Industrial Farm Animal Welfare in the United States
How it works
Industrial farm animal welfare is horrendous, only two federal laws protect these animals which proves this true. Firstly, the law regarding trucking animals states that every 28 hours they are unloaded from the truck for rest, water and food. Trucks aren’t required to be cleaned during this rest period. Meaning the livestock has to stand in feces during travel. Secondly, livestock be quickly rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. These laws aren’t actively enforced leading to increased animal cruelty.
In addition to the surprising lack of empathy for these animals, poultry is exempt from both laws. In the United States several bills known as “ag-gag bills are backed by the animal-agriculture industry. The purpose of these bills is to hide animal abuse on industrial farms. This would penalize individuals who investigate the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video and/or audio at a farm. While few states have adopted this bill into practice the fact that the government is willing to hide and allow animal abuse to maintain their profit is disgusting.
The practices for housing, care and slaughter of these farm animals are dependent on the given species. There are approximately 120 million head of hog slaughtered every year. Hogs are kept in small crowded pens that are inadequate for proper exercise and general movement. At 3 weeks old piglets are taken from their mothers and placed into large, windowless rooms without fresh air and outdoor access. Floors in these pens are hard and slatted which inhibits natural behaviors like rooting.
Hog pens are unable to be sanitized regularly leading to dangerous ammonia fumes. Beef cattle are the only industrial farm animal that’s raised predominantly outdoors. With that said, these animals are still have to endure castration, branding and have their horns removed without painkillers. When the steer reaches 6 months it’s eligible to be sent to a feedlot.
These feedlots are used to “finish off the cattle; meaning they receive high-fat grains to marble the meat to achieve an appetizing flavor for the consumer. Feedlots are crowded and unsheltered from the elements. Beef cattle slaughter numbers are hovering around 30 million head over the last few years.
Dairy cows are largely kept indoors, few facilities give access to small outdoor concrete or dirt paddocks. These cows are restrained by tie stalls around their necks which holds them in the small stalls they are held in. Most farmers in the industry choose to remove 2/3rds of the cow’s tail, again without painkillers. The theory behind this practice is that the udders will stay cleaner this way, but this has been disproven.
To keep a steady milk flow the cows stay pregnant most of their lives. When the calf is born it is taken from its mother almost immediately to ensure all milk is getting collected. Male calves are raised for veal and females are raised for the next generation of dairy cows. When the cow turns 2 is it eligible for slaughter and most dairy cows are sent to slaughter by 5 years of age. This decision is dependent on the cows milk production and health. Chickens raised for meat are housed in sheds holding over 100,000 birds at any given time.
These animals stand on concrete floors with a thin layer of absorbent material under their feet. Cleaning the facility correctly and efficiently is not feasible due to the amount of chickens being held in one room. The acid in the animals waste causes burns and sores to their feet and underbellies. The houses are lit for 24 hours a day to ensure the chickens sleep less and eat more. The goal of this industry is to have the chicken grow as large as possible in a exceptionally short amount of time.
Chicken raised for eggs are held in a cage that can hold from 5-10 hens. Cages are stacked on top of eachother to maximize space and placed in large warehouses. There are automatic food, water and egg collecting machines in all of these warehouses to keep maintenance and company costs low. Employees do enter the warehouse to collect the deceased hens from the cages.
The workers have to take precautions against the quality of the air in the warehouses due to the inevitable fecal dust and dangerous levels of ammonia. With the harsh conditions these birds are kept they tend to pluck their feathers out which is a sign of extreme stress. Hens also peck each other because of insufficient space. To avoid injury in this form the chickens beaks are cut off soon after they are born. After 18-24 months egg production slows and those hens are ready for slaughter.
The Food Empowerment Project states that “Transporting hens to the slaughterhouse is an extremely traumatic event. Before they can be loaded into the trucks, they must be physically collected. Workers disperse throughout the shed and forcefully pull the exhausted hens from their cages. In the process, many of the hens suffer broken wings and legs. They are then loaded into transport crates and stacked onto large flatbed trucks. During transport, the unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds and movements cause severe stress. Prior to these animals being killed they are kept in atrocious conditions and sadly it does not get any better for these animals at the slaughterhouse. Living in a first world country it is disheartening that these practices are still legal for livestock.
Federal laws need to be strictly enforced, revised, and expanded to include protection for poultry and make the living conditions for the animals humaine. Emphasis on profit in this industry will need to decline so the importance on animal welfare can increase. When this happens sanitary and appropriate housing should be easier to obtain given that the companies hire competent and empathetic workers. Livestock will have painkillers for all necessary surgeries and slaughtering techniques will be less barbaric.
Changes in this industry will not occur until the general public decides that animal lives and rights matter. Until then billions of animals will continue to suffer behind closed doors.