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Many meat-eaters would be horrified to learn the details of how their food is produced, from the way the animals are raised to the conditions of their slaughter. Below are short descriptions of the lives and deaths of some of the land animals used in meat production – pigs, cattle, and poultry.


On hog factory farms, pigs are treated as objects rather than as living, sentient creatures. Sows (adult female pigs) are kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy and birth, and, in many facilities, are confined for most of their lives in crates that completely restrict their movement. After birth, piglets are taken from their mothers within a few weeks and the sow is re-impregnated. When a sow is no longer a productive breeder, she is killed for her meat.

Pigs destined for slaughter are kept in warehouse-like sheds until they reach a “slaughter weight” at around six months old. In these unsanitary conditions, disease and injury are constantly present. The pigs are also subject to mutilations without anesthesia or pain relievers, such as tail-docking, in which a pig’s tail is removed to prevent other pigs from biting it and causing infection (behavior that would not happen in a natural environment).

After being crowded into trucks and transported to the slaughterhouse, a journey that many pigs do not survive, pigs are hung upside down by their hind legs and bled to death. According to the Humane Slaughter Act, pigs are required by law to be stunned prior to their throats being slit, but stunning is an imprecise procedure that may fail to render the pigs unconscious. Many pigs remain alive and conscious into the next step in the process, where they are dunked into a tank full of boiling water.


Though the image of cowboys herding cattle has long been a part of the American consciousness, the happy portrayals of the cattle industry overlook a number of cruelties inflicted upon the animals. Even if cattle are lucky enough to live out most of their lives on a range, they are branded with a hot iron without anesthesia for the purposes of identification. The process of rounding them up is extremely traumatizing for the cattle and can lead to severe injury.

Most cattle raised for beef live confined in crowded, fetid feedlots for the final months of their lives, subject to unsanitary conditions, unnatural diets and, frequently, the administration of growth hormones. The last moments of their lives are no better: like pigs, the Humane Slaughter Act dictates that they must be stunned before slaughter, but this is not uniformly enforced.


Billions of chickens and turkeys are raised for slaughter every year, often overcrowded in huge warehouses where their movement and natural behaviors are restricted. Both chickens and turkeys have the ends of their beaks cut off without anesthesia to prevent injuries from fighting with other birds (something that would not happen if the birds were not put in stressful, crowded situations).

“Broiler” chickens are bred to be much larger than they would be in nature, which often causes fatal lung and heart problems as their organs are not built to support their weight. Turkeys are bred to enhance breast size for “breast meat” and no longer sport the vibrant, colorful feathers than can be found on turkeys in the wild.

During transport, the birds are stacked in crates and exposed to the weather, resulting in birds dying before ever reaching the slaughterhouse (something the industry expects). Birds are not protected by the Humane Slaughter Act and, although some slaughterhouses claim to stun the birds before slaughter by dunking their heads in pools of electrified water as they hang upside down on the “line,” this may result only in paralysis, not unconsciousness.

Further Resources

Mercy For Animals – Farm to Fridge

Farm Sanctuary – Factory Beef Production, Factory Pork Production, Factory Poultry Production

Vegan Outreach – Factory Farms

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz

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