Category Archives: Factory Farming

Cage-Free Is Far From Trouble-Free, Video Shows

cage-free

Still from video released today by Direct Action Everywhere

As consumer pressure has caused an increasing number of food sellers to buy, or make long-term commitments to buy, eggs from chickens not raised in cages, egg-producing farmers have turned to a system known as aviary systems. Such systems, in which barn-housed hens are crowded together outside of cages, the birds’ experience is better, but only slightly better, than their traumatic life in cages, The New York Times reported today (Oct. 21).

Their article initially focused on what investigators from Direct Action Everywhere discovered when they snuck into a barn owned by Pleasant Valley Farms, an egg producer in Farmington, Calif., and a contract egg supplier to Costco. The 783-word article went on to note how the Humane Society of the United States views aviary systems – as an alternative to battery, or caged, ones – and on the findings of researchers in Holland who ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10. They gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages received a 0 ranking.

A video released Thursday by Direct Action Everywhere, an all-volunteer animal advocacy group,  shows dead birds on the floor and injured hens pecked by other chickens. One bird had a piece of flesh hanging off its beak.

The video focuses on a hen that Direct Action rescued and named Ella. When the organization found her in the cage-free barn, she was struggling to pull herself up and had lost most of her feathers. Her back was covered in feces.

chicken-pecked

“There were birds rotting on the floor, and there was one dead bird that seemed to have lost her head,” said Wayne Hsiung, who helped make the video for the group, which is better known as DxE. “There were birds attacking birds, and the smell was horrible.”

The egg industry has long warned that hens living cage-free in aviary systems will experience higher mortality rates and more disease. Research by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, which is financed by egg producers and food companies, found “substantially worse” levels of aggression and cannibalism in cage-free systems, also known as aviary systems, compared with caged systems. It has also found more damage to the birds’ sternums.

“Consumers have an idyllic vision of what cage-free farming looks like,” Mr. Hsiung said. “They need to be shown the truth, which is that cage-free is far from humane.”

Yet, partly in response to graphic videos and reports about the conditions of caged chickens, consumers pressured companies from McDonald’s to Walmart and Costco to turn to cage-free eggs. Those companies have rushed to promise buying only cage-free eggs in the years to come, which has pushed egg producers to invest tens of millions of dollars in aviary systems. Many animal rights activists have applauded those commitments.

[An aside: At the Walmart nearest my home, large eggs have recently sold for as little as 89¢ (eighty-nine cents) per dozen.]

Costco said in a statement that the video appeared to involve just one barn out of the many that it uses to supply the eggs sold under its Kirkland brand.

“We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation,” the company said.

Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said that cage-free hen housing was without a doubt better than battery cages, though not without problems.

He noted that an assessment by researchers in the Netherlands that ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10 gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages were 0. “With companies like Costco,” he said, “it’s better to welcome them for taking the first steps rather than punish them for not taking the last step.”

Cows Killed By Thousands While Many Starve For Protein

cow-nature_newsPhoto: Nature News

 

A web site called Nature News said last week that,

“Four big names in the dairy industry reportedly conspired to artificially inflate the cost of dairy products in the United States. The market fraud occurred between 2004 and 2008 when milk prices increased 66 cents per hundredweight.

The increase was made possible through a pact between several major milk brands that unnecessarily slaughtered a substantial number of dairy cows.

Dairy Farmers of America Inc., Land O’Lakes, Dairylea Cooperative Inc. and Agri-Mark Inc. had more than half a million cows turned into cheap hamburger to increase the price of dairy products, according to Off The Grid News. 

The deal was put into motion with support from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), an organization established in 1916 that’s responsible for governing the majority the United States’ milk supply.

The group “develops and carries out policies that advance the well-being of dairy producers and the cooperatives they own,” according to its website.

“NMPF provides a forum through which dairy farmers and their cooperatives formulate policy on national issues that affect milk production and marketing. NMPF’s contribution to this policy is aimed at improving the economic interests of dairy farmers, thus assuring the nation’s consumers an adequate supply of pure, wholesome, and nutritious milk and dairy products.”

Other members include Lone Star Milk Producers in Windthorst, Texas; Premier Milk in Ocala, Florida; Swiss Valley Farms in Davenport, Iowa; United Dairymen of Arizona in Tempe, Arizona; Upstate Niagra Cooperative, Inc. in Buffalo, New York; and Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. Click here for a full list of NMPF members.

Some substantiation of and explanation for this action – hardly a rarity, it seems – appears on a website called FreeFromHarm.org, in an article entitled “10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know”.

Often, the cows the industry intentionally, substantially, shortens the lives of are calves, as well as worked-to-exhaustion milkers, who could, in a natural environment, live to be 20-25 years old, according to the FreeFromHarm.org article. That piece also reported that the dairy industry’s slaughter rate is considerably higher than the 500,000 head Nature News cited:

“Of the 9 million dairy cows in the U.S., 3 million are slaughtered each year at only a fraction of their natural lifespan. (8) Their worn out bodies become ground beef and restaurant hamburgers.”

Stop and think about it: How do you think McDonald’s et al are able to offer burgers, even with cheese, for a dollar apiece? Simple: They’re getting one-time or would-be productive cattle at ‘commodity’ prices – bovines excessively (and artificially produced, sold for far below what would be paid for animals properly aged – at one or the other end of a lifetime.

Meanwhile, thousands of people die daily because they are unable to obtain sufficient amounts of protein and the likes of that inflated-price milk and its nutrients and by-products, including cheese.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems like there’s something wrong there!

 

 

A Happy Chicken Is … A Tastier Chicken?

Chickens

“We are going to go beyond what a chicken needs and give chickens what they want,” said Jim Perdue, whose grandfather founded the eponymous business in 1920, to the New York Times.

No more dark barns. Brighter ones – with windows, no less! – ideally without the continuous din of thousands of chickens saying whatever it is that penned-up (if not caged-up) chickens say. Maybe they’ve been asking for healthier quarters, less crowding, maybe even a choice between ‘meat’ (in the form of ground-up bones and an awful assortment of offal) and ‘fish’ (even if it is ground up, bones included, and served in a near-powder form mixed with enough antibiotics to kill a horse (or assorted  ailments likely to affect chickens).

The Times reported Saturday (June 26) on how, at a Seaford, Delaware, chicken-raising facility – to call it a ‘house’ would grossly abuse the latter term; to call it a ‘factory farm’ would fly in the face of the expensive efforts Perdue, like a few other chicken producers, are undergoing to both treat their ‘product’ – their chickens – more humanely but also to get them to look and taste more like chickens did before the era of mass chicken production dawned in the mid-20th Century.

In the 1960’s, in New York City, one could go into an A&P supermarket on 6th Avenue and buy on-sale chicken for $0.19 (19¢) per pound. Today, that same factory-produced, way-too-fatty chicken would cost more like $1.19 per pound – and be even more laden with antibiotics and other chemicals employed primarily to grow chickens incredibly fast – “forced to grow 65 times faster than their bodies normally would, and the industry continually seeks to increase their growth rate,” says the website freefromharm.org.

I was fortunate a couple of years ago to be at the right place at the right time, when an Amish farmer a couple of counties away was taking orders for his field-raised, antibiotic-free chickens. Foolishly, I ordered only one.

I grew up in a time (the late 1940’s – early ‘50’s) when chickens were produced one at a time, at the pace nature dictated. There was no such thing as antibiotic feeding at that time; the chickens I occasionally saw slaughtered with a single swipe of an ax as the undoubtedly-unhappy bird was held down over a tree-stump chopping block were as ‘pure’ as anyone could want a chicken to be – and they tasted like it, whether portioned and fried or cooked whole in the oven or under the broiler.

An up-the-road neighbors is raising chickens facing as similar fate. But will his be as ‘natural-tasting’ as the Amish guy’s? Probably not. The neighbors’ are penned, and probably are fed a commercial meal geared toward rapid growth.

Jim Perdue, whose grandfather I met on several occasions, is due a lot of praise for the efforts his company, one of the largest chicken-processing operations in the U.S., is making to get back, as far as is commercial practical, to natural chicken-raising.

Clearly, though, there is a limit to how far mass producers of any foodstuff such as chickens – which, with turkeys, account for 99% of land animals slaughtered for food in the U.S. – can profitably go as they seek to meet the growing demand of consumers, and the ongoing pressure of humane interest groups.

But the good news, for chickens and those who consume them, is that efforts are being made to move them from embryo to appetite-satisfying in ways that will benefit both the creatures and those who consume them.

Are You SURE You Want To Eat That Chicken/Pork Chop/Sausage? (How About Those Eggs?)

gestation_crates--sows

It’s widely known that many factory farms horribly mistreat some of the animals they take in, raise, kill and process into food for humans (and sometimes for human’s pets). It’s also common knowledge that much of what goes on in facilities that – let’s be honest – are parts of big businesses, businesses in business to provide humans (and their pets) with a form of nourishment. Fortunately, as people seek fresher, healthier food, a lot of what those facilities produce is falling out of favor with a growing segment of the population. People particularly concerned about their cholesterol and/or fat intake – not to mention their concern about the way farmed and even supposedly ‘free-range’ animals are dealt with by food processors are, sometimes at the suggestion of their primary care physician, reducing their red meat intake. Others, because of the widely-reported abuses of chickens in facilities where they are raised and, eventually, killed, steer clear of that branch of the poultry family, too.

Consider these facts: [1] pigs often are grossly mistreated – dragged, alive, across floors with a hook, have their throats cut when they’re still alive (in total violation of Federal law), and all that after being made to live in and be coated with their own waste; [2] chickens are so tightly confined – whether they’re intended for eggs or food – that they can’t even turn around, and they’re fed antibiotics (that humans eventually consume) and other substances to increase their growth rate, to twice the normal amount in a six-week period, after which the meat-oriented ones are killed; The egg-producers carry on for as long as two years, until they can no longer produce eggs; Then they become, more than likely, the prime ingredient of chicken broth or soup; [3] cattle, which used to roam free and eat grass, now are made to grow far faster than nature intended thanks to combinations of antibiotics and other ‘stuff’ (plus a bit of real nutrients) that, slowly but surely, is contributing to humans’ inability to benefit from some antibiotics because of the immunity they acquire from animal-meat consumption.

The fact that all that happens is bad enough: What’s worth is that ‘big ag’, which mass-farms much of the meat and eggs we eat, is increasingly winning state legislatures over – through, of course, their massive lobbying might – to enact what at known as ‘ag-gag’ laws. They are designed to make it illegal for anyone to secretly record or even verbally report to a reporter, or a legislator, that this farm or that one is conducting its business in an inhumane way. The penalties for violating those laws can run to fines of up to $5000 per day a ‘whistle’blower’s’ message has been ‘out there’.

There are people running for president today who are all for reducing the impact of government on American citizens. There’s a congress in place that has, for years, refused to fund the Department of Agriculture or any other agency to a point where it can monitor and deal with abusive issues in the production of the animals we eat.

Meanwhile, the American public is spending, not entirely voluntarily, tens of millions of dollars on a space program – aimed at sending people to unreasonably-far-distant planets and at working, through land- and space-based telescopes, to answer unanswerable – and totally pointless – questions, such as what does it all mean?, where did we come from?, Why are we here?

When all is said and done, who gives a flying frankfurter when there are starving, jobless people in this country (and in others with similarly pointless pursuits).

There are plenty of idealists, and dreamers, and other odd types who things something as abstract as space exploration makes sense. They, each of them, need to do a __/__/____ check  — on their birthday.

If they’re over 50, it’s unlikely that in their lifetime we will be dis-engaged from Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria. Or that Israelis will get to grip with reality and allow the Palestinians a ‘state’ of their own.

If you want to do something worthwhile this year, lobby your congressman, senators and state-level representatives to block ag-gag laws. We need more – not less insight – into how our protein food is produced and processed. And we, as people, need to be more concerned, and vocal, about the abuses going on ‘factory farming’.

You might also think about contributing to Farm Forward, the only national organization dedicated to stopping factory farming. Their web site contains a wealth of information both about the issue and what they are doing about it.