Diet and the Animals
Each year, 10 billion cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, and other innocent, sentient animals are caged, crowded, deprived, drugged, mutilated, and manhandled in US factory farms. They are then hauled to the slaughterhouse and killed under atrocious conditions. Nine percent (over 850 million) never make it to the slaughterhouse, dying from stress-induced diseases or injuries.
Additionally, it is estimated that more than 17 billion fish are killed for food in the United States each year.
The section that follows will describe the living conditions of cows and calves, pigs, and chickens and turkeys, as well as the effect of animal agriculture on wildlife, and transport and slaughter.
Cows and Calves
Beef cattle are typically enclosed in feedlots, which pack tens of thousands of animals per unit. Cows have no protection from rain or snow, freezing wind, or searing heat. They are castrated, dehorned, and branded with no anesthesic.
Dairy cows spend their entire lives chained to metal poles on concrete floors inside dark barns. They are allowed limited movement twice a day, when they are herded into 'milking parlors' and hooked up to milk machines. Many cows are injected with bovine growth hormone to boost milk production to unnaturally high levels, causing infectious udder diseases and additional stress to the animals.
To maintain milk production, dairy cows are kept perpetually pregnant. If the pregnancy results in a male calf, he is torn from his mother at birth, denied her milk and her love. To keep his flesh soft, he is chained by the neck in a filthy wooden crate that inhibits movement and muscle development. To keep his flesh pale, he is fed a liquid formula deficient in iron and fiber. These conditions breed diarrhea, respiratory disease, and anemia. After 16 weeks, he will be dragged to slaughter and served as veal.
Female calves are also denied their mothers' affection. Because a dairy cow's milk is produced to be sold for human consumption, every drop suckled by her calves represents lost profits to factory farm corporations. For this reason, female calves, too, are separated from their mothers at an early age. Instead of being weaned on their their mothers' milk, they may be weaned on a "milk replacer" comprised of beef fat or cattle blood, putting them at risk for Mad Cow disease. Once the females reach maturity, they will be impregnated and replace their mothers on the milk line.
Breeding sows suffer a similar fate. They are continually impregnated in tiny metal gestation crates until they are ready to give birth. Confinement in these crates, about two feet wide, leads to obesity and crippling leg disorders. Boredom and social isolation cause the pigs, unable even to turn around, to engage in stereotypic behaviors such as bar-biting and head-waving. Breeding sows spend approximately 80% of their lives in gestation crates. The crates serve no purpose other than to confine the pigs to allow factory farm corporations to crowd more pigs into less space.
When they are ready to give birth, the sows are moved to farrowing pens, enclosures similar to gestation crates but with increased floor space to allow mothers to nurse their piglets. The natural nursing period of 3 months is cut to just 2 or 3 weeks so that the sows can be impregnated again. After 3-5 years, their exhausted bodies are sold for slaughter.
Newborn piglets have their ears notched, their tails and the ends of their teeth cut off, and their testicles ripped out — all without anesthetic. Over ten percent of prematurely weaned piglets (or almost 15 million) die of stress and disease. The survivors are stacked in wire cages euphemistically called "nurseries" and weaned on a synthetic formula until they are able to eat solid food, at which point they are transferred to large, crowded pens. Here they are fattened for six months until slaughter.
Chickens and Turkeys
Birds represent over 95% of all land animals slaughtered for food. Each year, 300 million turkeys and 9 billion chickens are slaughtered for human consumption in the US. They are crowded into large, dimly lit sheds that may hold tens of thousands of birds. Because they are bred to gain weight quickly, many are crippled as their legs give under the weight of their bodies. This leaves them unable to access food and water or to defend themselves from other birds who may trample them on the way to the feeding station. Some birds grow so fast that their organs can't keep up, leading to heart attacks and respiratory problems. Over time, the building fills with the poisonous stench of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane. Antibiotics are added to their feed to keep them alive under these conditions. After seven weeks, the animals are grabbed by the legs and thrown onto trucks for transport to slaughter.
Chickens bred for egg production suffer a different fate. At birth, the chicks are separated according to sex. Because they are bred to maximize egg production rather than weight gain, the males are worthless to the industry. They are dumped into plastic bags, left to suffocate slowly, and ground up for feed.
The females have the ends of their beaks burned off with a hot iron to prevent stress-induced cannibalism, a process the industry calls "debeaking" or "beak trimming." The source of the birds' stress is the intensity of their confinement. They are crammed 5 to 7 birds into wire battery cages with less floor space than a folded newspaper. The battery cages are stacked on top of one another, forcing the birds on the lower levels to live in the feces of the birds above them. The mesh surfaces of the cage cut the birds' feet and tear out their feathers. To manipulate the birds' egg-laying cycle, operators of factory farms may starve the birds for a period of two weeks, a process called "forced molting."
In addition to the ten billion animals killed by animal agriculture each year for human consumption, hundreds of thousands of prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, bison, and other wild animals are shot, maimed, poisoned, and burned alive by farmers and government agents to keep them from interfering with agricultural operations. Tens of millions of starlings and blackbirds are poisoned each year to keep them from eating animal feed.
An even greater threat to wildlife is posed by the destruction of their habitats. Animal agriculture turns hundreds of acres of forest, wetlands, and other habitats into grazing and croplands to feed farm animals.
Transport and Slaughter
Animals are hauled to slaughter for many hours without food, water, or rest, while exposed to extreme temperatures. Many die in transit, and those too sick or injured to walk are dragged with chains to the kill floor.
At the slaughterhouse, many of the animals are skinned, dismembered, or drowned in boiling water while still conscious. Because slaughterhouse workers are not paid an hourly wage, the sooner they meet their quota for the day, the sooner they can go home. The trend towards increasing the speed of kill lines translates into more suffering for the animals.
Consider, for example, the case of chickens. Each year, 9 billion chickens are killed for food in the United States. To begin the slaughter process, the birds are hung upside-down by their legs. Because slaughterhouse workers are encouraged to value productivity rather the animals' welfare — and because of imperfections in the slaughter process — some birds are shackled incorrectly and miss the throat-cutting blade and/or the electrical stunning that is supposed to render them insensible to pain. These birds enter the scalding tanks, designed to remove the feathers, fully conscious. If just half a percent of the chickens slaughtered each year in the US experience this, that makes for 45 million sentient, feeling birds cruelly and unnecessarily cooked alive or drowned to death. They are then cut into smaller pieces, wrapped in cellophane, and presented at the supermarket counter.
Most consumers are unaware of the power of their daily purchasing decisions in preventing — or subsidizing — cruelty on the farm. Every time we sit down to eat, we have a choice: we can choose to turn a blind eye towards the suffering that is an inescapable part of meat, milk, and eggs; or we can boycott an industry that inflicts wanton cruelty upon sensitive individuals and whose bottom line depends upon billions of deaths.
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