Comfort Coop Eggs in California is very proud of their operation. They’re not free-range or free-run or cage-free, but they do offer their egg-laying hens a lot more space than most other egg farms do. They have what they call “an enriched colony farm.” They are SO proud of what they do that they’ve kitted the place out with live webcams so you can see the chickens for yourself.
Now, I don’t think everyone who runs a farm — however loosely I may use the word — is evil. I don’t think they’re all bad people who get their kicks from mistreating animals (though enough people do that it certainly keeps undercover investigators in work). I’m sure many of them are perfectly nice people who are earning a living doing what their family has probably done for at least a couple of generations. They have been habituated to believe that the “standard practice” cruelty inflicted on the animals in their care is okay, and sometimes actively encouraged to think of the animals as machines (as was the case in a farm industry magazine article I read last year).
So I think the folks at Comfort Coop Eggs think they have reason to be proud; I think they really believe they treat their chickens well. And it’s certainly a step up from a lot of egg facilities I’ve seen, and heaven knows I wish they’d all install webcams.
A lot of people are probably going to feel really good about buying Comfort Coop Eggs after visiting their website. But they shouldn’t. I want people to think more critically about these things, so here’s what’s still wrong:
- Even though the chickens have more space than they do at most other egg laying facilities, they still don’t have enough room to spread their wings. Imagine just never, never having enough room to stretch. Ever.
- They are on wire. Wire does terrible things to a bird’s feet. It digs in, can cause deformities, cuts, and a condition called bumblefoot, which is basically a sac of infection on the bottom of the foot and it’s very painful. If left untreated the infection can actually enter the bloodstream and be fatal. Living on wire also means that the hens’ claws never get worn down and become incredibly long, making it hard to walk. Although that’s not much of a problem when you can’t move more than a few inches in any direction.
- Because they’re on wire, stacked, as you can see from the side-view webcam, the urine and fecal matter from every hen falls on the hens below. No one should have to live their life like that.
- The hens are still debeaked because that is standard practice at hatcheries. I’ve seen hens debeaked up to the nostrils, even with part of their tongue cut off. Beaks are filled with sensitive nerve endings and debeaking is painful – often chronically so, particularly if neuromas develop later. It can also make it difficult for the chicken to eat properly.
- Because modern laying hens have been bred to lay eggs so profusely, they are prone to becoming egg-bound, in which their body manufactures an egg but the hen can’t push it out, and so it remains impacted and soon rots inside her. Obviously, this can be fatal as successive eggs back up and must certainly be painful. Hens can also suffer from prolapsed uteri, where the effort of expelling an egg actually pushes a hen’s uterus outside of her body.
- If a hen survives all this, she’ll still be killed at two years of age, a fraction of her natural lifespan.
- Male chicks are still thrown away like trash and left to suffocate, or ground alive, one-to-one for every hen. Living, breathing, feeling baby animals.
All of this suffering is what’s behind every egg in every carton in every store. It’s in every egg you get from your neighbour down the road. It is inescapable.
Now remember that all this is still a problem at Comfort Coop Eggs. And they are American Humane Certified. Things are so bad that this qualifies as humane. Think about that.
If you haven’t heard of Esther the Wonder Pig, there’s a good chance you’re not on Facebook. Esther was adopted by a couple who acted hastily, fell for her cute looks and believed they were adopting a “micro-pig.” Not so. But as Esther grew, and grew — and grew — so did her dads’ love for her and commitment to her. Esther had changed them and they decided to share who she is in the hope that she would influence others, too. Her star on the internet has risen with astonishing speed: her Facebook page received 100,000 “likes” in less than three months and her YouTube channel has had about 300,000 views. Now that she’s even appeared on BuzzFeed those numbers are sure to go up. And she’s starting to receive a fair bit of media attention.
Unfortunately, if predictably, the media attention mostly comes in the form of “fluff pieces.” We are a meat-eating society and people who live in a city and adopt a pig as a pet are a novelty. The other night there was a brief segment on the local news about Esther. While not a hard news story, it still could have been handled much more seriously and sensitively than it was. As it stands, it was a missed opportunity.
Here’s what you learned if you saw the piece: Esther is really cute. And really, really big – she’s pushing nearly 200 kg, or 400 pounds these days. Esther is also smart: she has learned to open the cupboards, sit on command, climb stairs, and asks to go outside to relieve herself. She is funny, adorable, and profoundly endearing — and did I mention big?
Here’s what you didn’t learn but could have, short as the segment on Esther was:
There is no such thing as a micro-pig. No micro-pigs, no mini-pigs, no dwarf pigs, there is no little piggy out there that is truly small. There’s a big difference between “small” and “small for a pig.” And there are a lot of people who are making a living by conning otherwise intelligent people. Farm animal sanctuaries are filled with mature pigs that unsuspecting people bought as piglets, having no idea how much they would grow and being in no position to provide a suitable home for a 400-pound animal. And those sanctuaries are full: they turn people away every week because they have no choice.
Esther’s tail has been docked because that is standard practice on factory farms, where pigs are kept in such close confinement that they engage in neurotic and aggressive behaviours which include tail biting. So “farmers” amputate piglets’ tails, without anesthetic, using a pair of scissors or wire cutters. If Esther had been born a boy, she would have had her testicles ripped out at the same time.
Esther’s dads, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, who were omnivores at this time last year, are now vegan because of Esther. “She completely took away the separation we had between pets and food. As soon as we realized what she was meant for we couldn’t help but be devastated. All we could do was picture her in those barns and it broke us. It was a pretty intense time, lots of guilt, lots of soul searching and definitely a lot of tears. It was a really hard realization to make. This little bundle of joy and smiles we had fallen in love with could’ve been dinner,” said Steve.
The thing about Esther is, she’s not different than other pigs. She just lucked out. As smart and funny and charming and affectionate as she is, all pigs have the same capacity to express those qualities. But they are born into a concentration camp of a food system in which the only reason they are born is to be killed, in which their lives are an unmitigated hell and they are treated like inanimate objects until finally, brutally, that is what they are reduced to. It would be nice if some of the media coverage of Esther would acknowledge at least some of that instead of cracking juvenile jokes about bacon.
On Tuesday, February 11th, Sweety will be celebrating one week in her new home — and for the first time in her life, she truly has a home. After spending seven years as a dairy cow, treated only as a commodity, enduring illness without treatment, of grieving for the babies taken from her, Sweety is now being cared for and loved for who she is.
Thanks to Refuge RR, who first rescued Sweety last month and got her the initial veterinary treatment she so badly needed, Sweety is now home at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. There is more veterinary care to come; Sweety is completely blind, she has some pressure sores, and she is emaciated. But she now has a warm barn, soft straw, a clean stall, and people who love her already. She’s even made a friend: Tricia is another blind cow who has been lonely since she lost the first friend she made when she arrived at Farm Sanctuary. Knowing that these two beautiful girls, who’ve been through so much, might be a good match, caregivers introduced them on Sweety’s first full day at the farm — and it was love at first sight! Sweety and Tricia are delighted with one another’s company and seem as if they couldn’t be happier.
There is nothing extraordinary about the circumstances Sweety came from. She’s not even from a factory farm, where conditions might have been much worse. This is just the life of a dairy cow. You can help change the world for cows like Sweety by choosing alternatives to dairy. If you don’t know where to start, there are many great resources, some of which can be found at the websites on the right, or on my Veg Curious page.
Sweety was supposed to be slaughtered two weeks ago. Blind, lame, and painfully thin, she has already lived at least three years longer than most dairy cows. This fact does not make her “lucky.” For Sweety, it has meant three more years of suffering and neglect. Two more assaults on her body as she was impregnated against her will by human hands, three more of her babies taken from her soon after birth (her last birth was twins) so that her milk could be sold for human consumption, for cream, butter, cheese, ice cream. This was her life, not on a factory farm, but a relatively small family farm.
Incredibly, days before she was to be shipped to the slaughterhouse, Sweety was rescued. Refuge RR in Alexandria, Ontario negotiated with the farmer for her release, but they are unable to keep her — they have no room. There is a sanctuary in the United States that is willing and able to give Sweety a home, but the USDA will not allow her across the border without a clean bill of health.
Right now Sweety is at the vet’s where she is having her infected hoof treated and is undergoing a series of tests. Under proper care, with medicine and healthy food, she is healing and getting stronger. Just as importantly, she looks calmer and happier. But it’s very expensive, as anyone with a dog or a cat can easily imagine, and the costs are mounting every day. Refuge RR is responsible for Sweety’s vet bill and they need help urgently. Like all sanctuaries, they depend on donations to help the animals, because unlike the farms these animals come from, a sanctuary is a not a profit-making business.
Sweety has been spared from slaughter and deserves to spend the rest of her life free from fear and pain. You can help by making a donation through Canada Helps here; donations of $20 or more are tax deductible. If that’s more than you can spare, I know that any amount would be received with gratitude. Sweety is someone, not something.
There’s a petition circulating asking outerwear manufacturers to switch from down to synthetic alternatives. I’ve posted about the horror of down numerous times on Facebook, but down just isn’t on most people’s radar. The writer of the petition states the issue so clearly that I’m simply copying it here. Please follow the link and sign the petition. This kind of activism DOES have an effect and is the best way to signal to governments and large companies that a given situation or practice is NOT okay. Thank you for taking action. You can sign the petition here.
Down feathers are sometimes cruelly and painfully plucked from live birds. But consumers and most retailers don’t know which products contain this live-plucked down.
Peta and Four Paws have obtained undercover video footage of workers pulling fistfuls of feathers from geese as the ravished birds shriek with pain. During the torture the geese are often squeezed between pluckers’ knees or sometimes have their necks sat upon. The traumatized, suffering birds are often left with gaping wounds, which many don’t survive.
But the horror doesn’t always end after this torment, because many of these tortured birds are further victimized by the foie gras market, and then some go on to be slaughtered or dumped into scalding water – also while still alive.
Most upsetting is that none of this cruelty is necessary. Imitation materials that mimic down are warmer and washable and now available, and outdoor gear company Coleman says it has already made the switch.
More important, the Biomimicry Institute is working to design a nontoxic alternative to natural down, and the outdoor gear companies could pool their resources to fund this project.
Tell The North Face, Patagonia and Rab to support non-toxic alternatives to down and stop supporting this cruelty!
While Christmastime is often denounced for having been overcome by commercialism, more and more people want to share their good fortune by giving to those in need. It’s the time of year when non-profits of all kinds go into high gear with their fundraising campaigns. Food banks have collection bins in every grocery store, Santas are ringing bells on busy street corners to raise money to help the homeless, and international organizations spend big money on advertising and direct mail in an effort to capitalize on the overall generous mood of the season.
There are almost countless ways to help people less fortunate than you. You can sponsor a child in another country, you can feed a family for a month (for surprisingly little in many parts of the world), you can pay for vaccinations or school uniforms for children, fund a well in a village, support women in small business, support literacy training, fund a community garden, pay for neonatal care, provide mosquito netting to reduce the risk of contracting malaria, help children orphaned by AIDS…the list goes on and on. But in all of these wonderful initiatives, there is one that stands out as being an incredibly bad idea: the “gift” of farm animals.
The thinking is that farm animals will provide a source of nourishment and potentially a source of income; cows and goats = milk, sheep = wool, chickens = eggs. But it’s far from that simple.
- Animals need to eat too, and they can’t just “live off the land.” An animal could well become one more mouth to feed. Keeping livestock is a spectacularly inefficient use of already scarce resources. If the land is arable enough to grow something for animals to eat, it would be put to better use planting actual crops. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef — imagine how far 16 pounds of grain would go to feed people.
- Animals require water and the larger the animal, they more water they consume. A cow, for example, can drink up to 90 litres of water a day. If clean water is hard to come by, this is a problem from the get-go.
- Mammals only supply milk if they’ve given birth. What happens to the babies? Will they simply be slaughtered?
- Animals get sick too. They require specialized care to maintain good health. How can a family too poor to feed itself properly take on the care of an animal? This leaves the animals themselves vulnerable to suffering and painful deaths from disease, starvation, or inhumane slaughter.
Experts like the World Land Trust denounce “gifts” of animals as economically and environmentally disastrous, contributing to water shortages, desertification of land, and even detrimental to the very people such gifts are intended to help when children are pulled out of school to help tend the animals. The animals suffer, and the people suffer too. If you would like to extend your generosity to people genuinely in need in foreign countries, there are many, many better ways to do so than to give an animal to a poor family. Any of the other gifts mentioned above, and many more besides, are truly helpful. You can help educate people, help them start and sustain small businesses, help them get started in sustainable agriculture, help prevent and heal disease, help supply clean water. Those are gifts worth giving.
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.