The Most Horrifying Phrase in English — Standard Agricultural Practices

I was delighted to read Tuesday’s New York Times editorial demanding that Congress “oversee” and “reform” the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) or shut it down.

Media attention to the horrors of meat and dairy production are always welcome by folks like me. But the Times implies that MARC, guilty of decades of sadistic cruelty in an attempt to bolster profits for beef, pork, and lamb producers, is an anomaly in an otherwise well-regulated industry. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Both the article and the editorial state that the federal Animal Welfare Act, written in theory to limit suffering, fails to regulate “farm animals used in agricultural research.” This fact is true. The law, enacted two years after MARC opened, conveniently exempts anything done to food animals in the name of “research.”

By implication, farmed animals grown to feed humans — some 9 billion annually in the U.S. alone — are protected by the 50-year-old law.

Oh my … where does one begin in an effort to set the record straight?

a confined pig
Photo: Mercy For Animals

Friends, “standard agricultural practices” are also exempt from cruelty statutes. Practices that would be criminal felonies if inflicted on dogs and cats are routinely and relentlessly inflicted on cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, sheep, rabbits, and other “food animals” in the pursuit of larger profits.

The following is a tiny sampling of practices not covered by the Animal Welfare Act:

  • extreme confinement: confining pregnant pigs in metal crates with slatted floors in massive, stinking warehouses. The crates are only a couple inches wider than the pigs’ bodies, essentially requiring that animals stand (or lie) in place, in their own feces, for most of their harrowing lives
  • thumping: swinging baby pigs (warning: graphic video) who likely won’t thrive by their back legs and smashing their skulls against the wall or floor until they break
  • mutilation without painkillers: the removal of sensitive beaks (warning: graphic video), testicles, horns, and tails, the branding of cattle with red-hot irons, and much more, all without sedative or pain relief (warning: graphic video.)
  • grinding up baby birds: newborn male chicks, considered a waste product by the egg industry, are ground up, suffocated or gassed (warning: graphic video).
  • taking infants from their mothers: newborn dairy calves are removed from their mothers immediately after birth. Both mom and baby cry in anguish, sometimes for days.

The Times pieces also stated that “the Agriculture Department rigorously oversees conditions at slaughterhouses.” The difficult truth is that slaughterhouses are largely unregulated chambers of horror where:

  • animals hear, smell, and often see what’s happening to the animals in line before them
  • cows, pigs, and other mammals are stunned by powerful jolts of electric current which induce seizures or heart attacks, or by a bolt gun that shoots a rod directly into the brain
  • due to the frenetic, largely mechanized pace at slaughterhouses, stunning routinely fails, and many animals are ripped wide open while fully conscious (warning: graphic video)
  • after slaughter, pigs are submerged in scalding water to soften them for skinning. Botched slaughter condemns many to being scalded and drowned.
  • chickens and turkeys comprise 95% of all animals killed to feed us, but are exempt from The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be stunned prior to killing. Thus, each year in the U.S. alone, over 8 billion birds’ throats are sliced open while they are fully conscious  (warning: graphic video) Worse, killing lines move far too quickly to ensure accuracy. The result? About a million every year are boiled alive. The industry calls them “redskins.”
  • USDA slaughterhouse inspectors devote virtually all of their time to inspecting meat for safety and virtually none to “humane handling.” Systemic abuse by disgruntled workers is rampant and largely unchecked, and includes injured animals left writhing on concrete floors for hours; workers punching, kicking and mutilating live birds; throat-slicing machines slicing faces rather than necks, and more.
Tucker the cow
How could anyone look in Tucker’s eyes and deny him his life?

As a result of Michael Moss’ powerful article, animal advocacy organizations and others are demanding that MARC be shut down. At Catskill Animal Sanctuary, we are thrilled at this important step. But at the same time, America must understand that the heinous practices of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center are no worse than the practices endured, every day, by billions of innocent beings who want their lives as much as we want ours, and to whom pain and terror feel little different than they would to us. This is true not only for the 99% grown on factory farms, but for the tiny number grown under “compassionate” labels like “humanely-raised,” “cage-free,” “grass-fed,” and so on, which are largely marketing gimmicks designed to keep us purchasing meat and dairy even as we suffer a national crisis of conscience about the devastation wrought by growing animals to feed humans.

America is waking up from a decades-long deep sleep, one in which we shut our eyes to the horrors of the most destructive industry of all time, one that runs ramshod over all that we hold dear in its blinding pursuit of the dollar.

But as powerful as the animal agriculture industry is, friends, you and I have the power to bring it to its knees. We can do that by going vegan today. Our world is running out of time. Won’t you join me?



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