More Information on COVID-19 and Pandemics

More information on COVID-19 and pandemics you may not know:

It’s easy for those of us in the Western world to shake our heads at the gruesome wildlife (wet) markets in China that are the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic now paralyzing the globe. But what’s more difficult is to be honest with ourselves about what kinds of pandemics may be brewing through our own practice of eating animals.

And while the new coronavirus, crippling as it is, might have a fatality rate (proportion of those infected who die) greater than four percent, this catastrophe may be just a dress rehearsal for an even more serious pandemic that could take a more gruesome toll, akin to the 1918 global flu pandemic, which originated in a Kansas slaughterhouse and killed 50 million people.

When that day comes, it’s very likely that such a virus will also have its origin in humanity’s seemingly insatiable desire to eat animals, wild or domestic. The atrocious conditions in which we raise animals today – crowding tens of thousands of animals wing-to-wing or snout-to-snout – serve as amplifiers for viral pandemics.

Indeed, the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 originated in a pig confinement operation in North Carolina. Factory farms like this cut pigs’ tails off without any anesthesia; thousands slowly die from blood loss. The pigs are stuffed into crates so small they can’t even turn around. Many die from thirst during transport in trucks packed so tightly that those who collapse or die are trampled by others who, in desperation, frantically seek escape.

And while the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in 1997 (case fatality rate: 60 percent) originated in a Chinese chicken factory farm, a similar bird flu in the U.S. just five years ago led American chicken farmers to kill tens of millions of their birds to contain the outbreak. And at this very moment, both India and China have announced bird flu outbreaks originating in chicken factories.

Chickens, like pigs, are tortured in factory farms, crammed so tightly into cages they peck at each other in despair and madness. To combat this, factory farmers mutilate the chickens with a machine that holds them by the head and slices off their beaks with a hot metal blade. As often as not, the blade cuts too close and millions of chickens starve to death.

But you can only play viral Russian roulette for so long, which is why public health experts concerned about zoonotic diseases have for years been ringing the alarm about the industrial farming of animals. Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, calls factory farming a “perfect storm environment” for infectious diseases. “If you actually want to create global pandemics,” he warns, “then build factory farms.”

A 2007 editorial in the American Journal of Public Health on the topic worried that our mass raising and slaughtering of animals for food could be the genesis of the next big global pandemic. Given the connection between industrial animal agriculture and pandemic risk, the editorial observed, “We need to change the way humans treat animals – most basically ceasing to eat them.”

Such a prescription in 2007 might have seemed off the radar as it would have appeared simply too unrealistic. Today, however, technological progress has made it easier to imagine taking the public health experts’ advice more seriously.

Yes, we humans may crave meat, but our concept of “meat” is now becoming far more diverse than in the past. Whereas “protein” was once synonymous with a hunk of flesh from a once-living animal’s body, today many Americans are embracing a type of plant protein that mimics the taste of flesh. There’s the success of plant-based meat alternatives, for example, which are now a popular part of fast food chains’ menus across the country. Many forward-thinking meat companies have even released their own plant-based meat alternative offerings, too. Today’s plant-based meats have all the taste and texture of anything you can find in animal form. You like burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets? There is an almost endless variety of delicious and easy to find meatless product out there. There are plenty of dairy and cheese alternatives too. Looking for something to do while you’re at home? Check them out and find the ones you like the best. You can also purchase through Amazon any number of vegan recipe books.

Whether the concern is climate change, antibiotic resistance, deforestation, animal welfare, or more, the benefits of leaving off the eating of animals and getting our protein source from a plant-based diet, is imperative.

As we hunker down and weather the corona storm now hitting the world, let us take some of our downtime to contemplate that we have the power to reduce the chance of the next pandemic. Wet markets in Asia and elsewhere MUST be shut down, but let’s not stop there. If we have the will to shut down our entire society for weeks on end, surely we have the will to change our diets.

No one NEEDS to eat animals, and together we can “do no harm” to our animal friends and stop inflicting deadly pandemics on ourselves.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.

It’s the Year of the Pig! Let’s Make It a Compassionate One

2019 is the Year of the Pig. Who doesn’t love pigs? Pigs are super smart; when I was in nursery school my teacher had a pig who was trained to use the toilet. And sociable? Just ask Charlotte – or me, the voice of Fern in “Charlotte’s Web.” Did you say they’re dirty? Despite what you might think, pigs like to be clean – when they’re given the option. And cute? Most people love these smart, social, clean, and beautiful animals from childhood. So why do we kill 121 million of them every year?

Pigs “have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds,” 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 unable to sweat as humans do, they seek cool surfaces like mud to help regulate their body temperature.

Only pigs in movies spend their lives running across sprawling pastures and relaxing in the sun. 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 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 to even turn around. After giving birth to piglets, mother pigs are moved to “farrowing” crates, which are just 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. The mother and babies suffer terribly from these conditions and it breaks my heart to think of them forced to live in their own excrement, unable even to turn around.

When the piglets reach about ten days old, they are taken from their mothers. I saw undercover video of mother pigs crying out for their stolen babies and piglets screaming in anxiety, fear, and desperation so anxious and scared looking at their mother. The sound the piglet makes is indistinguishable from the sound of a crying human infant, and it is a terrible thing to hear. Once her piglets are gone, the mother pig is impregnated again, and the cycle continues. In three or four years, the mother pig can no longer produce milk and is considered “used up,” and she is slaughtered. 

The piglets taken from their mothers are confined to pens and barns over the span of about six months, fed until they weigh upwards of 280 pounds and are ready to be slaughtered. In extremely crowded conditions, piglets are prone to stress-related behavior such as chewing on cage bars and even cannibalism. Male piglets are castrated without painkillers. In their distress, pigs will often bit one another’s tails, so farmers often chop off piglets’ tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth—again without giving them any painkillers. For identification purposes, farmers also cut chunks out of the little ones’ ears. This intensive confinement produces so much stress- and boredom-related behavior, many pigs begin to chew on the cage bars.

When pigs are transported on trucks, piglets weighing up to 100 pounds are given no more than 2.4 square feet of space; they literally can’t move or even stand up. One study confirmed that vibrations like those made by a moving truck are “very aversive” to pigs. When pigs “were trained to press a switch panel to stop for 30 seconds vibration and noise in a transport simulator … the animals worked very hard to get the 30 seconds of rest.”

Once pigs reach “market weight,” the industry refers to them as “hogs” and they are sent to slaughter. The animals are shipped from all over the U.S. and Canada to slaughterhouses. More than 1 million pigs die en route to slaughter each year. The transport vehicles are usually multideck trucks with steep ramps, and because Pigs are so frightened to get into these vehicles, workers use electric prods to force them to move up the ramp.  No federal laws regulate the voltage or use of electric prods on pigs, and a study showed that when electric prods were used, pigs “vocalized, lost their balance, and tr[ied] to jump out of the loading area.”

A typical slaughterhouse kills about 1,000 hogs per hour. The sheer number of animals killed makes it impossible for pigs’ deaths to be humane and painless. Because of improper stunning, many hogs are alive when they reach the scalding-hot water baths, which are intended to soften their skin and remove their hair. The U.S. Department of Agriculture documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one processing plant, where inspectors found hogs who “were walking and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun].”  The report found that the pigs at one federally inspected slaughter plant squealed 100 percent of the time “because electric prods were used to force pigs to jump on top of each other.”

The health statistics for humans have shown that consumption of pigs and other animals, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in men and women, by as much as 30 percent. Researchers for the National Cancer Institute have found that eating pigs, or any meat, raises men’s risk of prostate cancer, while a study from Yale University reports that meat-based diets can cause stomach cancer and esophageal cancer as well as lymphoma. A study of more than 90,000 women concluded that “frequent consumption of bacon, hot dogs, and sausage was … associated with an increased risk of diabetes.”

Because stress, intensive confinement and living in excrement is conducive to the spread of disease, pigs on factory farms are fed antibiotics and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides. The antibiotics and pesticides remain in their bodies and are passed along to people who eat them, creating serious health hazards for humans. Pigs and other factory-farmed animals are fed millions of pounds of antibiotics each year, and scientists believe that meat-eaters’ unwitting consumption of these drugs gives rise to strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment.

Every year in the U.S., food poisoning sickens up to 48 million people and kills 3,000. Pig flesh and body parts are known carriers of food-borne pathogens, including E. coli, trichinella, listeria, salmonella, and tapeworms. One study of 256 pork samples taken from 36 different grocery stores found that up to 63 percent of the samples were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” Each farmed pig produces about 10 pounds of manure per day. As a result, many tons of waste end up in giant pits, polluting the air and groundwater.

Some restaurants have announced they will no longer buy pig products from farms that use gestation crates, and voters in Florida, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Rhode Island have banned the use of gestation crates. In Canada, these crates will be phased out of use by 2024. But with or without gestation crates, the end result are millions of slaughtered pigs. The horrible suffering of these intelligent, sociable animals continues.

So I ask you to stop giving your money to pig farms and slaughterhouses. Celebrate the Year of the Pig by going vegan. Adopting a vegan diet means means eating for life— your life and those of animals.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share this planet!

Pigs: Clean, Intelligent – and Tortured on Factory Farms

Here I am with Wilbur in the animated movie “Charlotte’s Web.” The movie had an all-star cast: Debbie Reynolds voicing Charlotte the spider, Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat, Henry Gibson as Wilbur the pig, and Agnes Moorehead as the Goose. Then there was me; I did the voice of Fern, the little farm girl who saves Wilbur from her father’s axe!

The reason why I love this film so much is that it’s really an animal rights film. “Charlotte’s Web” depicts all the animals as having unique personalities as well as having the capacity to feel pain, sadness, fear, joy, and happiness. If you’ve never seen it, watch the movie on Netflix and you’ll understand exactly what I’m saying!

The movie opens with me as Fern, eating breakfast and seeing my father carrying an axe out to the barn. “Where’s Papa going with the axe?” I ask my mother, and she tells me a litter of piglets were born the previous night and he was going to kill the “runt.” I race to my father in tears, hoping to stop him. In my most favorite line from the movie, I ask him, “If I had been born a runt, would you have killed me?” And so begins the film and Fern’s and Wilbur’s loving, compassionate relationship.

I didn’t know at the time how horribly pigs are treated then killed to produce pork, but I had an innate sense that animals should not be killed, exploited or abused for a human’s pleasure. As Plutarch aptly expressed it, “But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and the light, and that proportion of life and time it had been born into this world to enjoy.”

Activists give water to overheated, dehydrated pigs crammed into a transport truck.

There’s an animal rights group in Los Angeles that waits outside an enormous slaughter facility where truckloads of poor, suffering pigs are brought to be butchered. When the trucks stop at the entrance, activists offer water to the pigs they can reach. The pigs are completely dehydrated, their skin burned from the long, grueling trip, and packed in the trucks so tightly they can’t even turn around.

Did you know that pigs are highly intelligent animals? Not that that should matter, but they are. Some very ignorant people believe pigs are dirty, but this is not true. The reason pigs love to take mud baths is that their skin, which is very sensitive, has no sweat glands, so the only way they can cool down is to roll in the mud. Wouldn’t you roll in something cool if you were unable to sweat?

Pigs are clever animals, as well as friendly, loyal, and intelligent. They are naturally very clean and avoid soiling their living areas. When they are not confined on factory farms, pigs spend hours playing, lying in the sun, and exploring their surroundings with their powerful sense of smell. On modern factory farms, these outgoing, sensitive animals spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy warehouses under the constant stress of intense confinement, denied everything that is natural and important to them.

Piglets struggle to be fed by their mother behind bars in a factory farm.

Mother pigs – sows – spend most of their miserable lives in tiny gestation and farrowing crates so small that they can’t turn around. They are impregnated again and again until their bodies give out and are then sent to slaughter. Piglets are torn away from their distraught mothers just a few weeks after birth. With no painkillers to ease their suffering, their tails are chopped off, the ends of their teeth are snipped off with pliers, and the males are castrated. The young pigs then spend their short lives in cramped, crowded pens atop slabs of filthy concrete.

When the time comes for slaughter, pigs are forcibly herded onto transport trucks that often travel for many miles exposed to all manner of weather. Many pigs die from heat exhaustion in the summer or arrive frozen to the inside of the truck in the winter. According to industry reports, more than one million pigs die in transport each year, and at least 40,000 sustain injuries by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse. There at the slaughterhouse, due to improper stunning methods, many pigs are still conscious when they are dumped into tanks of scalding-hot water, which is intended to remove their hair and soften their skin. For more information, please see PETA’s eye-opening article on factory farming pigs.

What can you do to help put an end to this cruelty? The best way is to switch to consuming vegan foods. Please consider ordering PETA’s free vegan starter kit, which contains great tips and free recipes to help you make the transition to animal-friendly eating.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share this planet!