At the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a laboratory in Nebraska where scientists focus on ways that the meat industry can produce the most meat — through surgery and breeding techniques — the health and wellbeing of those animals (pigs, cattle, and sheep) is of “pebble-sized concern,” in the words of James Keen, a scientist and veterinarian who has worked at the center for the last 24 years.
A newly published, detailed investigation conducted by The New York Times finds that, in search of bigger profits and better ways to reach consumers, the treatment of the livestock under the care of this institution — a taxpayer-funded “complex of laboratories and pastures that sprawls over 55 square miles” — is appallingly bad.
According to The New York Times, the cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been “retooled” to carry twins or triplets, which then “emerge weakened or deformed,” and pigs, which normally carry eight piglets but now carry up to 14, have often crushed their newborns because they are “too frail or crowded to move.” Newborn lambs, born into open fields because shelters are costly, are often killed by “predators, harsh weather, and starvation.”
All this in service of profitable developments like bigger lamb chops, leaner pork loins, and steak that is easier to chew. Another battle the center faces is the American diet itself, which has shifted toward poultry, fish, and produce in recent years.
The consideration of the animals’ pain, in comparison, has been of relatively low priority. In fact, documents that detail lab protocol spend little to no space considering animal suffering — in an examination of 850 experimental protocols conducted at the lab since 1985, the word “pain” comes up just twice. Meanwhile, the words “profit” and “production efficiency” appear 111 times.
Once, after prominent animal welfare researcher Temple Grandin visited the center in the late ‘80s and recommended more humane treatment options, a cattle supervisor responded by tearing up the report, according to The New York Times.
Sherrill E. Echternkamp, a scientist who retired from the center in 2013, told The New York Times, “It’s not a perfect world. We are trying to feed a population that is expanding very rapidly, to nine billion by 2050, and if we are going to feed that population, there are some trade-offs.”
Read the New York Times investigation online and be prepared for some graphic imagery ahead.