The Viva Vine: vol #5, no #1: January / February 1996

The Dirt on Farmers

( new VivaVine department)

Since I've had access to the Internet, I've had easy access to industry literature of animal agriculture. The University of Pennsylvania offers a mammoth size archive on line of hard core advice for farmers. The archive goes by the name Penn Pages. You get into the site by telnet; log in your two-letter state abbreviation. Once you're in at the Penn Pages opening menu, you can do keyword searches. Keywords I've used have been: "veal," "hog," "poultry," "ostrich," just to name a few. I've uncovered a lot of incriminating material from an animal rights perspective. In this new department of The VivaVine, I will show a few of the more egregious examples of commonplace techniques used on today's food animal assembly lines, revealed by the people who study and write in the so-called animal agriculture sciences.

Perhaps we don't think of farmers as bad people. There's this ingrained attitude most of us have that the farming profession is undeniably wholesome, beyond reproach. Think again. Animal agriculture has always been undeniably cruel to animals. But now, animals on today's farms, read animal factories, live out existences beyond our worst nightmares.

A window on their world

Penn Pages has given me a window to peer through into the nitty gritty day-to-day management practices of today's animal handlers. And oh, slaughterd pig paintingby the way, they know we're out there, we animal people. They definitely know the difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Animal welfare people are how they describe themselves. It is a sugar coated term to describe the handling of animals for the good of those who exploit them, that is, handing animals so that they don't die and cause economic losses to the farmers.

[Slaughtered Pig, painting by Werner Brenner,
was exhibited at The Vegetarian Art Show in May of 1995.]

Rights? Animals simply have none. Not in farmers' eyes; and luck would have it, not in the U.S. government's eyes either... From a letter I received from the USDA, in response to a letter I wrote to it calling for the abolition of the veal crate (accompanied by 28 pages of signed petitions) I was told that the Animal Welfare Act as passed by the United States Congress does not pertain to animals raised for food or fiber.

Handing Hogs

Under keyword search, "hog," I found Kenneth B. Kephart's essay, "Handling Hogs," (October, 1994). The Extension Swine Specialist of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University writes, "If we totaled all the marketing losses nationwide, we'd find that over 250 hogs show up dead at packing plants every day. That's more than we could fit on one tractor-trailer load and amounts to about $27,000. Although most of these deaths are probably avoidable, the industry regards them as acceptable. Who's to blame? I think all of us."

The essay gave precise quantities of space to the amount a hog needs on a truck in transit--dependent upon weather. It gave advice about the amount of feed (or lack of feed) to give a hog prior to slaughter. It gave advice on how to goad a hog that will not move:

Kephart writes: "Now there's the obvious question of what to do when hogs come to a stand-still. A slap on the back might work. But a shocker, in my opinion, is just as humane when used properly. A slight touch of electricity will almost always get a hog moving again. The key is to use it when there is only one way to go--forward. Therefore, use the shocker or slap the hog that's in the front of the pack and already pointed in the right direction."

It doesn't take a lot of imagination

Mr. Kephart's summary gets to the heart of the matter: "Death losses during transport are too high--amounting to more than $8 million per year. But it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out why we load as many hogs on a truck as we do. It's cheaper. Even with a zero death rate that might be associated with providing more space on the truck, the hogs that we save would not be enough to pay for the increased transportation costs of hauling fewer hogs on a load. So it becomes a moral issue. Is it right to overload trucks and save 25¢ per head in the process, while the overcrowding contributes to the deaths of 80,000 hogs each year?"


Next issue: Apologists for the Veal Crate

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