In the last issue, we took a look at the devastating impact of overfishing and pollution on the aquatic habitats in which the world’s fish live. One of the biggest contributors to the pollution was agricultural runoff, including manure and a toxic stew of chemicals. In this issue, let’s look a
t the poultry industry and the pollution that streams out of it in ever expanding ripples of poison.
Here are a few shocking facts to ponder.
- In the U.S. alone, 30 million birds are killed every day. Approximately one third of those are turkeys. That amounts to 10 billion birds a year according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. In the process of raising and killing this many birds (and remember, this is just in the U.S.) the air, land, and waters of this precious earth are polluted, and it is we human beings who cause it. On their own, as free birds, turkeys, ducks, and chickens live in balance and do not pollute their ecosystems. But because we crowd them into warehouses in order to satisfy the appetites of our ever increasing human population (expected to soon reach 7 billion), monstrous streams of excess nitrogen, phosphorus, parasites, viruses, bacteria, antibiotics, chemicals, etc. produced by these factories pollute our air, water, and soil.
- An Ohio State University Poultry Manure Management bulletin calculates that 100 chickens produce 20-34 pounds of wet manure per day, while 100 turkeys will produce 108 to 132 pounds per day. I multiplied the number of birds killed per year by those figures and came up with a rough estimate of nearly 5 billion pounds of wet manure produced per year in the U.S. alone.
- A poultry slaughterhouse can use as much as 2 million gallons of water each day, according to a Washington Post article entitled “Poultry Poses Growing Potomac Hazard.” And certainly the water that spews out from such a plant after being used to wash down the blood, feces, and body parts of thousands of birds can’t be water that we want to flow anywhere.
- In a 2008 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article regarding chicken feed, 2.2 million pounds of the antibiotic arsenic compound roxarsone are used each year in the grain that is fed to chickens. About 95 percent of that poison comes out in chicken excrement. Unbelievably, a great deal of that poison poop is used as fertilizer. And whether it is used to grow crops or left in giant lagoons at the mercy of heavy rains (causing the lagoons to overflow into nearby streams), the arsenic can and does leach into water sources.
- It is now well known that a microbe by the name of Pfisteria piscicida is found in both poultry and hog manure. This microbe enters water sources and can actually eat holes in fish such as menhaden which just happens to be a fish that is used in feed for farm animals. Imagine a cow eating a fish, and you get the picture of just how far human ingenuity can go when ethics are left by the wayside.
- In broiler chicken buildings as well as factories full of turkeys and ducks, birds are crowded so tightly they can barely move. In egg producing buildings, hens are packed into cages so tiny that they cannot spread their wings or move about normally. They have all been taken from their mothers and are left without the comfort of her sheltering wings and her guidance. Morality aside, this kind of confinement is a magnet for disease. Urine, feces, decaying feathers, dead birds, etc. all combine to create an air space so toxic that workers and birds alike cannot escape respiratory and other health problems. It is no surprise then that every year, millions of these animals die before going to slaughter. According to Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns and author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry, a building containing 1,000,000 chickens will lose about 250 chickens per day. Approximately 9% of all turkeys raised in confinement die before slaughter. It’s worth considering what kind of pollution is caused by this huge number of decaying bodies. United Poultry Concerns’ website, upc-online.org, is an excellent resource for more information if you wish to dig more deeply.
Of course, this is just a quick look at what goes on in the poultry industry. As with all giant industries that are fueled by greed and devoid of ethical guidelines, the ripples of damage radiate out to affect the entire earth. For example, the amount of grain fed to these unfortunate beings could be used to feed starving people instead. And we are all by now familiar with the United Nations report aimed at livestock as one of the biggest causes of our environmental problems.
Many of us have witnessed on TV and the internet some of the undercover videos that have been released to the press resulting in trials for animal cruelty against workers in chicken and turkey factories. Poultry animals are not covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. And, as with all animals raised for food, they are also not covered by the Animal Welfare Act. Nevertheless, the torture of these animals was so horrifying and garnered so much public sympathy that the courts have gotten involved. Perhaps, it is a leap to consider the cruelty itself an environmental problem, but if we wish to think holistically about our planetary dilemma, surely such sadism on the part of some human beings toward defenseless animals is polluting the earth on a spiritual level. Karen Davis refers to it as the “slaughter culture,” a world in which slaughterhouse workers are ravaged by drug addiction, physical injuries, spouse battering, and multiple emotional problems.
Is “free-range” an answer to this compelling problem? According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the only thing necessary to label a bird “free-range” is that they have the possibility of going outdoors. One single door in an enormous building could satisfy that requirement. The other conditions in these “free range” buildings can be identical to factory farms and still be labeled “free range.” In fact these giant warehouses are so crowded that the chance of a bird ever making it to that door or even seeing it in his or her short lifetime is extremely remote. And just because they are labeled “free-range,” they are still not protected by law. So the same cruelties and the same transport and slaughter methods can be perpetrated on them as upon the factory farmed poultry. In addition, just as their kin in the factories, they produce the same sources of pollution that are devastating their and our environment through no fault of their own.
As the holidays approach, we will be inundated with ads, recipes, children’s paper turkey cutouts, and media hype regarding the traditional turkey dinner. That is a turkey that is loaded with cholesterol, bacteria, viruses, and stress hormones (filling his or her body at slaughter). The bird on the table could have been very ill prior to slaughter from breathing ammonia, excrement, and chemical filled air. As environmentalists, it’s difficult to know all that we know about “where things come from” and continue on with such traditions. They may seem warm and loving to the casual observer, but we know the ugly trail of greed and destruction that brought that one dead bird onto the family table.
We have an opportunity during the holidays to think deeply about what our eating habits are doing to our precious planet. In the spirit of gratitude for this miraculous earth that so desperately needs our care, we can create new traditions—traditions that honor the earth and all the beings who live here with us. Simply by eliminating all animal products from our meals and eating a plant-based diet, we thereby show our refusal to support the destructive livestock industry. By doing so we take a stand every single day, three times a day, for justice, for healing, and for literally saving the earth, the animals, and ourselves.
While researching for my book, The Missing Peace, I came across a story about a chicken who was living with her human family as a companion, not as a future meal. This little chicken actually rescued two people and a toddler from an attacking dog, by flying at the dog and confusing him until her people were safely inside their house. So while you are saving animals by giving up the eating of them, it might happen that one day an animal may return the favor by saving you.
Gratitude Food for the Holidays
These recipes are two of Alicia Silverstone’s favorites found at gentlethanksgiving.org.
Old Fashioned Sweet Potatoes
- 4 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 TB Earth Balance butter
- 2/3 C maple syrup
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- Pinch of ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place potatoes in 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Combine butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour this mixture over sweet potatoes and toss to coat. Cover dish well with foil.
Bake 50 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until potatoes are tender and syrup thickens a bit (basting occasionally) about 20 minutes. Raise oven temperature to 500°F. Top sweet potatoes with pecans and bake until nuts begin to brown, about 3 minutes.
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 tbsp double acting, non aluminum, baking powder
- 1 cup brown rice syrup or maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 ¼ cup soymilk
- 1 ½ cup yellow cornmeal
Preheat oven to 400. Mix liquid ingredients, then mix dry in a separate bowl. Mix dry & liquid together. With a tissue, place a little oil on the pan. Bake 20 minutes.
Submitted by Judy Carman, M.A., Author of Peace to All Beings: Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul, Co-author of The Missing Peace: The Hidden Power of our Kinship with Animals and owner of a truck and a car powered by used veggie oil. circleofcompassion.org, peacetoallbeings.com.
Eating as Though the Earth Matters
By Judy Carman