Burger Back Story

For most of us who are not vegetarians, the strings of our hearts sometimes…

Crate of chickens during egg productionWhat do you think? Should a calf, a sow and a chicken have room to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs?

Should we place a limit on the use of factory crates, cages and extreme animal confinement?

Nicholas D. Kristof points out that people around the world are working to improve conditions for factory livestock. There’s new law in Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon; Spain and Austria. He remembers his childhood on a family farm:

Then there were the geese, the most admirable creatures I’ve ever met.

We raised Chinese white geese, a common breed, and they have distinctive personalities. They mate for life and adhere to family values that would shame most of those who dine on them.

While one of our geese was sitting on her eggs, her gander would go out foraging for food – and if he found some delicacy, he would rush back to give it to his mate. Sometimes I would offer males a dish of corn to fatten them up – but it was impossible, for they would take it all home to their true loves.

Once a month or so, we would slaughter the geese. When I was 10 years old, my job was to lock the geese in the barn and then rush and grab one. Then I would take it out and hold it by its wings on the chopping block while my Dad or someone else swung the ax.

The 150 geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a far corner of the barn, and run away in terror as I approached. Then I would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in my arms.

Very often, one goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk tremulously toward me. It would be the mate of the one I had caught, male or female, and it would step right up to me, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its lover.

We eventually grew so impressed with our geese – they had virtually become family friends – that we gave the remaining ones to a local park. (Unfortunately, some entrepreneurial thief took advantage of their friendliness by kidnapping them all – just before the next Thanksgiving.)

So, yes, I eat meat (even, hesitantly, goose). But I draw the line at animals being raised in cruel conditions.

Proposition 2 on California’s November ballot [wiki] will make certain that animals “for the majority of every day” will be able to “to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up, and turn around.

Specified animals include calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs. Exceptions made for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes.”

So far, 63% of California voters think this improvement in animal rights is a good idea.

Trojan Pig by Cameron Naughton of West End Farm,Trojan Meat
But there’s no requirement to improve the livestock conditions for imported meat.

There have been improvements in the inspection system. The Centers for Disease Control are researching the global issue of shipping salmonella around the world. There have been Agency changes while the focus of new budgets includes bioterror. [search]

So far, we have no system telling consumers about imported livestock diet or conditions. We can ask our supermarket’s butcher department. Do they know? What about restaurant or fast food outlets? Can we trust brands?

In the UK, pig farmer Cameron Naughton travels markets with a Trojan Pig [story] to highlight cheap imports raised without the welfare of the animal in mind. He says 70% of imported pork would have been illegal to produce in the UK due to higher welfare standards.

“Just as the Greeks used a giant wooden horse to sneak soldiers into Troy, cheap, low welfare imports are being slipped in under the noses of unwitting shoppers due to unclear labels.” [pics]

To see photos of cruel (and atypical) livestock factory conditions, see the Animal Exploitation Photo Gallery.