And on that farm he had some cage-free chickens

My first Guest Post -- Elinor Actipis is an animal activist with an apartment full of bats and cats and a twitter account that's gaining momentum. She's living proof that once in a while dyed-in-the-wool right wingers can be the most caring and generous people around. Read on for simple ways to help farm animals lead better lives.-RF


Rachel has been kind enough to let me guest blog on a subject we both care a lot about: animal welfare. I am in the process of learning more about the cause and figuring out what I can do to help. While there are many important issues—wildlife habitat protection, animal testing, pet overpopulation, etc.—what speaks to me most is the plight of farm animals. I believe that most people are not cruel and would genuinely be shocked at what goes on in intensive confinement operations, a.k.a. factory farms.

Want to help but don’t have a ton of time or a high level of commitment? That’s OK. Here are some easy (repeat: EASY) ways to help these animals.

1. Have a basic understanding of the issues.

It is genuinely awful to contemplate what farm animals go through before they reach our plates, but it is also important to have some knowledge and not dissociate.

In the US alone, 10 billion animals a year are raised and killed for meat, dairy, and eggs—and the vast majority of them spend their short lives confined in “animal factories”, not picturesque farms. This number is so huge as to be unfathomable, so instead of 10 billion, try to picture one pig—just one pig who lives out the majority of her life in a metal gestation crate so small she can’t even turn around, pumping out litter after litter of piglets who are taken from her, before she is brutally slaughtered.

Don’t care about pigs? Imagine your beloved dog or cat living in a filthy cage with no sunlight or room to turn around, and wire mesh damaging his paws; the dog would suffer and the pig suffers just as much. You’d be locked up for treating a dog this way, so why is it legal for farm animals?

2. Make small changes.

Consumer behavior is a hugely important driver of change, so vote with your dollars (or lack thereof!). I’ve also found that making small changes leads to bigger ones. For example, I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since I was a teenager, but reducing dairy consumption seemed insurmountable: how would I do without half and half in my coffee? Also, not having milk in my cereal seemed gross for some reason. I finally told myself to stop being ridiculous and sampled soy milk. Guess what? It wasn’t bad at all, and I made the switch. Then I experimented and discovered I like almond milk even more. Now I’ve significantly reduced dairy, and milk (a.k.a. cow squirt) is what seems gross!

Some other easy switches:

This is a huge one—only buy cage-free eggs. [And no, organic does NOT mean cage-free.] 97% of egg-laying hens are crammed into massive warehouses with stacks of battery cages the size of a piece of a paper for their whole lives. They are de-beaked because the stress of confinement causes aggression. We can do better than this.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s sell only cage-free; elsewhere, shop carefully. Certified Humane is a highly respected label that indicates a humanely sourced product. Look for the blue and green label, or click here to find humane brands in your area.

Meatless Mondays Do you eat meat daily? OK, then, try to give it up just one day a week. Inspiration and recipes here. Starting small leads to big changes over time.

3. Don’t get overwhelmed.

While a shocking amount of violence goes on, I strongly believe we’re near a turning point. Most encouragingly, and due to strong citizen support, California, Michigan, and Ohio have put laws on the books phasing out the most egregious practices (e.g., battery cages for hens, tiny crates for veal calves, etc.). This is sending a strong message to the entrenched agriculture interests that people are NOT in favor of the current “anything goes” policies.

4. Support the Humane Society of the United States

Donate money and support what I believe is the most effective advocate for farm animals in the United States. The HSUS has been behind much of the recent legislation improving the lot of farm animals and has agri-business running scared. They also work with large corporations to effect change on a huge scale. For example, Compass, the world’s leading foodservice company, switched to cage-free eggs in 2007, creating demand for tens of millions of cage-free eggs.

I follow the Humane Society closely and am incredibly impressed by their leadership and effectiveness on behalf of ALL ANIMALS. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them.

Want to learn more? Some good overviews can be found here:

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production

The Humane Society’s Report on Factory Farming

A Hen’s Space to Roost


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post.
    While most farm animals existence is endless misery, research institutions establish strong safeguards to insure that animals do not suffer unnecessarily, a protocol required by federal funding agencies such as NIH. Why are the requirements of the USDA, which I believe has responsibility for farm animals, so careless even as other federal agencies (with oversight of far fewer animals) so careful?

  2. Hi, good question and I'm not sure of the full answer, but did a little googling. According to the USDA: "Farm Animals are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) only when used in biomedical research, testing, teaching and exhibition. Farm animals used for food and fiber or for food and fiber research are not regulated under the AWA." Basically, there are VERY few regulations on the books for farm animals. There is progress on the state-level, nothing on the national level. If we're using animals for research there are regulations; if we're eating them, little to nothing. This is what keeps me up nights!

  3. Elinor - I'd be curious to hear an update on your vegan month. Share some stories about Soy Dream with us.


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