Because of the extra-ordinary media coverage
of recent events, many of us
have been forced to consider "culture of life" vs "right to die" issues;
issues of palliative care vs pain and suffering. As you read the following,
I hope you will give serious thought to all the living, sentient beings who
suffer and are worthy of our compassion; and then, please take a moment to
think about what you can do to make a difference.
Lessons from my pig Winnie By Sondra S. Crosby | March 19, 2005
WHERE DO respect and dignity for life begin and end? This question was
raised during a family vacation at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
For the last four years, we have been sponsoring a pig that narrowly escaped
someone's outdoor barbecue. She jumped the fence and ran the streets of New
York until she was captured. She was frightened, injured, and starving and
taken to the safe haven at the Farm Sanctuary. She was given the name
I am a physician, and have made a commitment to reducing suffering. How
then can I stand by and watch the unnecessary suffering of many farm animals
destined for human consumption? Where does one draw the line at what
practices are acceptable? How does one define a sentient being? Our visit to
the Farm Sanctuary and spending time with Winnie helped my family and me put
these questions in perspective.
The human impact of factory farming should alarm us all. Human Rights Watch
recently reported that meatpacking is the most dangerous factory job in
America. Workers are injured at extraordinary high rates and often denied
compensation. Immigrant workers are frequently exploited to work under such
horrific conditions, and employers take advantage of their undocumented
status and fear of deportation to keep them quiet. At a minimum, federal and
state laws need to enforce protection of all workers in this industry,
without regard to immigration status.
Factory farming hurts our environment. Natural resources are depleted when
wetlands, forests, and wildlife habitats are decimated to grow the grain
necessary for factory farms. Agricultural runoff and the vast amount of
manure produced by large numbers of animals confined in small areas are not
only detrimental to our water supply but toxic to fish and other aquatic
life. Shouldn't we be utilizing our natural resources more efficiently to
There is evidence that a plant-based diet is more healthful than an
animal-based diet, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and
certain cancers. The factory farming industry also uses drugs, hormones, and
other chemicals to enhance animal ''production," a practice that potentially
causes detrimental health effects in humans. But I want to tell the stories
of the animals.
I learned about ''downed animals" at the Farm Sanctuary. ''Downed animals"
is the term given to those animals in stockyards that become too sick and
weak to walk. Once they fall down, they are often denied food and water.
Although they may still be alive, they are often treated as though they were
dead. They are moved with forklifts or tractors that can break bones.
Sometimes they are thrown away. Downed animals experience unimaginable
suffering because there are no adequate laws protecting them.
I also learned about the painful procedures pigs are subjected to by the
industry -- for example, having their tails cut off without anesthesia, and
being overcrowded in small pens with concrete floors. Pigs remain in these
conditions until slaughter at about 6 months of age. The air is noxious and
even workers suffer respiratory diseases. Diseases such as salmonellosis are
rampant. Breeding sows are confined in small pens and live a constant cycle
of impregnation and birth, and they are often denied straw bedding. They
suffer their whole life, then are sent to slaughter when they are not
productive breeders. Hogs are hung upside down, their throats are cut, and
they bleed to death. They are supposed to be ''stunned" first; however this
practice is imprecise. If stabbing is unsuccessful, the pig will be dropped
in scalding water to be boiled alive.
Billions of chickens are crammed into cages so small they can't move. We
saw examples of these cages at the farm. Food birds (chickens and turkeys)
have been genetically altered to grow beyond their biological limits. The
heart and lungs are not well developed enough to support the remainder of
the body, so some die of congestive heart failure, in addition to the many
that suffer crippling leg disorders during life because their legs won't
support their genetically altered weight.
In the slaughterhouse, fully conscious birds are hung upside down by metal
shackles on a moving rail. The birds' heads are submerged in an electrified
bath of water. This is supposed to render them unconscious. However, often
the electricity is lower than required because of concerns that too much
electricity will damage the carcass. Many birds are immobilized, but still
capable of feeling pain. Their throats are then slashed on the assembly
line. The next stop is the scalding tank. Commonly, birds are dunked alive.
This results in the birds flopping, kicking, and screaming, their eyeballs
popping out of their heads. They emerge with broken bones and are
It is easier not to consider how the flesh has arrived at your plate, and,
surely this is what the farming industry prefers.
What are the alternatives? Meat would be more expensive and less accessible
if factory farming were abolished. Land used inefficiently to grow grain for
the agriculture business could be used to grow human food. I can't think of
any good reason to eat meat, but those who do should insist on strict
enforcement of humane conditions for the animals and workers in the
I applaud the small gains made in the legislative arena regarding gestation
crates, veal crates, downed animals, and foie gras, and hope this reflects
an increasing concern for farm animal welfare.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote, ''Until he extends the circle of compassion to
all living things, man will not himself find peace." Humankind has a long
journey toward this goal.
Sondra S. Crosby is an internist with the Boston Center for Refugee Health
and Human Rights at Boston Medical Center.