Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Cruel and usual punishment

Posted by metaphorical on 12 March 2007

Lancaster County Sportsmen’s Club Pleads ‘No Contest’ in Animal Cruelty Case

LANCASTER, Pa., March 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Elstonville Sportsmen’s Association, 3133 Pinch Rd., Manheim, Pa., today pleaded “no contest” to eight counts of cruelty to animals as a result of charges filed on Jan. 22, 2007, in District Court. Judge John C. Winters issued fines to the association of $50 for each count.

Charges were filed by Officer Keith Mohler of the Farm Sanctuary of Pennsylvania and stem from an event held at the club’s facility on Sept. 9, 2006, during which domestic turkeys were staked to straw bales and used as live targets for a bow and arrow shooting contest. The club was cited for eight violations of the Pennsylvania Cruelty to Animals Statutes including four counts of cruel ill treatment and four counts of offering live animals as prizes in a contest.

The thing I find puzzling about this case is that the acts of cruelty here occur every day, about 17,000 times a day in fact. They occur in every factory farm where, as ethicist Mylan Engel Jr. puts it:

Broiler chickens are warehoused in sheds containing anywhere from 10,000-50,000 birds; veal calves are kept in crates chained at the neck; pigs are confined in metal crates situated on concrete slatted floors with no straw or bedding; and beef cattle are housed in feedlots containing up to 100,000 animals,


To prevent chickens and turkeys from pecking each other to death, the birds are “debeaked” using a scalding hot blade which slices through the highly sensitive horn of the beak leaving blisters in the mouth;[24] to prevent them from “back ripping,”[25] their toes are amputated using the same hot knife machine.[26] Other routine mutilations include: tail docking, branding, dehorning, ear tagging, ear clipping, teeth pulling, castration, and ovariectomy. In the interest of cost efficiency, all of these excruciating procedures are performed without anaesthesia.

You can see 13 minutes of horrific depiction of it here, or you can take in some fast facts from Engel:

98% of all eggs and poultry are produced in factory farms, 90% of pigs are raised in confinement systems, half of the nation’s dairy cows are raised in confinement systems, virtually all veal calves are crate-raised, and 71% of beef cattle are confined in factory farm feedlots. To see just how many animals suffer the institutionalized cruelties of factory farming, consider the number slaughtered in the U.S. each day. According to The New York Times, 130,000 cattle, 7,000 calves, 360,000 pigs, and 24 million chickens are slaughtered every day. Extrapolation reveals that 8.94 billion animals are raised and slaughtered annually, not counting turkeys, ducks, sheep, emu, or fish. Consequently, over 17,000 animals are slaughtered per minute.

It’s good that these “sportsmen” were held responsible for their wanton cruelty, but when will the thousands of factory farms be held responsible for theirs?

Thanks to the NotMilkman for the pointer to the story about the “sportsmen” club, and to Terrible, Wonderful World for Engel’s page, from which I’ve removed the many footnote citations.

8 Responses to “Cruel and usual punishment”

  1. Jen said

    Not to toot my own horn, but my disgust with factory farming is the main reason I stopped eating meat in December. I feel a bit of a hypocrite since I’m not vegan, but that might be a path I take in the future.

  2. I didn’t know you’d done that. That’s pretty cool. The vegan thing is hard. It was two stages for me, six months apart.

  3. Martin said

    Ah but Jen being vegan takes a bit more commitment. It think you should be glad that you exercise consumer power a lot more than the average citizen.

    Just taking a look in the isle for frozen dinners I could only discovery one vegetarian(and also vegan) – ironically it was falafel.

    Sad, sad, sad.

    My main reason for becoming one was the “Long Shadow”-report (and of course the meat industry complex) but I still eat meat that people has hunted for themselves.

  4. *munching on a bacon egg and cheese and sausage sandwich*

    Damn, those poor animals. I better eat more meat. That way I can help free more of them from their suffering and allow their souls to be free.

  5. Assuming 250 slaughtering days per year and the meat is all consumed inside the US, those numbers seem to suggest that each American eats about 1/10 of a cow, 1/3 of a pig, and 20 chickens per year, plus an unspecified number of emus. (In total, about 33 million cows, 90 million pigs, and 6 *billion* chickens.)

    Assuming a 3.5 pound (spherical) chicken, and using average figures from some agricultural Websites, that works out, by some bizarre coincidence, to almost exactly 70 pounds per year (dressed weight) of each type, or about a pound a week allowing for fat trim and cooking loss. Which actually seems realistic, even if you figure kids eat less (I’m personally eating for several children, which I regard as my contribution to their health).


    It’s staggering just how many animals it takes to feed a nation this big. And, of course, the problems of energy inefficiency (fertilizer for grain to feed cows), disease, destruction of land (including in the federal parks), and the massive amounts of waste produced are proportional. I knew all that, but had never heard just how many animals were involved.

    I’m actually not all that moved by the animal rights concept. I think it’s somewhat confused morally and to a large degree wrong on the facts (depending on who you talk to). Chickens stand just below Republicans on my personal scale of perceived moral and cognitive capacity. But the sheer stupidity and wastefulness of the industry is an issue to contend with. And just how much high-cholesterol face-stuffing you have to get through to keep it alive is also worth thinking about.

  6. A lb a week seems very low, even allowing for 10% vegetarians. The typical meat-eating American seems to eat meat 10-21 meals per week. Even at the low number, that’s 1.6 oz per meal, which even for a breakfast with bacon, seems weird.

    At the high end for meals (21), that’s less than 1 oz per meal. A small hamburger, by fast-food standards, is a quarter-pounder, 4 oz. The cooked weight is less, but still probably at least 2.5 oz, and of course most consumers of fast food by a larger burger or eat two of the smaller ones. And a steak-house steak can be a full pound.

    I’m curious about the reference to cognitive capacity. Chickens can learn enough tic-tac-toe to get to the always-a-draw level, which is all that’s needed for public office, but I would think most ethical arguments don’t rely on cognition anyway. They have to do with pain and suffering. (Did you happen to look at the 13-minute-video?)

    In addition, I’m wondering what a practicing ethicist thinks of Engel’s arguments. Did you get a chance to read the paper?

  7. Here’s more input: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/14/opinion/14niman.html?ex=1331524800&en=eef4837d3dbf84e4&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  8. It’s three pounds a week, evenly distributed across three of the four major food groups (we aren’t considering fish). But even then, it’s probably low. I was originally thinking that the numbers of slaughters per day quoted in your post seemed unrealistically large, but on running the numbers, it’s clear they’re not. (Say they slaughter 300 days per year, and the dressed weights are 25% higher than I estimated – then it goes up to 4 – 4.5 lbs per week, or 10 ounces per day, which seems like it’s in the ballpark.) (Also notice that “yield percentages” for butchered large animals come to about 2/3 or 3/4 of the weight on the hoof – yet more energy spent growing flesh that isn’t used [at least since they stopped feeding them their own prions].)

    “Cognitive capacity” extends all the way down to basic information-processing. Some degree of such capacity is surely a prerequisite for moral personhood, but exactly what kind and how to detect it is controversial. As for demonstrative tests like puzzle-solving, it’s surprising how little capacity that takes. Even very simple flatworms can learn simple mazes, so “smart as a politician” may not cut it. Interestingly, puzzle-solving chickens *can’t* pass the “identify yourself in a mirror” test, which seems highly significant to me. (Chimps can pass it; dolphins maybe.)

    I saw the video with the sound off; much of it isn’t pretty. And I’ll admit there’s something ghoulish about watching such scenes and coolly dismissing them by saying “Oh, but we don’t *really* know what they’re feeling. Maybe they don’t think it’s bad.” But . . . we *don’t* know what they’re feeling, and there’s good reason to think they don’t *think* anything about it at all. Yet it’s very easy to talk yourself into writing other individuals off the moral scale for your own convenience.

    If you’re at all sensitive to this debate (and not already on the animal-rights bandwagon), you have to ask yourself how much you’re emulating the slavedrivers who argued that blacks weren’t human and didn’t have human emotions, or didn’t mind being whipped and chained. That’s so insanely false that you wonder how anyone *could have* believed it – but apparently some non-insane people did. Will we look the same to future generations? I think not (for one thing, blacks *are* human, and they can *tell us* how they’re feeling – two distinctions that make a huge difference). But you have to approach the subject with at least some fear and trembling.

    I haven’t read the paper yet. I’ll try to. Must dash, now.

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