Michele Alley-Grubb is cofounder and operator of Colorado's Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary.
Any term referring to the supposed "humane production" of animal products is an oxymoron. But members of the public are now more confused than ever because they are being told simultaneously by some large animal advocacy groups as well as the animal-using industries themselves that it's okay, and even good, to use and kill some animals in place of others.
We increasingly see this confusion in the visitors to our sanctuary where, these days, nearly every person or group, regardless of their background, age, sex or socioeconomic position, proudly proclaims, "It's okay, I only buy cage-free eggs and organic milk." We hear these same lines over and over when we are tabling or leafleting. Because of this growing trend, our organization recently decided we have to prioritize the debunking of "humanely" produced animal products in all of our campaigns, education and outreach efforts simply because there is no such thing. Some of the most egregious cases of animal abuse we have encountered have come from so-called "cage-free" facilities and "family" farms.
To prove this point, we will introduce visitors to Libby, a hen rescued from a "cage-free" facility. When they see her mutilated body up next to Jewel, a hen rescued from a battery facility, we ask them if they can tell which hen came from which type of operation. They invariably cannot tell the difference. When we describe the conditions at "cage-free" and "free-range" facilities we have investigated, sanctuary visitors are even more perplexed, and even angered.
To get a sense of how much is being hidden from the public, consider this excerpt from our investigator's report on a "free-range" egg farm in our region:
I found one building with the front door open, a pickup truck and a woman with a gas mask on was in front. As I approached the woman, I saw her dropping a dead chicken onto the top of a mound of other dead birds just outside the door. I asked her a question, and she pointed me to someone inside the building--she couldn't speak English. I walked past the dead pile, and then past another dead pile on the inside of the door--also a few feet high and stopping at a smaller dead pile on the right to face the elevated prison. Behind the gate inside was a man standing in with the birds. He had a gas mask on and a shovel in his hand.
He was standing on a grill with the birds about three feet above the cement floor covered in excrement from the birds. The chickens were frightened, but to look at just one was impossible. It was truly a wracking sight to look beyond that man all the way down the building where I saw no end, but the sound of all the birds told me how endless that shed was.
The birds had room to squeeze between each other to reach wall to wall with no access to the outside. Some birds were up against the ceiling high gate from one wall to the other.
Their beaks were chopped off at the end. Their necks were featherless. Their combs were pale skin color untouched by the sun. Their toes were unable to curl into the grate accommodating their overgrown toenails. These birds only had the grate they were standing on and the metal walls surrounding them until they died.
Looking past the hens at the gate I saw endless chaos. The sound of screaming birds was never ending, and the building was so long I couldn't see anywhere near to the end. There was no straw, and there was no wood to perch on. There was nothing natural in that building other than death and suffering. There were no windows to see a world other than this. The only roost was a metal one designed to collect eggs and take them away from the birds. There was NOTHING to build a nest with unless the birds used their feces and lost feathers as building material.
Many people get upset when they learn the real truth, and even feel betrayed because respected organizations, on whom they relied for accurate information, told them that certain animal products were a "humane" or "compassionate" choice. No one wants to believe (or be told) that they support any kind of animal abuse--especially when they thought they had made a significant lifestyle change motivated by their desire to not support an injustice. Nevertheless, we are left in the position of overcoming the misinformation being put out there, not just by the agribusiness industries, but now by some large animal advocacy organizations that are giving the industry free advertising by promoting animal products with warm, fuzzy labels such as "cage-free," "free range," "pasture fed," "organic," "humane certified," "animal compassionate," "animal welfare certified," "humane choice," etc.
We smaller grassroots organizations, and of course the animals themselves, rely on the large multi-million dollar organizations who have the media access and financial resources needed to expose the full truth about the horrors inherent in ALL forms of animal agriculture. It is disheartening, frustrating and discouraging, to say the least, that some of these organizations are now helping finance the growth of one of the most profitable and rapidly growing animal exploiting industries in history through their promotion of various "humane" animal products.
The fact of the matter is that we all make choices throughout the day that have enormous impact on others. As consumers, we must never forget that every time we eat, we are either making a peaceful choice, or a destructive choice, and that the animals have NO choice. We can choose not to support cruelty to animals. We can choose to explore the endless possibilities that a plant-based (vegan) diet offers. We can choose not to support environmentally destructive animal agribusiness. We can choose to be healthy, educated, and compassionate.
And as advocates for the animals, we can either tell the whole truth to the public, or not. It's up to us to choose. Either way, the consequences are our responsibility. The power of choice is the greatest power we have to make a difference.