by Ardeth Baxter
Factory farming is an attitude which regards animals and the natural world merely as commodities to be exploited for profit. In animal agriculture, this attitude has led to institutionalized animal cruelty, massive environmental destruction and resource depletion, and animal and human health risks. - Animal Concerns Community
There are many reasons why becoming vegetarian (avoiding meat, but usually consuming eggs and dairy) or vegan (avoiding all animal products and eating vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and legumes) is a great idea. They range from improved personal health and longevity, to the reduction of starvation, to making more efficient use of natural resources, to improving the environment, to taking a strong stand against factory farming and its exploitation of “food” animals as well as humans.
The CEO of McDonald’s recently died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 60. Was his death the result of eating the high-fat, meat-based diet glorified by his own corporation? Did you realize that you can reduce the risk of heart attack, the #1 killer in our country, by 90% if you simply eliminated meat, dairy and eggs from your diet?
Cancer has also been linked to meat eating. In the U.S., 99% percent of the milk of meat-eating mothers is contaminated with DDT, a known carcinogen. In contrast, only 8% of the milk of vegetarian mothers contains DDT. The risk of dying from common cancers such as breast, ovarian and prostate can be reduced dramatically simply by eliminating animal products from your diet.
The statistics are compelling from any standpoint. For example, did you know that 20 million people die from malnutrition every year? And that just reducing your meat intake by 10% would free up enough land to feed 100 million people? In fact, the grain and soybeans now fed to U.S. livestock could feed 1,400,000,000 additional human beings! Fifty six million acres are used just to grow hay for feeding livestock, as opposed to the only 4 million utilized for growing vegetables for humans.
Factory farming is unbelievably wasteful. More than half of the water in the U.S. used for all purposes goes into livestock production. Every single burger consumes 55 square feet of tropical rainforest along with its irreplaceable wildlife (which are going extinct at the rate of 1,000 species per year). And 33% of all raw materials (the base products of farming, forestry and mining, including fossil fuels) are devoted to the production of livestock in the U.S. (as opposed to the mere 2% needed to create a complete vegetarian diet).
The most dangerous job in the U.S. is slaughterhouse worker. Slaughterhouse employees in this country kill 660,000 meat animals per hour and suffer the highest rate of on-the-job injury, and among the lowest pay and highest turnover of all workers. In addition, because of the speed of the assembly line and the shortage of qualified workers, the animals can suffer terribly because they are often not fully stunned before their throats are slit, and are sometimes still alive when skinned or dismembered.
How about New Mexico’s role in factory farming? Besides being a beef ranching state, New Mexico has a growing dairy industry, with 179 dairies and over 300,000 milk cows clustered in the southern counties. In fact, we rank 7th in the nation in total milk production.
Thousands of gallons of water are used to wash cows and clean equipment every day, in a state with very limited water resources. Paul Elders of Concerned Citizens for Clean Water worries about pollution and depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, the High Plains water supply, and is asking for a five-year moratorium on dairy development. Tons of manure produced by cows, with nitrate as a byproduct, will eventually pollute the ground water if not dealt with efficiently.
In fact, 57 New Mexico dairies exceed Environmental Protection Agency ground water standards for nitrate (10 parts per million), according to Maura Hanning of the New Mexico Environment Department (Clovis News-Journal 5/9/04). A state project to explore the possibilities of converting cow manure to methane to use in electricity is ongoing, but results are two years away. And a recent disturbing and as yet unresolved mystery is the discovery in March of dead cows and veterinary waste, including syringes, dumped in shallow pits by a dairy near Roswell. Neighbors are understandably concerned about ground water contamination, the spread of animal-borne disease, and why the cows and waste were discarded in this manner.
What’s wrong with eating fish instead of meat? Unfortunately, because of over-fishing, the majority of the planet’s wild fisheries are now severely depleted and polluted, and fish farming is proving to be as harmful to human health and the environment as cattle ranching. In addition, fish react the same way to stress as factory farmed animals, making it ethically questionable to use them as a food source.
See the sidebar on page 9 for more information on factory farming and eggs. I hope that, after reading it, you will agree with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that “ . . . the best way to save animals from the misery of factory farming is to stop buying and eating meat, milk, and eggs. Vegetarianism and veganism mean eating for life: yours and theirs.”
A FEW RECOMMENDED BOOKS: “The Food Revolution” and “Diet for a New America” (John Robbins); “The Vegan Sourcebook” (Joanne Stepaniak); “Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating” (Erik Marcus); “Becoming Vegan” (Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis); “Passionate Vegetarian” (Crescent Dragonwagon, Robin Gourley)
SOME GREAT WEBSITES: The Meatrix cartoon; The Vegetarian Society of New Mexico; Earthsave; The Vegan Society; Vegetarian Resource Group; Veggie Life Magazine; Happy Cow; Vegan Action; PETA website; Veg Source
(Above statistics from “Diet for a New America” and “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins)
FACTORY FARMING FACTS
FACTORY FARMED ANIMALS: cows, calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and others.
GENERAL LIVING CONDITIONS: small cages or stalls with no exercise and little mobility; given growth hormones or genetically altered for greater productivity; pesticides and antibiotics added to food to prevent disease; antibiotics can cause resistance among human diseases.
CHICKEN (EGG) LAYERS: 5-6 laying hens in 14-inch-square wire mesh cages stacked in tiers (battery cages); up to 15 million per hen house; male chicks thrown away; kept in semi-darkness; beaks cut off with hot irons to prevent pecking to death; forced starvation to increase egg production; mesh rubs off feathers, injures skin, cripples feet; eggs can transmit Salmonella enteritidis to humans; 20% die of stress or disease; killed at 1-2 years.
CHICKEN BROILERS: 6 billion per year raised in sheds; lighting manipulated to keep them eating; given pesticides and antibiotics but up to 60% infected with Salmonella; genetic selection causes joint and bone conditions; also suffer from dehydration, respiratory disease, bacterial infections, heart attacks, crippled legs; killed after 9 weeks; SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus can be transmitted to humans.
CATTLE: fed unnatural high-bulk grains and fillers (like sawdust) to get their weight to 1,000 lbs; castrated, de-horned, branded without anesthetic; transported in crowded trucks to feedlots and slaughterhouses; suffer fear, injury, temperature extremes, lack of food, water, veterinary care; mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) can be transmitted to humans.
VEAL CALVES: male offspring of dairy cows; taken from mothers a few days after birth; chained in dark stalls 22 inches wide with slatted floors causing leg and joint pain; deprived of mother’s milk (given to humans); fed milk substitute laced with hormones and no iron; anemia creates pale tender flesh but extreme debility; 10% die in confinement; slaughtered at 16 weeks.
PIGS: 90% are closely confined during most of their lives; sows are kept pregnant or nursing and immobile in narrow metal “iron maiden” stalls; cannibalism, tail biting and other neurotic behaviors from frustration of isolation and confinement; suffer much disease; 30% of all pork contaminated with Toxoplasmosis.
(Source: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
EGGS: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Animal Care Certified: Misleading label disputed by Better Business Bureau, allows confinement in tiny cages, beak-clipping and forced starvation.
Specialty eggs: Comprise 5% of total market. USDA defines the “organic” label (Neither hens nor feed can be subjected to antibiotics, hormones, pesticides or herbicides) but other claims not regulated (see below).
Free range: At Organic Valley, a US group of egg farms, means 5’ of green space per hen outside and 2’ of space plus natural sunlight inside.
Cage free: Often means hens are caged most of the time and allowed outside when weather permits.
Free farmed: This claim is monitored by the American Humane Association, and means free from any unnecessary fear and distress, pain, injury, disease, hunger, thirst, and discomfort.
Pasture fed: Hens are allegedly fed grains and allowed to forage for wild plants and insects, but term used rarely and not regulated.
Be aware that no-cholesterol, no-exploitation egg substitutes and egg-free products are readily available in supermarkets and health food stores.
(Sources: Environmental News Network and Associated Press)
Ardeth Baxter is an animal rights advocate and ethical vegetarian and the guardian of four dogs and five cats. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content
As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. “I am eating misery,” I thought, as I took t he first bite. And spit it out. – Alice Walker
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