“But there are farms in this country, and more of them all the time, where animals lead very happy lives, and have one bad day.” -Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan made that statement on the February 1, 2011 Oprah episode, “Oprah and 378 Staffers Go Vegan: The One-Week Challenge.”

Since the show aired, I haven’t stopped thinking about that phrase:  One bad day.

Getting slaughtered for no good reason certainly qualifies as a bad day.

But, does Michael Pollan really believe the fantasy that animals raised and “harvested” on small farms only have one bad day?

When a heifer or cow gives birth and her baby is taken away…does that count as a bad day?  When she gets her supernumerary teats removed or her udders “flamed” (to remove udder hair) does that count as a bad day?  When a cow gets painful mastitis or laminitis, does that add more days to the “bad” column?

For “beef” cattle…Is the day of castration a bad day?  Disbudding?  Branding?  For pigs…Is the day of tooth/tusk trimming, ear tagging, tail docking, and castration a bad day?  Just because it’s “routine husbandry practice” doesn’t mean that it’s not painful.

Now– and this might be difficult, but let’s try– let’s estimate the number of “bad days” for egg laying hens, for chickens raised for meat (i.e “broilers”) and for turkeys, all within the “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” label.  You can download the actual Standards documents here.

“Certified Humane” Eggs…

  • “The Animal Care Standards for Laying Hens do not require that hens have access to range.”  (2009 Standards Manual: Egg Laying Hens)
  • Minimum stocking density requirements:  1 square foot to 1 1/2 square feet per hen.  (E 16: Stocking Density).
  • Cannibalism is a common problem for “cage-free” housing (i.e. “one big cage” instead of separate battery cages).
  • Beak trimming/tipping is permitted preventatively in “flocks that are susceptible to outbreaks of cannibalism.” (H 6: Physical alterations)
  • Other problems:  significant feather loss and fowl mite infestation.

“Certified Humane” Chickens…

How many bad days are we up to?  Or– for birds– does all this simply add up to one bad life?  Humane?

Look…let’s stop pretending that animal agriculture– of the variety that Michael Pollan likes to promote (i.e. “happy meat”)– is a “one bad day” scenario.  One can only make such a statement out of ignorance.

BUT…Even if animals only endured one bad day, I still believe that’s one bad day too many.  Why kill if it’s unnecessary?  We don’t need to eat eggs, chickens and turkeys.  We don’t need to eat pigs and cows.  We don’t need to consume milk from cows and cheese from goats or sheep.

How would you like it if someone decided to kill you?  Is that okay?  After all, you “led a good life, and it’s just one bad day.”  

I don’t see how it can be justifiable to treat animals differently than we would like ourselves treated.  Animals value their lives just like we do.  No one wants to have bad days, and certainly not bad days that can be prevented.

[You can hear Michael Pollan’s statement with your own ears by listening to Episode 46 of the Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals podcastJ.W. provides excellent commentary on that Oprah show episode.  Michael Pollan’s statement is 1 hour, 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the podcast.]