The moment the brand hits my skin, I can’t help but think of them. Him cramped in a metal cell, absolutely terrified, the barrel of a gun to his temple. Her crying out as her child is ripped away from her moments after his birth, the third child of hers taken from her this way. And here I lie, face down on the cold earth, my head freshly shorn of its mid-back-length hair, my side literally on fire as the brand melts through layers of my flesh.
I’ve gotten off easy.
Unlike me, they weren’t so lucky. Unlike me, they lost their lives.
In the United States alone, 8.3 billion animals were killed for food in 2012, according to the USDA’s National Agriculture’s Statistics Service. Given this data does not include fish, marine animals, crustaceans, rabbits, other farmed animals, or animals killed for their fur or other “by-products,” this figure is a gross underestimation.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jewish Author and Nobel Laureate wrote, “in relation to them [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.” Theodor Adorno, German Jewish philosopher, sociologist, and musicologist, stated, “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they are only animals.”
This is a global holocaust beyond the scale of recorded history: In the split second the brand is touching my skin, 263.2 animals in the US and 4,756.5 animals worldwide lose their lives.
It is January 27th, 2013, the day designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. On this day in Iowa City, Iowa, at approximately 8 a.m., I am branded with a steel cattle iron in front of a rusted shed by a desolate railroad track.
On October 2, 2012, three vegan activists in Israel were branded with the number 269 in a public square in Tel Aviv. Having visited an Israeli factory farm and encountered a calf tagged with the industry-given number of 269, these activists had themselves branded in the traditional fire-heated method long employed by the farming industry. The manifesto of their organization 269life, states, “The branding of the calf’s number, chosen by the industry to be ‘269,’ is for us an act of solidarity and immortalization. We hope to be able to raise awareness and empathy towards those whose cries of terror and pain are only heard by steel bars and the blood stained walls of the slaughterhouses.”
I contacted Sasha Boojor, one of 269life’s founders, and discussed the possibility of staging an event in Iowa City. As a resident of Iowa, I am painfully aware that I live in the heart of industrial farming and agriculture. Out of the over 10,000,000 pigs that were slaughtered in November 2012, 2,700,000 of them were killed in Iowa, a total well over two times that of the next highest state.
The center of the United States is the historical source of factory farming as we know it. Born in Chicago in the days of Sinclair’s The Jungle, and “perfected” to a horrific efficiency decades later in Denison, Iowa by Iowa Beef Packers (IBP), assembly-line slaughter is a product of the American Midwest. Henry Ford himself found the inspiration for his automobile factory in the efficiency of a Chicago beef plant.
As with every industry, the faster the line moves, the more product produced, the higher the profit. Only here, “product” is the flesh of living beings, who are “produced” by violent slaughter for profit. The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966 and enforced by the USDA, “regulates the care and treatment of warm-blooded animals, except those (such as farm animals) that are used for food, fiber, or other agricultural purposes” [emphasis added]. Coldblooded animals, such as snakes and alligators, are also exempt from the act’s protection.
These are the arbitrary distinctions we make for who deserves safety, for who deserves to live. As a species, we have long drawn hard distinctions between races, genders, classes, and other perceived boundaries within humanity. With time, this hierarchical structure has proved to be arbitrary, abusive, and unjust. How, then, are the distinctions between the human animal and other feeling, sentient animals any more valid, any less arbitrary? Are not they simply the unjust hierarchy of our present day?
The apparent gulf we place between the slaughterhouse and the Holocaust can also be seen as a forced distinction. In his book Eternal Treblinka, Holocaust scholar Dr. Charles Patterson draws connections between our treatment of animals and the Holocaust. He speaks with Holocaust survivors, who tell how their experience of suffering drove them to animal activism.
In the four months of planning for my own branding, I was faced with many challenges. The event was originally supposed to take place in front of the Old Capitol building in downtown Iowa City, now owned by the University of Iowa. Once contacted by the press, the University pulled the permit I had secured in the previous months, stating my event violated their policy against “bodily harm.”
Viewer caution: Scenes in this video may be disturbing.
I also had multiple participants back out of the project altogether. The original individual on board to film the event emailed me one morning saying he was uncomfortable being a part of something during which I would be injured and suffer, and he could not participate any further. There were also legal and real medical concerns that frightened people. In Iowa winter weather, there is always risk of hypothermia and frostbite. And, in all reality, I would be receiving a first-degree burn.
My response to this apprehension and disapproval was, “That is exactly what this event is about!” All the fear and concern for me, for ourselves, for the legal aspects and the possible outrage the event would cause, it was all for an act that is done to millions of animals every day. Why is it so objectionable against the human animal but not them? Their capacity to emote is no less than ours. Does a steer awaiting slaughter not smell the blood and fear of those before him? Does a mother cow not cry out when her child is taken from her moments after birth? Does a baby chick not feel pain as her beak is cut off without anesthesia? Or a young pig as he is castrated while fully conscious? We cannot hear their cries and see their eyes fill with terror and say they are separate from us. Fear is Fear. Blood is Blood. Suffering is Suffering.
I think we should all feel how those who declined to participate and the University officials who pulled my permit felt about this event. Only we should extend this feeling to all the beings who are subjected to this and more every day. What I went through is not even close to a fraction of the horrors the animals experience. I don’t see a distinction between them and myself, save for one crucial difference: I have a choice. I get to go home.
I get to live.
Emily Moran Barwick
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
About the Writer
Emily Moran Barwick earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 2012. Read more of Moran’s comments about her branding in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
Californians recently passed an historic proposition that provides a higher quality-of-life standard for farm animals. Proposition 2 (“Prop 2”), also referred to as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, prohibits the containment of farm animals in a way that does not allow them to “lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs.”
For the first time in the United States, this proposition will ban battery cages for egg-laying hens, giving farmers until 2015 to update their facilities. The battery cage confinement system is considered to be an inhumane practice that has generated controversy among animal welfare and animal rights advocates because it does not provide hens with sufficient space to stand, walk, flap their wings, perch, or make a nest.
Gestation crates for sows and crates for veal calves will also be banned. Such crates prohibit free movement. Any person who violates the conditions of the act will be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment in county jail for up to six months.
Paul Schapiro, Senior Director of the Factory Farming Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, said that this act is a huge step in the animal rights movement. “This will set our nation on a new trajectory — away from some of the most cruel and inhumane practices associated with factory farming.” he said.
As a way to acquire support for the proposition, Mercy For Animals conducted an undercover investigation of Norco Ranch in Southern California that showcases the living environment for hens in factory egg farming.
Californians for SAFE (safe, affordable, and fresh eggs) Food attacked the ballot measure in an official statement, saying that those in support of Prop 2 “led an emotionally manipulative, dishonest, and often deceptive campaign.” The group opposed the proposition partially out of concern that egg prices would skyrocket in California, forcing a reliance on out-of-state and foreign egg imports, according to their website.
But since more than a third of eggs consumed in California already come from out-of-state producers, the statute would cause “little, if any, cost increase” for consumers, according to a study by the University of California, Davis Agricultural Issues Center. The rest of the country’s egg producers would have to switch to battery-free egg collection methods before there would be an impact on prices, according to Daniel Sumner, director of the center.
Californians for SAFE Food could not be reached for further comment.
Schapiro said soon all consumers will begin to realize that there is a hidden cost to mass production animal factory farming, which includes continued animal cruelty as well as health and environmental setbacks.
According to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other transportation combined. Factory farming in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has also been criticized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental risks, such as increased threat of groundwater contamination due to the disposal of animal waste in lagoons. Yet, the United Nations report also says, if farm animals are not confined to small spaces, some of these environmental concerns may be alleviated.
Prop 2 passed with 63.2 percent of votes, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office. Casey Piller, 20, of Burbank, CA voted yes on the ballot initiative because, she says, farm animals are treated inhumanely. Piller says she would be willing to risk rising prices for eggs, milk, or meat if it ensured that animals had a better life. “It’s selfish for us to be so cheap that we are willing to subject these animals to [inhumane treatment] for years,” she said.
Despite Prop 2 improving conditions for animals and limiting the negative environmental impact of factory farming, Schapiro told Blue Planet Green Living that the animal rights movement still has “a far way to go” before farm animals are treated humanely. “No one law can address every issue,” he said. “There are a multitude of other problems that farm animals must face, whether it is mutilation without any painkiller, or whether it is inhumane selective-breeding programs that eventually turn these animals into meat-, egg-, or dairy-producing machines.”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)