The Sad Truth Behind your Food
Dairy Cows: Born as Waste
‘Pixie’ from Greener Pastures Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Marjie Bremner
Cows are gentle creatures which have been known to possess many emotional qualities and exceptionally strong maternal bonds with their calves. They are perceptive, sensitive and highly attuned to each other; and are known to grieve and become distressed at the loss of their bovine family and friends (Hatkoff, 2009).
Most people are unaware that in order to produce milk, dairy cows are kept almost continually pregnant throughout lives. Like humans, the mother’s milk is generated for their children so they can live and be healthy. In Australia alone, over 700,000 bobby calves are born as ‘waste products’ from the dairy industry. Born to keep their mothers producing milk, these week old calves are then tragically slaughtered. Milk sadly comes from grieving mothers where their babies are forcibly taken from them, usually within 12-24 hours after birth. There are many accounts of cows trying to hide their newborn calves so they won’t be taken for slaughter, like countless souls before them.
Dr Michael Klaper, an American physician describes a scene from his youth:
“The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm…A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf… On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn – only ten yards away, in plain view of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth – minute after minute, hour after hour, – were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.”
The Great Egg Deception
“Amnesty” pictured above, was one of the first animals rescued by Animal Amnesty. She was, and continues to be a large driving force behind the group and their brilliant Animal Rescue Team. Traditionally thought of as unintelligent, chickens are not only capable of complex thought processing, but display an array of characteristics such as bravery, devotion to their own offspring and attachment to humans whom show them kindness. Furthermore, chickens are very social, forming strong bonds with their siblings. It is well documented that individual chickens have changed in their personality when their siblings unexpectedly died, or were forcibly taken by humans (Hatkoff, 2009).
Most Australians are aware of the cruelty associated with caged eggs (11-12 million ‘battery hens’ throughout Australia are kept in small cages, less than the size of an A4 piece of paper) throughout their short and very sad lives. These hens suffer tremendously and the restricted movement, constant exposure to a wire floor and lack of perches, lead to serious bone and muscle deformities. But what most people don’t realise is that there are two equally heinous issues which are largely hidden from the public:
What happens to the male chicks who are born, and are deemed ‘useless’ in the egg laying industry? (You’re going to be shocked)
Just how ‘free range’ is free range?
As with the bobby calves in the dairy industry, male chicks are also born as waste products in egg farms across Australia. Male chicks have no value to the industry and they are killed by gas and/ or maceration. Maceration means that male chicks are ground up alive and as a result, some 12 million male chicks each year are killed in their first day of life. This barbaric cruelty is permissible as it is outlined in the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry. Similarly, hens are also slaughtered years short of their natural life span. Hens naturally live for around 10 years, but most layer hens in Australia are sent to slaughter as soon as they exceed their ‘use by date’-from just 18 months old. When this occurs, battery hens are forcefully pulled from their cages, often through cage doors so small that their bones break in the process. They are then packed into crates and trucked (often long distances) to the slaughterhouse.
If this wasn’t concerning enough, the ‘Free Range’ debacle may well add to your unease thanks to clever marketing schemes. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term ‘free range’ in Australia, so standards between free range egg farms can vary dramatically. While 1,500 birds per hectare is the recommended maximum, this is not enforceable and large scale producers are keeping their hens at much higher densities to cash in on the growing market for ‘humane’ free-range products. Free range hens are not exempt from a short productive life span, the maceration of male chicks and like caged hens, are sent to slaughter houses at 18 months of age.
In Australia, around 5 million pigs are killed every year for their flesh. Pigs born and raised in factory farms suffer tremendously and live their lives entirely indoors in restrictive sow stalls. Sows (female breeding pigs) are so confined by this stall that they are unable to turn around or walk. When the sow gives birth, she is moved to an even smaller ‘farrowing crate’ where her piglets are weaned through the crate’s metal bars (see picture below).
In factory farms, piglets are removed from their mother after only four weeks, from which the mother will then be returned to the sow stall. Here she is once again impregnated, thus continuing the cycle of abuse. This horrifying cycle will be repeated for a sow until she is no longer able to become pregnant, and is thus sent to slaughter. For many factory farmed pigs, the journey to the slaughterhouse is the only time they will ever experience the outdoors. Pigs are both extremely intelligent and incredibly gentle animals whom love to be in the company of their own kind; and consequently become distressed when they are separated or forcibly removed (Hatkoff, 2009). Their intelligence makes them susceptible to depression and despair in factory farms.
Most Australians are still unaware that around 95% of the pigs raised in Australia are factory-farmed. People are therefore unwittingly supporting this cruelty by buying ham, bacon and pork. I know it might taste good, but have a look in the eye of this mother and decide if it’s worth those few minutes of taste.
Chickens bred for meat (Broilers)
Chickens are the largest number of intensively farmed animals in Australia and suffer some of the most extremist acts of cruelty. In Australia, broilers live in total confinement systems and are crammed into large sheds. Here they are forced to stand in their own excretement, causing a range of diseases such as eye and respiratory damage. Furthermore, chickens are drugged and selectively bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate, almost three times as fast as they would normally. Due to this rapid rate of growth, many chickens develop skeletal and metabolic disorders which cause suffering, pain and death. It’s estimated that 90% of chickens have a detectable abnormal gait at the age they are slaughtered.
As they approach 6-8 weeks of age, the chickens who have survived the inhospitable conditions are grabbed by their legs (many have their bones broken during the process) and shoved into cages to be trucked to slaughter. During transport (which can be many hours non-stop) the birds are exposed to weather extremes, and are not provided with any food or water. Most disturbingly, once at the slaughterhouse, chickens are shackled upside down by their legs. They are then electrically stunned, have their throat slit by a motorised blade and then passed through a chamber of boiling water to remove their feathers. Some unlucky birds may not get properly stunned, and on occasions, may face the motorised blade fully conscious.
So what about ‘Free Range’ Chickens? As mentioned earlier, there are no consistent or legally enforceable definitions for chicken production systems in Australia. ‘Free Range’ chickens do not necessarily have access to the outdoors and can still be crammed into large sheds with up to 10000 other birds. It’s also important to note that the fast growth rate, suffering and inhumane slaughter procedures are common across all chicken production systems — whether factory farmed or ‘free-range’.
Sheep and Lambs
Naboo and Rachael Badger at Greener Pastures Sanctuary.
Does your cat love to rub up against your legs? Well according to Michele Hollow (2014), sheep do too! Sheep are placid animals whom experience strong bonds with their flock, and exhibit increased anxiety when they are separated. Sheep possess fascinating cognitive qualities such as being able to recognise and distinguish between photographs of the faces from their own flock, as opposed to strangers. They are also known to read the emotional cues from both humans and sheep, with studies showing that sheep reacted to facial expressions and preferred a human face that was smiling and showing kindness, as opposed to one that is showing anxiety or hostility (Hatkoff, 2009)- Well wouldn’t you?!!
Sheep raised for meat and wool are some of the most prevalent farmed animals in Australia. Millions of these animals suffer and die every year because of neglect. In cold parts of the country, newly shorn sheep, newborns, pregnant and mother ewes regularly die of exposure to the cold. Diseases, parasites, foot problems and lack of food during drought regularly go unaddressed in an attempt of farmers to cut costs. Mortality rates are very high among lambs with an estimated 20% of them dying in the first few weeks of life.
Around 33 million sheep are killed every year for their flesh in Australia. These innocent animals are crammed into tightly packed trucks and can face up to 48 hours without access to food or water as they are trucked to slaughter. At the abattoir, sheep are forced down narrow chutes and wait helplessly for their turn to enter the abattoir, where they will be electrically stunned. Finally their throats are cut and they are hung by their legs on an overhead conveyor line, to let the blood and life drain from their body.
Cows for meat
“Hermione” at Greener Pastures Sanctuary.
Hermione, pictured above was destined to be someone’s meal, but thanks to Rachael Badger at Greener Pastures Sanctuary, she will spend the rest of her life in safety. As with humans, cows also have personalities and Hermione is no exception. Hermione is a ‘break-free’ extraordinaire and regularly escapes her paddock daily to get to the hay rolls.
There are roughly 29 million cows in Australia, and most of these are raised to be killed for food. The rest live in a continual cycle of reimpregnation and milking until finally, they too are killed each year. Approximately 1 million gentle souls are exported across the world to face brutally cruel deaths.
Upon slaughter, these animals are crammed together on trucks, often terrified and disorientated, as they are transported to the abattoir. They are deprived of food and water, and most are forced to stand for the duration of the trip (which can be up to 24 hours) due to overcrowding. At the slaughterhouse, these sentient beings walk up a raceway where they enter the stunning box. Within seconds of entering this box, an operator stuns the animal by forcefully striking them on the forehead using a bolt to induce unconsciousness. After they are stunned, their throats are slit and they are hung up-side-down for their blood to drain from their body.
The process for producing veal is one of the saddest of all factory farming procedures. Whilst the female calves born to the dairy industry are raised to replace their mothers as milking cows, the male calves are destined for veal production. ‘Veal calves’ are raised in a crowded barn or a ‘veal crate’ – a tiny wooden box which is so small that the animal cannot turn around, lie down, or stretch. This is designed to limit the young animal’s movement so the meat becomes more ‘tender’ in order to produce ‘gourmet’ style veal. These young calves are deprived of their mother’s milk and are extremely weak and fragile. Veal crates have been illegal in the UK and Europe since 2007, but are still used in Australia.
Once at the abattoir, young bobby calves are penned (usually overnight) to await slaughter first thing in the morning. All this time they will not have access to liquid feed, will not be provided with bedding and will be terrified without their mothers in sight.
Fish are often the forgotten victims in food. Fish have a nervous system very similar to ours and other mammals, and therefore feel pain. As Dr Tom Hopkins (Professor of Marine Science at the University of Alabama) states: “Getting caught by a hook is like dentistry without novocaine, drilling into exposed areas”. As these animals are dragged to the surface in huge nets, many are crushed to death under the weight of the other victims. The majority of fish die from decompression due to the rapid change in pressure, which causes fish’s eyes and organs to literally explode.
Trawling is one of the most common forms of commercial fishing, and also one of the most destructive on the environment and marine eco-system. Here large nets are dragged through the ocean catching everything in their way, including dolphins, sharks and many other animals. It’s estimated that 60000-97000 tonnes of non-target animals are caught in Australian waters every year as ‘waste’. Fish farming is equally destructive where densely populated conditions cause stress, pain, pollution and a breeding ground for disease.