I was asked by a friendly and respectful vegan on #farm365 to watch Earlings the movie and provide feedback. It took me a while, but I finally put together my thoughts.
Overall, the movie is highly skewed and uses a lot of foreign footage to further the agenda of the producers: ending animal agriculture. The movie uses mostly footage from organizations such as PETA, HSUS, Humane Farmer’s Associations, Greenpeace and other animal rights organizations. There isn’t any balance in the footage with inputs from farmers, industry groups or agriculture scientists.
The film quite dated now as well as it was released in 2005 and much of the footage is from 1996-2001.
My comments go through Earthling chronologically. They are meant to brief. I encourage any disucssion or questions about them.
The opening comments about speciesism. Speciesism is part of nature. Pretty much all species do protect themselves preferentially over other species. I though this blog was insightful to the speciesism argument http://speakingofresearch.com/2014/03/20/speciesism-is-unavoidable/. I inherently believe humans are more sacred than animals.
The scene with the pig being killed by bludgeoning with a cinder block is unacceptable. I don’t agree with how the pig was put down. There are code of practice and huge national working groups on Humane Destruction and Disposal. I was part of one these for a role I had in the past and industry professionals, veterinarians and scientists take a lot of time and care to make sure the way animals are euthanized or slaughter is humane. In the case of pigs of the size shown the acceptable methods for euthanasia are overdose of anesthetics, captive bolt or gunshot to the head. Here is the code of practice for swine euthanasia https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#section6.
I disagree with the comment that animal are other nations-my personal belief.
The general principle that animal welfare considerations modelled are the 5 freedoms for animal welfare or Brambell’s Five Principles.
Five Freedoms for Animal Welfare
The welfare of an animal includes its physical and mental state and we consider that good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being. Any animal kept by man, must at least, be protected from unnecessary suffering.
We believe that an animal’s welfare, whether on farm, in transit, at market or at a place of slaughter should be considered in terms of ‘five freedoms’. These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysis of welfare within any system together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare within the proper constraints of an effective livestock industry.
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst– by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
- Freedom from Discomfort– by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease– by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to Express Normal Behavior– by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from Fear and Distress– by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Part 1 Pets
The commentary on breeders, I agree that there is a distinct lack of regulation in the pet breeding industry. The commentary about shelters and euthanasia rates are likely bang on. On a personal note, my sister in law is a veterinarian and does much of the veterinary services for our local humane society, it is sad to see the number of pet surrendered and abandoned. All our dogs and cats are rescues. In addition, we usually get 5 or so dropped off cats at our farm annually as we are close to town. Sadly, some we can’t catch or take care of until they are too sick or starved to live. We would much rather people came to our door with the cats so we can take of them properly instead of trying to coax a terrified cat to come to us so we can care for them.
100% agree with the commentary urging pet owners to spay and neuter their pets.
In terms of euthanasia for cats and dogs, this is the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Statement. http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/euthanasia
The footage of the dog being crushed in the garbage truck is sickening.
Part 2 Food
The footage of the worker taunting is again not acceptable to industry. Like in all industries there are individuals who behave inappropriately.
The footage of branding. Most cattle in Canada are no longer branded (less than 10% according to NFAAC). In the 30+ years I have been around cattle, I have never seen animal branded on the head, it is illegal in Canada. Usually they are on the hip or shoulder. Branding is generally used for identification purposes. I admit that there are pain issues with branding. We brand our cattle either with a freeze brand for dark hair cattle or hot iron for our white haired cattle. There a pain concerns with either method; hot irons cause more acute pain while freeze branding is a more chronic pain. We do so for ID purposed. Last fall we had 100 bull calves break through a fence after being chased by a predator. They had no brand and it took 2 months to find all our cattle. We also use ear tags and tattoos for identification, but those are easily removed in case of theft, tags fall off and tattoos are placed inside the ear so they are difficult to see.
Here is the code of practice for beef cattle. ttps://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/beef_code_of_practice.pdf it covers recommended procedures and legal practice for animal care including branding, dehorning etc.
For the Dehorning footage, again more and more cattle are bred to be naturally polled (no horns). The National Standard for dehorning recommendations is:
The horns of beef cattle are routinely removed to decrease the risk of injuries to workers and other
Animals, and to minimize economic losses due to carcass bruising. The proportion of beef cattle with
horns has been steadily decreasing in recent years, as the availability and adoption of polled (hornless)
genetics has increased (39). Most common breeds of beef cattle have polled lines available, and the
use of homozygous polled genetics eliminates the need for disbudding or dehorning without affecting
productivity (3,40-42). Dehorning must be performed only by competent personnel using proper, well-maintained tools and accepted techniques. Seek guidance from your veterinarian on the availability and advisability of pain control for disbudding or dehorning beef cattle. Disbud calves as early as practically possible, while horn development is still at the horn bud stage (typically 2-3 months).
EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2016:
Use pain control, in consultation with your veterinarian to mitigate pain associated
With dehorning calves after horn bud attachment.
- use homozygous polled bulls where practical to eliminate the need for disbudding or dehorning (3).
- avoid dehorning at the time of weaning to reduce stress (3).
Dairy cattle Footage
I grew up on a dairy farm, was part owner until 2009 and have 5 brothers that are actively dairy farming. This footage isn’t reflective of current farming practices.
For cows that are in tie stall barns, they generally go out for exercise and grazing. The tie stall barns are less common now than loose housing barns where cows can choose when and to eat and lie down.
The comment about pesticide and antibiotics in milk is categorically false. Each tank of milk that is picked from a dairy farm is tested for residues, adequate storage temperature and cleanliness.
The revelation that dairy cows are slaughtered is true. I feel that it is the proper thing to do in terms of reducing waste and dairy cows are a very lean source of protein. The footage of the cows going to slaughter is very dated – 1996.
Downer cows. It is illegal to ship down cows for human meat consumption. An animal must be ambulatory in order to be slaughtered. It’s illegal in Canada to transport downer cows. They are euthanized on farm and then are used for pet food. This is the same for downer beef cows. Here is the link for the CFIA’s regulations http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/humane-transport/compromised-animals-policy/eng/1360016317589/1360016435110
The comments about meat production, if you are interested in slaughterhouse welfare, Temple Grandin www.templegrandin.com . This is footage from a slaughterhouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMqYYXswono.
The footage of stressed cattle is again distressing. It’s distressful for the animal and stressed animals end up as “dark cutters” or tough meat.
In Canada, we have meat inspection agencies at the Federal and Provincial level that oversee the slaughter and welfare of cattle.
The footage of Kosher Slaughter, I can’t comment too scientifically as I am not expert in this field, but on a personal not I disagree. These animals aren’t stunned before bleeding which to me, means they are in fear and pain. This a paper by Temple Grandin, regarding religous slaugher. http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.slaugh.html
Again, I don’t have direct experience in this industry, but the footage is old and in Canada there are Codes of Practice for Veal Calves. The codes are older and currently under review. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/veal-calves. Many to most of the bull calves marketed from dairy cows are raised as regular beef and not as veal in Western Canada.
Sows are not continually pregnant. They do have rest period. Sows traditionally have been raised in gestation crates as they have a tenancy to savage their pigs and/or sit on them. As an industry, the swine industry has recognized this as an area they can improve upon. As of July 1, 2014 any new facilities must have loose housing from sows and older facilities have time to renovate their barns to loose housing. From the NFACC Codes of Practice: As of July 1, 2024, mated gilts and sows must be housed: in groups*; or in individual pens; or in stalls, if they are provided with the opportunity to turn around or exercise periodically, or other means that allow greater freedom of movement. Suitable options will be clarified by the participating stakeholders by July 1, 2019, as informed by scientific evidence.
The footage of the hurt sows and abscesses, these pigs should be taken care of by veterinarian or trained animal health technician. It’s not acceptable to have animals like this, and we have a duty as livestock caretakers to treat sick and injured animals as quickly as possible
For the comments about cannibalism, it is a real problem in pigs and the major reason that tail docking occurs in swine. As of July 1, 2016 all pigs are required to receive pain medication when tails are docked. Many producers proactively have adapted this practice. Pigs that are being cannibalized should be separated, treated if possible or euthanized.
Teeth clipping in pigs aren’t common practice any more either.
For castration, any castrating of pigs over 10 days of age requires pain medication. As of July 1, 2016 pigs at any age will require pain meds for castration. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#section4
For the slaughter footage, electrocution is conditionally acceptable for a slaughter method, but not common in slaughterhouse. Most use a captive bolt. Then slit their throats after they are dead, and then scald the hair off. There’s a code for this too!! https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#appendixn. Again for footage of pig slaughter, Temple Grandin has a video of that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsEbvwMipJI
Disclosure, I have severe asthma, so I have only been in a commercial poultry barn once or twice. Not my area of expertise. Canada again has codes of practices for Poultry. They are currently under revision, but here is the current set of codes: https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/chickens-turkeys-and-breeders. The chicken farmers of Canada also have a manual for animal care http://www.chickenfarmers.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Animal-Care-Manual-2009-2011-printing.pdf
The footage of throwing chicks, again it’s unacceptable.
The debeaking footage is from 2002 and the footage from the barns is from 1995. If you are interested in seeing current layer barns, here is a neat set of videos from Saskatchewan Egg Farmers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kbs8d-H0Mt0&list=PLUYKr-aLNt4Z2qIXRhzuD2dX4WiPrc_Y8 .
Again, in chickens, cannibalism is a concern. I had a small flock of free range chickens growing up and even those hens would cannibalize each other given the chance. Hence the term “pecking order.” There are space, nutrition and management strategies that can help minimize cannibalism, but unfortunately, it also is part of the nature of the chicken as they are omnivores.
The footage of slaughter again was poor. I have never heard of a hang pen nor is clubbing acceptable. It’s not okay that these things have happened in the past, but modern slaughter practices are much different. Again, Temple Grandin has video of a poultry slaughterhouse here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ2fDX76Mmc. I have seen smaller local poultry processing plants and they all have been equally well run.
Seafood and Fishing Industry
I have no expertise here at all so can’t comment professionally. Personally, I hate the idea of all the wasted/killed fish that are called “bycatch.”
There codes of biosecurity for most livestock species are available here http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/biosecurity/standards-and-principles/eng/1344707905203/1344707981478.
The goal is to keep the livestock and us humans healthy. Also, in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tests all meat for microbial contamination at a very rigorous level.
Whaling and Dolphin Slaughter
Again I have no way to comment on this professionally. The methods of hunting and slaughter do not appear humane.
Part 3 Clothes
Indian Leather Industry
Again, here this is way out of my scope, but realize that the hide from cattle slaughtered in North America is used for leather and is valued at about $100/hide (http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/nw_ls441.txt)
Again there are codes of practice for mink. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/mink
Personally, I am not a fan of the fur industry, as it seems pretty wasteful and there many other options for clothing. I have no problem with indigenous peoples using furs they hunt but don’t see the value otherwise.
Much of the footage shown in the movie is foreign.
Part 4 Entertainment
This absolutely is pure entertainment. Most bucking bulls are bred for performance, trained and cared for very well. Injuries do happen, they are more apt to happen to the calf roping and chuck racing than with the bucking bulls or bronc’s. Here is the Pro Rodeo Canada’s messaging on welfare: http://www.rodeocanada.com/animal_welfare.htm/
I personally again, do not enjoy commercial rodeo entertainment. I am more respectful of ranch rodeos that have more stringent guidelines on welfare and handling. It is more of a reflection of what a cowboy actually would do on a ranch and less focus on entertainment.
The footage of teasing animals again is disturbing and doesn’t happen to my knowledge in North America.
Hunting and Fishing
I am not a sportsman. On our farm we have a gun to euthanize animals if need be and we really don’t see the need for hunting. Personally, I don’t see any value in sport/trophy hunting or fishing. I can understand hunting/fishing if you intent eat the animal. It is true that fish feel pain (no surprise). Here is a set of proceedings from an International Workshop on Fish Welfare. http://www.upm.es/sfs/E.T.S.I.%20Agronomos/ACTUALIDADES/Agenda/Documentos/Abstracts_01_02_2011.pdf
I have no expertise in circus animal welfare but I am not interested in watching animals paraded for sport. The footage is older but again using animals for pure entertainment doesn’t appeal to me at all.
I struggle with zoos as they provide excellent education opportunities for children and scientific research. Again, this is out of my scope of expertise. I do know that some are much better than others. For example in Winnipeg MB, the polar bear exhibit is 10 acres and designed extensively for the bears. The bear that are in the facility are bears that are trapped in Churchill repeatedly for coming to the town or in the case of Star and Blizzard, they are cubs that were found after their mother either abandoned them or perished. http://www.assiniboineparkzoo.ca/conservation-research/polar-bear-transition.php
I don’t agree with killing for sport and can’t support this industry at all.
I believe using animals for medical research is acceptable if they are cared for appropriated. There are standards of care for lab animals. The Canadian Council for Animal Care set the regulatory guidelines for animals used for research in Canada http://www.ccac.ca/en_/standards/guidelines.
My final comments
This production was highly funded by animal rights organizations whose sole intent is cease animal agriculture. The footage is old and much of it was from foreign countries. It is disturbing to see any animals treated poorly. I firmly believe in North America, there is small minority of livestock producers that are not caring for animals. I also believe that as a parent, if you followed me around for months at a time, you would see some time that I do not behave well, but that is not reflective of who I am as a parent. The same can be said of some of the animal rights footage in the media nowadays.
As a farmer, I believe in the concept of “Duty of Care.” I believe the livestock production is a solid component of our food system that utilizes inputs that are unfit for human consumption and convert them into high quality protein. On our farm we care and respect for our stock as best as possible while we raise them and then they are slaughtered using the most humane possible.
For more information on farming in Canada, I’d recommend the Real Dirt on Farming Resource from Farm and Food Care Canada:
Or visit a local farmer!