Why Are Farmed Animals Forsaken – By Their Advocates?

By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns

Photo by East Bay Animal Advocates

“Free-range organic” young turkeys at Diestel Turkey Ranch
“Free-range organic” young turkeys with surgically mutilated beaks at Diestel Turkey Ranch, a Whole Foods supplier

Back in the early 1980s, when I joined the emerging Animal Rights Movement, little attention was paid to farmed animals. The general attitude back then was: “It’s hard enough to get people to care about whales. How can we ever hope to get them to care about a chicken?” Back then, most if not all of those running the traditional animal welfare organizations ate animals. Animals were on their plates, not off them.

But in the mid-1980s, a Revolution was getting underway. New animal advocacy groups sprang up: Farm Animal Reform Movement, Farm Sanctuary, PETA. These groups were founded and led by activists who practiced and promoted, veganism – ethical veganism for the animals, not just about food and diet.

In the 1990s, farmed animals started appearing on the animal advocacy agenda. Veal calves isolated from their mothers in wooden crates comparable to a coffin. Hens caged for life in Henitentaries. These two abuses, especially, drew attention. At the same time, the idea persisted that being vegan is a personal choice rather than an ethical imperative. “We can’t impose our values” kind of thing.

Today, most animal organizations in the U.S. include farmed animals, whose plight on factory farms they acknowledge. The question is, what form does farmed animal advocacy take in our contemporary animal advocacy movement? What are groups actually doing? What are they asking, or urging, their supporters and others to do for the largest population of abused animals on the planet: those billions of chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, ducks, aquatic animals and so many more, each of whom is an individual, an embodied consciousness with feelings, the same as ourselves.

The question involves asking: What is our goal for farmed animals?

I take this opportunity to express a concern I have, looking forward.

One group’s long-term goals for several categories of animals are: ending fur-wearing, ending puppy mills, ending the use of animals in personal-care product testing. By contrast, this group’s long-term goal, or “vision,” for farmed animals is, vaguely, “a better life” – a “better life’ in conditions that cannot be good, compared to the life these animals need and deserve to enjoy every bit as much as you or I, a cat or a dog. For farmed animals, the long-term goal for this advocacy group is merely to eliminate “extreme confinement and other inhumane practices.” The single exception: “Dogs are no longer raised and killed for their meat.”

Unlike wearing fur, for example, dining on animals other than dogs is not an issue as long as the animals on the plate were treated “humanely” on the farm and during slaughter. The term “humane” in this context is whitewashed not only by animal-abusing industries, but by animal advocacy societies that support the continuation of animal farms. One’s eyes glaze over just looking at the word, “humane.” No wonder. The cruelest, most brutal and atrocious industrial farming conditions and practices have become the standard by which “humane” treatment of farmed animals is measured.

What does “animal advocacy” even mean when it condones cutting an animal’s throat for cuisine? When it condones “culling” – removing and killing animals who aren’t “producing” enough flesh, milk or eggs for profit? And when it hides the realities of so-called humane animal farming in a way that hardly differs from how agribusiness and its affiliates bury their brutalities in euphemisms and lies?

Seldom, if ever, does a “humane farming” advocacy group reveal the atrocities of one of its humane-certified farms. Typically it takes an OUTSIDER – an investigative journalist, an accidental visitor, a whistleblower – to reveal what goes on in those places. Only then might we learn that a “humane certifier,” so-called, has “suspended” certification of a particular farm. Doesn’t this say something about the entire “humane farming” enterprise?

Workers Treated as Badly as the Animals?

May All Birds Know Love
Photo by Frank Johnston — The Washington Post

Another large animal advocacy group posted an article in December advocating what its president called, “Smaller farms that treat animals humanely,” going on to say that “factory farming . . . is just as brutal to humans as it is to animals.” It is painful to read this false equivalence and to quote it.

Factory-farming is NOT just as brutal to humans, by which the writer means small rural farmers and factory-farm workers, as it is to the animals. Yes, it is brutal to workers, in corporate slaughterhouses especially. But there’s a Huge Difference here: Unlike the chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, fishes and other victims of factory farming, the workers are not the legally enslaved property of corporations. They are not the ones being SLAUGHTERED.

Moreover, the workers are not intentionally mutilated (without pain relievers, of course) as the animals are (debeaked, detoed, ear-cropped, etc.). They do not endure the terror and indignity of artificial insemination and masturbation that “breeding” turkeys and pigs helplessly endure; they are not subjected to genetic assault to produce bodies and body parts designed for human consumption. “We are no longer selling broilers, we are selling pieces. A knowledge of how broilers of different strains and sexes grow and become pieces is increasingly important” (“Latest research findings reported at annual poultry science meeting,” Feedstuffs, Sept. 7, 1992).

The workers and rural farmers are not forced to live without respite in filthy, polluted buildings and feedlots from which they cannot escape. Unlike the animals, workers can walk outside for a breath of air if they choose. Not being enslaved property like the animals, they can walk away for good; and, unlike the animals, the workers get to go home, even after a miserable work shift. By contrast, the animals never get to “go home,” ever. The only “home” they will ever know is that Home in the Sky where they are finally free, in other words, Dead.

As we begin the New Year, I urge my fellow animal rights advocates to think about what we want to say and do on behalf of farmed animals and their plight in 2023 and beyond. A fellow activist sent me an email in December about the situation I have described.

He wrote:

If they had said that their ultimate vision was that no animal should be exploited and raised for food, no animal should be killed, and the animal-based food industries should pass out of existence, but until that happens it is a good thing to lessen the suffering of captive animals if we can do that, that would be an argument that might work. But they couldn’t bring themselves to say that.

Why couldn’t they? What are the forces that put farmed animals forever in the Land of the Forsaken by their “advocates”?

In The Divine Comedy, Dante passes through the gate of Hell, which bears the inscription: “ Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” typically translated as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Translation: “Long-term vision” for farmed animals. Is this our vision? As farmed animal advocates, we really do have to choose. – Karen Davis

respect what wings are for
“Humanely-raised,” “organic,” “free-range, “cage-free” chickens. Photo by Unparalleled Suffering.