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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.