Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Past Paper: Factory Farming

I thought I'd share some snippets from a 10-page paper of mine written in 2007 for an honor's English course:

Factory Farming: Capitalism Gone Bad
A farm wherein animals are treated and regarded solely as profit and are, therefore, capitalized in inhumane ways is called a factory farm. According to Stephanie Holmes in an article entitled “Farm Sanctuary” in The Monitor, “Factory farming is a system of large-scale industrialized agriculture that is focused on profit. . . . animals are often kept indoors and restricted in mobility.” Factory farms here in the US are responsible for many deplorable conditions, such as animal abuse, environmental damage, and human health problems. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) should, therefore, take serious measures to stop factory farming.
The need for change of the status quo is painfully evident. Today, unfortunately, many farm animals suffer relentless and cruel abuse by the hands of their keepers. One of the most common, the staple of factory farms, if you will, is overcrowding. Simply put, it is the congestion of animals in a small, enclosed area. These animals (cattle, pigs, and chickens, usually) are not found congested in this way in the wild, with the exception of mass migrations. Not only is this condition unnatural, but it has been scientifically shown to induce anxiety and aggression in animals. Chickens, for instance, are often housed in battery cages that are “stacked in long rows three to five tiers or more high,” according to C. David Coats in Old MacDonald’s Factory Farming Farm: The Myth of the Traditional Farm and the Shocking Truth about Animal Suffering in Today’s Agribusiness (92). Factory farm animals almost always spend their entire lives in these kinds of conditions.
Another abuse faced by pigs, in particular, is the use of gestation crates, very small enclosures used to house pregnant sows. Mark H. Bernstein in Without a Tear: Our Tragic Relationship with Animals explains the strife of a pregnant sow:
In addition to frustrating her natural instincts the crate endangers the newborn piglets, for the mother can suffocate them merely by turning slightly. Even after pregnancy, the sow is denied any freedom. Farmers find it cheaper to house the sow in a small crate for virtually her entire life; a four-hundred-pound pig is forced to live her life in [a] two-foot-wise crate. (99)
Many factory farmers reason that their livestock are not unhappy because, despite bad conditions, they do not stop producing milk, eggs, or offspring. Andrew Johnson in Factory Farming shows how this is not true, stating: “It may be said that the adaptability of these creatures is their greatest misfortune. . . . It doesn’t show they are happy, any more than a woman’s periods show she’s happy; it’s just the way they’re made” (22). The problem is further complicated because “with an instinct left over from wilder days, animals tend to hide their pain and disease lest they appear weak and easy prey for their predators” (Johnson 85).
The soil is being used, abused, and ruined by factory farms in other less direct ways. “Nearly all US fast-food chains use Central American beef in their hamburgers; vast areas of rain forest, essential to the ecological balance of the planet, are being laid waste to provide short-term pasture for this cheap beef” (Coats 163). We are, therefore, in danger of losing vital ecosystems.
Factory farm animals are infamous for their bad health, the causes of which are manifold. The unnatural feeding of hormones to these animals to accelerate growth or milk production in cows, for example, is one. Some chickens in factory farms who have been fed hormones have been reported to grow so unnaturally fast that their legs can not support their own body weights and, therefore, can not get up. The persistent overcrowding of factory farm animals compounds preexisting health problems. Johnson states: “Overcrowding may lead to feather-pecking and cannibalism unless illumination is kept very low, and the birds may be severely stressed by the difficulties they face in getting access to feeders and drinkers” (Johnson 33). Also, the security of the “pecking order,” a social hierarchy of chickens, and other birds, is disturbed.  Coats explains: “There are too many birds for this instinctively needed and well-defined order to develop. And without the security of the pecking order, normal behavior patterns are impossible and individuals become stressed, disorientated, hysterical, and aggressive to their neighbors” (87).
People who consume these unhealthy animals are more likely to become unhealthy themselves. The excess of hormones and antibiotics these animals are fed builds up in their bodies and, eventually, find themselves in the consumer’s bloodstream. One disease, trichinosis, is caused by eating raw pork and usually results in fever and diarrhea. The bacterium E. coli is well known for causing health problems to those who eat undercooked meats, as well. Lesson: unhealthy animals equal unhealthy meat.
A plan for change, therefore, is necessary not only for the health of the consumers but for the sake of animal rights. One thing we can all do is to support a change in the system. None of us has complete control over anyone else, but we certainly do have control over ourselves; we all have freedom of choice.
We can support organizations and groups who have been protecting and advocating for animal rights for years. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), established in 1980, is the largest animals rights organization in the world and, per its mission statement on its Web site, works “through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.” Donating money to organizations such as these or becoming a member are among the many ways you can help. 
Becoming a vegetarian, or better yet, a vegan, is a much more direct way of helping the cause of animals rights; if the people who commit these atrocities do not have the financial incentive that prompts them to do such things in the first place, they are not very likely to continue. The elimination of animal products from your diet will “end your direct support of factory farming, and without question, will reduce animal suffering, world hunger [since less land and resources are needed], and harmful effects on the global environment” (Coats 162). Vegetarianism is a growing movement: “Britain’s population of 65 million, for instance, boasts 1.5 million vegetarians, a figure increasing at roughly 20 percent annually, and in the US there are over 6 million people who consider themselves vegetarians” (Coats 162). Further, the health benefits of such a diet are scientifically evident: “A British study found that non-meat eaters spend 22 percent of the time in the hospital that meat-eating people spent there” (Coats 162).
On the legal front, because of contemporary deplorable factory farm conditions and practices, mandates must become enacted and action must be taken. Overcrowding and confinement is a major issue that must be addressed; gestation crates and battery cages, in particularly, must be among the first issues addressed. It is clear from nature and common sense that animals should have a minimum amount of living space that farmers should abide by for the physical as well as mental health of the animals.
The excessive and corrosive practice of feeding these animals growth hormones and antibiotics is unnatural and should be stopped. Animals should be fed natural diets and should grow naturally as they are designed genetically to do. Further, antibiotics when no disease or illness is imminent should not be used. Animals should live as naturally as possible to promote health and happiness.
Cleanliness is a serious issue neglected in factory farms. The reason is that the places where these animals are housed are rarely cleaned – it costs money to do that, after all. Psychosomatic illnesses, those that occur mentally but then manifest themselves physically, are common. These illnesses are compounded by the never-ending accumulation of filth and germs. In nature, scavengers and decomposers as well as weather help keep the environment clean. Therefore, animals should be kept in sanitary conditions that do not corrode their health.
There are especially cruel and unnecessary practices that take place regularly in factory farms that should be outlawed immediately. Beef cattle, despite having the supposedly best lives of all factory farm animals, face three main stresses that make their lives anything but good: branding, dehorning, and castration for males (Coats 95). Branding and castration usually occur at the same time, making for particularly traumatic experience:
Workers on horseback rope the calves and pin them to the ground. One worker rips the scrotum with a knife while another tears out the calf’s testicles. A third simultaneously brands the calf. Its shrieks and frenetic movements inarguably show the suffering that the young calf endures. (Coats 95)
Debeaking, faced by chicks, is the “cutting off of either the entire tip of the beak or the top half of the beak, the upper mandible. . . . A worker jams the day-old chick’s beak against a red-hot (15000 F-8000 C) metal blade for about two seconds. Part of the beak is burnt off and the tissue that could regenerate the beak is destroyed” (Coats 85). Some believe that the beak has no sensitivity. However, it contains “a layer of highly sensitive soft tissue between the outer layer of horn and the inner bone; the red-hot debeaking knife causes severe pain, but no anesthetic is used” (Coats 85). These are all blatant examples of the speciesist outlook that defines factory farms.
The benefits of making these proposed changes would benefit humanity as a whole, not just the animals that are directly saved. The health of the animals would improve the most. Free of confinement, overcrowding, stress, antibiotics, hormones, traumatic experiences and cruel treatment, they will uninhibitedly grow at a natural rate and be in a healthy state, less likely of succumbing to illnesses. More ideally, however, they will simply be able to live and enjoy life.
The consumers of animal products benefit, as well. They will consume healthier meat and animal byproducts. Such meat, for instance, has been shown to contain more protein and less saturated fat (Coats 162). Also, for those concerned, there will certainly be less guilt associated with these products as suffering is, at least, limited. The farmers will, therefore, make more money in the long run since future problems concerning ethical or environmental issues, which would drive away consumers, will not occur. Everyone benefits.
Finally, the environment and economy benefit from such changes. The environment will no longer be tarnished in the name of cheap beef. Precious ecosystems will be safeguarded. The economies of these countries, which would have suffered greatly from the loss of entire ecosystems, will bounce back from previous losses and continue to trade globally. Thus, the global economy is affected. The cleaner farm conditions and better land will yield more and healthier crops, less will be discarded, and the animals will be feed a healthier diet – making them even healthier, benefiting consumers and farmers. It is a cycle of good, and it all starts with you.
Make no mistake: the current conditions of factory farms that allow, if not encourage, them to continue their relentless torture of animals, disregard for and destruction of the environment, and consistent jeopardizing of the health of their consumers are deplorable. The plan for change includes supporting or becoming animal rights activists, mandating better conditions for farm animals, and outlawing cruel factory farm practices. The subsequent benefits will involve the improvement of the health of the animals and the consumers, as well as environmental and environmental growth.
Works Cited
       Bernstein, Mark H. Without A Tear: Our Tragic Relationship with Animals. Urbana: U of Illinois Press, 2004. Print.
      Coats, C. David. Old MacDonanld’s Factory Farm: The Myth of the Traditional Farm and the Truth about Animal Suffering in Today’s Agribusiness. New York: Continuum Publising Co., 1989. Print.
       Garifo, Chris. “Activits Fear Martinsburg Manure Mishap won’t Be the Last.” Watertown Daily Time [NY] 18 Aug, 2005. Print.
       Holmes, Stephanie. “Farm Santuary.” The Monitor [McAllen, TX] 24 Nov, 2005. Print.
       Johnson, Andrew. Factory Farming. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991. Print.
       Johnson, Jim. “Protesters Cause A Flap At KFC: Animal Rights Group Assails Chain’s Treatment of Chickens.” Monterey County Herald [CA] 29 June 2006. Print.
       Owen, Karen. “Ethics and Eating: Some Food Choices Affect More than Personal Health.” Messenger-Inquirer [Owensboro, KY] 22 July 2006. Print.
       “PETA’s Mission Statement.” About PETA. PETA. 3 Dec 2006 <>. Web.

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