The abuse of animals continues as the animals are transported hundreds of miles from the farm to the slaughterhouse. They are packed in very crowded trucks or rail cars, without food or water and some die on the journey. If they survive the trip, the horrors that the animals experience at the slaughterhouse are unspeakable. They die a gruesome and painful death.
Most people are uncomfortable when confronted with the topic of the abuse of animals raised for food. Few people want to be reminded of it and prefer to put the topic in the closet so it never sees the light of day.
It is my belief that human beings were given dominion over the animal kingdom – not to use and abuse them for our own purposes, but to nourish them as they nourish us. It is time to open the closet door and bring these problems out into the light of day and deal with them. What can we do to change the situation?
Let’s go vegan!
Abuse of animals raised for food is one of the reasons many have changed to a vegetarian or vegan diet. In addition to enjoying a vegetarian diet for moral reasons (eliminate the suffering of animals), people have found that a vegetarian (or vegan) diet is good for their health and the environment. Vegetarianism is growing fast as more people learn of its benefits.
However, vegetarianism is not for everyone. Many doctors and nutritionists recommend a diet rich in animal proteins to maintain healthy bodies. Sandine Nonhebel, a scientist at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Groningen University in the Netherlands, said: “Eating some meat can be more efficient than eating no meat.” In an article written for Ode Magazine (July/August, 2011), she qualified her statement by differentiating “good meat” from “bad meat.”
Good meat comes from animals that eat a natural diet with no drugs, graze in wide open grasslands, and are not subject to abuse and inhumane practices. Bad meat comes from animals that are raised in crowded pens, are not allowed exercise, are fed an unnatural diet of grains containing hormones and antibiotics, and are subject to inhumane practices.
A recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change. And a German study conducted in 2008 concluded that a meat-eater's diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as a vegan's diet.
But, becoming a vegan or vegetarian is not the answer. While eliminating meat from one’s diet cuts down the demand for meat, the demand is still there. Animals continue to suffer extreme pain and abuse in factory farms, transportation from farm to slaughterhouse, and at the slaughterhouse. Becoming a vegetarian is a way to take a stand against this problem, but, it doesn’t solve the problem. Animal raised for food are still subject to a horrific environment and abuse.
Let’s go organic!
As people become aware of the horrors animals endure in factory farms, they are becoming attracted to “organic, ” “natural,” or “free-range” alternatives. The USDA Economic Research Service called the organic meat sector one of the fastest growing sectors in the organic industry, with total retail sales having increased 46 times between 1997 and 2007.
Many people believe that labels such as “natural,” “free-range,” or “cage-free” mean that chickens or animals have access to a natural outdoor setting, eat natural food free from drugs, and are treated humanely. However, in commercial cage free farms, the terms mean that chickens may roam all they want, so long as it is in a very crowded henhouse. Although the USDA requires that organic egg farms give birds access to the outdoors, this requirement is not enforced. The USDA has ruled that they [chickens] may be temporarily confined" for "reasons of health, safety, the animal's stage of production or to protect soil or water quality."
According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), many animals that are "organically raised:”
- Are sent to factory-farm feedlots to be fattened prior to slaughter. Cows that are fattened in feedlots can still be labeled organic so long as they're given organic feed.
- May be kept in sheds or small enclosures where they spend their lives mired in their own waste, enduring the strain of forced yearly pregnancies and having their calves taken away from them (many of which are left to die).
- Are denied medical treatment. If cows’ udders become infected from frequent milkings, which often happens, many farmers deny them medicine, because if they medicate the animals, they won't be able to sell the milk as organic.
- Are subject to inhumane practices, such as:
- Cattle on organic farms have their horns cut off and their testicles cut out of their scrotums, and many are branded with sizzling-hot irons, resulting in third-degree burns. Pain killers are not given to the animals.
- Pigs on organic farms often have their tails chopped off and their ears notched, and some have rings forced into their noses in order to permanently prevent them from rooting in the grass and dirt, which is one of a pig's favorite pastimes.
- Free-range chickens still have their beaks cut off with a hot blade causing acute pain and often death
- Do not have enough access to the outdoors. Free-range chickens suffer from the same maladies as caged chickens: lung lesions, ammonia burns, and breast blisters from sitting on urine and feces-covered floors. When birds are given outdoor access, it is often for short periods and is in a small muddy enclosure in which the chickens cannot move.
- Are genetically altered to grow faster or to produce more milk or eggs than they naturally would (many animals become crippled under their own weight and die just inches away from water and food).
Although raised “organically,” the animals are still mistreated. And, the animals still go to the same slaughterhouse to which factory-farmed animals go and they experience the same horrors that non-organic animals experience.The only advantage that “100% organic” products have is that they do not contain antibiotics, hormones, or an arsenic-based additive (as many non-organic chicken products do).
Let’s look at sustainable farming!
Many of the concerns surrounding factory farmed animals could be resolved through sustainable farming. Sustainable farming allows animals to graze freely, consume a natural diet with no drugs, and do not suffer pain from inhumane practices. The cattle do not require antibiotics because they are less likely to contract diseases like they would if they were crammed together in small pens. They get more exercise and are healthier. These cattle produce good meat.
Sustainable farming has been found to be good for the environment. If cattle were fed grass instead of grain, fewer acres of rainforest would be cleared to grow feed. If manure were the primary fertilizer, animal waste would not be burned, thereby significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Other environmental benefits include:
- Grazing, grass-fed cattle can thrive on land unsuitable for growing crops
- Cattle eat food and crop waste that would otherwise be burned
- Grazing cattle eat nutrient rich grass that provides nutrient-rich manure that is reabsorbed into the soil;
- Richer soil produces richer crops.
- The movement of the hooves releases more nutrients into the soil and sequesters carbon, thereby reducing carbon emissions.
Sustainable farming is not possible at today’s consumption rates. In 2008, the US meat consumption was 166 pounds per person per year. To produce good meat by sustainable farming using today’s available resources, a person should average about 40 pounds of meat per person per year. Jonathan Safran Foer (a vegetarian) writes in Eating Animals that, “If we could limit our desire for pork and poultry to the capacity of the land (a big “if”), there are no ecological arguments against sustainable farming.” We need to eat good meat – but less of it.
California-based Niman Ranch is an example of sustainable farming. The company processes more than 33 million pounds of meat a year. Niman’s cows roam freely, eat an organic diet and are treated humanely. In addition, company policy dictates that the environment remain unaffected by its business. The company will not produce more meat than the land can sustain.
Good meat produced by sustainable farming costs more than bad meat. Many people are willing to pay more for meat that supports their values and beliefs on how animals should be treated. But the question is: how do you know that the meat on your table is good meat produced from animals that were treated humanely?
Let’s look at the labels!
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, is responsible for ensuring the accuracy in labeling of meat and poultry products. There is a whole list of labels on its website that define its terms. Among the terms are the following:
- Natural: A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product.
- No Hormones (beef) – No Antibiotics (red meat and poultry): The terms "no hormones or no antibiotics administered" may be used on the label of meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing that no hormones or antibiotics were used in raising the animals. Hormones are prohibited by federal regulations for pork or poultry.
- Mechanically Separated Meat: This is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones with attached edible meat under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. In 1982, a final rule published by FSIS on mechanically separated meat said it was safe and established a standard of identity for the food product. Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. However, mechanically separated pork is permitted and must be labeled as "mechanically separated pork" in the ingredients statement.
- Kosher: The term "Kosher" may be used only on the labels of meat and poultry products prepared under rabbinical supervision.
- Fresh Poultry: "Fresh" means whole poultry and cuts have never been below 26 °F (the temperature at which poultry freezes). This is consistent with consumer expectations of "fresh" poultry, i.e., not hard to the touch or frozen solid.
- Free Range or Free Roaming: Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
- Chemical Free: This term is not allowed to be used on a label.
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that free-range chickens used for meat have access to the outdoors, many never make it outside because they've been bred and drugged to grow so obese that they can hardly move. Additionally, the outside area is often so small, it actually is another very small pen overcrowded with chickens. Washington State University farm expert Terry Swagerty confirms that most free-range chickens never go outside because, he says, "They're not bred for mobility. They're bred for hogging down food."
The grass fed label is used on beef to indicate that the cows ate a diet of grass—what cows would naturally eat—instead of the unnatural and unhealthy grain diets that most cows are fed in order to fatten them up before slaughter. Although cows surely suffer less when they're allowed to eat grass (grain diets can lead to liver abscesses, digestive pain, and death), grass-fed cows are still subjected to mutilations without the use of painkillers and are often killed in the same slaughterhouses as cows from factory farms.
The United Egg Producers (UEP), the egg industry’s trade organization, started labeling its cartons with “Animal Care Certified.” After an investigation, it was found that abuses of chickens were allowed to continue and that the certification was meaningless. A Washington DC animal rights group, Compassion Over Killing, started a legal action to force the UEP to remove the label because it was misleading. The UEP substituted the label with “United Egg Producers Certified: Produced in Compliance with United Egg Producers’ Animal Husbandry Guidelines.” This label has been deemed by many animal organizations to be meaningless and misleading and that animal abuse and inhumane treatment is allowed to continue.
The National Pork Producers Council's Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) was designed to encourage more humane care of swine and to teach farmers how to determine the welfare of the pigs. Producers who follow the guidelines in SWAP are allowed to put the SWAP label on their products. Although a step in the right direction, many animal rights groups feel that the program does not go far enough.
SWAP allows factory farmers to cut pigs' testicles from their scrotums, use the equivalent of a hole punch to mutilate their ears, and chop off their tails, all without any painkillers. SWAP also allows factory farmers to cram mother pigs into dirty crates so small that they can't even turn around, to dose the animals with so many drugs that many become crippled, and to kill sick pigs using blunt trauma (i.e., cracking their heads against the concrete floor), gunshot, and electrocution.
None of the labels used by the United States Department of Agriculture addresses the humane treatment of the animals or indicates that the welfare of the animals was protected. Therefore, we cannot rely on labels to determine whether animals were mistreated in the process of producing the meat for consumption.
Let’s go to Australia!
The live export of animals to Indonesia is a major industry for Australia. Frozen meant is not acceptable to Indonesia for religious reasons, so the animals must be exported live to be processed in local abattoirs.
A well respected television program in Australia, 4 Corners, did extensive research about the treatment these animals, and produced a program about it, including graphic pictures highlighting the appalling treatment of these animals in abattoirs in Indonesia. Anyone who saw the program could not help but be appalled at what they saw and the response from the Australian public was overwhelming. Animal Rights organizations, such as Animals Australia (animalsaustralia.org.au) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (rspca.org.au), conducted major campaigns with the aim of suspending these live exports, ensuring that the public outcry would not go unheard.
The public outcry, coupled with the campaigns of animal rights organizations, was heard by the Australian government. The Australian Government suspended live animal exports to Indonesia for a period of six months. The Government lifted the ban on live animal exports to Indonesia, the Middle East, and other countries. However they have put stringent transparent guidelines in place including strict monitoring of the abattoirs by web cams and government inspectors who supervise the transport of these animals. There is no doubt that the government responded to the will of the people.
While the government’s action had major economic ramifications for the cattle industry, it resulted in a very quick and decisive action in all areas of the industry. There was enormous pressure on the Government to send a message to the industry that that animal abuse would not be tolerated and that each business would be accountable for maintaining high standards.
Australia’s RSPCA developed an approved farming scheme that sets high standards for the care of chickens, turkeys and pigs. The standards require that animals are treated humanely. The RSPCA inspects farms to ensure that animals are not subject to inhumane practices and that the farm meets with its high standards for the animals’ quality of life. Farmers who adhere to the RSPCA’s guidelines can have their products stamped with the RSPCA’s seal of approval. Australian consumers know that the products they purchase meet their ethical values if it contains the RSPCA’s seal of approval. In addition, the RSPCA’s web site lists all those stores in which approved products are sold.
Perhaps we can learn from the policies established by Australia in response to the will of the people and establish a “seal of approval,” administered by a non-governmental agency, for those farms that adhere to high ethical standards for the treatment of animals.
Dr. Temple Grandin is autistic. In spite of her autism, she is best known as a successful author and livestock handling equipment designer. She designs and implements more humane animal feedlots & slaughterhouses to reduce or eliminate animals’ anxiety and suffering. She experienced how difficult it is to make changes and improvements in this area, but has bravely persevered to enlighten people about this issue. HBO made a movie about her life which is very good. Look for it: Temple Grandin.
Although not a vegetarian, Temple Grandin is committed to the humane treatment of animals. Her quote sums up the gist of this article.
"I believe that we can use animals ethically for food, but we've got to treat them right," she said. " We owe them a decent life -- and a painless death. They're living, feeling beings. They're not posts, or machines."
Pam Nollkamper is a founding member of Animals Suffer in Silence International (ASISI) along with Sherryl Robertson of Brisbane, Australia. They are a grass-root organization devoted to raising awareness of the ethical treatment of animals raised for food.