In response to revelations of the horrific abuse of 800 million chickens in the United Kingdom in 2008, UPC President Karen Davis published a commentary that year in The Independent, the newspaper that broke the story. At the same time as those revelations appeared, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals published a video of Tyson workers in a U.S. slaughter plant urinating on the chickens and doing other sadistic things to them – which goes on all the time. The original commentary has been slightly edited for space.
Illustration by Nigel Burroughs
Governments, corporations and others are looking for smarter, more efficient technologies to neutralize the negative impacts of intensive farmed animal production. Billions of people on the planet, devouring huge quantities of animal products, cannot consist with “humane, sustainable” animal agriculture. If a vegan solution to our environmental and animal welfare problems seems overly idealistic, elimination of industrial animal production practices to supply billions of omnivores is even more so.
It isn’t just “factory farming.” The problem is animal farming (which is all basically industrial, because hundreds and thousands of animals in a single commercial location = industrial). Even “improved” living standards for birds and other farmed animals are far lower than the standards most people would consider minimally acceptable for animals of comparable sentience and intelligence, such as a dog, a parrot or a cat. Farmed-animal “welfare” will never come close to meeting the complex needs of the animals involved.
In addition, animal products pose a significant food-safety risk. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the major foodborne pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms including Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Listeria) that make people sick and susceptible to arthritis and other degenerative diseases are to be found in “meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.”
Given the international trade in animals’ bodies and in processed foods containing animal products – which are increasingly assembled not only from different animals but from different countries – it is virtually impossible to regulate the agribusiness economy in the interest of food safety. Each hamburger contains pieces of flesh from a hundred different “spent” dairy cows, as Gail Eisnitz observes in her book Slaughterhouse.
An icky little grease ball item like a chicken nugget is basically an assemblage of diseased flesh – skin, scabs, sores, bruises, pus. Chicken nuggets and patties supplied to the USDA’s National School Lunch Program have been said by inspectors to be made out of chickens who “usually have either airsacculitis, a pneumonia-like infection, or inflammatory process, which is similar to an infected cut.” In both cases, “pockets of pus” form in various parts of the body that can be “like a jelly.” An inspector can find “sores on 52 percent of the birds, and the company’s product still will pass inspection.”
By contrast, a vegan diet is not only an opportunity to create a less violent and toxic world, but an intelligent food safety choice. Nor will a vegan diet sacrifice jobs or ruin the economy. As long as people exist, the same amount of food will be produced and sold. Plant-powered foods have all the nutrients we need. – Karen Davis