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Help Factory Farm Animals: Support Humane Farms

by Katherine Noyes
The Challenge

You can help factory farm animals every time you visit the grocery store by choosing meat, eggs and dairy products produced on humane farms.

In the United States alone, some 9 billion farm animals are slaughtered each year for food. At most conventional farms, these animals are not treated well. With their focus on productivity and efficiency, "factory farms" generally contain many thousands of farm animals under extremely crowded conditions, and they harvest food from them as cost-effectively as possible — usually without regard to humane treatment. Instead, factory farm animals are typically treated as units of production, sometimes subject to forced feeding of unnatural diets, extremely restrictive confinement, tail docking, "debeaking," artificial growth hormones, electric stunning, and inhumane slaughter techniques.

Farm animals are not protected by federal law from cruelty on the farm, and most states consider conventional agricultural practices exempt from the scope of their animal cruelty statutes.

So, for example, if you live in the United States and eat a typical diet, you consumed approximately 30 chickens last year that were:

  • debeaked with a hot blade across the sensitive top portion of their beaks — because tight confinement causes chickens to peck each other excessively;
  • hung upside down by their feet at the slaughterhouse and attached to a moving rail while still conscious; and
  • in some cases, boiled alive

Millions of breeding female pigs, meanwhile, spend their pregnancies in small, metal crates that restrict movement. Boredom, frustration and stress can cause these sows to develop unnatural behaviors, such as repetitive head bobbing, similar to those exhibited by mentally ill humans.

Factory farming may have the advantage of producing the cheapest animal products possible, but it is not the only modern way — and certainly not the most ethical. There are a growing number of farms out there today that practice humane farming techniques, including allowing the animals access to fresh air and exercise, feeding them natural diets and eschewing hormones and antibiotics.

So even if you're not inclined to become a vegetarian or avoid animal products altogether, you can still support better treatment of farm animals by making a few informed decisions about your diet.

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The Humane Society of the United States offers a simple, "three-R" outline for helping farm animals:

  • Reduce. Start by trying to reduce the amount of meat and animal-derived products you eat, at least by 10 percent.
  • Refine. "Eat with a conscience" by shopping for meat, egg and milk products derived from farm animals that have been humanely treated. Look for labels such as "organic," "free-roaming," "free-range," "cage-free," "kosher" or "hormone free," all of which tend to be associated with more humane farming practices. A growing number of producers are even having their meat, egg and dairy products "certified humane" and label their products that way. Health-food stores are stocked with these types of products (which sometimes do cost more), but even mainstream grocery stories have begun to offer humane alternatives. For help finding local sources of humanely produced food, visit the Eat Humanely site, Local Harvest, and the Eat Well Guide, all of which offer easy-to-use lookup directories.
  • Replace. Try to substitute vegetable-based foods for meat-based ones as often as you can, including sampling delicious new vegetarian dishes once in a while. As a start, consider participating in a “Meatless Monday” program, for example. For help identifying vegetarian substitutes, visit the Compassion Action Institute, VegSource or NoMeat.com.

Finally, remember that it's not an all-or-nothing effort. In fact, there's increasing recognition for the importance of a growing category of people known as “flexitarians”--that is, those who are gradually decreasing their consumption of animal products but are not yet fully vegetarian. The bottom line is that the more you can reduce, refine or replace your use of factory-farmed foods, the better it will be for farm animals everywhere.

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