There's always more to chew on in the amazing world of cheap meat.
It happens that the smell of seared pork and cooked chicken doesn't always come from a barbecue grill or oven. Sometimes it's straight out of the barn. That's because every year, hundreds of thousands of chickens, pigs, cows, and other animals are burned alive in barn fires. With no way to escape -- notwithstanding YouTube videos that show crafty animals waiting for Farmer Brown to go to bed and then slipping the latches on their pens with their tongues -- all that the animals in a barn fire can really do is panic and perish.
In March, hundreds of animals, mostly pigs and cows, were killed in barn fires in Michigan, Ohio, and New York. A couple of months later, as many as half a million hens went up in smoke in a fire at an egg factory farm in Roggen, Colo.
Steps could easily be taken to protect other animals from horrifying deaths, although one can argue that had they survived, they were in for no treat: Being kicked and prodded onto a truck, and then being kicked and prodded back out of it at the other end, as well as being strung up alive by one leg on a conveyor belt while smelling death all around can only be a terrifying experience.
A law that requires mega-farms to install sprinklers or a smoke-control system is being doused with cold water by big business operatives. As predictably as the now-silenced rooster who used to crow in the morning on the old family farm, the farmers reject every attempt to reduce the hardships and torment of the animals Paul McCartney waxed lyrical about in "Glass Walls," his video about modern meat production.
It's a full-fledged fight over fire extinguishers, similar to the recent battle that factory farmers waged to preserve the right to use a mechanical winch to drag collapsed cattle into the slaughterhouse, rather than put them out of their misery where they lay.
The burning-barn issue is this: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently amended its "NFPA 150: Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities" -- which currently requires automatic fire sprinkler and smoke-control systems in facilities that house animals such as lions and tigers -- to include other facilities that house animals as well. The new regulations will cover nearly every single farm in the U.S. -- but a shameless coalition of meat-, egg-, and dairy-industry organizations is now appealing the NFPA's decision.
Consumers of meat, eggs and dairy products might well ask what they are supporting. Do farmers care about anyone but themselves? Can't anyone see the cow for the cheese?
If you ever see The Animals' Film, a documentary whose advertisement reads, "It's not about them. It's about us," there is a segment in which a farmer is interviewed. He runs an intensive confinement veal operation in which calves are tied by the neck in pens in the dark, unable to take two steps in any direction. Oblivious to any irony, the man complains that he dislikes confinement. It turns out that he means his own confinement, in that he can't go to the movies or out dancing as much as he'd like since he's stuck running a farm.
Even without the risk of being burned alive, day-to-day life on a factory farm is a nightmare for animals with as many emotions and as many pain sensors as a beloved dog or cat, or any of us. PETA has conducted numerous undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses, and we've invariably found gratuitous cruelty. Among other abuses, PETA investigators have seen workers at a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse beating, throwing, and decapitating animals. They've witnessed similar abuse inside a Butterball turkey slaughterhouse, where birds were punched and kicked. (To see more footage from PETA's investigations, please take just 30 seconds to watch "Meet Your Meat.")
Since we can't count on the meat, egg, and dairy industries to protect animals from the most egregious forms of cruelty, what can we, as consumers, do? Opting out of paying someone to allow animals to die in a barn fire or at the slaughterhouse seems pretty reasonable. Cheap meat is the problem. The answer is to replace meat recipes with vegan meals.