I’ve seen a lot of media coverage lately about salmonella and backyard chickens. The Center for Disease Control has issued specific guidelines for backyard chicken keepers for avoiding salmonella, claiming that salmonella is “common” in chickens. But is the media sensationalizing the issue, blaming chickens for a problem that really belongs to their breeders and scaring people away from having contact with chickens?
Some people doubt that farmers castrate baby animals without painkillers. Indeed they do, whether they label the “end product” organic, free-range, grass-fed, or pasture-raised. Using castrators is perfectly legal and is considered desirable by breeders who believe the sales pitch from the manufacturers—namely, that castrated animals are less aggressive and more marketable. I decided to put the doubters’ skepticism to rest by shopping online for a “livestock castrator.” In 20 seconds, Google gave me a comparison of products based on cost, value, and quality.
Ninety-five percent of meat eaters today express an avid interest in animal welfare. Given the extent of this concern, certification has become big business. Unlike “organic,” however, there’s no legal definition for “humane.” Interpretations therefore flex as far as industrial producers can convince their certifiers–who are paid by producers–to stomach. Turns out the biggest certifiers can stomach quite a bit of suffering. Consider the following sketches of the dominant welfare labels, the ones you are likely to see in high-end chains such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Fields, and Wegman’s:
Consumers opposed to factory farming want to know more about the animals we eat. How were they raised? Did they live on a pasture? What did they eat? Where were they slaughtered? The ultimate problem with these questions, important as they are, is that it’s generally not in any producer’s interest to provide complete answers. The labels that describe animal products today thus rely on an industry-influenced lexicon that salves our conscience but obscures the harsh reality of raising, killing, and eating animals.
ASPCA, one of the leading animal protection organizations, would have you believe that the killing of chickens, as shown in the photo here, can somehow constitute a humane practice, a practice that is consistent with their mission of respect and compassion for animals. The kill cone method of slaughtering chickens, one of the most barbaric acts of violence we’ve seen, is considered the “humane” standard today, and ASPCA is using charitable donations to fund and promote poultry slaughter, expand poultry breeding and hatchery facilities and pretend that a factory farm is Not a factory farm, while doing NOTHING to promote genuine compassion and respect for these birds.
Let’s ask ourselves the painfully honest question: If animals are their first love, why have they not become animal protection advocates? Lord knows the 10 billion farm animals killed every year in the US need as much protection as they can get. If they really care about animals so much, why focus on a “humane” food market that impacts a mere 1 to 2% of all farm animals in this country? Why not instead join the animal protection movement to combat the largest and most egregious injustices to the largest number of animals? Why instead attack these groups for exposing animal abuse cases and advocating tougher regulation for the industry? These are just some of the questions I ask myself about the sustainable farmer’s true intentions.
Many people ask me why I don’t eat my own hens’ eggs. They’re going to lay them anyway, they say. What’s wrong with eating them? For me there are many good reasons not to eat any eggs, regardless of whether they come from a factory farm or your backyard, but I will focus on just one of them here. I took this photo of my hen Sweet Pea to show a common health condition that arises from intensive, daily egg production after only a short period of laying. Such egg laying is a function of how they are bred, not how they are raised.
The backyard chicken movement is in full swing, and shelters are filling up with unwanted and abandoned chickens all over the country. While the media continues to romanticize backyard chicken keeping, would-be chicken keepers are learning only half truths about keeping and caring for chickens. We thought it was time for a reality check. This live recording from Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns, provides a very authoritative and comprehensive review of the most common problems and recommendations for the urban chicken movement.
Almost all of the animal welfare organizations are praising the move from battery cages to colony cages for egg laying hens both here and in Europe. It’s a victory for hens, these organizations would have us believe. It’s a sign that the animal welfare movement is gaining more influence over the poultry industry and progress is being made on behalf of animals.
In several of his essays and talks, animal rights leaders like Gary Francione argue that welfarism does not lead to abolitionism but instead greater consumption since consumers that perceive animal products as higher welfare or more humane will feel better about eating them and therefore consume more than they would had these products not been available. Touring any Whole Foods Market store would certainly suggest that the dominant presence of the meat and dairy departments would indicate that animal product sales are booming.
In The Wing Bar, Robert Grillo takes you on a journey that starts with the Chicken Wing Bar at the supermarket to a farm in California where he gets to know and interact with the chickens there in a matter of hours, then back to his home to see what it’s like to live with four rescued hens and finally inside of a rarely seen chicken factory farm to finally check out where all the wings are coming from.
This never-before-seen footage was shot onboard a tuna fishing vessel in the Pacific and released by Greenpeace. The crew in the video is using what are known as fish aggregating devices (FADs) to increase their catch. But as the video clearly shows, FADs attract a lot more than just tuna. Sharks, sea turtles, rays, and dolphins are all brutally murdered for the sole purpose of getting canned tuna on the grocer’s shelf.
When my niece asked me why I don’t eat cheese during our preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, I hesitated, but then told her that some day I would explain to her why. Part of me believes it is best for her mother to decide when and how to explain this. My hope for her is that she becomes part of a generation that learns the truth and is not raised in ignorance, told stories about the mythical Old McDonald’s Farm and the Happy Cows, only to then learn the truth in adulthood and filled with regret for not knowing sooner! When we were growing up, the truth about dairy cows was kept hidden from us, and from my parents as well. All we knew is that milk came from cows.
Most people only know turkey from the supermarket shelf tightly wrapped in flashy packaging or sliced into deli meats. Food advertising has completely and deliberately dissociated us from the source of the food: the living, breathing, beautiful birds who have individual personalities and lead complex social and emotional lives. This Thanksgiving we are celebrating the life of a very special female turkey named Amelia, a bird who touched the lives of many, and whose story is told by the kind hearted soul who became her guardian, Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns.
Officials at both companies expressed their shock and dismay over the footage recorded from its supplier, but are we really to believe that they don’t know how the factory egg farm industry operates? Critics say they know exactly how the industry operates since there are no laws protecting egg laying hens (the result of years of intensive lobbying), weak and ineffective food safety laws and, as this investigation reveals, and little or no enforcement by a paralyzed public health authority called the FDA. And they claim that their reaction was simply a knee jerk PR move that they hope will alleviate customer concerns.
The new MFA investigation, McDonald’s Cruelty: The Rotten Truth About Egg McMuffins, contains hidden-camera footage, taken at Sparboe Egg Farm facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado, revealing shocking unsanitary and abusive conditions over a long period of time and at several facilities, demonstrating the tragic failure of FDA regulators to manage the broken egg industry and its flagrant violation of food safety and animal welfare standards.