Practical Issues > Action Items > Factory Farming > Farming Index
Letters to Editors on Factory Farming
The New York Times
August 1, 2007


SECTION: Section F; Column 0; Dining, Dining Out/Cultural Desk; Pg. 5
Farm Animal Welfare

To the Editor:

Thank you for finally acknowledging the plight of the farm animals (''Bringing Moos and Oinks Into the Food Debate,'' July 25). While most people delight in having bacon with their eggs, and the commodities markets delight in buying and selling pork belly futures, it is good to be reminded that torture is still painful as long as flesh and blood is involved -- human or otherwise.

Barbara Jaffe
New York

To the Editor:

Your article perpetuates two classic myths: one, that ''reasonable'' entails a more ''moderate'' approach to liberating animals; and two, that activists want ''to simply hang out with them.'' As a 28-year-old vegan, I find no reason to compromise on the conviction that killing animals unnecessarily is wrong. Nor do I particularly enjoy being with them. The last dog I encountered tried to bite me. That doesn't mean I'd eat him.

Josh Bernstein
Los Angeles

To the Editor:

Thank you for this terrific piece on the Farm Sanctuary and the role and evolution of the animal welfare movement. Change is coming, and I am tarting to have hope that we will reach the tipping point in my lifetime.

Jane Shakman
Ossining, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Many well-intentioned people have been advocating reform of farming practices and consuming ''humanely raised'' meat and poultry. But the livestock population in the United States is roughly five times the human population. The idea that all of the cows and chickens here could ever be raised in some genuinely humane and free-range manner is implausible, so humanely raised animal food will remain an expensive niche product.

The best way to stop harming animals and the environment is to stop eating animals.

Peter Kobel
New York
The writer is a correspondent for Friends of Animals.

To the Editor:

Kim Severson's wonderful article was very encouraging to someone like me who has only recently looked inside the dirty closet of farm animal cruelty. I love animals, opening my home to foster wayward dogs. I have never been involved in rescue and sanctuary care of farm animals. I wouldn't know which bedroom to keep the cows in.

What the author did not actually state but clearly alluded to is the important distinction between animal rights and animal welfare. I tend to stand among the animal welfare crowd because it seems to  offer more leeway in accepting the acts and beliefs of others who care. But I also see the clear necessity of the animal rights activists; without them in the early days, nothing will get done. To them I say: Good job, and help us keep focused on the work ahead. But in most cases now their zeal and  often heavy-handed tactics will be mostly divisive and excluding.

Thomas Cole
St. Louis Park, Minn.

To the Editor:

Vegetarians who wish to see animals that are destined for slaughter treated better beforehand ''need'' meat eaters. Meat eaters who are conscious of the well-being of animals are the people who are creating the market demand for humanely raised meat and animal products. Without this market demand, the animal welfare movement would be relegated to a few vegans screaming at deaf ears.

It is possible to have an ethical omnivorous diet if one chooses to do so.

Although people seem to fixate on the radical notion that all vegans and animal rights activists want a permanent global ban on all things meat, the reality is that some of us just want a food system that doesn't make life misery for animals, doesn't destroy the environment and puts people back in touch with the source of their food. All in all, this just makes for better meals.

Michael Graves
Oakland, Calif.

To the Editor:

Why was Kim Severson, a writer so obviously opposed to eating a meal without animal products, chosen to report on a farm sanctuary? In her video report, her apparent glee in forgoing the vegan dinner options for the pulled pork was a jab at the efforts of the Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary.

On the other hand, it's good to be reminded of exactly what the animal rights movement is up against. She perfectly portrays people's general unwillingness to make a choice based on more than just immediate desire, even armed with the knowledge of the suffering it causes.

Kate Cohen

To the Editor:

It is ingenious that the animal rights and animal welfare groups are buying stock in the factory farm industries. This act clearly shifts the money-centered mission of large food corporations further and further towards a principle-centered mission.

Heather Shirley
Ann Arbor, Mich

The chickens in cramped cages are those kept for eggs. They're treated like egg-laying machines. After all, the operator is not going to want to go around hunting for eggs in their "large barn". The chickens roaming around in the "large barn" are those raised for slaughter. Never mind that it is a "large barn" the chicken cannot move two paces before running into another chicken. These chickens do not see the light of day and generally denied access to green grass or fresh air. Is this cruel. I would say yes. This mainstream article:  describes the operation of a large turkey farm in the U.K. If human beings have any empathy even this matter-of-fact article should make it clear that these turkeys suffer enormously in their short lives and are then slaughtered in a very cruel way.

When I was in college I had a friend who grew up on his family's dairy farm with about 100 cows being milked - each identified by a number branded into their haunch. I went to visit quite often and got to know quite a bit about their operation. Dairy cows are separated from their calves as soon as they give birth and usually the (healthy) calves are kept tied up in little plastic calf shelters. During their lives the cows are either pregnant with a calf or heavy with milk and being milked. Yes, they get to be outside in the field of mud called a pasture and of course they come and wait at the milking parlor - they realize that that's the only way they'll get relief from the weight and pressure of their distended udders. When a cow gets sick or old they're unceremoniously roped up and trucked out to be slaughtered and made into hamburger meat. Is this
cruel? Yes, yes, and yes.

In the villages of India, where my parents come from, many households have a milking cow. These cows still experience cruelty but, in my opinion, not to the extent that we see in large operations. There, the milking cow, is treated with great care since she is a significant asset to the household. The cow is usually milked twice a day but only a portion of the milk is taken leaving the rest for the calf. Where available the cow (and calf) are taken to pasture otherwise fresh leaves and grass are cut and fed to the cow (and calf) daily. In my opinion, this is all still cruel but it at least provides me with an alternate viewpoint to advocate for better treatment of farm animals.

Lastly, I would like to re-post something that a list member posted some years ago. It might even reach your cousin if you prefaced it with a reminder that all this so that he/she could have an ice-cream and a hamburger:

"Did you ever wonder how you would like it if someone shot you, just wounding you, not killing you, then they strung you up by your feet, and you are in terrible pain, remember, then they cut your throat. You are still not dead, have to keep that in mind, and you are screaming, screaming, screaming, but no relief comes to you. Instead, they lower you into a huge container of scalding boiling water while you are yet alive. The pain increases so that you are aware of nothing in the entire universe except pain. Pain has become your existence. Finally, mercifully, you die. And you welcome it as flowers welcome showers in the Spring."

- In the vast majority of cases, including the countless football field-sized sheds up and down the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia - the area with the highest concentration of "broiler chickens" in the United States - the birds live in filth. By the time they're ready for slaughter, the "litter" on which they walk, stand, and sleep is 90 percent feces. The air is filled with ammonia gas, which weakens the immune systems of the birds as they breathe it 24 hours a day.

- Due to intensive breeding, broiler chickens (their status as property reflected in their name) reach their adult weight in 7 weeks today as opposed to 14 weeks 50 years ago. The hyper-fast growth rates take a tremendous toll on their bodies. Many chickens drop dead of heart attacks during their short lives because their hearts cannot keep pace with the hyper-induced growth rates of their bodies. More common is chronic joint pain and skeletal problems from their human-induced, deformed, top-heavy bodies. In a tragic reflection of the society that creates them, frequently birds topple over because they can't support their weight, and they cannot right themselves, and they die of dehydration even though they're within inches of water. The industry tolerates this attrition as a small price to pay for the greater profits possible with the birds' lightening-fast growth.

- Chickens' lives revolve around being in a small flock, foraging in the ground, exploring, having space, dust-bathing, sun-bathing, roosting in high branches, growing up with a mother, being led by a dedicated rooster, who communicates with other roosters...Being stuck in a cavernous, featureless shed with up to 100,000 other birds deprives the birds of anything that remotely makes sense to them, of anything that gives their lives meaning, form, and joy.

- Slaughter for chickens is so horrendous, so brutal, so torturous, there are probably no words that do it justice. The broken bones from hurried chicken catchers, cramming the birds in cages on trucks, shackling them by their feet upside down, paralyzing their muscles, frequently missing an artery so the bird is still alive and bleeding profusely as he's dunked in scalding hot water... Stephen King could not conceive of such a horror. The late Virgil Butler described terrified birds hanging on the slaughter line in desperation hiding their heads behind the wings of the birds in front of them. He described the paralyzed bleeding scalded birds as screaming silently, their eyeballs popping out of their sockets.

Most of the chickens hanging from slaughterhouse lines and being tortured are only seven weeks old. Some are still peeping.

This is what investigators and reporters find time and again, for the past 25 years. This is the norm in the industry. The cruelties - and I've left out many - are pervasive.

I could add a similar litany of cruelties done to dairy cows, including the millions in dry-lot dairies that you don't see from the road. Again, we engineer these animals, forcibly impregnate them from the time they are practically children (because the industry doesn't want to wait around), steal their calves from them and steal milk from the calves, coerce so much milk from the cows that most become osteoporaic and half are lame by the time they're five years old, when they're trucked across the country and killed.

Even if we eliminated 90 percent of the cruelties, or all but one, it would still be wrong. But currently it's nothing short of an atrocity.

No one is arguing for perfect. Not even the most ardent, fervent animal rights activist. Maybe in Isaiah's prophecy or a messianic age... The goal for now is refraining from the infliction of clearly avoidable suffering and death on sentient creatures. To create living beings just to kill them - for pleasure and profit - is wrong; it violates the most fundamental precepts of every major religion. To make the created beings suffer on top of that, and to do to this to 50 billion animals every year, and to deplete the oceans of fish and destroy the earth's air, water and land - God's Creation! - largely as a result of supporting this operation, is a transgression of epic proportions, an indication that we have Fallen and brought the rest of the world down with our sinfulness, and have not picked ourselves up.

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