Column: Big ag rife with unjustified cruelty |

Column: Big ag rife with unjustified cruelty

Mary Boland
Staff Photo |

While I have long known that our industrial agriculture involves unnecessary cruelty to animals, I have put it to the back of my mind, hoping the situation might improve on its own. I based that hope on the growth in sales of food labeled organic and on the degree to which people are slowly starting to eat less meat.

But I was shook up recently as I read Sonia Faruqi’s new book, “Project Animal Farm.” Sonia was a young, recently graduated young lady working as an investment analyst on Wall Street until she was laid off after the 2008 crash. She intended to go back to Wall Street and her high salary, but thought she’d take a year off. And somehow she decided to pass a few weeks of that time visiting an organic farm.

But when she arrived at her “organic” dairy farm, she got a shock.

“Each cow lived as cramped in her stall as a big foot in a small shoe.” Though every cow’s hindquarters were caked with a crusty layer of excrement, she was helpless to turn her head to clean them. Just behind her back hooves lay a manure gutter … above her shoulders dangled a device called a ‘s[***] trainer’…”

The trainer is a metal rod that punishes the cow with a jolt of electricity whenever she does not position herself precisely and precariously at the stall-gutter boundary as she defecates. These devices are painful and cause stress and nervousness in cows. They are banned in Sweden and parts of Germany.

This was not what Ms. Faruqi expected to find on an “organic” dairy farm. The cows were trapped from ahead, above and behind. They were treated not like living animals but as though they were just milk machines. Our author couldn’t help but feel she had to discover more.

And so she began what turned into a long and fairly exhaustive investigation of animal agriculture around the world.

Despite the fact that major industrial agriculture states such as Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Utah have passed “ag-gag” laws making it a crime to enter, photograph and write about factory farms, Ms. Faruqui managed to charm her way into quite a number of them, admittedly under false pretenses. What she found left her in no doubt as to why the owners of these operations would be ashamed and afraid for the public to see them.

As if the deliberate cruelty was not enough, the atmosphere in almost all these CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) was so toxic with ammonia and manure dust that even long-term employees could not bear to remain inside them for long. Of course, increasingly they don’t have to because automation is getting to the point that workers can just stay outside and push buttons or type on keyboards.

Not only are the animals’ living conditions cruel and horrible, but they are really tortured from inception. Artificial insemination enables the breeding of animals who put on weight so fast they cannot even stand. It has also destroyed a tremendous amount of genetic diversity. Consider that millions and millions of dairy cows all over the world are parented by only a few bulls.

Of course, the very worst practices were found at the non-organic farms. These include feeding cattle remains (rendered bone and meat meal) to chickens and then feeding the chicken excrement to cattle. This practice is known to put cattle at risk of mad cow disease.

But even most organic farms leave much to be desired. Requirements to allow animals to move freely — after all, they’re called animals because they’re animated — need strengthening as do those pertaining to required hours outside and on pasture.

And organic farm inspection is a almost a joke. The inspectors are paid by the farms being certified. They have no incentive to lose customers by penalizing or decertifying them. Of course inspectors should be paid for by us through our government.

The only way to escape from all this — other than being a vegetarian — is to buy only beef, cheese and milk that’s labeled to be from 100 percent grass-fed animals. Pork, poultry and eggs should be at least organic, but organic and free range is better, and from a local producer you have inspected is the best.

And the more you can reduce your consumption of meat and dairy, the better it will be for the planet and for your health. Meat twice a week is more than enough in the opinion of most respected nutritionists.

Americans happily spend more than $55 billion per year on their pets, but they are illogically stingy about paying a little more for quality food that would promote and protect their health and the health of the environment. Oh, well, I never said we are sane.

I dare you to read Ms. Faruqi’s book.

Mary Boland’s column appears on the second Thursday of each month. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.

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