Thursday, April 26, 2012

Down on the Factory Farm

By Neil Gillespie
Cross-posted from The Justice Network

Many people are uninformed about farm animals, slaughterhouses, factory farms, industrial animal agriculture, and the normalization of violence accepted to put dinner on the table. Videos go a long way in understanding the killing of animals for human use, like those from Paul McCartney, Dr. Temple Grandin, bloggers, animal welfare organizations and filmmakers.

The book Eternal Treblinka, and others, describe the horrible suffering animals endure everyday in industrial factory farms. As Mark Bittman wrote in "The Human Cost of Animal Suffering" in the New York Times, "…once we accept that farm animals are capable of suffering (80 percent of Americans believe this to be true), we might well wonder what they’ve done to deserve such punishment."

Bittman interviewed Timothy Pachirat, author of "Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight". Pachirat worked five months in an Omaha slaughterhouse. Pachirat "took the job not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence."

Bittman wrote "The most publicized stories about industrial agriculture represent the exceptions that prove the rule: the uncommon torture of animals by perverse individuals in rogue operations. But torture is inherent in the routine treatment of animals as widgets, and the system itself is perverse. What makes "Every Twelve Seconds" different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, "that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself."

A video by Dr. Grandin discusses humane methods of animal dispatch. A video by Dax Jorgenson shows the humane butchering of a live hog from killing the animal to completion. Another video by Terrence Malachy shows the utterly inhumane killing of a hog. This is hard to watch, and the authorities should investigate this outrageous torture of an innocent animal.

There are alternatives to the normalization of violence accepted to put dinner on the table. The first step is this admission: The normalization of violence toward farm animals is unacceptable in a civilized society. Next, humane methods of animal farming and animal killing must be employed. For others, vegetarianism or veganism is the way to stop the normalization of violence toward farm animals.
David Aman of Krewe De Food made this point on the KDF Chicken Killing Demonstration blog post:

"Everyone who eats meat should participate periodically in its killing. If you're not a vegetarian then do yourself a favor and eat something that you kill. There would be a lot less meat consumption if us omnivores were a little more attached to the killing portion of our meat consumption. The industrialization of our food is doing something to our subconscious; can't say exactly how it has and will effect us but it can't be good.."

As John Cassidy said on the KDF "How to kill a chicken" video, "It's not fun... but it's how life goes on without Walmarts."
Mark Bittman described a similar reaction: "Pachirat says he has changed as a result of his experience, becoming increasingly interested in what he calls "distancing and concealment." He now intends to work on those issues as they relate to imprisonment, war, torture, deployment of drones and other sophisticated weaponry that allow impersonal killing. And it’s because these connections make so much sense that we should look more carefully at how we raise and kill animals."

Could the normalization of violence toward farm animals explain other undesirable aspects of our society, like torture, perpetual war, and the highest incarceration rate in the world? Is it any coincidence that corporations are also involved with perpetual war, incarceration, and industrial factory farms?
My conversion to vegetarianism began during a hunger strike in January 2012, followed by watching videos like Earthlings and Mercy for Animals that show the horrible violence farm animals suffer. Subsequently my desire to eat animals diminished.

Killing sentient beings like farm animals should not be taken lightly. Alexia Allen of Hawthorn Farm shows the respectful harvest of a chicken in her video. Farm Sanctuary has a petition to President Obama, End factory farming!, urging reforms to our food system recommended by the National Conference to End Factory Farming.
In this 2012 presidential election year we should be discussing this important issue, the normalization of violence toward farm animals. This issue may have wider implications for all of us. 


Anonymous said...

I have been aware of this type of animal torture since the 80's and was vegetarian for over a decade. How long can an individual insist on one's own importance (in economic choices) when nothing will change, no matter how much I deprive myself of animal protein. The only hope animals have from us is for us to start producing meat in vitrio, without a conscious being's heart beat.

Jay–Ottawa said...

"Could the normalization of violence toward farm animals explain other undesirable aspects of our society, like torture, perpetual war, and the highest incarceration rate in the world? Is it any coincidence that corporations are also involved with perpetual war, incarceration, and industrial factory farms?"

Neil, that could be the best insight of your well-documented essay appealing to our better angels.

James F Traynor said...

Killing an animal you've raised and cared for should not be pleasant and, for most people, it is not pleasant. There are two additional subsets of people, those who don't care, and those who enjoy the job. The latter of these two subsets should never be allowed near a slaughterhouse or be entrusted with animals, period.

I myself don't enjoy killing at all. If I had to kill these animals personally I'd eat only fish and shellfish. A poor excuse, I know, for indulging myself, but there it is.

Denis Neville said...

Neil, A very thought provoking editorial. Also visited your Justice Network’s Animal Rights - Animal Welfare - Humane Treatment section.

Growing up South Dakota, I saw many livestock trucks filled with cattle and pigs headed for the slaughterhouses. It wasn’t pleasant. Made even more so after reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle:

“…the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests - and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering-machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.”

Living now in Kansas, I can see (and smell) gigantic factory hog farms. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment last year approved a wastewater permit for Seaboard Foods to build a facility that will house as many as 144,000 hogs. Imagine! Mostly unseen, unheeded, and out of sight.

I am not a vegetarian. As Michael Pollan says, “There’s a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig – an animal easily as intelligent as a dog – that becomes the Christmas ham.” Although, Neil, you have caused me to pause once again to consider the miserable lives of pigs, cattle, and chickens.

Pollan’s “An Animal’s Place” is a lengthy, thought provoking reflection on Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation.”

Several excerpts:

“The vegetarian utopia would make us even more dependent than we already are on an industrialized national food chain. That food chain would in turn be even more dependent than it already is on fossil fuels and chemical fertilizer, since food would need to travel farther and manure would be in short supply. Indeed, it is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature–rather than, say, the internal consistency of our moral code or the condition of our souls–then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.”

“The industrialization–and dehumanization–of American animal farming is a relatively new, evitable and local phenomenon: no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to do it this way. Tail-docking and sow crates and beak-clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering 400 head of cattle an hour would come to an end. For who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We’d probably eat less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals, we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve."

4Runner said...

I became a vegetarian exactly 30 years ago when I learned that eating animal flesh is not healthy--for both myself and especially the animal.

Zee said...

I have not had occasion to kill a chicken, pig, sheep or cow to eat, but I have cleaned and eaten every dove or quail that I ever shot—or trout that I ever reeled in—on those few occasions when I had the opportunity to hunt or fish. Moreover, I took some satisfaction in my skill with a shotgun, even while making a promise to myself that I should work hard to improve my skills before the next hunt.

I have had to “finish off” birds that did not die immediately, and if I took no satisfaction in it, I nevertheless did it without remorse, either. And, of course, a hooked fish has to be killed before cleaning, too.

So I have no doubt that I could kill, clean and butcher a chicken, sheep, pig or cow—or deer, elk or javelina in my part of the country—in order to eat, as long as I could do it as quickly and as mercifully as possible.

So no, I'm not a vegetarian.

Still, I have serious misgivings about the industrial animal agricutural system that we have developed. I know that even without yet having the time to fully explore all the links provided by Neil in his post.

Animals should be treated humanely and respectfully even up to the point of killing them for food, and, then, they should be killed quickly and humanely.

I am inclined to agree with Neil that every meat-eater should—at some point in his/her life—be required to kill, clean and butcher the animal that he/she is about to eat. We would probably have a lot fewer meat-eaters, and, perhaps, a much smaller need for the huge industrial animal farms that we have today.

For my part, I would prefer to do my killing by going out and hunting the animals that I eat, but age and game scarcity are rapidly putting an end to that hope.

Even armed with a modern rifle or shotgun, hunting is strenous work if done legally—that is, not hunting from the window of your vehicle—and gives one a much greater appreciation for what one is about to eat. I would encourage any of you who are not vegetarians to try hunting if you can do it with someone who is skilled and responsible.

I know that many of you out there were dismayed when Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan went hunting with Justice Scalia—and actually seemed to enjoy herself—but I was impressed by Kagan's open-mindedness. Perhaps the Constitution is in safe hands after all.

Perhaps the Constitution is in safe hands after all.

John in Lafayette said...

***Please delete if this is a duplicate. Had trouble with the web page on the first attempt.

I teach the food selection and procurement class to both hospitality management and dietetics students at the university here in Lafayette. The first week of class is spent watching "Food, Inc." and other documentaries on factory farming practices. I do this so that the students who will one day serve you in restaurants, serve kids in the public schools, and seniors in managed care facilities know exactly what they're serving.

It is possible to be an ethical omnivore, though not easy. Fortunately, here in Lafayette we have a multitude of options that make it a simple process to bypass the grocery store when looking for meat. It's more expensive, but worth every penny.

A few suggestions if you're looking to keep from supporting factory farming and you don't live in a community like Lafayette or Durham, N.C:

1) Look for meat that is free of antibiotics and hormones. The reason farm animals are fed antibiotics is because they are kept in such close proximity that if one gets sick, they all do. If they are allowed to graze freely, there is no need for antibiotics. This is especially true of poultry.

2) Look for grass fed beef.

3) Stay away from anything labeled "Hormel," "Swift," or with any of the major producers' labels.

4) Buy LOCAL. Or failing that, you can purchase from ethical producers on line. Shipping is expensive, but if you order a whole bunch at once and freeze, it can be cost effective.

5) If all else fails, buy kosher. It doesn't necessarily guarantee the humane treatment of the animal, but the kosher slaughtering laws were instituted, ostensibly, so that animals would be treated humanely.

6) Look for cage-free, antibiotic free eggs.

No doubt about it, following these guidelines will add some dollars to your food budget. But the good news is it may force you to cut the redmeat out of your diet once or twice a week, which will improve your health. And anyway, is the saving of a few bucks each week really a justification for the wholesale torture of farm animals?

And moreso than changing the laws, we will fix this problem faster and more effectively by educating consumers. If we lobby Congress to end these practices we will meet fierce resistance from the average consumer who can't, as yet, see beyond the weekly grocery bill (which is not to say we shouldn't do it anyway). If enough people know about what actually goes on with the production of their food, more and more people will simply refuse to buy factory-farmed products.

We can do our part by forwarding this column to everyone we know.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Seeing the gifted and privileged Kagan hobnobbing with the gifted and privileged Scalia in a privileged pastime with well-oiled rifles on a big private spread – only the horses, red coats and a hundred barking beagles are lacking -- somehow fails to lessen my concerns for the Constitution, which looks like a lot of buckshot has ripped through it during the tenure of This Splendid Nine. Only a matter of time, it seems to me, before they finish it off.

Wouldn't a display of group compassion now and then be more reassuring than shared hobbies -- the same sort of compassion Neil's post calls for?

When the self-satisfied Scalia, Kagan and the other brethren spend a few weekends now and then as house guests of recently foreclosed homeowners now bunked up with almost-as-poor relatives scraping by with part-time jobs at Walmart, one of whose children is sick but unable to pay for medicine and timely medical attention -- THAT would be a reassuring example of these justices thinking out of the box.

I knew a guy who worked as a professional in a hospital's clinical setting. He used to say, usually over a beer in a quiet corner and with the customary dark humor common among clinicians, that he had no problem dealing with pain, just so long as it was other people's pain. If you saw him on the job, however, you knew he was doing his utmost to work around that hole in his soul.

Kat said...

I don't know how those from groups such as Mercy for Animals work undercover. Their devotion is absolute as this must be the worst thing in the world for them.
We have switched to purchasing meat from a local farmer (eggs too), but I guess the fact that the animal grazes on a pasture does not mitigate the fact that I'm responsible for its life being cut short. Anyway, we eat it sparingly-- once a week or so.
I do think the in vitrio meat is the only real hope. I'm disappointed that Michael Pollan has some aversion to it out of some misguided idea of authenticity. I was very happy to see that Mark Bittman talked up fake chicken and got over his problem with something being "processed". I liked the turn his writing took. I personally can't wait until it is available.
IB Singer's phrase "eternal Treblinka" is apt.

Kat said...

I'm sorry, but I'm not buying what Michael Pollan has to say about "the vegetarian utopia" making us more dependent on industrial farming. He's not the most credible source of information.

Valerie said...


Thank you for a truly excellent and thought provoking post. To tell you the truth, I have written and rewritten several comments and none seem to encapsulate how deeply I feel about this issue. So if my words are awkward, it is because there is so much emotion behind them.

Industrial farming sickens me and the truth is it would sicken all of us if we were to understand where our food comes from. Industrial farming has been able to get a death grip on our country for the same reason Free Trade has a death grip on our country, no one wants to pay the REAL price of the items we buy, including food. When I was growing up, my father was a physician so we were somewhat better off than our neighbours. Yet I remember my parents having steak only a few times a year. We had a roast on Sundays – which my grandmother managed to stretch out to several meals, but the rest of the time we ate modest meals with modest amounts of hamburger, sausages, fish sticks and other cheap cuts - and we only had real fish if someone went fishing. Yet, there was a time when my husband and I ate filet minion several times a week on a teacher’s salary. Why? Because meat and other fresh foods have become so cheap in the U.S – thanks to industrial farming.

Yet what is the REAL cost of food and who (and what creatures) are paying it? Just like the cheap plastic crap Americans buy at Walmart and Target and from Apple Stores and Dell, there are huge and terrible costs to the environment, our fellow human beings and sentient creatures which DO suffer – that we are not paying at the register when we buy these products. And as Liberals and Progressives we really need to look at our own buying habits and behaviours honestly and unflinchingly.

If we want to know the REAL cost of food, we need to shop at small organic shops. The food sold at these store come from small farmers who are raising produce ethically and naturally and if they are raising animals, they are raising them humanely and naturally. We Liberals/Progressives have an obligation to put our money where our mouths are and shop this way. It is not cheap. In my family, we do eat meat. But we eat organically raised meat that costs between $35 and $45 dollars a kilo. Due to the cost, we eat far less than we used to. Aside from rent, food is the biggest piece of our budget, which means we have to cut back elsewhere. I won’t lie to you, at first it was hard. I started by staying away from large grocery store chains and shopping locally. I started gardening organically, which actually cost more than conventional produce but was still cheaper than organic produce in the abovementioned stores. The meat issue always bothered me and I tried, on several occasions to give up meat entirely, but I felt terrible and exhausted and compromised by switching to organic and humanely raised meat. My husband protested at the cost – at first – but immediately noticed the difference in flavour. I also think less has made us appreciate meat more and we eat it more slowly and with greater appreciation.

The aborigines after catching and killing a creature in the wild would thank the animal before eating it – for giving up its life for them. And I think we in the “civilized” world could learn a lot from that attitude.

As for hunting, I have no problem with people who hunt with skill, going in for a clean kill, and eat the animal. Compared to slaughter houses, it is a humane death. In Germany, hunting is a gentleman’s sport. It is expensive to get a license and those who do hold licenses, have to prove they are responsible citizens who can be trusted with a loaded weapon. Anyone caught hunting and consuming alcohol not only loses his/her license for life, it is a jailable offence.

As for Kagan and Scalia hunting together, I am far more alarmed by their friendship than I am by their shared past-time.

Neil Gillespie said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. And thanks Karen for posting this editorial.

For me this issue has been a wake-up call. As a city and suburban dweller my whole life, I have been isolated from the reality of farm animals.

Like Valerie, I too grew up eating more fish sticks than steak, along with staples like hot dogs and hamburgers. Years ago, before the age of the Internet and YouTube, I was a vegetarian for awhile for health reasons, but drifted back to eating animals, mostly in the form of Healthy Choice microwave meals or dollar menu fast food burgers. (another contradiction)

But the factory farm reality videos were the turning point for me. Those who go undercover and secretly film the horrors inside slaughterhouses are heroes. The comparison of factory farms to Treblinka is apt. Those brave whistleblowers are now at risk, as legislation called "ag-gag" laws seeks to prohibit and punish undercover filming in factory farms.

I see parallels in the mistreatment of farm animals, and the commodification of ordinary people into consumers for corporations to milk-dry. Farm animals are supposedly protected by the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. People are supposedly protected by the constitution and consumer laws. But somehow those laws don’t offer much protection. Our government, along with corporations, banks, mortgage companies, and health insurance companies, often treat us like some hapless animal being led off to slaughter. In 2008 the majority of voters chose Barack Obama as a hope for change. But Obama turned out to be a Trojan Horse for corporate interests.

Factory farm videos also remind me of the mortality that we all face. While people supposedly have more intellect than farm animals, for some reason many people just march quietly along, resigned to their metaphoric slaughter by The Powers That Be.

The link to Sentient Beings has a quote from the trial transcript of State of New Jersey v. ISE America, Central Warren Municipal Court:

"When an egg factory was charged with cruelty to animals for discarding live chickens in a trash can, its lawyer argued that the hens could legally be discarded like manure. This prompted the Judge to ask, "Isn’t there a big distinction between manure and live animals?" to which the egg factory’s lawyer responded, "No, Your Honor.""

Under the so-called rule of law the lawyer may be correct, which of course is the problem underlying the struggles of ordinary people vs. the corporations.