Modern agriculture’s factory farm system often involves cruelty to animals. The factory farms focus on maximum output with minimum input. As a result, animals are often confined to small spaces, fed drugs to fatten them up, transported in terrible conditions and genetically altered.
Chickens raised for their flesh, or “broilers,” are kept in overcrowded sheds and are drugged to make them grow bigger. “Laying hens” are kept in small confined cages and have part of their beaks cut off to prevent them pecking at each other.
Cattle raised for beef are allowed to roam free on the range, but may be subjected to painful branding and an unnatural diet which causes chronic pain designed to make them grow fatter. They are also drugged to fatten them up.
Milk cows are continually impregnated through artificial insemination so that they will continue to produce milk. They are separated from their calves right after birth and the milk nature provides for their young is collected for human consumption. Cows are also injected with hormones to boost milk production. A cow’s natural lifespan is about 25 years but milk cows are killed after 4-5 years due to bad health.
Veal calves are taken from their mothers at one day old and kept in small cages so that they can’t move around. This makes their flesh more tender. They are fed a liquid diet that is low in iron and has little nutritive value in order to make their flesh white. They are killed after only a few short months of life.
Pigs are separated from their mothers at one month old. Their tails are cut off, some of their teeth removed and the males’ testicles removed. Breeding sows are forcibly impregnated until their bodies give out. Pigs are transported long distances in extreme heat or cold and many of the animals reach the slaughterhouse already dead.
Fish on aqua farms are cramped together in enclosures which are so small that the fish are constantly bumping against each other. The enclosures are dirty and disease is rampant. Sometimes as many as 40% of the fish die before they can be packaged and sold for food.
Turkeys are killed at only 5 or 6 months old. Prior to that, they are crammed into sheds after their beaks and toes are burnt off. They are genetically manipulated and drugged and this can cause crippling.
In order to prevent cruelty to animals, many animal rights activists promote vegetarianism or even veganism. Their claim is that human beings can live healthy lives without eating meat. They also believe that humans have no right to treat animals as an inferior species. For those considering transitioning slowly to vegetarianism or just cutting down on meat, it is best to refrain from consumption of chicken and eggs. Since chickens are such small animals, the average meat-eater is responsible for the death of many more animals. Switching to a vegetarian diet can save approximately 100 animals a year.
Others believe that animal consumption is the natural order of things, but that the animals should be treated as humanely as possible during their lives and at the slaughterhouse. The EU, for instance, regulates minimum standards for the farm, transport and slaughterhouse. It has published a Fact Sheet detailing its support for animal welfare. In the UK, the RSPCA runs a farm assurance and food labeling scheme called Freedom Food which ensures that farm animals are provided with an environment suited to their needs.
In 1958, the United States passed the Humane Slaughter Act, which required:
(a) in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or
(b) by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering.
Because this law suffers from a lack of compliance, the US government stepped up enforcement in the year 2002. Animal rights activists, including the Humane Society of the United States and PETA, have criticized the law for not including poultry, fish and rabbits.
Kosher slaughter is considered by Jewish law and by the U.S. Government to be a humane way to slaughter animals. The trachea and esophagus are cut with a sharp, flawless knife. At the same time, the carotid arteries, which are the primary supplier of blood to the brain, are severed. This renders the animal insensate almost immediately. It is a better technique than the common non-kosher form of shooting the animal in the head with a captive bolt, since the animal may have to be shot numerous times before it loses consciousness.
The Humane Society of the United States promotes a reduce, refine and replace policy. This means that individuals should try to reduce their consumption of meat, buy only from producers who are conscious of animal welfare (such as cage-free eggs) and replace meat with plant-based foods.
- Ethical and Welfare Issues of Livestock Animals (slideshow)