North Carolina’s ag-gag law is an affront to human decency

By Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary President & Co-Founder


In 1986, while investigating Lancaster Stockyards in Pennsylvania, I found a living sheep collapsed among the carcasses of the stockyard’s “dead pile.” She was a “downer,” an animal too sick or weak to stand, and she had been left there to die. She was the first animal rescued by Farm Sanctuary, then a fledgling advocacy organization. We named her Hilda, and we shared her story, illustrated by a photograph of her lying on that dead pile.

Hilda inspired us to intensify our investigations of Lancaster Stockyards, where we discovered that the mistreatment and neglect of downers was business as usual. We organized a protest, which garnered media attention and exposed the stockyard’s disregard for animal welfare. The public was outraged, and Lancaster Stockyards was compelled to announce that it would humanely euthanize downed animals instead of leaving them to suffer on its premises. By documenting and publicizing conditions at this facility, we were able to bring about necessary reforms.

Were I to advocate in the same way for an animal like Hilda today in North Carolina, I would be committing a criminal act.



What You Need to Know about Avian Flu

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Iowa– have proclaimed a state of emergency, with millions of commercial birds believed to be infected by avian influenza. The death count is multiplying by the day and it’s estimated we’ll see 20 million birds destroyed overall as a result of the worst bird flu outbreak to strike the U.S. since the 1980s. Here’s what you need to know about this disease.

Chickens raised for slaughter

What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza (AI), or bird flu, refers to a number of viruses that infect birds. The viruses are classified as either low pathogenicity (LPAI), which causes a relatively mild illness, or high pathogenicity (HPAI), and results in severe illness.

Beginning in December 2014, HPAI was found in ducks in the Pacific Northwest, marking the first time in years that it had been detected in the U.S. Since then, multiple HPAI strains have infected flocks of domestic birds in multiple states. Strains H5N8 and H5N1 infected flocks on the West Coast, where the disease now appears to be dying down somewhat due to hot, dry conditions. Strain H5N2 is currently raging through the Midwest and making its way east.

The CDC reports that the strains of AI currently active in the U.S. pose a very low risk to humans. Among birds, however, they are highly contagious and in most cases fatal.

Where has AI spread?


Note: Detected refers to non-commercial findings. Estimates as of May 1, 2015.

As NPR reports, Minnesota has been hit hardest, with close to 50 flocks affected, but the disease has struck many other states as well.

Wherever the virus is found, USDA and state officials kill the entire flock in order to contain the disease. The standard culling method is to fill the housing buildings with a water-based foam that suffocates the birds to death.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) designates this method as an appropriate means of “mass depopulation,” defined as “methods by which large numbers of animals must be destroyed quickly and efficiently with as much consideration given to the welfare of the animals as practicable, but where the circumstances and tasks facing those doing the depopulation are understood to be extenuating.” This endorsement tells you much less about the type of death delivered by the foam — which is undoubtedly horrid — than it does about the abysmal standards of welfare that pass as acceptable in an industry predicated on mass confinement and slaughter. By raising birds in groups of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions, producers create conditions in which humane euthanasia, or humane treatment of any sort for that matter, is impossible. The circumstances are “extenuating” by design.

In the U.S., more than 15.1 million domestic birds have been killed due to AI detections since the beginning of March 2015. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of reported detections and cullings:

Minnesota: As of April 27, the virus has been detected in at least 46 turkey farms, and at least 2.7 million turkeys have been killed. The virus also has been detected in a facility raising chickens for meat and a laying hen facility, resulting in a total of over 500,000 chickens in Minnesota being killed. Additionally 150 turkeys belonging to a backyard flock were killed.

Iowa: There have been eight detections resulting in a total of almost 10 million deaths. At two turkey farms, a total of 61,000 turkeys were killed. At each of two egg facilities, 3.8 million hens were killed, and at another three egg facilities and a pullet farm a total of 2.3 million chickens were killed.

Wisconsin: There have been eight detections. At two egg facilities, a total of 980,000 chickens were killed. At five turkey facilities, 467,500 turkeys were killed. In a backyard flock, 40 mixed-breed chickens were killed.

South Dakota: AI was detected at six turkey farms, and 285,000 turkeys were killed.

North Dakota: AI was detected at two turkey farms. At the two facilities, 109,000 turkeys were killed. An additional 2,000 chickens also were killed at one of the facilities.

Arkansas: AI was detected at one turkey farm, where 40,000 turkeys were killed.

Missouri: AI was detected at two turkey farms, where 52,000 turkeys were killed.

Kansas: A low pathogenic strain of AI was detected in a commercial poultry facility in Kansas. The species and total number of birds affected were not released. An unknown number of ducks and chickens in a backyard flock also were killed.

California: There have been five detections including two wild ducks. At two turkey farms, 206,000 turkeys were killed (at one of these facilities, only a low-pathogenicity strain was found; nonetheless all of the facilities’ turkeys were killed). At one “broiler” chicken and duck facility, 114,000 birds were killed.

In addition to the states listed above, AI has been detected in the following states in wild migratory waterfowl, captive wild birds (such as falcons), and/or backyard flocks:

New Mexico

AI has also been found in Ontario and in British Columbia, where it was first detected in December 2014, before we were tracking the spread of the disease. The total number of birds affected at turkey and chicken facilities in British Columbia is reported to have been 250,000. In Ontario, the virus has been found in two turkey facilities and one facility raising chickens for meat with a total of 52,800 turkeys killed and 27,000 chickens killed.

Please check our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN) Facebook page for updates. We continue to track new outbreaks. The disease is still spreading. This is an epidemic.

How has AI spread?
AI is spread in two ways: 1) directly from bird to bird, and 2) through contact with the manure of an infected bird. AI can be spread by equipment, vehicles, clothing, and other materials that have come into contact with the manure of infected birds. This includes, for instance, the shoes of someone who has walked by a lake where infected ducks have left droppings. (Additionally, some researchers have speculated that strong winds blowing infected debris into animal housing may have contributed to the broad reach of HPAI in Minnesota; however, biosecurity failures are still believed to be the primary cause of the Minnesota outbreak.)


The spread of the virus has been linked to wild migratory birds, especially ducks and geese. Typically asymptomatic, these birds are able to carry the disease from area to area and shed it in their droppings. In domestic birds, especially turkeys, HPAI induces a ghastly and highly lethal disease.

Why have so many birds died?
While the migrations of wild birds help account for the broad geographical reach of this epidemic, it is industrial farming practices that account for the staggering mortality. The reason 3.8 million birds fell victim to AI in a single Iowa facility is because there were 3.8 million birds in a single facility.

Keeping large numbers of animals together, especially in the intensely crowded conditions characteristic of factory farms, leaves those animals highly vulnerable to disease. (In fact, these conditions may even create breeding grounds for new strains of diseases. Learn more about factory farming and disease.)

Battery Cages

Ironically, factory farm proponents have long cited biosecurity as a justification for keeping large numbers of animals confined in buildings with no outdoor access. As we’ve seen in this epidemic, biosecurity at these facilities is failing, and the confinement practices that ostensibly enable tight biosecurity are instead dooming millions of birds to disease and culling.

What is Farm Sanctuary doing to protect its shelter birds?
When HPAI appeared in California, we took immediate action to protect the birds at our shelters in Orland and Acton. We suspended visitor access to bird areas and instituted a “no birds in, no birds out” policy at both shelters. This means, unfortunately, that we cannot perform any bird rescues involving these locations while the HPAI risk remains high.

We have isolated our shelter birds from contaminants using tight-weave shade tarps, which keep wild fowl out of our bird areas and also prevent their feces from dropping into those areas as they fly over. We have also had to close off our ponds to the birds — ponds are the areas that pose the greatest risk of infection from wild waterfowl, who often land on open water to swim and eat.

All staff members at these shelters must now don special ISO gear and use foot baths when entering any bird area, and they are advised to change into different shoes upon entering the shelter in general from the outside, as an extra precaution. Additionally, all staff members are trained to identify signs of disease, both in our resident birds and in any wild birds in the area.

New York
As yet there have been no reported cases of HPAI east of Wisconsin, but it has reportedly been found in wild birds and/or backyard flocks. That said, the disease could spread further as waterfowl continue their spring migrations. We are following the movement of the disease closely and remain in constant contact with our vets. Currently, we are working with our avian vet at Cornell to review and update our AI protocols.

The Watkins Glen shelter has a large population of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese belonging to many distinct flocks that must be kept separate. Implementing the strict biosecurity measures necessary to protect them all from AI would be a massive effort. We want to allow the birds to have a semblance of the life they enjoy at our sanctuaries while still being safe from this disease.


We are dedicated to maintaining the strictest biosecurity at all of our shelters in the path of HPAI. These measures are crucial not only to safeguard our birds from disease but also to avoid giving the USDA any grounds for demanding that our shelter birds be culled if the epidemic continues to spread, worsen, or spread to other species.

Farmers have a strong economic incentive to protect their flocks, but for us this is personal. We know each turkey, each chicken, each duck, and each goose at our shelters as an individual with a name and a personality. They are our friends. The millions of deaths resulting from HPAI, like the billions of deaths resulting from the consumption of meat and eggs each year, are catastrophic. But HPAI also represents a catastrophe for each individual bird: the ultimate devastation of losing one’s life. To us, the cause of each bird in our care is urgent and worthy of our very best efforts.

What Can I Do to Protect My Birds from AI?
We’ll say it again: This is an epidemic. Proper biosecurity is crucial for the protection of your own backyard flock and the birds in your area. If you care for any birds such as turkeys, chickens, ducks, or geese, please stay updated on the spread of the disease and be prepared to implement quarantine measures if it nears your area. You can check our FAAN Facebook page for the latest on AI outbreaks.

PreventativeMeasures_AI_IG_blog-01 (1)

Read more on AI from the USDA.

* According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), birds infected with AI may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • sudden death without clinical signs
  • lack of energy and appetite
  • decreased egg production
  • soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • purple discoloration of wattles, combs, and legs
  • nasal discharge
  • coughing and sneezing
  • lack of coordination
  • diarrhea

How can I help?

Donate now-blogWe’ve already incurred costs from securing our California shelters against avian influenza. If the disease nears our New York Shelter, the expense of protecting our birds there will be much greater. With your help, we can keep them safe. Please donate now.

5 Ways Our Adoption Network Saves Animals

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Farm Sanctuary operates the largest farm-animal rescue and refuge network in North America. The Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN) encompasses hundreds of individual adopters, as well as fellow rescue and shelter groups, and has a presence in nearly every U.S. state.

Providing wonderful, lifelong homes, the network allows us to make space at our shelters for new arrivals and also to undertake large-scale operations like last year’s rescue of more than 300 “spent” egg-laying hens. FAAN is an impressive example of what we can do when work together.

An animal rescued by Farm Sanctuary has sanctuary for life. Here’s are five things that set our Farm Animal Adoption Network apart:

1. We put farm animals first.

Because the animals we rescue are viewed by most people as food sources, we must be especially careful that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. We don’t advertise on sites like Craigslist or Petfinder. Nor do we advertise at feed stores or anywhere else where these animals might be associated with food production. We screen adopters thoroughly to be sure they are both committed to and capable of providing excellent, lifelong care.


We also never promote our animals by referring to qualities that could be exploited, like egg-laying for ducks, geese, and hens or “lawn-mowing” and brush removal for goats and sheep. Doing so might bring in more applicants, but they would be applicants who see these animals as a means to some end. These animals suffered in exploitative circumstances before their rescue, and they never will again. We insist that adopters treat their adopted animals as companions.

2. Health matters.

The FAAN application process involves a review of the housing and outdoor areas to be provided to the adopted animals, as well as personal and veterinary references.

Because the animals we rescue often face health complications due to industrial breeding and raising practices, we insist that adopters have access to appropriate veterinary services. Chickens bred for egg production, for instance, are prone to a slew of reproductive-tract ailments, from blockages to cancer. Though we adopt out only the healthiest of the chickens we rescue, access to expert care and treatment is still crucial for all the adoptees. Part of the process of adopting these special-needs animals into homes is teaching adopters how to care for them.

3. We go the distance.

We transport animals to their adoptive homes ourselves. This not only ensures that the journey is safe and comfortable for the animals but also allows us to evaluate their new homes in person.

We’ll bring animals to the homes that are best for them, even if those homes are hundreds of miles away. Take, for example, the four pigs we recently transported from our New York Shelter all the way to a shelter in Florida.


Our many long-distance and interstate adoptions require careful preparations. Out-of-state adoptions also require testing and health certificates for specific diseases, which vary by destination state. Following these laws is imperative for the safety of the animals, since animals transported illegally can be confiscated and destroyed for testing.

4. We follow up.

Though adopted animals are living outside our shelters, they’re still part of the Farm Sanctuary family. Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell checks in with new adopters to make sure everything is going smoothly, and with the help of National Shelter Director Susie Coston, she regularly fields questions from adopters new and old about healthcare, behavior, and resources.

Many adopters have come to the sanctuary to learn even more about basic healthcare for their new family members, and many have attended our Farm Animal Care Conference, offered every September.


National Shelter Director Susie Coston provides in-depth instruction at our Farm Animal Care Conference.

5. We realize not every animal should be adopted.

Our rescued animals are survivors of abuse and neglect, which can leave them with persistent health challenges, or even special emotional needs, for the rest of their lives. For some, these difficulties require the sort of accommodations, monitoring, and care that can be provided only at our shelters .


Samantha, who requires a prosthetic leg, will always live at our New York Shelter so she lives in close proximity to expert medical care.

No sanctuary can make a sizeable dent in the number of farm animals slaughtered in this country, which is now over nine billion per year. What we can do is give wonderful lives to the animals we are able to save and do so by treating them as we would our own companion animals- as an individual. Each is important in his or her own right, as an ambassador and a thinking, feeling individual.

Care to learn more about home adoption? Farm Sanctuary is always on the lookout for great adopters. We’re happy to help you figure out what sort of adoption is right for you and what you need to do to get ready. Visit our adoption page for more info or to fill out an application.

The Truth about Foie Gras: Part 1

An interview with Bruce Friedrich, Senior Policy Director
– Staff writer

On July 1, 2012, after an eight-year waiting period, California became the first U.S. state to outlaw the production of foie gras and the only place in the world where its sale is illegal. This development was a milestone for Farm Sanctuary and our allies; we have been fighting to draw attention to the horrible abuse involved in foie gras production for decades.

French for “fatty liver,” foie gras is the diseased, fat-engorged liver of a duck or goose. Foie gras producers force-feed their birds large quantities of corn and fat by thrusting a metal tube down their throats and pumping meal directly into their stomachs two to three times a day for several weeks. At the end of this period, with livers swollen eight to ten times the normal size, the birds who have not already died from collateral injuries or ailments are slaughtered.

We sat down with Senior Policy Director Bruce Friedrich and National Shelter Director Susie Coston to find out the essential information about the industry, its victims and survivors, and the progress we’re making to end this incredibly cruel practice. In Part 1, Bruce fills us in on the issues.

What are the main challenges facing opponents of foie gras production?
Relatively few ducks are raised for foie gras compared to the numbers of hens used for eggs and chickens for meat. Many people have never even heard of foie gras, and those who have heard of it often aren’t aware of the cruelty involved in production.


Inside a foie gras facility.

What are some of the arguments put forward by proponents of foie gras, and how do you respond to these?
The most common defense is to talk in general terms about “freedom” and the “choice” to eat whatever we please. The second most common argument is to point out the abuses that occur in other food industries and to claim that banning foie gras represents class discrimination in that it primarily affects the wealthy, who are its predominant consumers. Foie gras proponents also argue that ducks naturally gorge themselves and that force-feeding, therefore, mimics nature.

We reframe the “freedom” and “choice” argument from abstract language to specific. Everyone generally supports individual freedoms, but almost no one thinks that you should be able to choose to abuse dogs and cats. When we speak specifically about the abuse foie gras entails, most consumers agree with us that it should be illegal. Few people think it’s acceptable to cram pipes down animals’ throats and to induce a horribly painful disease — and that’s what foie gras does and is.

Regarding class discrimination, we point out that this rationale is simply an attempt to avoid the issue. People who are unwilling to discuss the reality of the actual practices of foie gras are in a pretty sorry rhetorical position. And, of course, supporters of foie gras bans oppose the worst abuses in all food industries, not just foie gras, including extreme confinement systems, inhumane methods of poultry slaughter, and many more.

Finally, on the issue of whether gorging is natural, we point to the overwhelming scientific evidence that indicates that it’s not natural for ducks and geese to eat so much that their livers swell to ten times their natural size. And, of course, in a natural environment, they don’t eat so much that their death rate rises, let alone skyrockets in the way it does during foie gras production. Force-fed ducks die at 10 to 20 times the rate of non-force-fed ducks, according to a European Union study — and that was in a controlled environment.

Canadian_foie_gras_486x280yScientific studies have found that foie gras birds suffer from impaired liver function, skeletal disorders, and other serious illnesses. Many becoming so sick they can barely move. See this article for more on the scientific indictment of the foie gras industry.
Foie gras proponents also argue that ducks do not react aversely to force-feeding. That claim is belied by a large body of undercover video collected by multiple groups over the past two decades, which provides ample footage of ducks clearly struggling in pain as the pipes are thrust down their throats.

Investigations have uncovered, among other horrors, cramped and filthy living conditions; ducks with gruesome, untreated injuries such as broken bills and neck wounds; ducks with organs damaged or ruptured by force-feeding; workers roughly handling and brutally killing ducks; and barrels full of dead ducks. This video, for example, was recorded by an investigator working undercover at one facility (be warned, it includes graphic footage of suffering and death).

Hudson_Valley_NY_foie_gras_486x280What is the current state of foie gras legislation and legal action nationally? Are there any bills pending?
Foie gras is banned in California, and we are working with our friends at the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Compassion Over Killing (COK) on a national solution by suing the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ban foie gras based on the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). Under PPIA, the USDA is responsible for condemning products derived from diseased birds, which foie gras ducks and geese certainly are. Hepatic lipidosis, the condition purposefully induced by force-feeding, is a disease.

Has the California ban proved effective? Are chefs defying it or exploiting loopholes to a significant degree?
The ban has been very effective. Although a few chefs are having temper tantrums and attempting to skirt the law (for instance, by giving foie gras away instead of selling it), the vast majority of places that offered it before no longer do. And, the one foie gras producer in California — one of three in the nation — has ceased foie gras production altogether.

Does the implementation of the California ban pave the way for bans elsewhere?
We are hopeful that California’s move will be the end of foie gras in the United States. Our friends at the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Animal Protection and Rescue League, in particular, are doing some great work to relegate this product of torture to the dust bin of history. California was the number one market for foie gras in this country by far. The state has taken a powerful stance that will continue to resonate.

In Part 2, Susie Coston introduces some of the ducks of Farm Sanctuary who have found refuge from the foie gras industry, including Harper and Kohl, Monet and Matisse, and three of our newest residents: Ellen, Carrie, Emily, and Kristen. She describes the gentle care they receive to treat their sick and abused bodies and to overcome their tremendous fear of humans.

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.


A Foul State of Affairs: The Hidden Harm of Factory Farms in North Carolina

By Gene

Factory farms have a lot to hide. We’ve all seen undercover footage exposing the horrendous treatment suffered by industry animals that a few brave individuals are able to bring light (as with the recent case involving dairy cow abuse by Central Valley Meat Co. in central California). Perhaps less obvious to the general public is the insidious environmental destruction that results from the massive amounts of waste produced by these operations. This waste degrades the surrounding land and surface waters in what most of us consider to be distant places. To local communities, however, the reality of factory farming is anything but hidden — the smell, the flies, the foul brown water all seep through the land they call home.

View from above: a factory farm and manure lagoons.

I recently had the opportunity to view firsthand the negative impact that factory farms have on the environment and their communities in eastern North Carolina. Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich (senior director for strategic initiatives), Nick Ugliuzza (our photographer and videographer), and I were invited as guests of Robert F. Kennedy’s Waterkeeper Alliance, which provides support for communities standing up for their rights to clean water and for the wise and equitable use of water resources, both locally and globally. Among other laudable activities, Waterkeeper Alliance works to enforce Clean Water regulations by documenting water pollution and holding factory farms accountable.

Shocking Sites
Waterkeeper staff member Larry Baldwin and volunteers Rick Dove and Joanne Somerday were our guides to some shocking sites. North Carolina is second only to Iowa in the number of hogs raised for meat in the United States, and it ranks second to Minnesota in slaughter of turkeys for meat. The chicken industry is also significant and expanding there; in fact, another large scale chicken facility is slated to be built in the state. The waste produced by these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — more aptly described as animal factories — is overwhelming and destructive, and what we saw on our tour deeply saddened us.

We flew over expansive manure “lagoons” on the properties of pig farms; we saw these operations spewing liquid pig manure onto fields, which then flows into surface water and pollutes the environment. Near a road outside one animal factory, we witnessed a cow standing chest deep in water laden with pig manure. We also observed sprinklers spraying liquid manure away from a farm, murky brown water flowing into a ditch, and miserable turkeys crammed into sheds almost the size of a football field.

No Trespassing
When we tried to speak with several “farm” owners about their methods and expansion plans, we were rebuffed. The local city council members who were called to meet with concerned citizens were either poorly informed, claiming ignorance about the chicken farm expansion plans, or worse, trying their best to curb any community-wide discussion about the issues. Case in point: The “heads-up” information on plans for expansion of these operations that should have been the starting point of an open dialogue with citizens was posted on a sign declaring that a new slaughterhouse was coming soon and that a meeting would be held to approve it. It’s clear that agribusiness enjoys an imperious influence over town leaders and government policies wherever factory farming sets up shop.

So that’s the bad news.

Row after row of expansive buildings housing tens of thousands of animals.

See Something, Say Something
But the good news is that community activists are beginning to motivate their neighbors to take action. I was struck by how much courage the folks in one community had to speak up about the devastating effects of these animal factories. We spoke to two community activists who grew up in an area that includes factory farms, and they are fighting a chicken farm expansion. We also attended a town meeting with other members of the community who showed up to voice their opposition to a new factory farm. Big Agriculture is entrenched in North Carolina and in other states, and some people are clearly afraid to speak out. But these neighbors challenged the assumptions of local leaders that new (undesirable) jobs or perceived economic gains trump any concerns about the environment or quality of life. Not only are these folks noticing the problems and thinking for themselves, but they are taking the time and energy to voice their concerns to us and to local authorities.

Small Conversations, Big Results
We also met a charismatic former pig farmer named Don Webb, whose neighbors confronted him about the air pollution caused by his pig-farming operation. One person after another spoke to him about the flies, the stench, and the fact that they could no longer enjoy being outside their homes. He told us that he thought of his parents: If something like this were happening to them, he realized that he would absolutely do his best to protect them from the problem. His neighbors effectively educated him about the harm he was causing, and he decided to get out of the business. His story is a testament to the fact that one person can make a difference by starting a conversation.

Thousands of turkeys packed into one building.

Uplifting and Inspiring
This trip showed me that people in any community adversely affected by factory farming must gather their voices, stand up, and be heard! It takes courage and fortitude to challenge assumptions and educate your own neighbors, local business owners, and local government leaders. I was inspired to see people in North Carolina stepping up and taking a stand. This type of activism is never easy, but it’s the only way local governments may begin to understand that the factory farming devastation must stop.


A Wake-up Call: USDA Slaughterhouse Closing

By Gene

Over the past two weeks, news outlets across the country have reported on the USDA’s closure of a cattle slaughter facility in central California for “egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” The agency was alerted to misconduct at Hanford’s Central Valley Meat Co. by animal protection organization Compassion Over Killing, whose undercover investigator gathered footage of workers shooting cows in the head repeatedly with a captive-bolt gun after the first shot failed to stun them, of a conscious cow flailing as she hangs from her back leg on the chain that will carry her to the throat-slashing station, and of sick or injured cows struggling as workers roughly try to force them to stand.

The cruelty uncovered at Central Valley Meat sickens me, but it doesn’t surprise me. The company and the industry will allege that the recklessness and brutality brought to light there are an aberration, but after more than 25 years investigating the abuse of downed animals and advocating on their behalf, I can tell you that such conduct is all too common.

Central Valley Meat Co. is one of many operations that specialize in slaughtering dairy cows whom producers deem “spent.” To keep cows in constant milk production, dairies subject them to an unremitting cycle of impregnation, birth, and lactation. Producing more than twice as much milk they did 40 years ago, cows are impregnated every year and are milked during seven months of their nine-month pregnancies. They are pushed to their biological limits. After a few years of this, they are exhausted — their bodies depleted, their bones brittle, their udders often painfully infected with mastitis. When they are no longer profitable as milking cows, these poor animals are sent to slaughter.

It was at a stockyard that a Farm Sanctuary rescue team found Fanny. This “spent” cow, had clearly endured not only the ordeal of milk production but also the misery of neglect. Her horribly overgrown hooves made every step excruciating, and her legs buckled under the weight of her enormous udders. Instead of trying to help her, stockyard workers hit her with wooden poles to make her move, striking her every time she fell, attempting to force her to get up.

rescued cows at our farm animal sanctuary in new york

Fanny and Orlando

As soon as we could gain access to Fanny, we brought her to Cornell’s veterinary hospital where we assumed she would need to be euthanized. Despite her ailments, however, with the care she received, Fanny began to revive. Within hours, her eyes were brighter, and by the next day she was standing on her own and greeted us with a loud moo. Against the odds, Fanny still had plenty of life in her.

And even after years of seeing every calf she bore taken away within hours of delivery, Fanny also still had a strong desire to be a mother. At our New York Shelter, she met Orlando, Arnold, Tweed, Conrad, and Milbank, young male dairy calves sold at auction for cheap beef when they were newborns and later rescued after their buyer shot six others purchased with them. The mother who had never known her calves and the calves who had never known their mothers claimed each other at once and became a blissful family.

The devotion Fanny and her adopted sons have for each other underscores the tragedy of dairy production. These animals suffer not only physically but emotionally. The lives denied them are not ones of mere survival but ones of intimacy, loyalty, and joy.

The slaughter of animals too sick, injured, or weak to stand and walk on their own (“downers” as the industry calls them) at Central Valley Meats, a supplier for the USDA’s national school lunch program, has justly raised concerns about the safety of the U.S. meat supply, not least because the violations occurred under the noses of two USDA inspectors stationed at the plant. Under federal regulations instituted in 2009, in part at the urging of Farm Sanctuary, the slaughter of downed cattle for human consumption is prohibited. Without strict oversight, however, businesses will continue to push downed cattle onto the kill floor, squeezing profit out of every animal they can. They will also continue to slaughter downed pigs, sheep, and goats with impunity, since these animals are as yet exempt from the regulations that are supposed to apply to downed cows.

Every year, more than one million animals become so sick or injured that they are unable to walk to slaughter. We are still fighting against great resistance to keep even these extremely unwell animals from being killed for food. If our government demanded that all animals slaughtered for human consumption actually be healthy, by any sane definition of the word, and if that regulation was actually enforced, the slaughter industry would be brought to its knees.

The USDA has decided against a recall of Central Valley Meats beef. I hope this does not put the matter to rest for consumers. This investigation has given people across the country a glimpse into an industry that breeds, raises, transports, and slaughters animals with systematic disregard for their welfare and for the welfare of those who consume animal products. I hope this story will make people think about the history of the meat on their plates, and I hope it will inspire them to replace that meat with food that has not been created with such callousness.