An Isolated Act of Abuse, or a Standard Industry Practice That’s Also Abusive? | Civil Eats

An Isolated Act of Abuse, or a Standard Industry Practice That’s Also Abusive?

The agribusiness sector has been abuzz with complaints about ABC’s recent Nightline exposé of the biggest dairy factory farm in one of the largest dairy production states: New York. The segment features footage compiled by Mercy for Animals showing inhumane treatment of dairy cows, followed by ABC’s interview of the operation’s owner rationalizing that he doesn’t know if it hurts the animals, because as he put it, “I can’t speak for the cow.”

Agribusiness spokespeople predictably dismissed the story as a “propaganda piece” and “lacking…factual information.”

Reading industry responses to these kinds of investigations is always interesting to me. Whether it’s exposés of pig factory farms, egg factory farms, or now this dairy investigation, some ag producers seem to have a “circle the wagons” mentality that prompts them to attack anyone who’s critical of industry practices. In many cases, they resort to the industry mantra that farm animal suffering only occurs as isolated cases, not as part of standard industry practices.

For example, a recent blog on the American Farm Bureau’s web site attacking the Nightline story entitled, “Enough is enough! I don’t abuse my animals!” lamented, “The alleged abuse that was showed [sic] on a dairy farm on ABC last night is not typical of how animals are cared for today.”

But is that really the case? No one interviewed in the Nightline feature disputed that cutting off cows’ tails without painkiller is a relatively common industry practice. Unfortunately, it’s not only painful when done, but it renders the animals more vulnerable to biting fly attacks as it removes their best weapon against them. A Colorado State 2005-2006 national study found that 82.3 percent of 113 dairies surveyed were still docking tails, and some experts say the practice’s use is increasing.

Despite being so common, routine tail-docking is opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association. There’s so little scientific evidence to support benefits of tail-docking that even the National Milk Producers Federation says the practice is “not recommended.” And even the editor of Dairy Herd Management has editorialized, “the dairy industry should eliminate the routine practice of docking tails.”

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So why are so many producers still cutting off cows’ tails? Why are some of the largest dairy operators in the nation going on TV to defend the practice? And why are Big Ag bloggers complaining about animal welfare advocates’ concerns with tail docking?

To their credit, some of the more reasonable voices in the California dairy industry didn’t stand in the way of a recently enacted bill banning routine tail-docking of cattle. And the California Farm Bureau and California Cattlemen’s Association actually worked with animal welfare advocates and veterinarians in support of the measure. But the agribusiness lobby in other states is fighting hard to prevent even this modest reform from advancing.

Some industry spokespeople admit that they shouldn’t “defend the indefensible.” It would show real leadership on their part to not only admit that some standard practices, like routine tail-docking of dairy cows, are indeed indefensible, but also to join consumers and animal welfare advocates in passing laws to prohibit the worst abuses.

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Paul Shapiro is the senior director of The Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign. Follow him at Read more >

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  1. Josh
    The factory farming industries should stop defending the indefensible and end their cruel practices that are out of touch with consumer sensibilities on how farm animals ought to be treated. There’s no excuse for the continued practice of cutting off cows’ tails, a mutilation without painkiller opposed by virtually all veterinary organizations.

    The dairy industry isn’t alone in having standard practices that cause animals to suffer immensely. The egg industry confines hens in cages so small the birds can’t even spread their wings, while the pork industry confined breeding pigs in crates so narrow they can’t even turn around.

    Instead of fighting reforms to provide farm animals more space or to prevent unnecessary surgical procedures without painkillers, animal agribusiness should make these changes to back up their claims that they actually do care about the welfare of their animals.
  2. Carrie
    i'm just learning about factory farming and this blog is very eye-opening -- the video made me cry. how can any decent person defend this? and if the industries don't think such heartless treatment of animals is wrong, why does they seem to go to such lengths to keep it hidden from consumers?
  3. Irony of Ironies...I was "out-of-pocket" for a few days while at our ranch. Just posted some pics of some of our cattle, they are grass fed. Had a few up in a 5 acre paddock to see how they were doing. If you seriously question if these are "isolated incidents", then I invite you to "google" feedlot pictures and then view mine (or any grass fed pics on the web).

    I doubt you will agree with the "industry propaganda" of isolated incidents.

    I am not singular by any means. There are many small operators who love and care for their animals...this CAFO business is cruel, inhumane, and absolutely unfathomable to me.

    Yes, we raise them to enter the food system, No, we do not feed them grains, bubble gum (still in the wrapper), animal parts, or growth enhancers. We treat them with great care and respect...Many of us!

    If you want to help put a stop to the "business", then google or search for grass fed, pasture raised or free range meat. Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs...try the local farmers market, pester your with your wallet...that will get "THEIR" attention. Plus you will eat healthier, love the taste, and help the local economy.
  4. James Stooks, Esq.
    It is no wonder why so many people are choosing to become vegetarian and vegan these days. In addition to the environmental benefits, it seems that one of these undercover factory farm investigations is on the nightly news every day. I recall one at a Butterball plant where workers sexually assaulted birds. And one at a major chicken plant where workers spat tobacco into birds eyes for "fun." I recall one at a beef slaughterhouse where cows had their tracheas ripped out while conscious. And one at a pig farm where baby piglets where slammed into the ground to be killed. The list goes on and on. I think the industry's "bad apple" excuse is played out (since every factory farm seems to be a bad apple). As for me, this it is. No more dairy. I guess I'm officially vegan.
  5. Liz
    It's mind-boggling to me how many times factory farms and slaughterhouses will catch themselves with their pants down and then issue the same tired, lame excuses. Shapiro is right: these abuses aren't aberrations. They're standard industry practices, and they simply need to stop.

    Thanks for another excellent piece.
  6. t
    michael vick is piker compared to these guys and the rest of the factory farmers, but guess who the masses get all riled up about? guess who went to jail for 2 years?
  7. Elaine Vigneault
    Thank you, Mr. Shapiro, for highlighting the truth. Animal agribusiness is cruel more often than not.

    It's time to stop the torture and take action!

    Go vegan. (Or if you can't go vegan just yet, go partially vegan.)
  8. Marcia
    There are thousands of small, and large, farms who do an excellent job raising quality food for this country. It is not the farm size that dictates if animals will be well cared for or not- its the people. Good people all over the country have nice farms and treat their animals with care and respect. I am one of them and I am dedicated to providing a quality product from a healthy well treated animal- Milk!
  9. @Smokey --- Sadly, the end for your "well cared for cows" is still the same. And it just isn't necessary! No matter how nicely you attempt to make their lives be - It's still killing without cause. And no one these days, here in "civilization" needs to die for our "food".

    We can thrive on a plant based diet - It has been a wonderful decision for me and my family.

    Want a better world? Eat like you mean it...
    Go Vegan
  10. Response to Bea

    I respect your views and your personal choices...I truly do.

    As for raising beef, well, it is what I do. As for eating meat..."man" has done so since the dawn of time. The difference today is the production quantity AND the production methods. From caveman up until the turn of the 19th century, meat production was localized, managed, and the animals "free ranged" on their natural diets.

    The absolute inhumane cruelty of the animal production system is unfathomable...If meat is to be an indelible part of the human (and pet) diet, and it is, then some of us have an obligation to treat the livestock humanely and respectfully. This includes their care and feeding as well as using, As you put it in one of your blog posts, those who know the fine art of the hangman's knot.

    But do understand this...I am a huge advocate against industrial farming and the commercial meat packing system, I will not accept abject cruelty.

    Now, having said that, I want you to know that I heartily respect your personal choices and your right to advocate against what I do. My personal choice is to raise cattle and to advocate the methods I see as worthy of my voice.

  11. kate
    Consuming milk--much less another animal's milk--past the age of infancy is abnormal and unnatural. We don't need it, period.

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