Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mercy for Animals Undercover Video: Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa

Warning: this is a pretty serious post. I can't imagine laughter when I think about this topic ... I can only imagine millions of small children crying spontaneously (the way they do on airplanes and in restaurants, only louder).  Santa Claus may exploit elves, but wait until children see what the Easter Bunny supports in order to get Easter eggs.

If you haven't seen this video yet, please take the opportunity to do so. 

This is footage of a modern egg hatchery, where every day, nearly 150,000 animals are conveyed alive into a grinding machine called a macerator because they are male, cannot lay eggs and are therefore worthless to the egg industry.  In my observation, the average consumer is oblivious to egg production practices, but becomes disturbed when watching videos like this.  This video alone already has over 2 million views, so I imagine there are a lot of disturbed people out there.

In its rebuttal, here, Hy-line asserts that maceration is acceptable because it is "supported and approved by the scientific and veterinary community." 

Does the veterinary community really support grinding up live animals en masse? Does it actually approve of a practice that makes people gasp and sit in sullen post-viewing stupors?  Well, in actuality, over 90% of practicing veterinarians in this country will never in their lives set foot in a commercial egg hatchery.  The poultry sector has long been on its knees begging for veterinarians, and we know only a tiny fraction even become affiliated with the industry.  In veterinary school curriculums, poultry medicine is a relatively brief topic and does not typically include references to production practices like debeaking, maceration, or even battery cage confinement.

So how can industry reps claim veterinary support and use it as a get out of jail free card?  It's simple--the AVMA's own euthanasia guidelines do indeed list maceration as an "acceptable method of euthanasia" for "newly-hatched poultry."  The guideline does not say "newly-hatched birds."  After all, if a veterinarian were to put a client's baby parakeet into a macerator-type device to euthanize it, he or she would be ostracized as a probable sociopath and certainly a malpractitioner. 

Industry folks have on their list of pet peeves the tendency of animal advocates to compare farm animals to companion animals "as though they're the same." Physiologically speaking, chickens have the same capacity to experience pain and suffering as parakeets; therefore industry veterinarians are making an assessment of humane treatment based solely on cultural and industry factors. That doesn't sound medical.

It's no secret that organized veterinary medicine makes different allowances for agribusiness, including in the realm of "euthanasia." One of the "advantages" of maceration listed in the AVMA's euthanasia guidlelines is that "large numbers of animals can be killed quickly."  That doesn't exactly sound medical, either. 

In veterinary medicine, there is obviously a double standard (independent of science or physiology) in judging humane treatment of companion animals versus that of farm animals.  This double standard has been passed on to society in large part by veterinarians.  After all, we ultimately set the standards for animal health and well-being.  If organized veterinary medicine is going to perpetuate a double standard in the vicious cycle between an unconscientious industry and uninformed consumers, it's inevitable that outside forces will move in to break the cycle. And that's what animal advocates are doing.

Organized veterinary medicine and industry veterinarians were aware of factory farming practices at their inception decades ago. Now that these practices are being revealed to the mainstream, they are not necessarily adopting a "better late than never" approach or lending much support to animal advocacy either.  As animal advocacy groups achieve more support and more legislative successes, much of organized vet med continues to back industry in the national showdown. Together with industry, it has been trying to strike down or limit state-directed advocacy campaigns designed to curtail the most reprehensible agribusiness practices.

As veterinarians, we should be coming to our own conclusions about what is humane and ethical, using our own senses. So many of us will work tirelessly and compassionately to save one animal's life. And yet, we seem to be represented by a minority in the profession who stand by and allow billions of other animals to suffer inhumane treatment and be commodified to a grotesque degree. Again, here is what we're allegedly supporting.  


We should question whether we are compromising our personal values and those of society so that an industry can reap enormous profitsThe fact is that societal change to relieve farm animal suffering is happening.  Even its standard practices are in violation of basic ethics, so change will continue to happen even without veterinary support.  But in the end, it would be regrettable if veterinarians were remembered as being obstacles to this change rather than its facilitators.

Even if the Easter Bunny does turn out to be a villain, it doesn't mean veterinarians have to be.  After all, we want kids to look up to us, don't we?