[Ed. Note: Also read COK Sets the Record Straight: A Case of Animal Cruelty at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries.]
By Eric Meier, Compassion Over
Every year in the United States, billions of birds, pigs and cows are raised and killed for human consumption. With few laws to protect them, these animals are routinely treated as little more than unfeeling meat-, milk-, or egg-producing machines, and their suffering is kept hidden behind closed doors.
Baby duckling...NOT in a factory farm
So when images from inside factory farming facilities are exposed, it's no surprise that most people are horrified, as is the case with the recent release of graphic undercover video footage from inside Cal-Cruz Hatcheries. Such a reaction demonstrates that how we treat animals raised for food does matter. However, what matters most to the animals is what we do with this information.
For nearly a month in 2009, an undercover investigator with Compassion Over Killing worked inside Cal-Cruz Hatcheries, a chicken and duck hatchery in Santa Cruz County. While employed there, the investigator used a hidden camera to document the suffering endured by hundreds of thousands of newly hatched birds as they began their short lives in the meat industry.
From the moment they're hatched, these animals are submerged into a world of misery and treated like inanimate objects -- they're dumped out of trays, mechanically separated from cracked egg shells, jostled onto conveyor belts, sexed, sorted, counted, then packaged up to be shipped to "grow out" facilities.
As the video reveals available at COK.net, countless newly hatched chicks and ducklings don't survive the harsh processing system. Many sick or injured birds are tossed into buckets and set aside for hours; some are even left to suffer on the cold, concrete floor. Others get mangled in the machinery; their limbs, skin, or heads ripped from their bodies. At the end of the day, birds deemed unfit for processing are, while still alive, dumped down the same drain as discarded egg shells.
Immediately after this investigation ended, Compassion Over Killing turned the video footage over to local authorities. This prompted a lengthy follow-up investigation by the Santa Cruz Animal Services Authority that not only corroborated our evidence of abuse and neglect, but resulted in the impoundment of 88 ducklings in urgent need of care.
While not all of these ducklings were healthy enough to survive, 38 have since been sent to a nearby sanctuary and are thriving in their new homes. The Animal Services Authority deserves much applause for giving these animals a second chance at life.
Despite Compassion Over Killing's evidence of abuse and the additional documentation from humane law enforcement, including a report recommending that criminal charges be filed, the District Attorney's Office has chosen not to pursue this case in court. The court of public opinion, however, has condemned the acts of abuse caught on film. And while we may not have the power to prosecute, we do have the power to stand up for these animals every time we sit down to eat, simply by leaving them off our plates.
Animals raised for food are every bit as capable of suffering as the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, and like all animals, they have individual personalities and value their lives. The most effective way each of us can express our compassion for animals and help stop the abuse that's rampant on factory farms is to choose vegetarian foods.
Erica Meier is the executive director of Compassion Over Killing, a nonprofit animal protection organization based in Washington, D.C. Since 1995, COK has worked to expose cruelty to animals in agriculture and promote vegetarian eating as a way to build a kinder world.