Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
22 August 1999 Issue

The Truth About Farm Animals
By [email protected]

Farm animals, like all animals, feel pain and deserve to be protected from cruelty, but, unfortunately, in recent years, state anti-cruelty laws have actually been amended to exclude farm animals from the most basic legal protection. As a result, more than 9 billion sentient animals endure intolerable living conditions, cruel mutilations, inhumane transportation and handling, and untimely deaths every year across America.

Ironically, the recent trend in the U.S. away from 'red meat' consumption has actually increased the number of farm animals exploited because consumers are replacing red meat with poultry. More than one hundred birds have to be killed to get the same amount of meat as would come from one cow.

Chickens and turkeys raised for meat have been genetically altered to grow twice as fast and twice as large as their ancestors. While this rapid growth rate increases profitability, it also increases health problems. An industry journal (Feedstuffs", May 26, 1997) reports, "...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." In addition, the birds' underdeveloped legs have difficulty supporting their unwieldy bodies, and they commonly become crippled. Literally hundreds of millions of chickens and turkeys die before reaching the slaughterhouse every year.

Birds raised for meat are crowded by the thousand into huge factory-like warehouses where they can barely move. Chickens are given half a square foot of space, and turkeys are given less than three square feet. When they reach market weight, they are thrown into crates, stacked on the backs of trucks, and then hauled off to the slaughterhouse where they are hung upside down by their legs and have their throats cut.

While all animals used for "food" suffer, perhaps the worst cruelty is at the hands of the egg industry. In the U.S., more than 200 million chickens live in battery cages where five hens are typically packed into a wire cage measuring 18 by 20 inches. The overcrowded birds experience severe feather loss as they rub constantly against the wire cages. Eventually, they become agitated and driven to excessive pecking. To reduce the resulting injuries, the birds are 'debeaked', a painful procedure which involves cutting through bone, cartilage, and soft tissue with a hot cauterizing blade.

After a year in production, the hens' egg production rates drop off, and they are considered "spent". At this time, the "spent hens" are either killed or force molted. Force molting involves keeping the birds in darkness and withdrawing food and water to shock their bodies into another egg laying cycle. The hens lose as much as 25% of their body weight, and many die during the process.

After one, two, or even three years in battery cages, "spent hens" are killed. Some are used in soups, pot-pies and other processed foods where their bruised and battered bodies can go unnoticed. The others are ground up alive, manually decapitated, crushed, composted, or otherwise discarded.

Millions of baby male chicks also suffer at the hands of the egg industry. Egg laying chicken breeds don't grow fast enough to be raised profitably for meat, and the males will never lay eggs, so they are killed immediately after hatching. The unwanted chicks are commonly crushed or ground up alive, suffocated in trash cans, or killed by gassing.

Of all the "foods" that come from animals, Americans consume more dairy than anything else, and more milk is being produced in the U.S. than ever before. Modern dairy cows commonly produce ten times more milk than they would in nature. They are under extreme stress and succumb to various production related diseases. In a healthy environment, cows live in excess of 20 years, but on modern dairies, most are sent to slaughter after just three or four years in production.

While much of the dairy operation, including feeding, manure disposal, and milking has become mechanized, the job of putting milk machines on the cows' udders is still done by human hands. Sometimes, the person putting the milkers on the cow gets slapped in the face by the cows' switching tail. To prevent this inconvenience, some dairies are now cutting the tails off their cows.

In order for a cow to produce milk, she must give birth. Half of the dairy calves born are female, and they are raised to replace older cows in the milking herd. The other half are male, and because they will never produce milk, they are raised and slaughtered for meat. Most are killed for beef, but hundreds of thousands are confined in small wooden crates and then killed for veal.

In addition to spawning the veal industry, the dairy industry is closely intertwined with the beef industry, as ultimately, all dairy cattle are killed for beef. Along with unwanted male calves, worn out dairy cows are sent to the slaughterhouse and killed for ground beef. In some cases, dairy cows are so sick that they cannot even stand. Called "downed animals", they are literally dragged onto trucks and hauled off to slaughter.

Beef cattle, by and large, have not been subjected to industrial factory conditions like other farm animals. Still, they are subjected to painful mutilations like castration and hot iron branding without anesthesia, and although beef cattle may live much of their lives on the range, most spend their last few months at the feedlot. Here, they are crowded by the thousand into dusty, manure laden holding pens. They are implanted with growth promoting hormones, and fed unnaturally rich diets designed to fatten them quickly and profitably.

Unlike beef cattle, most pigs live their entire lives indoors. They are packed into metal and concrete pens, crowded by the thousand into huge warehouses. The air in these hog factories is laden with dust, dander, and noxious gases which are produced by the animals' urine and feces. Respiratory disease is rampant for both pigs and farm workers. Slaughterhouse surveys have found 70% of pigs to have pneumonia, and worker surveys have found that 60% experience breathing problems.

While most pigs are slaughtered at 6 months, breeding sows may endure years in intensive confinement. After being artificially inseminated, the sows are held in small pens or metal gestation crates which are just two feet wide. They are kept here for the their four month gestation period, and then, just before giving birth, they are moved to metal farrowing crates where they can barely stand up and lie down. The sows often experience lesions on their bodies from rubbing against the bars.

The conditions endured by farm animals in the U.S. are unsettling to the vast majority of consumers, and while these concerns have yet to affect legislative change in the U.S., change is inevitable. The livestock, poultry, and dairy industries are marching out of step with public sentiments, and these industries do not exist in a vacuum. Battery cages, veal crates, and other cruel farming systems have been outlawed by European nations, and it is likely that these and other cruel practices will be challenged in the U.S. - hopefully soon.


The most direct and effective thing you can do to help farm animals is to stop eating animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs.

Educate your friends, relatives, and others about the cruelties associated with animal "foods", and offer information about vegan food and cooking.

Contact your Congressional Representative and Senators and urge them to cosponsor the Downed Animal Protection Act (H.R. 443 and S. 515) in Washington, DC. This legislation would prohibit the cruel transportation and marketing of animals who are too sick even to stand.

If you see farm animal cruelty, you may be able to take steps toward ending the abuse. Please contact Farm Sanctuary for a guide to stopping farm animal cruelty.

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