Sarah, who grew up in a West Coast household busy with pets of all kinds – birds, hamsters, a dog, a ferret, even a python – got a BS in zoology, interned at a big-cat rescue and worked for a while at a zoo. But conflicted about caring for captive animals, she moved on to a sanctuary for rescued primates: spider monkeys, marmosets and such, recovered from private owners and research labs. Their treatment in these places – “trapped in cages their whole lives, never seeing another animal” – inflamed her to come out from behind the fence and put herself at risk for their sake.
“I didn’t know this even existed as a job, but was willing to leave everything – my house, my friends, family, whatever – and live out of a suitcase as someone else,” she says. “It’s some hairy shit, going into these barns, a girl around all these guys who’re cruel to pigs.” She was also wired up, asking lots of questions and trying to build a case against their bosses. Luckily, she wasn’t outed till after she quit, but lived in fear that her concern for sows would tip staffers off to her.
“If you do your job right, you could close the plant down and put 20, 30 families out of work,” she says. “That’s why I wouldn’t go drink with them, which it seemed they did, like, every minute they were off.” Back inside the barn, we walk the pens freely; the auction is so short-staffed that Sarah’s colleague Juan is hired to herd sold calves onto trucks. With no one around to stop her, Sarah slips through a gate and kneels beside a calf that can’t get up.
Its velveteen eyes are wet but blank; it barely stirs when jostled by other calves. “He got sick and gave up,” says Sarah, smoothing his hide with the calloused flat of a hand. “This is the second one I’ve seen, and I’ll bet there are more.” And so it goes with farmers who gave up farming to become cruel jailers of their stock. “I saw it firsthand when I worked upstate – it’s like they hate their own animals for having feelings,” says Cody Carlson, an animal-rights activist who left investigations to go to law school.
“I had a job at a barn with this sick-fuck boss who was proud of the stuff he did to cows. One day, we’re doing repairs on a gate in the barn and a couple of cows stroll over to watch us work. Well, one grazes him with her snout, just to be playful, and he smashes her in the face with his wrench. I also got him bragging about past assaults, like tying a cow to a fence and taking turns beating her, getting the other guys to work her over.
” Carlson’s secretly recorded footage, compiled over more than a month, triggered a cruelty indictment and cost the dairy a major buyer. The takedown, in 2008, was Carlson’s first assignment. Hired out of college by Kroll Advisory Solutions to gather business data, he left to find work at a nonprofit firm devoted to social justice. Neither the Polaris Project nor the Environmental Investigation Agency called back, but Mercy for Animals did.
After several weeks of training, he hired on at Willet, a giant dairy in Locke, New York, that churned out 40,000 gallons of milk a day. So damning was his footage of standard factory-farming practice – chopping the tails off calves without anesthesia; gouging the horns off their heads with hot branding irons, also without anesthesia; punching cows, kicking calves, beating desperately sick downers – that Nightline ran it on national TV, confronting Willet’s CEO on camera.
“Our animals are critically important to our well-being, so we work hard to treat them well,” droned Lyndon Odell of the 5,000 cows standing in lagoons of their own shit. Shown tape of the tortured calves, and pressed on whether a cow feels pain, he rolled his shoulders and mumbled, “I guess I can’t speak for the cow.” It bears saying here that nothing would have come from the tape if left to the whims of Jon Budelmann, the Cayuga County DA.
“We approached him with our evidence and he told us to fuck off – he wasn’t going to take on Big Dairy,” says Carlson. “It was only after we went to the media with the tape that he got off his ass and brought charges.” (Budelmann later cleared Willet of any wrongdoing, telling the Syracuse Post-Standard that while Willet’s practices might seem harsh to consumers, they’re “not currently illegal in New York state.
”) This is all too common in livestock cases. There are laws in every state barring cruelty to house pets, but almost none that safeguard farm animals. To the extent that prosecutors can bring charges, they’re typically misdemeanors that call for small fines and a ban on taking farm jobs in the future. “Despite everything we know about animals now – that they think, they feel, they form connections – we still treat them worse than dirt,” says HSUS’s Sweetland.
“The law is way behind the science, but we’re starting to make gains. Look at what happened in New York.” After Carlson’s tape aired, New York State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal proposed a law against docking, or cutting the tails off, calves, a practice as pointless as it is despicable. Three years later, the bill is still pending in the Agriculture committee. But Carlson, a lean, handsome blond of 30 who recently passed the bar, was just getting warmed up.
He moved on, in the fall of ’09, to the Humane Society and took a series of jobs at hen factories in Iowa, working for Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Foods, the second- and third-largest producers of eggs in the United States. What he saw there beggared the dairy-barn horrors: dozens of poorly vented hangar-size plants, each one housing hundreds of thousands of birds in stacked cages the size of microwave ovens.
The hens, stuffed seven to 10 in a cage, trampled each other, vying for space. Carlson, the sole attendant for 300,000 creatures, spent four or five hours a day pulling corpses from cages while trying not to become one himself. “If you haven’t been in a hen plant, you don’t know what hell is,” he says. “This gust of ammonia and urine stench hits you when you open the door, there’s chicken shit piled up six feet high before they tractor it out with Bobcats, and your nose and lungs burn like you took a torch to ’em.
” Mice, flies and feces carpeted the tiny cages, mummified birds shared space with live ones, and their eggs rolled onto conveyor belts that ran 24 hours a day. “This wasn’t some mom-and-pop – this was 10 million hens,” Carlson says. “Their eggs are in every market you go into.” Amazingly, no indictments sprang from Carlson’s tapes: This was customary industry practice that broke no laws.
But four months later, the FDA swooped in. It busted several Iowa hen farms whose vile conditions spawned a salmonella outbreak in 23 states, triggering the largest egg recall in recent U.S. history. Neither Rose Acre Farms nor Rembrandt Foods were among the factories cited.See Also: Milking Cow Breeds
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On today’s factory farms, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy, windowless sheds and stuffed into wire cages, metal crates, and other torturous devices. These animals will never raise their families, root around in the soil, build nests, or do anything that is natural and important to them. Most won’t even feel the warmth of the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they’re loaded onto trucks headed for slaughterhouses.
The factory farming industry strives to maximize output while minimizing costs—always at the animals’ expense. The giant corporations that run most factory farms have found that they can make more money by squeezing as many animals as possible into tiny spaces, even though many of the animals die from disease or infection. [embedded content] Animals on factory farms endure constant fear and torment: They’re often given so little space that they can’t even turn around or lie down comfortably.
Egg-laying hens are kept in small cages, chickens and pigs are kept in jam-packed sheds, and cows are kept on crowded, filthy feedlots. Antibiotics are used to make animals grow faster and to keep them alive in the unsanitary conditions. Research shows that factory farms’ widespread use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health. Most factory-farmed animals have been genetically manipulated to grow larger or to produce more milk or eggs than they naturally would.
Some chickens grow so unnaturally large that their legs cannot support their outsized bodies, and they suffer from starvation or dehydration when they can’t walk to reach food and water. © Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals When they’ve grown large enough to slaughter or their bodies have been worn out from producing milk or eggs, animals raised for food are crowded onto trucks and transported for miles through all weather extremes, typically without food or water.
At the slaughterhouse, those who survived the transport will have their throats slit, often while they’re still conscious. Many remain conscious when they’re plunged into the scalding-hot water of the defeathering or hair-removal tanks or while their bodies are being skinned or hacked apart. You can help end this abuse. Order a copy of PETA’s free vegan starter kit for tips and recipes to help you make the transition to a vegan lifestyle today.