Article #5: Excerpts from "Compassion: The Ultimate Ethic" by Victoria Moran
"The new ways are solidly established. About 95% of egg-laying hens, virtually all...turkeys and half or more of beef cattle, dairy cows and pigs are maintained in some type of factory system."
Although factory farming has increased animal suffering tremendously and therefore adds fuel to the ethical vegetarian cause, it must be remembered that vegetarianism existed prior to mass-meat innovations, and its adherents eschew not just "farmed" flesh foods but also those obtained by hunting or fishing.
Up to this point, ethical vegetarians and vegans are of one mind. The difference comes in the vegan's seeing the entire animal-food and products network as a single entity:
"True, cowhide is only a byproduct of hamburger, but if cows were killed for their skins, would their flesh be any more morally edible so long as you did not wear leather?
"And what about the veal floating invisibly inside every glass of milk...There can be no quart of milk where there is not cutlet of veal. If your lips are white with milk, it is because someone's else's are red with blood."
The vegan is acutely aware that when most people stop eating meat, they increase their egg and cheese consumption markedly, "which means that any relief of suffering for the animals exists more in hope than in fact." I am personally a prime example of this: it was after becoming a vegetarian, not as a meat-eater, that I could go into ecstasy over a cheddar omelet. I probably know every eatery in Chicago's western suburbs that serves fluffy omelets. I even devised a system for protecting myself from the flat variety: a restaurant with linen napkins is sure to make fluffy omelets; with paper napkins, you take your chances! In any case, I presumed, as do most of the city-bred, that the cheese for my omelet came indirectly from a creature endowed by Nature with extraordinary abilities for milk manufacturing. It never occurred to me that the cow, like any mammalian female, produces milk for her young and must therefore periodically give birth to keep in lactation.
I shared with other urbanites the naive notion that only "surplus" milk is taken, after calves have nursed; but today almost no dairy cow is permitted to suckle her calf more than THREE DAYS, if that long. According to the 1965 report of the Brambell Committee, a British governmental commission which conducted extensive research into food-animal treatment in the British Isles, "Separating the calf from the mother shortly after birth undoubtedly inflicts anguish on both. Cattle are highly intelligent, and attachment between the call and the mother is particularly strong."
A calf may go almost immediately for slaughter as veal; and the rennet from the stomach of a newborn calf is used in the processing of most commercial cheeses, rendering the product unsuitable for even lacto-vegetarian use in the strictest sense. (Some companies do now produce rennet-less cheeses which are made with vegetable coagulants; they usually must be purchased at health food stores and are more expensive than the mass-marketed brands.)
Early slaughter may be considered a more fortunate fate than that of the calves who go to white-veal units, where their 14-week lives are spent confined in wooden crates or stalls 22 inches wide by 4-1/2 feet long.
They are fed a liquid diet deliberately deficient in iron and certain vitamins, to promote the desired (anemic) paleness of flesh. Lack of roughage induces them to nibble at their crates and hair; and no bedding is provided, lest they eat it. (In deference to non-vegetarians concerned about this situation, we may state that many have boycotted veal; vegans applaud their efforts as far as they go, but urge them to go further.)
A few males may be reared for breeding, and those females deemed suitable for raising for dairying are fed milk substitutes to encourage their precocious development so that at 18 to 24 months the continuous cycle of pregnancies may begin.
These animals also will, of course, eventually be destined for the slaughterer's; and it is curious to note that life in a beef herd is (comparatively speaking) usually much more enjoyable than that endured by dairy cows and their offspring. The calves of beef cattle are "allowed to suckle...and graze in the fields until the time comes for the fattening pens and the slaughterhouse, but the surplus calves from the DAIRY herds are often sent to market when a week old (or less) and bought for rearing in intensive beef units...encouraged to overeat and...kept closely confined so that the minimum proportion of the food is used up for their bodily functions."
The vegan does not see this state of affairs as inconsequential or even as simply "unfortunate but necessary in a les than perfect world." He regards egg production similarly. Probably no creature outside the vivisection laboratories is subject to a more pitiable life at the hands of modern man, than is the chicken. Those idyllic barnyard scenes with hens pecking outside a chicken coop and the rooster serving as a colorful alarm clock for anyone within earshot still exist in very limited number, but the eggs from those family farms don't put a dent in the number of eggs consumers demand. To meet this, severely intensive systems have been devised since cage laying and indoor confinement began their rapid spread.
Originally, one-bird per cage was the rule. When production increased slightly with two birds and no decline was noted with three, four were tried; and now five fully grown hens in a 20x24-inch cage is routine in a mid-sized hen battery like the one I visited near Yorkville, Illinois. The 300,000 leghorns of "White Hen Farms" produce an average of 100,000 dozen eggs each week for a supermarket chain. (1,200,000 eggs, or four per week per hen. -ed.)
The "house" I was allowed to tour is an older 2-deck system (that is, 2 cages high), although White Hen's more modern units are triple-tier, and some large batteries—boasting up to one million hens, sometimes packed as tightly as NINE to a standard cage—have hen tenements (henements?) 4 or 5 rows high.
White Hen manager Walt Schultz, a personable businessman, explained that "Higher densities are being researched—more layers per square foot of building...It's the only way to be competitive. We have to increase capacity to be more efficient." And efficient it is: that particular operation runs with 26 full-time and 18 part-time employees, only 8 of whom are actually involved in maintaining the (three hundred thousand) birds.
Chickens for such plants are obtained from primary breeders who cage-rear pullets to laying age. The males are spotted by "sexers" at hatching. "Usually they go into the discard box, where they are left to die. Sometimes they are returned to the incubator; the heavy door is closed, the fan is shut off, and they suffocate."
At twenty weeks, birds ready to lay are transported to the egg farm where they will spend nine months in production. Feed and water are mechanically conveyed in, and eggs and wastes are similarly carried out. "Stimulighting" from fluorescent bulbs overhead provides 17 hours of artificial daylight believed to stimulate laying.
Overcrowded conditions—with a squeeze of 4 hens into cages of 1 square foot, reported at the Hainsworth Farm in Mt. Morris, New York—mean that the birds can not spread their wings (even one at a time!) and can scarcely turn around. Wire flooring often injures their feet, and hens have even "grown fast to their cages."
Under such stresses, the instinctive social structure and "pecking order" cannot develop; the conditions instead lead to what the industry calls "vices," notably feather-pecking and cannibalism. The British found the aforementioned "stimulighting" to aggravate this, so there dimming of lights—"twilighting"—is preferred.
On both sides of the Atlantic, birds are de-beaked at one week and again at 3 to 5 months when the beak grows back. This, according to the zoologist, F.W. Rogers Bram-bell in the previously quoted Brambell Report, "deprives the bird of...its most versatile member...between the horn and the bone is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue, resembling the 'quick' of the human nail. The hot knife used in debeaking cut's through this complex of horn; bone and sensitive tissue, causing severe pain."
Every instinct—walking about, scratching the earth, dust-bathing, nest-building, mating, being part of a flock, experiencing the outdoors—is thwarted, and it all ends with the slaughterhouse and the soup can. ("Broilers" are not as yet raised this intensively on a large scale because the resultant sores and abscesses would diminish their market value.) Ironically, there are laws in both the United States and Great Britain stating that caged birds and animals be given adequate space for basic functions; in both nations' statutes, however, the loophole exists excluding those kept for FOOD from "equal rights under the law." (In other words, it is for songbirds, pets, those creatures who may normally be expected to elicit some feeling of kindness and sentiment in their owners anyway; it specifically excludes the very ones most in need of succor and most likely to be mistreated for profit. - ed.)
If "free-range" eggs were widely available (and reliably identifiable) at realistic prices, would those who are currently vegan use them? Some might (although they would then no longer be vegans) but most would still avoid them for the reasons early vegans did. To eat a fertilized egg is in effect to consume a chicken before it is born ("The ethics are borderline," I was told); and unfertilized eggs, the products of a bird's sexual cycle, can hardly be regarded as natural food for man.
Furthermore, vegans choose not to rear food animals themselves, and do not ask others to do this for them. Besides, there then must arise the insoluble dilemma of lacto-ovo vegetarianism: Given the demise of the meat industry, who is going to support hens past their prime, cows who can no longer produce milk, or the male chicks and calves who are now routinely killed at an early age? This is the question that vegan thought puts squarely before the vegetarians who, understandably, do not care for the question.
Reprinted from AHIMSA, April-June 1982
Home > Lesson 33 - Why We Should Not Eat Animal Products In Any Form
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