All content shared here is gathered from various articles published by reputable organizations to provide you with a holistic understanding of the impact our food choices has on the environment and animal welfare, and the role we play in restoring balance.
Scientists still have plenty of unanswered questions about the origins and evolution of human meat-eating, but there are some strong theories as to when, how and why we started to incorporate larger amounts of meat in our omnivorous diet.
Between 2.6 and 2.5 million years ago, the Earth got significantly hotter and drier. Before that climate shift, our distant human ancestors—collectively known as hominins—were subsisting mostly on fruits, leaves, seeds, flowers, bark and tubers. As the temperature rose, the lush forests shrank and great grasslands thrived. As green plants became scarcer, evolutionary pressure forced early humans to find new sources of energy. Our ancient hominin ancestors weren’t capable hunters yet, but likely scavenged the meat from fallen carcasses. Once humans shifted to even occasional meat eating, it didn’t take long to make it a major part of our diet. Zaraska says there’s ample archaeological evidence that by 2 million years ago the first Homo species were actively eating meat on a regular basis.
The grassland savannas that spread across Africa supported growing numbers of grazing herbivores. Archaeologists have found large herbivore bones dating from 2.5 million years ago with telltale cut marks from crude stone tools. Our ancient hominin ancestors weren’t capable hunters yet, but likely scavenged the meat from fallen carcasses.
While our ancient human relatives had stronger jaws and larger teeth than modern man, their mouths and guts were designed for grinding up and digesting plant matter, not raw meat. Even crude stone tools could function as a second set of teeth, stripping hunks of flesh from a zebra carcass or bashing open bones and skulls to get at the nutrient-rich marrow or brains inside. By pre-processing meat with tools originally designed to dig tubers and crack open nuts, our ancestors made animal flesh easier to chew and digest.
Meat was the original ‘brain food.’
When ancient hominins subsisted exclusively on fruits, plants and seeds, they expended a lot more energy on digestion. Millions of years ago, the human gut was longer and slower, requiring more effort to derive limited calories from forage foods. With all of that energy being spent on digestion, the human brain remained relatively small, similar to other primates today.
When humans began adding meat to their diet, there was less of a need for a long digestive tract equipped for processing lots of plant matter. Slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years, the human gut shrunk. This freed up energy to be spent on the brain, which grew explosively in size.
When humans began cooking meat, it became even easier to digest quickly and efficiently, and capture those calories to feed our growing brains. The earliest clear evidence of humans cooking food dates back roughly 800,000 years ago, although it could have begun sooner.
Humans continue to eat meat because we like it, not because we need it.
Meat was clearly pivotal in the evolution of the human brain, but that doesn’t mean that meat is still an irreplaceable part of the modern human diet. Zaraska says any calorie-dense food would have had the same effect on our ancient evolving brains—“it could have been peanut butter”—but that meat happened to be available.
We crave meat today, in part, because our brains evolved on the African savanna and are still wired to seek out energy-dense sources of protein. It’s similar to our penchant for sugar, a rare calorie-rich commodity to our foraging ancestors whose brains rewarded them for finding ripe fruit.
But we also crave meat because of its cultural significance. Different cultures are more or less meat-centric, although there’s a clear correlation between wealth and meat consumption. Industrialized Western nations average more than 220 pounds of meat per person per year, while the poorest African nations average less than 22 pounds per person.
An overly meaty diet has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers—things our distant ancestors never had to worry about, because they didn’t live long enough to fall victim to chronic disease. “The goals of life for our ancestors was very different than ours,” says Zaraska. “Their goal was to survive to the next day.”
The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means it probably causes cancer.
Did you know that eating more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat a week increases your risk of bowel cancer? Or that the risk of developing bowel cancer goes up 1.18 times for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day?
Current research shows that there are certain chemicals in red and processed meats – both added and naturally occurring – that cause these foods to be carcinogenic. For example, when a chemical in red meat called haem is broken down in the gut, N-nitroso chemicals are formed and these have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, which can lead to bowel cancer. These same chemicals also form when processed meat is digested. In addition, the nitrite and nitrate preservatives used to preserve processed meat produce these N-nitroso chemicals and can lead to bowel cancer.
What’s the difference between processed and red meat?
Processed meat includes ham, bacon, salami, and sausages. Red meat includes all fresh, minced, and frozen beef, pork and lamb.
Fresh white meat, such as chicken and fish, are not linked with an increased risk of cancer.
Climate change arguably presents the greatest threat to ocean health. It is making oceans hotter, promoting acidification, and making it harder to breathe in them by reducing dissolved oxygen levels. Imagine how poorly a fish in an aquarium would fare if we turned up the heat, dripped in acid, and pulled out the oxygen bubbler. This is slowly but surely what we are doing to our oceans.
Global warming is causing sea levels to rise, threatening coastal population centers. Many pesticides and nutrients used in agriculture end up in the coastal waters, resulting in oxygen depletion that kills marine plants and shellfish. Factories and industrial plants discharge sewage and other runoff into the oceans.
We can each reduce our own carbon footprint and help decelerate climate change by making smart choices about what we eat. With 7.6 billion people on the planet, these decisions add up.
Rising temperatures correlate almost exactly with the release of greenhouse gases.
Before the 18th century, when humans in the industrial west began to burn coal, oil and gas, our atmosphere typically contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Those are the conditions “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”
Now, as the use of fossil fuels spreads through the world, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is skyrocketing — we’re now well over 415 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Fossil fuel companies are taking millions of years’ worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. In 2019, CO2 concentrations crossed 415 ppm in the atmosphere for the first time in at least 2.5 million years.
Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the most important step we can take to prevent further climate change.
Consequences of the way we eat on climate change
At the same time, the rapid growth in demand for animal-based agriculture by wealthier countries has seen other greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide rapidly rise. The contribution of agriculture causes about 15% of global emissions.
The way we currently eat is damaging both humans and the planet. One might think that we cannot do a lot about this because we all need to eat food. But we could feed more people while drastically reducing emissions and land-use caused by food.
Animal products are especially harmful to our climate
So what is causing the environmental footprint of food to be so large? By rule of thumb animal products usually cause more greenhouse gasses than plants. This is because additionally to keeping the animals you also need to grow plants to feed them. This results in much higher emissions than just eating the plants directly. Every day forests are cut down to grow animal feed and create new grazing land. Beef and dairy products are especially bad for the climate because cows produce large amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
Greenhouse gas emissions per 1000 kilocalories
Beef (beef herd) 36.44 kg
Beef (dairy herd) 12.2 kg
Fish (farmed) 7.61 kg
Cheese 6.17 kg
Pig meat 5.15 kg
Eggs 3.24 kg
Rice 1.21 kg
Oatmeal 0.95 kg
Potatoes 0.63 kg
Nuts 0.07 kg
As countries became more wealthy their meat consumption also increased drastically. According to research by Greenpeace the EU is currently spending around 71% of its farmland to feed livestock which is only possible because animal agriculture is subsidized with over € 28 billion per year.
As seen in the graph below we can drastically lower the carbon footprint of food by eating a vegan or vegetarian diet. But even lowering meat and dairy products can have a great impact and at scale can be more effective than a few people going vegan. Currently a diet harmful to the climate is incentivized more than a climate friendly diet.
Average daily CO2e-emissions of different diets:
Meat lover: 7.19 kg CO2e / day
Low meat diet: 4.67 kg CO2e / day
Vegetarian: 3.81 kg CO2e / day
Vegan: 2.89 kg CO2e / day
Lab-grown meat could be a game changer
In addition to improving our current ways of producing food there are also some innovative and potentially game-changing solutions that think out of the box. One example that could have a huge impact is lab-grown meat.
Lab-grown meat is a real animal muscle being grown without having to grow the animal around it. While it sounds a bit weird at first producing it on large scale would allow us to stop wasting land and energy and forcing animals to grow up in horrible conditions while still being able to eat a product that is exactly the same as meat from an animal. Just recently the Singapore Food Agency was the first authority to approve a lab-grown meat product as safe for market While lab-grown meat will be much more expensive when it starts being sold (likely in 2021) the price will rapidly decrease as larger amounts are produced and more competition enters the market. According to GCFGlobal Lab grown meat is significantly more climate-friendly as it requires 45% less energy, 99% less land use, and produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
For more info on Lab grown meat you can listen to Bruce Friedrich podcast.
“A few years ago, the base of most plant-based burgers was vegetables, oat, or beans. Now, with plant-based foods gaining more popularity, there are many more options. Two of the most popular brands, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, utilize pea protein or soy protein concentrate in their burgers, both of which closely mimic the texture and taste of real beef,” says Rhyan Geiger, RDN, a registered dietitian.
Alternative meats have skyrocketed in popularity due to a rise in overall awareness about meat’s impact on the environment and overall health.
If every American replaced all beef, chicken, and pork in their diet with a vegetarian option, that would save 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or roughly Ohio’s entire yearly emissions. Decreasing animal product consumption also prevents water scarcity as more than 50% of Americans’ freshwater use is for livestock production.
For more info on plant based meat please visit our extensive Health Hacks.
We need scalable solution to reduce emissions from food in time
Cultural change of behavior is called for, but we don’t have time to wait for it to happen. Making changes in our own personal life makes a difference. We can either continue to be part of the problem or choose to become part of the solution. We need to get active and support innovative climate solutions.
Sometimes we have the tendency to focus only on the details that are in front of us, and we forget to see the bigger picture. The rapid decline of our forested land is not about losing a few trees here and there, but the major impact this is having on us and generations to come. Don’t just look at the tree but see the whole forest.
As we are aware, trees are crucial for sustaining life on Earth; unfortunately, our forests are being destroyed. It is estimated that 42 million acres of forested land in Asia, Africa and Latin America are being destroyed annually, along with it we lose over 135 species of plants and animals with the loss of their habitats.
WHAT’S THE CAUSE OF DEFORESTATION?
One of the driving forces for deforestation, especially in the Amazon, is the animal agriculture sector. The livestock industry is reaching profits that are approximately 100 billion USD a year in America alone, sparking farmers around the globe to want in on the profit.
With increasing demand for meat, dairy and eggs over the last decade, it has increased the pressure on farmers to grow more crops to be used as feed for the livestock.
If this continues with our population growth along with the demand for more animal products, it is estimated that this will almost double the amount of crops we grow in the next 30 years; at the expense of our forests.
Forest destruction is caused by clearing forested lands and converting it into crops to grow feed for grazing, livestock and housing; even though the forested land may not be appropriate for farming. The negative effects of deforestation is increasing at an alarming rate globally. In the US, roughly 260 million acres+ of forested land has been cleared to make room for more crops, most of which will solely be used to grow feed for livestock.
These crops could be used to feed people around the world. One thing I can do to make my carbon footprint on the world smaller is to reduce my intake of animal products. Imagine a world where everyone ate fewer animal products? Hard to believe, right? We could send those crops that would typically feed livestock directly to people who would otherwise starve.
Each year 70 billion farm animals are raised solely for our food. Intensive animal farming also known as Factory Farming is on the rise. This method of farming is to produce vast quantities in a short amount of time. Case closed, nothing else matters except profit. Whether it be the negative impact this farming method has on our ecosystem and environment, or the cruelty and poor living conditions these animals suffer on a daily basis.
While the undeniable truth remains that animal agriculture has increased the availability of animal products at more affordable prices, we cannot deny the fact that this is at the cost of our environment, our animals and our overall health.
Each person can make a difference in the fight to save our forested lands; now the question becomes, how do we do this?
It’s simple. Consumer power. As everyday consumers we have more power than the major corporations let on. If consumers demand change, then we take control of the market.
Given the chance, cows nurture their young and form lifelong friendships with one another. They play games and have a wide range of emotions and personality traits. But most cows raised for the dairy industry are intensively confined, leaving them unable to fulfill their most basic desires, such as nursing their calves. They are seen as milk-producing machines, genetically manipulated and given antibiotics and hormones in order to produce more milk. While cows suffer on these farms, humans who drink their milk increase their chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other ailments.
Calves on dairy farms are taken away from their mothers when they are just 1 day old.They are fed milk replacers (including cattle blood) while their mothers’ milk is sold for human consumption.
Female cows are artificially inseminated shortly after their first birthdays. After giving birth, they are milked for 10 months before being inseminated again, continuing the cycle.
Cows have a natural lifespan of about 20 years and can produce milk for eight or nine years. However, the stress caused by the conditions on factory farms leads to disease, lameness, and reproductive problems that render cows worthless to the dairy industry by the time that they’re 4 or 5 years old, at which time they are sent to be slaughtered.
Male calves are kept in tiny stalls from birth and are raised for veal. Calves raised for veal are fed a milk substitute that is designed to make them gain 2 to 3 pounds per day, and their diet is purposely low in iron so that their flesh stays pale as a result of anemia. In addition to suffering from diarrhea, pneumonia, and lameness, calves raised for veal are terrified and desperate for their mothers.
Environmental Destruction Large dairy farms have an enormously detrimental effect on the environment. Overall, factory-farmed animals, including those on dairy farms, produce 1.65 billion tons of manure each year, much of which ends up in waterways and drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that agricultural runoff is a major cause of polluted lakes, streams, and rivers. The dairy industry is the primary source of smog-forming pollutants; a single cow emits more of these harmful gasses than a car does. Two-thirds of all agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food or to grow grain to feed them.
The cruel cycle on dairy farms
Cows produce milk for the same reason humans do – to nourish their young after giving birth. To keep the milk flowing, cows are artificially inseminated every year. The whole thing isn’t painful for the cow, but the simple fact that a cow is being manipulated and used for the gain of humans is unethical.
2. Typically, after one to three days, the calf is taken away from the mother. This causes both cow and calf extreme distress.
3. The male calves are usually sold to the veal industry. There, they are kept in tiny crates to keep their flesh tender, They will be killed after just a few miserable months of life.
3. The female calves will likely follow in their mothers’ footsteps in the dairy industry. But first, they will be dehorned. Dehorning is a procedure in which cows have their horns removed by means of saws, sharp wires, hot irons, guillotine dehorners, or caustic chemicals.
4. The cows will spend the rest of their lives as milk machines, forced to produce 4.5 times what they normally would for their calf. Cows used for milk are usually slaughtered for low-grade meat when they’re around 4-5 years old. That means four years of repeated artificial insemination, udder infections, and having their calves traumatically torn from their side shortly after birth.
You can help break this cycle of abuse simply by eliminating dairy products from your shopping list.
Intensive pig farming, also known as pig factory farming, is the primary method of pig production, in which grower pigs are housed indoors in group-housing or straw-lined sheds, whilst pregnant sows are housed in gestation crates or pens and give birth in farrowing crates.
The use of gestation crates for pregnant sows has lowered birth production costs; however, this practice has led to more significant animal cruelty. Many of the world’s largest producers of pigs (US, China and Mexico) use gestation crates. The European Union has banned the use of gestation crates after the fourth week of pregnancy. Intensive pig farmers often cut off tails, testes or teeth of pigs without anesthetic.
Globally, mother pigs are reared in intensive, barren factory farms where they are confined in steel cages – sow-stalls – for their entire pregnancy. In factory farms, piglets are taken from their mothers at just three-weeks of age.
Pigs are highly intelligent, charismatic and social animals. They have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs, says Dr. Donald Broom, a Cambridge University professor and a former scientific adviser to the Council of Europe. Pigs can play video games, and when given the choice, they have indicated temperature preferences in their surroundings.
These facts should not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent time around these social, playful animals. Pigs, who can live into their teens, are protective of their young and form strong bonds with other pigs. Pigs are clean animals, but they do not sweat as humans do, so they prefer cool surfaces, such as mud, to help regulate their body temperature.
On any given day in the U.S., there are more than 75 million pigs on factory farms, and 121 million are killed for food each year.
The majority of mother pigs (sows)—who account for more than 6 million of the pigs in the U.S.—spend most of their lives in individual “gestation” crates. These crates are about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide—too small to allow the animals even to turn around. After giving birth to piglets, sows are moved to “farrowing” crates, which are wide enough for them to lie down and nurse their babies but not big enough for them to turn around or build nests for their young. Once her piglets are gone, the sow is impregnated again, and the cycle continues for three or four years before she is slaughtered. This intensive confinement produces stress- and boredom-related behavior, such as chewing on cage bars.
After they are taken from their mothers, piglets are confined to pens and barns over the span of about six months, fed until they weigh upwards of 280 lbs and are ready to be sold as meat. Every year in the U.S., millions of male piglets are castrated (usually without being given any painkillers) because consumers supposedly complain of “boar taint” in meat that comes from intact animals. Piglets are not castrated in the U.K. or Ireland, but the practice varies in the European Union from country to country.
In extremely crowded conditions, piglets are prone to stress-related behavior such as cannibalism and tail-biting, so farmers often chop off piglets’ tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth—without giving them any painkillers. For identification purposes, farmers also cut out chunks of the young animals’ ears.
Early weaning leaves the piglets with a weakened immune system and makes them susceptible to disease and infection. Because of this, routine antibiotics are used to prevent disease in the overcrowded conditions associated with industrial scale farming. In the UK, approximately 50% of all antibiotics created are used for agriculture and 64% of this total are used on pigs as they are often in more crowded conditions than other animal factories. Concerns arise when humans begin to show antibiotic resistance to once effective medicines, putting us all at risk of serious harm from conditions that were once treatable.
In addition to this, the large number of antibiotics ingested by pigs creates another issue. Pigs produce ten times as much fecal waste as humans so with thousands of pigs in one shed there is a lot of waste to consider. In some countries, pig waste is sprayed on agricultural fields. Although animal manure has been used for millennia as fertilizer, spreading waste from animal factories is not quite the same. This waste is full of antibiotic resistant organisms and the quantities are too vast to be useful to any farmer’s field. When the ground becomes saturated, the waste either leaches through to the ground water or runs off into local lakes and streams. The high levels of nitrogen can also lead to algae blooms in the water system suffocating aquatic life.
When I see fridges stacked with meat in supermarkets, I see the hubris that is destroying our natural world. I see the destruction of rainforests, the extinction of species, the degradation of oceans, the pollution of soil and water, and the irreversible damage to our climate, all exacerbated by a factory farming system that can only be described as wholly depraved.
In that meat I see the distillation of human arrogance—a mindset that places human power at the center of the universe and views nature and all other beings as tools to be used for our benefit. It is the antithesis of what we need to learn: that our true self-interest aligns with the health of our ecosystem.
The natural world is not ours. Animals have meaning and worth apart from us. If we can summon an attitude of respect and humility, there’s a brighter world awaiting. Though first we must find in our hearts compassion for pigs … and for all the other animals with whom we share the Earth.
Chickens are sociable, intelligent animals. Their natural behavior includes living in stable groups of 30 or so that employ a social hierarchy (the origin of the term pecking order). The chickens in a given flock all know and recognize each other. Their communal activities include scratching and pecking for food, running around, taking dust baths, and resting. They crow and chirp in a range of some 30 meaningful vocalizations. Chickens also have a strong urge to nest, and, like most animal mothers, they nurture their young attentively and affectionately. A hen carefully tends her eggs in the nest, turning them up to five times an hour and clucking to them; remarkably, the unborn chicks chirp back to her and to one another.
Through the 1950s, even chickens raised for eventual slaughter were kept in traditional small coops of no more than 60 or so birds, with free access to the outdoors; they could nest, roost, and share space according to their natural behavior. But modern large-scale farming practices (“factory farming”) give chickens no opportunity to behave according to their nature. Quite the contrary—the reality of the life and death of factory-farmed chickens, both those raised for meat and those used to lay eggs, is shocking.
As in all factory-farming industries, chicken production is designed for maximum efficiency and maximum profit. With these goals, regard for the welfare of the animals involved is a luxury that reduces profits unless the extra costs can be passed on to the consumer (as on the much-publicized but less frequently seen “free-range” meat and egg farms). The results are overcrowding, disease, high death rates, and observable unhappiness for the animals involved.
The birds raised for meat, called “broilers” by the industry, are the product of genetic manipulation that has drastically increased breast and thigh tissue (the most popular parts of the animal) and produced a very rapid growth rate that outstrips the development of their legs and organs. Broilers raised in this way are supposed to reach “slaughter weight” at just six or seven weeks of age, but the death toll is very high. The growth of abnormally heavy bodies causes crippling and painful skeletal deformities, and the overburdening of the birds’ underdeveloped cardiopulmonary systems often causes congestive heart failure before they are six weeks old. Some broiler chickens who do not succumb to these problems still die of thirst, because they are physically unable to even reach the water nozzles in their sheds. Other common causes of death pre-slaughter are heat prostration, cancer—in an animal less than seven weeks old—and infectious diseases.
Broiler-chicken facilities tend to be extremely overcrowded, with tens of thousands of birds crammed into a single closed broiler house. Each chicken is given less than a square foot of space, so hardly any floor is actually visible. The birds are unable to roam, to scratch, or, indeed, to avoid each other at all. Their instinct to live in a hierarchical community is thwarted, and social tension results. Chickens living in these stressful conditions will peck and fight with each other, which has led chicken producers to the “solution” of debeaking chicks shortly after they hatch in order to minimize damage. This debeaking process, like much else in factory farming, is run assembly-line fashion, without anesthesia; the chicks are placed beak-first into an apparatus that quickly cuts the tips off the beaks with a hot blade.
Once the chickens have attained slaughter weight, they are loaded into crowded trucks that offer no protection from extreme temperatures, and many birds die as they are shipped to processing facilities. The most efficient of these facilities kill some 8,400 birds per hour, the result of a high degree of automation.
Machines run by humans automatically stun the birds, cut their throats, and scald and pluck them. First, human workers strap the live chickens into leg shackles on a moving rail, from which the birds hang upside-down as they move on to baths of electrified water, which stuns them. This is ostensibly for humane purposes, in order to render them insensible before their throats are cut, but some observers believe it is done merely to immobilize them to a degree sufficient to make further processing easier, not to desensitize them. The stunned birds move on to a mechanical blade that cuts their throats. After the chickens bleed out, they are plunged into a scalding bath that removes feathers. Unfortunately, this high-speed assembly-line process contains potential missteps. The voltage in the electrified bath may be too low, resulting in the rapid recovery of the chickens, who are then well aware of the throat-cutting machine as they approach it. The blade misses many chickens, so they consequently are boiled alive in the scalding bath.Chickens are exempted from the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered.
As bad as conditions are for chickens raised for meat, they are even worse for birds in the egg industry.
There are about 300 million laying hens just in the United States; of these, some 95 percent are kept in wire battery cages, which allow each hen an average of 67 square inches of space—less than the size of a standard sheet of paper. For perspective, a hen needs 72 square inches of space to be able to stand up straight and 303 square inches to be able to spread and flap her wings. There is no room even for the hens to perform self-comforting behaviors such as preening and bathing. Hens are usually kept eight or nine to a cage; long tiers of these cages are built one upon another in sheds that hold tens of thousands of birds, none of whom has enough room to raise a wing. Excrement falls from the top cages to the lower ones, causing the same “ammonia burn” problem as in the broiler houses. Like chickens raised for meat, laying hens are de-beaked as chicks. The hens are deprived of the ability to create nests for their eggs, which instead drop through the wires of the cage for collection. This inability to engage in instinctive behavior causes great frustration.
The methods used to maximize production include manipulation of lighting to change the hens’ environment and hence their biological cycles; unnaturally long periods of simulated daylight encourage laying. Periodic forced molting creates an additional laying cycle: during this time, the hens are kept in darkness and put on a “starvation” diet (reduced-calorie feed) or starved altogether for up to two weeks.
Caged in this way, hens are unable to exercise, and constant egg production leaches calcium from their bones; these two factors cause severe osteoporosis, which leads to broken bones and great pain for the hens. The syndrome is called Cage-Layer Fatigue. Additionally, the wires of the cage injure the feet of the chickens, as the hens must sit in essentially one position their whole lives with their feet pressing into the wires. They rub against the sides of the cage, which causes severe feather loss and skin abrasions. In essence, hens who would normally be able to use their whole bodies and have lives as full as those of any other animal in nature are reduced to immobilized egg-laying machines, existing for that one purpose only.
The hens live like this for about two years or less, until their bodies are exhausted from the stresses of constant laying and their egg production decreases. At that point, they are shipped too slaughter to be turned into animal feed or sometimes human food or are simply discarded.
A sad side effect of the egg-production industry is the wholesale destruction of male chicks, who are useless to the egg industry. These chicks are not used in the meat industry either, because they have not been genetically manipulated for meat production. Male chicks are ground up in batches while still alive, suffocated in trash cans, or gassed.
What about free-range eggs and meat?
Many people, distressed by learning about these conditions, pledge to eat only “free-range” eggs and meat, which they imagine come from chickens that have free access to the outdoors and fresh air. There are some facilities like that, but in reality, there is no uniform standard for the free-range designation. No regulations exist that describe the size of the outdoor area or the number of birds allowed in a single shed, for example. A free-range chicken facility need only be cage-free and provide “access” to the outdoors through a door. In practice, the facilities may be windowless and as overcrowded as any other, and only a few chickens may ever be able to reach the door at all. Further, the breeds used are likely to be the standard ones used in non-free-range operations: free-range broilers are, like other broilers, bred for such high meat production that the birds are unable to move about freely even if they want to, and both broiler and laying hens are susceptible to the same life-threatening conditions of heart failure and osteoporosis as any other agribusiness chicken. Free-range laying hens, like all other laying hens, are killed after about a year or two when their egg production drops. They are usually slaughtered under the same conditions described above. Like battery chickens, free-range chickens come from hatcheries that kill the male chicks.
Higher welfare alternatives for hens
In the UK, free-range systems are the most popular of the non-cage alternatives, accounting for around 50% of all eggs produced.
In free-range systems, hens are kept in sheds using the floor space only, but those with several levels of platforms or perches are called aviaries. In Europe, the maximum stocking density is 9 hens per square meter. This allows the hens much greater freedom of movement than is possible in cage systems. They can stretch, flap their wings and fly. They can also perform other natural behaviors such as pecking, scratching and laying their eggs in a nest.
Organic farms certified by the Soil Association, must provide additional space; each hen has a minimum of 10 square meters of outside space, and do not allow beak trimming. EU organic regulations limit stocking density inside the barn to 6 birds per square meter.
The USDA doesn’t have stringent requirements for egg farming in free-range or organic settings. Yes, they’re required to allow laying hens access to the outdoors, but they’re not required to provide a minimum amount of space per hen, nor do the requirements specify the quality of food, water, or veterinary care.
Indeed, according to PETA, free-range birds often experience the same abuses they endure in factory farming operations. They get de-beaked and declawed. They’re left to wander in their own waste, they can’t socialize as they would normally do, and they don’t have enough space to take dust baths.
These atrocities can occur even when the egg farming business labels their “products” as free-range or cage-free or organic. Don’t let the labels fool you.
Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) has revised their laying hen standards, which now divide the “Free Range” section of the standards into “Pasture Raised” and “Free range.” The revised standards add a third category for birds which are outdoors seasonally. This change in standards means that “Certified Humane” producers wishing to use the terms “Pasture Raised” on packages must now meet the requirements of the newly defined categories.
HFAC’s Certified Humane “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 sq. ft. per bird) and the fields must be rotated. The hens must be outdoors year-round, with mobile housing where the hens can go inside at night to roost, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather. All additional standards must be met.
Any product labeling terms that are important to consumers need to be clearly defined. The Certified Humane labeling program is in place to assure a trusted product for consumers who care about how animals are raised and slaughtered for food.
While it takes time for the entire industry to adapt best practices, HFAC have the opportunity to break ground, and they do so every year as they revise and raise their standards.
What’s the Best Response to Egg Farming?
People have eaten meat, eggs, dairy products, honey, and other animal by-products for centuries. Industrial animal agriculture created ways for the meat industry to hasten production and reduce the quality of life for laying hens as well as many other animal species.
It’s easy to put your hands over your ears and turn a blind eye to what’s really going on at egg farms, but the humane thing to do is embrace it. Realize that it’s a broken industry — one that was broken from the beginning — and that egg farming contributes just as much to animal suffering as poultry farming, dairy farming and similar enterprises.
That doesn’t have to continue. In fact, it shouldn’t. We’re evolved enough as human beings to recognize suffering when we see it and to endeavor to stop it. It’s our moral obligation to speak up on animal matters and make humane choices no matter what.
Become a conscious consumer, choose Pasture Raised.
Elgin Free Range Chickens was founded by Jeanne Groenewald and has been operating since 1997. They have an average of 768,000 chickens at any one time spread over their seven farms which are located in the Overberg area in the Western Cape.
Elgin has their own abattoir in Grabouw where they slaughter 130,000 chickens per week.
What is the definition of ‘free range’ in South Africa?
The term “free range” may conjure up images for the consumer of an animal living in wide open spaces able to roam freely about and eating natural foods but locally, the legal application of the term is rather limited.
These South African regulations do not specify any details about the “continuous daytime access” to outside which means that there are no industry guidelines and the rule has the potential to be abused.
Elgin Free Range Chickens informed TOPIC (Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers) that no government department currently monitors or audits free range farming in South Africa. Two of TOPIC SA team members visited one of the Elgin Free Range Chickens’ farms in Caledon on the 3rd of June.
Elgin reported that they purchase the broiler chicks when they are a day old and they are immediately placed in their chicken sheds. The shed we observed was 15m wide by 135m long and housed 32,000 birds (see pictures above). This shed had a total of 45 popholes spaced 3m apart on both sides for the chickens to access the outside area. The popholes are 3m wide by 0.75m high and were open. Elgin told them that they are then closed again at night and in bad weather. As their visit was in winter, it was a cold day and despite the pop-holes being open, most of the 14 day old birds were huddled inside together for warmth.
This shed had a size-matching 15m wide by 135m long outside area that was covered in shade cloth to offer the chickens protection from predators and wild birds. This is Elgin’s new design idea that they are starting to implement and told them they will be rolling out for all their sheds in the future. On the other side of the shed, the pop-holes opened onto another free range area which was uncovered and allowed the birds to range even further.
Regular farm inspections and auditing
All seven of the farms that are raising chickens for Elgin Free Range Chickens are audited by an independent company, which is a Woolworths initiative, and is conducted on a bi-annual and unannounced basis. Elgin Free Range Chickens also conducts internal audits by certified auditors as part of supplier control to the ISO 22000:2005 Food Safety Management system and regular unannounced farm visits are conducted by the Agricultural Manager, the MD and CEO of the Elgin Free Range Chickens, and the group’s veterinarian. http://topicsa.org.za/blog/elgin-free-range-chickens/
Free-range broilers are, like other broilers, bred for such high meat production that the birds are unable to move about freely even if they want to. Crippling, painful skeletal deformities is usually the product of genetic manipulation that drastically increase breast and thigh tissue and produce a very rapid growth rate that outstrips the development of their legs.
Majority of these chickens never make it to the outside due to their under developed legs that are unable to carry them, which is why you won’t see a single chicken in these images running around. They are either barely standing on their feet or simply lying down.
Can we allow ourselves to look inward with humility and recognize our own arrogance – a mindset that views nature and all other beings as tools to be used for our benefit? It is the antithesis of what we need to learn; that our true self interest aligns with the health of our ecosystem.By manipulating nature, we are destroying our ecosystem.
Farmer Eddie is pioneering a partnership between a group of certified organic citrus farms with the highest calibre of pasture and healthy laying hens. The relationship between grass, fertile organic soil and the potential it offers to give the chickens the healthiest pasture, resulting in the highest quality eggs.
The expanse of the organic citrus orchards offers up an incredible grazing space in one of the most perfect environments for laying hens. Each area is fenced off to provide 1500 m2 of safe free-range pasture to only 300 chickens. The night-time roosting caravans are opened in the morning to give the chickens unlimited access to lush green grazing under the shade of organic citrus trees.
Farmer Eddie’ Ferreira has added another dimension to the orchards of The Soga (Sundays Organic Growers Association) group of certified organic citrus farms with his hens.
Eddie and Johnny Ferreira are brothers who through a series of health and life challenges developed a passion for healthy living through healthy food. After the pain of losing their sister to cancer rather swiftly, the urge to farm healthier food divorced from the chemical reality of modern agriculture developed, and the courage of following heart and belief no matter the cost.
Eddie warmly describes the flood of relief when he got his first certificate back that confirmed the feed to be entirely non-GM, always a nerve-racking time for a committed farmer as GMO’s contaminate so much of life, a source of great misery and turmoil for the organic hearts and souls amongst us. It isn’t easy to get a 100% pass on non-GM input and for this reason, it is the ultimate confirmation that your feed sourcing was successful. https://farmereddie.co.za/
Jo’s Pasture Raised Food
Jo’s pasture raised hens are completely free range and roam around happily all day in fresh pastures.
All their animals are raised ethically and honestly, free from antibiotics and growth promoters, with access to grass and sunlight all day.
Their eggs are produced by very happy healthy hens, roaming free all day in lush and vibrant pastures that are situated on our farm in Harrismith, South Africa.
The hens sleep and lay in their mobile trailers which are regularly moved to fresh pastures. Also known as hen mobiles or chicken tractors, due to the way the chickens progressively work the lands by scratching about, spreading manure and eating parasites.
At night, safe and warm in their trailer on their wooden perches, they fertilize the lands with their litter.
“My goal has always been to feed my family in the most healthy and ethical way possible. As a family we produce our own food which also teaches our children about humane farming. Jo’s pasture raised food now supplies other people who also believe in holistic living. I strongly believe we need to honor, respect and appreciate the life that goes into our food. Intensive farming systems overlook the ecological benefits that holistic farming is based on.”
Fishing is one of the most significant drivers of declines in ocean wildlife populations. Catching fish is not inherently bad for the ocean, except for when vessels catch fish faster than stocks can replenish, something called overfishing.
Overfishing occurs in domestic and high-seas fisheries where politicians, managers or the industry fail to set, implement, or enforce appropriate catch levels. Some Illegal fishing includes fishing that takes place over and above established catch limits.
Overfishing can impact entire ecosystems. It can change the size of fish remaining, as well as how they reproduce and the speed at which they mature. When too many fish are taken out of the ocean it creates an imbalance that can erode the food web and lead to a loss of other important marine life, including vulnerable species like sea turtles and corals.
Subsidies, or support provided to the fishing industry to offset the costs of doing business, is a key driver of overfishing. Subsidies can lead to overcapacity of fishing vessels and skewing of production costs so that fishing operations continue when they would otherwise not make economic sense. Today’s worldwide fishing fleet is estimated to be up to two-and-a-half times the capacity needed to catch what we actually need.
POLE AND LINE CAUGHT FISH
Pole and line fishing is environmentally friendly and a selective catching method. This technique guarantees that bycatch and damage to nature are close to zero and that other ocean creatures remain unharmed.
By catching fish with pole and line, the fishermen ensure that fish stocks remain healthy. With pole and line it is impossible to fish large amounts of fish at once. This in contrast to large boats that use nets to catch fish and thus empty large parts of the ocean.
If it doesn’t have the blue label on it – DON’T BUY IT!
MSC certification is one of the best ways for fisheries to protect marine resources. Certification can give fisheries access to supply chains that require MSC certified seafood. The MSC program is the most robust certification scheme for wild-capture fisheries in the market.
By choosing seafood with the MSC blue fish label you’re helping to protect oceans, livelihoods and fish for the future.
Why choose MSC?
Our oceans need to be protected
Our oceans are home to an amazing variety of life and support the livelihoods of 1/10 of the world’s population. But marine ecosystems are under enormous pressure. Unsustainable fishing is threatening fish populations, ocean habitats, coastal fishing communities and economies.
The MSC provides a solution
By choosing seafood with the blue MSC label you are supporting independently certified sustainable fisheries. Their good management practices help ensure fish stocks and habitats are healthy and fishing community livelihoods are secure.
Sustainability is based on science
To be MSC certified, fisheries are independently assessed by scientists and marine experts to ensure they meet their standard for environmentally sustainable fishing. Annual audits ensure that they maintain these standards.
You’re helping to protect a whole ecosystem
It’s not all about one species – MSC certified fisheries minimize their impacts on the whole marine environment to ensure healthy, thriving oceans for the future.
You can buy with confidence
Processors, retailers and restaurants must ensure MSC certified seafood is not mixed with uncertified product. This way you can be sure that the product is correctly labelled.
There’s plenty to choose from!
You can enjoy sustainable seafood all over the world. Just look for the blue label – it appears on tens of thousands of products in more than 100 countries.
There’s a choice for every budget
Products with the blue MSC label range from pickled herring to luxury caviar.
You’re helping to create change
Your purchases of MSC labelled seafood create an incentive for more fisheries, retailers and restaurants to produce and sell certified sustainable seafood.
You’re helping to keep it wild
You can enjoy your seafood knowing that tomorrow there will be plenty more where it came from.
It’s difficult to decide what you can and can’t eat sustainably – especially when you’re faced with fresh fish or a restaurant menu and aren’t able to check the labelling or get details on where it is from. Here are a few tips to help you always pick sustainable seafood with ease:
The best way to persuade others to adopt humane and responsible lifestyles is to set a good example. Think realistically about how you’re going to fit environmental and animal activism into your life. You do not want to overextend yourself in a blaze of glory, only to burn out in six months. Think carefully about how you’re going to schedule activism into your daily routine so that it will become a part of your life and not an intrusion.
Practice earth and animal activism at home, at work and in your community. Making a difference for the earth and animals can be as easy as posting messages on Facebook and blogs and participating in conversations relevant to your passion. Use your particular talents to bring positive changes for the planet and its animals.
Earth and animal activists are people who see the need for change and devote their time to doing something about it. They are driven by passion and a vision for a better future for animals and the environment. Whatever your reason for wanting to become an earth and animal activist, you have the ability to do so no matter your age, your means or your background. It’s people like you, people who believe they have the power to make a difference, who end up bringing remarkable change for the planet and its animals.
Earth and animal activists are passionate enough to believe they can make change happen if they work hard enough to find a solution. While many people might become stalled when faced with the question, “How much good can one individual do?”, activists believe that one dedicated and persistent person can make a difference for the earth and its animals.
Figure out what earth and animal issue(s) you are most passionate about. Passion often comes from a sudden realization that changes your life forever. Once the realization hits you, it is what will stoke the embers of your earth and animal activism, even at the lowest points when you sometimes feel like giving up. Once you are aware of something in the world that you believe needs changed, that awareness will motivate you constantly and cause you to see the need everywhere, bringing a sense of responsibility with it.
Things you can do:
Follow organizations on social media. Help spread the word about animal and environmental issues by sharing posts, links and photos.