Try 1 month for 99¢

DREXEL, Mo. - Hundreds of pregnant sows stand, almost immobile, facing the same direction - they can lie down on their chests, but they can't turn around.

The narrow stalls hold 800 hogs in just one building on Scott Phillips' farm, which houses 10,000 hogs in all. It's modern farming, and Phillips and others say it's good for the pigs, keeping them safe and healthy.

"It's our God-given responsibility to take care of these animals," Phillips said.

But increasingly, animal welfare advocates say the treatment of livestock on factory farms, where thousands of pigs, chickens or dairy cows live in warehouse-type buildings, is harsh and inhumane.

"If most people knew the reality of how abused farm animals are, they would be outraged," said Paul Shapiro, senior director of a Humane Society of the United States campaign to protect livestock on factory farms.

A showdown over livestock welfare is taking place in California, where voters recently passed an initiative that could ban some types of confinement, including the gestation crates that house the pregnant sows on Phillips' farm.

By now, you might have seen some of the videos depicting cruel treatment of livestock at other factory farms - dragging downer cows with ropes, suffocating chickens in trash containers in southwest Missouri, workers slamming baby pigs on the ground.

But that's not the heart of the current debate. The livestock industry says it condemns such incidents.

It's the daily operations that are at issue in California and some other states that already have mandated changes.

Animal welfare advocates say chickens and hogs, and increasingly dairy cows, never go outdoors, have no bedding or straw to lie on, never get fresh air and live in cages so tight that they can't extend their limbs. Advocates say studies show such treatment places animals in severe stress and results in compulsive behavior.

"You look on packages of meat, eggs or dairy and you see images of bucolic pastures or nice red barns implying that the products came from animals who were raised on Old McDonald's Farm," Shapiro said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

But livestock producers say their animals are better off because confinement keeps them out of the elements and prevents them from fighting or getting injured.

"Most of us in animal science do not feel like that is inhumane treatment," said George Jesse, a University of Missouri professor with the agriculture department, which advises livestock producers.

"I suspect if I could talk to a pig and understand the pig, that the pig might say, 'George, we don't really like it in here.' But we feel like the way we are raising livestock today, that from day to day they are much better off and much healthier than they were in Mother Nature years ago."

For years, as industrial farms have replaced traditional farms, complaints focused on harm to human health and damage to the environment, including odors and contaminated waterways.

Treatment of livestock is surfacing as a new battlefront.

Already Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have banned gestation crates. Arizona and Colorado also have banned veal crates, which confine dairy calves by the neck from birth until slaughter.

Those states join the European Union, which also is phasing out gestation and veal crates. It is also phasing out chicken cages that hold several hens and allow each one 67 square inches of floor space - smaller than a sheet of typing paper.

Consumer demand is forcing some supermarkets and fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's and KFC to push for reform from meat suppliers who use cages. Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer, announced last year it would ban the gestation crates.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
0
0
0
0
0