What is Factory Farming?
It’s National Farm Animals Awareness Week. I wanted to write a sweet post about going to a happy family farm and showing some farm animals a little love, but every time I write the words “farm animals” that brain of mine ambles right on over to the dark side. Words like “battery cages” and “gestation crates” pop up and I realize that frolicking farm animals are not the ones who need our awareness. So, for National Farm Animals Awareness Week I do hope you’ll go pet some rolling-in-the-mud pigs somewhere, but in truth, those aren’t the pigs that need our attention right now.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) nearly 10 billion land animals are raised and killed for food in the United States annually. That’s 10 thousand million animals. (Just for some perspective, 10 billion inches is equal to 157,830 miles.)
While there is increasing awareness and consumer demand for animals raised humanely, the sad truth is that most of those animals raised for food in the United States are routinely mistreated on industrialized factory farms. What’s a factory farm? As defined by Webster’s dictionary, it is a “a system of large-scale industrialized and intensive agriculture that is focused on profit with animals kept indoors and restricted in mobility.” At factory farms, profit is the focus and it is attained by intensively confining animals and breeding them for rapid growth; it isn’t pretty.
There are no federal laws to protect farm animals. And although every state has animal cruelty statutes, they are rarely applied to agricultural practices, no matter how cruel those practices are. And cruel they are. The three most common and barbaric practices are battery cages, veal crates and gestation crates.
At any given time, according to the HSUS, nearly 280 million laying hens in the United States are confined in battery cages. These are cages so restrictive the birds can’t spread their wings. Imagine not being able to stretch your arms! Laying hens are unable to engage in any of their natural behaviors, including nesting, dust bathing, perching, and foraging. More animal-enlightened countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria have banned battery cages. The entire European Union is phasing them out by 2012.
Did you know that the veal industry is a direct byproduct of the dairy industry? Veal is a famously cruel food. In order to produce veal, baby cows are taken from their moms (dairy cows) several hours to several days after they are born. They will be slaughtered at four months, and leading up to that they are typically tied by their necks into crates so small that they can neither turn around nor lay down comfortably. In the US, nearly one million calves are raised for veal. The European Union banned the use of veal crates in 2007.
Breeding sows (female pigs) are forced to spend their pregnancies confined in two-foot wide metal stalls. These gestation crates are so small that the animals cannot even turn around. (Like being pregnant isn’t uncomfortable enough.) Gestation crates can lead to crippling joint disorders and lameness, as well as tremendous emotional suffering–don’t forget that pigs are highly intelligent. The European Union banned gestation crates effective 2013. In the United States, the use of these crates remains customary practice.
How to Help: The 3 Rs
The first thing that comes to mind: Go vegan. But that isn’t necessarily an option for everyone. The HSUS offers these important pointers to help minimize the problem:
Every hour in the United States, 1 million animals are killed for human consumption. If each one of us cuts back on our animal consumption by only 10 percent, approximately 1 billion animals would be spared a lifetime of suffering each year.
If you do continue to eat animal products, know that not all animal products are equal when it comes to animal welfare. Each industry has its own abusive practices, and some are much more cruel than others. For example, the chicken, egg, turkey, and pork industries tend to be far more abusive to animals than the beef industry. And a growing number of producers are raising animals without intensive confinement. Refining your diet by choosing cage-free animal products, instead of the conventional factory farm products that fill most supermarket shelves, will help to reduce animal suffering.
Each one of us can help prevent animals from suffering in factory farms simply by choosing vegetarian options. It’s never been easier to replace animal products with readily available vegetarian alternatives. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Vegetarian diets can meet all the recommendations for nutrients.” The American Dietetic Association goes even further to state that vegetarian diets “provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
So I’m thinking the best way to celebrate Farm Animals Awareness Week is with a slew of vegan recipes. Here are some winners from the Care2 recipe archive:
Let the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) know that supporting sustainable farms rather than factory farms is a win-win situation by signing this Care2 petition.
By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Green and Healthy Living