Recently, I heard an interview on the Animal Voices show on Co-op Radio with Paul Shapiro, the senior director of the factory farming campaign of the Humane Society of the United States, about its investigation into an organic veal slaughterhouse. The video footage was particularly damning and resulted in the closure of the slaughterhouse in Vermont.
According to the Humane Society:
Videotape from the investigation reveals that veal calves only a few days old—many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—were unable to stand or walk on their own. The tape shows that the animals were kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment.
The video of the investigation is particularly hard to watch. Seeing babies abused in this way is horrific. Unfortunately, abuses like this are not isolated incidences. Investigation after investigation has revealed that abuse of animals is built in to the system.
Male calves are the excess of the dairy industry. Hundreds of thousands of unwanted male dairy calves are born every year here in Canada. Whether organic, free-range, grass-fed, or conventional, there is no escaping this fact of milk production.
As mammals, cows need to get pregnant and give birth in order to produce milk. Most people believe that cows need to be milked when in fact they produce milk only to feed their young . Cows on dairy farms produce milk because they’ve been artificially inseminated and forced to give birth. Their newborns are taken from them immediately after birth so that there will be enough milk for humans.
Like humans, cows have a nine-month pregnancy and form extremely strong bonds with their young. But unlike humans, dairy mothers have their calves taken from them at birth and dragged onto trucks and slaughtered within a week. Some calves are taken and kept in extreme confinement for six months to produce the white, tender “milk-fed” veal sold at high-end restaurants. The mother cow is left childless and treated as a milk-machine. All of her mothering instincts are thwarted.
It has been said that there is a little bit of veal in every glass of milk. That is somewhat figurative, yet completely true and accurate. Literally speaking, the meat of most veal calves goes into things like hotdogs, pet food, and other processed meat products.
It’s not possible for a dairy farm to operate without disposing of their excess calves. The consumption of milk, cheese, yogurt, and any other dairy product supports the veal industry. In fact, without dairy, there would be no veal industry. Veal is, plain and simple, a by-product of the dairy industry.
The Humane Society investigation was of a slaughterhouse in the United States. Are conditions any better here in Canada? Largely, no. In his interview, Shapiro pointed out that Canada is actually falling well behind the United States in terms of legislation that protects animals.
We like to think that in Canada conditions are much better than in the U.S., but the reality is quite different. In general, our meat, egg, and dairy industries are the same. Often Canadian farmers are raising animals to supply the same U.S. companies, like Tyson, Perdue, or Cargill. However, there are some differences.
The U.S. has banned the slaughter of “downers”—cattle which are either too sick or too weak to walk into the slaughterhouse. Until recently, downers were allowed to be moved using forklifts or sleds, but now laws exist which require that these animals be euthanized. Canada has no legislation restricting the slaughter of downers. We do have a law which insists that animals must be able to enter the transport truck to the slaughterhouse on their own, but very often it is the transport itself that renders an animal too weak or injured to walk off the truck. If an animal is too weak to walk into the slaughterhouse, they can be dragged or pushed—and their meat ends up in our food supply.
There have been movements in several states to ban the use of extreme confinement systems such as veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates and sow stalls. So far there has been no effort in Canada to make similar welfare changes, putting the U.S. well ahead of Canada when it comes to the treatment of the animals we raise to kill and eat.
Ninety-eight percent of Canadian eggs come from hens confined in battery cages where the birds have so little space that they are unable to spread even one wing. Pigs raised in Canada are kept in sow stalls and gestation crates where the animals are unable to take one step forward or back. Meat chickens are bred so that they grow to slaughter weight in just six weeks—suffering heart and lung issues as well as broken bones because of their accelerated growth. That’s how we do things here in Canada, just like the U.S.
This probably makes sense when you consider that the Canadian government is spending millions to support a globally criticized seal-hunting industry and that we pride ourselves on our history of killing millions of animals for their fur.
Why is our perception so different than reality?
Glenn Gaetz is a director of Liberation B.C., a Vancouver-based animal-rights organization.