As a vegan I hear a lot of the same questions over and over. I am vegan because I don’t want to participate in the suffering that factory farming causes non-human animals, as opposed to being vegan for health or environmental reasons – though those are great reasons too. In observance of World Farm Animals Day on October 2, here are some answers to five questions people often ask me about being vegan.
- Shearing sheep doesn’t kill them, so why don’t you wear wool?
Because sheep raised for wool suffer terribly and are eventually killed for their meat.
Before humans started manipulating their genes, sheep would grow just enough wool to keep them warm in the winter, and they would molt and grow a new coat each year. Genetically engineered merino sheep grow wool year-round, and they grow much more of it because they have been bred to have roll upon roll of extra skin—which creates perfect warm, moist environments for flies, which lay eggs, which produce baby maggots, which eat sheep alive. Really.
Having their sheep eaten hurts the bottom line, so in the name of preventing this “flystrike,” wool growers slice the skin right off the sheep’s legs and hindquarters. Really. It is called mulesing, and, like all factory farm mutilations it is performed without anesthesia and causes lasting excruciating pain.
Shearing the wool from sheep is a race for dollars because shearers are paid by volume. They often cut off rolls of skin along with the wool. They usually shear sheep before the sheep would naturally shed their winter coats in order to harvest as much wool as possible, which leaves sheep shivering until the temperature rises. Many die of exposure.
Wool producers amputate lambs’ tails and horns and castrate the males without anesthesia. Once sheep have aged beyond their peak wool-producing years they are sold for slaughter. Australia is the largest producer of wool, but ships sheep to Europe for slaughter for meat. The travel conditions are so miserable that many animals die in transit, including lambs who are trampled to death. Depending on the country they are sent to, many are dismembered while fully conscious.
Close to 15 million sheep are slaughtered in Great Britain alone every year.
- Chickens are not killed to get eggs, so why don’t you eat eggs?
Because chickens and their chicks are tortured to get eggs, and egg-production does result in slaughter. As I’ve written earlier on this blog, four egg-laying chickens are stuffed into each 16″ by 16″ battery cage. Poultry producers cram the birds in to maximize the number of eggs they can collect per square inch. The birds cannot spread their wings or lie down. They stand on wire mesh that cuts into their feet; sometimes their toes grow around the wire. The walls of the cage rub their feathers off and cause blood blisters. With no outlet to express their natural urges to dust bathe and to peck at the ground, birds peck at and injure each other. Most have the ends of their beaks seared off as chicks in a painful, mutilating procedure intended to prevent this pecking. The concentration of the hens’ waste, which collects on the floor beneath the rows and rows of cages, creates so much ammonia that it sickens the birds, hurting their lungs and making their eyes burn. They never see the sun or feel a breeze, and they never form the family groups that wild chickens create instinctually.
While female chicks are having their beaks burned off, male chicks are losing their lives. A few of them are kept to reproduce the breed, but most are killed immediately in one of a number of ways, including tossing one atop another in dumpsters to suffocate each other to death, electrocuting or gassing them, and throwing them live into grinders. They are useless to factory farm owners because raising them for their meat is not cost-effective. Chickens raised for meat have been carefully bred to grow enormous chests and thighs shockingly fast. Chickens used for egg production have been carefully bred to produce as many eggs as possible. The males of the egg-laying breed would not yield enough meat to earn their keep, earning instead a death sentence.
Chickens can live for 15 years. In factory farm conditions, their egg production drops off and they are slaughtered at around one year of age. After an excruciating journey to the slaughterhouse that kills many of them, the birds are hung upside down and their heads are dragged through electrically charged water. The ones who aren’t rendered unconscious get to experience their necks being sliced open to bleed them, and then being scalded to facilitate plucking.
Approximately 280 million hens raised for their eggs and 280 million male chicks are slaughtered each year in the United States.
- Cows are not killed to get milk, so why don’t you eat dairy products?
Because cows and their calves are tortured to get milk, and, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, producing dairy does result in slaughter, both of “spent” dairy cows and of male calves. Calves are taken away from their mothers right after birth; the females are raised to produce milk, while the males are chained by their necks inside tiny wooden veal crates to keep them from moving because muscles would make their meat tougher. Veal producers deprive them of iron and fiber, giving them anemia, so their meat will be pale. Calves in veal crates never get to run, stretch, turn around, or even lie down comfortably. They are usually killed after just three weeks of life for “bob” veal or at four or five months of age for “special-fed” veal. Losing their calves haunts mothers, who often cry out for their lost babies for days.
Dairy farms constrain cows in what they call a rape rack to artificially inseminate them. For ten months after cows give birth, machines take the milk that was meant for their calves, and then they are inseminated again. This cycle continues until the cows are too sick or spent to produce optimal quantities of milk and are sent to the slaughterhouse. Cows’ natural lifespan is around 20 years, but on factory farms they see only four or five years before they are killed.
Those four or five years are miserable. Normally cows form lasting friendships, nurture their young, and even play. On factory farms they are often trapped in pens too crowded for any kind of natural behavior, or kept on concrete floors that hurt their legs, in confined indoor spaces. These cows are fed hormones and deliberately bred to produce as much milk as possible, so even though farm workers pump antibiotics into them they still tend to develop mastitis, a painful infection of their udders.
Like cows raised for beef, dairy cows end their lives at the slaughterhouse. After a hideous journey to the slaughterhouse that hobbles, sickens, and kills many cows, a shot to the head from a captive-bolt gun is supposed to render them unconscious — but it often doesn’t work. Many conscious cows are hung upside down by a shackle around one ankle, cut open, bled, and dismembered while fully conscious.
- Why don’t you just buy free range meat and cage free eggs?
Because the label “free range” means very little, and there is little to no government oversight to confirm that factory farms are actually in compliance with the minimal standards that are in place.
Pigs: To earn the free range label, farmers don’t have to treat pigs well. Free range pigs suffer castration with no anesthesia, and they are confined indoors until they are nine months old. Many free range farms amputate pigs’ tails, again without anesthesia.
Access to a forest and acorns doesn’t come without an extra price for pigs. One is spaying – an invasive surgery akin to a hysterectomy but without the anesthesia. Another is nose-ringing, which farmers inflict on nearly all free range pigs. Farm workers bore into pigs’ noses with iron tongs to implant a ring that prevents pigs from rooting around and foraging on the ground, lest they disturb the forest floor. Obviously ringing hurts, but its deleterious effects last far longer than those of the other mutilations they endure.
Pigs have a basic and powerful instinct to root around and forage. The purpose of nose rings is to prevent them satisfying that urge. Their inability to satisfy a fundamental instinct can cause lifelong depression in pigs. Imagine if people were prohibited from fulfilling their urge for sex: it would not promote mental health, to say the least.
When the inevitable day comes, free range pigs suffer the same horrific slaughter as their conventionally caged cousins. After cramped transport to the slaughterhouse without food and water, which kills many pigs even before they hit the killing floor, they meet their maker in gruesome ways. Some are dismembered while fully conscious.
Poultry Raised for Meat: “Free range” means little to nothing for birds. Having one door open for five minutes a day qualifies birds raised for meat as “free range,” even if that door opens onto a pile of manure, only a few birds are close enough to the door to use it, and the whole flock is too crowded to move the rest of the time. Free range chickens, turkeys, and other birds have their beaks cut off and are slaughtered in the same miserable conditions as other birds raised for meat.
Poultry Raised for Eggs: Rather than being crowded into battery cages, cage free chickens are crowded onto the floor or raised wire shelves in a shed. They do not go outside, ever. The “cage free” imprimatur does not give them any more space than their caged sisters, nor does it protect them from debeaking, ammonia, pecking from their neighbors, or inhumane slaughter.
- Where do you get your protein?
The average American diet contains twice as much protein as the human body needs, so if a vegan diet contains less protein than an omnivorous diet, it means vegans are less vulnerable to diseases caused by excess protein such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer.
Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often a lot of, protein. That includes well-known protein sources like soy and all kinds of nuts and beans, and less well-known sources of protein like bagels, potatoes, peas, and spaghetti.
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Consuming the meat or by-products of any animal abets torture. Veganism is a boycott of agribusiness with the goal of ending corporate cruelty to helpless animals, and it comes with added benefits like a healthier diet and less expensive clothing.
Good resources on moving towards a vegetarian or vegan diet include the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 21 Day Vegan Kickstart and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit.