Nearly two years after Mercy for Animals (MFA) went public with an undercover investigation into Canada's largest dairy farm, charges have finally been laid against the company, Chilliwack Cattle Sales, located in British Columbia. Seven of its employees are set to appear in court in April.
MFA's footage shocked the entire country. The video shows farm workers violently hitting cows and using chains and tractors to lift sick animals by the neck. Injured cows with open wounds were shown to be left without veterinary care. Wounded cows suffering from open wounds we left without veterinary care.
One may wonder why the abuse exposed at Chilliwack cattle farm is any less severe, barbaric or cruel than similar acts involving pets.
Before rejoicing that justice will finally be done, let's carefully examine the case. Despite the voluntary and brutal nature of the alleged acts, charges were laid under the British Columbia Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act -- not under the Criminal Code. Why does this matter? Criminal charges are much more serious because they carry the risk of a criminal record and up to five years in prison. In contrast, offenders under the provincial act only face a $75,000 fine and a maximum of two years imprisonment.
This is no minor administrative detail. If the victims had been cats or dogs, there is no doubt that criminal charges would have been laid. Last month, an Ontario man was sentenced to two years in prison under the Criminal Code for tying up a dog with electrical tape. In 2014, another man was sentenced to imprisonment for beating his dog, Breezy; an act the judge ruled to be "deplorable, barbaric and cruel." One may wonder why the abuse exposed at Chilliwack cattle farm is any less severe, barbaric or cruel than similar acts involving pets. What would it take for cows, pigs and hens raised on industrial farms to be protected by the Criminal Code?
Beyond this double standard that farm animals are the victims of, the problem remains that the abusive practices that lead to prosecution are not even necessarily the worst. Common industrial agriculture practices, despite their inherent cruelty, are perfectly legal. We don't need an undercover investigation to know that a large number of dairy cows spend their life chained, suffer from being separated from their calves shortly after birth, endure inflamed udders and bleeding hoofs, and inevitably end up at the slaughterhouse.
In our society focused on productivity and profit, cows are treated as milk making machines for their entire, shortened lives. Yet there is widespread consent amongst experts that cows are as intelligent and sensitive as cats and dogs. In other words, the problem is not only the extreme abuse exposed every time an undercover investigation is conducted, but also generally accepted industry practices. The thought of our pets going through what is merely normal for farm animals is the stuff of nightmares, yet we accept it as normal for cows, pigs and chickens. It is not only in court, but also on our plates, that we must challenge this unjustifiable double standard.
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According to the USDA, 36.8 billion pounds of broiler chicken were raised and killed for consumption in 2013. Since these animals live in such close quarters, some farm operators remove the beaks of chickens, turkeys and ducks to keep them from pecking one another to death, often by burning or cutting the beaks off. Although a number of scientists claim that this practice does not cause the animals too much pain, a significant portion of them die throughout the ordeal. Despite the mass amounts of chicken, turkey and ducks we consume annually, fowl are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act. This means that unlike the mammals we consume, chickens can be killed however the farm owner sees fit.
In 2011, more than 80 percent of antibiotics produced were fed to livestock. Although some of these drugs were necessary to keep animals healthy in conditions that would otherwise make them sick, like living on top of one another's waste, most of it was specifically administered to artificially increase rapid growth. While it may seem like these drugs could be inadvertently protecting consumers from disease, they are actually contributing to the terrifying rise of superbugs -- deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that thrive and multiply in the absence of weaker microbes.
According to one study, 65 percent of all hogs tested had pneumonia-like lesions on their lungs. Researchers believe this is due to ammonia and other gases released from the massive amounts of manure that the animals come into contact with every day.
In 2009, Mercy For Animals went undercover at a Hy-Line Iowa egg factory and discovered that baby chickens who were of no egg-laying use to the buyers (read: male chicks), were put on a conveyor belt and sent directly to a grinder. Hy-Line defended this practice by insisting that it was industry standard.
While cows can live naturally to about twenty years old, many dairy cows living in factory farms are sent to slaughter before they reach the age of five. Though cows can naturally remain productive for 12-15 years, the intensive conditions of industrial dairies can take a toll on their health.
Every year, millions of sows are kept in cages called "gestation crates," a cost-cutting measure that keeps the pregnant pigs immobilized. The concrete floors beneath the crates are often slatted so that manure can just slip through into huge pits. After spending a full four-month pregnancy in these gestation crates, the sows often suffer from abscesses, sores and ulcers. However, even when the pigs are released from the crates, they are not living a comfortable life: The uneven floors of the hog houses have been proven to cause leg and feet deformities.
Notoriously mistreated, veal calves are often forced to wear heavy chains to keep them from becoming overactive in their stalls. The calves are also kept in near or total darkness and suffer from forced anemia, for no reason other than to keep their flesh pale and attractive.
"Battery cages," the common living space for more than 90 percent of egg-laying hens in America, provide as little as 0.6 square feet of space per hen. That is smaller than a regular sized sheet of paper.
Citing health reasons and worker comfort, a majority of U.S. farms practice tail docking, the act of removing the tails of livestock by burning, emasculating, or constricting the tail with an elastic band. This practice causes pain, stress, and sometimes infection in the cows, which is why it has been outlawed in a number of countries, such as New Zealand. However, California is the only U.S. state where tail docking is illegal.
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