Seeing Is Important: Nicky’s Story

Sometimes natural disasters kill. And sometimes, very rarely, they save.

This is a moving and well-produced story about a pig, a flood, and her escape from a factory farm. So the humans are the aggressors–the deus ex machina–and nature–the deluge–is the engine of salvation. It’s an ironic role reversal which punctures our preferred narrative of human courage and generosity in the face of overwhelming power.

[WARNING: Images of absolutely horrific inhumanity. Do not watch if you prefer to keep deluding yourself that factory-farmed bacon and pork is in any way okay to consume].

A Tale Of Two Calves

Let’s start the week on an upbeat note, with this video story, courtesy of Farm Sanctuary, about the bonds between an adopted calf and his accidental family.

It’s a sweet story, and also a reminder that it would be very hard for people to keep eating animals if they knew anything at all about their emotional lives. Meat-eating requires a purposeful ignorance, which the meat industry is only too happy to encourage.

If you want to know more about Farm Sanctuary, and the vision of its creator, Gene Baur, I’ve got you covered:

Seeing Is Important: More On Meat

Okay, at some point it will simply be gratuitous to keep posting these horrific slaughterhouse videos. But I am not at that point yet, because I want to convey that this is an industry problem, and not just isolated to one or two rogue slaughterhouses.

This video was made by Mercy For Animals (I first saw it here), at a plant they say supplies Burger King (additional info after the jump):

Video-related info from Mercy For Animals:

Are your Burger King purchases funding horrific animal abuse? Continue reading “Seeing Is Important: More On Meat”

Seeing Is Important: The Torture Of Meat “Processing”

Okay, I’ve been sitting on this one a while because it is pretty tough to watch.

But I think it is very important to see and bear witness to reality (previous here and here) because images elicit an emotional and visceral reaction that words sometimes do not.

Here’s the backstory on this video:

Aug. 21, 2012: An undercover video, filmed by a Compassion Over Killing investigator, exposes rampant animal abuse and suffering inside Central Valley Meat Co. (CVM), a slaughterhouse in Hanford, California. CVM is a major supplier to the USDA’s National School Lunch Program and other federal food initiatives.

Like all federally inspected slaughterhouses, CVM is required to comply with federal animal welfare requirements as well as California’s animal protection laws. However, COK’s whistleblowing video uncovers acts of cruelty that appear to violate both state and federal laws.

And you can read more here.

I do not post this lightly, but it IS what we call meat “processing” has come to–which is, to be blunt, animal torture. And it is too easy to just keep slinging hamburgers abetted by willful ignorance of what goes on behind the factory walls.

Do you really have faith that this sort of thing isn’t going on all over the world? Do you really want to keep eating meat that involves this degree of cruelty?

There are so many reasons not to eat meat. This is just one. But it should be all you need.

End Times For Meat?

Asks Time’s Josh Ozersky

Catte Feed Lot CAFOSure hope so. Ozersky explains that the future for meat is looking grim:

But while the bacon panic wasn’t real, there is a crisis in our meat supply and it’s no joke. We produce a lot of meat, but we feed a lot of Americans, and more all the time, thanks to the simple laws of multiplication, along with the simple addition of immigration. There is a drought, so there is less grain and corn for the animals to eat. Most of the producers are marginally profitable at best, and Americans refuse to pay more for meat than they do for Froot Loops, despite the fact that no one has to raise and feed and kill and process Froot Loops. I’m not kidding about this: go to the supermarket and see how much a package of pork chops cost, or half a chicken, and then compare that price to a box of Froot Loops.

All the things that consumers have, rightly, come to fear and distrust about the meat industry are a result of this problem. Hormones, to make the animals grow faster? Check. Antibiotics, to allow animals be cramped and crammed and stressed without dying of infections? Check. Farrowing crates and beak clipping, so as to squeeze more meat more efficiently out of factories? Check. Even the vile pink slime that everyone hates so much is simply a product, literally, of the beef industry’s need to get maximal yield out of each animal. We all love happy animals on small farms, but there’s no way to feed Americans living in or near poverty, as well as having tons of meat to export to China and elsewhere. The result is that producers are bumping off animals as fast as they can and getting out of the business before feed costs get worse and they are forced out. That’s where the bacon shortage comes in. Less pigs, less pork, less pork bellies for yummy, smoky bacon.

To Ozersky, this means a future of expensive, unhealthy meat and abused animals. I would argue we already have two of the three (yes, meat is cheap). He seems to lament the prospect. However, he doesn’t really have much to say on what to do about it.

So I’ll help him out: when a product is getting more expensive, more unhealthy, more ethically execrable, and more environmentally costly (which Ozersky doesn’t really go into), then perhaps the public should stop consuming that product.

I know. Radical idea. But Is it really that hard for Americans and the rest of humanity to imagine a future that isn’t fueled by cheap, factory-farmed meat?

Food For (Non) Thought

Does junk food = Alzheimer’s?

I guess the link to Type 2 diabetes wasn’t enough to wean Americans from an addiction to planet-destroying, health-destroying, industrialized food.

But maybe the prospect of losing your mind will have an impact:

We used to think there were two types of diabetes: the type you’re born with (Type 1) and the type you “get.” That’s called Type 2, and was called “adult onset” until it started ravaging kids. Type 2 is brought about by a combination of factors, including overeating, American-style.

The idea that Alzheimer’s might be Type 3 diabetes has been around since 2005, but the connection between poor diet and Alzheimer’s is becoming more convincing, as summarized in a cover story in New Scientist entitled “Food for Thought: What You Eat May Be Killing Your Brain.” (The graphic — a chocolate brain with a huge piece missing — is creepy. But for the record: chocolate is not the enemy.)

If it doesn’t, at least Americans will start forgetting where the McDonalds is.

Ummm, Arsenic

Here’s the good news: Maryland is set to ban the use of arsenic-based drugs in chicken feed–which are used to combat a gut-eating parasite, and (apparently this is also viewed as a plus) burst small blood vessels which makes the meat look pinker and more appealing.

Here’s the bad news: Um, there’s been a form of arsenic in your chicken since 1944, and suddenly the FDA, Pfizer and health experts think that might not be such a good thing. And despite this somewhat dilatory change of heart, many states and growers will continue to use arsenic-based feed because, well, they’ll make more money doing it:

Inorganic arsenic has been linked to various human ailments, including neurological deficits in children, said Keeve E. Nachman, director of the Farming for the Future program at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future.

Pfizer, which distributes the drug, agreed to voluntarily suspend its sales after consulting with FDA officials following the study. But growers that stockpiled supplies continue to use it.

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the House version of the legislation, said the General Assembly was concerned about the levels of arsenic in chicken; about the 30,000 pounds of arsenic added each year to the soil in fertilizer and manure, mostly on the Eastern Shore; and about arsenic washed by heavy rains into rivers and streams that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.

Just one more grotesque insight into the astounding and unappealing practices which constitute our meat production industry. But, never mind, have at those chicken nuggets, friend. They’re cheap and they taste good, right?

Mark Bittman Is Coming Out (Slowly)

It’s been interesting to track NYT’s food writer Mark Bittman’s growing preoccupation and alarm over the human, environmental, and animal costs of meat production and consumption. He’s not yet an all-out vegetarian crusader. But he seems to be getting there one column at a time.

Here, he calls on meat eaters to be heroes by….eating less meat. Okay, that’s not terribly inspiring, but he is quoting Bruce Willis in Armageddon, so at least he has the Apocalypytic context right:

Here’s the thing: It’s seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.

In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat tomorrow. That’s something any of us can do, with no technological advances. If personal choice enacted on a large scale could literally save the world, maybe we have to talk about it that way. We could be heroes, like Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” only maybe the sacrifice is on a more modest and easier scale. (You already changed your light bulbs; how about eating a salad?)

Well, “heroic” and “modest” don’t usually go together. So I’ll stick to my personal hope that one by one people simply decide to stop eating meat altogether, instead of eating the planet into fiery, supervirus-infected oblivion, one heaping platter of sirloin at a time (while aiding and abetting an animal Holocaust for good measure).

I’d urge you to read Bittman’s piece, anyhow, because even if his rallying cry is a bit timid, his summary of all the impacts of meat eating and production is concise and bracing. It came out of a request the NYT made, asking readers to defend the ethics of eating meat (Bittman was a judge who helped pick the winner and finalists). He writes:

A fascinating discussion. But you need not have a philosophy about meat-eating to understand that we — Americans, that is — need to do less of it. In fact, only if meat were produced at no or little expense to the environment, public health or animal welfare (as, arguably, some of it is), would our decisions about whether to raise and kill animals for food come down to ethics.

That seems odd to me, since it is exactly all of those things (cost to the environment, public health, and animal welfare), which are at the heart of any evaluation of the ethics of meat eating and production (especially factory farming).

Anyhow, it feels like it won’t be long before Bittman is writing about vegan cooking, and wondering why anyone eats any meat at all.

Sustainable Meat Isn’t Sustainable?

Probably few practices are sustainable for a species which a) is relentlessly expanding; and b) has an economic and social culture that reveres and requires consumption. But this op-ed, “The Myth Of Sustainable Meat,” caught my eye a few weeks ago, because it argues–for all my meat-loving, environmentally-conscious friends–that organic, grass-fed, meat, is not really sustainable.

Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country’s land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.

Advocates of small-scale, nonindustrial alternatives say their choice is at least more natural. Again, this is a dubious claim. Many farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that have been bred to do one thing well: fatten quickly in confinement. As a result, they can suffer painful leg injuries after several weeks of living a “natural” life pecking around a large pasture. Free-range pigs are routinely affixed with nose rings to prevent them from rooting, which is one of their most basic instincts. In essence, what we see as natural doesn’t necessarily conform to what is natural from the animals’ perspectives.

The economics of alternative animal systems are similarly problematic. Subsidies notwithstanding, the unfortunate reality of commodifying animals is that confinement pays. If the production of meat and dairy was somehow decentralized into small free-range operations, common economic sense suggests that it wouldn’t last. These businesses — no matter how virtuous in intention — would gradually seek a larger market share, cutting corners, increasing stocking density and aiming to fatten animals faster than competitors could. Barring the strictest regulations, it wouldn’t take long for production systems to scale back up to where they started.

This is an important point. Factory farming is both a blight on the planet and a daily holocaust for millions of animals. And while small, organic farms address the toxic outputs, as well as the inhumanity, of industrial meat production, they do not really resolved the climate change impact of meat farming. And if all the world’s meat lovers abandoned factory-farmed meat, and demanded organic meat from small, humane, farms, meat-eating would still wreak environmental destruction on the planet (more pasture, fewer trees, more carbon output, etc., etc.).

Click image for full-size version.

The inevitable conclusion: while industrial meat-farming is an abomination for all sorts of reasons, the real environmental problem is that humanity eats WAY TOO MUCH meat. So the best thing our species could do for the planet and the animals is to stop eating meat. But the next best thing, a point made by many who wrote letters in response to the op-ed, is to eat a lot less meat.

So go ahead, enjoy your grass-fed, happy-cow steak, if you insist on eating meat. It’s better for you and better for the animals. But don’t feel smug or righteous about what you are doing for the planet. The only way you get to honestly feel you are doing something with impact is if you cut your meat consumption to near zero, or zero (basically, eat like a Bangladeshi–see below). Sorry, that’s just the reality. As Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in Eating Animals, if you eat meat you can’t really claim to be an environmentalist.

Tales From The Factory Farm

That’s the new Category I am creating for this blog, because (and this is good) I am seeing an increasing number of debates and analyses of the way in which we have industrialized food production, both to the detriment of the animals and our health. Here are two good examples:

1) Pink Slime: we’ve all been hearing about it, and you are probably disgusted by it (here’s an explanation of what it is). But Mark Bittman lately has been riffing alot on it, and has done a very nice job of pointing out that as odious as the idea of Pink Slime might be, it is a logical consequence of the industrialization of meat production:

But pink slime, as Grist writer Tom Laskaway says, is the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom, not a disease. Remember why it was originally created — to eliminate bacteria found in ground meat. The fact that pink slime was a “solution” might lead you to ask: What’s the problem?

The answer lies in the industrial production of livestock on a scale that’s far too large to sustain without significant collateral damage. E. coli, found in the digestive tracts of cattle, is common on factory farms where cattle are fed only grain. (Their stomachs are meant to digest grass.) The incomprehensible quantity of manure produced by these cattle — also often containing E. coli — is deposited on the land, sometimes seeping into the water supply; that’s how you wind up with E. coli in vegetables. To make matters worse, “healthy” farm animals are routinely fed so many antibiotics that E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are developing resistance to commonly prescribed drugs.

Exactly. Defenders of Pink Slime have been saying that if it is eliminated something like 1.5 million more cows a year will have to be slaughtered to make up for the loss of Pink Slime content in ground beef. So the choice they pose is: eat Pink Slime or kill a million more cows. That’s not a very appealing choice. So here’s the solution: go vegetarian, or stop eating factory-farmed beef. Simple. Yes, humanely-treated, grass-fed beef will cost you more per pound. But if you eat a lot less beef you will be healthier, and the planet will be healthier.

Here’s more from Bittman, in video form.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And, even more, here. Consider yourself fully slimed.

2) Eggs. Eggs are delicious (sorry vegans) and healthy, and it should be perfectly possible to raise and keep hens that are happy to produce them. Except consumers apparently care more about saving a few cents than treating hens humanely. Perhaps that is because they simply have no idea of the depraved and inhumane way in which hens are treated by the factory farmers. Nick Kristof, who grew up on a farm, is trying to rectify that, recently writing about the obscene conditions of one of America’s largest egg producers. As usual, read the whole thing, but here is a key portion:

Mice sometimes ran down egg conveyer belts, barns were thick with flies and manure in three barns tested positive for salmonella, he said. (Actually, salmonella isn’t as rare as you might think, turning up in 3 percent of egg factory farms tested by the Food and Drug Administration last year.)

In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet. The Humane Society says that that is even more cramped than the egg industry’s own voluntary standards — which have been widely criticized as inadequate.

An automatic feeding cart that runs between the cages sometimes decapitates hens as they’re eating, the investigator said. Corpses are pulled out if they’re easy to see, but sometimes remain for weeks in the cages, piling up until they have rotted into the wiring, he added.

Other hens have their heads stuck in the wire and are usually left to die, the investigator said.

Is that how you’d like your breakfast egg to be produced? I didn’t think so. What can you do? Again, simple. By eggs that are certified humane.

Yes, they will cost a bit more. But there are two unavoidable questions central to feeding yourself and your family: 1) Are you willing to pay anything at all to insure humane treatment of the animals feeding you?; and 2) Whether you are or not (hopefully you are), are you willing to pay anything all for a food production system that causes less sickness and environmental damage?

The answers seem pretty obvious to me.

%d bloggers like this: