While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, breeding animals into mutants and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.
The horrors of factory farming are multifold. Treating animals like heads of lettuce—”forget it’s an animal” says one farming magazine—has created institutionalized ruthlessness toward animals, workers and the environment at the same time it harms humans who eat the products. Factory farming even damages the economy thanks to meat-related obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and greedy, short-sighted land-use policies.
While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, some practices like breeding animals into mutant-like parodies of their original species and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.
1. Greed-Driven Mutilations
It is possible to practice animal husbandry in a way that an animal only has “one bad day” (the day the animal is slaughtered), but thanks to factory farming, which packs animals together over their own waste, they endure a lot of additional suffering.
Chickens are “debeaked” during their second week of life “to prevent cannibalism and feed wastage,” says an online guide for chicken growers—though the industry’s abusive battery egg cages, not the animals, are responsible for the “cannibalism.” Debeaking, partial or total removal of a bird’s beak with a hot knife or laser while it is fully conscious, causes “intense pain, shock and bleeding,” says veterinarian Nedim C. Buyukmihci, emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California.
A similar fate awaits pigs who respond to unnatural conditions by biting each others’ tails. The factory farm solution? Cut off their tails with a pliers and no painkiller—an institutionalized mutilation called tail docking.
Cows also have their tails docked for what factory farmers call ”hygiene” and “milk quality” as well as their horn buds burned off with no painkillers. When video footage depicting both procedures at Willet Dairy in New York state aired on ABC’s Nightline there were calls for laws against the cavalier cruelty. Nor are debeaking, tail docking and horn bud burning factory farming’s only mutilations. Animals also endure dubbing, the removal of combs on birds, detoeing and declawing and mulesing—removal of a sheep’s hindquarter skin.
If veterinarians practiced the same procedures on pets without painkillers, they would lose their licenses and face criminal charges.
2. Fast Growth Diseases
Thirty years ago pigs, chickens and cattle did not look the way they do today. Thanks to growth-producing chemicals and selected breeding, factory-farmed turkeys can barely walk and can’t fly at all or reproduce because of their extreme meat-intensive physiology.
Chickens grow so intensely that if they were human they would weigh 500 pounds at age 10. The frenzied growth makes them prone to ”flipover disease” in which the metabolic strain causes sudden death. Pigs given the growth drug ractopamine, illegal in many countries, are so muscle-bound they are practically non-ambulatory. “Simply, the pig will go down and not be able to get back up,” said Gary Bowman, an Ohio State Extension veterinarian with the College of Veterinary Medicine. Visitors to factory pig facilities have to wear biosecurity suits because “the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs’ immune systems,” read an article in Rolling Stone.
Under the use of the Monsanto-created genetically altered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), the udders of dairy cattle become so engorged, the animals can barely walk. The painful infections (called mastitis) the animals develop along with their shortened life spans and weakened conditions when they arrive at slaughterhouses, often as downers, are the ultimate crime against nature. Many grocery chains have renounced rBGH but some operators still use it for the “cost savings.”
3. Crimes Against Marine Life
While production of the fast-growing frankenfish, the AquAdvantage salmon, has temporarily halted, greed will likely prevail in aquaculture as it has in factory farming. The salmon, created by crossing a Chinook with an ocean pout and a wild Atlantic salmon, grows twice as fast as normal salmon, reaching its full size in 18 months instead of three years. Though the fish’s creators and the government say it is no different from normal fish, in studies AquAdvantage salmon had high incidences of “jaw erosion” and “focal inflammation” (infection), low glucose levels and a possible “increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1]” compared to normal fish.
Like their factory farming counterparts, AquaAdvantage salmon promoters extol the reduced carbon footprint that can be achieved by squeezing animals together. Yonathan Zohar from the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland said at FDA hearings that the fish can be grown at up to “80 to 100 per cubic meter”— which is bumper-to-bumper fish.
Is it ethical for a swimming animal to spend 18 months practically standing on its tail, in the interests of making more money? Is it ethical to expose wild fish populations to the aquaculture-generated sea lice which has all but decimated salmon farming in Chile and Norway?