Educational Series: Factory Farms

Earlier this year, animal activist group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) entered a factory farm in Utah that is owned by Smithfield Foods with the intent to expose allegedly poor treatment of their animals. While there, they found what they perceived to be two piglets struggling to survive. According to DxE, they were both around half the weight of a healthy piglet, were laying in their mother’s feces, drinking their mother’s blood, and had open wounds on their feet from getting their little feet stuck in between the bars of their cages.

Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of DxE said in a statement, “rescuing them was an act of compassion, not a crime. But Smithfield doesn’t want the public to see the horrifying truth of how they produce their pork.” Both piglets, named Lily and Lizzie, are now living happy, healthy lives at a farm sanctuary after receiving extensive medical treatment by a veterinarian.

Smithfield’s statement was that “Direct Action Everywhere released an undercover video showing its creators trespassing onto company property, breaking into a barn, stealing animals and violating Smithfield’s strict biosecurity policy to prevent the spread of disease onto our farms. The video features blatant inaccuracies and assertions, which could not be further from the truth.”

The FBI has now become involved, performing raids on at least two animal sanctuaries in search of the missing piglets, turning up empty handed. They have been seeking DNA samples, and in one attempt to gather evidence, cut a one and a half inch section from two ears of one pig, leaving onlookers horrified, screaming and crying. Witnesses claim that the FBI did not continue their search after that incident, saying they did not seem to know what to do with the pigs.

In July of this year, a federal judge in Utah overturned that state’s ag-gag law that bans filming undercover videos at farms and slaughterhouse operations citing it to be unconstitutional based on First Amendment free-speech protections. With Smithfield no longer on legal footing to go after the whistleblowers for filming an undercover video of their operations, DxE believes they are taking another approach through intimidation factors with the FBI raids.

What are Ag-gag laws?
Ag-gag laws have one sole purpose. They aim to prevent and punish whistleblowers and animal advocacy groups from exposing animal abuse and food safety violations conducted on factory farms. These laws not only prevent the making of undercover videos, but they also allow employers to go after employees that falsely represent themselves on job applications when that employee is actually working undercover to expose the facility’s operations. Six states currently have ag-gag laws in place, Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina, and federal judges have struck down the law in Idaho as well as Utah, finding the law to be unconstitutional.

The problem with factory farms
There are many issues with factory farms that range from animal abuse to environmental to health related.

The overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions at factory farms make the spread of germs and disease much easier. With thousands of cattle packed into manure filled feedlots, the bacteria spreads from their hides into slaughterhouses, and eventually end up in our grocery stores. Diseases can spread so easily, one contaminated animal has the ability to contaminate thousands of pounds of meat. A good example of this is from the egg recall in 2010 where half a billion eggs were recalled for potentially being contaminated with Salmonella. All half a billion of those eggs were from just two Iowa egg companies.

The ease with which diseases can spread is widely known and accepted, so instead of creating healthier environments for the animals, a large portion of factory farms have chosen to give regular low doses of antibiotics to their animals to keep them “healthy”. These antibiotics are given to cows far beyond just to those that are sick. Healthy cows are medicated as a way to prevent diseases from spreading, as well as to promote their growth at unhealthy and unnatural rates. This can lead to antibiotic resistance bacteria that can affect humans. “A problem so serious,” the World Health Organization said “that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine. A post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can kill, far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”

Factory farms in the United States are responsible for 3 times more waste than its entire human population combined, resulting in more than 1 million tons of manure produced every day. This waste accounts for 37% of all methane gas emissions (a gas that has 20x the global warming potential than CO2). Also, the waste is often improperly stored in leak and flood prone lagoons polluting surrounding waterways, as well as utilizing the manure as fertilizer without being treated causing dangerous level of phosphorous and nitrogen in our waterways. The animals’ daily doses of antibiotics are also known to turn up in our drinking water. Beyond the waste, these farms are also driving much of the deforestation occurring around the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 70% of the Amazonian rainforests have been turned into grazing pastures, resulting in 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 being emitted into our atmosphere every year.

Also, these factory farms are adding pressure to our already overly stressed water resources. Beyond the water needed for watering crops for animals to eat and providing billions of animals drinking water, these farms also use water to clean their farms, trucks and slaughterhouses. It is estimated that producing one pound of beef requires 1,581 gallons of water, equal to 100 showers.

Animal Welfare
The majority of factory farmed pigs and chickens never see the light of day. While cattle do get access to the outside, they are often kept in overcrowded spaces filled with manure and have no access to grass, their natural food and environment. Chickens are exposed to horrific treatment like beak removals to keep them from pecking at each other in their overcrowded spaces, and like the farm DxE broke into, pigs are often confined to cages so small they can’t turn around. Instances of forced cannibalism and other forms of criminal animal abuse have also been documented by undercover investigators. These stressful, unhealthy and dangerous living conditions are no way any being should live.

What you can do
Avoid factory farmed foods, eat less animal products…or even go animal product free! Eating less meat or going vegan protects farm animals, the environment and your health. Be vigilant with your purchase power. Avoid companies that do not use ethical practices in their food production, and when shopping for your food, buy foods that are labeled organic and antibiotic-free. You should also look for labels such as Certified Humane, Non-GMO Project certified, Animal Welfare certified, and Rainforest Alliance certified. This will help you know that these products are produced on farms that follow strict guidelines for the animals’ well being, as well as the environment. We need to support these companies, as well as buy locally whenever possible. Labels such as “100% natural” carry no value, as there is no defined meaning of the term “natural” and no oversight as to who can include that on their packaging. Finally, speak out for those that can’t speak for themselves. Educate your friends and family, make your voice heard through petitions, by calling your government representatives, and most importantly, stay informed.

As for the FBI’s search for the missing piglets, it is still currently an open investigation.

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