On Friday, Feb. 12, Promoting Human-Animal Relations and Liberation (PHARAL) Wes hosted Claudia Lifton of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, a local non-profit dedicated to educating people about the impact of their food choices. She addressed animal treatment, workers’ rights, and the environmental impacts of farming.
Projecting images and videos meant to illustrate the extreme conditions many of these farms are in, Lifton began her presentation.
“[The animals are] in massive industrial sheds, housed by the thousands, barely even able to move,” Lifton said. “This is done so the industry can make as much money as possible off of each one of their bodies.”
Four major corporations have taken over the pig, chicken, and cow industries, putting thousands of family farmers out of business. These corporations treat the animals poorly, but feel their actions are justified because food prices are lower.
Of the 75 billion animals killed for human consumption every year, about 99 percent are raised on factory farms. Lifton detailed the living conditions of chickens, cows, and pigs.
She used the example of egg laying hens that are bred to produce three times more eggs than what is natural.
“It’d be like having your period every single second of every single day,” Lifton explained.
Another example she gave was broiler chickens, who are bred to get fat fast.
“It’s like making an eight-year-old child weigh 600 pounds,” Lifton said.
Pigs, considered the fourth most intelligent animals on Earth, are crammed into gestation crates. Unable to turn around, they go insane from their confinement.
According to Lifton, dairy cows are inseminated on rape racks and their calves are immediately taken away after birth. Mothers are then milked three times per day for 10 to 12 months before they are inseminated again. Female calves will have the same fate as their mothers, and male calves will be slaughtered for veal.
Two laws are currently in place for humane slaughter.
The first, the 28 Hour Law, states that one “may not confine animals in a vehicle or vessel for more than 28 consecutive hours without unloading the animals for feeding, water, and rest.” However, the law is generally ill-enforced, and about three percent of pigs and six percent of chickens die in transport.
The second, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, aims to decrease pain by making slaughter quick and immediate. However, these methods often fail, leading to prolonged suffering. Lifton stated that about 4 million chickens are boiled alive each year.
Few laws regulate marketing. Terms such as “cage free” and “free-range” have minimal legal requirements. Even if chickens are considered “cage free,” they are still often packed into small areas.
Lifton further explained that workers also pay a large toll at factory farms. The industry seeks undocumented immigrants who cannot unionize and will work for less than the minimum wage. The workers wear diapers because bathroom breaks would decrease their kill-per-hour rate. Many end up injured and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or alcoholism.
Lifton told a story of three men who drowned in a vat of blood at a slaughterhouse, noting that after the workers’ families sued the corporation, only $480 was received per worker.
She further stated that factory farms also damage the environment by using exorbitant amounts of water.
“It takes 2,463 gallons of water to make one hamburger,” Lifton said. “And one gallon of milk equals 27 showers.”
Lifton showed a video of a pig farm where there was a pool of feces and urine the size of four football fields. Farmers spray the waste into the air to fertilize the fields, but many droplets can move down wind and cause respiration troubles for neighbors. The people primarily affected by pig farm waste are economically disadvantaged and/or people of color.
Fish farms, called aquacultures, also create large amounts of manure. The feces float downstream and create dead zones, or areas where there is not enough oxygen to sustain life.
Samantha Lau ’18 said that she was surprised at learning about the overreaching dangers of factory farms.
“I knew factory farms didn’t treat their animals well,” Lau said. “But the negative impacts on the workers and environment really shocked me.”
Throughout her presentation, Lifton cited easy lifestyle changes that students can adopt to make a difference.
“You don’t have to be vegan to put almond, hemp, or coconut milk in your cereal, or to order a veggie burger once in a while,” she said.
According to the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition’s website, consumers can make a big impact by making small changes.
“Cutting back or eliminating your consumption of animal products benefits your health, our communities, animals, and the environment,” the website reads. “It’s never been easier or tastier to switch to a plant-based diet.”
For those most conscientious of animal rights, she recommended reducing chicken, egg, and dairy consumption. For environment lovers, she advised against beef, dairy, and lamb consumption.
She argued that when consumers change, so will the industry.
“Consumers make the market,” Lifton said.
Joey Chipman ’18, a member of PHARAL Wes and an organizer of the event, explained the importance of having Lifton impart her wisdom on the University community.
“We thought it was necessary for Claudia to come because animal rights is a sorely unrecognized social justice issue, and it is our group’s mission to raise awareness on campus,” Chipman wrote in an email to The Argus. “The reality of animal exploitation is challenging for many people to reckon with, but she was approachable and effective in discussing animal agriculture’s unjustifiable mass killing and torture of non-human animals who feel pain, have families, and do not want to die.”