Meet Your Meat

Meat and dairy products come packaged neatly for consumers, making it easy for people to forget where they really come from. The truth is, animals on factory farms live in filthy, cramped conditions—sometimes in crates or cages so small that the animals can’t even lie down or spread their wings. Undercover investigations have shown that animals on factory farms are beaten with metal rods, punched, kicked, sexually abused, and forced onto the slaughterhouse floor kicking and screaming.

So how does meat really get from factory farms to your plate? The story is different for every animal.

Chickens

Chickens are probably the most abused animals on the planet. They are crammed into filthy sheds by the tens of thousands and forced to live amid their own excrement and the corpses of other birds. They are bred and drugged to grow so large so quickly that their legs and organs can’t keep up, making heart attacks, organ failure, and crippling leg deformities common. Many become crippled under their own weight and eventually die because they can’t reach food or water.

At the slaughterhouse, chickens are hung upside down, their legs are forced into metal shackles, their throats are slit, and they are immersed in scalding-hot defeathering tanks. They are often conscious throughout the entire process.

Birds exploited for their eggs, called “laying hens” by the industry, are crammed into battery cages, which are stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses. Confined seven or eight to a cage, they don’t have enough room to spread even a single wing. Conveyor belts bring in food and water and carry away eggs. Because their bones are so weak and their bodies so worn down, up to 90 percent of hens have broken bones or are hemorrhaging by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse.

Cattle

Cattle are castrated, repeatedly branded, and some have their horns chopped off, others have them burned off, all without painkillers. After enduring close to a year crammed into feedlots, cattle are loaded onto transport trucks and shipped through all weather extremes. At slaughter, many have their throats slit and are skinned and dismembered while still fully conscious.

Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do: to nourish their young. In order to force the animals to continue giving milk, factory farm operators typically impregnate them using artificial insemination every year. After their calves are traumatically torn away from them, mother cows are hooked up, several times a day, to milking machines. These cows are genetically manipulated, artificially inseminated, and often drugged to force them to produce about four and a half times as much milk as they naturally would to feed their calves. An industry study reports that by the time they are killed, nearly 40 percent of cows used for milk production are lame because of the intensive confinement, the filth, and the strain of being almost constantly pregnant and giving milk. More than 100,000 cows are unable to walk off the transport trucks every year, yet they are slaughtered for human food anyway.

Most male calves—”byproducts” of the dairy industry—are traumatically taken away from their mothers when they are less than 1 day old. Many are shipped to barren, filthy feedlots to await slaughter. Others are kept in dark, tiny crates, where they are kept almost completely immobilized so that their flesh stays tender. Frightened, sick, and alone, these calves are killed after only a few months of life so that their flesh can be sold as veal. Consuming milk supports the veal industry.

Pigs

Pigs are outgoing, sensitive animals. On factory farms, they spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy warehouses under the constant stress of intensive confinement and are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Mother pigs (sows) spend most of their miserable lives in tiny gestation crates that are too small for them to turn around in. They are impregnated again and again until their bodies give out and are then sent to slaughter.

Piglets are torn from their distraught mothers after just a few weeks. Their tails are chopped off, the ends of their teeth are snipped off with pliers, and the males are castrated. No painkillers are given to ease their suffering.

When the time comes for slaughter, pigs are forced onto transport trucks that travel for many miles through all weather extremes. Many die of heat exhaustion in the summer or arrive frozen to the inside of the truck in the winter. According to industry reports, more than 1 million pigs die in transport each year, and an additional 420,000 are crippled by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse.

Because of improper stunning methods, many pigs are still conscious when they are dumped into scalding-hot water, which is intended to remove their hair and soften their skin.

Fish

More than 40 percent of all the fish consumed each year are now raised on land- or ocean-based aquafarms. Land-based farms raise thousands of fish in ponds, pools, or concrete tanks. Ocean-based aquafarms are situated close to shorelines, and fish in these farms are confined to cramped net or mesh cages.

Fish on aquafarms spend their entire lives in crowded, filthy enclosures, and many suffer from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. Conditions on some farms are so horrendous that 40 percent of the fish may die before farmers can kill and package them for food. Fish who survive are starved before they are sent to slaughter in order to reduce waste contamination of the water during transport. Salmon, for example, are starved for 10 full days.

In the wild, hundreds of billions of fish—along with “nontarget” animals, including sharks, sea turtles, birds, seals, and whales—are caught each year in ocean-ravaging nets or dragged for hours on long lines for the commercial fishing industry.

Whether the fish are raised on aquafarms, caught in the ocean by giant nets or long lines, or hooked at the end of a fishing line, eating them supports cruelty to animals.

Fortunately, you can help alleviate animal suffering by switching to a vegan diet. There’s no better feeling than being able to say that you save more than 100 animals every year just by choosing not to eat them!