[Editor’s Note, 11/18/15: With one of the Humane Society’s videos on gestation crates no longer available online, another video has been added to document the cruelty of high-speed slaughter lines.]
Since the Leesburg Daily Commercial recently called on its readers to “embrace the opportunities to make this place better and more humane,” let us do precisely that by focusing on an issue raised by the Humane Society of the United States. While the Food section of the Daily Commercial provides its largely overweight audience with tasty recipes, it carefully eschews discussions of where that food comes from and how it is produced, allowing consumers to remain in their happy little bubbles of abject ignorance. That is good news for the food industry, but catastrophic for the animals unfortunate enough to be born on an American farm.
Old MacDonald Had a Concentration Camp
If you eat pork, ham, bacon or any other pig “product,” you should be aware that most of the animals from which that meat was taken – they didn’t give it freely and they weren’t offered any compensation or contractual consideration – spent their lives on concrete floors and behind metal bars. Their mothers were confined to gestation crates that were so small they could not turn around. The piglets were taken from their mothers almost immediately after birth, then had their tails cut off and – if male – had their testicles ripped off, all without any form of anesthetic. The mothers were then impregnated again, to maintain a constant supply of product. Pumped full of antibiotics to ward off infection from close confinement and pervasive feces and urine, those that survive life on the “farm” will eventually be crammed into the equivalent of a boxcar for transport to a slaughterhouse, where a captive bolt gun or electric shock may or may not succeed in putting them out of their misery. If it fails, which it often does, the animal will be consciously aware when it is drowned in the tank of scalding hot water that is used to soften its skin before it is peeled off.
The following video, courtesy of the Humane Society, documents the continuing use of gestation crates for pregnant sows. Although some players in the pork industry have made commitments to phase out their use, that change is still several years down the road and, in the case of Tyson Foods, may never come at all unless regulation forces them to make it.
The next video documents the manner in which pigs are treated in an American slaughterhouse participating in the USDA’s pilot program in “self-regulation,” which may become the industry standard. (YouTube imposes an age requirement on viewing this due to the graphic content. If unable to view there, you may watch it here.)
These videos are nowhere near the most graphic that we have seen. The following footage, released earlier this year after an undercover investigation into a British pig farm, made front-page news in the Sunday Times and is even more disturbing. Don’t kid yourself that this doesn’t happen here:
The Harling Farm footage, first brought to our attention by Professor Marc Bekoff at the University of Colorado, is particularly important because it shows how much cruelty inheres in modern farming regardless of whether gestation crates are used or not. Thus, the Humane Society’s vague sense of optimism about the industry’s glacially slow move away from gestation crates, and the fact that several states (including Florida) have banned the practice, needs to be tempered by recognition of the ultimate problem: the commoditization of animals. And this, in turn, is only possible because of the way we humans think about ourselves and the rest of nature.
The Right to Life and the Dominion Dilemma
While the right-to-life crowd continues on its sanctimonious little crusade to protect clumps of human cells from the very women whose bodies sustain them, these self-appointed guardians of our national morality remain conspicuously mute about the annual death of billions of sentient creatures within our borders. (The Humane Society puts the total death toll at 10 billion. That figure is probably too conservative, but easily exceeds the entire human population of the Earth – every year.) Many of these inglorious hypocrites are doubly deluded, falling for the pretty little pictures of bucolic bliss on the packages of food neatly arranged in the grocery store, and believing that God has authorized them to use the rest of his creations as they see fit. And there is a disgusting, common link in these cognitive failures: forced reproduction. For people who see nothing wrong in compelling a human female to bear the offspring of the man who raped her, there is presumably little need to even contemplate the fate of female pigs forced to produce piglets over and over again, until their bodies are completely broken. They can sing hosannas to the sounds of an organ instead of the screams of naturally gentle, social creatures who display formidable intelligence that rivals the dolphins and great apes and exceeds that of precious, young human children. They can stuff themselves with as much pork as they want at the church barbecue, safe in the knowledge that when the good lord calls them to his side, they will not face the prospect of being reincarnated as a sow in a factory farm in Oklahoma. They have eyes, but they see not.
To be fair to the larger Christian community, however, not everyone may be tarred with this scornful brush. The Seventh Day Adventists, particularly in Yorba Linda, California, are noted for their above-average lifespans, to which their commitment to vegetarianism contributes. And the Christian Vegetarian Association promotes a plant-based diet as a way to respect God’s creation and usher in the “peaceable kingdom” foretold in the Bible:
The Bible depicts vegetarianism as God’s ideal, and the diet conforms to the central biblical principle of steward-ship. In Eden, all creatures lived peacefully, and God told both humans and animals to consume only plant foods (Gen. 1:29–31). Several prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:6–9, foresee a return to this vegetarian world, where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all coexist peacefully. Christian vegetarians, while acknowledging human sinfulness, believe we should strive toward the harmonious world Isaiah envisioned—to try to live in accordance with the prayer that Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Surprisingly, this passage was only a minor part of a comprehensive argument for vegetarianism that spends far more time on environmental considerations not normally associated with American Christians:
The typical meat eater’s diet can require up to 14 times more water and 20 times more energy than that of a vegetarian. Indeed, current use of land, water, and energy is not sustainable; resource depletion threatens to cause hardships for humankind this century.
A 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change and air pollution; land, soil, and water degradation; and biodiversity loss. According to the report, the livestock sector is an even larger contributor to global warming than transport (cars, trucks, airplanes, and so forth). Huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide are emitted by farmed animals and their waste. Animal agriculture is also a key factor in deforestation, which releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The total area used for grazing and the production of feed crops accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the earth’s land surface. About 20 percent of the world’s pastures and rangelands have been degraded (over 70 percent in the dry lands), mostly through overgrazing, compaction, and erosion created by livestock action.
Science on a church website? Recognition of the U.N. as an authority? What’s next – a suggestion that Jesus would want us to provide food and healthcare for the 47% of Americans who have the temerity to believe they’re entitled to it?
The church has been a powerful force for social change in American history, with varying success through the abolition and temperance movements and, more recently and notably, in the remarkable campaigns of Martin Luther King. But of late – a sad, curious affair in a putatively Christian nation – it seems to have been corralled and harnessed by the aggressive plutocratic forces that would readily dismiss Jesus as a socialist if they didn’t need all those white votes in the South and Midwest. Clearly, if American farm animals are to have any chance of a decent life, there are battles to be fought in the federal and state legislatures. But the impetus for regulatory reform may have to come from those who claim to guard our souls from evil. They have been largely derelict in their duties, turning a deaf ear to the cries of our companion creatures, and thereby perpetuating a veritable Hell on Earth.