Nothing will ruin lunch period quite like hearing what the government does to your food. See what happens when high school students question a vegan animal rights activist.
I had the honor of speaking in two classes at the Passaic Valley Regional High school in New Jersey. I was invited to spend some time with a passionate vegan student Alyssa Landi her attentive peers who listened to me ramble on quite a bit about all manner of animal rights and vegan topics in response to their questions.
This is part of a unique class called ‘Contemporary Issues Through Video Conferencing’ run by Ms. Kathleen Menake. The class invites guests speakers to utilize technology to create an interactive classroom and speak with individuals in diverse fields all over the world.
The students in each class asked such well-composed, intelligent questions that it was a challenge to choose one to highlight! I decided to focus on a question that ties together many important concepts touched upon throughout the classes.
As this was a live Q&A, I’ve provided below a transcript of my response to the highlighted question along with point-by-point resources for the main areas I address, which link to posts with thorough citations.
Additionally, I’ve included further resources covering the remaining questions from both class sessions at the base of this post.
Explain the relationship that our government and governments in general have with the animal agriculture industries and regulatory bodies—including money that might be exchanged, conflicts of interest, etc.
I would love to talk about that. So one of the things is that the government—especially in America (the United States) but I think other countries that I looked into as well—the regulatory bodies that are supposed to regulate animal agriculture—like the USDA—also have a vested interest. The USDA also benefits from more animal products being sold. So they’re self-regulating.
What we do in America (the United States)—they stopped doing this in Europe—but in America, for chickens, once we’ve killed them and taken off their feathers and everything, we soak the carcasses in these tanks. They just pop them into this water that this one industry specialist calls ‘fecal soup‘ because the chickens still have a lot of feces that weren’t flushed out well.
What they do is they usually hang them up, they kill them, they stick their hand down into their body cavities and rip out their organs and everything. They’re supposed to them flush out all the poop and everything. But it doesn’t always work that way because there’s the pressure for assembly lines to move ‘faster and faster’—which is how workers lose arms and everything.
So by the time they get to the water, they still have fecal matter and stuff on them. But you know chicken producers they get paid per weight most of the time, so the heavier the bird is the better. So they’ll actually even inject them with more water or let them sit there (gestures swelling with hands). So it’s like yea, you’ve got more chicken, it’s just kind of bloated with some poop water for ya’! It’s kind of astounding, but the USDA is like, “well a certain level of fecal matter is ok just cook it”.
One of the more recent speeches I did was in Dublin, Ireland. And when I was putting this together—Ireland is kind of—you know when people talk about free range, grass fed, small farms, Ireland is the embodiment of that: the entire country does it that way. So all of the dairy cattle there— they’re very big on dairy, all of the dairy cattle are grass fed out in the beautiful Irish fields— what they don’t talk about though, that they do have industrial pig farming and chicken farming.
But what I did in that speech—and I’m going to be tying this into what you’ve asked in a second— is one thing I like to do, there are so many horror stories that I can show people, I can show graphic abuse of animals that even meat-eaters are like “this is wrong, we shouldn’t be doing this to them.” And sometimes it can shock people into waking up. But I think it also leaves this door open for, “well we just need to treat them better”. So what I think is more effective is to say, “Ok, let’s look at the ideal. Let’s look at what we as a society have said “this is acceptable”. So if we look at the ideal, and even that is not acceptable to us— then it might be time to change.
One of the things I’ve done very often in a lot of my research especially going to Portugal in Ireland but in America as well, is I look at the legislation and sometimes it takes months and months of digging into, like the EU legislation, because I have yet to find a country that makes it really easy to find everything.
For one thing, in America, I think one thing that people don’t always realize, is that we have no federal law protecting the treatment of farmed animals, there’s nothing, there’s no regulation as to how they should be treated federally. There’s also something called ‘Common Farming Exemptions’, which basically means if something is done enough across industry—if enough people do this even if it’s awful— we are going to call it standard practice and it’s okay.
So in this Ireland speech, I was going way, way deep into the legislation —because the EU has some of what’s lauded as the most widest range protection for animals, great legislation— because in this thing called ‘The Treaty of Lisbon’ the EU basically was the first governmental body to legally say that animals are sentient, so it’s actually in their legislation, “animals are sentient”. So what they decided from that —now that they’re sentient and we’ve acknowledged that they can feel these emotions and they can hurt— the conclusion wasn’t “now maybe we shouldn’t kill them” —no— “now we’re going to make sure we design the right ways to kill them”.
So then they launched these different studies and everything to try and figure out how do we kill them and then they drafted this thing called, ‘The Protection For Animals at the Time of Killing’, which sounds absurd and if you really look in there, one of the things I like to talk about is the male chicks in the egg industry.
In the egg industry, the chickens who are laying eggs for human consumption, males can’t do that. And the way that we’ve specialized things: we have ‘layer hens’ and then we have ‘broiler’ chickens. So the chickens that you eat are different than the chickens who have eggs. So the male chickens of the egg industry, there’s no use for them, so then the industry —the egg industries the world over no matter how big or little— have to figure out what do we do with all these male baby chicks.
So in every country they’re killed. I mean there’s nothing else to do with them! And it’s either through gassing them, suffocating them, or grinding them alive. Grinding seems to be the preferred thing. In the EU legislation —this landmark stuff that you hear in the news— “maceration”, it’s hard to kill chicks, throw them in the grinder!
In America too it’s the standard. Ireland, it’s the standard. And the reason that they did this —I dug deep enough to find what’s called the ‘Impact Assessment’— where they’re deciding how they’re gonna kill these animals. And of course the people on the panel are the egg industry, the dairy industry, a company called Butina —which I’ll talk about in a second— and they have in there, if we gas the chicks, it’s going to cost this many euros… and that’s expensive! If we grind them up, studies have shown that it’s a negligible cost —it’s pretty cheap— so what do they put in the humane legislation? Grind them up! Grind up the baby boys.
And you know, there’s actually now a number of companies that have spent at least a million —I don’t know if they’ve gotten into the billions of dollars— trying to research a way to sex the eggs before they’re hatched. So we can determine which ones are going to be boys and then we’ll just throw those eggs away so they don’t hatch and we won’t have to kill them. Because the legislation usually says –if there is any— that they have to be killed within the first three days of life. Now we’re gonna spend years and probably at the end at least 1 billion dollars trying to figure out how to tell if it’s a baby boy. So when it hatches, we don’t have to kill him. And it’s kind of like, if we step back from it, maybe we just shouldn’t eat the eggs! Maybe we could think about that —that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this— because it’s kind of ridiculous.
So that’s something where I think… I have yet to meet a person who eats eggs that would wake up in the morning, take a little fluffy yellow chick, throw him in a blender, and blend him up for breakfast! But, when you eat eggs, that’s what’s happening! You just don’t see it, and you don’t want to connect to it. But there’s no way to have eggs without that happening. Because the baby boys are waste, they’re just waste material. So this one company is trying to develop this sexing technique, they assume it’s like 3.2 billion baby chicks are killed worldwide every year. And then the EU has their actual number listed, in the multiple millions. So, when we look at these kinds of legislations ,this is our ideal, our humane ideal of how to treat these animals.
And in the dairy industry, baby boys there are also waste material because dairy cows produce milk! Boys aren’t going to produce milk. A mother cow has a baby, and if he’s a boy he’s either taken to the veal industry, — which a lot of people even meat eaters sometimes are like “I’m not going to eat veal it’s just cruel”— so he’s shuttled either to the veal industry, where he’s tied up, can’t move and is slaughtered when he is a couple days old. Or sometimes they just shoot him in the head or they’ll bludgeon him, they’ll just beat him, beat him in the head hope that they’re going to die at some point, they don’t really check on them. They are waste. They’re waste material. Veal is the ideal because at least someone can make a profit from this baby.
And in the pig industry, in America too —it’s another humane thing if you look in the EU too— one of the ways to kill piglets that are either deformed, or a runt or their sick, or too sick there’s no financial reason or gain, or it’s too expensive to fix them. It’s something called ‘blunt force’. So what they do is pick up the baby pigs by the legs and they smack their heads on the concrete, and that’s a humane approved thing. So in America —we had this expose happen of undercover footage— and a lot of the news articles said things like “workers were filmed beating baby pigs against the pavement and they were still twitching for days later”. Because there were undercover people, they would document how long it took these piglets to die. But the things that the news articles will never tell you, because you will also find news articles about, “undercover” footage showing baby chicks being thrown in a grinder. And it’s salacious and everyone goes “oh my gosh this is horrible we have to stop this”. But then they keep eating eggs, and they keep eating bacon, and they keep eating pork, and they keep drinking milk. The connection that’s not being made is that this isn’t undercover abuse, this is standard industry practice. You know, it’s just not something the articles usually cover. So we get this impression that it’s just one place where these people were doing this horrible thing —no— there’s nothing illegal about that.
And in that expose of this pig place —workers were also abusing mother pigs because it was a pig breeding facility—so they were beating the pregnant pigs, jamming rods into their orifices, just horrible stuff. And one of the leading humane specialists in the country is Temple Grandin, if you’ve ever heard of her, she commented on one of these articles, “this is outrageous abuse” —she’s talking about the mother pigs— they say something about the baby pigs, “that’s standard practice that’s fine, but what they’re doing to the mothers, horrible”.
So in one of my more recent videos, I list all of these offenses, all of these things that are seen in this undercover investigation from the baby pigs and the mother pigs. And if you didn’t know the laws and you looked at these two, I don’t know if anyone would be able to be like “this one’s okay, this one’s not, this one’s okay, this one’s not”. Ripping out the baby boys testicles with no anesthetic? Oh that’s totally fine —because that’s what happens— you cut off their tails, you clip their teeth, you pull out their testicles, no anesthetic is required at all. And I think if people don’t know the law they assume that’s some kind of abuse that’s going to be corrected, but it’s not, it’s completely legal.
And it’s just one of the things that in this EU document as well, they talk about the CO2 chambers —and that’s Butina the company I was telling you about— it’s the way to kill pigs these days, it kind of seems like the most humane way. So pigs are kind of lowered into this CO2 chamber —the biggest ones it’s almost like a giant rotisserie— they go in there, they get lowered, and basically they burn from the inside out and they scream. I’ve been to these places, I’ve been to one in Manchester in the UK, the walls were thin enough you could hear the churning, you could hear the workers slapping the pigs, you could hear them screaming for blocks and it’s terrifying when they scream. So it’s not a calm death. It’s not a friendly death. It’s not a humane death! There’s no such thing. But this is what we look at. It’s like “ok well, the gas is like the most humane thing” and it’s anything but! On that impact assessment of course, there’s Butina: “Hey! We’re here, we’re gonna help figure out what’s the best way to kill these pigs”. And also if you buy a lot of these chambers, we’ll make a crap ton of money. But don’t worry, we’re not biased. So, in the legislation, CO2 chambers are the thing. But there is something in the legislation: we’re gonna reconsider this at some point. This, and electric baths for chickens, we’re gonna reconsider that. But the Impact Assessment deemed that it’s not financially viable right now.
The laws that we have—even at the ideal, even if we don’t look at abuse—the laws that our governments have, the regulations that we have, it’s pretty horrifying. There is no way to make dairy without taking baby boys from their mothers, and even the baby girls get taken, immediately after birth. They’re shuttled elsewhere and then they can grow up and be a big milk machine too. And cows can live 20 to 25 years. In the dairy industry, they usually give out and they become what we call ‘downers’ around 4 to 5 years old, because they are just serially impregnated again and again and again. As soon as they’ve had a baby, artificial insemination again, they get another round. And then every time their babies are taken from them.
I have a friend who used to be a cattle farmer, and she married a multi-generation cattle farmer. And she just, there was one too many times where they’d take the babies away and the mothers are chasing the trailer as their babies leave. And then they cry for days, I mean they just cry out for their babies until they go hoarse and they can’t cry anymore. And she was like “I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore”.
There is an article I found from Massachusetts, where there was Sunshine Dairy Farms, a little farm there. Neighbors were calling the police because the cows would not stop screaming out. And the police issued a report: “Ok we talked to the farmers. Don’t worry! The cows are fine. It’s just the normal part of the dairy industry, ‘cause they’re upset that their babies were taken. Don’t worry. It’s fine. It’s ok. They’re fine”.
So even when we acknowledge the fact that they are grieving the loss of their children, oh, but because it’s standard practice it’s okay. So it’s really just interesting, we have such a divide in our minds. Like pigs —pigs have mannerisms very much like dogs— we would never do the things we do to pigs that we do to dogs [sic]. And even Americans get super outraged about the Yulin Dog Festival. You know, people in that country eating dogs, that’s not cool. And never would I say that is. But if who we can eat and who we can’t eat is determined by where we are living. That kind of gives evidence that this isn’t a logical based decision of ours.
Please see below for additional resources on a wide range of topics. Each post will have links to additional posts, with the thoroughly researched ones providing detailed citations and bibliographies.
I want to thank Alyssa, Ms. Menake, and both sessions of Contemporary Issues Through Video Conferencing for welcoming me into their class and allowing me the opportunity to share this information. It was such a privilege.
Learn more about CITVC via the links below.
Now go live vegan, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick