What a Little Hen's Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming
by Wayne Hsiung
Chipotle and the “meat” industry want the world to believe that there’s a kind way to raise and kill animals.
But the reality is that the animals Chipotle kills are often raised and tormented in exactly the same conditions as every other fast food chain. The company admits in its own regulatory filings that it sources from “conventional” farms (search for “conventional” here) -- code speak for factory farms -- and that its brand is vulnerable to damage by activist groups. And even its so-called “responsibly raised” nonconventional suppliers offer little more than a window dressing difference from a factory farm. For example, Bob Comis, a pig farmer who has been haunted by the screams of the animals he raised and killed, discussed recently how a “deeply bedded pen” facility is an industrial, concrete shed with disgusting conditions and brutal crowding -- an industry average of 4 x 2.75 feet of living space for a 250 pound animal that is 4 feet long. (Imagine a 250 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub.) The only difference from a CAFO is that the farmer throws in some straw…. and, of course, charges a huge price premium.
But there are a small number of farms that genuinely raise their animals in pastures. Small scale and exorbitantly expensive, these farms are, in fact, growing in number, as niche foodie products of all types have exploded in the past 10 years. Does pasture raised farming present a reasonable alternative to conventional factory farms?
First, we have no land. One illustrative example: giving a reasonable living standard to a single pig requires more than 2000 square feet of land (the size of a large-ish apartment), according to pig farmer Comis. This would require devoting almost 200 times more space than even a so-called “humane”, "free-range" farm, where the pigs (on average) receive 10.7 square feet of space. That's not feasible in a world where 30% of all land mass is already devoted to animal agriculture. Truly humane farming, in other words, is a physical impossibility.
Second, even pasture raised suppliers are horrifically cruel. Exploitation of animals, it turns out, necessarily requires… exploitation.
DxE activists saw one vivid example of this at a chicken rescue over this past weekend. Two hundred fifty gentle souls, depleted by three years of egg production, were about to be rewarded with a violent death, for the years of toil on behalf of a cruel master. Taken from a truly small scale farm that raised its chickens on pastures, you might think that they would be in good health.
But you would be wrong. Afflicted with all manner of ailments, from vent blockages to respiratory infections to parasites, the chickens were far from happy and healthy. But perhaps most disturbingly, dozens of the hens were limping severely or completely crippled because, it turns out, their master never bothered to remove the leg bands from their young feet. As the chickens grew, the bands constricted their legs, causing bloody and grotesque deformities, swelling, and permanently crippling many of them. We spent hours grooming, cleaning, and carefully clipping the leg band off of these poor souls, hours that a farmer at ANY scale simply would not have. Because caring for an animal properly, it turns out, requires…. well, time and care. Time and care that a for-profit business of any size simply does not have.
At this point it seems almost unnecessary to offer a third reason that “humane” animal farming is simply an impossibility: the inevitability of killing. We have noted previously that almost all of the animals killed in animal agriculture are killed as children -- babies, in some cases. A “broiler chicken” that might have a natural lifespan of 8 years, for example, is typically killed at 6 or so weeks. Pigs that can live for over a decade are murdered at 6 months, when their still juvenile bodies are young and supple. Even dairy cows, whom farmers have an incentive to keep alive longer as milk producers, are typically slaughtered at 5 years of age, a mere one fourth of their natural lifespan.
Each of these animals did not want to die. They were welcomed into the universe of stimulation and experience, meaning and fulfillment, that we all call life. And by killing them, we take that from them -- we take everything from them -- for the sake of a juicy piece of flesh.
And when an individual animal -- scared and alone -- sees that her life is about to be taken, as Bob Comis notes, she completely loses it. Scrambling desperately to free herself from her tormentors, wailing in terror at her impending doom, and even engaging in self harm in a desperate attempt to escape her fate… this (and not Chipotle’s Orwellian happy meat fantasy) is the reality of humane farming.
And this is why DxE’s campaign to bust the humane myth is so absolutely vital. We cannot allow violent corporations to take everything from the weakest and most vulnerable among us… and pretend they are doing the oppressed a kindness.
With 37 cities, increasing public attention, and a shift even in the largest animal non-profits (PETA and COK, for example, have recently taken a stand against "humane" farming), our story is finally gaining the traction that the animals desperately need. But we need your help in keeping our momentum going. So join us, and activists all over the world, in speaking clearly and loudly:
Pastured raised or battery caged. Free range or factory farmed. Small scale or industrial-sized. It matters not a bit. Because it's not Food. It's Violence.