In a new feature, Rolling Stone takes a very close look at animal cruelty on factory farms. As it covers the billions of animals raised and slaughtered each year for the sake of meat and dairy put on sale everywhere from supermarket shelves to fine-dining restaurants, the piece is worth as much time as you can give it today. Chickens, cows, pigs; they’re all here, and there’s suffering involved. To make matters worse, Paul Solotaroff writes, the widespread reach of “Ag-Gag” laws — which seek to inhibit the work of whistle-blowers and activists — are now making the American way of meat much less transparent, against all odds.
The article ends on a somewhat more upbeat note in the pastures of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where livestock manager Craig Haney is setting a precedent for humane animal rearing and slaughter, but before that, it’s just a unrelenting tour through the feedlots. Here, however, are twelve of the worst things invoked along the way.
1. An activist who worked undercover at a Wyoming pig-breeding facility alleges that low workplace morale translated directly to violence against the animals. “Some moms would resist and these guys would just pounce, three or four kicking and punching a sow at once,” she says. “My first day there, I saw a sow break her leg trying to get back to her young. They shoved her into an alley and left her for a week before someone put a bolt in her head.”
2. A worker at the same facility who “seemed to take pleasure” in things like stabbing a sow with a pen, ripping the ear off another, and abusing piglets was eventually punished with a small fine and a short jail sentence, then was allowed to keep working.
3. 87,000 pounds of fecal material are produced by animals raised for food every second of the day.
4. Despite the broad reach and penalties associated with so-called “Ag-Gag” laws, which give local authorities the ability to punish anyone who covertly documents the abuse or suffering of animals in farm settings, several undercover operations still exist. Today, the group Mercy for Animals released footage shot at Greenleaf, Wisconsin, facility Wiese Brothers Farm depicting cruelty to cattle. Nestlé, which buys milk from Wiese to make cheese for its DiGiorno Pizza, has since dumped the company, a Wiese spokesperson says the company has “zero tolerance for animal abuse,” and Wiese is cooperating with local law enforcement. Here’s the video.
5. Animal cruelty is not so easily quantified: Shocking as it is, such footage has traditionally had seemingly limited effectiveness in reducing animal cruelty. “Our animals are critically important to our well-being, so we work hard to treat them well,” said one upstate New York dairy CEO on Nightline, around five years ago. After watching footage of his cows being punched, beaten, and being mutilated, he barely budged. “I guess I can’t speak for the cow,” he said. (The Cayuga County D.A. in charge of the case later absolved the dairy of criminal wrongdoing, saying the video may have been shocking, but it didn’t depict anything “currently illegal in New York State.”)
6. Activist Cody Carlson says chickens don’t have it any easier, describing this apocalyptic scene at the farm where he was in charge of maintaining 300,000 birds parceled out in cages that held seven to ten animals each: “If you haven’t been in a hen plant, you don’t know what hell is … 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.”
7. Pigs, which have been shown to have the intelligence of 3-year-old humans, are sometimes fed things like ground glass, syringes, and the “crushed testicles of their young.”
8. Cows are administered such a potent combination of drugs that their udders become distended and leak pus, and meanwhile, production of milk per animal has more than doubled in weight annually compared to 40 years ago.
9. An Ohio farmer who killed downer pigs by hanging them with chains from his forklift was found not guilty of cruelty to animals because the state has no laws dictating standards for hanging farm animals.
10. The scope of Ag-Gag laws is not limited to the realm of undercover activism: “In Utah, for instance, it’s now a class-B misdemeanor to film or photograph farm abuses, even if you’re parked on a public road and filming through the window of your car.”
11. Everything your fake-leather-wearing high-school girlfriend told you about veal is true: “The select few plump enough to be raised for veal,” notes Solotaroff, “will be chained up for months in wooden crates, force-fed a diet of milk substitute and antibiotics, and prevented from moving a foot in any direction so that their flesh turns butter-knife soft.”
12. Because of their relatively worthless market value, male offspring of Holstein cows end up at auctions where calves sell for as little as $40 each. Some are so young they “drag umbilical cords through the piss-stained straw and shit;” because most all have been separated from their mothers very quickly, almost none are fed, and sadly, they will “nurse anything resembling a teat.”
In the Belly of the Beast [Rolling Stone]