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Ethical Eggs, Dairy and Meat

Ethical Eggs, Dairy and Meat

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Sheryl Eisenberg

Used with permission of NRDC - This Green Life

There is something terribly wrong with the industrial agriculture system that produces almost all of our country's eggs, dairy and meat. By wrong, I mean unethical, and I am not talking about the killing part at the end of the process, but everything that precedes it. I am talking about the way farm animals are treated for the whole of their lives.

It goes by the name of factory farming because it deals with animals as just so many inanimate parts on an assembly line. The treatment involves great cruelty of a kind we outlaw for animals in pet shops and zoos. Only livestock is allowed this kind of abuse.

Nearly all of us are implicated in it. Vegans are an exception, of course, and more power to them. But most of the rest of us, meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, perpetuate the abuse, not by intention, but by its opposite, inattention.

We ignore what could be easily known—that factory farm animals, including dairy cows and egg-laying chickens, suffer such severe crowding, they cannot steer clear of their own manure. Egg-laying hens do not have room to flap their wings; sows, to turn around. In place of food, factory farm animals get feed, which may include waste and parts from other animals—even animals of their own species. They are routinely exposed to crippling health conditions and disease from agricultural practices to accelerate their growth and they undergo painful, non-medical procedures, from debeaking to tail docking (amputation), without anesthetics. It can be safely said, without anthropomorphizing, that a factory farm animal's life is not worth living.

There are two ways you can stop supporting this abuse. One, of course, is to quit eating animal products altogether (or even most of the time). By joining the ever-growing ranks of vegans, you will have the satisfaction of knowing no animals were killed, hurt or even made uncomfortable for your eating pleasure.

The other way is to limit yourself to animal foods that are humanely produced. How can you recognize them? When shopping at a farmers market, ask the farmers about their practices. (For help on what to ask, visit Sustainable Table's handouts page and scroll down to the list of Questions to Ask handouts.)

Here are some of the key practices that indicate a humane farm:

  • Chickens are uncaged, spend a significant portion of their day in the real outdoors (not a concrete yard) and receive high quality food that includes grasses, grains and insects. Egg-laying hens are not force molted, which involves starvation, and poultry are not given growth promoters.
  • Cattle are raised on pasture and eat only (or mostly) grass, hay and silage. Cows raised for dairy are not given rBGH, and cows raised for beef spend little or no time in the feedlot.
  • Hogs have housing with proper bedding that allows them to root and nest, are provided with access to the real outdoors (not a concrete yard) for a good part of the day and can forage for roots and bugs in the dirt. Sows are not confined to farrowing pens, and piglets are not bought from other farms where their mothers were so confined.
  • The animals do not get antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes.

When shopping for animal products online or at the supermarket, look for a reliable eco-label guaranteeing that stringent standards to protect animal welfare have been followed. The standards should include all or most of the criteria listed above, and then some. Adherence should be verified by third-party certifiers. As of this writing, Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Humane are the best such labels. Other choices include American Grassfed and Food Alliance Certified. Check out their websites to learn where to get products certified by each.

What is not a meaningful indicator of animal welfare are the words "free-range," "free-roaming," "cage-free," "grass-fed" or "natural" on the product label. They are marketing terms for the most part and do not guarantee what they seem to promise. For instance, a so-called free-range animal might never even get outdoors.

As to the cost of humanely raised animal food, yes, you guessed right, it's higher. A decent life, even of the most basic variety, can't be had for a bargain basement price, as any pet-owner knows. Sometimes we just have to put our money where our mouths are.

For more information, click here.

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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

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They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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