This morning I read an op-ed in the L.A. Times by Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary’s director of policy and one of the most intelligent voices in the animal rights movement.
It speaks to the myth of humane slaughter and is such an important read that I am duplicating it here. Every animal Bruce writes about could be someone you or I know, someone I’ve written about…and that’s the whole point: each animal, each of them, is someone. They are intelligent, they feel both physically and emotionally, and they have a vested interest in their own lives. In that respect, there is no fundamental difference between them and the animals with whom we share our homes and our beds. The calves Bruce writes about could be Julie; the pig could be Esther.
There is a Humane Slaughter Act in the United States and while I would argue that humane slaughter is itself an oxymoron, what little protection the act is supposed to offer farmed animals is useless, because it is ignored and no one in authority seems to care.
Horrible abuses occur in slaughterhouses every day, everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you eat animal products and are complicit in this, I implore you to reconsider your choices. If you don’t, I am asking you to act. Support change in whatever way you can, whether by asking politicians to vote down ag-gag laws, signing petitions, or educating others.
The cruelty behind your ballpark hotdog
Late last year, a government inspector paid a visit to Clougherty Packing, the Vernon slaughterhouse responsible for killing the animals that, in the afterlife, become Dodger Dogs and Farmer John-brand meats. With the inspector watching, an employee tried to render a lame pig unconscious, a procedure that should require one shot to the head with a stun gun. Because the pig was not properly restrained, however, the employee had to shoot her multiple times.
Later, the inspector witnessed another botched stunning: the employee had to “pull out the stuck rod from the skull and reload the captive bolt” before he finally succeeded. In both cases, there was no backup stunning device available.
Such sloppy work amounts to “egregious” illegal activity under the Humane Slaughter Act, which declares that livestock must be slaughtered “only by humane methods.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture — according to its own policy directives — is supposed to suspend plant operations in response to such infractions. It can also refer abuse for criminal prosecution or, in extreme cases, effectively shut down a poorly run plant by withdrawing its grant of federal inspection.
Yet official records that I received through the Freedom of Information Act show that after the Clougherty Packing debacle, as well as similar incidents across the country over the last two years, the USDA declined to punish the perpetrators, issuing administrative warnings instead.
USDA inspection records chronicle workers running over crippled animals with construction equipment, animals regaining consciousness after having been shot through the head with a captive bolt, and workers intentionally abusing injured animals. Dozens of slaughterhouses either can’t or won’t follow the law. But the USDA allows them to continue operating.
At a Minnesota slaughterhouse, a plant manager repeatedly electrocuted a cow that was trapped in the stunning box with a hole in her head. For more than 15 minutes, the worker tormented this cow with electric prods, trying to force her from the pen “despite this being physically impossible.” When she was finally killed and extracted from the box, this poor animal had four freshly broken ribs and multiple deep wounds where her “hide had been forcefully ripped off, varying in depth but in some regions down to the [muscle] beneath.”
Over less than eight months, this plant was cited 14 times for humane slaughter violations and its operations were suspended on multiple occasions, but it was not shut down and no one was criminally prosecuted.
At a plant near Fresno, a worker unloading animals from a truck dropped a crippled calf from a height of about three feet onto the concrete floor of the slaughter pen. “This calf landed on its body and remained recumbent on the concrete.” The worker continued, pushing four more calves “off the trailer, chin first onto the concrete.” Although plant operations were briefly suspended, the worker was not charged for this intentional and criminal cruelty.
As if such documented brutality weren’t bad enough, undercover investigations consistently find that abuse is even worse than is indicated in the USDA’s official records.
At a slaughter plant in Chino that processes large numbers of crippled dairy cows, the Humane Society of the United States secretly documented workers beating animals, shocking them, ramming them with forklifts and using high-power hoses to shoot water into their nostrils — all in an attempt to force them to stand. USDA inspectors were in the plant during each incident, but they never cited the plant for abuse.
The USDA’s own inspector general warned in 2013 that Humane Slaughter Act enforcement was both “inconsistent” and “lenient.” In a random sampling of inspection reports, the inspector general found 10 egregious violations of the law that did not result in plant suspension, including a captive bolt lodging in a conscious pig’s skull for at least four minutes before the animal was killed, a pig being boiled alive and a forklift operator driving repeatedly into a crippled pig.
If the USDA is going to follow its own policy directives and enforce the Humane Slaughter Act, it should consider two crucial reforms.
First, all egregious violations of the law should automatically result in at least plant suspension. Over the years 2013 and 2014, I documented dozens of examples of such violations that resulted in mere warnings. That simply makes no sense; an egregious infraction deserves a stern response.
Second, the USDA should refer intentional abuse for criminal prosecution. The Humane Slaughter Act is a criminal statute and violations can — theoretically — result in fines and jail time. Not only is criminal prosecution a suitable punishment for animal abuse, but the predictable threat of prosecution would act as a deterrent, discouraging mistreatment in the first place.
Personally, I see no ethical difference between eating a chicken or a cat, a pig or a puppy; I don’t think slaughtering animals for one’s dinner can ever be humane. But, for now, the Humane Slaughter Act is all we have; the least the USDA could do is enforce it.
Copyright © 2015 Los Angeles Times
Over the past five years, Mike Stura has become the go-to guy across half the Eastern Seaboard when animals need rescuing. A mechanic and truck driver by trade, he’s often the first one someone calls when a sheep has escaped a live market and needs safe transport, goats need rescuing from a backyard butcher, or a cow has made a break for freedom from a slaughterhouse. He’s the guy who will get in his truck in the middle of the night and drive five hours in a snowstorm to get an animal to safety. He even bought his own trailer — followed by a truck, a bigger trailer, and a sprinter van — for the purpose. (In fact, I first met Mike and his wife, Wendy, in person when they volunteered with a cross-country rescue of 1100 chickens, something that would have been infinitely more challenging without their help: they not only drove half the night to be there, but after the initial triage of the birds, Mike then transported hundreds of them to different sanctuaries across several states.)
A natural with the animals — most of whom are terrified of people — Mike introduces himself to them and says “Do you know who I am?” Incredibly, they seem to. Animals are much more perceptive than they’re often given credit for; most of them grasp very quickly who they can trust, and they trust Mike. Whether he’s pulling them out of a hell-hole of neglect where they’re surrounded by their dead friends and family, or walking into a halal slaughterhouse in New York City – where he has more than once successfully talked butchers into surrendering a live animal – the animals know he’s on their side.
By late 2013, Mike and Wendy had three goats of their own when Mike rescued Jimmy, a young steer with a host of health problems. Mike knew there was nowhere to take Jimmy; all the sanctuaries he worked with were full up. He had enough room for Jimmy while he was still small, but as Jimmy grew, he was going to need more space…and so Mike and Wendy started looking for a farm. Before too long, they found a beauty – and their own sanctuary.
They signed the papers at the end of January this year and took possession of 229 stunning acres of pasture and forest in Wantage, New Jersey. Just three and a half months later, in mid-May, Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue started giving public tours. Since then, their farm animal family has grown to nearly 60 and includes cows, sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys, chickens, five ducks and one goose.
Last month I was fortunate enough to spend several days at Skylands with Mike and Wendy. Though I had seen many photos, they didn’t really do justice to the size and the postcard-prettiness of the place. As you approach the farm from the road, it looks like a picture in a children’s storybook come to life.
Fun fact about Skylands: it’s a former dairy farm. There is a sweet irony, a quiet joy, in taking a place that once represented pain and loss for animals, and using it to give them true sanctuary, a home where they are seen as individuals and treated with love, gentleness and respect. No one will be hurt or have their babies taken from them here. It is a place where they can be who they are, express their natural behaviours and be safe from fear and harm. They can recover from their past traumas and form relationships with one another, one more thing they are denied when they are raised for food.
The sprawling acreage of Skylands has been fenced into separate pastures, some of them massive. Even the forest is being fenced in, allowing the residents to find shade from the summer sun, browse the tasty leaves of shrubs, and – in the case of the pigs – root in the woods as they would in the wild, safe from predators. It’s paradise, and a world away from the cramped and filthy conditions the animals here were born into. Beautiful and sturdy shelters dot the landscape of the farm; no one has to sleep outside unless they choose to, and two beautiful new barns are in progress to give the animals even more room and allow for the growth of the sanctuary. The existing big barn, the former dairy barn, is clean and comfortable, redolent with the smell of fresh straw.
This is where I met Julie. The daughter of a dairy cow, Julie was taken from her mum soon after she was born, so soon that she didn’t receive enough colostrum, vital for the development of her immune system. (Here is a simple truth: if you’re consuming dairy, it’s because somewhere a baby like Julie is not. Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated year after year and have their babies taken from them so that we can have milk, cheese, ice cream and more. It’s so unnecessary. We don’t need it and it causes terrible cruelty. There are so many great non-dairy alternatives now, with more available all the time.)
For weeks, since bringing Julie home, Mike’s schedule has revolved around hers, because Julie needed to be bottle-fed. She’s doing well now and is playful and demanding. Her insistent call begins with a pre-moo, to let you know she’s thinking about mooing. “Mm. Mmm…” Then out comes the mighty moo itself, incredibly loud coming from such a small girl. She still wants to suckle and will go for your hand over and over again, while looking up at you with her big, brown, Disney eyes. When she plays, she jumps and frolics like an overgrown puppy, pushing her head into you as she discovers her strength.
Had Julie remained at the farm where she was born (along with a twin brother, who died shortly after birth, saving him from the fate that awaited him as a veal calf*), in a little over a year she would have been impregnated against her will, by a human hand, and gone into “production,” just like her mother. She would have been killed at about five years old. Here, at Skylands, she will know only love, form friendships with other cows, and barring any insurmountable illness, could easily live into her twenties.
Julie is just one of the dozens of animals who have found love and safety at Skylands. Sanctuaries play such an important role in changing how we view farmed animals. It is only here that people can interact with them and really see them for who they are…see that each one of them is a remarkable individual with intelligence and a fully developed personality, and that their lives matter to them as much as ours do to us. Farm animal sanctuaries change lives, both for those who live there and those who visit. If you’ve never been to one, I hope you’ll go online, find the one nearest to you and go.
I asked Mike what it means to him, just five years after becoming vegan, to have this sanctuary. His answer was simple: “It means I can keep rescuing animals and teaching humans not to see the animals as commodities, but as individuals. I love it.”
*See my 2013 story about Michael, another rescue of Mike’s who now resides at Skylands.
As much of the world continues to mourn Cecil, many animal advocates are also asking, “Where is the grief and outrage for all of the OTHER animals?” Those who are hunted, those who are tortured in labs, those who suffer the most in the greatest numbers — the ones we raise for food. The grief so many people feel for Cecil is the same grief ethical vegans (those who are vegan primarily for the animals) feel when we hurry past the meat aisle in the grocery store.
Yes, it is just that painful. We don’t see chicken legs and breasts, hamburgers, pork chops and steaks. We see who these cuts of meat used to be — the individuals they once were.
Because I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time at farm sanctuaries, I also tend to see “meat” as very specific individuals, because the few animals who have, by great good fortune, escaped the system must represent for their species. So I don’t see a pork chop, I see an actual body part – I see Fiona’s or Esther’s or Marge’s leg, and it makes me cringe. I don’t see a Thanksgiving turkey; I see Turpentine. Name a cut of meat and I can tell you about an animal I know who it could just as easily have come from. And call me sensitive, but it breaks my heart. I know that those animals are every bit as aware and full of personality as a cat or a dog.
People are mourning for Cecil for several reasons: because he was lion, a wild animal – and a regal one at that, and we (illogically) hold such animals higher in our esteem than we do sheep or cows or pigs; because he had a name, he instantly became “someone” to the world, instead of “something”; and because he was injured and in pain for nearly two days before he was finally killed outright, and we feel for his suffering, which we deem unnecessary and cruel.
While Cecil’s death is tragic and senseless, my hope is that it has shone a spotlight on big-game hunting, which is a $744-million business in South Africa alone, and made people consider the lives of other animals too, including farmed animals, whose intrinsic value as living beings is no less than Cecil’s. There is no fundamental difference between them. There are all someone.
Last week, Mercy For Animals released an undercover video of horrific animal abuse at Canada’s Maple Lodge Farms. Michael Burrows, CEO of Maple Lodge Farms, wasted no time in releasing a video of his own, expressing deep concern about MFA’s investigation.
Here is my open letter to Burrows:
Dear Mr. Burrows,
You did an excellent job in your video following the recent Mercy For Animals investigation. The trouble is, every industry exec says exactly the same thing after every undercover investigation is made public. Every exec says “It’s an anomaly, it won’t be tolerated, we don’t condone this, we have strict policies, we care about animal welfare.” But it simply isn’t true. These statements have absolutely no credibility anymore. No company is targeted for investigation; it’s completely random, and yet the same horrific abuses are uncovered each and every time. That is not an anomaly, Mr. Burrows, it is standard operating procedure. And it is not acceptable. If, as you say, your auditors ensure that appropriate animal-handling procedures are being followed, then the MFA would have had no story to tell. The truth is, animals are nothing more than commodities in the world of animal agriculture and their welfare is meaningless when it’s up against a company’s bottom line. Animals are handled the way they are because it IS allowed, because no one really cares, because it’s more important that each one of them is killed and “processed” (not necessarily in that order, I hasten to add) as quickly as possible than it is to ensure they suffer as little as possible.
You’re right: no one wants to see animals suffer. They just want to buy chicken for $4 a pound and they don’t want to know how it got in the cellophane package.
The cost of meat is astronomical – for the animals, the plant workers and the environment. But the days of snowing the public are over.
This was a bad weekend for my blood pressure. I was enjoying a cup of coffee, settled in with the weekend paper, when one of the inserts I normally discard caught my eye. It was a 12-page, glossy ‘digest edition’ of The Real Dirt on Farming. On the cover were photos of lusciously coloured vegetables, a couple of good-looking cows, a nervous-looking pig, and a group of smiling people – representing Canadian farmers, I suppose – in a cow pasture. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued.
It was all pretty benign and low-key until I got to Farm animals 101 on page five. All of sudden these farmers sounded like veterinarians working for love. I have no doubt that some of the smaller farmers raising animals for food probably do actually care about their animals. Not enough to do something different for a living, but I do believe some of them care. The few who have actually become sanctuary founders or activists, not to mention vegan, attest to that. I’ve read several stories of farmers who, emotionally, just couldn’t do it anymore. But they are an infinitesimal minority and I have simply seen too much to believe that most farmers give a toss about the animals in their care.
This newspaper insert crossed the line into propaganda when it stated things about animal care that are flat-out untrue. I realize that a word like “propaganda” has an almost Orwellian ring to it, but it’s not remotely out of place here: the way the majority of farmed animals are housed (or warehoused) is itself entirely Orwellian.
Consider the following quotations from The Real Dirt on Farming:
“Farmers and ranchers choose to work with animals because we enjoy it. Caring for animals properly is simply a matter of doing the right thing but it also makes good business sense. Content, healthy animals are more productive animals and lead to higher quality food products.”
You would think so, but no. The cost of animal death is actually built into the business model. We have fewer farms raising more animals. Individualized care of any kind is not only not a possibility, it’s not even a concern. That’s why they use prophylactic antibiotics: so the animals can actually survive the conditions they’re raised in and make it to slaughter. A miserable, unhealthy dairy cow does not produce less milk than her healthier sister. And none of them is happy being restrained in what the industry itself refers to as a “rape rack,” forcibly impregnated and then having her baby taken from her so that humans can use her milk.
“Barns protect livestock from extreme weather and temperatures (hot and cold), diseases like avian influenza, and predators like wolves and coyotes.”
Such a nice idea, but not entirely truthful. The animals do not have the choice of whether to be outside or in, so the truth is, the only time they may ever breathe fresh air or glimpse sunshine is on a crowded, barren feedlot (where cattle are fattened just before slaughter), or on their way to the slaughterhouse. Furthermore, barns do absolutely nothing to protect chickens or turkeys from avian flu. On the contrary, they act like an incubator for disease. As for the wolves or coyotes, do a Google search for images of factory farms – predators aren’t getting anywhere near them. (I’m sure barns are helpful in that regard for sheep farms, but let’s not kid ourselves: this is not about the animals and their comfort and safety. It’s about money.)
“Animal housing is about animal needs, which can be quite different from human needs, and every animal is different. For example, laying hens are descended from jungle fowl that live in small groups under tree roots. This means it’s natural for the hens to want to live closely together with other birds in smaller, enclosed spaces. And, given the choice of staying indoors or heading out to pasture, dairy cows often opt for the comfort of well-ventilated barns in warmer weather.”
Animal housing is not about animal needs. It is about maximizing profit. No pig needs to spend the majority of her life confined in a gestation crate in which she cannot turn around or exercise a single natural impulse. Nor does she need to be separated from her offspring in a farrowing crate. Farmers will tell you they do this to protect the piglets from their mother rolling over and crushing them. Has that ever happened? Sure it has. Is it a normal occurrence? Absolutely not. I have friends who work at farmed animal sanctuaries who have never seen it happen. Pigs, like almost all animals, are excellent mothers and not prone to killing their young, accidentally or otherwise.
It’s almost funny to me that the industry talks about what’s natural for laying hens as a justification for housing them in unimaginably cramped conditions, yet they don’t talk about the fact that it’s NOT natural for hens to produce so many eggs so quickly that many of them die from reproductive cancers or prolapsed uteri before ever becoming a chicken “fingers” or chicken loaf, sliced and sold as sandwich meat – the usual end for egg-laying hens. If you’re reading this on an iPad, then you’re looking at the amount of space your average chicken spends her entire life confined in, unable to stretch a single wing.
“Farmers must follow laws for humane treatment [of animals]…Neglect and abuse of animals of any kind is against the law.”
Except here’s the thing: what is exempt from animal abuse laws is anything that is considered to be common practice on farms. So here’s a list of all the things it’s perfectly legal and acceptable to do a farmed animal, all without anesthetic or pain relief:
- Disbudding (removal of horn buds)
- Tooth-clipping (exactly what it sounds like, done to young pigs so they don’t cause damage biting each other in intensive confinement)
- Debeaking (using a machine to sear off the very sensitive tip of the beaks of turkeys and chickens, again so they don’t damage each other in intensive confinement)
- Detoeing (cutting off the ends of the toes of farmed birds – as above)
Imagine for a moment someone doing any one of those things to a cat or a dog. It would most certainly be considered animal cruelty. It would be considered torture. What’s the difference? What’s the difference between a cat or a dog or a cow or a pig? A popular ad campaign says the only difference is our attitude. Because we keep certain kinds of animals as pets and raise others for food, what is unconscionable for one becomes institutionalized and accepted for another. But it doesn’t make any sense.
When an interest group – in this case, Farm & Food Care Foundation – is appealing to you and offering you information, I urge you to look at it with a critical eye and question who benefits from it and how. Question motives. Follow the money. It’s not in the pockets of animal advocates.
On the Facebook page of an international editors’ group I belong to, someone recently asked whether ‘livestock’ was a trigger word for revulsion in animal rights and welfare circles, and whether it should be avoided in favour of ‘farm animals’.
I was surprised — and pleased — that someone outside the sphere of animal advocacy would stop to think about that and ask the question. I replied yes, I would personally suggest avoiding that word, and went on to say that when I write about animals, depending on the context I’ll go a step further and say ‘farmed’ animals, adding the ‘-ed’ to emphasize the notion of exploitation.
Another editor in the Facebook conversation accused me of “making stuff up to be offended about,” “trying to turn ‘livestock’ into a dirty word,” and added that I was damaging my own credibility by expressing my (asked-for) perspective.
I don’t look for things to get offended by. I don’t have to – our use of and casual disregard for animals is so pervasive it’s impossible to avoid. Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur has said “Once you start seeing, you can’t stop,” and it’s true. I don’t look at a simple pair of shoes the same way I used to. I avert my eyes when I have to walk past the meat counter at the grocery store. Someone walking their dog while wearing a Canada Goose coat, complete with coyote fur trim, sends my blood pressure soaring. It frustrates me endlessly that the majority of other people don’t (or sometimes won’t) see what I see.
I am not a filmmaker or a talented photographer or an artist…all I can do is write, so that is the only way I have of trying to show other people the way I see the world and the way I see animals. So the words I use are important.
Language matters; it is how we express ourselves to one another, explain things, communicate ideas. And when one is discussing rights, oppression or exploitation, I think the specific language used takes on even greater importance, because it has the power to shape perception.
I don’t like the word ‘livestock’. I don’t view animals as any kind of stock. I see them as living, feeling beings, because that’s what they are. They’re not objects, and I think words like ‘livestock’ objectify them. I don’t talk about livestock, I talk about animals. When I tell someone I’m vegan and they ask what that means, I don’t tell them I don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy, I tell them I don’t eat (or use) animals or their products, because that’s what they are. I am not talking about something, I am talking about someone, and the language I use deliberately reflects that.
Choice of language is also about knowing who you’re speaking to. I don’t talk about animals being ‘murdered’ because I know what a completely foreign concept that is to most people. There is a school of thought that says if you want to get people to change their perceptions you have to make room in the lexicon for murder being an applicable word for all animals, not just human ones, and I respect that view. But my own approach favours meeting people where they are, using language they can relate to. I don’t want anyone to be so busy reacting to a statement like “meat is murder” that they can’t hear anything else I’m saying.
I wasn’t trying to turn ‘livestock’ into a dirty word (although I find that an interesting idea). I was asked whether people who advocate for animals would prefer another term and I said yes. The world is full of euphemisms for animal parts: beef, pork, veal, nuggets, paté. I could go on and on. These words separate us from the animals they describe, which is very convenient. It’s so easy to not see…most of us have been doing it all our lives. If someone took you to a petting zoo when you were a kid and then told you at dinner that night that you were about to eat one of those same animals, you probably would have had a lot of trouble with that, and rightly so. But you wouldn’t have eaten a pork chop and thought about the pig whose belly you rubbed, because what’s a pork chop? A steak doesn’t look like a cow and a nugget doesn’t look like a chicken. There’s just nothing to relate to there. So language matters. ‘Livestock’ doesn’t have any real meaning. But say ‘farmed animals’ and suddenly you’re talking about someone. As it’s been famously said, animals are not here for us, they’re here with us. They feel, both physically and emotionally. Anyone with a dog or a cat knows that, and farmed animals (or any other animals, come to that) are absolutely no different.
As I was writing this, Farm Sanctuary’s National Shelter Director Susie Coston posted a video on her Facebook page. This is the text that accompanied the video:
It is amazing how responsive the cattle are. They all know their names and come when we call them. They are always so happy to see the people that they love. We are so lucky to have such amazing beings in our life. I love our cattle people.
Cattle people. Someone, not something (thank you, Bruce Friedrich). Yes, language matters.
I’ve never reblogged myself before. On the one hand, it seems incredibly lame. On the other, this is an issue that persists, coming up again year after year around the holidays. I don’t have anything new to say about it; my message remains the same. So I’m reposting for those who may have missed it the first time. Please share with family and friends.
For the animals,
Originally posted on These Glass Walls:
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…
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