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On Mother’s Day, don’t forget animal moms

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By Jeff Mackey

If you’re like most people, you’ll no doubt treat your mom to brunch or dinner on Mother’s Day. But this year, while you are saluting your own mom, please honor all mothers by celebrating with a meal that doesn’t include meat, eggs or dairy products. Some of the best mothers in the world are found in the animal kingdom, yet few animal moms on today’s farms are ever allowed to nurture their babies as nature intended.

For mother cows and their calves, for example, it’s love at first sight. The first minutes after birth are spent developing a bond that will last a lifetime. Their attachment and affection for each other is so deep that both mother and baby become extremely distressed if they are forced apart. Mother cows bellow in vain and their calves wail inconsolably; they cry out for each other for days. Some mother cows have even been known to escape their enclosures and travel for miles searching for their babies.

Sadly, such pitiful scenes are common on dairy farms. Mother cows are allowed to bond with and care for their calves for only a few hours before the babies are torn away so that we can have the milk that was meant to nourish them. Wide-eyed and terrified, the calves are desperate to suckle but instead are given a bottle of milk “replacer” and a short life in a veal crate (for males) or a life just like that of their sad mothers (for females). Meanwhile, the mother cows will soon be impregnated again, only to endure the same heartbreak nine months later.

If allowed, mother hens would turn their eggs as many as five times an hour and cluck softly to the chicks inside, who chirp back from within their shells. Once hatched, the chicks are shielded from predators by their protective mother’s wings.

Yet 90 percent of our eggs come from hens who are treated like virtual laying machines. They are crammed together in wire cages where they never see the light of day and don’t even have enough room to spread a single wing. The stench of ammonia and feces hangs heavy in the air. Female chicks will follow their mothers into a lifetime of intensive confinement and constant egg production. Male chicks are worthless to the egg industry and will be tossed into trash bags to suffocate or thrown into high-speed grinders while they are still alive.

Pigs are also devoted mothers, who, if allowed, would spend days preparing a nest of leaves or straw before giving birth. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mother’s voice, and mother pigs “sing” to their young while nursing. The piglets would stay with their doting mothers for about 15 weeks.

On factory farms, however, most sows are confined to metal crates in which they are unable to lie down comfortably, much less turn around to nurse their piglets naturally. Many sows develop raw, painful sores from the bars.

The piglets are torn from their distraught mothers after just a few weeks—months before weaning would naturally occur—and spend their entire lives in extremely crowded pens on slabs of filthy concrete. The mother pigs are impregnated again and again until their bodies wear out and they are sent to slaughter.

As parents, we are compelled to love, shelter, feed, nurture and protect our children from harm. Why, then, do we ignore the very same innate needs in animals? Every time we pour milk on our cereal or fry up an egg, we are paying a farmer to tear a mother animal away from her beloved baby. This Mother’s Day, please remember that all mothers love their babies, and enjoy the day with a humane vegan meal.

Jeff Mackey is a blog writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 8, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Time to ban foie gras

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By Alisa Mullins

With California’s foie gras ban poised to take effect in less than two months, some of the Golden State’s chefs are scrambling to mount a last-minute campaign to overturn the ban. Birds raised for foie gras are force-fed up to 4 pounds of grain and fat every day via a pneumatic tube that is rammed down their throats—a process that former California Sen. John Burton colorfullydescribes as “doing the equivalent of waterboarding.”

California should uphold its ban on foie gras—and the rest of the U.S. should follow the state’s progressive lead.

Burton, who spearheaded California’s ban and built in a seven-year grace period specifically to allow California’s lone foie gras producer, Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, to come up with an alternative to force-feeding birds, has no patience for the chefs’ last-ditch appeal.

“They’ve had all this time to figure it out and come up with a more humane way,” he said. “I’d like to sit … them down and have duck and goose fat—better yet, dry oatmeal—shoved down their throats over and over and over again.”

Force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to as much as 10 to 12 times their normal size, resulting in a painful disease known as hepatic steatosis (which makes foie gras a diseased organ and therefore illegal to sell in the U.S., according to a lawsuit filed this month by several animal protection groups). The birds often suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections, and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused when their livers fail. They can become so debilitated that they can move only by pushing themselves along the ground with their wings.

A journalist who visited Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras in 2003 reported that force-fed ducks “moved little and panted” with the effort, and an employee admitted that “[s]ome [ducks] die from heart failure as a result of the feeding, or from choking when they regurgitate.”

A recent undercover investigation at the farm revealed filthy, bedraggled birds (failure to preen is a sign of illness or distress), birds panting and struggling to breathe, birds who were too ill to stand, and even the bodies of dead birds among the living. An average of 20 percent of ducks on foie gras farms die before slaughter, 10 to 20 times the average death rate on a regular duck farm.

Force-feeding birds has been denounced by every expert in the field of poultry welfare. Dr. Christine Nicol, a tenured poultry husbandry professor at the University of Bristol, believes that foie gras production “causes unacceptable suffering to these animals. … It causes pain during and as a consequence of the force-feeding, feelings of malaise as the body struggles to cope with extreme nutrient imbalance and distress ….”

Foie gras production is so cruel that it has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland, and it will be outlawed throughout the European Union by 2020.

Really, the only people defending foie gras are those who produce it and cook with it, and with thousands of other delectable ingredients available, it’s hard to imagine why chefs are fighting tooth and, er, bill to hang onto this deadly “delicacy.” Their objections should be filleted, puréed, flambéed and stuffed. Surely, any creative chef worth his or her artisanal sea salt can make do without a tortured duck’s liver.

Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.  

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Dairy farm abuses hard to swallow

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By Daphna Nachminovitch

A recent Washington Post article about safety concerns in the food industry revealed that the plants that process dairy products are inspected, on average, once every decade. You read that right: once every decade.

While the FDA, which regulates dairy plants, is under pressure to overhaul its inspection procedures, a new undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) shows that more oversight is also needed on the farms themselves.

A PETA investigator spent three months working at a New York dairy farm that supplies Agri-Mark, which makes Cabot and McCadam cheeses. Cows on this farm were jabbed and struck, even in the udder, with poles and canes. Young calves bellowed and thrashed as workers burned their horn buds—without providing any pain relief—in order to stop their horns from growing. Such atrocities should make any caring person think twice about buying cow’s milk and cheese.

PETA’s investigator documented one farm manager as he repeatedly electro-shocked a cow in the face. The same man also jabbed another cow, who was unable to stand, in the ribs with a screwdriver and used a skid steer to drag her 25 feet.

Supervisors failed to provide veterinary care or euthanasia to cows who were suffering from bloody vaginal prolapses. One boss said “we do nothing” for such cows, and indeed, the animals’ exposed, pus- and manure-covered tissue was left untreated for months. He added that when a cow’s “whole uterus comes out” during calving, farm workers simply push it back in and hope that the animal lives “long enough for the beef truck to come get her.”

Another manager, a layperson, laughingly admitted that he had plunged a long needle into “the wrong organ” of one cow when trying to penetrate her stomach. Twelve days later, evidently not having recovered and no longer useful to the dairy farm, the cow was loaded onto a truck and sent to a slaughterhouse.

Some of the abuses that we documented are standard practice in the dairy industry. For example, workers wrapped tight bands around calves’ tails in order to cause the tissue to die and fall off, a cruel procedure that results in acute and chronic pain. Workers used “guns” to artificially inseminate cows and injected cows with bovine growth hormone, or BGH, to increase their milk production. BGH contributes to an extremely painful udder infection called “mastitis,” and cows tested positive for it almost daily.

PETA is calling for appropriate disciplinary action—including termination—against all workers who abused or neglected animals at this farm. We’re also asking Agri-Mark to implement a number of new polices immediately, including phasing out all forms of dehorning, such as the burning of horn buds on calves’ heads, and banning the use of electric-shock devices.

These changes will eliminate some of the most egregious forms of cruelty to cows on Agri-Mark member farms. But they won’t eliminate all of them.

As long as consumers continue to purchase dairy products instead of healthier options such as almond milk and soy cheese, animals will continue to suffer. Mother cows will continue to watch helplessly as their calves—whom they carry for nine months, just like us—are torn away from them again and again, which is acutely distressing to both cow and calf. They will continue to go lame from intense confinement and filthy surroundings. And they will continue to be trucked to slaughter and ground up for burgers and dog food when their worn-out bodies are no longer of any use to farmers.

If you find such cruelty hard to swallow, the solution is simple: Dump dairy from your diet.

Daphna Nachminovitch is the vice president of cruelty investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510.

 

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 22, 2012 at 8:41 pm

This Thanksgiving, meet a turkey named Fern

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Some years ago, when I interned at a sanctuary for farmed animals, I’d sit in the barn, and a turkey named Fern would back up into my lap and demand to be petted. When I’d stop, she’d look over her shoulder imploringly as if to say, “More, please.” I always think of Fern this time of year, when supermarket bins are filled with the frozen bodies of her relatives. If people got a chance to know these interesting and personable birds, I believe they’d balk at baking and eating their wings, legs and breasts.

Turkeys on farmed-animal sanctuaries quickly prove themselves to be intelligent and industrious, as well as outgoing at times and shy at others, much like human children. As I sat in the barn watching them, the birds’ distinct personalities were immediately clear.  Some, bold and hilarious, would walk right up and look me square in the eye as if to challenge my right to invade their space. Others, like a coy debutante, would peer over their shoulders, aloof but not wanting to miss anything exciting. Many, like Fern, would actually purr when being petted.

In a game of “one does not belong,” one wild turkey integrated herself into the rescued flock. Her plumage was iridescent and she stood out like a beacon. Her robust health contrasted painfully with the crippled legs, mutilated beaks and unnatural white feathers of those around her who had been saved from slaughter. Even though the rescued birds were safe and tenderly cared for, their hideous past had left them physically and emotionally scarred for life.

Like other birds, turkeys thrive in fresh air and sunshine and spend most of their time taking dust baths and scratching in the dirt hunting for tasty treats. They “gossip” with friends and shelter their babies under outstretched wings. On factory farms, turkeys are crammed by the tens of thousands into massive warehouses where there is barely enough room to take a breath much less move around.

Factory-farmed birds live in a thick stew of their own waste. Part of their beak and the ends of their toes are painfully cut off to keep them from injuring one another in the extremely crowded and stressful conditions. Some develop congestive heart disease, enlarged livers and other illnesses. Their unnatural forced weight gain often cripples them since their legs cannot support their oversized bodies.

In slaughterhouses, terrified turkeys are hung upside-down and their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilizes but does not kill them. Many turkeys flail and fight to save themselves and manage to dodge the tank, so they are still conscious when their throats are cut. And if the knife wielder fails to cut the birds’ throats properly—and given the thousands going down the line every hour, that’s exceedingly common—the animals end up getting scalded to death in the tanks of boiling water used to remove their feathers.

This Thanksgiving, please take a moment to reflect: Can the fleeting pleasure of a meal justify the immeasurable pain and suffering of a bird who didn’t want to die?  Give turkeys like Fern a reason to purr. Stuff yourself with mashed potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie and other goodies and leave the birds alone.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 23, 2011 at 9:33 pm

The meat industry endangers motorists and animals alike

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By Dan Paden

Out along highways and rural roads throughout the U.S., you’ll see tractor-trailers loaded with pigs—or cattle, turkeys or chickens—taking the animals to their fate. Most of us prefer not to think of the gruesome end that these animals face. But scenes of slaughter play out along these same roads again and again as the trucks overturn. Recently, a truck loaded with cattle overturned on Interstate 74 in Illinois after the driver reportedly fell asleep at the wheel. At least two other motorists struck the terrified animals as they tried to run away.

In many of these cases, critically injured animals are left to lie on the roadside for hours without veterinary care. Try to imagine the horror of surviving a serious car crash only to be left to suffer in agony before either being loaded back onto a truck to be taken the rest of the way to the slaughterhouse or having a bolt put through your head (which may or may not kill you, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association). Shockingly, PETA has uncovered evidence that the meat industry has failed to take even basic steps to prevent these chaotic wrecks—putting both humans and animals in harm’s way.

Consider the case of Jonathan Leggett, a former truck driver for Smithfield Foods. In June 2010, Leggett crashed on a ramp leading off Interstate 95 south of Richmond, Virginia, while hauling 80 pigs for Smithfield subsidiary Murphy-Brown, LLC. Approximately 46 pigs were killed. This time, no humans were injured. According to public records, Leggett was cited for reckless driving and failure to maintain control.

Just three months before the June wreck, Leggett had rear-ended an SUV and crashed while hauling cattle in North Carolina. The SUV’s driver was taken to a hospital, and 35 cattle were killed. Leggett was cited for failure to reduce speed and for improper passing.

The previous summer, Leggett had been fined for traveling 56 mph in a 35 mph zone. A month before that, he had been fined for failing to obey a traffic signal. Earlier in 2009, he had paid $91 to clear up a tinted-windshield infraction. And so on, back to 2002, when officers found him operating an overweight vehicle in Fauquier County, Virginia.

The pork giant apparently lacked the initiative, the personnel or the 30 minutes that it took PETA to discover all this in public records. In late October, another driver, William Orville Barnett, was issued a summons for reckless driving in Suffolk, Virginia, after he overturned a trailer containing nearly 200 pigs headed for Smithfield; 47 pigs were killed. Easily found records show that Barnett allegedly violated federal transportation safety laws twice last year.

As an animal protection worker, I want the meat industry to prevent these wrecks for the sake of animals. One can’t smell the aftermath of five of these crashes, see debilitated survivors be electro-shocked and dragged by their ears and hear those who are the worst off have bolts driven into their brains without grasping the urgency with which meat-industry officials should be acting to prevent crashes.

But even those who are reading this over a bacon or sausage breakfast should be concerned about the motorists who share our nation’s highways and narrow, rural roads, often in low light, with these trucks and the civic responders who wade into these dangerous scenes.

Children and animals differ in important ways, of course, but we would not stand for a school district hiring a school-bus driver who had just crashed a bus, killing a few dozen kids, and had a long record of reckless driving. At the very least, the meat industry must prohibit employing, in any fashion, drivers who have repeated driving-related offenses or are found to have been at fault, ever, in any crash.

It’s a cruel irony that the final road leading to one of Smithfield’s slaughterhouses is Virginia State Route 666. But the rest of our nation’s roads don’t have to be hell for animals and people alike.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate with PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

This Easter, choose eggs that are green, not mean

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

The White House recently announced that its annual Easter Egg Roll event will feature “green” eggs. They’ll come in a variety of pastel colors, but they’ll all be “green” because they’ll be made from Forest Stewardship Council–certified hardwood and packaged in environmentally friendly materials. Not only are these eggs better for the environment, they’re also better for chickens. Everyone who celebrates Easter can follow the White House’s lead and be green, not mean, by choosing faux eggs instead of chicken eggs this spring.

For hens who are forced to lay eggs, Easter is nothing to celebrate. Most of the eggs that Americans dye and decorate for the holiday come from chickens who are confined to filthy factory farm sheds containing row upon row of tiny, multitiered wire cages. These hens spend their lives crammed into cages with four to 10 other birds. Each bird’s average living space is smaller than a letter-sized sheet of paper. Hens on egg factory farms never breathe fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun on their backs or engage in any of their natural behaviors. They can’t even stretch a single wing.

The birds are crammed so closely together that these normally clean animals are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. The stench of ammonia from the accumulated feces under the birds saturates the air and burns the birds’ feathers. Disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds. Many birds die, and the survivors are often forced to live with their dead and dying cagemates, who are sometimes left to rot.

Due to extreme crowding, stress and boredom, the miserable hens peck at the only thing available: each other. Farm workers “solve” this problem by slicing off a portion of each hen’s sensitive beak with a hot blade—without giving the birds any painkillers. Many birds, unable to eat because of the pain, die from dehydration and weakened immune systems.

The light in the sheds is constantly manipulated in order to maximize egg production. Periodically, the hens’ calorie intake is restricted for two weeks at a time in order to force their bodies into an extra laying cycle. When hens are “spent” and their egg production drops at about two years of age, they’re sent to slaughter, where their throats are cut open while they’re still conscious.

Meanwhile, male chicks are considered worthless to the egg industry because they don’t produce eggs and are too small to profitably be used for their flesh. So every year, millions of male birds are thrown into macerators and ground up alive or tossed into trash bags to slowly suffocate.

Luckily, kids don’t care whether their Easter eggs came from a chicken. Having fun and spending time with family and friends is what matters, and neither of these requires real eggs.

Most craft stores sell paper or wooden eggs that are perfect for painting or decorating with crayons, stickers, glitter or markers. They are mess-free and won’t crack if dropped, and kids can display them for as long as they’d like because, unlike real eggs, they won’t rot. For kids who are dying to dye something, making tie-dyed T-shirts is always a hit.

Brightly colored plastic eggs are ideal for Easter egg hunts. They can be filled with candy, small toys, coins, stickers, love notes or any other small surprise you can imagine. They are inexpensive, can be reused year after year and are much more exciting for kids to find than a hard-boiled egg.

Real eggs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. This Easter, why not follow the First Family’s lead and have a first-class Easter celebration—without harming hens.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Are we supporting violence in God’s name?

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By Bruce Friedrich

In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict XVI boldly and rightly condemns violence that is carried out in God’s name. Yet even devout Christians try to excuse themselves of their role in the horrific violence that is carried out against some of God’s most vulnerable creatures—the animals we raise and kill for food—by claiming that God has given us permission to do whatever we want to them.

God’s granting to humans “dominion” over animals in Genesis 1:26 is often falsely cited as divine approval for torturing animals for the table. Most theologians recognize that the word translated as “dominion” is more accurately translated as “stewardship” and that the meaning of this text is that humans are supposed to be stewards and guardians, protecting and respecting the beings with whom we share the gift of creation.

But all the questions (or excuses) that are put forth in favor of eating animals don’t address the fundamental fact that eating God’s creatures causes needless violence and suffering and is inextricably linked to their abuse. If you are eating meat, you’re paying others to deny God’s animals their own natures and to abuse them. Even the very few organic and small farms abuse animals in ways that would be illegal if done to dogs or cats.

Pope Benedict XVI stated in an interview that the question of animal treatment is a crucial one for the faithful. By any measure, what happens to farmed animals today is anti-Christian. As His Holiness explained, “Hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds.” Similar abuse occurs in all the farmed-animal industries. This “degrading of living creatures,” explains His Holiness, contradicts “the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” Father John Dear, a Jesuit Priest from New Mexico, takes our responsibility to animals a step further, stating, “For the simple reasons that all animals are creatures beloved by God and that God created them with a capacity for pain and suffering, we should adopt a vegetarian diet.”

It doesn’t take much reflection to see that the Pope and Father Dear are right: God created humans and other animals out of flesh, blood and bone. We share the same five physiological senses and the ability to feel pain. God designed us this way. God designed pigs to root around in the soil for food and play with one another. God designed chickens to make nests, lay eggs, raise their chicks and establish communities (the “pecking order”).

Yet agribusiness today denies animals the fulfillment of their most fundamental needs. Agricultural scientists “play God” by manipulating animals to grow so quickly that their hearts, lungs and limbs can’t keep up, often causing heart attacks, lung failure or crippling leg deformities within weeks of birth. Chickens are crammed into cages by the hundreds of thousands, each with less space in which to live than a standard sheet of paper. During pregnancy, pigs are stuffed into tiny metal crates so small that they can’t even turn around. Forget rooting in the soil or laying their eggs in nests—these animals can barely move. The one natural thing they do get to experience is agony, and lots of it.

Scripture is full of calls for the faithful to be merciful, and Jesus’ message is one of love and compassion, yet there is nothing loving or compassionate about the industries that produce the farmed animals who are turned into meat. Christians have a choice: When we sit down to eat, we can support misery and violence or we can make choices that support mercy and compassion. The decision should be an easy one for us.

Bruce Friedrich is a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm