Avoiding Factory Farm Foods

Happy cow in grassIf you believe that it’s wrong to subject animals to a lifetime of pain and deprivation, you should be very careful about what you eat.

Virtually all animal foods in this country — not just meat, but milk, cheese and eggs — are produced by a system of agriculture that subjects farm animals to just such a life. It’s called factory farming, and it entails intolerable overcrowding, unnatural food, excruciating procedures such as beak removal and tail amputation, and other forms of abuse.

Most people are horrified by these conditions when made aware of them. Yet few respond by doing anything concrete to steer clear of factory farmed products. I guess they don’t know how to go about it, short of giving up their customary foods, which for many seems like giving up their way of life.

Humanely raised farm animalsHumanely raised animals have ample room to roam outdoors and can forage for food.

But a radical change in diet isn’t necessary. While foreswearing animals foods and going vegan is the surest way to avoid the cruelties of factory farming, there is another route: look for animal foods that were produced humanely.

One way is to shop at a farmers market where you can ascertain from the farmers themselves how they treat their animals. What you want to hear is that the animals spend a good deal of their day outdoors, have room to engage in all the behaviors that come naturally to them, have access to shelter, eat grass and other natural foods that their species evolved to eat, receive antibiotics for therapeutic purposes only, are given neither hormones or growth promoters and get gentle, careful handling.

At the store, you can find humanely produced animal foods by Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane label on the package. Both eco-labels guarantee a very high standard of animal care.

Don’t be satisfied with products that simply say free-range, cage-free or grass-fed on the package. These terms do not deliver on the promises they appear to make and are often used purposely to mislead.

Read Ethical Eggs, Dairy and Meat for more information on the trouble with factory farming and how to find food you can feel better about.

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11 Responses to Avoiding Factory Farm Foods

  1. Jodi Jessen November 29, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    I want to thank Sheryl for her thoughtful piece on animal welfare. I have an additional question that maybe she can cover in the future…what about our pet’s food? We do it for our own food, but ignore the source of what our cats and dogs are eating. It would be nice to get these labels on their food too….although I doubt that the food would be affordable.

    • Sheryl November 29, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      Thanks, Jodi. That’s a great question. I know some people who care deeply about animal welfare feed their pets vegan food, but I’ve always wondered whether that provides a healthy diet — especially for cats, who are essentially carnivores. I will put this on my list of topics to research.

  2. Linda Ashman November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Hi, Sheryl — Thanks for this important post. I stopped eating meat over 20 years ago after reading John Robbins’s Diet for a New America. I knew I didn’t want to support the meat industry. Unfortunately, until I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I didn’t realize that “free-roaming” chickens really weren’t roaming at all and, in fact, also had miserable lives. So now I pay $6 for a dozen eggs — a luxury for most people, especially in these hard economic times. What frustrates me is that the onus is on the consumer to do the work of researching which foods are ethically produced. In an “advanced” society, we should be able to assume that animals are treated with compassion, not simply as products to be consumed.

  3. Bethany November 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    The only way to stop animal suffering is to stop eating animals and their byproducts. Period. The male calves produced on “humanely” raised dairy farms still get sold to the veal industry because there is no use for them. When the “humanely” raised dairy cows finish producing milk, they are sent to slaughter like all the others. Humanely raised or not, 10 BILLION land animals are slaughtered every year in this country alone. The end result is still the same- death and suffering. Furthermore, more greenhouse gases are produced from animal agriculture than any other industry. Why wasn’t this discussed? While I appreciate your efforts to educate people about factory farms, the only way to reduce suffering is to stop eating animals. No more excuses.

  4. Anna Fiona November 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Thank you for this article, it is extremely important. Most importantly because of the incredible cruelty that is inherent in commodity farming, the abuse in most facilities is unimaginable. Unfortunately, over 92% of our food comes from factory style facilities, some of these facilities are “family owned”. Even though the article brief and lite, at least the issue was brought up. Not one US environmental group is taking a responsible stance on the “pink elephant”. Considering the tremendous toll animal agriculture takes on the soil, land mass demands (it is a key factor in deforestation throughout the world), animal agriculture industry is the largest consumer of scarce resources such as water and grain, it also uses the most antibiotics (the US uses over 80% of all our antibiotics on animals used for food-if they did not there would epidemics due to how sickly these animals are because of the purposeful genetic deformation for increased growth rate/size/milk production etc., and the squalid, confined conditions), it is one of the top factors for greenhouse gasses, the pollution to soil and water from their waste(including all those antibiotics), communities and real estate being ruined by all of these elements including people becoming ill due to the air quality and stench (throat cancers, chronic migraines, vomiting on and on) but yet hardly ANY environmental group is talking seriously about this part of our consumption habits. Everyone feels very comfortable talking about plastic bags, and recycling but NO ONE will touch the subject that is it at the heart of just about every issue we are facing, including food inequity. I hope to see some of the larger environmental groups start talking about this, it is completely irresponsible not to.

  5. Bonnie November 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Thank you for stepping into the frey now…can we go a bit further and offer a resource for locating local farms that support humane practices? Perhaps an interactive site where like minded individuals can share their local sources and experiences. buying local is the key to sustainability after all.
    I am certain that a much larger number of people would choose to purchase in this manner if it were made just a bit easier for them.

  6. Emily Copeland November 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    I really appreciate you taking the time to write about animal welfare because caring about food animals is a green issue for sure and it often goes over looked in favor of saving wild animals. We can do both. I choose not to eat animals but know it’s a complicated issue. For those that choose to eat animal products sourcing your food is so very important. It’s important for every one whatever we are eating.

  7. Josephine November 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    We all have to start somewhere, I know. However, I am with Bethany… just stop using. Stop looking for ways to continue using animals guilt-free. All farmed animals are sentient beings and as such have as much of a right to enjoy life here on Earth as any one of us.

    One needs to do a bit more research into the labelling, “Animal Care Certified,” “Certified Humane,” and even “Fair Trade” and “organic.” Most labels are nothing more than a corporation’s ploy to get a consumer to continue buying their horrific “product.”

    How does one continue to eat animals when it is becoming abundantly clear of the horrific conditions these animals suffer their entire lives? One can no longer hide their head in the sand and pretend they don’t know… because we do…. we do know…

  8. ravensmom65 December 19, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Although I don’t eat meat nor drink milk I do eat eggs but I know where they come from. Check out your local feed store. Mine sells eggs from two ladies who treat their chickens as part of their families. I know the ladies and the people who run the feed store. And their prices are definitely competitive.

  9. LisaC September 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    What a great idea to share information on places to buy from. While not a meat eater or milk drinker myself I have three sons and a husband who are. I buy all my grass fed beef and pork from North Hollow Farms in VT on line. Ordered fresh and delivered to my door. My pasture raised chicken comes from Baucombs Best in NC. Lastly my eggs come from my own back yard small flock of grass, bug and organic feed eating chickens. They spend their days roaming the yard, laying in the sun, fluffing in the dirt and bringing smiles to my family’s faces. Chickens are easy to raise and if more people kept small flocks maybe we could run those nasty chicken abusers out of business. Thanks for sharing and brightest blessings!

  10. Bette Smons October 4, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Maybe you would like to do what I did:
    My address sticker has the picture of a pig.
    When i first saw a picture of a truck going to a slaughter house,
    a pig had dropped off the truch and someone came and kicked it.
    I have never eaten a piece of meat since then. ( 1984)
    How can we not love these smart animals?