factory farming

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Abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms, not an anomaly

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

I think by now everyone has seen or at least heard about the 4 minute undercover investigation video released by Mercy for Animals earlier this week. Workers at Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio engaged in sadistic abuse of the animals they are paid to care for. Calves having their heads stomped on, diary cows tied and then beaten in the head with crowbars, cows having their udders stabbed with pitch forks…

What industry allows employees to get away with this? Imagine an employee at a grocery store stomping on perfectly good tomatoes. They would be fired on the spot. But what if the tomatoes were too rotten to be sold? I suppose then, the employee might get away with it. Perhaps the manager would even join in on one particularly frustrating or boring day at work. I think this is precisely what happened at 4th generation, family-operated, Conklin Dairy Farms.

In the undercover video footage, you see Conklin employee Billy Gregg bragging to his new co-worker (the undercover investigator) about abusing a cow that was being sent to slaughter because her inflamed udders would not allow her to produce any more milk:

“we beat the fuck out of this cow, we stabbed her, I broke her tail in three place, kept stabbing her ass. Beat her. Next day Gary says, “we’re gonna send her to beef” Cuz she had mastitis and all. Couldn’t get her in the parlor. I drugged that cow. I beat that fucker until her face was like this big around”.

In an industry that treats sentient animals like production units and commodities, a dairy cow with mastitis is as good as a rotten tomato at a grocery store. And since there are about as many laws protecting a rotten tomato as a unproductive dairy cow, you can do whatever you like with them.

In the days following the release of the footage, the agriculture community in Ohio denounced the activities that had taken place at the farm and blamed it on one bad apple, Billy Gregg. He was charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty and has been jailed. Under current Ohio animal cruelty law, Billy will not be charged with any felonies, just misdemeanors. Before you start trashing the hillbilly Americans and their backwards law system, please note that Canadian animal cruelty laws are about the same – if not worse.

The owner Gary Conklin said in a statement, “The video shows animal care that is clearly inconsistent with the high standards we set for our farm and its workers, and we find the specific mistreatment shown on the video to be reprehensible and unacceptable”. Ironically, Gary Conklin was one of the guys shown kicking a downed cow in the video (at 1:26).

Everyone in the small Ohio farming community is putting on a fabulous display of outrage by vocally denouncing Billy Gregg’s actions and painting him as a psychologically disturbed criminal who acted alone. But no one else shown on the video has been charged with animal cruelty and the dairy farm has not been shut down.

It is clear that the community’s attempt at denouncing animal cruelty is disingenuous. If there really is a culture that rallied around good husbandry and condemned deliberate acts of abuse against the farm animals, why did Billy Gregg feel so comfortable bragging to a newly hired employee (the undercover investigator) about all the egregious acts of cruelty? If it wasn’t a socially accepted practice, why did he do it in front of his coworkers and why did the owner take part in the abuse? It is apparent that the precedent set by the culture around Billy Gregg is that abusing animals is tolerated, accepted and even celebrated.

Billy Gregg in court (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

What happened at Conklin Dairy Farms is not an isolated incident by any means. Every time an animal rights group hires an investigator to go to a randomly selected farm they come back with more than they set out to get. Even without any of the abuse shown in the 4 minute footage, Mercy for Animals would have obtained footage that documented the systematic abuse of dairy cows who are kept constantly pregnant, suffering from chronic mastitis and the killing or disposal of new born calves.

The animal agriculture industry is mostly self-regulated and it is obvious that this system is not working out. This November, people in Ohio will have the opportunity to vote for a ban on some of the worst practices in animal agriculture. It is true that the proposed law will not stop the abuses documented at Conklin Dairy Farms, but it will ensure that the animals on farms will have the bare minimum, such as the ability to turn around, stretch their limbs and spread their wings. It is not much too ask for, but even so, there is strong opposition from the farming community against the initiative to give farm animals just enough room to stretch their limbs. In fact, they are spending millions of dollars to make sure that this initiative does not pass. It really makes me wonder why anyone in animal agriculture would think Billy Gregg is a psychopath.

CBS report on antibiotic use

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

CBS News has run a 2-part story on the use of antibiotics in livestock. If you are interested at all in the health implications of animal farming, you will likely find these videos informative.

I have written in the past about some of the health risks of antibiotic resistant diseases that develop as a result of the giant petri dishes these people call “farms.”

Here is a link to part 1:

Animal Antibiotics a Threat?

And part 2:

Antibiotic-free Animals

The situation in Canada is quite likely very similar, since our agricultural systems are virtually identical to the United States, and farmers here are just as free to use antibiotics in animal feed. I will try to write a post specifically about antibiotic use and antibiotic-resistant diseases in Canada in the near future.

Waiting to die

Monday, January 4th, 2010
Waiting to die

Waiting to die

This past weekend we took at drive out through the Fraser valley to check out some slaughterhouses. It was Sunday, so none were open. These cows (not sure if they were male or female) were in a pen, just the 4 of them, waiting there to die.

It was awful being there with them and being unable to do anything to save them. If we had acted to save their lives we would be stealing someone’s property. Yet these animals have lives and desires, relationships, and feel emotions and pain, just like any of us. In other circumstances they would have lived in a herd with many others of their own kind, living out their own lives.

Hidden behind grey walls

Hidden behind grey walls

Perhaps worse, though, was driving through towns that are known for being farming communities and seeing almost no animals. I saw a handful of sheep, 3 horses, and some ducks, but we drove past huge farms that probably held many thousands of animals, completely hidden from sight.

The dominant ideology survives because it is hidden from view.

All thats left

All that's left

We are hoping to work on a project of mapping the animal exploitation industries all around us. There are even 2 federally registered slaughterhouses in the city of Vancouver (both slaughter mostly chickens). Let’s work to expose the massive machine that keeps animals enslaved and people unaware.

Uninspected slaughterhouse in NY operates for years

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Chicken photo by flickr user mark lorch

Ok, this is just plain crazy. There’s a kosher poultry slaughterhouse in New York State that has been operating without state or federal inspection since 2002.

According to a story in the NY Daily News:

A filthy Kosher slaughterhouse was able to sell more than 1.7 million uninspected birds to consumers in the past five years, a federal suit aimed at shutting the dirty Rockland County plants charges.

New Square Meats and Adir Poultry of Spring Valley stonewalled the federal Department of Agriculture, the suit says.

The plants owners managed to keep inspectors from checking their books or their facilities with any regularity since 2004, when the slaughterhouse applied for federal oversight rather than state inspections. (Source)

What I don’t understand is how it has taken more than 5 years for any legal action to be taken on this? Apparently no one from the USDA is really concerned with public safety, and quite obviously the slaughterhouse isn’t either. According to the story, “Agents found pools of stagnant water, mold growing on walls and ‘excessive fat and protein buildup on walls and window surfaces.’…”

I can’t even imagine what kind of hell it is for the chickens slaughtered there.

Across the internet this past week (late!)

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Sorry I’m late in posting this. I had a busy weekend. So I’m rolling last week and the past couple of days all together for this collection of links to some interesting articles and thought-provoking pieces from across the internet. Don’t miss Lesley’s article about gifting of animals, and also don’t miss Virginia Messina’s articles on the same subject. There’s also a post in here on the new Change.org Animal Welfare Blog, which has been quite good so far. The post is well worth reading and thinking about.


Digging Through the Dirt: Chicken Council Balks at Consumer Reports Study

Vegan Soapbox: Salmonella And Campylobacter Found In Most Chicken

Minneapolis/St. Paul News: Mist of pig brain tissue sickened slaughterhouse workers

USA Today: Why a recall of tainted beef didn’t include school lunches

Fox News: H1N1 Flu Strain Found in Canadian Turkey Flock

Reuters: U.S. finds pandemic H1N1 virus in turkey flock

JAVMA News: Pigs, people, and now, pets

Making Hay: Go Tell it on the Mountain: Think Globally, Act Locally

Peter Fricker: Animal shelters must combine compassion with responsibility

Animal Blawg: Are Seahorses Becoming Extinct?

Vegan.com: Europe Grants Animals Legal Status of Sentient Beings

Vegan Dietician: Promoting Veganism: Finding the Message that Works

Animal Person: On Scheduling Epiphanies . . . and Coral Snakes

Vegan Soapbox: Veganism Is More Than A Personal Choice

Change.org Animal Rights Blog: The Mass Killing of Wildlife for Your Burger, Cheese, and Leather

Digging Through the Dirt: ‘Julie & Julia’ Writer Assaults More Dead Bodies

Vegans of Color: Gender policing has no place in AR/vegan movements

Change.org Animal Welfare Blog: The Globalization of Animal Welfare

Vegan Etsy Blog: Eating Animals: Hiding / Seeking – the fourth chapter of the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer

Vegan Etsy Blog: Eating Animals: Influence / Speechlessness – the fifth chapter in the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer

Veg Climate Aliance: CopenVegan

Lesley Fox: If you care about world hunger, don’t give a cow

Seattle Vegan Examiner: Donations to Heifer International may do more harm than good

Seattle Vegan Examiner: Sustainable and ethical choices for reducing world poverty

Making Hay: Holiday Gifts with Compassion

New report on the long-term effects of food poisoning

Monday, November 16th, 2009

The Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention just released a report entitled “Health Outcomes of Selected Foodborne Pathogens (PDF).” It details the known health effects of the five most common foodborne pathogens.

Foodborne disease is a serious public health issue that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), causes tens of millions of acute illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths each year in the United States. While the severity of acute foodborne disease varies greatly, depending on the pathogen and the vulnerability of the person infected, the impact of foodborne illness on children, as well as for the elderly and immune- suppressed (e.g., pregnant women, people undergoing chemotherapy, organ-transplant recipients, HIV/AIDS patients), is more likely to be serious and/or long-lasting.

The primary source of these pathogens is animal agriculture: meat, egg, and dairy production. In the small percentage of cases where vegetables were the source, the pathogens likely entered the food supply via contamination from animals. Any serious work to reduce the numbers of people affected by food poisoning is going to have to think hard about reforming our agricultural system, reducing the number of animals that are farmed, and encouraging a drastic reduction in meat consumption.

Family farms are factory farms

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Today Erik Marcus wrote a post about a pig farm company in North Carolina that has declared bankruptcy. The”farm,” Coharie Hog Farms, is the 22nd largest pork producer in the United States, with 33,000 sows. The original news story states that “the company remains held in family hands.”

Some people like to say “family farms, not factory farms,” but in reality factory farms and factory farms are not opposites. Many farms are family-owned, but still large-scale operations that confine animals indoors, in pens, and don’t allow them to engage in ordinary, natural behaviours. “Family farms” vs. “factory farms” is really a false dichotomy.

Reading: a bunch of links from the past week

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Here is a batch of links from the past week or so, for your reading pleasure. Sorry to get to it so late. The biggest story was probably the HSUS veal slaughterhouse investigation, but I’ve only included one link to a story about it below. I’ll try to do a recap post about that story sometime this week.

NPR: For Foer, Meat is Murder …And Worse

New Yorker review of Eating Animals

Wolves, moose and biodiversity: An unexpected connection

Hearts on Noses pig sanctuary fundraiser at Karmavore

HSUS veal slaughterhouse investigation

Poultry giant Tyson sued by the state of Oklahoma

Meat loving cowboy is still vegan

Supervegan: Does it matter that Jonathan Safran Foer isn’t vegan?

Digging through the dirt: ‘Bones’ Features Factory Farm, Slaughterhouse Footage

VegNews interview with Jonathan Safran Foer

Change.org Animal Rights blog: There Is No Such Animal as “Seafood”

Animal Place: Divine Turkey Talk

The Vegan Dietician: No Need for Vegans to Give Up Fat, Gluten, Soy or Cooked Foods

A Trip to the PNE, Part Two: the Lies

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

In the first part of this blog post, I ended by mentioning that my co-volunteer, Joanne, had asked one of the attendants about the mother of the hundreds of baby chicks.  Well, what answer did she receive?  Not the truth, certainly: the attendant informed her that the mother chicken was “at the farm”.

A few of the hundreds of chicks at the fair.

A few of the hundreds of chicks at the fair.

This isn’t true, of course; the attendant forgot one crucial word–”factory”.  That’s right, she was from a factory farm.  Unlike most of the vendors at the fair, who dropped their names at every opportunity, the chicks had no source whatsoever.  This leads me to believe that the chicks are likely from a generic, local factory farm, and will probably end up at the slaughterhouse/processing plant at Hastings and Commercial Drive.

The attendant also forgot to mention that there isn’t one mother chicken, but many, and none of them will ever see their babies born.  Here is more info on the spectacularly horrifying life of the broiler breeder chicken, who will live her life intentionally starved and in the dark, crowded in with thousands and thousands of other birds.

Oh, and they had a sign at each of the crates of chicks.  It stated that the chicks…

…belong to a commercial breed of chicken…bred mainly for meat.  …This breed grows very fast and by the time they are 40 days old they weigh 40 lbs.

Admittedly, these aren’t outright lies, but they’ve left a few things out.  Let me help:

…[these chicks] belong to a commercial breed of chicken…bred mainly for meat.  …This breed grows very fast as a result of genetic manipulation and by the time they are 40 days old they weigh 40 lbs.  That’s right–these chicks, which you are all gushing about and petting, will be they slaughtered in just over a month.   Many of them will not make it that long.  Due to their unnnaturally fast growth, some of them will die when their hearts or lungs fail or their bones break under their immense weight.

Gee, I can’t see why they left that part out.  Learn more here.  And here’s a relevant video from Compassion Over Killing:

45 Days: the Life and Death of a Broiler Chicken

There was also a section of the fair called the Kidz Discovery Farm, and it was perhaps the worst part of the entire fair.  There, children could wander through a fake farm, helpfully provided by the BC Egg Marketers Board and the BC Milk Producers Association.  First up was the Egg Barn.  Here’s what it looked like on the inside:

Look, honey!  Battery cages aren't so bad after all!

Look, honey! Battery cages aren't so bad after all!

Wait a second…that doesn’t look anything like any battery cage I’ve ever seen.  There are one or two birds in every cage…and some of them are just hanging out on top!  They’ve even got nice, straw bedding!  I guess battery cages are pretty okay!  Oh, wait.



One more time.  A PNE battery cage farm:



Well, that looks pretty good!  Oh wait, what’s this?



The next exhibit was the Dairy Barn.  Here’s what it looked like:


Sorry about this.

Admittedly, this is a lousy shot.  But you can see in the forefront the wooden cow, which children could “milk”.  In the back is a view of an industrial dairy farm.  Even while in the barn, you could barely make out the cows in the picture.  There was also a bucket with free pints of milk for the 60% of the population who don’t get sick (well, not as a result of lactose intolerance) from consuming dairy products–which I forgot to get a shot of.

Barn 3 was the “Beef Barn”, which for whatever reason was strangely empty during the period that I was there.  I don’t know if it was the location or if most parents were less-than-eager for their children to make the connection between the cuddly baby cows at the fair and the rubber hamburgers you could pick up in the barn.

Seriously, the other barns were packed.

Seriously, the other barns were packed.

There was also a section were you could pick up plastic vegetables, but there wasn’t much to it–probably because the fruit and vegetable council wasn’t a major sponsor of the event.

So there you have it: my trip to the PNE.  Sigh.

A Trip to the PNE, Part 1: the Abuse

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I went to the PNE last week, specifically the Agrifair bit.  I can sort the problematic issues with the Agrifair into two fairly neat categories: the first involves some unsurprising animal abuse.  The second was actually far more troubling.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, the abuse.  Here is a photo of the hocks of one of the dairy cows:

Sores on the hocks of a dairy cow.  These are caused by insufficient bedding.

Sores on the hocks of a dairy cow.

As you can see, there are strange sores on the cow’s legs.  There were three or four other cows chained nearby, and oddly enough, they all had identical sores.  You can probably guess why: when they aren’t at the PNE, they aren’t resting on piles of straw.  I wrote to an organic dairy to ask their opinion, and they helpfully confirmed what I was thinking, stating that “the cow in the picture has sore ‘hocks’ and the likely cause is insufficient bedding”.  (Note: obviously I am not in favor of any kind of dairies,  since the system itself requires unnecessary suffering–but organic dairies are more likely in general to be concerned with animal welfare. Learn more about organic, “humane” animal products here.)

Here’s another fun shot.  It’s of a calf, two days old, and born at the fair.  There were six or seven other calves, all less than a few weeks old, and already separated from their mothers.  Not only that–they were all separated from one another as well.

A lone two day old calf.

A lonely two day old calf.

Now, if you know much about the dairy industry–organic or not–you’re aware that calves tend to be taken from their mothers at a very young age so that we can drink their milk.  You might also know that cows are very social animals.  When allowed to, they are form friendships that last throughout their entire lives.  The relationships that cows form with their babies is no different; in fact, when the female calves grow up and give birth themselves, the proud grandmother is there to help her offspring care for her new baby.

I think you can guess what my opinion is of the PNE’s decision to not only take such young animals away from their mothers–almost definitely permanently–but to separate them from each other.  I also have to wonder what the fate of these calves will be.  Will they become veal? Will they be raised for beef, or to be dairy cows themselves?  Will they simply be discarded?  Such is the fate of calves born to dairy cows.

Here’s another example of something troubling.  In the poultry section, I came across this exhibition of Norwich Croppers:

A sick pigeon.

A sick pigeon.

Being a pigeon enthusiast (learn more about what makes these birds so fascinating) I was disturbed by the appearance of this particular bird.  You can probably tell that he doesn’t look well.  I still wasn’t sure, though, so I contacted the Canadian Pigeon Fanciers Association.  Here is part of the response I received: “Yes in this picture this pigeon does look sick. I am not so concerned about the feathers as the dull listless look of the bird in the picture.”

We have no way to determine exactly what this pigeon was suffering from, but it is the responsibility not only of the pigeon’s breeder but the PNE to monitor the condition of these birds.   It is worth noting that pigeons, like most prey animals, generally do not reveal such obvious sickness until they are already quite ill.

There were also 12 or 15 roosters being exhibited in a series of very small cages.  They looked bored and unhappy, which should come as no shock to anyone who has spent much time around chickens.

Let me out!

Let me out!

In addition, about half of them had absolutely filthy water.  I contacted Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns about this, who stated that while though the cups were anchored to keep them from tipping over, they were not clean enough–that chickens should have “fresh, clean, clear water to drink at all times.”  I don’t want to rule out the possibility that an attendant would come through periodically to give the chickens fresh water, but from the looks of it, it wasn’t happening very often.

More wood chips in here than water.

One of many dirty water cups.

Next photo.  Yep, these are baby chicks, albeit a very small subsection of what were there.  There were, in fact, at least a hundred baby chicks in two open crates, all within a couple days of age, being heated by lamps and poked at by children.  There was even an incubation box, with eggs in it…some of which had just hatched.



Throughout this, there was a PNE attendant standing in each crate, picking up individual chicks and allowing children to pet them.

Poke.  Poke.

Poke. Poke.

Another LibBC volunteer, Joanne, asked the PNE attendant how long she would hold each individual chick while allowing children to pet them, and she told us that she usually holds them for 15 minutes each.  Can you imagine?

Joanne also asked the attendant where the chicks’ mother was…and that brings us to part 2 of my day at the PNE–the unbelievably pervasive lies.