A Day In the Life of Your Food

– Margaret Mason

Did you know that there are no federal laws governing the conditions in which farm animals are raised? Within the agribusiness, animals are subject to crowding, inhumane treatment, and horrible conditions that remain unregulated by state and national laws. Although the average chicken or beef options in a local grocery store may seem harmless, almost all of them emerge from a line of abuses and maltreatment across meat products. Do you know what your food has gone through?

While your grocery store eggs may seem innocent enough, there is much more to an industrial egg than what meets the eye. Egg-laying hens are crowded into cages packed so tightly they are unable to even spread their wings. During their time from hatching to slaughter, 95% of egg-laying hens are confined and deprived of mobility in order to meet consumer demand. In 2007, it is reported that 280 million hens laid 77.3 billion eggs for sale, a number that has only increased since.

Male chicks, of little use to the egg industry, are often in excess and inevitably slaughtered. On average, 260 million male chicks are killed each year upon hatching through processes such as being gassed, ground up alive, and electrocuted. While female chicks are not slaughtered upon hatching, they are “debeaked” by having their beak seared off with a hot blade in order to prevent abnormal feather-pecking that results from the stress of confinement. This process of debeaking is extremely painful since their beaks contain many nerves.

As egg demand has increased, the demand upon hens has increased as well. Today, hens are forced to lay roughly 250 eggs each year, as opposed to the average of 100 eggs that they produced in nature a century ago. When hens no longer meet this average and their production declines, they are deemed no longer of use and slaughtered. Unlike other animals, chickens and turkeys are not included under the Humane Slaughter Act and thus do not have to put out of pain for slaughter.

Chickens used for meat face similarly dismal lives. In the United States, on average 9 billion chickens are slaughtered for consumption each year. Fed with growth hormones and packed into warehouses, chickens are bred for slaughter and treated merely as a commodity, like corn or oil. With new breeding methods, factory farms now use 300% more chicken parts for meat than 50 years ago. As economical as this advancement may be, from the perspective of chicken treatment, it simply leads to increasingly worse conditions.

After hatching, chickens are sent to large warehouses containing over 20,000 of their brethren tightly packed with no space to move, fly, or walk around. In some cases, the chickens’ skeletons do not even have enough mobility to develop the ability to walk and thereby spend their lives entirely immobile. Within the warehouse, lights are kept on 24/7 to stimulate activity and growth, both unnatural and unhealthy for the chickens. Floors are covered in animal waste that makes it difficult for the animals to breathe.

Overall, chickens are subject to these conditions until plump for slaughter at an average of 42 days old. While their bodies are the size of extra large adult chickens, they still behave and make the noises of chicks even once sent to slaughter. Whether chickens are set aside for egg-production or thrown in warehouses for meat, factory farming subjects these animals to horrible conditions and a horrible slaughter.

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In the pig industry, conditions are not any better. In 2011, roughly 5.8 million pigs were used for breeding in the United States, locked away in rows of crates. At only seven months of age, these animals start on a cycle of impregnation and birth until they lose productivity and become infertile. During their time in gestation crates, the pigs are confined to a space not much larger than their bodies and are unable to turn around or adjust their bodies comfortably.

After pigs give birth, their piglets are taken away at only 17-20 days old. They are then castrated, mutilated, and sent to confinement until they reach market weight. Theirs mothers are returned to gestation crates to be impregnated once more and repeat the entire process. Unlike local farms, large national factory farms focus simply on the end product for sale and neglect the condition of the animals during their short lives.

Shamrock-Farms-cows

While we all may love a good hamburger, it is important to consider where this meat is coming from. Like chickens and pigs, both cows for dairy and meat are used and abused by large agribusinesses for profit. In 2008, more than 9.3 million cows were used for milk and more than 2.5 million dairy cows were killed for meat sales. Within the dairy industry, like chickens and pigs cows are extremely confined and bred to produce a high content of milk. They are put through a continuous cycle of impregnation and nursing in order to remain milk producing. At the end of this cycle, these cows are then sent off to be slaughtered and used for meat.

After cows are born, they are quickly separated from their mothers and subject to mutilations like dehorning, castration, and branding for “better growth”. Cows are then transported to massive feedlots where they must consume an unnatural amount of food to reach the ideal market weight as quickly as possible. In just six months, calves are fattened up to reach 1,200 pounds and go to market. According to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, livestock must be relieved of pain before being slaughtered; investigations,however, have revealed that this practice isn’t always honored.

Factory farming conditions are clearly not only inhumane but also show a total disregard for animals’ lives. While most support the circle of life and natural food chain, it is hard not to take issue with the current treatment of animal within agribusiness. When we are simply buying packaged chicken or beef from the grocery store, we are unable to know the conditions under which the animals lived and died. Do you really like the idea of eating chickens, pigs, and cows cramped in these tiny quarters?

Unlike factory farms and big agribusiness, local farmers have both the compassion and space to allow for more humane treatment of animals. Local farmers abandon the tunnel vision of profit-seeking agribusinesses and instead raise smaller numbers of animals in healthier, happier conditions. Although this may not make a difference to some, once made aware of the facts many find it hard to continue purchasing from mass corporations that exploit helpless animals. Know where your meat comes from and know how it is being treated – the animals and your conscience will thank you!

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