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The Planet
Animal Rights and Wrongs

By Ken Midkiff
director, clean water/CAFO campaign

No, no, no, the Sierra Club has not been converted into an animal rights organization, but the Clean Water/CAFO Campaign has recently developed a fact sheet dealing with the humane treatment of farmed animals. There is a direct connection between raising animals in concentrated industrial systems and the pollution of air and water.

The Choice is Ours: Living conditions of animals raised for the table vary enormously, as these photos of a small farm, above, and CAFO, below, illustrate vividly. As one concerned farmer puts it: "I raise my cattle to be eaten, but I don't torture them in the process."
Interestingly, it is farmers, those raising animals for meat, milk, and eggs, who consistently bring up a concern for animal welfare. As Terry Spence, a farmer from northern Missouri with a cow-calf operation phrases it: "I raise my cattle to be eaten, but I don’t torture them in the process."

That is the essence of the Club’s position on animal welfare. Humans make a conscious choice to eat or not to eat meat and animal products, but if the choice is to consume such, then how the animals are treated is a factor that should be considered when making purchases.

Concentrated animal feeding operations—the "CAFOs" of the Clean Water/CAFO Campaign—cram thousands of hogs into confinement buildings. The hogs hardly have enough room to turn around, and become very susceptible to diseases and suffer from loss of appetite.

To combat the problems that result from overcrowding, the agribusiness companies that own the animals lace the feeds with antibiotics and appetite enhancers. Arsenic and selenium are common additives. The enhancers make the animals eat more, and the antibiotics, allegedly given to promote more efficient digestion, lead to faster growth. Inadvertently, the so-called sub-therapeutic uses cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop in the animals, and this bacteria ends up in meats.

Hogs crammed into such tight conditions also fight and bite—if you look at hog industry magazines you see they’re filled with ads to address these symptoms. The most sensible solution is to reduce overcrowding, but this solution could cut into profits for the owners and veterinary-care products companies.

The hen houses are even worse than hog confinement buildings. Up to ten laying hens are placed into each small cage. While there have been some strides in providing more space per hen—some fast food restaurants won’t buy eggs from companies unless 86 square inches are provided for each hen—these criteria are woefully inadequate and are not applied to the hens that lay eggs for supermarkets and most restaurants. The national norm is 67 square inches. The cage spaces are so inadequate that hens in some situations can’t move at all, and their feet and claws become permanently affixed to the cage’s wire floor.

Dairy cows are likewise kept in close quarters, where thousand of Holsteins are confined in shelters with concrete floors. Typically, the cows are milked twice per day. To ensure maximum milk production, the cows are fed additives which cause them to eat and drink literally all the time—even while being milked.

One other way dairies maximize milk production is by injecting cows with a naturally-occurring hormone—recombinant bovine growth hormone. This causes cows to produce more milk on a short-term basis, but also causes various infections and early retirement. For a cow, retirement means slaughter and conversion into hamburger.

Similar tales could be told of broilers, beef steers, even salmon, but suffice it to say that treating sentient beings as units of production is the basis of a lot of cruelty. The Sierra Club supports the kind of farms that treat cows, pigs, and chickens with dignity and respect.

If you eat meat, purchase meats and animal products raised by farmers who treat their animals with compassion. Farmers’ markets are a good place to start. Any food labeled "organic" is likely cruelty-free. In practice, raising animals with humane methods goes hand-in-hand with protection of air and water and good land stewardship.

For the more information about animal welfare, visit Or contact Ken Midkiff at

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