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The green pastures and idyllic barnyard scenes of years past, which are still portrayed in children’s books, have been replaced by windowless metal sheds, wire cages, gestation crates, and other confinement systems—what is now known as “factory farming.”
Deprivation and Disease
The factory-farming system of modern agriculture strives to produce the most meat, milk, and eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible—and in the smallest amount of space possible. Cows, calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and other animals are kept in small cages or stalls, where they are often unable to turn around. They are deprived of exercise so that all their energy goes toward producing flesh, eggs, or milk for human consumption. They are fed drugs that fatten them faster, and they are genetically manipulated to grow faster or produce much more milk or eggs than they would naturally.
Because crowding creates an atmosphere that welcomes disease, animals in factory farms are fed and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides and antibiotics, which remain in their bodies and are passed on to the people who consume them, creating serious human health hazards. Both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have supported ending the use of antibiotics in this manner.(1,2) Although McDonald’s has announced that its suppliers will phase out growth-promoting antibiotics, the fast-food chain is not likely to decrease its overall use of antibiotics.(3) The industry simply could not continue to raise billions of animals per year in such extreme conditions without the drugs that allow animals’ bodies to survive conditions that would otherwise kill them.
Chickens are inquisitive animals, and in their natural surroundings, they form friendships and social hierarchies, recognize one another and develop pecking orders, love and care for their young, and enjoy full lives that include dust-bathing, making nests, and roosting in trees. In factory farms, however, chickens are denied these activities and suffer because of it.
Laying hens live in battery cages stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses. Confined seven or eight to a cage, they don’t have enough room to spread their wings. Conveyor belts bring in food and water and carry away eggs. Farmers often induce greater egg production through “forced molting”: Chickens are denied food and light for days, which leads to feather and weight loss.(4)
To prevent stress-induced behaviors caused by extreme crowding—such as pecking their cagemates to death—hens are typically kept in semi-darkness, and the ends of their sensitive beaks are cut off with hot blades without any painkillers. The wire mesh of the cages rubs their feathers and skin off and cripples their feet. Chickens can live for more than a decade, but laying hens in factory farms are exhausted and unable to produce as many eggs by the time they are 2 years old, so they are slaughtered.(5,6) More than 100 million “spent” hens die in slaughterhouses each year.(7) Ninety-eight percent of the egg industry’s hens are confined to cages in factory farms.(8)
More than 9 billion “broiler” chickens are raised in sheds each year.(9) Artificial lighting is manipulated to keep the birds eating as often as possible. To keep up with demand and to reduce production costs, genetic selection calls for big birds and fast growth (it now takes only 6 weeks to “grow out” a chick to “processing” weight), which causes extremely painful joint and bone conditions.(10) Undercover investigations into the “broiler” chicken industry have repeatedly revealed that birds were suffering from dehydration, respiratory diseases, bacterial infections, heart attacks, crippled legs, and other serious ailments.
At the slaughterhouse, chickens are hung upside-down, their legs are forced into metal shackles, their throats are slit, and they are immersed in scalding-hot defeathering tanks. They are often conscious throughout the entire process. Click here to read more about an undercover investigation at a KFC supplier’s slaughterhouse, where workers were caught on video stomping on chickens, kicking them, and violently slamming them against floors and walls.
Cows who can roam pastures and care for their young form life-long friendships with one another and have demonstrated the ability to be vain, hold grudges, and play games.(11) But cows raised for the meat and dairy industries are far removed from sun-drenched pastures and nursing calves.
Cattle raised for beef may be born in one state, fattened in another, and slaughtered in yet another. They are fed an unnatural diet of high-bulk grains and other “fillers,” which can include expired dog and cat food, poultry feces, and leftover restaurant food.(12) They are castrated, their horns are ripped out, and they have third-degree burns inflicted on them (branding)—all without any painkillers. During transportation, cattle are crowded into metal trucks, where they suffer from trampling, temperature extremes, and lack of food, water, and veterinary care. At the slaughterhouse, cattle may be hoisted upside-down by their hind legs and dismembered while they are still conscious. The kill rate in a typical slaughterhouse is 400 animals per hour, and “the line is never stopped simply because an animal is alive,” according to one slaughterhouse worker.(13)
Calves raised for veal are the male offspring of dairy cows. They’re often taken from their mothers less than a day after birth, and they are chained in stalls that have slatted floors and are only 2 feet wide and 6 feet long.(14) Since their mothers’ milk is used for human consumption, the calves are fed a milk substitute that is designed to help them gain at least 2 pounds a day.(15) The diet is purposely low in iron so that the calves become anemic and their flesh stays pale and tender.(16)
Pigs are very clean animals who take to the mud primarily to cool off and evade flies. They are just as friendly and gregarious as dogs, and according to Professor Donald Broom at the Cambridge University Veterinary School, “They have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly three-year-olds.”(17) Mother pigs in factory farms in the U.S. live most of their lives in individual crates that are 7 feet long and 2 feet wide.(18) They display signs of extreme boredom and stress, such as biting the bars of their cages and gnashing their teeth.(19) Their piglets are taken away three weeks after birth and packed into pens until they are singled out to be raised for breeding or for meat.20 Like chickens and turkeys, pigs are genetically manipulated and pumped full of drugs, and many become crippled under their own weight. Although pigs are naturally affable and social animals, the confinement of these crowded pens causes neurotic behaviors such as cannibalism and tail-biting, so farmers use pliers to break off the ends of piglets’ teeth and cut off their tails without any painkillers.(21)
Pigs are transported through all weather extremes, often freezing to the sides of transport trucks in leading pig-slaughtering states like Iowa and Nebraska or dying from dehydration in states like North Carolina. According to the industry, more than 100,000 pigs die en route to slaughter each year, and more than 400,000 arrive crippled from the journey.(22)
At the slaughterhouse, improper stunning means that many hogs reach the scalding-hot water baths—which are intended to soften their skin and remove their hair—while they are still conscious.(23) U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection records documented 14 humane slaughter violations at one processing plant, including finding hogs who “were walking and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun] as many as four times.”(24) A PETA investigation found that workers at an Oklahoma farm were killing pigs by slamming the animals’ heads against the floor and beating them with a hammer.(25)
Environmental and Health Concerns
Factory farms are harmful to the environment as well. Each day, factory farms produce billions of pounds of manure, which ends up in lakes, rivers, and drinking water. A Missouri hog farm paid a $1 million fine for illegally dumping waste, causing the contamination of a river and the deaths of more than 50,000 fish.(26)
Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and grow the grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states.(27) Chickens, pigs, cattle, and other animals raised for food are the primary consumers of water in the U.S.; for example, it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of cow flesh, whereas it takes about 180 gallons of water to make 1 pound of whole wheat flour.(28)
An estimated one out of every four cattle who enters a slaughterhouse may have E. coli.(29) A Consumer Reports study of 525 supermarket chickens found campylobacter in 81 percent of them and salmonella in 15 percent, with up to 84 percent of the bacteria resistant to antibiotics.(30) Eggs pose a salmonella threat to one out of every 50 people each year.(31) In total, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 76 million instances of foodborne illness each year and more than 5,000 deaths.(32)
What You Can Do
Support legislation that abolishes battery cages, veal crates, and intensive-confinement systems. Florida and Arizona voters have banned the tiny gestation crates used on hog farms.(33,34) The United Kingdom prohibits the use of gestation crates and veal crates.(35,36) The European Union is phasing out the use of battery cages as of 2012.(37)
The best way to save animals from the misery of factory farming is to stop buying and eating meat, milk, and eggs. Vegetarianism and veganism mean eating for life: yours and animals’. Call 1-888-VEG-FOOD or visit GoVeg.com for a free vegetarian starter kit.
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