Thursday, April 2, 2009

CAFOs and the Inhumane Treatment of Animals

We advertise that we treat our animals humanely. Some people find this odd and will ask something to the effect of, “Aren’t all animals just raised on a farm and then slaughtered?” Or, “What kind of inhumane treatment exists at other farms?” This type of response is saddening to some degree. It shows that there are people who have little, if any, idea where their food comes from. I can’t say I blame the individual for this, I think it is more of a social issue. Our culture has been blessed to be able to go to the store whenever we want and be able to instantly buy anything we need. For some products, it may not be a big deal. I can’t say I know how the sprinkles found on a donut are made. However, when it comes to food from animals like meat, dairy, and eggs, I feel that we have a certain obligation to learn about the life that went into our food.

I recognize that everybody is unique and that just because you can’t bear to watch the slaughtering process doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consume meat. Rather, we should understand that meat isn’t created in some machine but from an animal.

The acronym CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. The majority of the meat in the US is raised in CAFOs. When it comes to pork, large buildings house thousands and tens of thousands of pigs under one roof. It is here that I feel a great deal of animal cruelty takes place.

A sow (mommy pig) is bred and often confined in a gestation crate. These crates are so confined that the sow cannot turn around or even take more than one step forward or backward. The reason they are kept this way is that when you cram this many animals under one roof, they get stressed. The stress causes the animals to start chewing on each others’ ears and tails etc… So sows are locked up “for their own safety and benefit”. Once they farrow (have a litter of piglets) they are allowed to nurse in farrowing crates for about 10-14 days at which point the piglets are taken away and the sow is bred again. As you can imagine this is very hard on the sow and they usually only live 2-3 years. Farrowing crates are like gestation crates except a section is added onto the side where the piglets stay. You see the focus of breeding has been for production and when mothering abilities started to deteriorate, pork producers began protecting the piglets from their mother stepping, crushing, or eating them with farrowing crates. When the piglets are born, they get their teeth clipped off, and tails docked. The runts are often killed the minute they are born and thrown in the compost pile since they are “inefficient”.

Feeder pigs are given 6-8 square feet of floor space for their entire life all of which is indoors. See this link from Pork Magazine where an agricultural economist is proposing going from 7.2 to 8.7 square feet of floor space per pig. Wow, how generous of them. (2 feet by 4 feet of floor space is all these pigs get.) Most pigs have never been exposed to sunlight until they are loaded onto the livestock truck and taken to the slaughter house.
In some CAFOs, workers are required to wear respirators since the ammonia levels from the pigs’ urine are so high that it is harmful to their health. Pigs in most CAFOs are constantly fed antibiotics and pesticides in their feed to help keep disease and sickness down.

Smaller operations are often no better. I always go out of my way to meet local pig farmers as Utah is not exactly known for pork production. It has been wonderful to meet new people, exchange ideas and contacts, and compare notes. It has also been eye opening to see how some farms treat their pigs. While there have been a few places that really care for their pigs like Utah Showpigs. There are many that keep their pigs in small pens and feed their pigs junk. Pigs have a unique attribute where they don’t break down all of their food. A pig’s metabolism takes some of the fat from the food it eats and deposits it directly into its own fat. This is how some farms can control the flavor of their pork by finishing pigs on apples, acorns, corn, or even milk. You can literally detect a hint of flavor from these foods. This also one of the reasons that our pasture raised pork is so delicious. The flip side is also observed when farmers feed their pigs donuts, breads, restaurant leftovers, and other processed foods as the pigs also deposit some of these foods directly into their fat. As some have experienced, this can lead to awful tasting pork that has an excess of fat. Farmers do this because it is cheap and in some cases free. Feed by the way, is the number one cost in raising pigs. I have even talked to some farmers who brag about how they feed their pigs Twinkies with wrappers still on them. One guy bragged that he only lost one or two pigs a year from the pigs choking on the plastic.

Many of the pigs at smaller operations I have visited stand 4-8” deep in their own waste. In fact the general attitude of the farmers of these operations is that as long as the pig isn’t dead and gaining weight, things are good. The animals, lack enough room to exercise, lack fresh vitamins, eat moldy processed foods, and suffer from high stress levels. There seems to be very little concern for the welfare of the animal.
Both large and small operations that treat their animals this way, most likely do it to keep costs down which benefit the customer. Many have grown immune or been desensitized to the inhumane treatment of the animals. I have found that treating your animals humanely, feeding them fresh and wholesome foods, letting them run around, and handling them gently has an abundance of rewards. It really doesn’t cost that much more although I admit it would more difficult on a large scale.

My pigs are happy, healthy, and stress free. They are also are free of antibiotics, pesticides, and artificial hormones. The ability to run tones the muscle and creates a better texture to the meat. The fresh feed, sunlight, dirt, and fresh air keep my pigs strong and healthy. Because Berkshire pigs have not been used for mass production, they are considered a heritage breed and offer some wonderful traits that have not been bred out of them. For example, my sows can farrow in deep straw beds and nurture their little piglets without intervention. Their meat is literally the highest quality meat available and taste is out of this world. I believe that our Creator has given mankind stewardship over animals and that it is our responsibility to raise these animals as humanely as possible. I believe we should do what we can to support humanely raised animals, dairy, and eggs and avoid inhumanely raised products. This is the strongest action we can take on an individual level to encourage change in the food industry.


Julie said...

Thanks for posting about CAFO's, most people are unaware that these horrific places even exist. I came across your blog while searching for local meat. My husband and I are starting to consume meat after being vegetarian for 17 years. There were many reasons we were vegetarian and most of those reasons still apply now that we are eating meat again. We will only consume meat if we know where it came from and how the animal was raised.

Thank you for offering humanely raised meat and for caring about the animals that are in your care.

Looking forward to placing an order with you soon:)

Kasey said...

I read an article about your farm on the site This Dish is Veg, and had to come over and thank you for what you do. While I'm vegan myself, I'd be happier if my omnivorous family had better choices from farms like yours.