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6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated by the Food Industry

Food
6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated by the Food Industry

By Martha Rosenberg

The horrors of factory farming are multifold. Treating animals like heads of lettuce—“forget it's an animal" says one farming magazine—has created institutionalized ruthlessness toward animals, workers and the environment at the same time it harms humans who eat the products. Factory farming even damages the economy thanks to meat-related obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and greedy, short-sighted land-use policies. 

While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, some practices like breeding animals into mutant-like parodies of their original species and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.

Photo: Getty Images

1. Greed-Driven Mutilations

It is possible to practice animal husbandry in a way that an animal only has "one bad day" (the day the animal is slaughtered), but thanks to factory farming, which packs animals together over their own waste, they endure a lot of additional suffering.

Chickens are "debeaked" during their second week of life "to prevent cannibalism and feed wastage," says an online guide for chicken growers—though the industry's abusive battery egg cages, not the animals, are responsible for the "cannibalism." Debeaking, partial or total removal of a bird's beak with a hot knife or laser while it is fully conscious, causes “intense pain, shock and bleeding,” says veterinarian Nedim C. Buyukmihci, emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California.

A similar fate awaits pigs who respond to unnatural conditions by biting each others' tails. The factory farm solution? Cut off their tails with a pliers and no painkiller—an institutionalized mutilation called tail docking.

Cows also have their tails docked for what factory farmers call "hygiene" and "milk quality" as well as their horn buds burned off with no painkillers. When video footage depicting both procedures at Willet Dairy in New York state aired on ABC's Nightline there were calls for laws against the cavalier cruelty. Nor are debeaking, tail docking and horn bud burning factory farming's only mutilations. Animals also endure dubbing, the removal of combs on birds, detoeing and declawing and mulesing—removal of a sheep's hindquarter skin.

If veterinarians practiced the same procedures on pets without painkillers, they would lose their licenses and face criminal charges.

2. Fast Growth Diseases

Thirty years ago pigs, chickens and cattle did not look the way they do today. Thanks to growth-producing chemicals and selected breeding, factory-farmed turkeys can barely walk and can't fly at all or reproduce because of their extreme meat-intensive physiology.

Chickens grow so intensely that if they were human they would weigh 500 pounds at age 10. The frenzied growth makes them prone to "flipover disease" in which the metabolic strain causes sudden death. Pigs given the growth drug ractopamine, illegal in many countries, are so muscle-bound they are practically non-ambulatory. “Simply, the pig will go down and not be able to get back up,” said Gary Bowman , an Ohio State Extension veterinarian with the College of Veterinary Medicine. Visitors to factory pig facilities have to wear biosecurity suits because "the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems," read an article in Rolling Stone. 

Under the use of the Monsanto-created genetically altered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), the udders of dairy cattle become so engorged, the animals can barely walk. The painful infections (called mastitis) the animals develop along with their shortened life spans and weakened conditions when they arrive at slaughterhouses, often as downers, are the ultimate crime against nature. Many grocery chains have renounced rBGH but some operators still use it for the "cost savings.

3. Crimes Against Marine Life

While production of the fast-growing frankenfish, the AquAdvantage salmon, has temporarily halted, greed will likely prevail in aquaculture as it has in factory farming. The salmon, created by crossing a Chinook with an ocean pout and a wild Atlantic salmon, grows twice as fast as normal salmon, reaching its full size in 18 months instead of three years. Though the fish's creators and the government say it is no different from normal fish, in studies AquAdvantage salmon had high incidences of "jaw erosion" and "focal inflammation" (infection), low glucose levels and a possible "increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1]" compared to normal fish.

Like their factory farming counterparts, AquaAdvantage salmon promoters extol the reduced carbon footprint that can be achieved by squeezing animals together. Yonathan Zohar from the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland said at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearings that the fish can be grown at up to “80 to 100 per cubic meter”—which is bumper-to-bumper fish.

Is it ethical for a swimming animal to spend 18 months practically standing on its tail, in the interests of making more money? Is it ethical to expose wild fish populations to the aquaculture-generated sea lice which has all but decimated salmon farming in Chile and Norway?

4. Brave New Animals

While cloning was once the next big thing, it has lost its luster because of a problem called "epigenetic dysregulation" which causes up to 90 percent of cloned offspring to die. In fact, so many animals die to make one surviving clone that the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies said "the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones" renders it not "ethically justified.” Cloned offspring "tend to be large for their breeds, and often have abnormal or poorly developed lungs, hearts, or other affected internal organs (liver and kidney), which makes it difficult for them to breathe or maintain normal circulation and metabolism,” says an FDA report. The problems are so common in cloned cattle and sheep, they are called Large Offspring Syndrome.

Still, scientists at the University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have a clone product they are pretty proud of. They have developed “White piglets with muscle tissue larded with omega-3 fatty acids,” that can lead to "healthy pork," reports the New York Times, because such fatty acids are linked to a lowered incidence of heart disease.

“People can continue to eat their junk food,” rhapsodized Harvard’s Alexander Leaf. “You won’t have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need.” Aren’t animals great?

5. Veal and Bob Veal Calves

Male calves are an unwanted byproduct of the dairy industry to keep cows pregnant and yielding milk. Calves to be sold for "bob veal" arrive at slaughterhouses weak and injured testified a federal meat  inspector to Congress. After their truck journey, they are forced to endure "yet another 12-18 hours without food, when already they had been deprived of sustenance for perhaps days, since they were usually removed from their mothers immediately after birth," said veterinarian Dean Wyatt. "It always broke my heart that employees would carry the bodies of these dead baby calves out of the pen because they died of dehydration and starvation." Male calves not sent to slaughter at birth are grown for marketed veal products in crates in which they can't turn around or in outdoor sheds. 

Such treatment is tolerated because the allegedly dumb animals don't know what's happening to them or suffer psychologically. But undercover videos clearly show mother cows rushing after their babies as they are taken away for veal. And the haunting bellows of mother cows deprived of their young are so loud, they regularly inspire people living near the farms to call the police. The newborn calves also know their loss. Calves being sold at Cambridge Valley Livestock Market for $40 a head, some with their umbilical cords still attached, swarmed a Rolling Stone reporter who entered their pen. "Since being ripped from their mothers, they’ve barely been fed and will nurse anything resembling a teat," he wrote. "They find one, of sorts, in my leather jacket. Its worn-in hide must taste like love."

6. Newborn Chicks

Like male calves in the dairy industry, male chicks are unwanted byproducts of the egg industry because they won't turn into laying hens. While the egg industry regularly disputes the mistreatment of grown laying hens documented on many videos—sick, infected, featherless hens sometimes standing on dead cage-mates—they do not dispute the fate of newborn male chicks: they are ground up alive in a process called maceration.

"There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens," said spokesman United Egg Producers Mitch Head to the Associated Press after release of video showing the newborns being fed into the blades. "If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need."

Other egg-related industry tactics, while not as cruel, are just as shocking. In 2008, USDA caught Tyson injecting antibiotics  directly into the eggs of future laying hens, despite its "no antibiotics" advertising claim. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the vaccinations with the human antibiotic gentamicin are "standard practice," though the drug is far from harmless and comes with a rare black box FDA warning for renal, auditory and vestibular toxicity. Eggs with embryos are also sprayed with ammonia, phenolics and peroxides. 

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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