This Little Piggy / Fowl Play / Talking Turkey / Battery / Lamb to the Slaughter / Milky No-Way / Load of Bull / Fishy Business / Slaughter / Stunned / Electric Stunning / Captive Bolt Pistol / Electrified Water Bath / Ritual Slaughter / Free Range
Imagine you just landed on planet Earth and want to find out more about the diet of the human race. You know that people who eat animals run a much greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. They are more likely to suffer from gallstones, obesity, diet-related diabetes, kidney stones, food poisoning and constipation! You also know that livestock farming is a hopelessly inefficient way of feeding people and that it causes pollution on a staggering scale. On top of that, you have discovered that incarcerating and killing animals causes great pain and suffering. Coming from an advanced planet which encourages compassion and wisdom, you obviously expect to find that most people on Earth will be vegetarians and vegans.
Instead you discover that the average person in the U.S. subsidizes the abuse and killing of animals by eating more than 35 animals a year or 2,600 over a 75 year lifetime, shown in table 1, left.
You find it impossible to believe that over 9 billion animals are slaughtered in the U.S. every year, shown in table 2, right.
But how are these animals raised and killed? Surely humankind must show some compassion and respect for our fellow creatures with which we share the Earth?
Pigs are highly intelligent, social animals capable of living up to 20 years. Today, over 95 percent of pigs are raised in automated confinement buildings spending their entire lives indoors. They are slaughtered at only six months of age. Their short lives are filled with misery.
The 'breeding stock' - female pigs kept to produce the piglets who are killed for meat - are kept in gestation crates while they are pregnant. Here they are unable to walk or turn around. Some of the larger sows barely fit in the crate. They are forced to live on cold, bare cement floors in their own excrement during their 4 month pregnancy. The European Commissions Scientific Veterinary Committee condemned gestation crates in a 1997 report because of the serious health and welfare problems. It stated sows in stalls have weaker bones and muscles, heart problems and more urinary tract infections. Crating pigs can also send them mad. Many pigs show 'stereotyped behavior', moving their heads backwards and forwards in an exact and constantly repeated motion, gnawing on their bars with the precision of a metronome. It is the same syndrome which causes zoo animals to pace relentlesssly, and as the UK government supported research states: 'this behavior resembles in many respects the development in humans of chronic psychiatric disorders'.
Sow stalls have been
banned in the UK and Sweden. Finland and the Netherlands have bans that
will come into effect by 2008. The rest of the European Union has banned
sows in stalls after the first four weeks of pregnancy and this will be
implemented by 2013. They are still legal in the USA and are used by almost
The bars on the crates stop the mother pigs from being able to move. This causes the pregnant animals to ache all over and many have back and leg problems. The bars also stop them from reaching their babies when they give birth, although the babies can reach their mothers teats to suckle. Short chains or rubber straps are used to immobilize the mother to give the piglets easy access to her udders. This type of tethering causes her udders to develop lacerations and infections due to her inability to get away from her suckling babies. Five days after her piglets are taken away, the sow is made pregnant again and the whole misery-go-round continues.
Normally, piglets would stay with their mother for about 15 weeks. However, on factory farms, they are taken away from their mother at 2 to 3 weeks, weighing only about 15 pounds, and crowded into small nursery pens surrounded by metal bars and concrete. By this time approximately 15% have died.
Surviving piglets are placed in crowded, filthy pens in a confinement building to be fattened and finished. How crowded? Industry personnel are typically advised to allow a little more than one square yard of floor space for each animal.
Crowding, and the boredom of confinement produces behaviors such as fighting and tail-biting. To prevent damage to the product, the industry castrates the piglets, cuts off their tails, and clips their teeth all without anesthesia.
Overcrowding also causes disease to run rampant causing further suffering for the pigs. Pork 95, a trade journal, reported that, A Minnesota slaughter check survey found that every participating herd had pneumonia. And, on average, 70% of each herds animals showed symptoms.
Another examination of 6,000 slaughtered pigs revealed that 71% suffered from pneumonia.
Nevertheless, one in every four commercial pig operations went the entire year without requesting the services of a veterinarian. The reason for such cruel overcrowding? As the meat industry journal, National Hog Farmer succinctly put it, Crowding pigs pays. Once the young pigs reach approximately 250 pounds (about six months old), they are crammed into trucks for transport to the slaughterhouse. Many will not survive the horribly cruel transport conditions. According to the Livestock Conservation Institute, Each year, 80,000 hogs leave the farm but never reach the market.
Chicken farming is outright cruel. Chicks are kept in sheds called broiler houses; broiler being an industry term for chickens killed for their flesh. Up to 100,000 birds are crammed in these houses, with less than half a square foot of space per bird (about the space of a computer screen). The floor is concrete and laid with sawdust, wood shavings or chopped straw; it soon becomes covered with the animals excrement. The filth may attract rats and flies bringing disease. Because the birds are forced to spend their entire lives standing in their own droppings, they are in terrible pain from burns to their feet and legs, breast blisters, and ulcerated feet. (Think how sore a small mouth ulcer is and imagine having them all over your feet.) Many of the windowless sheds are artificially lit for 24 hours a day. This deters the chicks from sleeping and instead makes them eat more. A fat bird means more money.
Broiler chickens are ready for slaughter at 1.8kg/4 pounds live weight in six weeks half the time it once took. They go to death with the bodies of adult chickens and the blue eyes and high pitched cheep of little chicks. The birds grow abnormally fast because they are fed high protein feed, growth promoting antibiotics and are selectively bred to do so. The result is that the bones of many break under their ballooning weight and their hearts are frequently unable to cope. In fact, an article in the agricultural journal, Feedstuffs, stated according to experts broilers now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses.
Forty-five million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving. There are still wild turkeys in the United States. It makes you sad to think of the farmed birds when you have seen them free in their natural environment. Wild turkeys are actually very handsome, with black wing and tail feathers that shimmer red-green and copper, contrasting with their white wing bars nothing like the all-white, broad-breasted, meat strains bred in our farms today. Wild turkeys enjoy roosting in trees, but build their nests on the ground. If they are threatened, they can fly as far as one mile at an amazing 88km/h (55mph). It is strange that so many people think turkeys cant fly. Seeds, nuts, roots, tubers, grubs, grasses, legumes and sometimes small amphibians and molluscs (snails and slugs) make up their varied diet. The turkeys semi-wild nature means that they suffer very badly in factory farms.
In the U.S. more than 95% of farmed birds are intensively confined. One day old chicks (known as poults) are either placed in large, windowless broiler sheds or in pole barns (like warehouses) which have natural light and ventilation. Up to 25,000 birds may be crammed into a shed giving only 2.5sq.ft to each. As they grow, they can hardly move and the floor becomes putrid and stinks of excrement. Like broiler chickens, the turkeys are in agony from burns and ulcers on their feet and breasts.
Instead of the wide variety of food that a turkey is meant to eat, farmed birds are given pellets of the same unnaturally high protein feed, day in and day out. A boring, never changing diet causes frustration and stress to almost all farmed animals. Because turkeys are forced to grow quickly and have an unnaturally large breast size, many are in severe pain as their heart and legs cannot withstand this abnormally rapid growth.
Millions of baby birds die mainly from heart attacks before they reach slaughter weight. Turkeys are never cannibals in the wild but in overcrowded, filthy, boring conditions, they may peck at each other relentlessly. Instead of changing the conditions, some are debeaked to prevent injury or death. In debeaking, slightly more than half of the upper beak is painfully cut off with a red-hot blade, and the lower beak is blunted. The upper beak is left shorter than the lower beak, making it difficult for the bird to grasp feathers or skin.
Turkeys have their toes clipped to prevent stress-induced fighting. According to Raising Poultry the Modern Way, the two inside toes are clipped so that the nails are completely removed. Surgical scissors or an electric debeaker may be used.
At four to six months
old, the end comes for the birds and many are destined to become a traditional
Some of the saddest turkeys are the ones kept for breeding. They can grow to the huge weight of 25 pounds and have such diseased hip joints that they can barely walk.
Isnt it ironic that when people sit down for a holiday dinner to celebrate peace and the better things in life, they do it by first killing another feeling being? When people ooh and aah over the turkey theyre munching into, they close their eyes to the miserable life the turkey was forced to endure. It is time we learned to give thanks with compassion and reverence for all life.
Instead, five to seven
hens are packed into a cage of only 1.48ft x 1.64ft (slightly bigger than
your average microwave oven) and are never allowed out again until they
are taken for slaughter. The average wing span of a hen is 2.5 ft. so
movement and natural behavior is severely restricted.
And what happens to the male chicks? Because battery hens are bred to be lean, to eat little and lay a lot, 200 million male day old chicks are killed every year too skinny for meat, unable to lay. Their bodies are used as fertilizer or as feed for farmed animals.
Hens in the wild lay only 20 eggs a year, which will mostly have been fertilized by a male and will hatch. There are no males in battery sheds so all eggs are infertile. The battery hen has been bred to produce an unbelievable 275 eggs a year. However, this breeding has not stripped them of their instincts and desires. Like hens in the wild, they need a safe, private place to lay their eggs, something which is not available when sharing a cage with so many other birds. The process can take up to an hour or more, during which time they will attempt to hide from their cage mates. The frustration often makes them aggressive. Hens lay eggs because it is a bodily function which they have no control over, not because they are happy.
When the hens output cycle begins to decline, U.S. hens are either sent to slaughter or forced-molted. Forced-molting involves starving the hens and keeping them in total darkness for up to 18 days in order to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. The birds may lose more than 25% of their body weight and it is common for 5% to 10% to die.
Creatures whose nature is to move around almost ceaselessly during daylight hours must, when restricted like this, somehow substitute their desire to peck and scratch in the ground. The only source of interest left to them is the feathers and flesh of their cage mates which they frequently peck sometimes to death. If five humans were squashed into a phone booth, they would probably become aggressive after a few months (or even days?!).
These vices could be stopped by providing a decent amount of space. Instead, most farmed birds are debeaked a red-hot blade removes part of the beak which contains sensitive tissues. Some birds die from bleeding or shock.
The combination of a lack of fresh air and daylight, selective breeding, and caging in overcrowded conditions has led to the spread of diseases and to distress and suffering.
Prolapses (the entire uterus is expelled along with the egg), egg peritonitis, cancers, infectious bronchitis and Gumboro disease (viral infection where afflicted birds suffer severe liver and kidney disease and are listless, nervous, sleepy, dehydrated and have a whitish diarrhea) are just a few of the conditions that thrive in battery houses. The bones of battery hens are often so brittle that they will snap like dry twigs. The Agricultural and Food Research Council states that one third of battery hens suffer from broken bones.
to the Slaughter
In pastures or on feedlots, sheep are subjected to extreme temperatures during the summer and winter. In 1994, over 100,000 sheep and lambs died from weather-related causes. Confinement adds an additional amount of stress due to overcrowding. Approximately, 20% of the lambs born in the U.S. die before two months of age.
Most sheep in the U.S. are raised to produce wool and lambs for slaughter. About 30 35% of the income (for any given sheep) comes from wool; the rest of the income comes from the slaughter of lambs. Once sheep whose wool/lamb production has started to decline they are sent to slaughter.
Millions of lambs between the ages of one week and six months are killed in the U.S. Many are slaughtered for ethnic and religious holidays. The number of lambs killed in the Spring is especially high.
In the U.S. most wool comes from either domestically raised sheep or sheep raised in Australia or New Zealand. The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals for Australia & New Zealand (1995) allows for tail docking, castration, and surgical removal of skin folds without anesthesia. Shearing sheep causes bruising and cuts. Sheep also commonly have their tails docked to reduce fly problems. At times, their tails are cut too short and this increases the animals likelihood of suffering from rectal prolapse, which is estimated to affect up to 5% of commercial lambs in the U.S.
The industry, in its desire to increase the amount of wool taken from each sheep, has turned to genetics to produce excessive and unhealthy amounts of wool from each sheep.
Normally, sheep breed
once a year and have one or two lambs. The ewe (female sheep) naturally
comes into season in the autumn or winter and the five-month pregnancy
ensures that most lambs are born in the warmer conditions of spring when
food is plentiful. But farmers, lured by the higher prices paid for Easter
lamb, change this natural breeding cycle so that lambs are born earlier.
Many never survive the cold. The ewes are made to come into season early
with the use of hormones or by being kept indoors and controlling the
amount of light they receive the decline in daylight hours being
responsible for triggering estrus (mating time).
Sheep farming is also disastrous for North American wildlife. Sheep on the range are easy prey for native wild predators. To protect the sheep and other animals and ranchers profit margins, millions of coyotes, bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and other wildlife are poisoned, trapped and shot to death every year. This slaughter is carried out with our own tax dollars by an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture euphemistically known as Wildlife Services.
Like many humans, an alien might think that you didnt have to hurt the cow to take her milk. What the alien would need to know was that a cow can only give significant amounts of milk for the ten months after she has given birth. After a ten month pregnancy, a cows teetering calf is separated from her after only one or two days. Thats how long it takes for the calf to suckle the disease-preventing colostrum from his mother but not long enough to snatch the milk that is all kept for humans. USDA statistics show that in 1940, cows averaged 2.3 tons of milk per year. And, despite large milk surpluses, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH/BST) was approved in 1993 to further increase milk outputs. In 1996 the average was 8.3 tons per cow. Some BGH treated cows have recently produced more than 30 tons of milk a year, more than her baby calf could ever drink.
If the calf was male, he would probably be taken away from his mother forever and put into a small wooden crate where he could not turn around, stretch, or even lie down comfortably. Every year, approximately one million calves are confined in crates measuring just two by five feet. They are chained by the neck to restrict all movement. Some calves are killed just a few hours or days old to be sold as low-grade bob veal for products like frozen TV dinners.
From birth to weaning, some of the female calves that replace older cows in the milking herd are kept in small huts. They are taken away from their mothers, are unable to have contact with other animals and are unable to roam.
But what of the mother
cows? Their eighth calf will probably be their last. The genetic manipulation
and dietary controls which have led to a cows extraordinary output
of milk carry with them a cost, all borne by the cow. She has a one-in-five
chance of her udders secreting pus and painfully swelling with mastitis,
and the antibiotics forced up her udders dont have much success
in controlling the disease. Because of the strain of carrying oversized
udders, lameness from foot and leg disorders is common.
About 95% of dairies dehorn their cows. Most use an electric dehorner. The most common method to remove the horns involves the scooping, gouging, or cutting the horns from the cows head.
As long as a cow is breathing upon reaching the slaughterhouse, she is deemed fit for human consumption, and is therefore valuable. Downers, are what the meat industry calls animals too sick to stand or walk. Each year, thousands of downers are kicked, beaten, and even dragged by a leg onto and off of transport trucks so that they reach slaughter while still breathing.
In the United States,
cattle are often seen grazing along highways and roads, apparently living
what some might
Because they live on wide open lands, cattle are not adequately protected against the elements of the weather. In 1997, thousands of calves froze to death in New Mexico during a cold spell. Left on their own, many of these animals suffer from various diseases and injured or ailing animals do not receive adequate veterinary care.
When it is time for cattle to be rounded up, they are often frightened and confused because they are not used to confinement. Many animals are injured when they are corralled and packed onto trucks. The cattle will go without food or water and have to endure crowded and filthy conditions during these trips, which sometimes last days, spanning thousands of miles and covering several states. Their trip ends at an auction or feedlot. Feedlots, enormous fenced areas, can keep over ten thousand animals at one time. Feedlots exist so that cattle can get fattened up before slaughter; ranchers are paid by the pound, not the animal.
Eighty to 100 million tons of fish are caught each year, mostly from only five groups herrings, cod, jacks, redfish, and mackerel. And to catch these, all kinds of other creatures suffer. Driftnets many miles long catch everything in their way including dolphins, porpoises, small whales, rays, sharks, diving sea birds and species of fish which are not wanted.
Factory trawlers, large ships that drag a heavy metal bar with a net behind it across the ocean floor, scoop up everything in their path leaving a devastated wasteland behind. After the specific fish being sought is removed, the rest millions of tons of sea animals, like crabs, shellfish, and nontargeted fish annually are dumped back into the water, almost all dead and dying.
Those fish which are still alive by the time they make it on to the decks of fishing boats have one of two fates. Either they are allowed to suffocate to death or they are disemboweled with a gutting knife. Fish such as plaice will desperately cling to life for hours out of water and may well be filleted alive.
The myth that fish are cold blooded and therefore cant suffer is a difficult one to shake. Like all vertebrates, the fish nervous system consists of a brain, spinal cord, and nerves which enable the animal to feel good and bad sensations. Of course fish feel pain.
Fish farming has become big business. For example, about 40 percent of the salmon consumed today have lived in captivity for most of their lives. Wild salmon migrate gradually from freshwater to the sea. On fish farms, however, salmon are transferred from freshwater to saltwater abruptly which causes up to 50 percent to die. Wild salmon cover many hundreds of miles while swimming freely in the oceans and migrating to and from breeding grounds. On fish farms, trapped in small ponds and cages, they exhibit the frustration and distress of confinement by continual leaping.
to the Slaughter
So desperate is the meat industry to keep peoples eyes closed that they guard factory farms and slaughterhouses like Fort Knox to keep the public out. Yet this is where many peoples food comes from. Just what do they have to hide? As a superior being you firmly believe that the truth cannot harm a person, only help them to make the right choices. So here it is
Animals are packed into overcrowded trucks for their torturous journey to the slaughterhouse where they are unloaded into a series of pens. Chickens and other birds are normally left in their crates to await their slaughter.
In the U.S., animals slaughtered for food are normally bled to death by cutting the animals throat with a hand-held or mechanical blade. According to the Humane Slaughter Act, passed in 1958, animals must first be stunned, made unconscious to reduce suffering.
In reality, the methods of stunning themselves are often far less than humane, when they work at all. The meat industrys continual drive for speed to increase profits often makes effective stunning impossible. Whats more, animals killed for so-called ritual, or religious, slaughter are exempt from these humane rules. And chickens and other birds, who represent over 90% of the animals killed for food in the U.S., are exempt from the federal Humane Slaughter Act altogether.
For the animals required to be stunned, different methods are used for different animals. Electric shock is used on pigs, most sheep and some calves. An electrified water bath is used almost exclusively for birds. A captive bolt pistol is used on cattle, most calves, and some sheep.
As with all high speed slaughter operations, human or mechanical errors are common resulting in inadequately stunned animals. In addition, there is no definitive way to know how much electric current is required to properly stun an animal. The industry often lowers the amount of electric current used to stun animals to prevent a condition called blown loins a bursting of capillaries that causes bruising to the animals flesh making it less valuable. According to the journal, Meat and Poultry (October, 1992), Insufficient current will result in a paralyzed hog which
will feel everything. According to a 1996 USDA survey, the stunning procedures in 36% of the sheep and pig, and 64% of the cattle slaughterhouses surveyed were rated either unacceptable or a serious problem.
Most commercially slaughtered pigs are stunned with electricity. After being stunned, a conveyor belt moves the pig to a worker who will place a 30-pound shackle around the hind leg. The pig is then hoisted by the shackle so that he or she is hanging upside down. The pig is then swung over to the blood pit, where a worker will cut the throat, draining her blood. This process, known as sticking, can occur at rates of 900 pigs per hour. Again, the pig may be fully conscious at this point if he or she was not properly stunned. The pig is then taken to a scalding tank to be dipped into 140ºF water to remove all hair. The pig, still hanging upside down, is then taken to another area to be gutted and have the limbs and head cut off.
In the case of calves, slaughterhouses have been reluctant to use appropriate (ie, penetrating captive-bolt) stunning methods because doing so destroys the calves brains.
Chickens and other poultry are stuffed cruelly into small crates on the back of large trucks for transport to slaughter. Their cages are completely open to the weather exposing them to rain, snow, and often freezing temperatures. When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, the birds are either yanked from the crates or the crates are lifted off the truck, often with a crane or forklift. The birds are then dumped onto a conveyor belt. Individual birds that fall off the truck or conveyor belt are often left to die of starvation or to be crushed by vehicles or machinery, since it is not cost efficient to worry about individual birds.
After first being hung, fully conscious, by the feet from a moving shackle, the birds reach an electrified water bath. As the birds move along hanging upside down, their heads are dragged through an electrified tank of water. As with electric tongs, the amount of current needed to properly stun birds is an imprecise science, and the industry is concerned that too much current can result in a bruised or otherwise damaged body, reducing its value. The result is birds that may be immobilized, but fully capable of feeling pain. Some birds, particularly smaller ones, are able to raise their heads to avoid the stunning tank altogether.
Next, the birds throats are cut by a slaughterhouse worker, or more commonly a mechanical blade, and the blood pours from their body. The blade sometimes misses the primary veins in the neck, or misses the throat altogether. Semi- or fully-conscious birds then move along to the next station where they are submerged in scalding hot water to loosen their feathers. Those that have not bled to death or are still conscious are boiled alive.
For Jewish shechita slaughter, a plate moves up from the floor to support the underside of the cows body and the head is raised by a chin lift which extends the animals neck so that his/her neck can be cut. When the throat has been cut, a side gate is raised and a hind leg is shackled. The animal is then pulled out of the pen by a hoist and moved to an overhead rail.
The animal is supposed to be killed instantly by a single cut across the neck, however the reality is somewhat different as the following description of Viva! UK footage of the killing shows:
A huge problem with religious slaughter is that millions of animals bleed slowly. Anil, et al. say: It is well recognized that unstunned calves which bleed poorly can take a long time to die. (Meat Science 1995; 41(2):113-123.)
Professor Donald Broom, specialist in farm animal behavior, University of Cambridge says: Animals are not stunned during the Jewish Shechita or the Muslim Halal ritual slaughter procedures. There is a period of consciousness after the throat is cut which may last for 30 seconds to several minutes during which the animal must be in great pain and distress. (Farm Animal Behavior & Welfare Bailliere Tindall: 1996)
For Muslim halal slaughter, sheep and goats are placed on their backs in a metal cradle or simply hoisted up by a back leg before having their throat slit. Poultry are held head downwards while their throats are cut.
Hardly surprisingly, many people of Muslim and Jewish faith have turned against ritual slaughter and they have become vegan or vegetarian.
Hens raised in a free-range environment may have more space than those in battery cages, but this does not necessarily spare them from debeaking. The male chicks are still discarded (killed immediately after hatching).
Cows must give birth in order to give milk. The male calves who are born are subject either to a life as a veal calf or to be raised and slaughtered for beef. And again, on most commercial farms the cows are slaughtered when their milk production goes down.
Imagine once again youre a visitor to Earth from outer space. When you see all that the Earthlings are doing in order to eat animals, you cannot believe your eyes. You could bury your head in the sand and ignore the problem as many Earthlings do, but you realize that being vegan is the only choice a rational being would make.
And even though this may seem overwhelming, you know that as an individual you can make a difference in the life of every chick who is debeaked, every pig who is immobilized in a crate, every mother cow whose calf is taken from her just by not eating them! Theres an old saying if you cant beat them join them. In this case, the only way to beat their system is not to join them. Join Viva! instead. Its always here on Earth to help you every step of the way.
Juliet Gellatley is the Founder and International Director of Viva!. She has a degree in zoology and is a leading authority on vegetarian and vegan issues. Juliet created National Vegetarian Week and has launched many successful campaigns; including Convert-a-Parent, Ducks out of Water, SCREAM!!, Pig In Hell, and a campaign that stopped the UK sale of exotic meats.
Juliet produced the double award-winning teenage videos, Food Without Fear, Food for Life, and Devour the Earth and launched Viva!Life magazine. Juliet has given hundreds of talks on animal rights and vegetarianism and is frequently interviewed on radio and TV. Juliet is author of Born to be Wild, The Livewire Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Veggie and the classic book on vegetarian issues the Silent Ark.