What it Means to be “Farmed”

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As Thanksgiving creeps up and grocery stores across North America are stocked with turkeys, thousands of protesters across the globe will take to the streets on October 2 to mark World Day for Farmed Animals (WDFA), an action organized by Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) to continue the effort to raise awareness about what life is like for animals on factory farms and the compassionate alternatives available to consumers. Displaying signs with injunctions such as “End the Slaughter” and “Go Vegan!”, WDFA activists do not dance around the issues. And the issues are multifarious. The numbers alone are nigh incomprehensible; each year, approximately 60 billion animals are reared and slaughtered for food globally; 700 million of those are in Canada.

Mindful of semantics, WDFA uses the word ‘farmed’ as opposed to ‘farm’ because, says Michael Webermann, Executive Director of FARM, “it shows that these animals identities shouldn’t be tied to their use by humans on farms, and furthermore it indicates that farming is something done to the animals rather than done with their consent”.

Photo by Matt MacGillivray

Indeed, “farming” entails much more than animals standing around, getting fat, and waiting for their names to be called to make their final trip to slaughter. For cows, it entails hot-iron branding, dehorning, and castration. For sheep and goats, it entails castration and tail amputation. For chickens, it entails ‘debeaking’, wherein “the frontal portion of the upper beak is cut off with a hot blade” (WSPA). For male chicks and turkeys, it entails toe amputations. For piglets, it entails ear-notching, teeth-clipping, tail-docking, and castration. These mutilations, performed to prevent behaviours that are caused by severe confinement and genetic selection for optimal growth, are most often performed with no pain control. And this is just the beginning of an animal’s life being farmed.

Some may wonder if any of this is news, but the factory farm industry is deliberately esoteric, so organizations like FARM must work tirelessly to make the world of factory farming visible to as many as possible and to sustain that visibility. Webermann says that “with limited resources we tend to concentrate in cities where the most products are consumed, and in areas with slaughterhouses rather than factory farms, since our message is that all animal slaughter is wrong, regardless of the treatment of the animals.”

World Day for Farmed Animals began in 1983; after 30 years, are consumers getting the message? Webermann believes “we are hitting a “flexitarian” tipping point already, and that when we see young people raised eating a variety of proteins – including vegan ones – then we will hit the vegan tipping point once these vegan-familiar young people are armed with the truth about animal agriculture in their college years.” However, despite consumer habits changing slowly, life for farmed animals has not improved appreciably. Webermann notes that “while a few states have passed laws banning a few forms of confinement/mutilation, the overall situation for an animals raised for food has probably gotten worse over the decades.”

It is important to remember that, though buzz-words like “organic”, “free range” and “humane” are novelties in today’s market, the fight to reform animal agriculture from its current cruel state is largely a fight to restore it to how it once was. A 2012 report by World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) found that modern industrialized agriculture is a gross departure from our 10,000 year history of animal husbandry:

Raising animals for food is a morally-laden activity. Wherein lies the human entitlement to kill animals to satisfy our gustatory predilections? This moral question was historically answered by the ancient contract represented in animal husbandry. The loss of husbandry and its replacement by modern, industrial agriculture has destroyed the fairness implicit in traditional animal agriculture, wherein animals benefited from their relationships with humans. Contemporary intensive agriculture is far closer to patent exploitation than to a fair contract.

Of course, consent is implicit in a contract, and animals cannot give their consent to be farmed, so a “fair contract” is perhaps a misnomer in this case, but this offers some historical context. We can return to animal-husbandry style farming, or we can continue factory farming. Either way, animals are being “farmed” (though suffering substantially less in the former), and consumers concerned with the ethics of eating animals can choose vegan, flexitarian, or any of the many incarnations of “humanely raised” foods. But they can’t choose if they don’t know, and World Day for Farmed Animals is an earnest effort to show them.

Anyone interested in learning the unfortunate truth behind animal farming can watch a short video at www.InformedConsumer.com.


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