What's the Deal with CAFOs?
While confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are inherently an environmental issue, they are equally an issue of ethics and animal justice. In order to feed the growing global population, animal agriculture companies have had to find ways to increase production speed and output. This largely comes at the expense of the animals' living conditions, safety, health, and treatment. In order to meet current demand for animal meat and animal byproducts (like milk and eggs), the cages have gotten smaller, the buildings more packed, medical treatment pushed by the wayside, in addition to an increase in genetic manipulation and growth-promoting antibiotics. More antibiotics are given to animals in North Carolina alone than are given to people in all of the United States. The endless quest for CAFO workers to meet production numbers and the corporate owners to line their pockets are pushing animals to their physical limits. For example, broiler chickens, the name for chickens raised for their meat, have a breast size seven times heavier on average than that of a chicken twenty-five years ago. Commercially raised turkeys in the United States have been bred to be so large they cannot mate naturally; 100% of these turkeys need human intervention to reproduce. These industry standards are disturbing but only touch the surface of what billions of animals go through each year. Read on to learn more about the conditions of factory produced chickens, pigs, cows, and the unique concerns for sea life.
The Secret Life of Animals
Even though chickens make up 98% of the land animals we kill in the United States, birds are not included in the Humane Slaughter Act. This law was created in 1958 and aims to minimize pain in the slaughter process. This law is poorly enforced and also applies to the few moments before an animal's death and not the years it spends in confinement. An insulting "last meal" sentiment before death after life-long imprisonment. Chickens' cages are incredibly small, averaging the surface area of a piece of printer paper to stand on. They are lined up side by side and stacked atop one another, with as many as 125,000 chickens in one shed. The chickens can stand or lay on the wire cages, their bodies prone to developing sores either way. They may anxiously peck at one another through the cages if they still have their beaks. However, debeaking is often performed to prevent this. With no anesthesia, chickens may have their beaks either burned or sawed off.
Due to an aim for unnatural body size, chickens are often given growth-promoting antibiotics. By the age of six weeks, 90% of chickens being raised for their flesh are so obese they cannot even walk properly. They suffer on their wire cages, immobile and in pain, as they wait for their day to be killed. When male chicks are born from egg-laying hens, they are seen as "useless" for that facility and the baby chicks are killed through a number of methods, including shredding, crushing, and gassing. When young ground-up animals are getting the better end of the deal than the animals that survive, we know that our system is broken.
Pigs are one of the world's smartest animals, comparable to that of a human three year old with the ability to play video games and solve puzzles. While all animals deserve freedom and respect regardless of human-defined intelligence, this fact is salient in acknowledging the anguish they must experience in cramped buildings with brutal treatment and no access to nature. Concrete floors keep them from digging and rooting like pigs are programmed to do. Mothers birth piglets and then have them taken away almost immediately, a completely unnatural experience, as the young would stay with their mother for months in the wild. The confining crates the pig is held in before, during, and after they give birth allow them no room to move or escape their waste. Pigs are, contrary to popular belief, very clean creatures. This caged setup is the opposite of what is customary for pigs when naturally they have designated "bathroom" areas away from their normal living quarters. Their constantly present waste produces ammonia, often leading to respiratory problems. With the sheer speed required of these factories to slaughter the animals, it seems naive to think the urine and feces on these pigs would be guaranteed to not come in contact with their meat that then ends up on your plate. This waste can carry things like parasitic worms, E. coli, and salmonella. Even the plant products that have recalls are largely tainted as a result of water runoff from these unsanitary animal factories. Keep your plates safe and the pigs alive by skipping eating these intelligent and life-deserving animals.
Most people know how smart apes are, having heard of sign language-learning gorillas and the close bonds that chimps have formed with their caretakers. It would seem unethical to imprison apes in confined spaces with no stimulation, living only to be beaten, maimed, and killed for their parts. So why is it that we allow cows, who are thought to have the mental capacity closest to that of an ape, to be subjected to this very existence?
These riddle-solving, excitement-showing animals are the victims of horrendous treatment in large-scale agricultural facilities. Dairy cows, raised solely for milk, only lactate during or after pregnancy, thus they are kept in a perpetual cycle of forced impregnation and giving birth, only to have their new calf taken away within 24 hours. Their gestation period is the same as ours - nine months - during which maternal hormones flood the cow, waiting to deliver and raise their new baby. Taking away her newborn so quickly is traumatic for both the cow and the calf, with the mother cow often calling out in distress, trying to fight off those who are taking her calf, or running after the baby as it is being taken. This cycle continues for years until the cow is considered no longer "useful" and is killed. These repetitive pregnancies occur far more often than they would in nature, putting undue stress on the cow's body and her organs. As her udders are hooked up to vacuums and suctioned day after day, they crack and develop sores, often resulting in pus or blood being mixed in with the milk. The FDA allows 750 million pus cells per liter of milk. Your next gallon of milk could contain over 2.7 billion of these cells of pus.
The babies that are taken away from their mothers to be turned into veal are put into a crate only a couple feet across each way, sometimes small enough that they can't turn around. Here they are chained to the crate, spending the next several months in their own urine and feces, not moving, until they reach slaughter weight and are killed. What an existence we put upon these animals.
Consideration for marine life often falls by the wayside compared to their on-land counterparts, yet over 45 billion aquatic animals are killed every year for human consumption. People often inaccurately label sea creatures as lacking emotion or cognitive capacity when in reality, we are used to perceiving emotions through humans and mammals, so our criteria for assessing marine animals is not finely developed. Fish are able to feel things like pain and fear and display these through body movements, color changes, and pupil changes. They make sounds when they are in distress and experiencing or merely anticipating fear. Even individuals who fish and "return" their catch to the water are causing lasting consequences; in one study over 40% of fish who were caught and released were dead in less than a week. The hooks removed from their mouths can cause permanent damage affecting their ability to eat along with increased risk for infections, thus reducing their chance of survival.
Fish and other marine creatures are often "farmed" in cramped conditions, priming them for disease and stress. It is common practice to starve fish before they are transported to sell to keep the water free of waste. Salmon can be held without food for up to ten days. Most are familiar with the lobsters in the tiny grocery store tanks, waiting to be taken home and boiled alive. Crabs often suffer this same fate after being swept up in drift nets and caught in traps, often having limbs ripped off during the removal process. Sea life is already at a gross disadvantage for health and success with human-caused pollution, ocean acidification, and warming waters. Let's give them their fighting chance and keep them in the water and out of our meals.