My name is Lily Schaefer, and I am a college student at Ohio University, as well as an intern with Simply Living. I am working on this blog to further my knowledge and share my experience with eating as a vegetarian! If you have questions, or would like to chat, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the previous posting of this blog series, I discussed the major environmental impacts caused by the factory farming and meat eating industry. Another major issue that activists call attention to is animal welfare- the health and well-being of animals under the care of humans.
In regards to factory farms, animal welfare activists are concerned with the level of suffering felt by the farm animals. A large reason the factory farms have been allowed to operate the way they do is because there is a disconnect between us humans, the animals in which our meat comes from, and the horrifying lives they live. We consumers are not fully aware of the atrocities that go on behind closed doors at all stages of a farm animal’s life – from birth to adolescence on the farm, transportation from farm to slaughterhouse, and from slaughterhouse to processing facility to grocery store. The farm animals’ suffering not only occurs in how they are treated on factory farms and at slaughterhouses, but it starts with their genetics – how the species were modified and chosen over time for specific traits to enhance efficiency and profit while decreasing costs, which is essentially the core of all business models.
Let us first examine poultry, chickens in particular. 99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat come from a factory farm (from Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2018). The genetics of chickens raised on factory farms for meat have become so uniform, only one breed of chicken is now used. Further, the genetics between chickens raised for meat (broilers) and chickens raised for egg-laying (layers) are so different, with certain genes enhanced or repressed for specific consumer needs, they have become two different species.
Let us zero in on the broilers, who have been called the “chickens of tomorrow” when they were created for their maximum efficiency. These broilers have been modified to grow to their maximum size as quickly as possible, with as little resource use as possible. The muscles and fat on these birds grow so large so fast, the growth of their bones cannot keep up. The weight of their bodies cannot be supported by the bones in their legs. This leads to deformities, disease, and one out of four chickens having fractured legs from their own body weight. Because these birds grow so fast, they reach the maximum desired size extremely young and are sent for slaughter usually on the forty-second day of life, sometimes as early as the thirty-ninth day depending on the farm. Because these birds are alive for just over one month, they do not reach a level of mental or anatomical maturity where they can reproduce naturally. This means all broilers are artificially inseminated to produce the next generation of broilers. Further, because the diversity and genetics of these birds have been tampered with so much, and their diet is so constricted and specific in order to conserve resources and money, they have lost virtually all natural immunity to bacteria and diseases that a species would have built up over time. Therefore, in order to keep the broilers alive for forty days, they must be pumped with large amounts of antibiotics, vitamins and medicines to keep them “healthy” because of the missing elements of a natural diet and immune system. Just like building immunity to diseases and viruses, animals can also build immunity to antibiotics – think of the flu! This has major implications on public health. Stay tuned for more information on this in an upcoming post.
Turkey genetics have been manipulated much the same as chickens, to maximize growth efficiency and minimize resource input. Factory farm turkeys grow so large they cannot walk normally, if at all. They can not run, jump, play, or fly because their modified anatomy will not allow them to. They also cannot reproduce naturally, but must be artificially inseminated. There is almost nothing natural left about these animals, especially not the way they are raised in these factory farms.
The practices that take place on factory farms are absurd, outrageous, horrifying, and gut-wrenching. Some of the things I read in Eating Animals were truly so horrific I had to put the book down and stop reading. My intention with this topic is not to scare you, or cause any deep discomforts of any kind, but the treatment of animals on factory farms is deeply concerning. More people need to be aware of how the animals that are providing for their meals are being treated, and the practices their money is supporting.
Let’s start again with chickens. According to Safran Foer, the typical cage for egg-laying hens allows each bird 67 square inches of space. For visual aid, this is less space than the size of one piece of printer paper per bird. “Cage free” birds (simply meaning that there are no cages) are given just about the same amount of space in a factory farm facility, with up to 50,000 birds in the same windowless room. They are packed so closely together that bacterial infections and diseases run rampant, the birds cannot escape their own feces, and many birds end up injured or even killed from being trampled by other birds. Their entire lifestyle and growing cycle is controlled by humans- when and what they are fed, how much light (not from the sun but from lightbulbs) and darkness they are exposed to and for how long, how much water they can drink, and the heating and cooling of the room. Chickens are often debeaked while conscious, get their bones broken by being man-handled during transportation, or can even be murdered in the barn by careless workers.
During transportation, birds are stuffed into crates on moving trucks and given no food or water, no matter how long the drive. At processing facilities, birds are hung upside down by their ankles in metal shackles on a conveyor system. The conveyor drags the birds through an electrified pool of water causing them to become paralyzed but not unconscious (the USDA exempts chickens from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act). The conveyor then takes birds across a machine that automatically cuts the throat. If the machine misses, there are workers, called “kill-men”, that will cut the throat, but even they can miss. There is a “scalding tank” in which the birds, dead or alive, are then put into. The rest of the processing practices don’t have to do with animal welfare, as the bird is definitely deceased by this point. I will discuss the implications of contamination at the processing facilities in a later post.
Pigs go through similar atrocities with life on a factory farm; packed so tightly together in barns they do not have room to nest or practice other natural behaviors, killed so young they do not have time to establish social hierarchy like they normally would, maimed in some way or another to prevent pigs harming other pigs when in fear, fed wholly unnatural diets with loads of growth hormones and antibiotics. Pigs also experience similar mistakes at slaughter facilities. Instead of electrocution, pigs and cattle are hit in the skull with a metal rod in an attempt to knock them unconscious. It does not always do so, but can leave them concussed, confused, and fully conscious but immobile. They are strapped and hung from ankles and cut to bleed out, whether conscious or unconscious. Sometimes they are even moved onto the tables to be dismembered before they are dead, pigs and cattle alike. To start cutting the limbs off of an animal while it is still alive is diabolical, inexcusable, and heartbreaking, and yet it happens day after day. This is the behavior we are supporting with our money when we buy meat that comes from animals raised on factory farms. The film Food, Inc shows some of these practices, as well as talks in depth about the industry as a whole (https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/amzn1.dv.gti.80a9f729-3a34-9962-399b-2458f7e0823d?ref_=imdbref_tt_wbr_pvs_piv&tag=imdbtag_tt_wbr_pvs_piv-20). This film is also available on Kanopy for free through the Columbus Metropolitan Library, as well as through access from many universities. There are also numerous videos on youtube displaying real footage from hidden cameras inside barns if you feel inclined to watch (a quick google search of “factory farm chicken barn” brought up plenty of suggested videos).
You might wonder how all of these gruesome acts are legal. There is a term, Common Farming Exemptions (CFE), which makes any practices used to raise farm animals legal if they are commonly practiced in the industry. Essentially, the owners of the farms can harm the animals because it is “normal” or “common” to do so. If the industry supports a new practice, it automatically becomes legal. No independent agency makes the rules or has authority over these practices. That authority lies with the industry itself. This is alarming!
PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is the largest animal rights organization in the world with more than two million members. PETA’s main concern is for better animal welfare, especially of farmed animals. The methods they use to advocate are not traditional, and are often seen as controversial, grotesque, outlandish, and over the top. However, their scare tactics are also effective in getting small changes made to the factory farming practices by instilling the fear of public humiliation into the corporate leaders of factory farming companies. To look more into the efforts of PETA fighting factory farms, visit their website (https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/).
While there are good farmers out there, humane farmers who treat their animals with care and respect, they are few and far between. Just to reiterate, 99 percent of meat bought and sold at grocery stores throughout the country comes from factory farms. 99 percent of the animals we eat are raised in these conditions. Eating a vegetarian diet is my way of protesting these behaviors, these farms, these companies, and this industry. My money no longer supports factory farms and their awful practices. If you do eat meat and are not ready to give it up, please consider buying from a supplier that treats the farm animals humanely. This would be a big step away from supporting factory farms. If you know of any local humane farmers out there, feel free to share in the comments! Later, I will discuss the influence the factory-farming industry has on society, some of the social and economic impacts of factory farming, and ways to continue to eat a healthy affordable diet without factory-farmed meats. Stay tuned.
As for a note on my vegetarian journey, it has come to my attention what a wonderful, versatile resource spinach is. Spinach has a high amount of iron and calcium, which tend to be lacking in a diet without red meats. Spinach, as well as other dark green leafy vegetables, helps fill the void of missing nutrients, however, you absorb more of that iron and calcium if you eat the spinach cooked. This is due to an acid present in spinach that blocks the absorption of calcium and iron, but this acid breaks down under high temperatures. Spinach, in my opinion, has very little taste, so it is easy to mix with everything. When I am eating salad at the dining halls, restaurants, or shopping for greens at the grocery store, I seek out mixes that include spinach. I also blend spinach into smoothies, put it on sandwiches, use spinach tortillas, and cook it in pasta.