Wal-Mart Harms Animals, Ignores Science

By Bruce Friedrich

There is a battle going on between animal protection advocates and the pork industry over “gestation crates,” the 2-foot by 7-foot cages that confine about 80 percent of the United States’ 5.5 million breeding pigs. In these crates, pregnant pigs are unable to engage in most of their most important natural behaviors. They’re never able to turn around or even lie down comfortably, day and night, for their entire lives.

Honey, escaped life in a gestation crate during the flooding of the Mississippi River in 2008. She now lives at our New York Shelter.

Over the past decade, nine states have banned the crates — most recently, Rhode Island, after lobbying by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the ASPCA, and Farm Sanctuary. Building on our legislative success, HSUS has convinced a long list of corporate behemoths to phase out the systems, from Smithfield Foods, Oscar Mayer, and Hormel to Costco and Burger King.

When a practice is so cruel that Smithfield Foods agrees it has to go, you have to wonder who might be foolish enough to defend it. In fact, our campaign has been so successful that a former stalwart defender of crates, agricultural scientist Ted Friend from Texas A&M, has called on pork producers to stop their “kicking and screaming” and to recognize that a crate phase-out is simply “another inevitable change.”

Wal-Mart: Ignores the Science and Defends Cruelty to Animals.
Mercy for Animals documented their investigation into a Wal-Mart supplier. The following video shows in graphic detail just how bad these crates really are. Please watch.

I’ve attempted several times, without success, to secure a response from Wal-Mart concerning their continued use of gestation crates in their supply chain. In an online response to the allegations of abuse, the company calls crate use “a complicated issue” with tenable arguments “on both sides.” This statement simply isn’t true, and it ignores the findings of scientific studies on the effects of gestation crate confinement on pigs.

Julia was pregnant when she rescued from a life of confinement in a gestation crate, and cruel abuse, in a factory farm in New York. She now lives at our New York Shelter with her children.

The Scientific Consensus
The science is not in dispute: immobilization of pigs in crates is highly damaging for them, both mentally and physically.

There are a host of physical problems that result from crate confinement, each of which represents extreme suffering for pigs. First, the animals’ muscles and bones waste away so severely from lack of use that walking becomes excruciating; even standing up can be painful. Second, because the animals rub against the bars of their crates and lie in their own excrement all day and night, they suffer painful ammonia burns on their skin, and their lungs become raw from breathing putrid air. Third, the animals are in a constant state of starvation because they are fed about half of what they would normally consume. Fourth, due to lack of exercise and decreased water consumption, many sows suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are associated with a high mortality rate. For source information on each of these issues, check out this scientific report from the Humane Society of the United States.

The situation is no better in terms of the animals’ mental health: Pigs have cognitive and emotional capacities beyond those of dogs, and, in some areas, they outperform even chimpanzees. So it’s no surprise that they suffer mental and emotional anguish when they’re unable to move for most of their lives. Meat industry consultant Dr. Temple Grandin states unequivocally what the science proves — that animals need companionship every bit as much as humans do; they love to play, they experience joy, and more. Every one of these natural desires is impossible to experience when they are confined in tiny crates. The relentless stress and frustration routinely leads to mental instability in these animals, who chew maniacally on the bars in frustration causing their mouths to bleed from cuts and sores.

Nikki also had been confined in a gestation crate when she was pregnant. Like Honey, she escaped during floods and gave birth on a levee. She was rescued and now lives at our New York Shelter with her children.

At Farm Sanctuary, we spend our lives with farm animals, and we wouldn’t eat them regardless of their treatment prior to slaughter. There is no moral or rational difference between consuming a dog or a pig, a cat or a chicken.

But we also work to eliminate the worst abuses of farm animals, and it’s hard to imagine anything worse than gestation crates; immobilizing animals for their entire lives qualifies, without a touch of hyperbole, as torture.

Please take action now to pressure Wal-Mart to stop its support for cruelty to animals.


Turkeys I Have Known

By Susie Coston

Here at Farm Sanctuary, we think a lot about turkeys this time of year. That’s because more than 45 million turkeys used for food are slaughtered in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Apart from that grim statistic, there is so much that I wish more people knew about them.


I wish more people knew how turkeys suffer. On factory farms, turkeys are selectively bred to develop horribly distorted bodies — chests so huge that they can’t mate or fly or perch. Their abnormal size overtaxes their hearts, and their feet and legs are crippled from bearing so much weight. They are crammed into windowless warehouses by the thousands, and parts of their sensitive beaks and toes are cut off without anesthetics.

Even more than that, I wish more people knew that turkeys are like us in so many ways. Turkeys are incredibly personable, each a unique individual. In fact, many of the qualities that endear them to us are the very ones we value in other human beings. Let me tell you about some turkeys I have known.

Chicky, one of the most popular turkeys to ever live at the New York Shelter, had health issues, but he never showed guests anything but his stunning strut and his sweet nature. He let adults and children touch his wattles and snood and stroke his feathers. If you whistled, he’d answer you with a gobble. Chicky’s other love, besides attention, was food. Gaining weight was not a problem for Chicky, though! His constant strutting kept him fit.


Around here, turkeys are famous, sometimes infamous, for their curiosity. We have a new turkey named Daisy who is even more curious than most. When you are in Daisy’s vicinity, whatever you are doing, she’s probably right behind you. Walk through the turkey pasture – there’s Daisy! Walk into the barn – there’s Daisy! Turn your back on your healthcare kit – there’s Daisy taking inventory! Some of the turkeys like to run off with the items they find in our kits, but Daisy just keeps digging, determined to investigate everything inside.


Our dear Marino was the clown of the farm and such a love. He arrived with facial paralysis that had caused his beak to be permanently crossed, resulting in eating and breathing difficulties. We gave him lots of attention and help, and he was always a good sport. He was intrigued when anyone brought a camera to his barn and strutted right up to it, thinking himself quite a celebrity. One year, we found a turkey-sized Santa hat for Marino. I swear he was fond of posing with it! Marino made us smile, and he knew it and loved it.


Hildy, one of my all-time favorite gals, lived at the New York Shelter for eight years. When you called her name, she’d come running. She spent hours with caregivers and guests, letting them stroke her back until she drifted off to sleep. This friendliness extended to her flock mates, too. She was especially close with her best friend, Kima, but no fellow turkey was beyond the scope of her good will. Like many animals, turkeys can be territorial and sometimes give newcomers a hard time, but Hildy never fought with anyone. She received every guest and new arrival to her home with complete graciousness. We could all learn from these turkeys: Put our best foot forward (and maybe even strut our stuff), keep our eyes open to the fascinating world around us, have a sense of humor, and, most of all, be kind to every living creature.



We could all learn from these turkeys: Put our best foot forward (and maybe even strut our stuff), keep our eyes open to the fascinating world around us, have a sense of humor, and, most of all, be kind to every living creature.

The Red Meat Myth

By Bruce

At Farm Sanctuary, we support incremental change. When someone decides to consume fewer animals, that’s a good thing. When someone becomes vegan for the sake of their health, that’s also a good thing.

We know that adopting a vegan diet often takes time, and some people find that it helps to take steps on their way toward vegan eating. That’s why we applaud Johns Hopkins’ Meatless Mondays, Mark Bittman’s “Vegan Until 6,” and other campaigns and efforts that start people on a path to veganism — and save animals at the same time. There’s one change that many people may undertake, however, that unintentionally harms more animals than it helps.

I’ve stopped eating red meat – There’s More to the Story
We hear it all the time: “I’ve stopped eating red meat.” We want to be supportive and kind in our response — the person is, after all, telling us about progress they’ve made toward compassionate living. Yet, from an animal welfare perspective, eating chickens and turkeys instead of pigs and cattle is actually counterproductive.

Consider this: Chickens and turkeys are so much smaller than cattle or pigs that eating chickens or turkeys results in the intense confinement and deaths of many more animals. In fact, Americans consume 100 times more chickens than pigs and 250 times more chickens than cattle. Shockingly, chickens and turkeys comprise more than 98.5 percent of all slaughtered farm animals.

Chickens and turkeys in the food industry are treated even worse than cattle. Cattle who are used for meat, for instance, may have some degree of pasture time, but more than 99 percent of turkeys and chickens are confined for their entire lives, unable ever to engage in even their basic natural behaviors. Sadly, it gets worse.

Chickens’ upper bodies now grow about six times more quickly than they did 50 years ago. According to University of Arkansas, “If you grew as fast as a chicken, you’d weigh 349 pounds at age two.” The stress on their bones, joints, and organs is debilitating. Conditions are so bad in modern chicken sheds — which look like carpets of live but unmoving chickens — that the death losses are one percent per week. In a shed containing 30,000 birds, which is fairly small for modern chicken sheds, that’s 300 dead birds per week!

The only federal law that purports to cover farm animals, the Humane Slaughter Act, entirely exempts birds — in other words, 98.5 percent of slaughtered animals are completely unprotected. I won’t give the gruesome details, but what this means is that every aspect of chicken slaughter in the United States would be illegal if these animals were mammals rather than birds.

Chickens are Complex
Some people start on a path toward veganism by no longer eating the larger animals out of the mistaken assumption that cows and pigs are more “like us” (or smarter) than birds and fish. That shouldn’t matter when we’re talking about compassion, of course, but it’s also not true. Studies of chickens have shown that they can learn from watching other chickens on television, delay gratification, and demonstrate other behaviors that indicate that they are at least as cognitively complex as cats, dogs, and other mammals. Find out more on our Someone Project pages, at someoneproject.com.

A Gentle Conversation
So the next time someone tells you that they’ve given up red meat, gently ask them “why red meat, in particular?” If they cite health reasons, let them know about the cruelty that birds endure, and you might also mention that studies show no net benefit to cutting back on red meat if it’s replaced with chicken, which has no fiber or complex carbohydrates and is packed with saturated fat and cholesterol. According to the USDA, chicken today has more than 10 times as much fat as it used to (and three times as much fat as protein). Chicken is also the most likely meat to be contaminated with salmonella, campylobacter, and other bacteria, which lead to tens of millions of illnesses annually.

In conversation, never criticize or condemn a person’s food choices, of course, but follow this question with factual information. Explain why the decision to forego red meat is counterproductive in terms of saving lives or lessening cruelty to animals, and educate them about food choices that both save lives and improve their health. That single conversation can make all the difference for thousands of farm animals.

Bruce is Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives. Check out his essay and video presentation on effective advocacy in the “Be a Better Advocate” section of compassionatecommunities.org.