Farm Animals

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Chapter 4
Farm Animals

Farm animals are animals that are kept for agricultural purposes. This includes such domesticated animals as cows and chickens, and wild animals that are raised in confinement, including mink and fish. Animals are farmed for a variety of reasons. Most are raised to be killed. Meat from cattle, hogs, and chickens provides the bulk of protein in the American diet, whereas animals with beautiful fur are killed for their pelts. However, some farm animals are more useful and profitable alive. These animals produce something of value to humans, such as milk, eggs, wool, or honey, or are farmed for their skills, such as horses, mules, and burros. Whatever the reason, the cultivation of farm animals is an enormous business.

Table 4.1 shows the production value for the ten top money-making livestock commodities in 2005. Livestock and their output accounted for nearly $107 billion in value. Figure 4.1 shows a breakdown of value by percentage. Cattle, milk from milk cows, broilers (chickens raised for meat), and swine (hogs and pigs) made up the vast majority of the total in 2005.

The number of animals involved in the agricultural industry is staggering. As shown in Table 4.2, in 2005 U.S. farms included 8.9 billion broilers and nearly 770 million cattle, swine, sheep, turkeys, egg-laying hens, horses, and other farmed animals. Table 4.3 shows slaughter statistics for 2005 for a variety of farmed animals. Over 9.4 billion farm animals were slaughtered in 2005.

In 2005 more farm animals were living in the United States than there were humans on earth. The use and well-being of these animals is of major importance to people concerned with animal rights and welfare. Most animal rights activists abhor the idea that animals are commodities at all. Many believe that animals should not be used for any purpose, especially to feed humans. Welfarists focus their attention on the treatment of farmed animalshow they are housed, fed, transported, and slaughtered.

People in the U.S. livestock business argue that farm animals are well treated. They point to the high productivity of the industry as proof. In other words, farm animals must be thriving because there are so many of them. The American Meat Institute (AMI; September 20, 2005,, a trade organization that represents the meat and poultry industry, sums up this viewpoint by stating: "Optimal handling is ethically appropriate, creates positive workplaces and ensures higher quality meat products." In the brochure "Animal Welfare in the Meat Industry: A Commitment to Consumers and Livestock" (January 2001), the AMI notes that livestock farmers practice humane animal care because it is ethical and results in calmer animals. In turn, calmer animals help make farms and meat plants safer working environments, resulting in higher-quality meat. The link between humane animal treatment and high production of good-quality products is commonly cited by the livestock industry.

Critics argue that high productivity is an indicator of the efficiency of the overall system, not the welfare of individual animals. They have a long list of complaints about how farm animals are raised and slaughtered in the United States.

Farming animals is an old and respected business. It feeds people and supplies products they want. Forcing farmers to radically change the way they treat animals might jeopardize the relatively cheap and plentiful supply of animal products that Americans enjoy. Would society tolerate this just for the sake of the animals? This is the ultimate question at the center of the farm animal debate. However, animal rights supporters, welfarists, and environmentalists point to evidence that the use of farm animals as a food source is an inefficient and in some ways harmful practice and argue that alternatives to the most common modern farming techniques would provide for a more sustainable and humane agricultural system.

Production value for selected agricultural products, 2005
Source: Adapted from "Table A1.2. Value of Production for Selected Agricultural Commodities for 2004 and 2005," and "Table A1.9. Poultry Production in the United States, 2004 and 2005," in 2005 United States Animal Health Report, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, August 2006, (accessed November 28, 2006)
Milk from milk cows$26,903,822,000
Catfish and trout$556,316,000
Sheep, including wool$482,298,000
Miscellaneous poultry$64,554,000


Humans have been farming animals for thousands of years, dating back to when animals were first domesticated. The ability to keep and control animals allowed people to turn their focus away from hunting and toward building civilizations. It also changed the fundamental attitudes that humans had about animals. Domesticated animals lost the status that their ancestors had as independent, free-roaming creatures and became pieces of property.

Livestock and poultry inventory, by usage type, 2005
CommodityInventory (rounded to nearest thousand)OperationsValue of production ($1,000)
aInventory as of January 1, 2006.
bNot available.
cInventory as of December 1, 2005.
dInventory as of January 1, 1999.
Source: Adapted from "Table 1. Livestock, Poultry, and Aquaculture Statistics for 2005," and "Table A1.9. Poultry Production in the United States, 2004 and 2005," in 2005 United States Animal Health Report, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, August 2006,, and (both accessed January 11, 2007)
All cattle and calves   97,102,000a982,51036,739,445
    Milk cows    9,058,000a78,295        NAb
    Beef cows   33,253,000a770,170        NA
    Cattle on feed   14,132,000a88,199        NA
Hogs and pigs   61,449,000c67,33013,643,568
Sheep and lambs (plus wool)    6,230,000a68,280   482,298
    Annual average number of egg layers  343,501,000 4,042,282
   Number of broilers produced8,870,350,00020,901,939
   Number of turkeys raised  256,270,000 3,232,576
Equine    5,317,000dNA      NA

Humans devoted a great deal of energy to maximizing the value of their new property. Control over breeding was particularly important. Certain animals were mated with each other to produce offspring that were even more valuable, whereas animals with undesirable properties were eliminated from the gene pool. Because farm animals were viewed as property, many decisions were based on logic and economics. Society at large benefited from the ready availability of meat and other products from this system.

Livestock Protection Laws

In the 1800s a number of laws were enacted in England and the United States to protect animals from abuse, neglect, and mistreatment by their owners. Some of these laws specifically included livestock, whereas others did not. Many state anticruelty laws excluded what they called "customary agricultural practices." These laws were often interpreted not to apply to animals raised for food.

The Twenty-Eight Hour Law of 1873 was the first federal law dealing with livestock welfare. It required that livestock being transported across state lines be rested and watered at least once every twenty-eight hours during the journey. At the time, livestock transport was done by rail, and for more than 130 years the law was only enforced on railroad transport of livestock. In 2005 the animal group Compassion Over Killing conducted an undercover investigation of a pig transport operation and produced videos documenting the suffering allegedly inflicted on pigs forced to travel by truck for long time periods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched its own investigation after learning that more than 150 pigs transported by truck for more than twenty-eight hours in the summer heat arrived dead at a livestock facility in Texas. Compassion Over Killing and other animal welfare organizations petitioned the USDA to include truck transport under the provisions of the Twenty-Eight Hour Law. In September 2006 the USDA officially agreed and concluded that "trucks which operate as express carriers or common carriers" for livestock will from now on be covered under the law (

Livestock and poultry slaughter statistics, 2005
Federally inspected slaughterOther commercial slaughterTotal commercial slaughter
Source: Adapted from "Table A1.3. Cattle and Calves Production: 2004 and 2005," "Table A1.4. Milk Cow Production: 2004 and 2005," "Table A1.7. Hog and Pig Production: 2004 and 2005," "Table A1.8. Sheep Production in the United States: 2004 and 2005," and "Table A1.9. Poultry Production in the United States, 2004 and 2005," in 2005 United States Animal Health Report, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, August 2006, (accessed November 28, 2006)
Dairy cows2,252,000N/A2,252,000
Other cows2,523,000N/A2,523,000
Hogs and pigs103,582,000N/A103,582,000
Sheep and lambs2,698,000N/A2,698,000
Breakdown of slaughtered cattle
All cows4,775,000
Bulls & stags498,000
Breakdown of slaughtered hogs & pigs
Barrows & gilts99,123,000
Stags & boars280,000
Breakdown of slaughtered sheep & lambs
Mature sheep129,000

The Animal Welfare Act was enacted in 1966 to provide protection for animals used for certain purposes, but the regulations enforcing the law specifically excluded livestock.

The major legislation of the twentieth century to affect livestock was the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958. The law required slaughter by humane methods at slaughterhouses subject to federal inspection. This meant that livestock had to be rendered insensitive to pain before being slaughtered. The act excluded chickens and all animals slaughtered using techniques associated with religious rituals. For decades, animal welfare organizations have been contesting the USDA policy that excludes some animals, particularly chickens and turkeys, from coverage under this law. In 2005 the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the USDA challenging the policy that excludes birds from the act. In September 2006 a federal judge refused a USDA request to dismiss the case and noted that the plaintiffs presented a credible argument in their lawsuit.

Concern Grows

Following the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958, farm animals received little more attention until a 1964 book by Ruth Harrison was published. Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry described the brutality inflicted on livestock in Britain by the modern farming industry. In 1975 Peter Singer published Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, which detailed similar problems on U.S. factory farms. It was also during the 1960s and 1970s that the vegetarian movement gained momentum.

The plight of farm animals became a major issue with animal rights activists and welfarists. In the 1980s and early 1990s several groups dedicated to livestock concerns formed, among them the Farm Animal Reform Movement, Humane Farming Association, Farm Sanctuary, and United Poultry Concerns. Since 2000 these and other groups began publicizing abuses that occur in the agricultural industry and have achieved new legislation to protect farm animals.

Specific goals include:

  • Banning the slaughter of horses for food
  • Legislation for poultry to be covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act
  • Protecting animals at the slaughterhouse that have been injured during transport and are unable to walk (so-called downed animals)
  • Outlawing the keeping of veal calves and pregnant and nursing hogs in small iron crates so that they cannot move
  • Publicizing the abuse and mishandling of animals at slaughterhouses


Animal products are used in many ways by modern society. People consume them and wear them and buy items every day that contain animal-derived components. According to the Economic Research Service (ERS; 2007,, Americans consumed 201.2 pounds of meat per capita (per person) during 2004. From 1909 until the late 1930s the annual meat consumption averaged about 100 pounds per person. After World War II Americans began consuming more meat. The annual per capita consumption climbed steadily throughout the remainder of the century.

For much of the twentieth century, beef and pork accounted for most of the meat consumed in the United States. (See Figure 4.2.) Concerns about the fat and cholesterol content of red meat led to greater demand for chicken and turkey. Figure 4.2 shows that these "white" meats began to make up a larger share of meat consumption. By 2004 beef and pork accounted for 56% of the pounds of meat consumed per year, whereas chicken and turkey made up 38%. (See Figure 4.3.) Consumption of fish, shellfish, lamb, and mutton was much lower.

Animals killed for meat must be processed immediately. This means that meat animals must arrive alive at the slaughterhouse. They cannot be humanely euthanized with drugs as pets are when put to sleep because humans will be consuming them. Those parts that are not readily edible by humans are rendered into other marketable products. Bones, hooves, beaks, feet, feathers, fat, and inedible organs and tissues are recycled at one of several hundred rendering plants in the United States. The fat is processed for industrial use, and the other byproducts are ground into a powder or boiled to make gelatin. Tallow (rendered fat) is used to make soap, candles, and lubricants.

According to the National Renderers Association (June 29, 2006,, nearly 8.1 million tons of animal byproducts were produced by the rendering industry in 2005. Approximately one-third was inedible tallow and greases. The remainder included bone meal, edible tallow, lard, poultry fat, inedible feather meal, and miscellaneous products.

Uses of animal byproducts in our daily lives
IntestinesFats and fatty acidsBones, horns, and hoovesFrom hide and wool
Source: Adapted from "Animal Byproducts in Our Daily Lives," Minnesota Foundation for Responsible Animal Care, 2000, (accessed January 3, 2007)
Sausage casingsExplosivesSyringesLanolin
Instrument stringsSolventsPiano keysClothing
Surgical suturesChewing gumMarshmallowDrum heads
Tennis racket stringsPaintsPet food ingredientsLuggage
Industrial lubricantsBandage stripsYarns
Cosmetics, shampooBone charcoal productsArtist's brushes
Dog foodGelatinSports equipment
Mink oilAdhesive tapeFabrics
Oleo margarinePhonograph recordsPelt products
CeramicsCombs & toothbrushesInsulation
SoapsJewelryTennis balls
Creams & lotionsBone mealCarpet
Tires, rubber productsEmery boards & clothFootwear
ParaffinIce creamWoolen goods
Biodegradable detergentsHorn & bone handlesBaseballs
AntifreezeWallpaper and wallpaper pasteUpholstery
CrayonsDog biscuitsHide glue
Floor waxSteel ball bearings
InsecticidesNeatsfoot oil
HerbicidesPlywood & paneling
Shaving creamShampoo & conditioner
Collagen cold cream
Crochet needles
Cellophane products
Photographic film
Laminated wood products

Rendered byproducts are sold to a variety of industries and become ingredients in lubricants, paints, varnishes, waxes, soaps, candles, cement, pharmaceuticals, pet food, toothpaste, and cosmetics (such as lipstick and shampoo). Gelatin is an ingredient in many food products, including some ice cream, yogurt, candy, and marshmallows. Before the 1990s a primary use of rendered byproducts was as a protein supplement (or food source) for livestock. In 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) outlawed the use of most mammal-based protein in feed intended for cattle. This is to prevent the spread of disease, particularly mad cow disease, should it appear in the United States. Rendering plants also process whole carcasses of farm animals that die of illness or injury and other dead animals, including euthanized pets.

Table 4.4 lists some of the many products that contain animal-derived ingredients. In addition, animal products are increasingly used for human medical and health purposes.


Historically, farm animals have not been covered by animal welfare legislation. As a result, some practices relating to the treatment of farm animals are considered standard by farmers but may be thought of as cruel or inhumane by animal activists and other people. Such practices include culling, castration, dehorning, branding, and various forms of physical alteration. Culling means the rejection of inferior or undesirable animals. Because it costs money to feed and care for livestock, unwanted farm animals are usually killed. This is particularly true in the hen-breeding business. Male chicks of laying breeds will never lay eggs and are not suitable meat chickens. Millions of them are routinely killed each year when they are only one day old.

Another ancient farming practice is animal castration (removal of the male sex organs). Humans have used castration to control the reproduction of farm animals for centuries. This is particularly true in cattle and hog farming. Only the males with the most desirable characteristics are allowed to remain intact for breeding purposes. This is believed to be beneficial for herd management, because castration reduces aggressive behavior and physical confrontations between males that might damage their meat. In addition, sexually mature males release hormones that can affect the taste of meat.

The vast majority of cattle are dehorned to make them easier to handle and to prevent them from accidentally or intentionally injuring each other. In grown cattle the fully developed horns are cut off, but a more common practice is to treat the emerging horn buds of baby calves with a caustic salve to prevent horns from developing. According to Todd Duffield, in How to Dehorn Calves to Minimize Pain (June 2006,, this procedure causes "minimal" pain and the use of a local anesthetic block is unnecessary.

Branding and other forms of identification, such as ear notching, are used to distinguish ownership. Cattle and swine have their tails clipped to prevent them from chewing on each other's tails and to improve cleanliness and reduce disease. Chicken beaks are trimmed to reduce injuries that might result from the animals pecking at each other.

All these procedures are regarded as practical and necessary by farm animal producers and considered inhumane by many animal welfarists. Castration, dehorning, branding, beak trimming, tail clipping, and ear notching are widely conducted in the United States without the use of anesthetics or pain medication. Use of a local anesthetic is recommended (but not required) in Canada and is required by law in most cases in the United Kingdom.


What Is a Farm?

The farming of livestock has changed dramatically over the past century. Many people think of a farm as a rural collection of barns and fields run by one farming family. In reality, some farms are massive industrial-type facilities owned and operated by large corporations. These are called factory farms. Although they make up a small percentage of U.S. farms, they handle a large percentage of the animals killed for food in the United States.

According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture (June 2004,, the USDA defines a farm as an establishment that produces or sells $1,000 or more of agricultural products during a year. According to the 2002 census, there were more than 2.1 million farms in the United States, just over half of which produced livestock. The breakdown by animal type is shown in Figure 4.4. Cattle farms, ranches, and feedlots accounted for 63% of the total. Far fewer farms were engaged in raising swine, poultry, sheep, goats, aquatic animals (such as fish), and other animals. The other category includes specialty animals, such as fur-bearing animals, honeybees, bison, llamas, snakes, and worms.

Consolidation of Agricultural Businesses

The USDA reports in 2002 Census of Agriculture that in 2002, 89.7% of all farms were owned and operated by individuals and families. Only 3.5% were owned by corporations, but many small farms operate under contract to corporations. The farmers may sign away ownership of their animals and be paid to raise them to a contracted age or weight. Then the animals are turned over to the companies for finishing or slaughtering.

Agribusiness has undergone much consolidation since the 1950s. According to Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan, in "Concentration of Agricultural Markets" (January 2005,, only four companies controlled 83.5% of the beef packing industry in 2003: Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., Swift and Company, and National Beef Packing Company. In the pork industry the top four producers and packers controlled 49% and 64% of the market, respectively. The top four broiler producers controlled 56% of that industry.

Many corporations have vertically integrated their operations. In other words, they not only own facilities that raise animals but they also own the facilities that produce feed for them and the facilities that slaughter and process them. Economies of scalethat is, larger volumesallow corporations to spend less on each of these steps than small farmers do.

How Factory Farms Work

The most visible symbol of factory farming is the animal feeding operation (AFO) or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). By federal definition, an AFO is a facility that "congregates animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small area of land." The difference between an AFO and a CAFO is based in part on how many animals are involved. Both feature highly concentrated confinement areas with no pasture or grazing land.

In this way, the animals can be housed, fed, medicated, and processed with utmost efficiency. Every aspect of animal life and behavior is controlled to ensure that productivity and profits are maximized. The animals are kept in the smallest space possible and fed the cheapest food that will quickly and effectively fatten them up. Breeding facilities ensure a constant supply of replacements.

Modern technology is employed whenever it is economically feasible. Females are artificially inseminated rather than mated. Pregnancies are spaced close together to increase production. Mothers and offspring are separated quickly to keep the process moving. Antibiotics, hormones, and growth-enhancing drugs are administered to ensure rapid growth and to prevent deadly diseases. Slaughterhouses are run like assembly lines with an emphasis on speed and meat quantity.

Pros and Cons

The overwhelming advantage of the factory farming system to society is economicsatisfaction of the demand for meat at acceptable prices. Factory farming provides the United States with a continuous and relatively inexpensive meat supply. However, animal rights activists blame the factory farming system for many animal abuses. They believe that the industry's emphasis on profits, efficiency, and productivity has contributed greatly to inhumane treatment and sloppy slaughtering of farm animals.

There is no doubt that industrial methods have changed the way in which farmers and animals interact. Traditionally, farmers had a lot of personal interaction with their animals during feeding and handling. Even though this did not change the ultimate usage of the animals, many people believe that it built a bond that led farmers to care more about the welfare of individual animals. Certainly sick or injured animals were more likely to be noticed and cared for in this system. Many small farms, particularly in communities that use traditional methods (such as Amish farms) still achieve this level of human-animal contact.

By contrast, factory farms are almost entirely automated. For example, on most chicken farms the food is dispensed by machines, and the eggs are collected on conveyor belts. The chickens rarely see people until they are gathered by human handlers into crates for their journey to the slaughterhouse. Such automation in modern animal husbandry saves money by reducing labor costs and increasing efficiency.


Cattle are bovines that descend from ancient animals called aurochs. They have complex, four-compartment stomachs called rumens and eat vegetation. In nature, cattle swallow their food whole. Later, the partially digested food, or cud, is regurgitated into their mouths for them to chew. "Chewing the cud" is a well-known cattle trait. The natural lifespan for cattle is twenty to twenty-five years.

There are many different breeds of cattle. Some are specially bred for meat (such as Angus and Hereford), whereas others are bred to produce milk (such as Jerseys). Adult female cattle are called cows. They produce milk for their newborn calves for months. People learned long ago to take calves away from their mothers and collect the milk for human consumption. Young female cows that have not yet given birth are called heifers. Uncastrated adult male cattle are called bulls. They are used only for breeding purposes. Male cattle castrated before they reach sexual maturity are called steers. They are a major source of beef in this country.

As shown in Table 4.2, there were over 97.1 million cattle on U.S. farms in 2005. Figure 4.5 shows that the cattle inventory increased dramatically through the early 1970s and then declined, before leveling off in the mid-1990s.

Beef Cattle


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. cattle industry was concentrated in the western states. Cattle were herded by cowboys to markets in large cities with railroad hubs. Cattle were shipped by rail to massive stockyards and slaughtering/processing centers in places such as Chicago and Kansas City. As refrigeration and electricity spread throughout the country, slaughterhouses were able to move away from the big cities and into rural areas.

During the 1950s large meat companies began setting up feedlots for cattle, first in the Great Plains and later further west. (See Figure 4.6.) Before that time cattle mostly ate grass, with some corn and other grains added to fatten them. They were slaughtered when they reached marketable size, around three to four years of age. U.S. farmers began producing a surplus of corn in the mid-1950s, and it became a primary feed for beef cattle. Cattle fed a diet rich in corn got fatter much faster and could be slaughtered much earlier than grass-fed cattle. Corn-fed beef had a rich, fatty taste with a marbled texture and was more tender than grass-fed beef. It was also much cheaper. Heavy marketing by grocery stores led to huge demand for corn-fed beef.


Table 4.5 shows the number of feedlots and their inventories as of January 1, 2006. At that time there were more than fourteen million cattle on approximately eighty-eight thousand feedlots in the United States. The vast majority of feedlots (97.5%) each contained less than one thousand head of cattle. However, the small number of feedlots that each contained more than thirty-two thousand head of cattle accounted for a large portion (40.4%) of all the cattle on feedlots. More than 5.7 million cattle were on these massive feedlots at that time.

Most beef cattle are slaughtered around the age of fourteen to sixteen months. Calves spend the first six to eight months of their lives with their mothers, drinking milk and grazing on grass at farms and ranches around the country. This is called the cow-calf stage of the business. Following weaning, most calves are moved to large, crowded feedlotsoutdoor grassless enclosuresto be "finished" for slaughter. During finishing the cattle receive virtually no exercise to prevent muscle buildup and fat loss. The animals are given various drugs to help them digest the rich corn diet and fend off disease from the crowded and often dirty conditions.

In March 2002 the reporter Michael Pollen purchased an eight-month-old calf from a South Dakota ranch and chronicled the calf's life in "Power Steer" (New York Times, March 31, 2002). Following weaning, Pollen's calf spent several months in a backgrounding pen becoming accustomed to a corn diet before being shipped to a feedlot. At the feedlot, crowded with thirty-seven thousand cattle, the calf was fed a diet of corn, fat, protein supplements, and some alfalfa hay and corn silage for roughage. The calf was given antibiotics to help it digest this new diet.

Cattle feedlot breakdown, by number and inventory, January 1, 2006
Feedlot capacity (head)Number of feedlots%January 1, 2006, inventory (1,000 head)%
Source: "Table A1.6. Cattle-on-Feed Production," in 2005 United States Animal Health Report, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, August 2006, (accessed November 28, 2006)
All feedlots88,199100.014,132100.0

Pollen notes that feedlot cattle must be fed antibiotics and antacids to overcome digestive problems from eating corn rather than grass. Corn-fed cattle are prone to severe bloat, indigestion, and other conditions that can weaken their immune systems and make them susceptible to serious diseases. Thus, many are fed continuous low-level doses of antibiotics to keep them reasonably healthy. The corn diet damages their livers, but this is a trade-off acceptable to the beef industry because cow liver is not in high demand. Pollen's steer also received a hormone injection of synthetic estrogen to help him gain weight, a common and legal practice.

According to Pollen, the cattle on the feedlot lived amid a thick layer of manure during their entire stay, another reason that antibiotics are required for feedlot cattle. Generally, manure is not a concern until slaughtering time, when it is washed off the carcasses during processing. Pollen argues that this practice is not healthy for the people who will eat the beef or for the cattle living in this environment.

Ranchers use the feedlot system because it is much cheaper for them than finishing the cattle at the ranch. The price of beef is so low that profit margins on cattle are slim. Ranchers and farmers must cut costs wherever they can. Many ranchers sell their calves to corporations and companies running feedlots. Others retain ownership and pay rent to the feedlot during the finishing process.

Dairy Cattle

Dairy cattle are a valuable commodity because they produce milk that can be consumed as a drink or used to make other dairy products. According to the ERS, the average per capita consumption in the United States during 2004 was 21.2 gallons of milk, 31.3 pounds of cheese, and 26.4 pounds of frozen dairy products (mostly ice cream).

The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service reports in Charts and Maps: Milk Production and Milk Cows (February 17, 2006, that dairy cows produced more than 175 trillion pounds of milk during 2005. The combination of factory farming, high-tech breeding, and modern medicine means that the average dairy cow produced three times as much milk in 2005 as did a cow in 1955. Milk production per cow increased by 19% between 1996 and 2005 alone. (See Figure 4.7.)

Even though some people assume that dairy cattle spend leisurely days in rolling fields of grass and are only occasionally milked, the reality is that dairy cows have become milk-producing machines. Most dairy cows live in small indoor stalls or are confined to large dirt pens called dry lots. To produce milk, the cows must have calves. Modern farmers keep dairy cows pregnant almost continuously, often through artificial insemination. They take the calves away from their mothers as soon as possible after birth to prevent the calves from drinking the valuable milk. Male calves and any cows that cease to produce milk are slaughtered for beef. Common health problems in dairy cows include mastitis (an udder infection) and lameness because of back and leg problems.

Many dairy cattle are given antibiotics and other drugs on a routine basis. One of the most controversial drugs is called bovine growth hormone (BGH). The Animal Protection Institute, in "Get the Facts: The Destructive Dairy Industry" (2007,, indicates that BGH can increase by 25% the amount of milk that a cow can produce. Animal welfarists note that BGH enlarges cows' udders to such a degree that the cows suffer from spine and back problems and have difficulty keeping their udders from dragging in dirt and manure. The International Dairy Foods Association (November 2006, states that BGH has been used in U.S. dairy herds since 1993 and that Americans have consumed billions of gallons of milk from BGH-supplemented cows. The IDFA reports that the milk has been deemed safe for human consumption "by the FDA, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, the American Dietetic Association, Health Canada, and regulatory agencies in 50 countries." The use of BGH, which is also called bovine somatotropin, is banned in Europe and Canada because of its effects on cow health.

Another criticism of the factory farming of dairy cattle is that the cows spend long periods standing on hard surfaces. This includes concrete floors, metal gratings, and dirt-packed dry lots. Welfarists contend that this contributes to lameness problems in dairy cattle. Lameness is a major reason for cows to be culled (killed) during the raising process. Experts studying downed animals (those that cannot stand and walk because of injury or illness) arriving at slaughterhouses report that a large percentage of downers are dairy cows.


Veal is meat from young calves that are raised in a way that produces tender, light-colored flesh. This meat is highly prized for its pale color and delicate flavor. According to the American Veal Association (2004,, veal farmers purchase unwanted calves from the dairy industry (mostly male Holstein calves) and raise them to the desired weight.

The Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association (2005, explains that there are three main types of veal:

  • Special-fed veal calves are fed a nutritionally complete milk supplement until they reach eighteen to twenty weeks of age and typically weigh from 400 to 450 pounds. The meat is ivory or creamy pink, with a firm, fine, and velvety texture. Approximately 85% of the veal consumed in the United States is special-fed veal. This is the veal industry's premium product.
  • Bob veal calves are fed milk. They usually weigh less than 150 pounds and are approximately three weeks old when marketed. The meat has a light-pink color and a soft texture.
  • Grain-fed veal calves are initially fed milk and then receive a diet of grain, hay, and nutrition formulas. The meat tends to be darker in color and has additional marbling and often visible fat. Grain-fed veal calves are usually marketed at five to six months of age and weigh from 450 to 600 pounds.


Veal production is harshly criticized by both animal rights supporters and welfarists. They view the early separation of calves from their mothers and the extremely confined conditions under which the calves live as inhumane. Some calves are kept in very narrow stalls or boxes that prevent them from turning around and are allowed no exercise that would help them build muscles. Also, critics accuse producers of feeding the calves diets that are extremely low in iron to prevent the flesh from darkening. This results in anemic calves that suffer from health problems and stress brought on by their living conditions. The British government has banned the use of veal crates that do not allow a calf to turn around and requires that calves be fed a diet containing sufficient iron and fiber.

American veal producers defend the use of individual stalls to raise their calves. They point out that this method reduces the spread of disease by preventing interaction among the calves. Each calf receives its own feed and does not have to compete with others for food. Also, each calf can receive individual attention to its nutrition and health needs. The American Veal Association claims that the stalls are designed so that calves "can comfortably lay in a natural position, stand up, groom themselves and interact with their neighbors."

In November 2006 Arizona voters passed a measure banning the use of confining crates for veal calves. It was the first state ban of its kind.


Figure 4.8 shows annual consumption data for veal on a per capita basis. Americans consumed only 0.41 pounds of veal per person during 2004, down from a high of 8.4 pounds per person in 1944.

Cattle Slaughter

Cattle killed at federally inspected slaughterhouses are required by law to be killed humanely. In most plants the preferred method is use of a stun gun. Cattle are directed single-file through chutes that lead to the stunner. As each animal passes by, the stunner shoots a stun bolt into the animal's forehead to render it unconscious.

The animal is then hoisted up by one rear leg to hang from a bleed rail. At that time, its throat is cut so that the blood can drain out. Federal law requires that no animal fall into the blood of other slaughtered animals. This is why bloodletting is performed while the animal is suspended in the air. Following bloodletting, the animal moves down the line to a number of processing stations where the tail and hocks are cut off, the belly is cut open, and the hide is removed.


Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University and a renowned expert on cattle handling and slaughter. She maintains a comprehensive Web site full of useful information on this subject at Grandin designed the systems in use at most U.S. slaughterhouses and has written many guidance documents for the American Meat Institute.

Grandin suffers from autism and says that this allows her to see the world "in pictures," as animals see it. She has published many books and articles on the proper design of livestock chute systems. For example, chutes must be curved to trick the animals into thinking they are going back to where they came. The chutes must have high walls to keep the animals from seeing what is going on around them. Each animal should only see the rear end of the animal in front of it as it walks toward the stunner.

Grandin's recommendations are designed to keep cattle moving efficiently and peacefully. This has both economic and welfare benefits. Cattle that balk (refuse to move ahead or try to go back down a chute) hold up production. Also, animals that panic are believed to release stress chemicals that taint their meat. Therefore, it is in the best interest of producers that their cattle remain calm in the slaughterhouse. Maintaining quiet and calm also leads to less stress for the animals, which is of importance to animal welfarists.

Grandin says that she is often asked if animals entering the slaughterhouse know they are about to die. She believes that the animals do not suspect their fate, because if they did, they would all balk and panic. She reports that cattle will calmly walk into restraining devices covered with the blood of other cattle, as long as the previous cattle were also calm. However, cattle will refuse to approach a location in which a stressed animal has been killed. Grandin believes that animals that become agitated for several minutes release fear pheromones that other animals can smell.

Grandin (June 2006, has developed an audit procedure with which slaughterhouses can be graded on how well they meet AMI guidelines. The audit procedure centers on five main performance categories that can be graded numerically:

  • Stunning proficiency (the number of cattle stunned correctly on the first try)
  • Insensibility on the bleed rail (the number of cattle that are still breathing, moving their eyes or blinking, making sounds, or trying to lift themselves up)
  • Electric prod usage (the number of cattle that are prodded to keep them moving and the manner in which the prodding is performed)
  • Slipping and falling cattle (the number of cattle that slip and fall while they are being moved through the plant)
  • Vocalizing cattle (the number of cattle that moo, bellow, or make some other noise during handling and stunning)

In addition, the auditor assesses how the plant handles nonambulatory animals (downers), the condition of flooring and pens, truck unloading and handling procedures, the presence of drinking water in the pens, problems with overcrowding, and the general health condition of the cattle at the plant.

Grandin reports in "Survey of Stunning and Handling in Federally Inspected Beef, Veal, Pork, and Sheep Slaughter Plants (January 7, 1997,, an audit she did for the USDA in 1996 of ten federally inspected slaughterhouses in various states, that only three of the plants were able to stun at least 95% of the cattle with a single shot. She also describes problems with poor equipment maintenance, lack of management supervision, excessive use of electric prods, transport of downed animals with forklifts, and other such practices.

Grandin notes in "Corporations Can Be Agents of Great Improvements in Animal Welfare and Food Safety and the Need for Minimum Decent Standards" (April 4, 2001, that in 1999 she was hired by McDonald's Corporation to audit the company's beef and pork suppliers for their compliance with the standards. She states that compliance greatly improved after McDonald's fired a supplier that failed the audit. For example, 90% of the plants audited after that firing were able to stun at least 95% of the cattle with a single shot. In addition, the use of electric prods was reduced or eliminated, and most abusive behavior by employees stopped.

Between 2001 and 2005 Grandin oversaw audits conducted for restaurants at dozens of beef and pork plants. The most recent audit findings are in the "2005 Restaurant Animal Welfare Audits of Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Slaughter Plants" (April 2, 2006, She reports that all the beef plants rendered 100% of their cattle insensible before the bleedline. More than half of the plants (55%) stunned 99% to 100% of their cattle on the first shot. The remaining plants stunned 95% to 98% on the first shot. Nearly a third of the beef plants received an "excellent" rating for their ability to move cattle through the plant using electric cattle rods on less than 5% of the cattle. Ten plants received an "acceptable" rating in this category, and one plant had a "very bad 61% electric prod score."

Grandin notes that better stunning technology and equipment maintenance have led to continuous improvements in the audits she has conducted over the years. She warns plants that they must have "zero tolerance" for hoisting, skinning, or cutting any animal showing any obvious signs of sensibility or even partial return to sensibility after stunning.


Stories in the media since the late 1990s have exposed some problems with slaughterhouse procedures. In "'They Die Piece by Piece': In Overtaxed Plants, Humane Treatment of Cattle Is Often a Battle Lost" (Washington Post, April 10, 2001), Joby Warrick analyzed USDA records and conducted interviews with current and former slaughterhouse workers and federal inspectors. The workers, who made about $9 an hour, claimed to have seen many conscious cattle moving down the bleed rail.

A worker responsible for cutting off the cattle's hocks reported that dozens of conscious animals reached his station each day. He said the animals were blinking, moving, looking around, and making noises. Other workers also reported having to cut into living cattle. Workers in charge of stunning complained that the line moved so fast that they did not have time to do their job properly.

Warrick notes that the USDA had relaxed its oversight of slaughtering plants since 1998 and did not track the number of humane slaughter violations that occur each year. A records review, however, showed that inspectors found 527 violations in 19961997, including incidents in which "live animals were cut, skinned, or scalded."

Warrick reports that footage from hidden cameras at slaughterhouses show blinking cattle hanging from bleed rails. Other cattle twist, turn, and arch their backs as if trying to pull themselves upright. Footage also shows squealing hogs being lowered into the scalding water baths that are designed to soften the hides of dead animals. Industry officials claim that the videotaped incidents were staged by disgruntled employees and that unconscious animals kick and twitch by reflex.

Live animals on the bleed rail are a danger to line workers. According to Warrick, many workers are kicked by the animals and suffer broken bones and teeth. Although the line is supposed to be stopped when a conscious animal is detected, workers said that this does not happen.

Animal welfare activists say that the allegations made by Warrick are not unusual. They blame many of the problems on the extremely fast line speed at slaughterhouses and the use of low-paid workers. According to Warrick, most plants process around four hundred animals per hour. This figure has increased eightfold since the early 1900s.

Another major concern of welfarists relates to the problem of downed animals. Downed animals are primarily dairy cattle that collapse from illness, injury, or other causes. They are often tossed alive onto trash heaps, or dragged by chains or pushed by forklifts around stockyards and slaughterhouses. Animal welfare organizations consider processing of these animals inhumane and have tried unsuccessfully since the 1990s to achieve legislation called the Downed Animal Protection Act, which would require that critically ill or injured farm animals be humanely euthanized at the stockyards. In December 2003 a downer cow in Washington State tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. This is an extremely serious disease in cattle. It has been linked to a similar fatal disease in humans believed to have eaten beef contaminated with BSE. The USDA promptly announced a ban on the processing of downer cattle for human consumption. However, the audit report Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) Surveillance Program (January 2006, by the USDA inspector general reports that twenty-nine downer cattle were slaughtered at two plants audited during fiscal year 2004.


The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act has exceptions for ritual slaughterthat is, slaughter conducted according to religious dictates. Ritual slaughter is practiced by some orthodox Jews and Muslims. Their teachings require that animals killed for food be moving and healthy when they are killed by having their throats slit. This was originally intended to ensure that sick animals were not eaten by humans. Meat from animals killed in this manner is said to be kosher in Jewish tradition and Halal in Muslim tradition. Regarding ritual slaughter, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act does require "simultaneous and instantaneous" cutting of the throat arteries "with a sharp instrument" to render the animal insensible (unconscious).

Animal welfarists complain that strict interpretation of the directives for ritual slaughter means that cattle are not stunned before being bled out. They may be jerked up to the bleed rail by a hind leg while still fully conscious. The jerking action can break the leg and tear apart joints, causing them severe pain. Their thrashing makes it more difficult for the cutter to cleanly cut their throats, which prolongs the entire process.

There are upright restraining devices that hold animals more humanely while their throats are being cut. The AMI strongly recommends the use of these devices, both for the welfare of the animals and the safety of the plant workers. Grandin and Gary C. Smith report in "Animal Welfare and Humane Slaughter" (November 2004, that throat cutting must be done precisely with a long, razor-sharp knife to induce "near-immediate collapse." Otherwise, the animal can remain conscious for more than a minute. Animals that struggle against their restraints or become agitated stay conscious the longest.

Singer states in Animal Liberation that critics of ritual slaughter are often accused of being racist or anti-Semitic. He points out that parts of ritually killed animals wind up on supermarket shelves and are purchased by people who may not be aware of how the animal was killed. This is because Jewish law requires the removal of the lymph nodes and sciatic nerve from cattle. Singer says that this is difficult to do efficiently on the hindquarters of cattle, so often only the front portion is sold as kosher. The hindquarters are processed and sold in usual commercial markets.

Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports in "Inquiry Finds Lax Federal Inspections at Kosher Meat Plant" (New York Times, March 10, 2006) on an animal welfare controversy involving the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. In 2004 an undercover investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) captured video of cattle not being rendered unconscious by throat slitting. However, workers immediately used hooks to pull out the trachea and esophagus of each animal. This practice vastly speeds up the bleeding process. The video shows steers thrashing about for up to three minutes before passing out. According to the article the video's release spurred outrage among Jewish organizations around the worldoutrage at PETA for allegedly being "anti-Semitic" and at the processing plant for causing animal suffering. The plant has reportedly altered its slaughtering procedures since the issue became public.

A resulting six-month investigation by the USDA found that its inspectors at the plant knew that the practice was going on but ignored it because they assumed the USDA had no say over ritual slaughter techniques. In addition, the inspectors had accepted free gifts of meat from employees at the slaughter plant. In response, the agency suspended one of the inspectors for two weeks and issued warning letters to two other inspectors. McNeil reports that PETA learned about the USDA investigation only after PETA obtained a copy of the USDA inspector general's report under the Freedom of Information Act.


Poultry are domesticated birds cultivated for their eggs or meat. This includes chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks. Chickens are by far the most common type of poultry raised in the United States. In 2005 there were nearly 8.9 billion broilers produced in the United States, more than 343.5 million egg-laying hens, and over 256.2 million turkeys. (See Table 4.2.)


Chickens were originally domesticated from wild Asian jungle fowl. In natural conditions chickens tend to live in small groups composed of one male chicken (called a rooster or cock) and a dozen or more female chickens (called hens). Chickens are known for their hierarchy, or "pecking order." Each member of the group has a particular rank that determines its place in society. The average natural lifespan of a chicken is six to ten years, although they can live to be as old as twenty-five.

Chickens are omnivores, meaning that they will feed on both vegetable and animal substances. They spend a good part of their day foraging and pecking at the ground for food. They also like to perch, flap their wings, and take dust baths. Hens prefer to lay eggs in a private nest. Young hens above the age of five months produce two hundred to three hundred eggs per year. Unless the hen has recently mated with a rooster, however, the egg is infertile and does not develop into a chick. In the wild the hen would leave infertile eggs to rot or be eaten by predators.


Before the 1920s chicken meat was not common in the American diet. Female chickens were valued on the farm for egg production. Besides being sometimes used for cockfighting, male chickens were considered to have little value at all. They were relatively scrawny and aggressive. This began to change in the 1920s when enterprising farmers started cultivating chickens for meat. Scientific advances led to chicken breeds that were much meatier and grew faster. The use of vitamins, antibiotics, and growth hormones allowed mass production of chickens to become a thriving business. In the 1950s producers began using large CAFOs. This became the preferred method for raising chickens.

In the twenty-first century the vast majority of U.S. chickens are raised by contract farmers and finished in CAFOs. Hendrickson and Heffernan indicate that in 2003 only four producers accounted for 56% of the broiler market: Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim's Pride, Gold Kist, and Perdue. The sale of poultry and poultry products was valued at about $28 billion in 2005, with broilers providing the bulk of the value. (See Figure 4.9.)


Chickens raised in crowded conditions are prone to aggression. They peck and claw at each other, which can cause feather loss and injury. Injured chickens may be pecked to death and even eaten by other chickens. It is common practice in factory farming of chickens to debeak a certain percentage of chickens by removing part of the upper and/or lower beak. Toe clipping involves cutting off parts of the chicken claw. Producers say that these practices are for the good of the chickens, to spare them injury. They claim that the chickens do not experience any pain because beaks are similar to human fingernails.

United Poultry Concerns (UPC) is a nonprofit group based in Maryland that advocates for the humane treatment of domestic poultry. The UPC (August 23, 1999, claims that scientific studies show that chicken beaks contain nerves and pain receptors. Thus, the UPC suggests, debeaked chickens suffer pain that is evident through their decreased desire to eat for several weeks following debeaking. The group describes debeaking operations as "haphazard and uncontrollable."

Animal welfarists say that debeaking and toe clipping would not be necessary if chickens were raised in more natural environments. They believe that it is the stress of living in cramped cages in buildings housing tens of thousands of other chickens that drives chickens to demonstrate aggressive behavior. Instead of changing the way in which chickens are raised, welfarists say producers accommodate these brutal systems by mutilating the chickens.

Chicken producers defend these practices as necessary. The National Chicken Council (NCC) is an industry organization for companies that produce, process, and market chickens. The NCC's voluntary Animal Welfare Guidelines and Audit Checklist (April 5, 2005, states: "Today's chicken has been purposefully selected to thrive under modern management. We believe current good management practices that avoid destructive behavior, prevent disease, and promote good health and production are consistent with the generally accepted criteria of humane treatment."


Chicken meat is extremely popular in the United States. The annual per capita consumption increased from eleven pounds per person in 1910 to 59.2 pounds per person in 2004. (See Figure 4.2.) Billions of broilers are raised and slaughtered each year to keep up with the demand for chicken meat. As shown in Figure 4.10, broiler production increased dramatically between 1953 and 2005.

Broiler-type chicks are bred to gain weight fast. They start their lives at hatcheries. Day-old chicks are moved into chicken houses that may be hundreds of feet long and contain tens of thousands of chickens. These buildings are windowless and usually have dim lighting, because this is considered more calming. Under the crowded conditions and unused to the presence of humans, the chickens are prone to panic attacks at sudden loud noises. In modern chicken houses nearly everything is automated. Food and water are dispensed by machine. Chicks are vaccinated against common poultry diseases. Broilers are routinely given antibiotics and other drugs to overcome disease and speed up growth.

The NCC specifies in the Animal Welfare Guidelines and Audit Checklist that bird density should not exceed 8.5 pounds per square foot of living space. Because a typical broiler weighs four to five pounds at slaughter weight, two birds of this size would have approximately one square foot of space under this system. The NCC also recommends that broilers not be beak trimmed unless they are used for breeding purposes.


Laying hens, or layers, are chickens specifically bred for their egg-laying abilities, rather than for meat production. There were over 343.5 million layers on U.S. farms during 2005. (See Table 4.2.) These chickens produced nearly ninety billion eggs that year. (See Figure 4.11.) This value is up dramatically from the mid-1940s, when less than sixty billion eggs were produced by layers annually. However, as indicated by Figure 4.12, egg consumption per capita in the United States has declined sharply since the 1940s, from a peak of 421.4 eggs per person in 1945 to 256.1 eggs per person in 2004. Processed eggs (pasteurized and packaged nonshell eggs) have been steadily increasing since the 1960s because of demand from food manufacturers and restaurants.

In "'No Battery Eggs' Campaign Exposes the Hard-Boiled Truth about Laying Hens" (2006,, the HSUS calls laying hens "the most abused animals in all agribusiness." Animal protection groups are highly critical of three common practices in the factory farming of laying hens: killing male chicks, forced molting, and use of battery cages.

Laying-hen chicks are sorted by gender when they are one day old. Only the females are kept. The males are killed because they have not been bred for meat production and will not grow up to be used as food. According to animal rights groups, millions of culled male chicks are thrown into garbage bags, where they suffocate. The poultry industry does not generally discuss its methods of culling male chicks, but it is widely believed that methods including suffocation and maceration (instantaneous death in a high-speed grinder) are commonly used.

Under natural conditions hens can lay eggs for more than a decade, but egg-laying production of hens in factory farms ceases dramatically after the first year. One method used by producers to rejuvenate laying is forced molting, in which all food is withheld from the hens for either a set number of days (usually five to fourteen), or until the hens lose a particular amount of weight. This forced fast mimics the conditions that wild chickens experience in the fall or winter when food is not as plentiful. Lower food intake causes a hen to molt (lose her feathers). Also, her reproductive system temporarily ceases producing eggs. When food is fully restored, the hen is much more productive at making eggs than she was before.

Animal welfarists are extremely critical of forced molting, saying that because all food is withheld from the hens, it is much more brutal than natural molting. They equate the practice to forced starvation and note that food deprivation for the purpose of forced molting is banned in Europe.

The United Egg Producers states in United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks (2005, that approximately 98% of all laying hens in the United States are confined to plain wire cages called battery cages. Animal welfarists complain that the cages are so small that the birds cannot spread their wings or engage in nesting, perching, and other natural behaviors. The HSUS reports in "'No Battery Eggs'" that battery cages have been banned in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria, and will be phased out throughout the European Union by 2012. Many animal welfare organizations urge consumers to buy eggs only from cage-free chickens. However, the HSUS notes that even cage-free chickens may suffer from welfare problems, including overcrowding within buildings, lack of access to the outdoors, debeaking, and/or forced molting.


In early 2002 the egg producer Cypress Foods went out of business, leaving about 1.7 million layers in facilities in Georgia and Florida with no food. Animal rights groups say that twenty thousand to thirty thousand of the hens starved to death after the company declared bankruptcy. Another half million hens had to be euthanized by authorities because they were half-starved and not salvageable. In "Florida Decides Not to File Cruelty Charges against Cypress Foods" (September 25, 2002,, the HSUS reports that state authorities refused to prosecute the company for animal cruelty, explaining that the deaths were because of economic factors rather than criminal intent. A spokesman for the animal welfare group Farm Sanctuary criticized the decision, saying "running out of money is no defense for animal cruelty."

The U.S. poultry industry had to destroy millions of birds in California, Nevada, and Arizona beginning in 2002 because of exotic Newcastle disease (END). END is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease that affects birds' nervous, respiratory, and digestive systems. Industry and government officials feared that millions of birds would have to be killed as a preventive measure to halt the spread of the disease.

The HSUS notes in "DA Declines to File Charges in California Wood Chipper Case" (April 17, 2003, that in early 2003 there was a mass chicken kill at the Ward Egg Ranch near San Diego, California. Employees reportedly tossed more than thirty thousand live chickens into wood chippers to dispose of them. The chickens were spent hens that were no longer wanted. Ordinarily, they would have been shipped to a slaughterhouse in northern California, but the county had enacted a chicken quarantine because of fears about the spread of END in the state. Local authorities were harshly criticized by animal welfare groups, including the HSUS, for not filing animal cruelty charges in the case. The county district attorney defended the decision, explaining that the ranch owners did not act with criminal intent. Also, the owners insisted that they had consulted with a veterinarian before destroying the animals and were told that use of a wood chipper was acceptable.


When they are ready to go to the slaughterhouse, chickens are gathered by their feet by handlers, who carry them upside down to put into crates. At the slaughterhouse the chickens are shackled upside down by their feet to a conveyor belt. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act does not apply to poultry, which means that chickens do not have to be stunned unconscious before having their throats slit. Some plants do, however, use a stunning method based on the availability of electricity.

Each live chicken strapped to the conveyor belt has its head dunked into a water bath containing salt. An electric current is passed through the shackles to knock the chicken unconscious. Then the birds pass by an automated cutting blade that slits their throats. After the blood is drained (which takes about ninety seconds), the birds are dipped into scalding water baths to loosen their feathers before moving on to cutting stations.

In January 2003 PETA and the UPC obtained a signed affidavit from a former worker at a chicken slaughterhouse in Arkansas. The man, who worked at the plant from 1997 to 2002, claimed to have witnessed many acts of brutality toward the birds, saying that other workers regularly ran over chickens with forklifts, stomped them to death, and threw snowballs made of dry ice at them for fun. He also claimed that chickens were often not stunned or killed before entering the scalding baths. He described working one night when equipment breakdowns delayed the conveyor belt and allowed stunned chickens to wake up before their throats were slit. The workers did not have time to do the slitting, so they sent the chickens straight to the scalding baths.

Over the following two years similar abuses were reported by undercover investigators at other chicken slaughtering facilities operated by various poultry producers. In response, the HSUS and East Bay Animal Advocates spearheaded a lawsuit against the USDA challenging the exclusion of chickens from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. As of January 2007, the suit had not been settled.

During 2005 Grandin oversaw an audit based on NCC standards of nineteen poultry plants. Her findings were reported in "2005 Poultry Welfare Audits: National Chicken Council Animal Welfare Audit for Poultry Has a Scoring System That Is Too Lax and Allows Slaughter Plants with Abusive Practices to Pass" ( Grandin is highly critical of the NCC standards and reports that five of the plants passed the audit even though they had committed "serious abuses." These incidents included four birds that had been scalded while still alive, operators throwing birds during handling, and a live bird found in the trash. Grandin points out that she oversaw a poultry audit at twenty-six plants during 2005 for a client with much higher animal welfare standards and found that none of the plants audited engaged in serious abuses. She concludes, "When plants are required to uphold a higher standard, they are capable of doing it. Unfortunately, there are some people in the producer community who want to make standards so low that even the worst places can pass."


Turkeys are one of the few domesticated animals native to North America. However, present-day turkeys have little resemblance to their wild ancestors. Modern turkeys are bred to gain weight quickly, particularly in the breast. Turkeys are raised much the same way that broiler chickens are raised. At around six weeks of age, the baby birds are moved into growing houses in which they spend the remainder of their lives. Conditions there are crowded, as they are for chickens, and can lead to feather-pecking and cannibalism. Turkeys are slaughtered similarly to chickens at around three to six months of age. Figure 4.13 shows that U.S. turkey production peaked in the late 1990s to more than 300 million turkeys per year and then began to decline. Approximately 250 million turkeys were produced in 2005.

Ducks and Geese

Domestic ducks and geese are raised for their meat, eggs, and feathers. Most ducks are raised indoors, similarly to chickens, and are fed fortified corn and soybeans. Geese are raised in covered enclosures for the first six weeks of their lives and then allowed to forage for grass in fields. Most ducks are raised in Wisconsin and Indiana, whereas most geese are raised in California and South Dakota. Federal law prohibits the use of hormones in duck and goose production. Furthermore, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service reports in the fact sheet "Turkey from Farm to Freezer" (October 2001, that antibiotics are not routinely given to the birds, but may be used to cure illnesses. However, a withdrawal period of several days is required before the birds can be slaughtered. Ducks and geese are slaughtered with electrocution baths followed by throat slitting.

Duck and geese products are mostly sold in specialty markets. The tongues and feet of the animals are considered a delicacy in parts of Asia (particularly Hong Kong) and are also sold in Asian-American markets. High-value products from ducks and geese include down feathers, smoked meat products, liver pâté (paste), and foie gras (pronounced fwah grah, meaning "fat liver" in French).


Foie gras is obtained by force-feeding male ducks and geese a rich mixture containing corn, fat, salt, and water over a short amount of time. This regimen causes the birds' livers to become fatty and hugely swollen, six to ten times their normal size.

The feeding process, called gavage, is usually started two to four weeks before slaughter. It is accomplished using an electronic pump that forces food through a twelve- to sixteen-inch tube that is placed down the bird's throat. The birds are force-fed several times a day and held in cramped cages or pens so that they cannot move. This prevents them from losing weight during the fattening process.

Animal welfarists are highly critical of gavage. The HSUS states that the birds suffer pain from swollen abdomens and lesions in their throats. It also says that autopsies conducted on dead birds subjected to gavage show severe liver, heart, and esophagus disorders.

Foie gras is a gourmet delicacy that is expensive, selling for up to $45 per pound. It is available at upscale restaurants and specialty stores. Most foie gras comes from France. As of 2007, there were only two commercial producers of foie gras in the United States, and both used duck livers. One producer is located in the Hudson Valley of New York and the other in the Sonoma Valley of California. The producers defend the use of the gavage process, saying that it does not gag the birds because they do not chew their food anyway.

In 2004 California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law that will ban by 2012 the force feeding of ducks and geese to produce foie gras and ban the sale of the product in California. In 2006 the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of foie gras within the city limits. According to the animal welfare organization Farm Sanctuary (October 12, 2006,, foie gras has also been banned in Israel and many European countries.


Hogs and pigs are domesticated swine. A pig is a young swine that is not yet sexually mature. A young female hog is called a gilt. A female adult hog is called a sow. The generic term hog is generally used to refer to all hogs. Hogs are curious and intelligent animals, supposedly smarter than dogs. They have sensitive noses, which they use to root around the ground for their food and explore their surroundings. Pregnant sows like to build nests of grass. Under natural conditions sows give birth to (or farrow) a litter of piglets twice per year. Each litter averages eight piglets that suckle for about three months. The normal life expectancy of a hog is twelve to fifteen years.

Modern Hog Industry

Hogs have been popular farm animals for centuries. In 19901995 Changes in U.S. Swine Management Practices (October 1997,, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reports that the 1850 agricultural census showed an inventory of 30.3 million hogs. This number increased to 62.8 million hogs by 1900. Furthermore, in the information sheet "The USDA's Role in Equine Health Monitoring" (June 1996,, APHIS notes that 76% of U.S. farms produced hogs in 1900. Hogs were favored because hog meat and fat were so versatile. Pork could be canned, smoked, or cured to provide food for long periods of time. Lardthe fat produced from hogswas widely used as cooking oil and in making candles.

The total U.S. hog inventory in 2005 was 61.4 million. (See Table 4.2.) The total number of hogs on U.S. farms has remained virtually constant for more than a century, although the number of farms raising hogs has declined dramatically. Figure 4.14 shows the breakdown of hog farms and their inventories for 2005. Just over 60% of all hog farms each had less than ninety-nine hogs each. Only 3% of all hog farms were each raising five thousand hogs or more. However, more than half of all hogs in the United States (53%) lived on farms that included at least five thousand hogs each.

The hog industry has undergone tremendous consolidation. Hendrickson and Heffernan report that four companies controlled 49% of all U.S. pork production in 2003: Smithfield Foods, Premium Standard Farms, Seaboard Corporation, and Prestage Farms. The top four companies engaged in pork packing (Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods Inc., Swift and Company, and Hormel Foods) controlled 64% of the market in 2003. The vast majority of hogs raised in the United States are concentrated on a few massive CAFOs. These facilities not only finish the hogs, as is done in the cattle industry, but also raise them. Major pork producers operate farrowing complexes, nurseries, and growing-feeding units.

The annual per capita consumption of pork products in the United States has changed little over the past century. (See Figure 4.2.) In 1910 annual consumption was 38.2 pounds per person. In 2004 it was 47.8 pounds per person.

Hog-Raising Practices

Confinement buildings for hogs can be hundreds of feet long and contain up to twelve thousand hogs. They typically feature concrete or slatted floorsconcrete floors can be easily cleaned and slatted floors allow manure and urine to fall into pits below. Hogs are kept on short tethers or confined in cages and pens to prevent them from getting exercise, which might build muscle instead of fat and toughen the meat. Crowded conditions can lead to aggressive behavior among the hogs, including tail chewing, biting, and fighting. Tail docking and teeth clipping are commonly practiced to help prevent injuries from these behaviors. Antibiotics, hormones, and other drugs are routinely administered to speed growth and prevent deadly diseases.


Breeding sows are often kept in individual stalls or confined with tethers until they are ready to farrow. Gestation crates, as they are called, are typically around seven feet long and just wide enough for the sow to lie down but not turn around (about two feet). The sow eats, urinates, and defecates where she stands. When she is ready to give birth, the sow may be moved to a farrowing pen in which she and her piglets will be kept tightly confined.

The USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) conducts a national swine survey every five to six years. The most recent report, Swine 2000 (August 2001,, reports that 83.4% of sows on U.S. farms are farrowed in total confinement facilities, and 81.8% of pigs are raised in total confinement nurseries.

Industry officials defend the use of gestation crates, saying that the crates are necessary to keep aggressive sows from fighting with each other over food. Fighting can cause injuries that lead to miscarried fetuses. Pork producers believe that caged sows receive beneficial individual attention to their health and nutrition needs. The National Pork Producers Council (June 17, 2005, states that hogs are better off raised indoors because they are protected from "extreme changes in temperature, snow, rain, mud and parasites."

The use of gestation crates has been banned in the United Kingdom and Sweden. The European Union plans to phase out use of the crates by 2013. In 2002 Florida voters passed an amendment to the state constitution to outlaw the use of gestation crates. The move is largely symbolic, as the state is not a major hog producer. Following the vote, the Florida Farm Bureau reported that only two small hog farms in the state used gestation crates, and that one of them had already shut down and the other was phasing out of business. In November 2006 Arizona voters passed a similar measure banning the use of gestation crates for pigs.


Generally, week-old pigs are subjected to teeth clipping, tail docking, and ear notching. The males are castrated at this time. These procedures are done without anesthesia. Once the piglets reach around fifty-five pounds, they are moved to indoor finishing pens. Piglets are raised to slaughter weight, typically 250 pounds, at around four to six months of age. Spent breeding sows are usually slaughtered at around two to three years of age.

According to the NAHMS Swine 2000 report, nearly 18% of sows and gilts were culled during the first five months of 2000. The primary reasons were age (41.9%), reproductive failure (21.3%), and lameness (16%). Respiratory disease was also a cause of mortality, accounting for 28.9% of nursery deaths and 39.1% of deaths in grower/finisher pigs.

Animal welfarists are critical of hog-raising practices in the United States. They consider the intense confinement too stressful for intelligent and social animals such as hogs. They also condemn early weaning as cruel to sows and piglets. Factory-farmed hogs not only suffer from excessive crowding, stress, and boredom but also experience serious breathing disorders because of high concentrations of ammonia from their waste materials. Critics also say that hogs experience feet and leg deformities from standing on floors made of improper materials.

Hog Slaughter

Hogs are generally killed via electrocution or by stunning followed by bleeding out. Electrocution is accomplished by stunning the hog with a wand with sufficient shock to stop its heart. This is called cardiac arrest stunning and is the technique most large hog slaughter plants use. Hogs can also be given an electrical shock to the head to render them unconscious. Next, the animals are hoisted up by their back feet and bled via a small incision in the chest. Fully electrocuted hogs are also bled out in this manner. The dead hogs are then lowered into vats of scalding water to remove hair. The meat can then be processed.

According to Grandin's instructions for electrical stunning, a hog stunned with sufficient amperage in the correct location will feel no pain. Insufficient amperage and an improper current path will cause the animal pain. Grandin recommends that head-stunned hogs be bled out within thirty seconds of being stunned to prevent them from regaining consciousness.

As noted earlier, between 2001 and 2005 Grandin oversaw audits conducted for restaurants at dozens of beef and pork plants. The most recent audit findings are in Grandin's "2005 Restaurant Animal Welfare Audits of Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Slaughter Plants."

Grandin's audit of pork plants shows some problems. She reports that three out of twenty-eight plants audited had sensible pigs on the bleedline. One of these plants had only one operator responsible for stunning more than one thousand pigs per hour, whereas the more successful plants used two operators for this purpose. Grandin also notes that one plant had a problem with "poor handling with excessive yelling and hitting" by operators. All the plants did receive an acceptable or excellent rating for correct hot wanding procedures.


APHIS reports in "The USDA's Role in Equine Health Monitoring" that approximately twenty million horses lived on U.S. farms in 1900. This number declined significantly over the next century. In the 2002 Census of Agriculture, the USDA notes that in 2002 there were 3.6 million horses living on over 542,000 farms in the United States. The country's total horse inventory could be much higher, because exact inventories are not known for horses kept for racing, breeding, showing, and pleasure purposes.

Horsemeat Controversy

Banning the slaughter of horses for food is the goal of many animal welfare groups. Although horses are not specifically cultivated in the United States for human consumption, there is a growing overseas market for this meat, primarily in Europe and Asia. Horse meat is increasingly popular in these regions because of the scares concerning mad cow disease.

According to APHIS (October 5, 2005,, sixty-three thousand horses were slaughtered in 2003. More than two million horses were slaughtered between 1989 and 2003. APHIS indicates that some of the horses were blind, lame, or old. The horses were sold at auction terminals and transported in trailers to horse slaughter plants in the United States or Canada. There are only three such plants in the United States: two in Texas and one in Illinois. The plant in Illinois burned down in 2002, but reopened in June 2004. Horses slaughtered in the United States are covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. They must be rendered unconscious before being hoisted onto the bleed rail and cut open. Like cattle, horses are stunned by a shot in the head with a bolt gun.

In November 2005 federal legislation was passed that prohibited for one year the use of federal funds for USDA-conducted ante mortem (predeath) inspections of horses at three U.S. slaughter plants. Animal welfare groups believed that this would effectively end horse slaughtering in the United States. The ban went into effect in March 2006. However, just before its effective date, the horse slaughter industry petitioned the USDA and received permission to conduct privately funded ante mortem inspections at the slaughter plants. Thus, horse slaughtering for human consumption was allowed to continue. According to "HSUS and Others Seek Injunction to Halt USDA in Its Attempt to Buck Congress on Horse Slaughter" (February 22, 2006,, the HSUS and several animal organizations and legislators were furious by what they saw as USDA circumvention of the intent of the law that was passed.

In September 2006 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would permanently ban the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption and the domestic and international transport of horses intended for slaughter. However, the measure was not addressed by the U.S. Senate before it adjourned in late 2006. Vicki Mabrey indicates in "Horse Slaughter Industry May Be on Its Last Legs" (ABC News, September 6, 2006) that the opponents of the bill believe it infringes on the private property rights of horse owners. The HSUS advocates humane euthanasia for horses that are severely ill or injured and promotes horse rescue and adoption programs.


Fish farming, or aquaculture, has been around for at least a millennium. Historians believe that the Chinese practiced aquaculture around the year 900 to raise fish for their emperor's dinner table. China is still a leading producer of farmed fish. Commercial aquaculture is also a big business in the United States. According to Juliet Eilperin, in "Fish Farming's Bounty Isn't without Barbs" (Washington Post, January 24, 2005), the U.S. fish farming industry had $1 billion in sales during 2004. Nearly all the rainbow trout and catfish consumed in the United States come from farm operations. Besides freshwater fish, saltwater fish are also raised in farm environments.

Fish farming is accomplished in one of two ways. Producers use netted enclosures in near-offshore ocean waters or they build separate enclosures inland. The second method is considered more environmentally friendly because the farmed fish and their waste are separated from fish living in natural waters. In-ocean farms occasionally lose fish to the surrounding waters, and environmentalists fear that these fish may spread diseases to their wild counterparts. In-ocean farms can also only be used for saltwater species, not freshwater. Fish farms typically keep as many fish as possible in the smallest amount of space possible. These confined operations can cause health problems, particularly sea lice infestation, in the farmed fish.

Several animal welfare groups oppose aquaculture, claiming that farmed fish are subjected to severe overcrowding in water pens contaminated with large amounts of fecal matter.

Production data on miscellaneous livestock, 2002
CommodityNumber of farmsInventoryNumber sold
Source: "Table A1.13. Production Data on Miscellaneous Livestock, 2002," in 2005 United States Animal Health Report, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, August 2006, (accessed November 28, 2006)
Milk goats22,389290,789113,654
Angora goats5,075300,75391,037
Meat and other goats74,9801,938,9241,109,619
Mules, burros, donkeys29,936105,35817,385


Inventory data for various other farm animals are shown in Table 4.6.

The per capita consumption of lamb and mutton (meat from adult sheep) in the United States decreased from 4.9 pounds per year in 1945 to 0.83 pounds per year in 2004. (See Figure 4.2.) In "Sheep and Wool: Background" (November 14, 2006,, the ERS blames competition from poultry, pork, and beef, and "declining acceptance of lamb" as the reasons for decreased consumption in the United States. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service's 20052006 Statistical Highlights of U.S. Agriculture (June 29, 2006,, there were 6.2 million sheep and lambs on U.S. farms in 2005 and nearly 5.1 million of them were shorn for wool. U.S. wool production was at 37.2 million pounds in 2005 and continues a historical decline. Figure 4.15 shows that U.S. inventories of sheep and lambs have declined dramatically since peaking in 1990 at nearly 11.4 million head.

In 2002 Census of Agriculture the USDA estimates that in 2002, 4,132 farms had an inventory of 231,950 bison and that 25,340 bison were slaughtered at federally inspected plants. Bison meat is being heavily marketed by the entrepreneur Ted Turner. In 2001 Turner opened a chain of restaurants called Ted's Montana Grills ( that feature bison meat. He also formed the company U.S. Bison to market the meat to upscale restaurants and consumers. According to the article "To Ranchers, Buffalo Is the Other Red Meat" (Boston Globe, June 2003), Turner owns 35,000 bison at his ranches in Montana, New Mexico, and Nebraska.


The most strict animal rights activists are opposed to the farming of animals to produce products for human consumption and use. They often embrace a vegan lifestyle, in which no animal products are consumed or used. Others are vegetarians. Vegetarians do not eat meat, but may consume secondary products, such as milk or eggs. For example, lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products, whereas ovo-vegetarians eat eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both.

Vegans and vegetarians make up a small but increasing minority of the U.S. population. In "How Many Adults Are Vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group Asked in a 2006 National Poll" (Vegetarian Journal, July-August 2006), Charles Stahler reports that 2.3% of U.S. adults consider themselves strict vegetarians. Many more people are part-time vegetarians or occasionally eat vegetarian meals. Not all vegetarians embrace their chosen diet for animal rights reasonsmany have health, environmental, and/or religious reasons instead of or besides ethical ones.

There is also growing demand in the United States for meat and other products from animals that are raised or slaughtered using more humane methods. Food suppliers are beginning to make changes that represent significant reforms in animal welfare and slaughter. Some of these changes have no doubt been driven by pressure from vocal animal rights groups. For example, PETA has been conducting aggressive publicity and picketing campaigns against major fast-food chains in the United States, and many fast-food chains are implementing more welfare-friendly policies.

Some farmers have initiated reforms on their own. For example, some smaller hog farms are allowing their sows to farrow in straw-filled huts or barns instead of in gestation crates. Welfare-friendly farming is considered part of a larger movement called organic farming. Organic farming of crops involves no use of pesticides or herbicides. This produces a more natural product that many consumers consider healthier and more environmentally friendly. According to the ERS, in "Organic Farming and Marketing" (January 4, 2007,, organic farming was one of the fastest-growing segments of U.S. agriculture during the 1990s.

Some livestock farmers offer meat and other products from animals cultivated using organic methods. The animals are not given antibiotics or other drugs (except some necessary vaccines) and are housed in more natural conditions than those used in factory farms. The farmers accommodate the animals' natural nutritional and behavior requirements. For example, ruminating animals are given access to pasture. Figure 4.16 and Figure 4.17 show the dramatic increase in the organic livestock and poultry inventories between 1992 and 2005. Nearly 230,000 organic cows, swine, sheep, and lambs and close to 14.2 million chickens and other poultry were being raised as of 2005. (See Table 4.7.)

Farmers are not allowed to label their products as organic unless they meet specific requirements established by the U.S. government in the National Organic Program. The organic standards govern living conditions, access to the outdoors, feed rations, and health care practices. No growth hormones or genetic engineering are allowed, and the animals are not fed animal byproducts. There are also restrictions on manure management and slaughter procedures. The farmers must provide documentation to the USDA demonstrating that they are following these standards to use the organic label.

Some animal protection groups have implemented their own programs to define and certify welfare-friendly farming operations. In 2000 the American Humane Association (AHA) established the Free Farmed Certification Program. Producers that want to use the label "Free Farmed" pay a fee to the AHA and must meet specific standards for food and water management, living conditions, and transport, handling, and slaughter techniques. Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is an independent nonprofit organization that administers the "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" program. The HFAC was formed in 2003 by former members of the Free Farmed organization. HFAC programs are funded by various animal welfare organizations, including the HSUS and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Products are labeled "Certified Humane" if the producers meet specific criteria for animal care that are enforced through an inspection and verification process.

It has also become common for livestock farmers to market products labeled "all natural," "cage free," "grass fed," "pasture raised," "free range," or "free roaming." Critics say that these labels are marketing ploys and are not clearly defined or verified by regulatory agencies or animal welfare groups. For example, the label "cage free" has no legally enforceable meaning.

The USDA allows producers to label a product as "all natural" as long as it is "minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients." However, the label can be applied to meat from animals that received antibiotics and other drugs to promote growth. Producers that market free-range or free-roaming chickens are required by the USDA to provide their chickens access to the outside. However, there is no verification process in place to prove this claim. Critics point out that the requirement is satisfied at some chicken houses by including a small door that leads out into a small caged area open to the environment.

Certified organic livestock and poultry, 2005
aIncludes unclassified cows and some young stock.
bIncludes goats, buffalo, bison, rabbits, and other specialties.
Source: Adapted from "Table 5. U.S. Certified Organic Livestock, 2005, by State," in Data Sets: Organic Production, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, December 15, 2006, (accessed December 29, 2006)
Cows, pigs, and sheep
Beef cows70,219
Milk cows86,032
Other cowsa58,172
Hogs & pigs10,018
Sheep & lambs5,347
Chickens and other poultry
Layer hens2,031,056
Other animalsb15,689
    Grand total14,438,747

The USDA definitions of "free range," "pasture fed," and "free roaming" for nonpoultry animals say that the animals must have been allowed to eat grass and live outdoors during at least part of their lives. Animal welfare groups claim that the USDA rarely performs inspections to verify such claims but relies on the statements of livestock producers.


Because humans consume so many animal products, there is a correlation between the health of farm animals and human health. Even people who do not have moral or philosophical problems with the treatment or consumption of livestock are concerned about some factory farming methods.

Use of Antibiotics

One of the biggest concerns is the routine administration of low doses of antibiotics to farm animals to prevent them from developing diseases and to cure any that might already have diseases. This is called nontherapeutic, subtherapeutic, or preventive antibiotic use. Many people fear that it could lead to development of antibiotic-resistant diseases in animals and humans. Scientists already know that some bacteria are able to adjust to and tolerate low dosages of weaker antibiotics. Once they achieve this resistance it is much more difficult to kill them and requires increasingly stronger types of antibiotics.

Animal-to-Human Disease Transmission

Another concern related to animal welfare is the fear that U.S. farm animals could transmit diseases to humans, either through live contact or from the consumption of tainted meat products.

Diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonoses. Zoonoses associated with farm animals include anthrax (an infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacterium), brucellosis (a flulike illness transmitted by bacteria), leptospirosis (a bacterial disease that can cause a variety of symptoms in humans), bovine tuberculosis (a respiratory disease), streptococcus suis (a meningitis-like disease mostly associated with pigs), orf (a viral skin disease), and ringworm (a fungal skin disease). Of major concern is a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).


One TSE is called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. BSE is a neurological disease of cattle that is believed to be caused by misshapen protein cells called prions. Prions enter brain cells and disrupt normal cell operation, resulting in severe brain damage and ultimately death. BSE devastated farm animal populations in England during the 1980s and 1990s. Millions of animals were killed because they either had the disease or as a precaution against the disease. Scientists believe that BSE is a fairly new disease that emerged in cattle that had been fed animal byproducts from sheep contaminated with scrapie (another type of spongiform encephalopathies). Byproducts from slaughtered infected cattle were inadvertently fed to healthy cattle, leading to widespread infection.

Medical authorities suspect that humans can contract a similar brain-wasting disease by eating meat from BSE-infected animals. The human disease is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). This is a new form of an already known disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). The causes of classic CJD are not well understood; however, it is extremely rare and has been found mostly in older people. By contrast, most of the victims of vCJD have been in their twenties and are believed to have eaten BSE-tainted beef. CJD and vCJD cause severe brain damage and are ultimately fatal.

In December 2003 the first case of BSE in the United States was confirmed in a downer Holstein cow tested in Washington state. The test results were obtained nearly two weeks after the cow had been slaughtered. All meat products associated with cattle slaughtered as part of the same batch were recalled. However, some of the meat had already been sold and possibly consumed by humans. U.S. authorities believe that the infected cow had been imported from Canada. Federal officials claimed the beef was safe, however, because the parts that carry the infectionbrain, spinal cord, and intestineswere removed at the slaughterhouse.

Samples tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), by collection site, June 1, 2004March 17, 2006
Collection siteTargeted samples% of total
*Does not include antemortem condemned animals transported to offsite facilities (3D/4D collection sites) for sampling.
Source: "Table 1. Number of Targeted Samples Tested by Collection Site Type from June 1, 2004, through March 17, 2006," in Summary of Enhanced BSE Surveillance in the United States, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health National Surveillance Unit, April 27, 2006, BSE-Surv4-26-06.pdf (accessed December 28, 2006)
Slaughter plant*32,5605.03
Public health lab1910.03
Diagnostic lab2,8040.43

Since 1990 the USDA has conducted a BSE surveillance program on U.S. cattle. At first the program concentrated on cattle exhibiting clinical signs of BSE or other neurological disorders. In 1993 testing was extended to downer cattle at slaughterhouses. In 2001 the program was expanded to include cattle that died of unknown causes. These target populations are believed to be the animals in which BSE is most likely to be found if it is present. In June 2004 an "enhanced" surveillance program was begun to test as many cattle as possible considered to be high risk for BSE. Table 4.8 shows the number of samples tested between June 1, 2004, and March 17, 2006. The vast majority of samples were obtained from cattle at rendering facilities and 3D-4D facilities (slaughtering plants that salvage meat unsuitable for human consumption).


As of 2007 scientists were growing increasingly concerned about the transmission of avian influenza A to humans. Avian influenza A, also known as the bird flu, is a disease that was first detected during the late 1800s. Before the 1990s it was found only in birds and a few species of pigs. In 1997 the first known cases in humans appeared in Hong Kong, causing six deaths. The human outbreak coincided with a severe infection throughout the Hong Kong poultry industry. The World Health Organization reports in "Avian Influenza H5N1 Infection in Humans: Urgent Need to Eliminate the Animal ReservoirUpdate 5" (January 22, 2004, that an estimated 1.5 million birdsthe country's entire flock of poultryhad to be destroyed. Scientists determined that the avian influenza A strain known as H5N1 was capable of mutating rapidly and acquiring genes from viruses infecting other animal species (including humans). An epidemic of mutated H5N1 in humans could be devastating as humans have no natural immunity to the disease. Domestic poultry are believed to be most susceptible to the H5N1 strain.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (2007,, the H5N1 virus was found in poultry in forty countries between the close of 2003 and April 13, 2007. Those countries include China, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam, among others. The number of human cases reported to the World Health Organization between 2003 and April 11, 2007, was 291 (2007, Of that number, 172 people had died in 12 countries. Concerns about a possible pandemic have prompted U.S. federal, state, and local governments to consider plans to handle an outbreak and to stockpile medical and other emergency supplies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a Web site ( that offers the latest information on the situation. On April 17, 2007, the FDA announced that a vaccine to protect humans against the disease was available.


Fur farming is a unique agricultural enterprise for two reasons. First, most of the animals involved are wild instead of domesticated. Second, the animals are raised and killed for their pelts only. The most popular fur animal is the mink. According to (2006,, it takes, on average, about forty mink pelts to produce one fur coat.

Mink are wild animals that are kept in cages on fur farms. They typically breed in the early spring and give birth to litters in late spring. An average litter contains four or five babies, or kits, that are weaned after six to eight weeks. The kits are vaccinated against common diseases. During the late summer and early fall the mink naturally molt (lose their summer fur) and regrow a thick winter coat. The mink are killed in late autumn or early winter. Some are retained for breeding purposes.

According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, the USDA reports that there were 310 mink farms in the United States in 2002. Approximately 1.1 million pelts were produced in 2002. The U.S. Fur Commission (2005, notes the top five mink-pelt producing states are Wisconsin, Utah, Minnesota, and Oregon.

The fur industry is harshly criticized by animal rights activists and welfarists, who say that the animals are kept in miserable conditions and in small cages. The HSUS explains that overbreeding by farmers to produce desirable coat colors leads to serious and painful deformities in the animals. Farming and slaughter of fur animals are not regulated by the USDA. The most common killing techniques are gassing, electrocution, and breaking of the animals' necks. Fur farming has been banned in many western European countries.

Animal welfarists and rights activists have conducted antifur campaigns since the 1960s. PETA's "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign was begun in the 1990s and has featured celebrities such as Pamela Anderson and Kim Basinger posing nude. PETA activists also regularly disrupt fashion shows featuring fur-clad models and protest outside stores selling fur. However, fur sales have continued to rise in the United States. According to the Fur Information Council of America (2006,, fur sales increased from $1 billion in 1991 to $1.8 billion in 2005. Industry analysts indicate that fur demand is driven by weather and economy rather than by animal issues. A Gallup poll conducted in May 2006 found that 62% of those asked believed that the buying and wearing of clothing made of animal fur was morally acceptable. (See Figure 4.18.)

Mink farmers defend their animal husbandry and slaughtering procedures as humane. They argue that mink in the wild rarely live longer than one year and insist that the mink are handled carefully, both for their welfare and to protect their valuable coats from damage. Producers also insist that the mink are killed quickly and humanely using veterinary-approved methods. In "Fur Ethics" (November 2001,, Delia Montgomery interviews a veteran mink farmer, who claims that "animals raised for their fur are inherently the best cared for farm animals."