How Esther the Wonder Pig Inspired Me to Go Vegan

estherfi

Esther came into our lives more than 19 months ago. In that time our world has been turned upside down and spun around in the most incredible ways. Our eyes and minds have been opened. We’ve been thrown headfirst into a world we knew little about. We’ve become “accidental activists.”

[blackoutgallery id=”318565″]

Let’s go back to the beginning. It was a typical Friday night when I noticed a message from a friend on my Facebook wall. We hadn’t spoken in years but “kept in touch” as many do via Facebook. She asked me if I was interested in a mini pig and I, being a huge animal lover jumped all over it. I said I needed to do a little research before I could agree. This research also included figuring out how my partner Derek felt about the idea as he had absolutely no idea what was going on at this point. About two hours after this initial message, I got another one saying somebody else was interested. I had already allowed myself to get somewhat excited so I panicked and took the bait. I agreed to meet her the following morning to pick up Esther without having time to do any of the “research” I had planned … including speaking to Derek.

I spent the remainder of that day hiding at friends’ houses until Derek left for work so I could sneak our new 5 lb. “mini pig” into the house. It was a pretty tense day and by the time Derek got home I was fit to be tied. The following few hours were somewhat heated but Derek was no match for Esther infectious personality. A week or so later he agreed to change her name from “Kijiji” as he had been calling her, to Esther, and away we went.

Within a week or so we had found a local vet who had plenty of experience with pigs. We set our first appointment and that’s when things got really interesting. Esther’s tail is cropped and little did we know that’s pretty much a dead give away that you’re dealing with a commercial pig. Prior to the day Esther arrived, neither of us had any experience with pigs whatsoever. We were horrified but hoped for the best and we began the adventure of training a piglet with no idea what was to come.

It proved to be some of the most trying experiences we could’ve imagined. Many times I sat on the floor with Esther and cried my eyes out worried we had made a huge mistake. She was getting into everything, and housetraining was a nightmare. We were absolutely lost and broken over the thought of having to admit defeat and give up. For whatever reason almost overnight everything seemed to fall into place. Her attitude calmed down, she started listening to commands like “no” and “come” and best of all, the accidents in the house stopped.

What made this even harder was all along knowing we had a commercial pig on our hands. We couldn’t stop thinking about “what could’ve been” for Esther had we not brought her home. We imagined her brothers and sisters and what happened to them. It was horrifying and a realization that changed our lives forever.

We began watching documentaries on living a vegan lifestyle and what the pros and cons were. We also watched a few documentaries on farming and it was those that had the biggest impact. We had seen Esther’s personality flourishing along with her mannerisms and the routine she had developed. She was like a little person that had every emotion we did. We could tell when she was happy, scared, mischievous or grumpy just by looking at her face. There’s a level of awareness and consciousness in her that we had never experienced in an animal before. We saw all this and couldn’t help but think of what was happening in farms around the world. To imagine how horrified, tormented and aware they are is enough to bring tears to my eyes. We had to become vegan. It wasn’t a decision so much as what needed to be done.

The transition to being vegan was definitely a challenge at first but the more we learned about the factory farming industry, the more we were sure we had to keep going. The treatment of the animals is absolutely atrocious, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We had no idea how much animals had been reduced to “products” with no regard whatsoever for their treatment. The idea of a “factory farm” meant nothing to us until we saw the mass scale of these places and the complete disregard for the animals. One of the worst things we saw was footage of pigs with their feet frozen to the floor of transport trailers because they were ankle deep in urine. Pigs are amazingly clean animals however they will go to the bathroom anywhere when they’re scared.   Those poor pigs were horrified and frozen near solid only to be beaten and jabbed with electric prods to make them break their legs free of the ice.

One of the other things that became very clear to us was the environmental impact of factory farms. The waste and gasses created by the animals and transporting them to and from factory farms are major contributors to climate change. Then when you consider the amount of beautiful countryside cleared of natural habitats for wildlife so it can be dedicated to growing corn to feed livestock, you realize there’s a giant snowball of reasons to make changes. So for us it was a total no brainer.  

Almost two years later we’re as madly in love with our now 385ish pound “mini pig” as we ever were. She makes us laugh and smile every single day and we can’t imagine life without her. We are trying to get our affairs in order so we can open a sanctuary of our own. We’re not sure how soon it’ll happen, but it will. Too many people just like us get completely taken advantage of and their pigs end up abandoned or worse.

Had anyone told us two years ago that in January of 2014 we’d have a pet pig with tens of thousands of followers on Facebook from around the world telling us we’re “an ambassador for change” and that Esther is “gonna change the world for farmed animals,” we would’ve thought you were crazy.

Fast forward 19 months and the messages and comments we receive are absolutely indescribable. The support and love being sent our way is overwhelming and it’s all for Esther. It’s all for a pig who got a chance at life, a pig who already changed our world in the most amazing ways. People have said that “she’s the luckiest pig in the world” and while that may be somewhat true, we know we are really the lucky ones. She opened our eyes and our minds in ways we could never have imagined. We owe her more than she’ll ever owe us.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and FACTORY FARM pages for more related news on this topic. 

topnewsbanner12

Groups Seek to Stop Illegal Swine Waste Pollution in North Carolina

fishncss

The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a Notice of Intent to sue the current and former owners and operators of the Stilley swine feeding operation this week to stop illegal discharges of swine waste into groundwater, wetlands and streams that flow to the Trent River.

[blackoutgallery id=”318072″]

The Stilley Facility, which confines more than 11,000 swine near Trenton, NC facility for Murphy Brown, LLC—a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc.—has a long history of illegal discharges and waste management problems. The groups will file suit under the federal Clean Water Act and Solid Waste Disposal Act if action is not taken to stop the swine waste discharges and clean up the facility within 90 days.

Swine waste contains pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants that can cause fish kills, endanger swimmers, promote blooms of toxic algae and contaminate drinking water when discharged into public waters. The Stilley Facility is discharging pollutants from swine waste into tributaries of the Trent River, which flows into the Neuse Estuary. The Trent and Neuse Rivers drive the economy in this region; however, the Neuse Estuary regularly experiences algal blooms, fish kills and depletion of oxygen necessary to sustain the fishery as a result of excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.

“The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation is working to restore water quality in the Neuse Estuary and its tributaries which have been plagued by algal blooms and fish kills for far too long,” said Jim Kellenberger, president of the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation.

“We must take action to address the mismanagement of swine waste and pollution discharges at animal feeding operations if we want to restore the estuary and protect our fisheries, communities and recreational use of this important North Carolina natural resource, which serves over a million citizens of this area.”

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) acknowledges that its efforts to reduce pollution for nearly two decades have failed to achieve “any significant decrease in actual nutrient loading to the estuary” and that phosphorus pollution of the Trent River has actually increased. NCDENR often claims that animal feeding operations in the Neuse Basin operate under “no-discharge” permits, but also admits that swine waste is commonly and directly discharged to public waters from these operations through ditches and tile drains—a violation of both state and federal law—and that the agency lacks understanding of the magnitude of pollution coming from animal feeding operation lagoons and sprayfields. The Clean Water Act and Solid Waste Disposal Act contain provisions allowing citizens to step in when the government fails to protect their communities and enforce federal law.

“Corporations that now control the meat production industry are threatening public health,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Since the government is looking the other way, we are taking action to compel this industry to comply with federal law and stop using North Carolina’s waterways for disposal of swine waste.”

“The continued mismanagement of swine waste at Stilley Facility is a danger to the health of North Carolinians and the environment,” said Larry Baldwin, CAFO [confined animal feeding operation] coordinator at Waterkeeper Alliance.

“The communities that depend on clean, healthy water from the Trent River and the greater Neuse River basin have a right to clean water and, since the government hasn’t taken action to address this issue, we will. ”

In their notice, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance expressed a strong desire to work with the owners and operators of the facility to every extent possible to reach a cost-effective solution to their waste management problems.

“Our goal is to solve the pollution issues at this facility without the need for costly litigation,” added Gray Jernigan, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance.

“It’s time for Stilley Facility to stop polluting our waters, and if the facility is unwilling to implement sound practices, we will file suit to enforce the law and protect the citizens of North Carolina.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARM and WATER pages for more related news on this topic.

topnewsbanner12

6 Crimes Against Nature Perpetrated by the Food Industry

Photo: Getty Images

By Martha Rosenberg

The horrors of factory farming are multifold. Treating animals like heads of lettuce—“forget it’s an animal” says one farming magazine—has created institutionalized ruthlessness toward animals, workers and the environment at the same time it harms humans who eat the products. Factory farming even damages the economy thanks to meat-related obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and greedy, short-sighted land-use policies. 

While many procedures on factory farms are cruel, some practices like breeding animals into mutant-like parodies of their original species and violating mother/offspring bonds are truly crimes against nature.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

1. Greed-Driven Mutilations

It is possible to practice animal husbandry in a way that an animal only has “one bad day” (the day the animal is slaughtered), but thanks to factory farming, which packs animals together over their own waste, they endure a lot of additional suffering.

Chickens are “debeaked” during their second week of life “to prevent cannibalism and feed wastage,” says an online guide for chicken growers—though the industry’s abusive battery egg cages, not the animals, are responsible for the “cannibalism.” Debeaking, partial or total removal of a bird’s beak with a hot knife or laser while it is fully conscious, causes “intense pain, shock and bleeding,” says veterinarian Nedim C. Buyukmihci, emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California.

A similar fate awaits pigs who respond to unnatural conditions by biting each others’ tails. The factory farm solution? Cut off their tails with a pliers and no painkiller—an institutionalized mutilation called tail docking.

Cows also have their tails docked for what factory farmers call “hygiene” and “milk quality” as well as their horn buds burned off with no painkillers. When video footage depicting both procedures at Willet Dairy in New York state aired on ABC’s Nightline there were calls for laws against the cavalier cruelty. Nor are debeaking, tail docking and horn bud burning factory farming’s only mutilations. Animals also endure dubbing, the removal of combs on birds, detoeing and declawing and mulesing—removal of a sheep’s hindquarter skin.

If veterinarians practiced the same procedures on pets without painkillers, they would lose their licenses and face criminal charges.

2. Fast Growth Diseases

Thirty years ago pigs, chickens and cattle did not look the way they do today. Thanks to growth-producing chemicals and selected breeding, factory-farmed turkeys can barely walk and can’t fly at all or reproduce because of their extreme meat-intensive physiology.

Chickens grow so intensely that if they were human they would weigh 500 pounds at age 10. The frenzied growth makes them prone to “flipover disease” in which the metabolic strain causes sudden death. Pigs given the growth drug ractopamine, illegal in many countries, are so muscle-bound they are practically non-ambulatory. “Simply, the pig will go down and not be able to get back up,” said Gary Bowman , an Ohio State Extension veterinarian with the College of Veterinary Medicine. Visitors to factory pig facilities have to wear biosecurity suits because “the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs’ immune systems,” read an article in Rolling Stone. 

Under the use of the Monsanto-created genetically altered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), the udders of dairy cattle become so engorged, the animals can barely walk. The painful infections (called mastitis) the animals develop along with their shortened life spans and weakened conditions when they arrive at slaughterhouses, often as downers, are the ultimate crime against nature. Many grocery chains have renounced rBGH but some operators still use it for the “cost savings.

3. Crimes Against Marine Life

While production of the fast-growing frankenfish, the AquAdvantage salmon, has temporarily halted, greed will likely prevail in aquaculture as it has in factory farming. The salmon, created by crossing a Chinook with an ocean pout and a wild Atlantic salmon, grows twice as fast as normal salmon, reaching its full size in 18 months instead of three years. Though the fish’s creators and the government say it is no different from normal fish, in studies AquAdvantage salmon had high incidences of “jaw erosion” and “focal inflammation” (infection), low glucose levels and a possible “increase in the level of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor-1]” compared to normal fish.

Like their factory farming counterparts, AquaAdvantage salmon promoters extol the reduced carbon footprint that can be achieved by squeezing animals together. Yonathan Zohar from the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland said at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearings that the fish can be grown at up to “80 to 100 per cubic meter”—which is bumper-to-bumper fish.

Is it ethical for a swimming animal to spend 18 months practically standing on its tail, in the interests of making more money? Is it ethical to expose wild fish populations to the aquaculture-generated sea lice which has all but decimated salmon farming in Chile and Norway?

4. Brave New Animals

While cloning was once the next big thing, it has lost its luster because of a problem called “epigenetic dysregulation” which causes up to 90 percent of cloned offspring to die. In fact, so many animals die to make one surviving clone that the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies said “the current level of suffering and health problems of surrogate dams and animal clones” renders it not “ethically justified.” Cloned offspring “tend to be large for their breeds, and often have abnormal or poorly developed lungs, hearts, or other affected internal organs (liver and kidney), which makes it difficult for them to breathe or maintain normal circulation and metabolism,” says an FDA report. The problems are so common in cloned cattle and sheep, they are called Large Offspring Syndrome.

Still, scientists at the University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have a clone product they are pretty proud of. They have developed “White piglets with muscle tissue larded with omega-3 fatty acids,” that can lead to “healthy pork,” reports the New York Times, because such fatty acids are linked to a lowered incidence of heart disease.

“People can continue to eat their junk food,” rhapsodized Harvard’s Alexander Leaf. “You won’t have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need.” Aren’t animals great?

5. Veal and Bob Veal Calves

Male calves are an unwanted byproduct of the dairy industry to keep cows pregnant and yielding milk. Calves to be sold for “bob veal” arrive at slaughterhouses weak and injured testified a federal meat  inspector to Congress. After their truck journey, they are forced to endure “yet another 12-18 hours without food, when already they had been deprived of sustenance for perhaps days, since they were usually removed from their mothers immediately after birth,” said veterinarian Dean Wyatt. “It always broke my heart that employees would carry the bodies of these dead baby calves out of the pen because they died of dehydration and starvation.” Male calves not sent to slaughter at birth are grown for marketed veal products in crates in which they can’t turn around or in outdoor sheds. 

Such treatment is tolerated because the allegedly dumb animals don’t know what’s happening to them or suffer psychologically. But undercover videos clearly show mother cows rushing after their babies as they are taken away for veal. And the haunting bellows of mother cows deprived of their young are so loud, they regularly inspire people living near the farms to call the police. The newborn calves also know their loss. Calves being sold at Cambridge Valley Livestock Market for $40 a head, some with their umbilical cords still attached, swarmed a Rolling Stone reporter who entered their pen. “Since being ripped from their mothers, they’ve barely been fed and will nurse anything resembling a teat,” he wrote. “They find one, of sorts, in my leather jacket. Its worn-in hide must taste like love.”

6. Newborn Chicks

Like male calves in the dairy industry, male chicks are unwanted byproducts of the egg industry because they won’t turn into laying hens. While the egg industry regularly disputes the mistreatment of grown laying hens documented on many videos—sick, infected, featherless hens sometimes standing on dead cage-mates—they do not dispute the fate of newborn male chicks: they are ground up alive in a process called maceration.

“There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens,” said spokesman United Egg Producers Mitch Head to the Associated Press after release of video showing the newborns being fed into the blades. “If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we’re happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need.”

Other egg-related industry tactics, while not as cruel, are just as shocking. In 2008, USDA caught Tyson injecting antibiotics  directly into the eggs of future laying hens, despite its “no antibiotics” advertising claim. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the vaccinations with the human antibiotic gentamicin are “standard practice,” though the drug is far from harmless and comes with a rare black box FDA warning for renal, auditory and vestibular toxicity. Eggs with embryos are also sprayed with ammonia, phenolics and peroxides. 

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

topnewsbanner12

4 Reasons Why We Need to Rethink Industrial Meat Production

One of the biggest questions around global food security is whether the current industrialized meat production system (the CAFO model) can meet growing future demand. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

by Kai Olson-Sawyer

It’s a big world out there. On second thought, it feels like the world is getting smaller.

Trends point toward a planet that will be even more crowded and tightly bound than ever as the population soars from seven to nine billion and prosperity rises for hundreds of millions by 2050. Such global forecasts have led to vigorous discussions about resource constraints over the last few years. For instance, projections from the Alternative Worlds report by the National Intelligence Council posits that the world will need 35 percent more water, 40 percent more energy and 50 percent more food by 2030. In short, more basic nexus resources will be stretched by more people. Throw in the wild card of climate variability and in creeps that uncertain feeling about global prospects.

One of the biggest questions around global food security is whether the current industrialized meat production system (the CAFO model) can meet growing future demand. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

One of the biggest questions around global food security is whether the current industrialized meat production system (the CAFO model) can meet growing future demand. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The way things are going, feeding the world could become even more precarious than it already is. One of the biggest questions around global food security is whether the current industrialized meat production system (the CAFO [confined animal feeding operation] model) can meet growing future demand. The resource intensity of meat production can’t be ignored as neighbors in developing countries emulate the meat-heavy Western diet. The symbol for global economic development—often thought of as a car in every driveway—is more aptly imagined as a steak on every plate. Concern about water for meat production is as essential as it is immense, yet it is just one massive wave in the sea of resources necessary to keep global meat consumption afloat.

We know meat production takes many resources, but do we have any idea what the limits of all those resources are?

One useful analytical framework for potential limitations to meat production is the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s Planetary Boundaries project. The Planetary Boundaries are a set of nine quantified environmental thresholds that if overstepped, could lead to serious human and environmental change and disruption. (Read here for a counterpoint to the Planetary Boundaries.) Below are four of these boundaries that relate to industrialized meat production, all of which, besides phosphorus loading, have been transgressed in the project’s determination.

Freshwater:

The United Nations projects that by 2030 water scarcity could affect nearly half the world’s population with demand surpassing supply by 40 percent. One 2012 World Water Week study made waves when it suggested a largely vegetarian diet option—reducing the percentage of animal protein in our diet from the average of 20 to five—to feed the growing global population, since a meat-centered diet can require five to 10 times the water of a vegetarian diet. As we obtain more global water data from sources like NASA’s GRACE Satellite (no relation) that highlight certain agriculturally sensitive and dry parts of the world like the Middle East, northern India and the U.S. High Plains—all of which are losing stored water—sustainable water management becomes absolutely critical. This is especially true as local, competing demands between agriculture, the power industry and public drinking water increase.

Nutrient Overload (Nitrogen and Phosphorous):

Nitrogen and phosphorus prove the point that too much of a good thing can be very bad. These two fertilizers are applied to the point of becoming pollutants. There are two ways this happens through industrial meat production. The first is through synthetic production of fertilizers, especially those that are nitrogen based, that get applied in excess onto fields that grow feed crops for CAFO-raised or finished animals. The second pathway is through accumulation of enormous amounts of manure that is produced by large numbers of animals concentrated in a given location. While some fraction of nutrient-rich fertilizers are taken up by plants, the excess eventually enters waterways which cause large algae blooms that that kill aquatic life through oxygen depletion and cause widespread “dead zones.” The infamous Gulf of Mexico dead zone is a prime example: too much fertilizer and manure from the US Midwest ends up in the Mississippi River and eventually in the Gulf of Mexico.

Land:

The change in land-use from forest, wetlands and grassland to agricultural fields has harmed biodiversity and impaired “ecosystem services,” or the ability of the natural environment to provide a natural buffer in things like water systems and nutrient and carbon cycles. There is the possibility of reaching “peak farmland” where almost all of the arable (farmable) land on Earth is in use, which can lead to social tension and land grabs from external countries. Land grabs are becoming more common and those living near CAFOs experience these neighboring factories as unhealthy and a nuisance. Interestingly, most land-use concerns happen at the local or regional level.

Climate Change:

No environmental issue is more planetary than climate change brought about by the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions in a shared atmosphere. Recent United Nation-led reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reaffirm the dramatic effects climate change will have on livestock production, particularly those systems that rely heavily on grain and soy to fill the feeding troughs of CAFO-raised animals. Among the challenges to be faced by both farmers and livestock are increasing average temperatures and shifting climactic zones, the greater likelihood of crop loss and damage from “drought and deluge” and commodity feed price volatility. There is a feedback loop in play here—as illuminated by the FAO report—because livestock production contributes 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. (Note that some estimates of meat production’s greenhouse gas emissions range much higher to 51 percent).

Unfortunately, “business as usual” for increased meat production means the CAFO model, which was created and perfected in the U.S. and is being exported worldwide. The model has succeeded in terms of profiting a small number of large, industrialized livestock producers that control the meat market, providing deceptively “cheap meat” that hides the true costs of all the numerous problems associated with industrial livestock production. Despite the harmful nature of this form of meat production, the trend of globalized CAFO meat production is accurate if the recent Smithfield Foods merger is any indication. Limits be damned!

Of course, no one wants to live beside a CAFO because of the terrible costs to community livability and human health, but the reality is that no one knows how these trends, production methods or planetary boundaries will play out. Many communities are powerless to stop them from moving in once they’ve gotten a foothold. The good news is that there are alternatives to meat production and consumption that are taking root, whether it’s through a return to pasture raised-meat, reducing meat consumption a la Meatless Mondays or even test tube meat (please, no). In the end, humanity has to figure out new and sustainable ways to feed ourselves. We can depart from the industrial food path and eat meat; we can ensure that everyone is fed and raise livestock in a more sustainable and humane way. It is incumbent upon to us explore those alternative paths before our planet—big or small—becomes less liveable.

Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on this topic.

http://ecowatch.com/newsletter-signup/