By reader request: new sections on cookbooks and wool, above.
Being Canadian, I thought I’d written my Thanksgiving post, but American Thanksgiving is now just a few days away and something came to my attention that I could not ignore.
The National Turkey Federation (website eatturkey.com), in association with the American Meat Institute, recently released a 13-minute video giving a tour of a turkey farm, hosted by Temple Grandin. Ms. Grandin, as you probably know, is considered a leading expert on humane livestock handling.
The video shows healthy-looking birds in a large, light-filled barn. They don’t have a lot of room to move, but they are, of course, free-range (though whether they ever see the outdoors we don’t know). Text on the screen tells us about “extensive bio-security” protocols that are in place to protect the health of the turkeys. The barn looks cleaner than a hospital. Grandin says you can tell the birds aren’t afraid of people because there are toms (male turkeys) “displaying” to her, puffing themselves up and fanning out their tail feathers (such as they are – these toms’ tail feathers are pretty sad). She seems to take this as a compliment, rather than consider the very real possibility that the toms are feeling defensive.
Next we see the turkeys being gently herded towards the barn doors, where workers place them — again, so gently — onto a conveyor belt that will carry the birds, stress- and fear-free, onto the spotlessly clean transport truck. We do not see for how long the truck travels (two hours? 12? more?) or what the weather conditions are like, but I think we can assume it’s a short drive on a perfect day. When the truck arrives at the slaughterhouse, a worker comes to inspect the birds before unloading them and make sure everybody’s okay. It’s very important to make sure none of the birds is injured or in any way stressed. After being unloaded — gently, of course — the turkeys are “anesthetized” and a worker is present to ensure that every single bird is out cold before being shackled by the leg (or “drumsticks,” as Grandin says) to the very slow-moving line that will carry them to the next stop where their throats will be very carefully slit. Then a nice man makes sure that each bird is well and truly dead before going into the “scalder,” which is exactly what it sounds like and will make it easier to remove the feathers. The video goes on to show the various steps involved in “processing” the turkeys.
This video couldn’t be more fictional if it had been animated by Disney. Here’s the reality: 99% of turkeys, just like other farmed animals, are raised in windowless sheds with incredibly inadequate ventilation. The air is so filled with ammonia that it stings yours eyes and nose and makes it hard to breathe normally. The sheds are filthy. The birds are filthy. They are not healthy; good health is impossible in such an environment. Poults – baby turkeys – routinely have their toes and snoods cut off without anesthetic, to minimize the damage they will do to each other living in overcrowded conditions. Time and again, undercover video has shown farm workers kicking, punching and stomping on the animals, even punting them like footballs. They are thrown roughly onto the transport trucks, often with broken legs and wings. No one treats these birds gently. Once they arrive at the slaughterhouse, they are shackled by one leg (which will usually break if it hasn’t done so already, because turkeys have been genetically manipulated to grow much faster than normal, but their bones often can’t keep up to support them), and move so swiftly down the slaughterhouse line that a significant number of them are NOT rendered unconscious before they reach the rotating blade meant to slit their throats. If they are still conscious, they will naturally try to lift their heads and the blade will then miss, so that the birds are fully conscious when they are plunged into scalding water.
I feel encouraged that the National Turkey Federation felt the need to make their video. It means that people are becoming more aware of what really goes on and that meat consumption is decreasing. It means the industry understands that people are not okay with the status quo when it comes to the treatment of farmed animals. Of course, rather than change, which would reduce profit margins, they try to change their image. I call this video propaganda. After all, turkey “producers” (they seem to have given up any pretense at farming) stand to gain if they can convince people their video has any bearing on reality. What do animal rights activists have to gain by writing, photographing, protesting? Not a thing, not personally. Question who stands to gain and who stands to lose. Follow the money. Think about why the animal agriculture industry is pushing for ag-gag laws all over the U.S. Why shouldn’t you see where your food comes from? Read Gail Eisnitz’s groundbreaking book, Slaughterhouse. Check out MFA’s investigation of a Butterball turkey plant. When every investigation reveals the same abuses, all across the country, over and over again, it is not, as the industry would have you believe, a series of isolated incidents. It is the norm.
There are many ways you can replace the unfortunate bird on your table. Please choose a compassionate Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is coming up here in Canada, so naturally I’ve got turkeys on my mind. In vegan/animal rights circles, this is known as the time of year when people give thanks for what they have by taking the life of another. Stay with me here: this is not a diatribe against people who eat meat, I promise.
You probably know that turkeys, just like chickens, are raised in airless, windowless warehouses, crammed in so that they cannot stretch even a single wing. You may have heard about the undercover investigations involving breathtaking cruelty at one of North America’s largest turkey “producers,” Butterball. Maybe even as a result, you make sure you get a free-range turkey for your holiday dinner.
But what if…you could have Thanksgiving without eating a turkey, and it would still feel like Thanksgiving? As they say at Edgar’s Mission, if we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others… why wouldn’t we?
I know, I know, Thanksgiving is all about the food. (And football, if you’re American.) I get it; I used to eat meat. For 44 years I ate meat. And I love food. I know how much is tied up in holiday food: it’s tradition, it’s family, it’s what your grandmother used to make, you always have this, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving any other way. It’s visceral.
But if you think about it, there’s a lot more to the meal than the turkey. If your family is like most, there are probably at least five crucial side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner too. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, dressing, cranberry. Every family’s different, but everyone has their traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m currently reading Animal Camp by Kathy Stevens, who co-founded and runs Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) in Saugerties, New York. Kathy is becoming a real-life friend, and reading her book (this is her second; her first is Where the Blind Horse Sings) feels like walking around the sanctuary with her. Her writing has an easy-going, relaxed style, punctuated by humour and passion. It’s now on my list of must-read books for anyone who loves animals; whether you’re veg, vegan, or full-on omnivore, I encourage you to pick it up.
In Animal Camp, Kathy tells the story of Norman (who turned out to be Norma Jean), a turkey who was being used as a live prop at a turkey bowling contest sponsored by a radio station. When people started calling the sanctuary about the contest, Kathy and a colleague decided to check it out. What they found was a dismal gathering of fewer than a dozen people, including radio station staff, a terrified turkey named Norman, and three frozen Butterball turkeys to be used as bowling balls in a parking lot. Think about that for a second: three birds raised in total filth and deprivation, probably horribly abused — see the Butterball link above — and then killed so their bodies could be used as bowling balls in a parking lot for a stupid radio contest. In the end, CAS was able to rescue the turkey, who is a girl and is now named Norma Jean.
Norma Jean’s first friend was a sheep named Rambo, to whom she was absolutely devoted. These days, she spends her time in the company of her pal Mabel, another rescued turkey. If CAS hadn’t rescued her from the parking lot “bowling alley,” she would have been another Thanksgiving dinner, forgotten about 20 minutes after the meal was over. Norma Jean has a personality, preferences, friends…her life means something to her. If you’re a meat-eater, I hope you’ll consider Norma Jean and forego the turkey this Thanksgiving.
My first vegetarian Thanksgiving, I didn’t even consider an alternative — I just ate all the veggies and the dressing and the cranberry sauce, and I didn’t even miss the turkey. (If you’re interested in an alternative, check out the Veg Curious page, above.) If you have turkey anyway, please spare a thought for the bird she used to be. She was someone. She deserves at least that. And please read Kathy’s book — to hear her tell the animals’ stories is the next best thing to meeting them in person.
The sky was just beginning to lighten when the plane touched down at 6:25 a.m., carrying 1100 white Leghorn chickens bound for Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. They had been travelling all night from California where they were part of an outsized flock of 3000 rescued by Animal Place from a factory farm egg facility.
With no commercial airline willing to carry the chickens, they had flown across the country in a private cargo plane paid for by an anonymous donor with deep pockets and a big heart. Now they had arrived at the Elmira airport, where about 20 of us had been waiting for them since 6 a.m. It was the first known cross-country flight of its kind and we were worried about what kind of state the hens would be in.
The crates holding the chickens had shifted during the flight, blocking internal access to the cargo door, so we had to unload from the front of the plane, a somewhat awkward process. We lined up in twos to take crate after crate of chickens, rushing them onto transport trailers to get them to Farm Sanctuary as quickly as possible. The birds were silent. As we took each crate, we could feel the heat emanating from them and knew the chickens needed water as soon as we could get it to them.
Within little more than half an hour, all the crates had been reloaded onto the trailers and we began the 40-minute drive back to the farm, a small convoy of cars carrying staff and volunteers, and a sprinter van and two trailers with the chickens. We arrived at the farm and worked together almost wordlessly, unloading the crates outside three separate small barns, and then opening the crates and quickly and carefully carrying each chicken into the barns. The water containers were filled and waiting, the barns were spotless, the air fresh. The chickens ran everywhere — to the corners of the barns, to the water containers, to the freedom of the enclosure outside each barn where they could scratch in the dirt and feel grass beneath their feet.
The hens, each about two years old, have lived in hell from birth. Born in a hatchery, never knowing their mothers, at one week old they were brutally debeaked with a hot blade. It’s a very painful process, as beaks are not like fingernails — they are filled with highly sensitive nerve endings. Chicks are routinely debeaked because soon they will live in battery cages, crammed in so tightly that aggression is inevitable; the debeaking lessens the damage they can do to each other. So these beautiful hens have known nothing but pain and deprivation from birth. With a wing-span of about 34 inches, they have been kept in 18-by-20-inch cages, not one hen to a cage, but five to ten.
Living naturally, hens will run, extend their wings, fly onto a perch, peck at the ground for bugs and worms, close their eyes to enjoy the warmth of the sun, and delight in taking dust baths. In a battery cage, they cannot move. They cannot stretch a single wing. The wire of the cages digs into their sensitive feet, causing pain and persistent infections. They never see nor feel the sun. They live in an atmosphere so fetid with their own waste that their eyes and throats and nostrils sting constantly from the ammonia in the air. The cages are stacked one atop the other, so that the urine and feces from the hens in one cage will fall onto the chickens below. Lice and mites crawl through their feathers and on their skin. Sick and dying hens live among the dead — not everyone can survive these conditions and many hens die. The dead ones are pulled from the cages, though not every day; it’s too time-consuming. There are no healthy hens. A trough that runs along the front of the cages collects the eggs they lay. ‘Cause, you know, people like eggs.
Imagine, just for a moment, living in a small wire cage with five or even ten other people, unable to stretch an arm or a leg. Everyone else in the cage is pressed against you. The wire digs into your feet. You are crawling with parasites and have no choice but to urinate and defecate where you stand, the smell of ammonia and feces stinging your eyes and nostrils. Really picture it for a sec. Now imagine living that way for two years, only to be gassed or slaughtered at the end of it.
Chickens are intelligent, feeling animals. They can solve puzzles, they want to nurture their young, they have — as all animals do — natural behaviours they like to engage in. They are empathetic and have relationships with other chickens, and indeed with other animals. It is unconscionable that we force any being to live in such total deprivation and misery. And yet we do, in numbers too high to truly fathom, every single day.
Triage began and continued for hours, from one barn to the next. Many of the hens were in bad shape. Some had extreme feather loss, bumblefoot (a painful infection of the feet) was common, many were severely debeaked — up to their nostrils, some girls even missing part of their tongues. Others suffer from painful neuromas, clusters of nerve endings where they were debeaked, which can make eating an excruciating experience for them. Many had swollen and inflamed tissue around their eyes, likely sinus infections. All the chickens had heavy lice infestations. Those suffering severe dehydration were given subcutaneous fluids on-site. Caregivers attached colour-coded, numbered bands to the birds’ legs to signify at a glance who needed what kind of care in the immediate future.
Infected feet were cleaned and wrapped, two-inch long nails were trimmed. Bellies were palpated for signs of cancer (which can be treated, though not cured, with Tamoxifen) or ovi-duct impaction, a serious condition that requires surgery: the chickens’ bodies produce eggs that are often soft-shelled or even too large to lay. These eggs remain in the reproductive tract where other eggs then back up and break. The result is layers of rotten egg that form into a large ball, sometimes weighing more than two pounds. The mass can sometimes be removed surgically but often has caused too much damage to be removed. Once a reproductive issue has been identified, the next step is to determine the cause and treat accordingly. More than 100 of the birds had abdominal masses and some had abdominal fluid, including one poor girl who had more than 700 ml (that’s nearly three cups) of cloudy fluids, complete with small chunks of rotting egg, removed from her abdomen.
The healthiest hens were marked with a special coloured crayon that looks like a glue stick — a blue streak on her back meant that a hen would be moving on to another sanctuary, one of nine other sanctuaries taking some of the 1100 rescued girls.
The chickens were stressed, but also excited to be able to run free. There was the odd chicken who was held willingly, enjoying the comfort and attention; some, I swear, knew we were there to help them. Animals do tend to figure that out very quickly. But many were very nervous and understandably did not want to be caught again — after all, they have never known kindness from humans before. Some seemed downright terrified, though this will pass.
Anyone who thinks chickens aren’t smart has never tried to catch one…or several hundred. You can have your eye on one out of a possible 40 surrounding you, and she knows. And she will out-manoeuvre you 16 times before you get her. You have to be gentle when catching these hens: their bones are so fragile. Egg-laying hens in particular are prone to osteoporosis from producing eggs so prolifically, even at two years old. Given the natural life-span of a chicken, this is akin to a teenager having the disease.
Many hens took quickly to the nesting boxes, but after a lifetime of being so closely confined, they would huddle together three or four in one box. We had to separate them, in part to prevent the suffocation of hens at the back, and show them they could have their own nesting boxes. These so-called spent hens were laying eggs all over the barn almost as fast as we could collect them, but it was particularly sweet collecting eggs from underneath the girls in the nesting boxes — just to see them behaving naturally. (The eggs are unfertilized and will never hatch, so they are collected, hard-boiled and mashed, shell and all, into the girls’ feed. It’s not cannibalism and gives the hens’ precious calcium back to them.)
This past weekend, Happy Trails Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, and Catskill Farm Animal Sanctuary each took 200 of the hens. Sasha Farm in Michigan took another 100. More sanctuaries will be taking many of the others in the near future. The least healthy will remain at Farm Sanctuary for medical treatment and recuperation rather than enduring the stress of further travel. Over the next few weeks, many will be placed in adoptive vegan and vegetarian homes, but some will stay at the farm for life, where they will be cared for and allowed to live out their natural lives doing all the things chickens love: spending time with their friends, dust bathing and sun bathing, perching, searching the earth for bugs and worms, and just being chickens, free from harm. They are now ambassadors for the billions of chickens (just in North America) who will not be as lucky.
Many people think egg production is harmless. In fact, it is one of the cruelest industries within animal agriculture. For every egg-laying hen, there was a male chick who was ground alive in a macerator or suffocated or left to starve in a garbage bag, because male chicks have no use in egg production. The females are raised under heat lamps, mutilated, neglected, and live in total deprivation, treated as “units of production” — a farm industry term for animals. They also receive weekly (sometimes daily) vaccinations until they begin egg production, mostly for diseases caused by unsanitary, overcrowded conditions with poor air circulation. In other words, they are vaccinated this frequently (often repeatedly for the same virus) so that they can survive the atmosphere in which they are forced to live.
To buy free-range eggs is buy into the humane myth. “Free-range” is a meaningless term and even if you get your eggs from your neighbour in the city or a farmer up the road, the chickens come from the same hatcheries the factory farmed chickens come from. They will also go to the same slaughterhouses, where the “line” runs so fast that humane slaughter is impossible. Their suffering will be nearly unimaginable.
Many people tell me that they hardly eat red meat anymore, just chicken — as though chickens somehow don’t count. They seem to feel that it’s not as bad as eating the flesh of a cow…except it takes 250 chickens to equal the amount of meat you would get from one cow, so 249 more animals are suffering for this choice. And to paraphrase Kathy Stevens of Catskill Sanctuary, if you have 10 chickens, you have 10 different individuals: the cranky one, the bossy one, the needy one, the shy one, the show-off, and on and on. That can be hard for a lot of people to relate to, but when you spend time with these birds, you can see that in all the ways that matter, they are the same as the cats and dogs most of us love.
Nine billion chickens are killed a year in the U.S. alone, and this does not include the 2% — about 90 million — who die before they ever go to slaughter. Those numbers do include egg-laying hens.
If you’re interested in adopting any of the rescued chickens, please contact one of the sanctuaries linked to in this article, or get in touch with Animal Place in California, who so compassionately facilitated this rescue. And if you visit the websites of the sanctuaries named here, you can see video of the girls settling in to their new homes! Some have already begun forming bonds. Every one of these rescued chickens is someone, not something — just like the 47,000 of their cagemates who were gassed the day these hens were rescued.
** Special note: Thank you to Susie Coston and the staff of Farm Sanctuary for allowing me to assist with and document this rescue. It was an unforgettable experience and an honour to work with you.
Toronto Pig Save was founded in 2010 by writer, activist and photojournalist Anita Krajnc (rhymes with “Heinz,” like the ketchup), to draw attention to the plight of pigs on their way to slaughter at Quality Meat Packers in downtown Toronto. The group holds vigils several times a week to bear witness for the pigs and to offer these terrified animals some small measure of comfort, if possible, before they go to slaughter. The animals have often endured long drives in searing heat or freezing cold and frequently arrive suffering from heat exhaustion or frostbite. Activists are often able to get close to the trucks and offer a kind touch and soothing voice, and in the brutal heat of summer, cold water and watermelon.
The work of Toronto Pig Save has spawned similar groups in Melbourne (Australia), Burlington, Hamilton, Guelph, Montreal and Brandon (Canada), as well as Indiana and a soon-to-be-launched Pig Save in New York City (USA). There are also Toronto Cow Save and Chicken Save groups. They have received coverage in mainstream Canadian press, including the Huffington Post, and are attracting a huge amount of attention in the animal rights movement overall.
Anita Krajnc has been trying to get me to attend a vigil for two years. I’ve been extremely reluctant to go; I’ve seen many photos and videos from the vigils and didn’t know if I could emotionally handle seeing animals in distress and being unable to do anything to help them. But I knew that sooner or later, this was something I had to do, so this past weekend, I went.
There were about 18 or so of us. We held signs, received lots of thumbs-up and honks of support from passing drivers, chatted and handed out leaflets to passers-by, and remained polite in the face of a few people who yelled highly original things like “I love bacon!” at us. We didn’t have to wait long before a transport truck showed up. We could smell it before we saw it and could hear the pigs screaming from a block away. If you’ve spent any time around pigs in a normal setting, you know that they are not generally given to screaming. They communicate with a complex series of grunts, snorts and exhalations, all of which mean something to the pigs around them, and to people who know them well. You’ll hear the occasional squeal brought on by a fit of pique if one gets too close to another’s food or otherwise does something annoying, but pigs left to their own devices are calm, sociable animals.
As the driver went around the building to pull into the loading dock, the screams got louder. It is a chilling, blood-curdling sound that tears at your heart. As the pigs were being unloaded, their screams would crescendo and you’d know they were getting hit with the electrified paddles designed to hurry them along. Terrified baby animals — for they are babies, nowhere near full-grown — with no understanding of what’s going on, where they are, or why they are being beaten and yelled at. This happens to 6000 individual pigs a day at Quality Meat Packers. When we can no longer hear them, it is because the door has gone down on the loading dock and these innocent beings are on their way to a worse fate than anything they have experienced so far.
Slaugherhouse workers will tell you they are surrounded by the screams of animals all day long. Stunning is notoriously inconsistent in its efficacy and many of the piglets will be conscious as they are shackled by one leg to hang upside down as they move along the slaughter line. Some will still be conscious when they are dropped into the scalding vat that will remove the hair from their sensitive skin. Some will be still be conscious when their throats are slit.
I have a problem with that. I have a problem with sentient beings, who are not significantly different than the cats and dogs many of us live with, being treated like inanimate objects incapable of feeling pain and fear, being treated with such callous disregard and often with deliberate and casual cruelty. And why? Because people love “their” bacon. Because line-ups for a “rib-fest” will be half an hour long, as though the people in line haven’t eaten for a week. Because bacon has become a national fetish. How could any taste possibly be worth the price these sweet and gentle animals pay?
Not rushing to the loading dock to ask the workers to have some compassion and treat the pigs more gently was incredibly difficult. Imagine seeing an animal in distress and being powerless to help. Had I rushed to the loading dock, the police would have been called, I’d have been escorted off the property, charged with trespassing and fined — and most likely the animals would have been no better off. But I will be back, because when there is an opportunity to reach the pigs while they’re still in the truck, whatever touch or creature comfort we can offer them may be the only kindness they will ever know. They deserve so much more.
Michael is one of the lucky ones. Born on a small dairy farm — one of the “good ones” — he would have been taken away from his mother a day or two after birth, sent to auction and subsequently slaughtered. That’s the fate of male calves in the dairy industry. (The female calves actually have it worse: they’ll be raised to be “milking machines” like their mothers, forcibly impregnated as many times as their bodies can stand, usually three or four times before they too are slaughtered, and have every one of their babies taken away soon after birth.) Mothers and calves alike bellow piteously for one another, often for days, when they are separated.
But when the time came for Michael to go to auction, 48 hours after his birth, the farmer couldn’t quite let him go. Something about this little brown and white calf appealed to her. Maybe it was his beautiful eyes with their ring of dark “eyeliner,” or his extravagant lashes. Maybe it was the softness of his muzzle, or just the simple sweetness of a baby animal. The farmer kept him for a bit.
But keeping a male calf does not make sense for dairy farmers; the boys are not profitable, certainly not if they’re nursing. The day he was scheduled to go to auction, he was instead rescued by a kind soul and taken to Farm Sanctuary.
Shy and scared and missing his mum, Michael arrived with diarrhea and giardia, common ailments in dairy calves. That was several weeks ago. He received treatment at the sanctuary’s small animal hospital and today, Michael is living in a barn and getting bigger and stronger. Although he’s still too small to hang out with the adolescent two-year-olds, they do share a fence and the older boys spend a lot of time looking at Michael with curiosity, and greetings are mooed back and forth. And Michael has a mighty moo for a little calf! While he frolics and plays like any young’un, you can see in Michael’s eyes that he’s lonely and misses his mum.
I met Michael last weekend and while I’m so grateful he’s found a new life at Farm Sanctuary where he will make friends of his own species and learn to live as part of a herd, being with him was also heartbreaking. He’s a bit shy of people and yet aching for affection; he’ll regard you warily, but once you get close, he’s all about the love. And he suckles. Anything. He suckled my hand endlessly, waiting for milk that’s never going to come. He got some milk replacer in a bucket with a giant nipple placed in it, because it’s the only way he’ll drink it. When he overturned the bucket in his zeal, a caregiver righted it immediately, but I accidentally stepped where it had spilled and he suckled the toe of my shoe. He still has no teeth and the inside of his mouth is warm and soft…when he took my hand to suckle it again, I felt as though my heart would leave my chest.
Michael is so desperate for his mum, and the only reason he can’t be with her is because people want her milk for cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter. For this, Michael has been taken from his mother…and perhaps worse, his mother has lost another baby. Dairy isn’t just a harmless product on the grocery store shelf. It has a face and a name. It’s Michael’s mother, who by now has been impregnated again against her will, and will have her next baby taken away from her, too. Dairy is Michael, two months old, suckling my hand, and wanting the comfort of his mum. Michael is the case against dairy.
By now, surely everyone reading this is familiar with the horse-meat-in-beef-products scandal. The latest news this morning is that horse meat has been found in Ikea’s famous meatballs in 13 European countries. People are aghast. Every time I read a comment after a news story or when someone mentions it on Facebook, there are outcries of “disgusting!” and “horrifying!”
To be perfectly honest, I’m still trying to figure out what people are so upset about. Certainly there is some alarm about the drugs that are routinely given to race horses (and that’s where most of the horse meat is coming from), most notably phenylbutazone, or “bute,” a anti-inflammatory painkiller that has been widely banned for human consumption, though it was originally designed for humans. Some people seem appalled about evidently lax standards in slaughterhouses. But by and large, they seem most upset that they may have consumed part of an animal that in their minds is more often considered a kind of companion animal — they put horses on a higher moral level than other farmed animals and it offends them to think of horses being used as food animals.
So here’s a little primer.
Antibiotics are routinely added to animal feed for cows, pigs, chickens, sheep (yes, that’s your lamb souvlaki) and goats (no, not that many people eat goat, but most people eat goat cheese). In fact, by some estimates, as much as 70% of all antibiotics produced in the United States are destined for animal feed, not human use. These drugs are necessary to keep animals alive when those animals live in such intensive confinement that a state of perpetual illness is unavoidable. It is widely believed in the scientific community that this is a large part of the reason we are now dealing with antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs” — we’re ingesting so much antibiotics from the meat we’re eating that our bodies have become used to them, making the drugs ineffective when we really need them. So if you eat meat, I don’t know that you should be all that alarmed by a smidgen of bute that may be in it. You’re already consuming plenty of drugs through your food.
Lax standards in slaughterhouses? This is nothing new. This is nothing new at all. See Gael Eisnitz’s shocking and powerful exposé Slaughterhouse, first published in 1997. While I am unfailingly shocked and sickened by the cruelty that routinely takes place in slaughterhouses every day, the only thing that shocks me about meat production at this point is that more people don’t get more sick more often.
Which leaves us with the general sense of horror many people have that they may have inadvertently eaten Seabiscuit. Horses are elevated in our culture, viewed as pets, companions, partners. They are the farm animal most city people have actually had some contact and possibly a relationship with. We see our police riding them, we may have gone riding at a stable ourselves, they pull carriages for “romantic” rides through the city for tourists or brides and grooms. (Note: I find nothing romantic about this at all: please Google “carriage horse industry” for more info.)
News flash: in terms of character, personality, their relationships with other animals — including humans — horses are absolutely no different from cows or any other farmed animal. Regular readers will know that I have favourite, cherished cows who live at Farm Sanctuary in Upstate New York, including notoriously antisocial Meg and the late, great Larry, a rescued veal calf who grew to 2500 pounds and was the sweetest, most gentle soul, and Thunder, another massive, gentle steer who wants nothing more than to be loved. I am also head-over-heels with Rufus, a beautiful red cow who lives at Wishing Well Sanctuary in Bradford, Ontario. What’s so special about Rufus? Nothing and everything. He is funny, sweet, gentle and affectionate. When I visit him, he rests his head on my shoulder while I stroke his face. He’ll take half a carrot from my fingertips as gently as a lamb. I know many cows who are a lot like him. If they are somehow significantly different from horses, I don’t know how.