Animals in Agriculture
Animals raised and slaughtered for food make up the overwhelming majority of animals suffering in the United States, with approximately 10 billion land animals and billions more sea creatures being killed every year.
Despite the fact that birds make up 95 percent of animals slaughtered for food in the U.S., The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) specifically excludes them, along with sea animals, rabbits and other animals, from the Humane Slaughter Act, which requires animals to be rendered unconscious before slaughter. The USDA acknowledges failures in the enforcement of laws to protect pigs, cattle and sheep. Regulations regarding transport, handling and slaughter are repeatedly violated.
The USDA had suspended a Vermont slaughterhouse’s license three times in 2009 for animal abuse. Yet it didn’t shut down Bushway Packing, Inc., a slaughterhouse specializing in “bob veal”, or file charges until an animal protection organization publicized its own investigation later that year. Evidence revealed workers kicking newborn calves and at least one calf’s head being cut off while the animal was still conscious.
Dr. Dean Wyatt, a USDA Public Health Veterinarian, had been attempting to stop inhumane handling at Bushway Packing, Inc. for months, as he had done in his previous position at Seaboard Foods, an Oklahoma pig slaughterhouse. At the Bushway hearing, he testified that pigs in Oklahoma had been trampled, crushed and needlessly beaten as they were unloaded. Dr. Wyatt also reported that in the slaughterhouse, live pigs were shackled, hung upside down and slaughtered by throat-cutting while still conscious.
Investigations by animal protection organizations continually reveal systemic abuses in the life and death of farmed animals. Each of these animals is capable of feeling pain. Most suffer through physically and emotionally debilitating confinement and painful procedures during their unnaturally short lives. Eighty percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to animals used for food in order to prevent illness in their unsanitary, crowded and stressful environments.
No federal laws regulate the lives of farmed animals. Though modest state welfare laws are slowly taking effect throughout the country, each of these animals is destined to be slaughtered. Ethical factors relating to animal, human and environmental health and wellbeing are all in play when considering animals in agriculture.
In the United States, more than 300 million hens live in warehouses filled with long rows of small, stacked wire cages. Ninety-five percent of the country’s eggs are produced by hens living in these conditions.
Sheds can contain thousands of birds in “battery cages” – approximately 16 by 16-inch stacked crates in which four to eights birds are constantly confined throughout their lifetime. The hens cannot stretch their limbs or perform any of their natural behaviors. The wire floors of the cages cause foot deformities and the stress of overcrowding results in aggression. The industry’s solution to prevent injuries is to “de-beak” hens by cutting off the top half and bottom third of each chicken’s beak using a sharp blade but no pain relief.
To increase egg production, sometimes birds are kept in the dark for up to 18 days, starved and deprived of water in order to jolt their bodies into another egg-laying cycle; some birds from this process. Hens can develop severe calcium deficiencies because of unnaturally high egg production. Many die from exhaustion or injuries. The dead are often left in cages with live birds for days. When they can no longer produce eggs, usually after one year, egg-laying hens are sent to slaughter. In a healthy environment, chickens can live to be 20 years old.
The United States Department of Agriculture specially excludes birds from the Humane Slaughter Act. At slaughterhouses, conscious chickens are hung upside down, their legs shackled to a conveyor line. Sometimes they are stunned in a tub of electrified water before their throats are slashed, but this is often done insufficiently and the birds are still fully conscious as they bleed out. Sometimes mechanized blades are used. They often miss so birds are still conscious when they are dropped into “scaling tanks”, where they are drowned in boiled water.
At hatcheries, female chicks are picked out for a life of egg production in a battery cage. Males are of no worth to the industry because they cannot lay eggs and have not been bred to grow fast or large enough to be raised profitably for meat. They are inexpensively discarded by being tossed into trashcans where they will die from suffocation or being crushed by the thousands of chicks on top of them. Others are thrown alive into grinders. Sometimes a live chick makes it out of the grinder, only to die a slow, painful death.
Nearly ten billion “broiler” (meat) chickens and a quarter billion turkeys are hatched in the United States every year. More than 9 billion of the 10 billion animals killed every year for food in the U.S. are birds.
Broiler chickens typically live in unsanitary warehouses, crowded wing-to-wing with thousands of other birds. Without pain relief, the tips of their beaks are removed with a blade (turkeys’ toes are also clipped) to prevent fighting with other birds due to the stress of overcrowding.
Broiler chickens have been genetically manipulated to grow two-times larger and faster than is natural so their hearts, lungs and legs cannot support them. Approximately 90 percent of broilers develop crippling leg problems and hundreds of millions die from congestive heart failure, infectious disease, cancer and heat prostration every year before they are killed. The high ammonia levels from their excrement causes scalded skin and respiratory infections, among other issues. Turkeys also suffer from debilitating physical deformities and fatal health issues because of genetic manipulation.
Chickens and turkeys are transported to slaughterhouses in open-air trucks, unprotected from extreme heat and cold, many die en route but not enough to make this cheap mode of transport unprofitable. Careless handling at the slaughterhouse also leads to deaths by crushing, starvation or exposure.
The United States Department of Agriculture specially excludes birds from the Humane Slaughter Act. At slaughterhouses, conscious birds are hung upside down, their legs shackled to a conveyor line. Sometimes they are stunned in a tub of electrified water before their throats are slashed, but this is often done insufficiently and the birds are still fully conscious as they bleed out. Sometimes mechanized blades are used and they can miss struggling birds so they are very often still conscious when they are dropped into “scalding tanks”, where they are drowned in boiled water. A chicken can live for up to 20 years in a healthy environment but every hour in the United States one million broiler chickens die at about 45 days old.
Cows only produce milk when they have a baby and have a nine-month gestation, as humans do. They are artificially inseminated and forced to have a calf every year so they are constantly producing milk. They are manipulated to produce about 100 pounds of milk daily – ten times their normal production amount.
Dairy cows suffer from many types of diseases but about half of the millions in the United States have mastitis, a bacterial infection of their udders. Their forced intensive milk production, which can cause calcium deficiency, cannot be maintained on just grass so they are given high-energy and fatty feeds that can cause fatal disorders. Seventy-five percent of U.S. dairy cows never graze in pastures and the few who are allowed outdoors are often overcrowded in dirt lots.
Though supposed cleanliness benefits have been discounted, cows’ tails are severed (commonly without pain relief) preventing their ability to shoo flies.
Weakened dairy cows make up the majority of “downed cow” – those too weak to stand on their own. Downed cows may die from neglect; or, they are beaten, dragged or bulldozed into the slaughterhouse, though it is illegal to slaughter a downed animal for food. Cows can live for more than 20 years but dairy cows are just three or four years old when disease or decreased milk production makes them unprofitable and they are slaughtered for ground beef.
Most calves of dairy cows are taken from their mothers as soon as they are born, never allowed to drink the milk now intended for human consumption. Females are used in the milk industry. Males are slaughtered shortly after birth for bob veal, intensively confined for four to five months and killed for veal or raised at a feedlot for 13 to 14 months and slaughtered for beef. Veal calves are housed in crates so small that they cannot turn around and fed an iron- and fiber-deficient diet to inhibit muscle development and keep their flesh tender and pale. Every year 700,000 calves are slaughtered in the United States.
More than 35 million beef cattle are slaughtered yearly in the United States. Cattle spend the first months, sometimes years, of their lives foraging in ranges of varying qualities. Beef cattle endure hot-iron branding and “waddling”, which marks a steer with deep skin cuttings, for identification on the range and are rarely given shelter to protect them from extreme weather conditions. Dehorning and castration are often performed without pain-relieving drugs.
Cattle become confused and frightened and often injure themselves when rounded up for transport to feedlots, where thousands live fenced-in together on manure-laden dirt plots. Here they are fed unnaturally rich diets to fatten them quickly for slaughter.
Typically, beef slaughterhouses kill 250 cattle an hour. The Humane Slaughter Act requires cattle be insensible to pain before slaughter. On a daily basis however, the high speed of the disassembly line and an imprecise “stunning” procedure (usually by a “captive bolt” being fired into their foreheads) results in conscious animals being hung by their back legs and bled to death when a slaughterhouse worker cuts the struggling animal’s throat. Sometimes they survive long enough to be alive and conscious when their bellies are cut open and their hides are pulled from their bodies.
More than 100 million pigs are slaughtered every year in the United States. An estimated 90 percent of pigs live in confinement, suffering physically and emotionally, from the time they are born until they reach slaughter weight of 250 pounds at about 6 months old.
Pigs are confined in warehouses with such toxic air from waste and overcrowding that the health of workers can be compromised after just a few hours of exposure. About half of the pigs who die between weaning and slaughter are the victims of respiratory disease. The pigs are also prone to obesity, crippling leg disorders and sores because of their confinement usually in metal pens on concrete floors. Stress caused by a pig’s confinement, which denies their natural desire to live separately from their waste, results in repetitive, neurotic, aberrant behaviors like patterned bar biting.
Breeding sows are forced into a constant birthing cycle, producing more than 20 piglets a year. During their four-month pregnancies, sows are confined in gestation crates – two-foot wide metal pens just big enough for the pig to fit in, but not turn around. They are transferred to equally small, barren farrowing crates to give birth and nurse their piglets for two to three weeks. As piglets, their tails are cut off to prevent tail biting and pieces of their ears are cut off for identification, all without pain relief. Ten percent of piglets die by the time they are two to three weeks old but the rest are taken away and their mothers are re-impregnated. Sows are sent to slaughter when they become unproductive breeders. Approximately 80,000 pigs die every year during the cheap but overcrowded transport to the slaughterhouse.
The Humane Slaughter Act requires pigs be insensible to pain before slaughter. On a daily basis however, the high speed of the disassembly line and an imprecise “stunning” procedure (usually by a bolt being fired into their foreheads) results in conscious animals being hung by their back legs and bled to death when a slaughterhouse worker cuts the struggling animal’s throat. Sometimes they survive long enough to be alive and conscious when their bodies are dropped into scalding tanks where they drown in boiling water.
In the United States, ships sweep their nets through oceans, catching billions of fish populations and millions of non-targeted animals a year such as non-targeted fish, sea turtles, sea lions and dolphins who are thrown back into the water dead or dying. The different kinds of nets used cause fish (and other sea creatures), animals capable of feeling pain, varying fatal injuries including suffocation, bleeding to death and decompression, during which their eyes pop out of their heads and their insides are forced through their mouths. If animals make it to deck alive, they are often killed by being cut and left to bleed to death or put on ice to suffocate or freeze to death, where a fish can remain conscious for 15 minutes.
A least one in five fish consumed worldwide is raised in a farm where they are overcrowded in excrement-laden water and susceptible to disease and suffocation. Fish farmers use disinfectants and herbicides on the enclosures to combat bacteria and plant-growth and vaccines and hormones on the fish to fight the diseases and parasites that plague them. Hormones are also used to increase production.
About 40 percent of farmed fish die by the time they reach market weight. The fish who survive suffer starvation to prevent contamination of the tanker truck water that transports them to slaughter. The ability of fish to feel pain is given little consideration and the United States Department of Agriculture specially excludes fish from the Humane Slaughter Act. Fish are cut and bleed to death, beaten on the head, allowed to suffocate or packed in ice while still conscious for up to 15 minutes before they die.