by Jamison Maeda
Despite the windmills and rolling hills on the packaging, nothing
about the factory farming industry resembles farming whatsoever. The
fact is factory farms and feed lots are cruel, brutal businesses owned
by giant corporations that are very loosely regulated if at all. And
in the absence of regulation and review, the practices of many factory
farms have reached a level of animal cruelty never before seen in
Animal welfare activist TJ Tumasse worked undercover for 6 years on
more than a dozen investigations into some of the largest corporate
factory farms in the U.S. His investigations led to multiple felony
convictions for animal abuse. Some of the worst abuses TJ saw were
suffered by egg laying hens in battery cages, dairy cows who suffered
horrific uterine issues, and pigs kept in crates, unable to move.
“I’ve seen it all” says TJ. “People stomping on turkeys, chickens
stuffed in cages so small they can’t spread their wings, violations at
a kosher slaughterhouse, pigs kept in cages so restrictive they
couldn’t turn around for four months straight – you name it.”
After the exposure of cruel and horrific animal abuse, a few
agricultural companies changed some of their processes for the better.
But it’s much more difficult to bring animal cruelty to light now that
“ag-gag” anti-whistle blower laws have been passed in U.S states such
as Utah, Idaho, and Iowa. The recording of undercover videos showing
animal cruelty in farming is illegal. Someone convicted of breaking an
ag-gag law can serve up to a year in prison, which is twice the length
of an animal cruelty sentence. If convicted an undercover investigator
could also be added to a terrorist registry. TJ Tumasse believes the
motives of ag-gag laws are purely sinister. “I worked in states that
now have ag-gag laws…This is a blatant attempt to silence our right
to free speech. These factory farms have everything to hide because
people would not support them by buying their products if they knew
what was happening. The fact that they will go to these lengths to try
to keep their actions hidden shows the cruelty of what they do is
something to be ashamed of.”
Large corporations like Nestlé and Monsanto are also trying to prevent
mandatory labeling of their genetically modified foods. Their argument
is that selective breeding is safe and has been a practice since the
very beginning of agriculture. However, selective breeding for
favorable traits is not the same as splicing plant genes with genes
taken from fish, bacteria, viruses, and even humans. Gene splicing can
lead to unintended outcomes. Unnaturally breeding food crops could
have negative effects across entire ecosystems and must be closely
examined and proven to be safe. This is an incredible challenge now
that corporations are allowed to write ag-gag laws designed to hide
information from the public.
And factory farming significantly impacts our environment. The factory
livestock industry is the number one polluter and consumer of our
water resources. Factoring in the amount of corn and grain needed for
feed, factory farms use over 2,400 gallons of water to produce just
one pound of beef or pork. More than 450 gallons of water are required
to produce a pound of chicken. The amount of water it takes to create
a gallon of milk is equal to taking 27 showers.
Though cows are ruminants and should be fed grass, cattle at feedlots
are fed corn. Corn-fed cows suffer from multiple health problems
requiring large amounts of medicines and antibiotics. This is often
how consumers are exposed to pathogens like E. coli which kill
hundreds of people a year and sickens tens of thousands.
But there are alternatives to buying products from massive factory
farms. Irish cattle are almost exclusively grass-fed for example.
They generally graze in open pastures as opposed to filthy feed lots.
Grazing cattle leave a much smaller environmental footprint. Also,
they suffer from significantly less disease than corn-fed, feed lot
cattle so they require far less medicine and antibiotics. European
lawmakers have made some improvements to the livestock industry. Since
2012, it is illegal to keep laying hens in battery cages in all EU
Member States, including Ireland. California will ban the sale of
battery cage eggs on January 1, 2015.
One way to stop contributing to the cruelty of factory farming is to
support family farms and local farmers, as well as buying grass-fed
organic meat, and organic eggs and produce. Patronizing shops,
farmers’ markets, and restaurants that sell organic products is an
easy alternative to supporting factory farming. Another option is
having a plant-based diet.
We must send a clear message around the world that hiding information
with ag-gag laws does not benefit the public, and cruelty to animals
will not be tolerated.
And if we want to eliminate the cruelty of factory farms, TJ Tumasse
says get involved. “The best ways for people to be involved are
volunteering locally, sharing social media and, supporting
organizations like Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and
others who do undercover work.”