This op-ed appeared in the Boston Globe on
Saturday March 19, 2005 entitled: "Lessons from my pig Winnie."
You can find it on line at
but it is printed in full below.
Lessons from my pig Winnie
By Sondra S. Crosby | March 19, 2005
WHERE DO respect and dignity for life begin and
end? This question was raised during a family vacation at the Farm
Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
For the last four years, we have been sponsoring
a pig that narrowly escaped someone's outdoor barbecue. She jumped
the fence and ran the streets of New York until she was captured.
She was frightened, injured, and starving and taken to the safe
haven at the Farm Sanctuary. She was given the name ''Winnie."
I am a physician, and have made a commitment to
How then can I stand by and watch the
unnecessary suffering of many farm animals destined for human
consumption? Where does one draw the line at what practices are
acceptable? How does one define a sentient being? Our visit to the
Farm Sanctuary and spending time with Winnie helped my family and
me put these questions in perspective.
The human impact of factory farming should alarm
Human Rights Watch recently reported that
meatpacking is the most dangerous factory job in America. Workers
are injured at extraordinary high rates and often denied
compensation. Immigrant workers are frequently exploited to work
under such horrific conditions, and employers take advantage of
their undocumented status and fear of deportation to keep them
quiet. At a minimum, federal and state laws need to enforce
protection of all workers in this industry, without regard to
Factory farming hurts our environment. Natural
resources are depleted when wetlands, forests, and wildlife
habitats are decimated to grow the grain necessary for factory
farms. Agricultural runoff and the vast amount of manure produced
by large numbers of animals confined in small areas are not only
detrimental to our water supply but toxic to fish and other
aquatic life. Shouldn't we be utilizing our natural resources more
efficiently to produce food?
There is evidence that a plant-based diet is
more healthful than an animal-based diet, which has been linked to
heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The factory farming
industry also uses drugs, hormones, and other chemicals to enhance
animal ''production," a practice that potentially causes
detrimental health effects in humans. But I want to tell the
stories of the animals.
I learned about ''downed animals" at the Farm
Sanctuary. ''Downed animals" is the term given to those animals in
stockyards that become too sick and weak to walk. Once they fall
down, they are often denied food and water.
Although they may still be alive, they are often
treated as though they were dead. They are moved with forklifts or
tractors that can break bones.
Sometimes they are thrown away. Downed animals
experience unimaginable suffering because there are no adequate
laws protecting them.
I also learned about the painful procedures pigs
are subjected to by the industry -- for example, having their
tails cut off without anesthesia, and being overcrowded in small
pens with concrete floors. Pigs remain in these conditions until
slaughter at about 6 months of age. The air is noxious and even
workers suffer respiratory diseases. Diseases such as
salmonellosis are rampant. Breeding sows are confined in small
pens and live a constant cycle of impregnation and birth, and they
are often denied straw bedding.
They suffer their whole life, then are sent to
slaughter when they are not productive breeders. Hogs are hung
upside down, their throats are cut, and they bleed to death. They
are supposed to be ''stunned" first; however this practice is
imprecise. If stabbing is unsuccessful, the pig will be dropped in
scalding water to be boiled alive.
Billions of chickens are crammed into cages so
small they can't move. We saw examples of these cages at the farm.
Food birds (chickens and turkeys) have been genetically altered to
grow beyond their biological limits.
The heart and lungs are not well developed
enough to support the remainder of the body, so some die of
congestive heart failure, in addition to the many that suffer
crippling leg disorders during life because their legs won't
support their genetically altered weight.
In the slaughterhouse, fully conscious birds are
hung upside down by metal shackles on a moving rail. The birds'
heads are submerged in an electrified bath of water. This is
supposed to render them unconscious.
However, often the electricity is lower than
required because of concerns that too much electricity will damage
the carcass. Many birds are immobilized, but still capable of
feeling pain. Their throats are then slashed on the assembly line.
The next stop is the scalding tank. Commonly, birds are dunked
This results in the birds flopping, kicking, and
screaming, their eyeballs popping out of their heads. They emerge
with broken bones and are disfigured.
It is easier not to consider how the flesh has
arrived at your plate, and, surely this is what the farming
What are the alternatives? Meat would be more
expensive and less accessible if factory farming were abolished.
Land used inefficiently to grow grain for the agriculture business
could be used to grow human food.
I can't think of any good reason to eat meat,
but those who do should insist on strict enforcement of humane
conditions for the animals and workers in the industry.
I applaud the small gains made in the
legislative arena regarding gestation crates, veal crates, downed
animals, and foie gras, and hope this reflects an increasing
concern for farm animal welfare.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote, ''Until he extends
the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not
himself find peace."
Humankind has a long journey toward this goal.
Sondra S. Crosby is an internist with the Boston
Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights at Boston Medical