You may have noticed more debate recently about the issue of humanewashing, which is the meat, dairy and egg industries’ practice of telling consumers through advertising, on packaging and elsewhere with claims and imagery, that the animals were treated well. To put a finer point on it, these messages are intended to deceive consumers into believing that the products they buy don’t come from factory farmed animals, and that the animals are treated humanely. Unfortunately, as our investigators have found time and again after bringing hidden cameras into dozens of factory farms and slaughterhouses, the reality is that cruelty and neglect are standard in animal agriculture, and 99 percent of the animal products Americans eat come from factory farms.
Factory farming is how these industries operate: the animal products on grocery store shelves and at restaurants come from industrial operations, which:
- crowd massive numbers of animals together in filthy conditions
- engage in violent mutilations and frequently violent moving and killing of sick and injured animals
- deprive animals of basic natural behaviors and any chance at a semblance of the life they have evolved to live
- and ultimately cut their lives far short of their natural lifespans by slaughter.
The meat, dairy and egg industries know two things: that people care about animals and do not want them to be mistreated, and that they cannot remove the cruelty and deprivation from these industries. So, the industries lie about it — they tell people what they want to hear so people will keep buying the products of animal suffering.
Where do labels come from?
We’ve all seen images of picturesque farms and hens pecking in a green field, surrounded by their chicks. We’ve seen terms like “humane” and “animal friendly,” as well as more official-looking claims accompanied by seals or government acronyms. These types of labeling claims may come from one of three different sources:
(1) A government-defined or legally-regulated term or advertiser. This does not mean that the government has inspected the facility or that the government’s definition of the term means much (if anything) for the treatment of animals. For example, the term “natural” evokes the image of a spacious and clean outdoor setting for many people, but in reality the definition has nothing to do with the way the animals are treated. Rather, it’s about artificial ingredients and processing. To be clear: the term “natural” puts no restrictions on factory farming or slaughter practices. Sometimes, the government itself is the advertiser, or at least partially pays for the ad, like in the famous “happy cow” California ads — but that doesn’t make the claims any more accurate.
(2) A private third-party certifier. These could be claims or certifications that come from a variety of private sources, ranging from nonprofits looking to end certain factory farming practices to the industry itself, which creates certification processes so they can slap a seal of approval on existing factory farming operations and practices. And without extensive research, it’s unclear to consumers which practices they do or don’t cover. Numerically, the vast majority of products that bear a third-party certification come from animals who suffered and died at facilities indistinguishable from other factory farms.
(3) Brand marketing language. This is a broad category of claims and images that aren’t reviewed by any private third party or government body. Beautiful images on packaging often come from this category. We’ve seen claims like “compassion” and images of big green fields or children in bonnets playing with happy chicks. There is no end to the possibilities here, and even as concerned consumers learn about and address some of these misleading claims or images, more are popping up all the time.
Using the law to fight humanewashing
The good news is that there are laws in all 50 states and similar federal laws that protect consumers from false advertising. Animal Outlook and others have challenged some of the worst and most widespread examples of this misleading labeling, including challenges resulting in nationwide changes. It sends an important message to meat, dairy and egg companies that they cannot simply lie to consumers in order to sell their products, while keeping the violent realities behind the closed doors of animal agriculture. Still, there are always more claims and images in the market than litigation can address.
What really happens to animals
Most people know very little about the basic realities of life and death for the animals exploited by these industries. We all grew up in a world where the vast majority of the messages we received about cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and fish came from corporations whose job it was to sell you more animal bodies or “products,” so the only information we had was humanewashing. It is only through undercover investigations that we have learned just how bleak life and death is for farmed animals.
- Cows used for dairy are repeatedly impregnated and then have their calves taken away shortly after birth for the veal, beef or dairy industries. Well over 90 percent of calves have their horns burned off, and time and again, the cows themselves are violently beaten and dragged as their bodies break down before they’re sent to slaughter after only a few short years.
- The majority of mother pigs are confined in metal gestation crates so small they cannot turn around, and nearly all mother pigs are all but immobilized in farrowing crates allowing just enough space below the metal bars for the piglets to nurse but not for the mothers and babies to interact. Piglets have their tails and testicles cut or ripped off without pain relief, in full view of their mothers. Piglets who die from this violence or for other reasons often have their intestines pulled out and fed to the living pigs. At around six months of age, they are sent to slaughter.
- Birds used for meat are artificially bred and hatched in massive numbers at industrial hatcheries, where common practices include cutting or burning off their beaks and/or toes. The birds are often mangled, and many die or are killed in a blender-like machine called a macerator or are suffocated or gassed. These animals are selectively bred to grow incredibly large at a quick rate, with chickens reaching slaughter weight at just six weeks of age, more than twice the size of their counterparts from 1950. If a human infant grew at this rate, they’d weigh hundreds of pounds at just a few months old. This causes common conditions like heart attacks, broken legs, and ammonia burns due to immobility, and the birds who suffer from them are subject to violent and cruel deaths before the survivors are roughly moved and sent to slaughter.
- The vast majority of egg-laying hens are “debeaked” at the hatchery, while the male chicks are ground up alive in a macerator shortly after hatching because they are not valuable to the egg industry. Most hens then go on to be confined in tiny wire “battery” cages where they can’t even spread their wings. It’s common for these hens to be stuck in cage wires, ill or injured, dead and decaying for long periods with live cagemates, dropped into manure pits without access to food or water, and then considered “spent” at around two years old and killed via “depopulation” or slaughter.
- So many fish are bred and/or captured and killed that they aren’t even counted as individual, feeling animals, but by the tonnage. Aquaculture — factory farming of fish — is a massive and growing industry, which systematically mutilates, neglects and kills fish without regard for pain and suffering.
Cruelty is standard practice in the meat, dairy and egg industries.
Humanewashing ad campaign
Animal Outlook partnered with Factory Farming Awareness Coalition and Farm Forward to bring people a glimpse of the truth, expose humanewashing’s manipulative tactics and offer a window into the realities these industries work so hard to keep hidden from view.
Right to know the truth
The meat, milk and egg industries have a near-monopoly on the messages we all hear. Until we demand to know the truth and exercise our right to see these videos, to share them, and to call out humanewashing for what it is, the industry gets to keep its control — of billions of animals and of each of us. It is our turn to arm ourselves with the truth and stand against humanewashing and align our purchases with our values, starting with refusing to support these cruel industries and standing up for animals by eating vegan.
As Executive Director of Animal Outlook, a national nonprofit animal protection organization, Cheryl is responsible for development and oversight of investigations, litigation and policy, and effecting mainstream corporate and cultural change to shift away from animal products and reduce the suffering of farmed animals.
Cheryl and her work have been featured in media outlets including NPR, The Washington Post and many others. She is a regular speaker at law schools and conferences.
Cheryl received a J.D. from UCLA School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Chicago in Environmental Studies. She is a member of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and California bars and is based in Los Angeles.