Issues


Animals - Health - Environment - World Hunger


Pigs

Pigs are the most intelligent of all domesticated animals. They are every bit as smart as dogs and even have a higher cognitive ability than three year old children.(1) Studies have shown than pigs are capable of complex problem solving, and can even learn to play simple video games.

In spite of all this, female pigs spend their entire lives in individual ‘gestation crates’ only seven feet long and two feet wide. The crates are so small they aren’t even able to turn around. Virtually from the time they are born until the time they are slaughtered they live in these crates. Deprived of all natural behaviors, even the ability to walk, many start to breakdown from boredom and frustration and often develop neurotic coping habits such as repetitive bar biting, sham chewing (chewing nothing), and compulsively pressing on their water bottles.(2)

This is the life endured by almost all female pigs raised for meat in North America and around the world.

Sources
1. Dr. Donald Broom, Cambridge University Professor and former scientific advisor to the Council of Europe.
2. Kaufman, M. (2001, June). In pig farming, growing concern. The Washington Post, 18.

Beef

The majority of beef cattle today spend a large portion of their lives on crowded feedlots, "standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick."(1) The purpose of the feedlot is simple; for the cattle industry to get as many cows as they can, as big as they can, as fast as they can.

In nature cows live on a diet consisting almost exclusively of grass, however, “cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet, and for half a century now the industry has devoted itself to shortening a beef animal’s allotted span on earth.”(2) How do they achieve this? The short answer is corn. “What gets a steer from 80 pounds to 1,100 pounds in fourteen months is tremendous quantities of corn, protein and fat supplements, and an arsenal of new drugs.”(3)

A cows body isn’t designed to digest grain, but on today’s feedlots they are being fed, “nearly a half bushel (of corn) a day.” This creates numerous health problems. Bloat, acidosis, diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease, and pneumonia are all common. That’s where the drugs come in. The function of antibiotics on feedlots, however, isn’t to keep the animals healthy, but to keep them alive long enough to reach slaughter.

The truth is that most of the beef we are eating comes from cows that were sick and fed antibiotics throughout much of their lives, and “most of the health problems that afflict feedlot cattle can be traced either directly or indirectly to their diet. They’re made to eat forage, and we’re making them eat grain.”(4) Can it come as any surprise to us that disease is on the rise in our culture when so many of the animals who are providing our food are sick themselves?

Sources
1. Michael Pollan, New York Times, November 10, 2002.
2. Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, p.71.
3. Ibid.
4. Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, p.77.

Dairy

Female cows, like all mammals, must be pregnant in order to produce milk. As a consequence, most cows in the dairy industry are artificially inseminated repeatedly throughout their lives. And since the purpose of dairy farming is to produce milk for humans, calves are taken away from their mothers within 24 hours of birth. (1) This is extremely distressing to both mother and calf, and it is common for them to cry out and look for each other for days or even weeks afterwards. The mother’s female offspring will then become dairy cows themselves, while male calves are generally sold to the veal industry.(2)

This cycle will be repeated over and over again throughout a dairy cow’s life until she is considered ‘spent’, at around four or five years of age, and is sent to slaughter herself.(3)

The vast majority of milk consumed in the world comes from farms that perform these cruel and unnatural practices.

"The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle's dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf...On the second day after birth; my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn—only ten yards away, in plain view of his mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth—minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days—were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain."
Michael Klaper M.D.

Sources
1. Goldstein, D. (2002, May 30). Up close: a beef with dairy. KCAL.
2. Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA. (2003, Feb.). Safety of veal, from farm to table.
3. Wallace, R.L. (2004). Market cows: a potential profit center. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Chickens

Chicken is the most widely consumed meat in North America; 9 billion chickens are killed each year in the United States alone.(1)

Most of these animals are crowded into massive sheds by the tens of thousands. Urine and feces cover the floors, and with little or no ventilation, low oxygen levels make it hard to breathe. The high concentration of ammonia forces workers to wear masks; the birds, however, often develop painful skin and lung infections from constant exposure to these gases.

In addition, chickens today are engineered to grow much faster than they did in the past. Compared with the first half of the 20th century, chickens today can grow twice the size in half the time.(2) Their daily growth rate has increased by about 400 percent since the 1930’s.(3) According to a report by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, “If we grew as fast as a chicken, we would weigh 349 pounds at age 2.” The consequence of all this unnatural growth is that most chickens today have trouble supporting the weight of their bodies. Lameness is common and according to another study, “26% of broilers are severely crippled and 90% cannot walk normally.”(4)

In nature chickens can live to be 15 or 20 years old. Today they are slaughtered at only 6 weeks of age; on free range farms seldom more than 9 weeks.(5)

Sources
1. USDA. Agricultural Statistics 2008.
2. Frank Gordy, “Boilers”, in American Poultry History, 1823-1973.
3. From 25g per day to 100 g per day. T.G. Knowles and others, “Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens.”
4. Kestin, S.C. et al. (1992, Aug. 29). Prevalence of leg weakness in broiler chickens and its relationship with genotype. Veterinary Record, 131, 190-194.
5. Frank Reese, Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, personal correspondence, July 2009.

Eggs

Chickens are social animals that form friendships, recognize one another, and in nature, enjoy building nests, dustbathing, and roosting in trees. However, on today’s factory farms most laying hens, raised for eggs, spend their lives in cages so small they can’t even spread their wings. In the typical cage each bird has 67 square inches of space; less than a sheet of A4 paper.(1) They never go outside, they never see the sun, and they are unable to perform even the most basic instincts of their species. Finally, around two years of age, when their egg yield becomes unprofitable, they are sold for slaughter.

Almost all eggs come from hens that are raised in these conditions.

Did you know?
Egg farms don’t produce their own chicks; they buy live chicks from commercial hatcheries. However, only female chicks can lay eggs. Male chicks in the egg industry are killed within moments of hatching. They are generally tossed into trash bags to suffocate or are thrown into high speed grinders while they are still alive. Both factory and free range egg farms buy their chicks from these hatcheries.(2)


Sources
1. The United Egg Producers recommends that hens be given at least 67 square inches of space per hen. HSUS reports that this minimum is what is typically used.
2. Henry, F. (2003, June 1). Megafarming: size brings conflict. The Plain Dealer.

Fish

For years we claimed that fish could not feel pain. I’m sure many of us have memories of parents explaining this concept to us the first time we caught a fish and saw it struggling on our fishing line or in our boat. In the past 20 years however, we have learned a lot about these animals. “Our knowledge of no other animal has been so quickly and dramatically revised. If you were the world expert on fish mental capacities in the 1990’s, you’re at best a novice today.”(1) And one thing we have learned, is that we were wrong.

Fish have a similar pain response system to humans and other vertebrates. They have a brain, a spine and nerves, they have nociceptors (pain receptors), and their bodies can produce endorphins (that relieve pain). In fact, their nervous system closely resembles our own. This has been studied extensively in recent years and “the scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and animals." (2) Today we now know and, “have found conclusive evidence that fish do feel pain.”(3)

One of the reasons that we didn’t understand this sooner is likely because fish don’t vocalize their pain the way mammals do. However, as one researcher rightly pointed out, "even though fish don't scream [audibly to humans] when they are in pain and anguish, their behavior should be evidence enough of their suffering when they are hooked or netted. They struggle, endeavoring to escape and, by so doing, demonstrate they have a will to survive."(4)

Fish are sentient creatures. They can experience pain, and like all sentient creatures, have emotions and desires, and therefore, have an interest in their lives and an interest in their own survival. This is something science can no longer allow us to deny.

Sources
1. Jonathan Safran Foer, “Eating Animals”, p. 65.
2. Dr. Donald Broom, Cambridge University Professor and scientific advisor to the Council of Europe.
3. BBC News. (2003, April 30). Fish do feel pain, scientists say.
4. Dr. Michael Fox, D.V.M., Ph.D

Number of animals killed in the world by the meat, dairy and egg industries, since you opened this webpage. This does not include the billions of fish and other aquatic animals killed annually.

Based on 2007 statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' Global Livestock Production and Health Atlas.

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