Lessons from my pig Winnie
The Boston Globe March 19, 2005




By Sondra S. Crosby


WHERE DO respect and dignity for life begin and end? This question

was raised during a family vacation at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins

Glen, N.Y. For the last four years, we have been sponsoring a pig

that narrowly escaped someone's outdoor barbecue. She jumped the

fence and ran the streets of New York until she was captured. She was

frightened, injured, and starving and taken to the safe haven at the

Farm Sanctuary. She was given the name ''Winnie."


I am a physician, and have made a commitment to reducing suffering.

How then can I stand by and watch the unnecessary suffering of many

farm animals destined for human consumption? Where does one draw the

line at what practices are acceptable? How does one define a sentient

being? Our visit to the Farm Sanctuary and spending time with Winnie

helped my family and me put these questions in perspective.


The human impact of factory farming should alarm us all. Human Rights

Watch recently reported that meatpacking is the most dangerous

factory job in America. Workers are injured at extraordinary high

rates and often denied compensation. Immigrant workers are frequently

exploited to work under such horrific conditions, and employers take

advantage of their undocumented status and fear of deportation to

keep them quiet. At a minimum, federal and state laws need to enforce

protection of all workers in this industry, without regard to

immigration status.


Factory farming hurts our environment. Natural resources are depleted

when wetlands, forests, and wildlife habitats are decimated to grow

the grain necessary for factory farms. Agricultural runoff and the

vast amount of manure produced by large numbers of animals confined

in small areas are not only detrimental to our water supply but toxic

to fish and other aquatic life. Shouldn't we be utilizing our natural

resources more efficiently to produce food?


There is evidence that a plant-based diet is more healthful than an

animal-based diet, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes,

and certain cancers. The factory farming industry also uses drugs,

hormones, and other chemicals to enhance animal ''production," a

practice that potentially causes detrimental health effects in

humans. But I want to tell the stories of the animals.


I learned about ''downed animals" at the Farm Sanctuary. ''Downed

animals" is the term given to those animals in stockyards that become

too sick and weak to walk. Once they fall down, they are often denied

food and water. Although they may still be alive, they are often

treated as though they were dead. They are moved with forklifts or

tractors that can break bones. Sometimes they are thrown away. Downed

animals experience unimaginable suffering because there are no

adequate laws protecting them.


I also learned about the painful procedures pigs are subjected to by

the industry -- for example, having their tails cut off without

anesthesia, and being overcrowded in small pens with concrete floors.

Pigs remain in these conditions until slaughter at about 6 months of

age. The air is noxious and even workers suffer respiratory diseases.

Diseases such as salmonellosis are rampant. Breeding sows are

confined in small pens and live a constant cycle of impregnation and

birth, and they are often denied straw bedding. They suffer their

whole life, then are sent to slaughter when they are not productive

breeders. Hogs are hung upside down, their throats are cut, and they

bleed to death. They are supposed to be ''stunned" first; however

this practice is imprecise. If stabbing is unsuccessful, the pig will

be dropped in scalding water to be boiled alive.


Billions of chickens are crammed into cages so small they can't move.

We saw examples of these cages at the farm. Food birds (chickens and

turkeys) have been genetically altered to grow beyond their

biological limits. The heart and lungs are not well developed enough

to support the remainder of the body, so some die of congestive heart

failure, in addition to the many that suffer crippling leg disorders

during life because their legs won't support their genetically

altered weight.


In the slaughterhouse, fully conscious birds are hung upside down by

metal shackles on a moving rail. The birds' heads are submerged in an

electrified bath of water. This is supposed to render them

unconscious. However, often the electricity is lower than required

because of concerns that too much electricity will damage the

carcass. Many birds are immobilized, but still capable of feeling

pain. Their throats are then slashed on the assembly line. The next

stop is the scalding tank. Commonly, birds are dunked alive. This

results in the birds flopping, kicking, and screaming, their eyeballs

popping out of their heads. They emerge with broken bones and are



It is easier not to consider how the flesh has arrived at your plate,

and, surely this is what the farming industry prefers.


What are the alternatives? Meat would be more expensive and less

accessible if factory farming were abolished. Land used inefficiently

to grow grain for the agriculture business could be used to grow

human food. I can't think of any good reason to eat meat, but those

who do should insist on strict enforcement of humane conditions for

the animals and workers in the industry.


I applaud the small gains made in the legislative arena regarding

gestation crates, veal crates, downed animals, and foie gras, and

hope this reflects an increasing concern for farm animal welfare.


Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote, ''Until he extends the circle of

compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."

Humankind has a long journey toward this goal.


- Sondra S. Crosby is an internist with the Boston Center for Refugee

Health and Human Rights at Boston Medical Center.