“Food integrity and humane handling whistleblowers should not have to rely on an undercover video investigation in order for USDA supervisors to take their disclosures seriously,” Dr. Wyatt told the subcommittee. “It seems almost unbelievable to me,” he said, “but I have been ignored by my own people and have suffered physically, emotionally, and financially in the process. More importantly, animal welfare and food safety have suffered as well.” Turn this situation around and being attentive to enforcement is critical, and long overdue for an agency that has become dangerously close to the industry it is charged with regulating.
The meat industry has forever called the shots at USDA, and profits handsomely from an array of federal subsidies. But it is essential for animal welfare and food safety that the USDA take an independent and principled approach to enforcement of humane handling rules at the slaughter plants, and really focus on the details, in order to prevent the horrible cruelties that The HSUS has documented at Bushway and at the Westland/Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino, Calif.
The Twenty Eight Hour Law is a vital law as it grants animals basic necessities during travel. However, this act does not include any regulatory scheme, resulting in records of extreme and entirely avoidable cruelty, including confinement exceeding 35 hours, broken limbs, severe overheating, dehydration, and frequent fatalities. These conditions can result in animals becoming “downers” — too sick or injured to walk — which, in turn, has very grave consequences for both animal welfare and the health of American consumers.
There are no federal laws governing how animals in agriculture are raised, or limitations on how the facilities affect the environment,. Factory farmed animals are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act, so it is currently up to state laws to ensure prohibition of animal cruelty, but this results in inconsistency of humaine, cruelty-free treatment. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), passed by the USDA in 1966, “is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers” (12). The AWA also includes unannounced visits from veterinary medical officers to facilities.
If animals were placed under the protection of the Animal Welfare Act, their health and wellbeing could vastly improve, as well as consumer safety. But, AWA excludes animals intended for food or fibers. This means that factory farms do not have to abide by the rules of the act. This also means that these animals are not protected against the inhumane treatment of workers and large corporate businesses.
Factory farming needs to be subjected to stricter regulations because its current operations cause harm to humans and animals, and will only lead to a declining environmental state in upcoming years.
Today’s broiler chickens have been bred selectively since the 1950s to produce meat—breast meat in particular—and to produce it quickly. A modern meat chicken weighs up to three kilograms: almost double the size of a chicken from 60 years ago. And their breasts are 80 percent larger. They also manage to reach this size in six weeks, whereas it took a bird in the 50s up to 15 weeks to reach its fully grown (but much smaller) size. Not surprisingly, this accelerated growth leads to health problems and suffering for the animals. The rapid growth rate of broiler chickens makes simply moving from one place to another a difficult and painful task. A 2008 study of more than 50,000 chickens found that by the age of 40 days, over 27 percent of the birds had impaired locomotion capabilities and 3.3 percent were almost unable to walk (14).
This large percentage of lame birds becomes even more disturbing when we consider that chickens whom the farmers considered lame had already been culled due to welfare policies. These disabilities largely stem from the imbalance in the birds’ bodies; due to excessively large breasts, they are “front heavy,” which adds to the strain on their legs (15). Other factors caused by rapid growth—including micro fractures and degenerative bone disease—also contribute to this lameness. Another study found that if lame birds received painkillers in their feed, they would become more mobile. In fact, lame birds actually chose analgesic-laced food over normal food, which non-lame birds did not do. (16) This leads to the inevitable conclusion that a large percentage of “meat” chickens are in pain for at least a portion of their lives.
In the 1950s, the typical dairy cow annually produced about 5,300 pounds of milk a year, however, now the average dairy cows produces roughly 20,000 pounds of milk. Dairy cows are now forced to produced more than 10 times the amount they would normally. This can lead to mastitis, a bacterial infection that is in the udders. Symptoms of this infections can include swelling, heat, and redness. Mastitis can also affect the milk by making it watery, clots and have pus. Normally, milk has what are called somatic cells, but with one in every six dairy cows having mastitis with a somatic cell count of more than a million in a teaspoon is uncommon but is caused by the infection. According to the USDA, with a cell count this high it’s, “When a cow is infected, greater than 90% of the somatic cells in her milk are neutrophils, the inflammatory immune cells that form pus (13).” Most animals would be given antibiotics however dairy cows are not because drug residues immediately appear in the cow’s milk — a violation of food safety rules. Cows testing positive for antibiotics forces farmers to have to pull all of their milk for a couple of days until they test clean. This results in a lot of money lost which would deter a farmer into giving the needed medication.
Animal factories threaten animal welfare by confining animals in crowded conditions indoors, often severely restricting their movement, and relying on a variety of animal drugs and painful physical alterations to keep the animals from getting sick or injured in spite of their living conditions. Animals in CAFOs are “tightly crammed, caged, and sometimes even chained or tethered,” unable to turn around or lie down. Packed by the thousands or tens of thousands, they are “often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at plants or insects, scratch the earth, or eat a blade of grass.” Poor ventilation causes buildup of toxic gases that cause illness or even death. Living on concrete floors causes increased agitation, biting of penmates, and lesions.
Animals are not the only ones suffering because of these unnatural, inhumane conditions. Human health is being hurt by the intensive farming systems employed on factory farms. Farms that are not properly maintained can be breeding grounds for Salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens that can be passed to humans through meat, dairy and eggs, as well as through person-to-person contact. To combat unsanitary conditions, animals are fed large doses of antibiotics—but bacteria is constantly adapting and evolving. Misuse, overuse and dependence on antibiotics in our food system creates the potential for dangerous, drug-resistant strains of bacteria to develop and spread among people and animals.