Most people don't have the stomach to find out where all the animals they eat come from. So in resignation to this reality I have decided to list the five worst treated farm animals out there. This way, if you do care, but just aren’t ready to do much about it, you can at least try to avoid those most abused. I am not endorsing this as constituting ethical eating, but it can be a real step in the right direction
1. Turkeys – Turkeys have been so heavily hybridized and genetically modified through intensive breeding methods that they are the only farm animal that cannot naturally reproduce, and must be artificially inseminated, not a pretty job. Once hatched, they experience terrible living conditions, often necessitating the painful removal of the birds’ beaks and spurs. Turkeys also grow so fast that their bones and organs can barely keep up, and they frequently go lame, or die of organ failure.
2. Meat & Egg Chickens – Meat chickens suffer from the same problems as turkeys, minus the artificial insemination, so I am going to devote the rest of this paragraph to the egg layers: Egg laying hens have been heavily hybridized too, but the truly grotesque aspect of their lives lies in the battery cages, where they cannot spread their wings, or even turn around in their cages. These chickens have such miserable lives that many simply go insane, and all must be de-beaked to keep them from killing each other en masse. Most “cage free” or “free range” birds have it little better.* They are still crammed into overcrowded barns, which are often just as stressful as the battery cages.
3. Pigs – Okay, I know this is the “Kosher” Omnivore’s Quest, but I hope to have many non-kosher readers as well, so I decided to include pork. While not suffering the same level of genetic manipulation as chickens and turkeys, most pigs have also been bred to a very unhealthy state. This, combined with the awful conditions of the breeding sows, which are confined in gestation crates for their entire lives, together with artificial insemination, and mandatory castration for males, creates the “perfect storm” that earns pigs the number 3 spot on my list.
4. Dairy Cattle – Dairy Cattle have such horrid lives they could well have earned the number 3 spot. Not only have dairy cattle been bred to produce so much milk that many can barely stand under the weight of their huge udders; they are also given dangerous hormones to increase production even more. That, mixed with their unsanitary living conditions, and the forced confinement of calves for veal production, all make factory-farm dairy one of the worst animal products you can eat. This is especially ironic since so many vegetarians turn to dairy as a more humane choice than meat.
5. Beef Cattle – I can’t tell you how many people I meet decide to eat chicken and forgo beef for humane concerns. This just might be one of the most common and most misguided decisions I see consumers make. Beef cattle have little or no genetic manipulations, and spend the majority of their lives living on the range, eating grass. They are, however, confined to dirty feedlots and fed copious amount of grain and antibiotics for the last 5-6 months of their lives, and the males are almost all forced to undergo castration. While being far from perfect, if you are going to eat a factory-farm product, beef is probably the least inhumane one you can choose.
Another good way to eat more ethically is to stick to sheep and goat products which both tend to be at least somewhat more humane than that of the animals mentioned above. But if this list left you feeling like you never want to eat an animal again, there are better non factory farm choices out there. And my best advice is to educate yourself and know where every animal you eat comes from. The good news is you can get lots of help in the process by using the resources section of my blog for help finding humane meat, eggs and dairy today.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.