New Mercy for Animals Investigation reveals cruelty at Idaho Dairy

Earlier this week Mercy For Animals released the results of another undercover investigation into an Idaho dairy operation. The investigation, like every investigation the organization has conducted, documented egregious cruelty to animals at the hands of workers.

This investigation revealed workers – including management – viciously punching, shocking, jumping on, and beating animals to deliberately inflict pain. One cow – too sick to stand on her own – was tethered by the neck with a chain and dragged on the ground behind a tractor. Workers punched the animals in the face and slammed cage bars into their heads, causing them to recoil and panic in terror.

Three workers, including a manager of the dairy, have been charged with criminal cruelty to animals and since the investigation, Wendy’s announced it would be severing ties with the dairy. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “The Dublin-based fast-food company is three steps removed from Bettencourt — Wendy’s buys cheese from a supplier that gets its cheese from a factory that makes its cheese out of milk from the Idaho dairy.” And Kraft Foods, which the dairy supplied, has announced it will require its suppliers to not dock dairy cows’ tails.

Tail docking is a common amputation practice, which is typically done without anesthetic and which removes up to two-thirds of a cow’s tail. In addition to the pain of the procedure, it inhibits cows’ ability to use their tails to shoo flies. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes tail docking of dairy cows, saying, “Current scientific literature indicates that routine tail docking provides no benefit to the animal, and that tail docking can lead to distress during fly seasons.”

Investigation reveals cruelty at Walmart pork supplier

Gestation crates have come under a lot of fire in recent months. These crates are used to confine mother pigs for the duration of their pregnancies, which last four months. They’re put into another crate, a farrowing crate, to give birth, then are placed back into a gestation crate, the cycle repeating itself for about four years.

Since February of this year, company after company after company has publicly distanced itself from these cruel contraptions, from a variety of sectors ranging from restaurant to retailer to manufacturer to food service provider. Today alone both Costco and Sears (parent company of Kmart) announced they would rid their supply chains of pork produced using gestation crates.

While the list of companies that have enacted policies on this issue reads like a who’s who of the world’s largest food companies (McDonald’s, Burger King, Kroger, Kraft, and Safeway to name just a few), there are still a number of companies that are dragging their heels.

Animal protection organization Mercy For Animals released the results of an undercover investigation today revealing cruelty and abuse at a Christensen Farms, which supplies Walmart, one such company that has failed to take a position on gestation crates.

The investigation conducted on a farm in Hanska, Minnesota documented:

  • The routine suffering of mother pigs confined in filthy crates so small they can’t even turn around. Many of the pigs exhibited stereotypical behaviors like banging their heads against the bars of their cages and repeatedly chewing on the cage bars as a result of stress and boredom;
  • Castration and tail-docking of fully-conscious piglets without any painkiller;
  • Injured animals with untreated wounds left to suffer; and
  • Workers “thumping” piglets—slamming them to the ground—to slowly die.

The Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals are calling on Walmart to create a policy to get gestation crates out of its supply chain. You can sign a change.org petition here to join their call.

Announcing Oakland Veg Week

A bit of a local announcement, but while the events might be local, the potential impacts are widespread. I’m excited to be part of a group that’s organizing the first-ever Oakland Veg Week April 15-21. Oakland Veg Week was inspired by similar weeks of action in DC and San Diego. I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure ours is going to be the best one yet.

So what is Oakland Veg Week? It’s a week of celebration of the vegetarian lifestyle in Oakland. We’re challenging residents (and anyone who wants to take part in solidarity) to take a pledge to be vegetarian for the week. Already veg? Go vegan. Already vegan? Get your friends, family, coworkers, and even people you don’t like to give a vegetarian lifestyle a shot.

Our week of events includes a cooking demonstration; a talk on vegan nutrition by Jack Norris, RD, author of Vegan for Life and co-founder of Vegan Outreach; another talk by Nathan Runkle, president and founder of Mercy for Animals; and a screening of the film, Vegucated. To cap the week off, we’ll be hosting a grand finale celebration at the center of it all, Oakland’s beautiful Lake Merritt. To celebrate your success, you can meet others who took the pledge and sample some of the finest selection of vegan foods available.

Who’s behind it? We are a handful of volunteers who love Oakland and love animals. We want those things to go hand in hand, so we’re bringing it to the community. Oakland Veg Week is also supported by Veg Fund, Vegan Outreach, Quorn, and a number of other wonderful sponsoring companies. And even more exciting, local officials like Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel are getting on board, taking the pledge to go veg. Nadel said, “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to explore new foods and recipes in my quest for a healthier diet for myself and the environment.  I encourage my constituents to try it too.” So do we!

Please consider joining us for Oakland Veg Week. Wherever you are, take the pledge to go veg. You’ll get recipes and meal tips each day and you’ll be introduced to a new world of food. We look forward to celebrating with you!

Butterball’s cruelty to turkeys exposed

Today animal protection organization Mercy for Animals released the results of its latest undercover investigation, this time of a Butterball turkey factory farm in North Carolina. This investigation, like every previous investigation released on a factory farm, revealed horrific cruelty to animals.

Factory farmed turkeys, unlike their wild counterparts, are bred for quick growth. They grow so large, so quickly that their legs often can’t even withstand the weight of their own bodies. Some suffer crippling leg disorders, others die an early death from a heart attack. To pay for veterinary treatment would exceed these animals’ deemed worth, so birds who are injured or ill are usually left to die slow, painful deaths.

In addition to this type of routine negligence, workers also deliberately handled the animals at this factory farm violently, kicking, stomping on, and throwing them. According to Mercy For Animals, some of the undercover footage taken at Butterball documented:

• Workers violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks in full view of company management;

• Employees bashing in the heads of live birds with metal bars, leaving many to slowly suffer and die from their injuries;

• Turkeys covered in flies, living in their own waste, unable to access food or water and suffering from severe feather loss and necrotic (dead) muscles and skin;

• Birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones; and

• Severely injured turkeys, unable to stand up or walk, left to die without any veterinary care, because treating sick or injured birds was too costly and time consuming, as the farm manager explained to MFA’s investigator.

Law enforcement in Hoke County, North Carolina has reportedly raided the facility and opened an investigation.

The exposé by Mercy For Animals comes at a critical time. Hidden camera investigations done by animal protection groups and other whistleblowers offer a window into factory farming that most people would otherwise not access. They have resulted in animal cruelty charges, corporate policy changes, and food recalls—keeping unsafe foods out of our nation’s supply chain.

Rather than voluntary industry-wide reforms to improve animal welfare and food safety, big ag is fighting back by trying to criminalize taking undercover investigative footage on factory farms. Four such “ag gag” bills – in Minnesota, Florida, New York, and Iowa – were introduced in 2011 and summarily died. These laws were meant to impose criminal penalties for anyone creating audio or visual recordings of agricultural operations. Not only could the individuals responsible for taking the footage be prosecuted, but the bills were also written to impose criminal penalties upon any media that transmitted the footage. Florida Senator Jim Norman has reintroduced such a bill in Florida for the next legislative session.

Such tactics are thinly veiled: rather than changing practices that most Americans are opposed to, like cramming hens in tiny cages, breeding pigs in crates so small they can’t even turn around, or performing routine mutilations on animals without a drop of painkiller, the industry wants to shoot the messenger. We all deserve to know where our food comes from and whether we support the types of conditions in which it is produced.

With one day left to donate in 2011, I highly encourage individuals who care about animals to support Mercy For Animals. The organization continuously comes through for animals, pulling back the curtain on their abusers and getting real results.

How are Egg McMuffins produced?

Chicago-based Mercy for Animals released an undercover investigation into a McDonald’s egg supplier today. The results of the investigation were not unlike those of previous investigations. Using a hidden camera, a Mercy for Animals investigator went undercover at battery cage egg factory farms in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado that were owned by Sparboe Egg Farms. Up until the exposé was revealed, all of the eggs used by McDonald’s locations west of the Mississippi River came from a Sparboe facility in Iowa.

The exposé documented rodents, insects, and large numbers of mummified corpses of dead birds in cages with live birds still laying eggs for human consumption. According to ABC News, “Citing “serious” and “significant violations” at five different locations, the FDA cited [Sparpoe with] at least 13 violations of the recently enacted federal egg rule meant to prevent dangerous salmonella outbreaks.”

In addition, the investigator filmed egregious conditions like “workers grabbing hens by their throats and ramming them into battery cages … a worker tormenting a bird by swinging her around in the air while her legs were caught in a grabbing device – violence described as “torture” by another worker … a worker shoving a bird into the pocket of another employee without any regard for the animal’s fear and suffering,” and more.

The Mercy for Animals investigator filmed routine standard agricultural practices like the intensive confinement of hens in tiny wire cages so small each bird has less space than two-thirds of a sheet of paper on which to spend her entire twelve to eighteen month life; chicks having the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot blade without a drop of painkiller and live chicks slowly suffocated to death in plastic bags.

Sadly, although all fifty states have anti-cruelty laws, most of what the Mercy for Animals investigator documented, like debeaking, intensive confinement, and suffocation of baby chicks are considered standard agricultural procedures and it’s unlikely law enforcement will take any punitive action against Sparboe. McDonald’s, for its part, decided to switch suppliers telling ABC News, “McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner.”

McDonald’s will continue to purchase the vast majority of its eggs from suppliers that, like Sparboe, confine their hens in cages. I don’t know about you, but I think keeping animals confined in spaces so small they can’t move more than a few inches without touching another bird or the sides of their cages could never be considered humane. If McDonald’s truly cares about animal welfare, it will enact a policy requiring its egg and pork suppliers not to confine their animals in cages or crates. You can help by signing Mercy for Animals’ petition encouraging McDonald’s to stop purchasing eggs from caged hens and of course never buying them yourself.