble supporting their rapidly growing bodies. This can also lead to deformities and lameness.
The rapid growth of broiler chickens is often associated with acute heart failure. The hearts and lungs of the rapidly growing birds are not able to effectively get oxygen circulated throughout the body. This problem is the leading cause of death in chickens as they reach “market weight.”
With bodies taxed beyond belief, chickens who survive their time in production are often slaughtered at just 42 days old. They are still “peeping” the sound of baby chicks when they are killed – even though their bodies have ballooned to the size of giant adult chickens in this short time due to industry practices.
At the slaughterhouse, there is no law in place requiring chickens to be rendered unconscious before slaughter, and the electrified water bath stunning used has been shown to cause painful shocks before it stuns the birds.” --(farmsanctuary.org)
“Cage-free” is also a myth. Instead of being locked into tiny, wire crates; they are shoved by the thousands into small concrete floored rooms. It is not any better to buy “cage-free”.
Chickens suffer from severe physical problems due to genetic manipulation during selective breeding and the injection of growth hormones. This is evident by the fact that most broiler chickens grow too large to carry their own weight, while egg-laying hens suffer immensely due to the unnaturally high egg yield- a dilemma that causes their bodies to leach calcium from their bones in order to form tough outer shells for their eggs, making them prone to breaks and fractures.
Turkeys, ducks and other birds raised for slaughter experience much of the same torture that chickens do.
The life of a chicken in the animal agriculture industry is nothing to be jealous of. They are constantly surrounded by pain, sickness, and the stench of death inside their tiny, cramped warehouses. It is up to us to decrease the demand of the products that bring about so much suffering.
To learn more about the exploitation and abuse of animals by the hands of the meat and dairy industry; go to sites like peta.org, mercyforanimals.org, and sympathyatslaughter.com.
We have only touched on what happens to factory farmed animals, but please don’t forget that labels such as “free range”, “organic”, “pasture raised”, “hormone free” etc mean nothing in regards to animal welfare. In the end, all of these animals are sent to slaughter, and they all lose the lives they wanted to live. Just like us, animals have been proven to have sentience. They experience emotions like grief, happiness, fear and form emotional bonds with the animals around them. They feel pain and can recognize what causes it, and how to avoid it. They feel affection and the need to protect their young, and feel heartbreak when their babies are taken from them. Just like us, animals are aware of the world around them. Why do we have the right to make their world so dark and painful, so hopeless? The truth is, we don’t. We have been conditioned to believe that we hold dominion over our earthling brothers and sisters because they are different than us- but in reality? Their lives are their own, just like ours are our own. We have no right to take or abuse the life of another just because they don’t speak the same language we do, or because they look different than us, or because they feel things slightly different than we do.
After reading this, we hope you recognize the victim involved when you eat animal products, and that you can lead a life without causing intentional harm to animals. Check out our “Going Vegan” page to see how you can help!