Guest Columnists

Withdrawing Support For Animal Cruelty

by Father Frank Mann

Third and final in a series

IN AN ARTICLE titled “What Humans Owe to Animals,” The Economist magazine states: “It is all very well to say that individuals must wrestle with their consciences – but only if their consciences are awake and informed. The fact is, industrial society, alas, hides animals’ suffering.”

Early last year, an animal-advocacy organization based in Washington D.C., Compassion Over Killing, joined forces with various groups to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allowing the sale of a diseased poultry product commonly known as foie gras.

Foie gras, which is French for “fatty liver,” is considered a delicacy, produced when ducks and geese are force-fed large quantities of food. This causes their livers to become diseased and swell up to 10 times the normal size. This procedure induces a condition that is known as hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease.

“Foie gras is, by definition, the product of a diseased animal,” notes Compassion Over Killing.

The production of foie gras has been banned in Germany, Israel, Italy, Argentina, the United Kingdom and the state of California.

Pope Benedict XVI has stated, “Animals, too, are God’s creatures. … Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”

Most consumers don’t realize that the chickens and turkeys on supermarket shelves are, during their short lives, confined in large, warehouse-style sheds, which house tens of thousands of animals piled upon one another. Virtually all U.S. birds raised for food are factory farmed.

“Chickens and turkeys grow so abnormally fast due to selective breeding and growth-promoting antibiotics that their legs and organs can’t support their enormous weight. This leads to debilitating bone, joint and heart problems,” according to Compassion Over Killing.

In other words, if we grew as fast as these chickens, we would weigh about 350 pounds at the age of two!

The organization further states, “At slaughter, these birds are torn from the crates and shackled upside down onto automated metal racks. Some are stunned in electrified baths, but most are left conscious, yet paralyzed. Those who are stunned often regain consciousness before their throats are slit and end up being immersed alive in tanks of scalding water that de-feather their bodies.”

Recently, Butterball, the largest producer of turkey products in the U.S., was severely rattled by a scathing undercover investigation.

Hidden cameras captured workers kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their wings and necks and throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks in full view of company management, according to the animal-rights organization, Mercy for Animals.

They added, “Employees relentlessly bashed in the heads of live birds with metal bars, leaving many to slowly suffer and die from their injuries.”

There are over 280 million egg-laying hens that spend their lives confined with other hens in what are known as “battery cages,” which are typically less than half a square foot per bird. Crammed into these small areas, the birds often become immobilized and caught in the wires of their cages.

Frustrated and Overcrowded

According to Compassion Over Killing, “These hens spend their days unable to engage in any of their natural habits like perching, nesting, dust-bathing, foraging, roaming or even wing flapping.” Frustrated and overcrowded, they often attack one another.

It is depressing to note that soon after their birth and without any painkillers, parts of the laying hen’s and turkey’s beaks are seared off with a hot blade. Debeaking causes them acute and chronic pain. Factory farmers mutilate these birds in an effort to lessen the effects of aggression caused by the severe overcrowding.

Bernard Rollin, philosophy professor at Colorado State University, has noted that chickens “do quite well in learning, show a rich social organization and have a diverse repertoire of calls. Anyone who has kept barnyard chickens also recognizes their significant differences in personality.”

In his book, Animal Liberation, philosopher Peter Singer states, “The struggle for these animals is as important as any of the moral and social issues that have been fought over in recent years.”

Without doubt, if the anti-cruelty laws that protect pets were applied to farm animals, most of the nation’s so-called “routine” farming practices would be outlawed in all 50 states.

The fate of a calf depends on the gender. If male, the animal will be sold to veal farmers often before it is one week old. It is no secret that most calves spend their entire lives chained alone inside a wooden crate.

“To produce the most tender meat,” stated Erica Meir, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, “these crates are purposefully designed to prevent movement and cause muscle atrophy.”

Other animal welfare groups have likewise exposed the harsh fact that many calves suffer from pneumonia and various respiratory issues in these decrepit environments.

“The calves are fed an iron-deficient milk substitute that keeps them anemic and pales the color of their flesh,” Meir noted.

After weeks of confinement, during which they’ve been denied the nursing of their mothers, the fresh open air and the grass beneath their feet, the calves are ready for slaughter.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Spiritual progress demands that at some stage we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.”

Therefore, it is a welcomed blessing that an ever-burgeoning body of animal welfare/rights organizations continue to go undercover in order to lift the secret veil of the heinous abuses inherent in agribusiness. They seek to pursue justice by exposing rampant and abhorrent animal abuse.

Strikingly, what we choose to eat can make a powerful statement about our ethics, our worldview and about our very humanity. By abstaining from meat, we withdraw our support for animal cruelty. We likewise undertake a championed boycott of factory farming and forge a courageous choice in an emboldened support for the production of cruelty-free foods.

“Christ’s message is one of salvation and dignity for all creatures,” noted Bruce Friedrich, strategic director for Farm Sanctuary, an upstate N.Y.-based refuge for formerly abused and neglected factory farm animals.

“We, as the most powerful of all species, should choose to bring that mission of the Lord’s closer to home. Every time we sit down to eat, we have a choice to make: do we support horrific cruelty or compassion, abusive misery or mercy? A Church-wide call to meatless Fridays would be a very good start indeed.”

3 thoughts on “Withdrawing Support For Animal Cruelty

  1. I am so grateful that this mini-series on animal rights has been published in The Tablet. I recently learned of the Farm Sanctuary via You Tube, around Thanksgiving in 2012, and after learning more about the cruelty towards turkeys, I was able to adopt one for a small fee; less than the cost of dinner in a restaurant. I adopted Skip and he was sent to the Farm Sanctuary instead of being slaughtered. I have been a vegetarian for over one year now, and recently have been making an effort to become vegan. It is long overdue! Sinclair’s The Jungle was required reading in high school, which was a long time ago, and nothing has changed. In fact, it sounds as if things have gotten worse. Little by little we can all do our part. Meatless Fridays, a meatless Lent, something that will bring about awareness. Vegetarianism prevents cruelty to God’s creatures, helps prevent an imbalance in our ecosystem, deforestation for cattle fields, pollution in the environment (gas emitted by cows is just one example), would help feed a lot more people thereby helping the poor, and has been proven to be a more healthy life style ( vegetarians live about 10 years longer than meat eaters). What a contribution an individual can make by becoming a vegetarian! There are great films available on this subject: Vegucated, and Forks over Knives are only two out of many. God bless you Fr. Mann for bringing this topic to the forefront in the Church!!!

  2. My Cousin sent me this article. It is one of most intelligent articles on Animal Cruelty, that I have ever read. Thank You. I hope this article is getting published internationally.