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There is in our modern Western world a clear disconnect between ‘dinner’

and ‘animal’: one which, in ‘Down on the Factory Farm’, Peter Singer tries to
destroy by forcibly and graphically making his reader aware of the process of
factory farming as it relates to some of our favourite foods. We begin by
learning about market broilers. These birds have the shortest lifespan of all
commercially farmed livestock mentioned—only seven weeks. But Singer
points out very clearly that these seven weeks are not easy. They grow and
fatten at an alarming rate, and quickly become crowded in the vast
windowless sheds they are kept in. As a result, they begin to show
aggression—pecking, pulling feathers, even killing one another. To minimize
the impact of their aggression, the lights are dimmed, relaxing the chickens.
Singer details the process of debeaking as a method of ‘vice’ control, but
modern broiler production practice doesn’t recommend it. Hatcheries like
Gale’s Agro Products call debeaking ‘too stressful’ and say that ‘adequate
management’ addresses undesired behavior without having to resort to
debeaking (which causes stress, pain, and reduced weight gain due to food
avoidance for an average of two weeks, nearly one-third of the broiler’s
entire lifespan). In fact, many of the quarrels Singer has with the broiler
industry have since been addressed—one of Big Ag’s biggest producers,
Perdue Farms (slaughtering 654 million broilers annually), has committed
itself to give its broilers the ‘Five Freedoms’ Singer later discusses, pledging
to use slower-growth ‘heritage’ breeds and give heir stock significantly more
space than they did when Singer wrote about them. Singer also talks
negatively about the slaughter process, saying chickens are unceremoniously
dragged out into their first taste of sunlight by the feet and thrown into the
backs of trucks. This is simply bad farming practice, as any broiler producer
knows—the morning of slaughter is a stressful time, and chickens are carried
upside down (by the feet) to calm them so that they don’t injure themselves.
Often, the trip from barn to truck is made in the very early hours of the
morning, before dawn—again, to calm the birds, much like turning the lights
off in the barn. (This is why PETA’s ‘Exposing Tyson’ videos are taken with
night vision cameras: broilers aren’t loaded in broad daylight.)
However, the poultry that got the short end of the deal are definitely the egg
producers. Battery cage farming is a shocking sight to behold: cages piled
upon cages, four or five birds per cage. Debeaking is still used frequently
here, as new egg production breeds can lay even under the stress of not
eating or drinking. And male chicks (who obviously cannot produce) are
tossed aside like garbage, macerated alive or left to suffocate. It’s a grisly
business just to put America’s favourite breakfast on the table. Public
backlash in places like the UK and Ireland have changed egg producers’
methods there, but unfortunately, in the United States, 90% of the eggs we
see in our grocery stores come from these tight wire cages (according to the
ASPCA). Only two states, California (2008’s Proposition 2) and Michigan
(2009’s HB 5127), have outright banned the use of battery cages for laying
hens. Mortality is high, but chicks are cheap, and the birds that die as a
direct result of the battery farming practice are easily replaced. And sickness

causing serious digestive illnesses. becoming stressed and aggressive to the extent where their tails must be removed the day they are born lest they be bitten off (opening them up to infection) later on. distressing both them and their mother. and kept in narrow stalls too small to even groom themselves in. Free-ranging of pigs remains voluntary. On to pigs: Singer points out that these creatures are highly intelligent. Assuming they don’t die due to stress. they are made vulnerable to disease by poor feeding (not enough quantity or variety) and the ever-present ammonia from their own urine that degrades their lungs and causes abrasions on their skin. formerly used to prevent the sow from rolling atop her litter. The cages Singer calls ‘iron maidens’. . Young calves are raised in such a way as to make their meat almost un-meatlike. However—these horrifying conditions have improved. It’s simply. The calves Singer describes are fed on a milk-like mixture instead of the hay and roughage they need for their digestive systems to operate normally. An uncommon and expensive meat.due to being given cheap feed and packed in with other stressed hens is fixed by the use of antibiotics like gentamycin and tetracycline. This makes it all the more disheartening to see the destruction of that natural social order in commercial pork production as pigs are forced into smaller and smaller spaces. pale and anaemic. All in all. scientifically. Singer saves one of the most disturbing methods of meat production almost for last—that of veal. veal isn’t produced at nearly the rate of the chicken or pig (only 450. according to Compassion in World Farming)—but the method in which it is produced is just as nasty. they are fed on milk for much longer than they would in a ‘normal’ farm environment. These animals can be so affected by the stress of confinement that they develop ‘porcine stress syndrome’— sometimes becoming so severe that the pig suddenly dies. first in Europe and more gradually here in the United States. have been banned in eight states as well as the European Union. a leader in its industry. Industrial veal production seems to go against all biological reason: calves are taken from their mothers and therefore the stimuli that helps them grow into normal. withheld so as to not darken the meat). and piglets are weaned early. have abandoned the 1 foot 10 inch stalls Singer calls ‘standard’ in favour of roomier—and more humane—alternatives. even having natural social order in groups that other animals rarely have. functional cows. wrong. Production companies like Strauss Veal. and they are deprived of essential vitamins and minerals (like iron. it saves money to be cruel—money farmers need when their stock is completely wiped out by viruses like the H5 avian influenza that decimated laying and broiler flocks from 2014-2015 (a spread almost guaranteed to have been made worse by packing chickens so tightly together in tiny cages). and is more common in the UK than the US.000 a year. Even breeding has had almost all the social interaction pigs crave removed— artificial insemination produces more piglets more reliably than traditional pig-pig intercourse.

abnormally high-energy feed. kept for milk rather than meat. and each of them produce about seven gallons of milk a day—an unnatural amount stimulated by frequent breeding. Even our slaughtering practices are ever-changing. and reduce injury risk to slaughterhouse employees). our industrial meat production system still has a long way to go to become more humane— and it’s a journey industry leaders and animal product consumers alike must take together. Indoors. decrease unsellable bruised meat output. beginning by introducing anaesthetics into the process. don’t draw a much better lot. and their rumens are subject to acidosis. for the most part. For example. have updated considerably since Singer wrote this piece. This affects beef cattle just the same: feedlot diets of corn and grains are made for maximized flesh production. castrating. they increase slaughterhouse efficiency. the dairy industry now simply prefers breeding for polled cattle rather than debudding or dehorning their calves. in turn causing painful ulceration. and the EU is phasing out pig castration. Still Singer goes on to describe the other beastly ways we treat our beasts: dehorning. and docking various animals for various reasons— practices which. There are currently about 10 million dairy cows in the United States. and their sisters. and the use of growth hormones. not overall health of the animal. . All in all. they have no opportunity to seek out the roughage their digestive systems need.But veal calves come straight out of the dairy industry. and livestock are being hung by the leg far less often for slaughter (by avoiding this.