The horrible toll taken by Hurricane Irene doesn’t end with the suffering of people. And it hasn’t ended with the crises of their pets, either. One less-reported facet of the storm has been the deaths and misery of factory-farmed animals.
A reason may perhaps be that animal agribusiness is accustomed to having huge numbers of animals periodically perish in disasters; it’s just part of the hazard of overcrowding vast sums of animals in cages or warehouses. And every time huge numbers of animals are killed—whether from tornados, fires, roof collapses, or otherwise—the industry’s response is generally not exactly filled with empathy for the victims.
While tens of thousands of factory-farmed chickens in Delaware were killed by Irene, Maryland’s agriculture secretary Earl Hance put it bluntly, saying: ”Overall Maryland livestock fared well with no significant loss. For the poultry industry… the storm killed about 30,000 birds in Maryland.”
Later reports questioned the accuracy of the 30,000 statistic, but the fact that Secretary Hance believed 30,000 animals had perished in the storm and found it so insignificant speaks volumes. Only in industrialized factory farming would anyone consider the deaths of 30,000 animals “no significant loss.” Only in a system of agribusiness that treats individual animals with so little regard could such a dramatic and lamentable event be rendered so minor.
Thirty thousand is the approximate number of birds you’d find in a typical production shed confining chickens for meat, so presumably one facility had a power outage, flooding, or some other storm-related problem that led to the demise of all the animals in that building.
We have to ask ourselves: Had the victims been tens of thousands of dogs and cats on pet breeding facilities, would the secretary of agriculture have been so nonchalant in his characterization of the situation? Is our view of chickens—who are social, intelligent animals capable of suffering—so dim that we’ve come to regard their suffering and death as no significant loss at all?