Brutality: Main Crop of Factory Farms?
Special Report to EarthSave from Gene and Lorri Bauston of Farm Sanctuary
Every year, over eight billion animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered under grossly inhumane conditions. Animals are crammed into small crates, dragged to auctions with chains, and slaughtered while they are fully conscious. All of these practices are considered "normal agricultural operation" and have become "business as usual" in a system driven by profit. The food animal industry treats animals as commodities, not living, feeling animals. In most factory farms, economic priorities, not humane considerations, determine industry practices in all aspects of animal agriculture, from production and transporting, to marketing and slaughter.
Misery Begins at Home
The misery begins at the production or breeding facility. The vast majority of animals used for food production are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), commonly called "factory farms". Overcrowding is one of the most common production techniques used in intensive confinement systems. In hog production, for example, the pork industry readily admits that "Overcrowding Pigs Pays - If It's Managed Properly" (National Hog Farmer, 11/15/93). To produce pork profitably, thousands of pigs are crammed into giant metal warehouses in rows of crates. Feeding, watering, and manure disposal are completely automated, and animals do not receive individual care or attention.
The Land O'Lakes corporation's hog division estimates that "a hog needs just 12 minutes of human attention during its four months" in a confinement operation (Wall Street Journal, 5/4/96 "Iowans Can Handle Pig Smells but This is Something Else"). Breeding sows spend most of their adult lives pregnant, confined in gestation or farrowing crates measuring just two feet by six feet long. The sows cannot walk, turn around, or even lie down comfortably. When the piglets reach three weeks of age, they are taken from their mothers and crowded into finishing pens until they reach slaughter weight.
According to hog industry reports, over 70% of pigs in CAFOs suffer painful foot and leg injuries, irritating skin mange, and chronic respiratory diseases. Conditions are so harsh that millions of pigs die before reaching the slaughterhouse every year.
Like the pork industry, the egg industry has implemented unnatural and stressful production systems to maximize profits. To produce eggs, four to five laying hens are crammed into a cage about the size of a folded newspaper. The USDA recommends giving each hen four inches of "feeder space," which means the agency would advise packing four hens in a cage just 16 inches wide. The cages, stacked by the thousands in long rows, are crowded into large sheds. To reduce pecking, which results from overcrowding, laying hens have their beaks cut off. Debeaking is a painful procedure that involves cutting through bone, cartilage, and soft tissue. One researcher noted, "Neurophysiological and behavioral observations provide indirect evidence that beak-trimming of pullets causes pain which apparently persists for weeks or even months" (1992 Poultry Science, 71:1830- 1941). The birds suffer even more painful manipulations at the end of their laying cycles when they are made to undergo a process called "force-molting." This process involves starving the hens for up to 18 days, keeping them in the dark, and denying them water to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. The birds may lose more than 25% of their body weight during the molt, and it is common for between 5% to 10% to die (1992 J. Appl. Poultry Ees. 1:200-206).
An Endless Cycle of Suffering
Severe animal suffering has also resulted from the industry's practice of reproductive and genetic manipulation. Dairy cows, for example, live a continuous cycle of impregnation, birth and milking. Dairy cows are milked for 10 months of the year, and for seven of these months, the cows are also pregnant. Immediately after giving birth, her calf is taken away so that the milk can be sold for human consumption. Modern dairy cows are under constant stress as they are pushed to produce as much as 10 times more milk than they would in nature. Increased milk production, intensified with the use of bovine growth hormone (BGH), leads to increased incidences of painful udder infections, lameness, and other ailments. After four to five years of intensive production, worn out and unproductive dairy cows are slaughtered for ground beef; a large proportion of hamburger comes from former dairy cows.
Factory farm operations vary in size and standards, but most share one practice in common-severe animal deprivation, cruelty, and neglect. Blatant animal abuses such as overcrowding, excessive reproduction, genetic manipulation and severe confinement are standard industry practices - and legal. Currently, there are no federal or state laws that prohibit any of these industry practices. Animals used for "food production" are specifically excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act and most state humane laws exempt "livestock" and "poultry."
After production, animals are either shipped directly to slaughter or trucked to livestock marketing facilities such as stockyards and auctions. During transport, animals are crammed into severely overcrowded trucks, and suffer from stress, inadequate ventilation, and trampling injuries. As with production practices, transportation overcrowding is deliberately done to increase profits. A Pennsylvania swine specialist wrote, ".over 250 hogs show up dead at packing plants every day. Death losses during transport are too high.but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out why we load as many hogs on a truck as we do. It's cheaper." (Lancaster Farming, 10/27/90)
Agony is Industry Standard
Death, injury, and disease are accepted industry standards during the transporting and marketing processes. Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals collapse from the cruel conditions and can no longer stand. It is so common that the meat and dairy industries even have a name for these animals- "downers". Downed animals can still be sold for human consumption, as long as the animal is still alive. These animals are commonly left in alleyways or unloading docks, without food, water, or veterinary care, until it's convenient to take them to slaughter-usually the next day. In many cases, the animals die of neglect. Downed animals are typically dragged with chains or pushed with tractors or forklifts, practices that cause injuries ranging from bruises and abrasions to torn ligaments and broken bones. Downed animals that are no longer profitable are left to die slowly and painfully; stockyards and auctions generally do not humanely euthanize unwanted animals, as it is easier to abandon them.
Animals are not adequately protected from transportation and marketing abuses under most laws. Most state transportation laws do not protect animals used for food production. Either these animals are expressly excluded from the law, or law enforcement is unwilling to prosecute violations. The only federal law pertaining to transportation allows animals to be transported for up to 36 hours without food or water, and the law does not address overcrowding abuses.
The Final Nightmare
The final horror for animals raised for food production is the slaughterhouse. Stunning is not required for poultry, which comprise over 90% of animals designated for human consumption. As a result, fully conscious birds are hung upside down by their feet on metal shackles, suffering pain and terror as they are carried on a conveyor belt to the knife. Where stunning is used, industry reports indicate a high failure rate. Currently the industry uses three methods to stun animals, all of which cause tremendous pain and suffering. If captive bolt guns are improperly placed or if the gun is poorly maintained, the animals are not stunned, and will be in severe pain from a partial impact. Cardiac arrest stunning kills the animals by stopping the heart, and animals can feel painful heart attack symptoms. Insufficient cardiac electrical stunning also results in paralyzed animals that feel everything. Many small plants use head-only stunning because they lack restraint equipment. This type of stunning is reversible, and animals can regain consciousness if they are not bled immediately due to slow hoists or other handling problems.
The most severe stunning problems occurred in calf slaughterhouses. According to Temple Grandin, a livestock industry consultant, "Approximately half of the calf slaughterers in the U.S. shackle calves while they are still alive," despite the fact that this is illegal. (Meat & Poultry, March 1990 "Animal Welfare Concerns Grow"). Under the federal Humane Slaughter Act, animals are supposed to be stunned prior to slaughter. In addition to excluding poultry from stunning requirements, the law excludes ritual slaughter, such as kosher and halal. At hundreds of ritual slaughterhouses, a chain is wrapped around one of the animal's rear legs and the frightened, conscious animal is hoisted into the air, kicking and thrashing. Large animals, such as cattle, are particularly prone to torn ligaments and broken bones during the process. Grandin, who has been allowed to visit ritual slaughter plants wrote, ".after visiting one plant in which five steers were hung up in a row to await slaughter, I had nightmares. The animals were hitting the walls and their bellowing could be heard in the parking lot. In some plants, the suspended animal's head is restrained by a nosetong.. [S]tretching of the neck by pulling on the nose is painful. Suspension upside-down also causes great discomfort.." (Moment, 2/91 "Is Kosher Slaughtering Inhumane?")
The raising, transporting, and slaughter of animals for food is a nightmare for billions of animals. As in other countries, we must pass legislation and initiate legal actions to ban cruel confinement systems, downed animal cruelties, and slaughterhouse abuses. The quickest way to end this suffering, of course, is to drastically reduce the number of animals consumed in this country. As always, the power is in your fork.