Progress at the Cost of Our Humanity

Seth Victor

The New York Times this week published an investigation into U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and, perhaps predictably, the results are disturbing. I heartily suggest reading the whole article, but for those in a rush, here are some of the interesting takeaway points:

  • U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is pioneering ways to produce meat more efficiently and cheaply via re-engineering farmed animals through surgery and breeding techniques
  • In pursuing this research, animal welfare has taken a backseat. For example, since 1985, 6,500 out of the 580,000 animals the center has housed have starved. 625 have died from mastitis, an easily treatable infection.
  • Nearly 10 million piglets have been crushed by their mothers each year, not because this is what mothers naturally do, but because they are being forced to have larger litters of weak piglets, and the mothers themselves are artificially larger, kept alive longer to reproduce.
  • For thirty-one years, the Center worked on genetically modifying cows to regularly produce twins, noting that single births were not an efficient way to produce meat. By injecting cows with embryos from other cows that birthed twins, and then injecting them with semen from bulls who sired twins, the Center produced cows that have a 55% chance of having twins, when naturally the chances are 3%. Many of the female calves of twins are born with deformed vaginas, and the artificially large wombs create birthing problems even for single calves. Over 16% of the twins died.
  • Thirty to forty cows die each year from exposure to bad weather, not including storms, in which several hundred more die.
  • 245 animals have died since 1985 due to treatable abscesses.
  • In 1990, the Center tried to create larger lambs by injecting pregnant ewes with an excessive amount of male hormone testosterone. Instead, the lambs were born with deformed genitals, which made urination difficult.
  • In 1989, the Center locked a young cow in place in a pen with six bulls for over an hour to determine the bulls’ libidos. The industry standard is to do this with one bull for fifteen minutes. By the time a vet was called, the cows hind legs were broken from being mounted, and she died within a few hours.
  • The scientists charged with administering the experiments, surgeries, and to euthanize do not have medical degrees. One retired scientist at the Center was quoted saying, “A vet has no business coming in and telling you how to do it. Surgery is an art you get through practice.”
  • “The leaner pigs that the center helped develop, for example, are so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce; center scientists have been operating on pigs’ ovaries and brains in an attempt to make the sows more fertile.”
  • Regarding oversight, “A Times examination of 850 experimental protocols since 1985 showed that the approvals [for experiments] were typically made by six or fewer staff members, often including the lead researchers for the experiment. The few questions asked dealt mostly with housekeeping matters like scheduling and the availability of animals.”
  • “The language in the protocols is revealing. While the words “profit” or “production efficiency” appear 111 times, “pain” comes up only twice.”

Continue reading

New Jersey Takes Steps Towards Stronger Animal Laws

Seth Victor

In a move to join Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill 60-5 last Thursday to ban gestation crates for pigs. A similar bill already having passed in the state senate 35-1, the measure now awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. Though a progressive step forward for animal protection, the bill, while giving a thorough definition of the kinds of confinement banned, still allows for the common exceptions. Gestating pigs can still be confined for “(1) medical research, (2) veterinary examination, testing, individual treatment, or an operation, (3) transportation of the animal, (4) an exhibition or educational program, (5) animal husbandry purposes, provided the confinement is temporary and for no more than six hours in any 24-hour period, (6) humanely slaughtering of the animal in accordance with the laws, and rules and regulations adopted pursuant thereto, concerning the slaughter of animals, and (7) proper care during the seven-day period prior to the expected date of the gestating sow giving birth.” While there is a rational basis for all of these exceptions, broad ones such as “veterinary examination” seem ripe for abuse (or at least a defense), and animal testing gets its typical pass with the “medical research” caveat. Still, there is a disorderly persons misdemeanor where once there was none, and groundwork to phase out a particularly thorny issue in CAFOs. Continue reading

Thinking About Pigs

Bruce Wagman

Pigs have been on my mind a lot lately.  Years ago I met several of them at the Farm Sanctuary home in Orland, California, and while I already had appreciated their complex personalities and emotional lives, getting to spend time with them changed the knowledge to revelation.  We sat on a riverbank with Gene and scratched pig bellies in the sun and watched them playing, eating, lounging.  The grunts of joy and doglike behavior was notable from the guy I was petting.  He was halfway onto his 1000-plus pound back, grunting and snuffling while I rubbed and cooed to him.  That day, probably fifteen years ago, has never left me, and my love of his species was further informed by my visits and introductions to the great pig friends I have made at Animal Place.  They impressed me as a thoughtful, prescient, and extremely playful bunch; eminently curious, very thoughtful, and wise. 

That’s a great image but mainly, for the past ten years or so, when I think of pigs, I think of mother-torture.  From dealing with the issues and cases, I now have, seared in my mind, images of “gestation crates” or “sow stalls,” those confinement technique weapons of cruelty that the modern pig meat industry utilizes for commercial efficiency, while simultaneously robbing their pigs of every sense of being an individual, a pig, a mother.    A select group of female pigs are chosen, presumably for their genetic superiority, to be turned into living machines who are repeatedly impregnated until they are worn out and wasted by the industry and then thrown out like so many pounds of trash.  During their lives they go from gestation crate (while pregnant) to farrowing crate where, after giving birth, they are placed so that their young can suckle but cannot otherwise interact with their mom, who is again kept on a concrete slab inside bars, in an area that is usually slightly smaller than the mother, so that she not only has to lie in her waste, but she is also pushed into metal bars 24-7.  Pigs in these confinement situations suffer in pain from the lack of exercise and movement, and experience psychological damage from the lifetime of deprivation and denial. Continue reading

Ohio Issue 2 Aftermath

David Cassuto

Reports of the death of animal advocacy in Ohio in the wake of last fall’s passage of Issue 2 have been greatly exaggerated.  Ohioans for Humane Farms has begun the process of getting an initiative on the ballot that would:

1. Require the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to establish minimum humane standards for certain farm animals within six years after adoption of the amendment. The minimum standards would:

  • Prohibit a farm owner or operator from tethering or confining any calf raised for veal, pig during pregnancy, or egglaying hen, on a farm, for all or the majority of a day, in a manner that prevents such animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending his or her limbs, or turning around freely. This prohibition would not apply during certain times set forth in the amendment, including, but not limited to, during veterinary treatment, certain livestock exhibitions, and scientific or agricultural research. Continue reading

China — Where Pigs Go to Die

David Cassuto

Here’s a scary quotation from a scary article:

The fastest growth in meat consumption occurs when people’s income is less than $5,000 per year, and China’s current figure is around $ 3,000, so we are still on the fast track.

So says Ma Chuang, vice secretary-general of China Animal Agricultural Association.    Continue reading

The Pig, The CAFO, & The Flu

David Cassuto

tamworth pig and pigletExcellent piece here regarding the pig CAFO/swine flu link and another one here about the inefficacy of the vaccine approach to prophylaxis.  And yet another interesting piece here about the intelligence and social nature of pigs.

In light of these developments, let’s consider the American approach to pigs: mass confinement in facilities so devoid of stimulation for the animals that their tails are amputated to prevent them from biting each other.  In addition to torturing the animals, these facilities incubate disease, which our government then attempts to treat not by addressing the cause (factory farms) but rather with a mass vaccination program that will almost certainly fail, and a PR campaign to rename swine flu, H1N1.

What will we learn from this logic-defying juxtaposition?  If history is any predictor: nothing.

It was a Mistake to Kill All the Pigs…

egypt pigs-420x0

From the Fallibility Desk: Apparently, it was a mistake for Egypt to react to fear of the swine flu by killing all of its pigs.  Gee, you think?

–David Cassuto