This Is The Worst Thing I’ve Read In A While

UPDATED TO ADD: Here’s how Wisconsin is responding!

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has directed agency staff to create and deliver an updated Animal Welfare Strategy plan within 60 days, according to an internal email reviewed by Reuters New Service.

Two days earlier, the agency said it was looking into livestock conditions at its Nebraska-based center, in the wake of a New York Times report stating that facility staff had failed to follow basic animal welfare standards when conducting decades of research.

Full article here.

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If you’re reading these posts, you either identify as a believer in animal rights, or you’re someone who cares about animals. Within the animal rights movement, we often create this dichotomy of rights vs welfare. Well, as we know, all dichotomies are false dichotomies. Yes, there are things the two groups disagree on, but our aims are broadly similar – we want better lives for animals. So here’s an article both groups can get behind: U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit.

The subtitle? “Animal Welfare at Risk in Experiments for Meat Industry.”

Basically, in an attempt to breed animals that

produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise

the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is creating sickly animals that perish immediately, providing inadequate care that results in animals dying from starvation and treatable maladies, and shoveling all the bodies into a “dead pit.”

According to one employee:

“They pay tons of attention to increasing animal production, and just a pebble-sized concern to animal welfare,” said James Keen, a scientist and veterinarian who worked at the center for 24 years. “And it probably looks fine to them because they’re not thinking about it, and they’re not being held accountable. But most Americans and even livestock producers would be hard pressed to support some of the things that the center has done.”

Everything in this article is horrible – piglets being crushed when their mothers roll over, newborn lambs killed by predators and starvation – but worst of all are the numbers:

Last Mother’s Day, at the height of the birthing season, two veterinarians struggled to sort through the weekend’s toll: 25 rag-doll bodies. Five, abandoned by overtaxed mothers, had empty stomachs. Six had signs of pneumonia. Five had been savaged by coyotes.

Of the 580,000 animals the center has housed since 1985, when its most ambitious projects got underway, at least 6,500 have starved. A single, treatable malady — mastitis, a painful infection of the udder — has killed more than 625.

And all that I shared is just in the FIRST PART of the story. There are NINE more sections. I don’t know about you, but I think I need a baby animal picture before we continue.


Oh hey! Were you talking about me?


So, the good news is, we aren’t the only ones horrified by this. The Editorial Board of the New York Times wrote an Op-Ed called Farming Science, Without the Conscience. The article begins in a promising way:

You don’t have to be a vegan to be repulsed by an account in The Times revealing the moral depths to which the federal government — working as a handmaiden to industrial agriculture — has sunk in pursuit of cheaper meat and fatter corporate profits.

And the ending is even better:

The humans who work at the center are not necessarily oblivious to its failings. Some veterinarians and researchers told The Times they were appalled by the suffering and abuse. They should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work. Congress founded the center 50 years ago. It should oversee it and reform it — or shut it down.

It’s often easy to skip over the effects of such brutal work on the people involved. Slaughterhouses are correlated with increased rates of violent and sexual crimeMany slaughterhouse workers suffer PTSD. Slaughterhouse workers are primarily low income people of color, many of whom are undocumented and threatened regularly with deportation by their bosses.

Human Rights Watch wrote an entire report on rights violations in the meat industry. The veterinarians referenced above are in a more privileged position than many of these workers, but the fact remains still that workers

…should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work.

For more on slaughterhouse workers’ points of view, read Gail Eisnitz’s “Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry.” Eisnitz’s book contains many interviews with workers, and some of what they say can be really hard to read. I’m also partial to Steve Striffler’s “Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food“. Striffler is an anthropologist, and he gives an honest and comprehensive view of the chicken industry, while keeping the descriptions straightforward enough that it isn’t too painful to read. Also, it’s super interesting. I learned a lot! And, of course, the book that started it all, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Free on Project Gutenberg! And still a pretty accurate depiction of the meat industry, despite these years that have gone by.

We can do better by these animals. To find out more, visit our Ethical Lifestyles page, or write me at

(h/t Ann)