Widening the Circle of Compassion, by Glenn Grodin

Glenn Grodin (1961 – 1995), a Pittsburgh-based animal rights and social justice activist, was a source of inspiration for many people in our area and a forerunner in perceiving the close connection between the fields of animal and social justice activism.  This holiday season, with its focus on giving and compassion, is a good time to reflect on the ways in which we can extend our compassion to all creatures: the ones who share our homes, who live in our backyards, those behind closed doors in laboratories, and also the ones to be found in factory farms and slaughterhouses hidden from view. Glenn’s article focuses particularly on this latter group. Although the article was written in the 90s, it’s sad to note that conditions for most farm animals remain the same.


Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.  Albert Schweitzer

The peace and justice community is unified by a stated faith in non-violence which is foremost a rejection of a “might makes right” philosophy. Often we don’t consider the impact of violence on the vast majority of the world’s sentient creatures, the animals. As animals have the capacity to feel pain and to experience suffering, we cannot justly ignore their plight. Therefore, Gandhi’s statement that “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated” must be interpreted as a call to action. We inflict the greatest suffering on animals via food production, thus our diet offers each of us the opportunity for making a significant impact. An understanding of the current conditions of food-producing animals and suggestions for actions follow.

Consumption of animal products

The majority of animals destined for the losing end of our silverware are now raised on factory farms. Factory farming or intensive farming systems raise animals indoors where every aspect of their environment is manipulated, without any concern for animal welfare, in order to incur the minimum cost and to achieve the maximum profit. In the U.S., animals used for food production are exempted from anti-cruelty laws. Not surprisingly, these conditions are ingredients for a recipe of violence.


These animal rights people like to accuse us of mistreating our stock, but we believe we can be most efficient by not being emotional. Henry Race, livestock auction owner.

A federal law passed in 1906 placed minimum standards of care for cattle shipped by railroad. Cattle are almost always trucked since such shipments remain exempt. Typically, these trucks are poorly ventilated – stifling hot in the summer, and ice cold in the winter. As a result, animals often collapse and die from heat prostration and severe dehydration or freeze to death. As cattle are ruminants, they require a constant supply of food and water to remain healthy but, during shipping, they may spend up to three days without any food or water. Shipping deaths are commonly caused by “shipping fever” (a type of pneumonia) or from suffocation as a result of animals falling on top of each other when trucks pass curves. Many are so bruised or crippled that they must be carried or dragged off the truck.

On arrival to the feed lot, the survivors are dipped in a bath of insecticides, and often castrated since steers develop more body fat yielding a higher price. They may also be de-horned (often causing hemorrhages, maggot infestations, and infections) and branded all without the benefit of anesthesia.

Cattle spend their lives in crowded feed lots. In order to achieve maximum profit, the industry is approaching allowing only 14 square feet per animal (imagine 13 half ton steers in a 12′ by 15′ bedroom).

Cattle are fed an unnatural diet of high-bulk grains and other fillers including sawdust laced with ammonia and feathers, processed sewage, poultry litter, and cement dust to fatten the animals as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Cattle are usually transported to another state for slaughter in metal trucks and are generally not fed nor given water during their final 48 hours of life as this would “unduly” increase costs. Slaughtering is no more humane – animals shot with captive bolt pistols are often injured but not knocked out, only to suffer being hoisted upside down by one leg (which can break bones, dislocate joints, and tear muscles, tendons, and ligaments) and having their throats cut. Many animals regain their consciousness during the slaughter process. Under the kosher slaughter process, animals are fully conscious when their throats are cut and as they bleed to death.

Veal calves

Calves raised for veal, the male offspring of dairy cows, are taken from their mothers within 48 hours of birth and placed in a “veal crate” – a stall with slatted floors which is so small that the calf is soon too large to turn around. In four months, the calf will grow to an average of 350 pounds, but will remain in a 22″ by 54″ stall smaller than the trunk of the smallest car. There they spend their entire lives – 23 hours a day in darkness, without companionship While their mothers’ milk is consumed by humans, calves are fed an iron-poor gruel which, in addition to the animals inability to exercise produce anemia which yields a pale flesh which gourmet diners demand. As a result of their diets and living conditions, calves must be fed enormous amounts of antibiotics and other drugs to keep them alive. Nonetheless, many suffer from pneumonia, diarrhea, and other diseases, and ten percent die in confinement. When the survivors are slaughtered at 16 weeks of age, many are too ill to walk.

Dairy cows

Dairy cows normally live 20 to 25 years, but few live to age four in modern factory farms where over 60% are confined. These gentle animals are sentenced to confinement in concrete stalls, or to a life on a slatted metal floor which stresses her legs and feet. Her babies are taken away within hours of their birth for the benefit of the only animal who drinks the milk of another animal or drinks milk after weaning. Male offspring are destined to become veal, females will be raised as dairy cows. As a result of unnatural breeding practices including being kept pregnant all the time and from being denied exercise, dairy cows must often be kept on tranquilizers to settle an animal who is by nature incredibly calm and patient. In 1993, the U.S. government approved the use of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) which increases milk yield up to 40%. BGH also causes further stress to the joints, increased incidence of infection and inflammation of the udder, enlargement of internal organs, and increased intolerance to heat. Dairy cows can be shocked by stray voltage while on milking machines. As a result, some cows have reportedly defecated or urinated from fear at the site of these machines. Subsequent to slaughter, most dairy cow flesh is processed into hamburgers.

Chickens and their eggs

Feather-pecking and cannibalism easily become serious vices among birds kept under intensive conditions. They mean lower productivity and lost profits. The Farming Express (2/1/62)

Chickens are genetically engineered into two classes – layers and broilers. At the hatcheries, male chicks which are hatched from layers are thrown away in plastic bags where they suffocate since they are not genetically appropriate to become broilers. Five or six egg layers typically live in a 14-inch square mesh cage which is too small for the average bird with a 30″ wingspan to stretch even one wing. Natural instincts including scratching the ground, dust bathing, building nests, and forming pecking orders are frustrated. Flock sizes in a typical egg factory may exceed 80,000; chickens have “only” demonstrated the capability to form pecking orders for 90 birds.

Excrement is allowed to fall to the floor where it may pile up for months and onto other hens in cages stacked below. Layers are de-beaked and sometimes de-clawed without anesthesia to keep the panicked animals from killing each other. Many de-beaked birds die of thirst or hunger since they are unable to drink or eat due to irregular beak growth. The wire mesh of the cages rubs their feathers off, chafes their skin, and cripples their feet. As hens lack the benefit of walking on solid ground to wear down their toenails, their feet can become permanently entangled with the bottom of the cage. Twenty percent die of stress or disease, the remainder are slaughtered before reaching two years of age. Broiler chickens are raised in crowded, windowless sheds either on the floor or in tiers of cages. Food, water, and lighting are manipulated to achieve maximum weight gain with minimum feed and expense. A three and one half pound chicken may have less space than half the page you are now reading. So unsanitary are their living conditions that, despite the heavy use of antibiotics, one of three becomes infected with salmonella. They are slaughtered at the age of nine weeks. Turkeys, geese, and ducks are now typically raised in the same manner.


Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory. Hog Farm Management, 9/76

Pigs have an intelligence superior to that of dogs and thus suffer largely from boredom in a factory farm setting. Contrary to stereotypes, they are neither filthy nor gluttonous. In todays’ intensive confinement systems, pigs often are relegated to life in a stall, which is less than a third of the size of a twin sized bed.

skeletons. Straw or other bedding is rarely provided due to its cost. Pigs have highly developed senses of smell and thus greatly suffer by exposure to ammonia, methane, and hydrogen sulfide gases produced by

their excrement which is rarely removed. Where pigs are not placed in stalls, they are typically subject to tail-docking without anesthesia since pigs in the unnatural setting of a factory farm are so emotionally disturbed that they are prone to biting off the tails of other pigs. Many suffer from Porcine Strain Syndrome which is characterized by rigidity, blotchy skin, panting, anxiety, and often by sudden death. Diets include raw poultry and pig manure, and 80% of the animals suffer from stomach ulcers, dysentery, cholera, or

trichinosis at the time of slaughter. Pigs must be forced off the truck at the slaughterhouse with blows or electric shocks. Some stunned pigs regain consciousness during slaughter.


Because fish don’t show their pain in the same manner as mammals do, many are unaware that they experience pain at all. Fish share our basic structure of centrally organized nerve pathways, and researchers have demonstrated that they evidence pain through vocalizations inaudible to our ears. When fish violently flap around upon removal for water they are evidencing their suffering – they suffocate as their gills are unable to extract oxygen from the air – much as we suffer upon drowning. Despite the increase in the availability of “dolphin safe” tuna, most commercial fishing continues to be by drift nets up to 35 miles long. Many non-target animals are drown (dolphins, whales, birds, sea turtles), as do non-target fish which are generally thrown back into the water. Hooking is extremely painful to fish as their lips, tongues, and mouths are nerve centers. Fishes thrown back after being hooked are extremely vulnerable to infection and predation and have trouble gathering food and building nests.

The non-violent alternative

It is our actions which count. Thoughts, however good in themselves, are like false pearls unless they are translated into action. Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi

A person who knowingly is party to inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on a feeling being cannot truthfully lay claim to a dedication to non-violence. Becoming a vegetarian is the single most significant step one can take in our society to forego contributing to violence. Even the most humane farming system for animals incorporates violence – at the very least, the unnecessary killing of another being to satisfy a fleeting taste for flesh is undeniably violent and unjust. Two billion of the world’s citizens are vegetarians, and few have anywhere near our access to a varied plant-based diet. Many become vegetarians in stages – first cutting down on and/or eliminating selected animal products from their diets. Some eventually become total vegetarians or vegans who attempt to refrain from the eating or wearing of all animal products, from patronizing animal-based entertainment, and from using products that were cruelly tested on animals. Any reduction in one’s usage of animals is a valuable contribution towards embracing a non-violent lifestyle. Many resources are available to those who wish to pursue vegetarianism.

Libraries, bookstores, health food stores, co-ops, and vegetarian and animal rights groups are excellent sources of vegetarian cookbooks. The latter groups can provide guidance and support in becoming a vegetarian. With the wide availability of commercial, ethnic, and health food stores and co-ops, obtaining vegetarian foods should not be a problem. For those wishing to promote vegetarian and non-violence, there are numerous opportunities. Share information on animal abuse with others and contact local and/or national vegetarian and animals rights groups for ideas.

Suggested reading

The Animal Manifesto – Marc Bekoff

Empty Cages – Tom Regan

Diet for a Small Planet – Frances Moore Lappé

E Magazine December 2001 and June 2008








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