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Mercy for someone, part 2 March 5, 2010

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
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In last week’s post, I applauded Mercy for Animals for uncovering animal abuse at Willet Dairy and bemoaned the lack of official action resulting from it. This week I’d like to discuss another Mercy for Animals video, in a not quite as flattering light.

 This one covers a pig producer in Pennsylvania, one of the hundred or so family farms that services Country View Family Farms. Again, kudos to Mercy for Animals for giving us visibility into this world, which we would surely never see but for the courage of its undercover workers. (Also, I like the fact that this investigation uncovered abuse in a family-owned facility, because many people mistakenly believe that these things only happen at big corporate-owned operations.) But I do wish that they had chosen to edit out twenty seconds of their footage, or at least to discuss it more honestly. At about 3:50 into the video, the camera focuses on a worker stunning a pig. It’s not clear whether the pig is going to slaughter or if it is being euthanized, because it appears to be suffering from rectal prolapse (a condition in which the intestines hang partly outside the rectum). The worker fires the stun gun twice before the pig collapses on the ground, twitching. The narrator intones in the background “After being bolted the first time, this sow staggers back and forth from massive head trauma before receiving a second bolt. She thrashes in a pool of her own blood for minutes.” And it’s all presented as just one more instance of unspeakable cruelty.

In fact, it’s an animal dying in a relatively humane way. For once, the worker did the right thing, stunning the pig to ensure its insensibility. The thrashing that the voiceover bleakly narrates is a normal reflex, and for all its violent intensity does not imply that the pig is suffering or, indeed, can feel anything at all. Body movement is such a poor indicator of consciousness that trained slaughterhouse workers look only for eye movement.

This video reminded me of another that the Humane Society of the US released in October 2009, of a veal producer. I was talking it over with Mike Lorentz, part-owner of slaughter and processing facility Lorentz Meats, when he pointed out something I hadn’t noticed – that in the middle of showing workers striking and shocking the animals, HSUS took a gratuitous shot of someone shoveling blood into a tank. “That has nothing to do with safe food or humane treatment or anything,” he said. “It just upsets people who aren’t used to seeing it; it’s purely sensational. Why don’t they keep the focus on the guys beating on the animals?”

Now, Mercy for Animals promotes veganism, and the HSUS, while a little more subtle about it, tends in the same direction. Therefore, these groups are likely to see any aspect of the killing of animals as unnecessary and therefore cruel. However, at the risk of stating the obvious, every living thing must die somehow. An animal that doesn’t die from a stun gun and a slit of the throat or a gunshot wound would suffer (in the wild) any one of a number of torturous deaths: the wasting away of starvation, the slashing jaws of a predator, the relentless implosion of an untreated wound. A sedated drift off to sleep is reserved for only (some of) those animals lucky enough to be human companions. Death in its typical manifestations is not pretty, but its horrors should not be blamed on people, especially those who do their best to make it as quick and easy as possible.

I urge Mercy for Animals, the HSUS, and the other organizations whose mandate is to prevent cruelty to animals to focus on the cruelty needlessly imposed on these animals during their lives, rather than the cruelty that is nearly impossible to entirely eliminate from their deaths. Let’s make a difference where a difference can be made.

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Jeffries Chicken Farm February 12, 2010

Posted by Angelique in Food ethics.
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This week take a look at the article I published in Heavy Table profiling Jeffries Chicken Farm, a do-it-yourself slaughterhouse in a suburb of Minneapolis. http://heavytable.com/jeffries-chicken-farm/

Sound and fury November 20, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
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Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) tend not to open their big meaty arms to journalists, and certainly not to those who take an interest in animal welfare. But Dan Koster, an Illinois pig farmer, was intrepid enough not only to invite me into his CAFO, but to let me publish his name. Confident that the way he raises pigs is healthy and ethical, he had no reservations about showing me around the three huge buildings on his property that house 7500 pigs destined to become pork for his main customers: Cargill, Swift, and Tyson.

Effective management is Dan’s hallmark. A panel of automated temperature and feed controls lines the hallway outside the newer buildings and links to Dan’s home office so he can keep tabs on the conditions inside. Fans along one narrow wall of the vast rectangular space pull air through the open windows on the opposite side, cooling the pigs off, and a sprinkler system adds extra insurance against overheating on the hottest summer days. The smell was surprisingly tolerable. Standing in a room with 5000 pigs around me, I could breathe easier than when I’d visited another farmer’s outdoor feedlot of just 75 pigs and was merely grateful that there was nothing in my stomach to come up.

The pigs themselves were quite clean, for the most part, as their manure drops through the slatted concrete floors of modern CAFO design. (The pigs in the oldest building were the exception. There, where the floors are partly solid, pigs were sliding around in their shit trying to get in and out of the area where they defecate. You might think that pigs wouldn’t mind that, since they tend to voluntarily slide around in mud when they live in a natural environment, but according to Dan pigs are quite fastidious about not pooping where they lie.)

I asked about lameness, a common issue in CAFOs because our ingenuity in genetic manipulation has not yet extended to creating animals whose joints tolerate concrete. However, Dan said very few of his pigs, perhaps a tenth of one percent, suffered from lameness, and from my observation that seemed a fair estimate. Not that I could see the actual legs of the pigs – they were packed too closely to discern much more than a sea of backs – but I could see the shuttling lines of bodies as the movement of one necessitated the movement of the next in the crowded space. Dan estimated the concentration of pigs as one per every 7.5 square feet, which gives them plenty of room to run around when they are just-weaned piglets, and room to do nothing but press against the next pig when they get close to their market weight of 260 pounds.

In sum, the smell pleasantly underwhelmed me. The sight was pretty much as expected. What shocked me was the sound. Opening the door into the confinement pen was like walking into the engine of a 747. That is, a squealing, panicked, urgent 747. So below, along with a few pictures (sorry for the spots, in the semi-darkness I didn’t realize my lens was dirty!) I’ve included a link to a 45-second audio clip of us entering the building. We opened the door about 15 seconds into the clip. If anyone has a description that can more adequately describe the sound, please comment; I’d be curious to hear it.

Sound clip

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