Anyone following our ‘Meat of the Issue’ series has probably been waiting for this topic to pop up. Most people are at least mildly aware of animal cruelty in the meat industry, but that doesn’t make it any less worth discussing. After all, I seem to discover new forms of mistreatment every time I hear about this issue. For those unmoved by sympathy for animals, though, there exists an anthropocentric argument to be made over how improperly raising animals can yield tainted meat. However, I would hope that anyone who learns about these animals’ suffering wouldn’t need that second argument – the appalling abuse should speak for itself. Frankly, there is no way I could cover every single form of animal mistreatment in the meat industry, so I’ll just share some ‘highlights.’
The most obvious consequence of agricultural intensification is crowding, since fewer farms means more animals per farm. Even in 1997, 60% of America’s pork came from the country’s largest 3% of farms, while 2% of feedlots generated more than 40% of America’s beef. Hundreds if not thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, etc. get packed into windowless enclosures that allow little to no mobility, which tends to generate aggression. For instance, a chicken with as little as 0.6 square feet of space might start pecking at or even eating other birds in its pen, which is why they are often preemptively debeaked by farmers. Close quarters also make a fertile breeding ground for disease pathogens, such as the notorious swine and avian flus, which spread through the clustered animals with astonishing speed due to the great amount of bodily contact. Many of the pathogens, including salmonella (which is harmful to humans but not animals), spread from waste, since the animals are often surrounded by their defecations. As mentioned in the previous post, animals kept in close proximity to their waste also develop other health issues like pneumonia or respiratory infections.
Another form of animal cruelty that many people are oblivious to is forced cannibalism. Over the century, farmers have increasingly integrated their cattle feed with offal: the organs and entrails of, usually, sheep or cows. The offal is meant to serve as a protein additive to increase the animals’ meaty muscle. As revolting as the practice is, there were no real ‘problems’ with it until the 1980s, when it was positively linked to the emergence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) aka Mad Cow Disease. Humans who consume meat of an animal infected with the neurodegenerative disease are liable to develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal disease that causes dementia, memory loss, personality changes, and hallucinations. According to CNN, 229 cases of vCJD were reported in a dozen countries 1996-2014, predominantly in the UK (177 cases), and ‘random’ reports of cows being identified with BSE continue to surface from various countries.
There’s been a lot of discussion of human disease in these meat posts, so, in parting, I’d like to refocus on the animals and the brutal manifestations of our society’s demand for meat (and dairy):
- Calves are raised in chains to restrict their movement for the purpose of keeping their muscles underdeveloped and tender. They are also deliberately deprived of iron so that their flesh pales to the market-desired shade of pink
- Male pigs and cows are castrated to alter their meat’s taste, smell, and fat ratio. Castration is typically performed without anesthesia and can involve chemical scrotal injections or cutting off circulation via metal clamps. According to the ASPCA, 100% of piglets and 88% of calves are castrated in the US
- Pigs develop deformities in their legs and feet due to being forced to live on concrete or slatted floors
- As mentioned in an earlier post, animals are fed antibiotics and growth hormones to rapidly gain weight. The combination of a fattening diet and virtually no exercise (due to lack of space) leads to obesity and associated diseases like fatty liver syndrome
- Ducks and geese have pipes shoved down their esophagi as a means of force-feeding excessive quantities of corn mash, so as to swell their livers for foie gras
- Chickens typically have their wings clipped to prevent flight
Some animals eat other animals – that’s the food chain, and humans are part of it. But why are we the only animal that ‘needs’ to chain up and mutilate its prey in order to eat it?
1. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) – Farm Animal Cruelty Glossary
2. Horrigan, Leo; Lawrence, Robert S.; and Walker, Polly – How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
3. Nickelsburg, Monica (The Week) – 5 modern diseases grown by factory farming