I haven’t eaten meat in 27 years. I’ve distilled down the reasons I can never shake: Three things you need to know about each animal ag industry: A cheat sheet
This month marks my 27 year anniversary of not eating meat. A lot has happened in that time. Amid the constant messages vying for our attention and the responsibilities of our busy lives, it’s hard to cut through the din and focus on the important things. But going back to the cruel realities of what happens to animals to make meat, dairy, and eggs keeps the issue fresh and urgent for me. If you need a one-stop shop to get to the heart of the truth about animal agriculture as a motivation boost, or as a reminder of the hidden story behind meat, milk, and eggs you see in the grocery store and at restaurants, here’s the raw truth.
Below are three practices from each industry that are widespread yet cruel. Cruelty comes standard in animal agriculture. This is business as usual.
- Testicles, tails, and teeth: newborn piglets have their testicles cut or ripped out of their bodies by hand, their tails cut off and their teeth clipped, all without any pain relief. Our Hawkeye investigation documented piglets dying after botched castration.
- Mother pigs are immobilized: unable to turn around in narrow metal gestation crates while pregnant and farrowing crates where their piglets nurse through the bars of the cage, and the cycle is repeated – for years – until she is killed.
- Skulls slammed on concrete, gassing to death, cutting off air supply/increasing heat to death: pigs deemed unprofitable are killed via means including “thumping” their skulls against the concrete to kill them, gassed in carbon dioxide chambers, and even entire herds intentionally killed by shutting off the ventilation, slowly lowering oxygen and increasing the heat, which can take many hours to finally kill them.
- Male chicks ground up alive in a blender-like device called a macerator: as soon as they are hatched, they are dumped dozens at a time into a chute where they are pulverized into a “slurry.” They are killed this way because they won’t lay eggs like their sisters. For the 325 million egg laying hens in the U.S., imagine just as many males who never got to live through their first day.
- Hens living their entire lives in tiny wire cages: unable to spread their wings or turn around, most egg-laying hens in the U.S. still live in barren wire “battery cages” where they have less floor-space than a letter-sized sheet of paper.
- Hens living in cages with dead hens, sick, stuck, and injured by cage wires: investigations of battery cage operations have shown time and again that severely decomposing corpses are left to rot in cages with live hens. Birds are trampled by their cage mates or stuck on wires unable to access food and water, injured by broken cages, and/or ill with growths or mucus dripping from their beaks.
- Burning babies’ horns with hot iron or chemicals to destroy the young horns and growth tissue: this is done in over 90% of dairies, often without pain relief, and investigations have shown these calves being tied or otherwise pinned down while the horns are burned off, and kicking and writhing in attempts to escape.
- Sick and injured cows dragged and hoisted by a metal clamp on their hips: cows are attached to a chain and tractor, to move these so-called “downer” animals out of the way.
- Cycle of insemination and separating mother and calf: babies are killed for beef or veal or are raised for the dairy industry themselves, so the milk intended for the calves can be taken away and sold to humans.
Chicken and Turkey Industry
- Hatching into an assembly line: where birds get stuck in machinery and have their skin ripped from their bodies, gassing, suffocation, and mutilation of beaks and toes. Hatchery investigations have shown time and again that the animals are cheap enough to the industry that animals being torn apart by machinery or crushed because of the fast mechanized process are just a known cost of doing business, and low-value animals are unceremoniously killed. It’s common practice to cut off or remove beaks and toes with a machine.
- Genetic manipulation causing crippling growth rates:. today’s chickens and turkeys are bred to grow twice as fast as their counterparts did 50 years ago. If humans grew as fast as a broiler chicken, a 3-month old baby would be 600 pounds. This causes widespread suffering and death including crippling deformities, leg injuries that cause the birds to be unable to access food and water and suffer severe ammonia burns from living immobilized in waste, and heart attacks and death.
- Killed early and without legal protection: these animals reach a profitable “market” weight young and are sent to slaughter – at only 45 days for chickens. The federal slaughter laws meant to give basic protections to mammals to prevent the worst abuses and killing methods at the slaughterhouse do not apply to birds.
- Fast food beef is dairy cows: dairy isn’t just milk and cheese. It’s also veal and beef. Ground beef and fast food hamburgers are largely supplied by slaughtered dairy cows after they are “spent,” so all the cruelty that goes into dairy is also in beef, and vice versa.
- Branding and castration: cattle used for beef are castrated and branded with hot irons in an excruciatingly painful way.
- Transport: cattle and pigs are regularly transported long distances with no food, water, or rest. There is a federal law meant to limit that time to 28 hours, but it is almost never enforced, and long trips in all weather – where a lot of animals die – are commonplace.
- Fish factories are growing and destroying the oceans faster: fishing is decimating the ocean’s ecosystems and killing massive numbers of fish, as well as so-called “non-target” species like sea lions, turtles, and dolphins, and “clear-cutting” the ocean with huge nets called trawlers that kill everything on the ocean floor. Aquaculture – or fish factory farms – are making the situation worse. The demand for wild-caught fish is driven largely by purchases by aquaculture companies to feed wild-caught fish to factory farmed fish.
- Next-level numbers of animals killed and amount of suffering: fish are not even counted as individuals, but measured in tonnage. The numbers are easily in the trillions, which is so high our brains literally cannot comprehend the number of individuals subject to suffering and killing. Standard practices like fin clipping and leaving “cull” animals to suffocate and be crushed by other animals, as well as regular neglect and mass die-offs cause incalculable suffering and killing.
- The law fails fish even more than mammals and birds: while most states’ animal cruelty laws are written in a way that they should clearly cover fish, no U.S. law enforcement entity has been willing to use the law against the industrial abuse uncovered in investigations by animal protection groups.
Cheryl Leahy is the executive director of Animal Outlook, a national nonprofit animal protection organization. She 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. Read More…