Friday, August 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Farm show highlights controversial side of animal housing

A new exhibit at this year's week-long Pennsylvania Farm Show introduced visitors - some 400,000 this year - to the inside of a typical barn in the state.

Farm show highlights controversial side of animal housing

 

A new exhibit at this year's week-long Pennsylvania Farm Show introduced visitors - some 400,000 this year - to life inside of a typical working barn in the state.

Housed in the metal barn erected in the farm show's food hall were dairy cows, calves, turkeys, ducks, chickens and pigs.

Some visitors may have been alarmed to see how some animals, particularly chickens and pigs live.

Ol' McDonald's Farm it ain't.

The chickens were crammed six to a cage in what are known as "battery cages," or stacked wire enclosures.

There is no bedding. No perches and barely room to turn around. This is where the typical laying hen in Pennsylvania - one of the nation's largest egg producing states - lives for two years until she is slaughtered.

"Right now the vast majority of egg-laying hens are housed this way in Pennsylvania," says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States. "The space per hen is smaller than an 8 1/2- by-11 piece of paper."

A few feet away, a mother pig lay in what is called a "farrowing pen" with nursing piglets nearby. As children cooed at the baby pigs, some considered the life of the mother, who is moved from one confined pen to another, called a "gestation crate," during the cycle of her pregnancies until she is slaughtered.

"It's a lifetime of intensive confinement," says Shapiro, whose group been working with - and sometimes pressuring - large-scale buyers and producers to shift away from this practice. "It's a very horrible cycle of extreme animal suffering."

These housing arrangements make it easy for workers on factory farms to manage large numbers of animals and keep a barn clean. But many of the nation's biggest purchasers - and even some producers - of pork and eggs are moving away from this kind of restrictive containment in the interest of providing more humane conditions for animals.

Some of the world's top fast food chains, (McDonald's and Burger King) and some of the nation's largest supermarket chains, among them Safeway, along with hotels and cruise lines - 47 large corporations so far -  have made commitments to phase out the use of products from animals housed in battery cages and gestation crates.

Shapiro said he was glad that the Farm Show was "showing it like it is" inside most large farms. "Old McDonald is fake," he said. "While it may be an accurate depiction it's nothing to be proud of."

HSUS and other groups also have been pushing for federal regulations that would provide for more humane housing of production poultry and livestock that would include larger housing for hens and allow sows to spend part of their lives in open barns where they would have room to move around and socialize.

 

Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer
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Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer
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