March 14

Ban gestation crates

19  comments

pigs-in-gestation-crates.jpg
I’m a meat eater. I love meat. I firmly believe that meat is the most nutritious food available, providing the best nutritional bang for the buck we can get. As a meat eater with a conscience I understand that the animals that provide me with the majority of my calories make the ultimate sacrifice to do so. I believe we should all strive in whatever way we can to make this ultimate sacrifice as humane and painless as possible.
But not only should we work to ensure a humane slaughter, we should also work to ensure that these animals aren’t forced to live out their lives in wretched conditions. To this end, the banning of gestation crates for sows is long overdue.
An editorial in today’s New York Times spells it out:

Of the 60 million pigs in the United States, over 95 percent are continuously confined in metal buildings, including the almost five million sows in crates. In such setups, feed is automatically delivered to animals who are forced to urinate and defecate where they eat and sleep. Their waste festers in large pits a few feet below their hooves. Intense ammonia and hydrogen sulfide fumes from these pits fill pigs’ lungs and sensitive nostrils. No straw is provided to the animals because that would gum up the works (as it would if you tossed straw into your toilet).
The stress, crowding and contamination inside confinement buildings foster disease, especially respiratory illnesses. In addition to toxic fumes, bacteria, yeast and molds have been recorded in swine buildings at a level more than 1,000 times higher than in normal air. To prevent disease outbreaks (and to stimulate faster growth), the hog industry adds more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates. This mountain of drugs — a staggering three times more than all antibiotics used to treat human illnesses — is a grim yardstick of the wretchedness of these facilities.
There are other reasons that merely phasing out gestation crates does not go nearly far enough. Keeping animals in such barren environments is a serious deprivation. Pigs in nature are active, curious creatures that typically spend 10 hours a day foraging, rooting and roaming.
Veterinarians consider pigs as smart as dogs. Imagine keeping a dog in a tight cage or crowded pen day after day with absolutely nothing to chew on, play with or otherwise occupy its mind. Americans would universally denounce that as inhumane. Extreme boredom is considered the main reason pigs in confinement are prone to biting one another’s tails and engaging in other aggressive behavior.

When I was growing up I spent a lot of time on my grandfather’s farm way out in the country in southwest Missouri. He raised hogs and chickens and had a herd of dairy cattle that he milked twice a day. All the animals had plenty of pasture and were well treated. The hogs (there were probably 10 or 12 at any given time) had about an acre or so of space that they roamed around it. The area–except for the trampled ground around the feeding troughs–was in waist-high grasses that the hogs made paths through and rooted around in. The hogs, as far as I can remember, never bit off one another’s tails and weren’t particularly aggressive. They spent most of their time either laying in the shade of the several trees that were sprinkled throughout the lot or nosing around here and there in the grass. As far as I’m concerned, this is how hogs should be raised. I’m sure it makes for a better quality of meat; I’m also sure it is much more expensive. But how much is it worth to ensure that the meat you consume comes from humanely raised and slaughtered animals. I guess it’s a personal choice, but for me, it’s well worth the additional expense.


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  1. The irony…if the animal rights wackos like PETA would only shift the focus from supporting terrorism and that all-out campaign against use of animals for any purpose to a campaign for humane farming and a return to traditional forms of animal husbandry, they would be a much more effective organization.
    I also find it interesting that the more they allow the animal to behave as the animal would, given its druthers, it makes for a more wholesome meat.
    The other day when I was in the store, I saw a carton of newfangled eggs. Being a curious person, I looked more closely to find out how those eggs might be different and how it justifies the cost. “Vegan raised–all natural” it said. Now…as someone who used to raise free range chickens, I can promise you they are not “natually” little vegans. Grasshoppers, slugs, spiders and insects of every type…even the occasional chicken egg. You have got to wonder at the nutritional quality of a vegan egg. I gag at the thought. It does push definitions of “natural” a bit, but anything to get a product into “Whole Foods” these days seems to be fair game.
    Hi Anne–
    You are right on the money about PETA.  If they would shift their efforts to promote humane farming instead of the idiocy they do promote, I would send them money.
    I spoke with hundreds of small natural food vendors at Expo West, and the one goal they all had in common was getting their products into Whole Foods.  I can imagine that most would do or say about anything to do so.  Even to the point of raising vegan chickens when, as you point out, chickens are anything but in their natural habitat.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  2. Thanks Dr. Eades: Arnold the pig from Green Acres would be appalled. I agree that paying more to support humane animal practices is good (we use Lasiter Grasslands for beef, and free-range chicken and organic eggs are easier to obtain), but in my case,in Rhode Island, finding pork raised under similar conditions has been more difficult. Any sources (perhaps mail-order) for pork or ham?
    Thanks,
    David and Susan
    Hi David and Susan–
    Here is a link to many farms in Massachusetts that sell humanely raised pork.
    You can find such farms all over the country by checking out Jo Robinson’s great website.
    Give me a report if you try any of these sources.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  3. You’ve never seen a look of self satisfaction until you’ve seen a hen chase down and swallow a mouse whole…
    I always laugh when I see “vegetarian” eggs in the supermarket.
    Regards,
    Craig.
    Hi Craig–
    You must have spent time on a farm, too.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  4. This is so bad!
    What can be done to step up pressure to ban this practice now, instead of a phase out?
    Hi Tena–
    I don’t know, but I’ll see if I can find out. I posted a while back on a film made by a group opposed to factory farming.  Might be a good place to start.

    Cheers–
    MRE

  5. Thanks for a good awakening here. You know, I had a couple people when I was in high school try to get me to turn vegetarian because of the inhumane way they treat some animals. In fact, they tried showing me a brochure with some pretty ghastly pictures while I was eating chicken nuggets. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t eat chicken nuggets for a few years just because of the association.
    However, it certainly didn’t dissuade me from eating meat, because I felt the argument they made was invalid, simply because (1) you can’t argue man wasn’t made to eat meat and (2) promoting vegetarianism does nothing to change the way these animals are being treated.
    Going back to your posting, it really brings light to eating organic and healthy/humanely raised foods. I’m assuming to go along with what you’re saying, Whole Foods would be an acceptable place to shop? What about Trader Joe’s? I often shop at Safeway myself (especially since meat and produce can sometimes get pricey), but the more I think about it, the extra expense is worth it to have a cleaner conscience (and probably a healthier body, too!).
    Hi Michael–
    Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have pasture-raised, grass-fed meats available.  Probably more at Whole Foods than at trader Joe’s.  You can also check out Jo Robinson’s great website for locally-raised meats all over the country.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  6. my grandparents had a farm in Missouri too, in a little place called Hartshorn. I remember walking out with my grandmother to feed the pigs, I especially remember her voice: “soooooooo eeeee pig pig pig piiiiiiiiggggg!” to call them in for their supper.
    Ok, that’s it, no more supermarket pork for me.
    Whaddaya know about Berkshire pork? sounds like the real deal to me.
    Hi mrfreddy–
    My grandparent’s farm was in Halfway, Missouri, which isn’t all that far from Hartshorn. My grandfather called the hogs pretty much the same way your grandmother did. Here is a post I wrote about calling the hogs.
    Berkshire pork is fine. As I recall Berkshire hogs are black with white feet, and are pretty tasty. As long as they’re raised and slaughtered humanely, I would go for it.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  7. Wow! I read this post only minutes after a dinner of porkchops baked slowly in an unusual BBQ sauce (family recipe handed down a few generations that takes 5 min of prep and 1.5 hrs of baking). The chops were from a small family “hobby” farm in north San Diego County. So good! And rasied the way pigs should be raised. This was my first order, and I’m sure I’ll make many more.
    Delivered weekly to a meeting point in my town along with 3 dozen truly free range eggs, country sausage, apple sausage, and ground lamb, and lamb chops, for about $30 (each meat package averaged 1.5 lbs) so I think the price is quite fair. I hope to add raw goat milk to make cheese when the goats have finished birthing.
    We are planning to make a few changes to our garden so we can keep a few chickens for eggs; I will probably source them from this farm and buy any supplemental eggs that we need, too. We consume 3 dz eggs a week for our family of 3. We can’t keep that many chickens!
    I can’t share my source, because they aren’t USDA approved or certified; they add clients by word of mouth referrals (how deliciously clandestine and unofficial!). This sort of thing probably isn’t for everyone. The nice thing is that this couple sells by the package or the side/quarter, but they can also sell an entire animal for those with large freezers. Within reason, they seem to be able to make accomodations for special requests for processing (I like small roasts and smaller freezer bundles for a small family, for instance). I also like a lot of ground meat because my son likes it better. Hopefully that will change as he gets more molars.
    It has taken awhile to make this connection; I came up short in many web searches and found this one just by talking about food with anyone I thought might have similar food/nutrition interests; I struck gold with a massage therapist who buy from this farm.
    It can take a while to make these connections, but it is worth the wait for those who care about the source of their meat and animal products. Check at the county fair; there are 4-H kids ready to sell their animals and connections to be made. Call the local 4-H chapter. In my area, several small state-licensed butcher have processing facilities and they are available to transport the animal and process it after a sale at the fair. Many kids raise college money with animal sales. At first it seems expensive when an entire animal is considered, but it could be a year’s worth of meat and much better than grocery store meat to boot! And perhaps it could be split between several parties. Freezers don’t cost that much (new ones are more efficient); my difficult decision was where to put the freezer. For me, an upright freezer was less likely to result in “lost” food and took up less floor space.
    If the first attempt isn’t what is expected, then try again with another source. This sort of farming doesn’t produce conformity from farm to farm, even in a the same area.
    There are alternatives, and they are worth supporting.
    Hi Anna–
    It’s too bad that people have to be secret about doing what farmers have done from time immemorial just to stay clear of our own government.
    MD and I buy our pork from a local purveyor that we sought out.  It’s hard to believe that it’s this difficult to find meat from animals raised and slaughtered humanely.
    Best–
    MRE 

  8. I was horrified by this article. I knew factory farms were bad but I had no idea that they were THAT bad. Yuck. I am not wealthy but I am definitely willing to spend a few extra bucks on meat that only had one bad day in its life. Sadly, in this day and age, I wonder if “vegetarian-fed” on an animal product is often code for “we did not feed this animal meat or blood of its own species.” Apparently it is still perfectly legal to feed calves with cow blood, mad-cow disease notwithstanding.
    I have never killed a warm-blooded animal but I used to fish a lot and have killed an eaten some pretty big fish (salmon, halibut). The fish tasted fabulous, and when eating it I felt a connection with the land and sea, and even with the fish itself. I did not enjoy killing them, but I certainly did not feel guilty about it. On the other hand, I do feel guilty about supporting such horrid farming practices. If you hear of a group that is working to end such practices by supporting humane farming rather than veganism, please let us know.
    Cheers,
    Beth

  9. Great post Dr. E! I agree with the comments regarding PETA; it shouldn’t be about not eating animals, it should be about not eating animals that have been raised inhumanely.

  10. I always wonder when I see pieces like this -if we could still feed the world or our US population if we adopted these types of farming practices (humane, organic)? Such practices would net less yield per acre than we currently support. Maybe less food in the market or higher prices would be good? This may force us to bring down the size of our appetites and bellies.

  11. “Vegan raised–all natural” it said. Now…as someone who used to raise free range chickens, I can promise you they are not “natually” little vegans. Grasshoppers, slugs, spiders and insects of every type…even the occasional chicken egg.
    You have to wonder what Einstein thought up “vegan raised” eggs? Isn’t that like a total waste of time since no vegan is going to eat eggs anyway?
    Hi Regina–
    An Einstein indeed!  Probably the same one who came up with the idea of as advertising plant products as being ‘cholesterol free.’
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  12. This has been a difficult post for me to read because of the picture. Things like that tend to stay in my mind for a long time and needless to say, this one truly makes me sick to my stomach. To treat animals- and gestating ones at that- is just wrong, wrong, wrong. You and Anna both echo my view that if only PETA would focus their efforts to the horrors of factory farming and leave those farms alone where the animals actually have a life before slaughter, I’d be throwing money at them too. My uncle has a small farm that I spent many a summer visiting growing up and one of my favorite memories is giving the couple of pigs that Uncle G. had a shower with the hose when it was hot. I’d run the water up and down their backs and they’d jostle each other trying to get under the spray. Once they were satisfied, they’d amble off and collapse in the shade with grunts of contentment. I don’t know who got more pleasure out of it, me or them.
    And yeah, every time I see those cartons of eggs proclaiming the chickens are vegetarian/vegan raised, I have to laugh. Uncle G’s chickens sure spent a lot of time chasing down tasty insects.

  13. For my money, its easy to use animal welfare issues as excuse for a bit of violence and generally being obnoxious.
    I’m wholly on the side of humane treatment however.

  14. My Diet:
    7 eggs – whey powder scoop
    4-8 cups non-fat yogurt/cottage cheese
    1-3 cans water based tuna
    some butter and cheese
    honey products
    200 gr protein
    This is my animal part of my daily diet – although I consider the herbs I eat as coming first in importance –
    2- tsp cinnamon
    2- tsp parsley-fennel-dill-cumin-mint
    and a bunch of others
    I mention this for suggesting somewhat of what mindset I come from –
    I grew up on a dairy farm also for the most part – a few of the good memories were my grandma’s chicken coop – she really loved her chickens –
    there was a 30×50 roofed shed with about thirty wooden boxes sort-of against the wall in rows above one another –
    and they had this long trough of well water they drank out of – and we fed them this chicken mash from gunny sacks –
    I could never figure out why they kept laying eggs – because we stole them from every day –
    I remember when I was 18 or so and it was real cold outside –
    I thought the chicken’s must be cold – so I put a three feet deep layer of straw in their pen –
    I thought they would burrow underneath and stay warm – like a blanket –
    well – they – the chickens – got pretty pissed off – and just stayed on top of it-
    My uncle and grandma and grandpa though this was pretty funny that anyone would be so dumb –
    Their was one aspect of farm life I never felt right about – the castration of pigs or bulls –
    and refused to participate in – in what I considered a sick practice –
    The animals probably don’t care that much – but I do or did –
    And these castrated steers is pretty much what people eat – that or sick or old dairy cows –
    I remember one morning my grandpa decided it was time to get some meat –
    So he finds this one dairy cow and shoots it in the forehead – with a single shot .22 – it just stood there as if nothing had happened – so he shoots it again – and again – and again – it took twenty or more shots before the animal fell – and then he had too slit it’s throat while it was still dying –
    This is the most sickening thing I have ever witnessed – it made me physically sick
    I haven’t eaten beef or chicken for twenty years or so and never plan too again –
    The cow being shot had nothing to do with it however – exactly
    It was about thirty years later that I decided to get drunk drinking whiskey in a bar – when I normally I would drink only beer –
    After the bar closed I went to this coffee shop and while drinking coffee I might have told some creeps in a spot next to me too f**8 off or something –
    Anyway – we ended up outside where the guy I was fighting proceeded to cut my face up in a slight mess – I don’t think he bothered to take his rings off – and he had two friends who were helping also –
    After he about killed me and the fight was over -I just got up and went back in the bar – where the the three creeps were – I would have killed all three of them if I had a way at the time –
    For some reason I equated this experience with the eating of meat and haven’t eaten it since –
    It doesn’t exactly make sense I suppose but for me – this was the turning point –
    It also gave me viewpoint on the kind of human scum that walks the earth –
    So for me – watching something else suffer wasn’t enough – but experiencing it myself seemed to do the trick
    Of course that’s just me –
    the ugly part of all this is the death part – the dying part –
    the butchering itself is really quite clean and interersting –
    it’s the dying part that gets me –
    It’s a cows life to die by violence of course – a bear – a cougar – a wolf – an alligator – a lion –
    cows are probably used to-it – sort of
    As far as pigs go – you can’t milk em’ and they don’t lay egg’s –
    So to me – there just cute pets
    From a strictly dietary point of veiw I do wonder if the flesh of pigs – chickens – beef is warranted –
    there has to be an immunne response of a negative kind in the process of eating these creatures –
    So it’s not the fat or cholesterol I question but perhaps unknown substances and a possible immunne rejection response that concerns me –
    In raising dairy or chickens for eggs the problem of bulls and roosters is present –
    this amount of flesh if spread out among the earths inhabitants would probably be a more reasonable intake –
    Of course the rich would get all of it – be cause it would be a scarce and pricey commidity –
    So the average meat eater wouldn’t get any anyway – kind of a humourous prediciment
    But don’t worry – McDonald’s has your beef and probably always will –
    and in the process I get my eggs and dairy –
    a win-win for me
    To change the subject slightly –
    I had the misfortune to work as a flagger one day –
    and stopped a semi loaded with chickens on their way to a mink farm – where the mink farmer would toss the live chickens into a tree chopper or chipper – to make mink food –
    is it any wonder a few people get upset about this sort of thing ?
    Anyway while talking to the idiot driving the the semi – I couldn’t help notice the smell – the rotten smell of chicken poop from the truck –
    a normal chicken coop smells nothing like this by the way –
    I question anyone who has ever smelled this sort of thing first hand to ever eat chicken again –
    But to each his own –
    Working at another job – flagging again – I found this dead pheasant on the side of the road –
    there are few smells on earth this rotten – the smell of rotting flesh has to be experienced to be truly appreciated
    On the dairy farm – we buried the dead calves – I would have burned them – personally
    Anyway I had to move the dirt around one day where they were buried for a building project – and uncovered some of them – they had been there for six months or so –
    So one might have thought they would have turned into nice pleasant fertilizer or something –
    Well – they didn’t turn into anything except the most revolting – wet – sickening mess I have ever seen or smelled – it made me vomit or try too –
    So chicken poop in semi truck bad
    Dead rotting pheasant worse
    Dead buried dug up calves – something close too aromatic satanical hell
    The only other smells I can equate with these – is a cows rotting estrus – after giving birth – I mean the rotting estrus within the cow –
    Not having been married – I hope real human women smell better than this – after giving birth
    The average person will never experience these aromatic horrors – I suppose
    But it has given me some pleasure in pointing them out.
    Does all animal dead stuff smell bad ? –
    Well no – composted cow manure smells good enough to eat – seriously – it smells really good
    and if you sprinkle just a little on fresh cow manure it instantly gets rid of the bad smell or fresh cow manure smell –
    Compost good –
    Thanks for all your input. 

  15. Dr. Mike,
    I might like to add that it is perfectly easy to follow a low carb diet and still be a vegetarian. I am lacto ovo and follow the principles in the book Life Without Bread. Granted, this book is not an Atkins induction diet and allows for a more generous carb allowance than Protein Power or the majority of low carb diets, but compared to the public at large my carbs are much lower, I feel great and I plan to live this way until the good Lord takes me!
    Not all of us are “vegan wackos”. I just felt a compulsion toward eating meat since I was a kid, and I have finally followed my instincts. I won’t get into the spiritual side of it or the health side of it; frankly I DON’T feel a vegetarian diet is really healthier; it’s just something I feel right doing.
    I honestly feel the low carb community would benefit by welcoming us vegetarians – more lambs in the fold, so to speak – and so many vegetarians eat a diet extremely high in carbs and would benefit greatly by lowering them. It is very possible to eat low carb and be a vegetarian. Now being a vegan while lowcarbing – that’s another story.
    Thanks for a great blog.
    Hi Devotee–
    I don’t mean to bash all vegetarians; just the wacko ones with a political agenda based primarily on stupidity.
    I have friends who are vegetarians, although not many, and MD and I have had a considerable number of vegetarian patients over the years who have done well on the program.   As I’m sure you’ve discovered, it takes a little more effort to be a vegetarian on a low-carb diet, but it can be done, and done successfully.  Just make sure to take a vitamin B-12 supplement along with some sort of methylating supplement (many are available) or eat a lot of sesame seeds to get the necessary methionine.
    Just ignore me when I go on a vegetarian rant, and understand that it’s not meant for your or anyone else who had chosen that way of life for spiritual or taste bud reasons.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  16. P.S.
    Dr. Mike, I might add that your books Low Carb Comfort Food Cookbook, and Cookbook Worx have wonderful recipes for vegetarians.
    And since I love to bake I also own a book by one of your co-authors, called the Low Carb Baking and Dessert Cookbook.
    I also have on order the new Carb Wars cookbook coming out (as you can see, I am a collector of low carb cookbooks and have them all, even dating back to the 1970’s!).
    Please, can we expect another cookbook coming out of your creative kitchens?
    Hi Devotee–
    Thanks for the kind words about the books and show.  We have no plans right now for another low-carb cookbook, but MD is coming up recipes right and left.  She often puts them up on her blog, so you might want to check there if you haven’t already.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  17. Do you think vegetarian fed chicken eggs are much worse than standard supermarket eggs? I buy the vegetarian eggs because they are organic, have a better omega-3/omega-6 ratio, and contain higher levels of several nutrients like vitamin E. Is this a wise choice, or should I stick to regular supermarket eggs?
    Thanks, and keep up with the great blog!
    Hi Freddy–
    Nah, the veggie eggs are fine.  If you like them better, stick with them.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  18. Inhumane suffering is not just for pigs.
    Most fryer chickens are kept 12 to a cage for their entire (6-8week) life often enduring mutilation and sometimes death due to their confinement prior to death.
    Young cattle sold as veal suffer a similar fate- caged for months in a pen they can’t turn around in, waiting to fatten for slaughter.
    If we are sympathetic to the plight of some of the most brutally abused animal food, then either we dramatically increase the production of grass fed, free-range kind of animals who are treated better or we live in shame for the acknowledged cruelty we condone.
    Jeff

  19. I do realize that animals need to be treated humanly, but coming from a farm, I also think that people often think of us (farmers) as the bad guys. Answer this question, if it was harmful to the animals then why would the farmer do it? I know you will probably say “because they are going to make more money” but truly harming the animals that are our income would just be like breaking the pottery that you intend to sell. We as farmers need these animals for income, and if you truly understood farming, and the meat industry, you would know that most packing plants have penalties for animals that have drugs in them, or for animals that can’t walk right. Farmers really do need to take care of their animals right, if we didn’t then it would completely undermine our business. On the other side of the issue I do realize that there are some agriculturists who harm livestock, but those are very few, but also, I think before people start making farmers seem really bad, they need to get the whole story, just not one animal rights activist side.
    Hi Bj–
    Point taken.
    Cheers–
    MRE

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