Inside America’s Torture Factories

A reader dissents:

You do yourself and your argument no favors when you refer to industrial pork farms – however cruel they may be – as “America’s Concentration Camps.” These farms may be barbaric, but to refer to them as “concentration camps” is spectacularly disrespectful to the six million people who were murdered at Nazi camps.  Unless you believe that a pig’s soul is the full equal of a human one (and I have never got that impression reading you) the comparison is completely inept.

I should have been more sensitive to that in my desire for a provocative title. I apologize. Hence our new headline above. Another reader:

pigs.jpgI just finished reading Dave Warner’s response to your reader’s e-mail and the one thing that stood out was his continuing insistence that the use of gestation cages helped with caring for (and protecting!) their well-being. I’ll let that point aside, but I would have been much more receptive to his point if he’d had the honesty to admit that it also allows for the housing of substantially more pigs for all those concerned hog farmers. Even if he’d tried to pass it off as an unexpected side benefit, I could have given him a nod. To exclude the reason for the incarceration and try to pass it off as the result of medical studies strikes me as the epitome of chutzpah, if that’s the right word.

Another:

In regard to Warner’s comments, not all pork producers agree:

[Bob] Johnson [president of Johnson-Pate Pork Inc.], who has lived on this farm since he was a teenager, saw a business opportunity in getting rid of the cramped crates, as well as eliminating the routine use of antibiotics. So in 2010, his company switched — a big undertaking for a farm that sells 20,000 pigs per year. Traditionalists say that gestation stalls are indispensable because when pigs are housed in groups, they fight — with bigger and fiercer animals injuring smaller ones and getting more than their share of the feed. But that’s not what is on display in the gestation building, a structure about 60 feet wide and 250 feet long occupied by some 625 pregnant sows. They are walking around and lounging quietly in large group pens. Some cool off under sprinklers that go off intermittently, as a few take their turn to eat. When the weather is good, they can go into an outdoor enclosure.

Another:

You quoted the NY Times: “Nine states in the United States have banned the use of these pens …” Everyone should be aware that the farm bill passed by the House, and currently being negotiated by a House/Senate conference committee, contains the King Amendment, which would trample states’ rights and overturn many state protections for animals nationally. It is from, and named for, Rep. Steve King of Iowa. Iowa is the number one pig-torturing state in the USA and the pig torturers are significant contributors to King. From the Humane Society of the United States (pdf):

Rep. King’s amendment takes aim at state laws such as California’s Proposition 2, approved overwhelmingly by voters across the state in 2008 – to ban extreme confinement cages and crates for laying hens, pigs, and veal calves – and a law passed subsequently by a landslide margin in the state legislature to require any shell eggs sold in CA to comply with the requirements of Prop 2. In addition, the King amendment seeks to nullify state laws in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island dealing with intensive confinement of farm animals.

Two other things to consider: 1) while gestation crates may be among the worst torture inflicted upon pigs, even without them their lives would be non-stop misery; and 2) chickens are intelligent and emotional as well and their abuse is similarly atrocious in the egg and meat industries, and birds are exempt from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. See this recent Washington Post article:

Nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally boiled alive each year in U.S. slaughterhouses, often because fast-moving lines fail to kill the birds before they are dropped into scalding water, Agriculture Department records show. Now the USDA is finalizing a proposal that would allow poultry companies to accelerate their processing lines …

I didn’t think I could find another reason to despise the politics of King, but I just did. Another also defends fowl:

Your essay “Abatement of Cruelty” was forwarded to me by a person who drew attention to your statement that “There are also types of meat. I think we can make distinctions of degree between, say, the emotional experience of a chicken and a pig.” We cannot knowledgeably make such distinctions at all. They are passé. I respectfully point out that your claim – that the emotional experience of a chicken is inferior to that of a pig – is an assertion without a foundation.

Perhaps you are not aware of the modern cognitive science showing that, contrary to false stereotypes and conventional assumptions, birds, including chickens and turkeys and other ground-nesting birds, are every bit as cognitively complex as mammals including dogs and pigs. (See, e.g., The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken by Dr. Lesley J. Rogers, 1995).

I grew up with dogs and later worked at a farmed animal sanctuary comprising rescued pigs, chickens, turkeys and other animals, many of whom came from so-called “humane” family farms, where abuses are commonplace and whose traditional practices and attitudes are the very basis for the development of industrialized animal farming in the 20th century, e.g. mutilations including painful debeaking, tail docking and castration. And these examples are far from all.

Chickens and turkeys are complexly emotional and intelligent birds. I’ve kept chickens since 1985 and turkeys since 1990. My experience with them influenced my decision to found United Poultry Concerns in 1990. I ask you please to read this essay, “The Social Life of Chickens”, which evokes and speculates about actual chickens.

Another reader:

The information you have shared on pork processing in the US is appalling. I keep kosher and so do not eat pork, but descriptions of these crates are horrifying. And I am shocked that my soon to be re-elected governor vetoed a bill banning them. I immediately went to Empire Kosher’s website only to learn that they do not crate their birds at all … all are raised to exacting standards on small family farms. No antibiotics and only strictly vegetarian feed is good enough for their birds.  I know many non-Jews who only eat Empire for just those reasons.

Still, the kosher meat industry has had its embarrassments as well. Check out the book Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America by Stephen G. Bloom. A group of Hasidic Jews established a kosher slaughterhouse in a remote part of Iowa, only to be shut down several years later for health and immigration violations. The cost of kosher beef skyrocketed after that disaster back in 2011 (not that it was ever cheap). New sources were found in smaller processors here in the US and in Canada.

The incredibly high cost of keeping kosher is a burden on many Jewish families. But at least I can be assured that our meat – chicken or beef – is being handled in a ethical way.

Another:

One of these days one of my emails to you will make it on the blog.

Others have commented that they buy meat they know is ethically raised in order to circumvent the animal cruelty issue.  My family does as well.  We buy a monthly “meat share” from a local farm; it is essentially a meat CSA.  The farmers work hard to preserve agricultural traditions that have existed in New England for generations. All of the animals are all naturally raised; free of hormones and antibiotics.  The pigs and cattle are pasture-raised.  Not only do we feel better about the meat we are eating, but we are also supporting local farming and agriculture (not to mention that the meat is amazing).  And we consume less meat this way; we buy a certain poundage a month and only use that amount; I do not supplement from the grocery store.  We plan on taking our children to the farm when they are a bit older to explain to them where our meat comes from.  If they decide that they cannot support eating animal meat after the farm visit, I will help them become vegetarians if they want.

One more:

I grew up in NC, which is one of the top hog producing states in the US.  My neighbors raised a few hogs for their own table and when I was a little girl I used to go play in the pig pen with the babies.  What Mr. Warner said about family farmers is total bullshit.  The sows back in the day were allowed to roam freely in the pen until they delivered, when they were separated from the other pigs, because pigs being pigs, the others would eat the shoats if they weren’t protected.   The mother would even eat her own babies in some cases in the first couple of days after birth.

My husband used to call me the pork queen because I loved eating pork so much.  Not anymore.  I haven’t been able to eat pork, beef, or chicken, for years since I saw the video found at Meat.org.  My husband has been vegetarian for 7 years now and I only eat chicken occasionally and never mass produced chicken.  Between the cruelty to the animals and what the poor things are fed, including drugs of all kinds, and the environmental costs, I just can’t do it anymore.

I am so glad you are addressing this issue again.  If we would all stop eating meat for even one day a week, we could send a message to these factory farms that what is being done to these animals is no longer acceptable.