by Laura Dilley and Matt Krom
The MIT Vegetarian Support Group and Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (SETA) jointly staffed a booth in the Student Center on Monday to celebrate World Vegetarian Day and observe World Farm Animals Day. The booth included free vegetarian food samples, provided by MIT Food Services. The groups passed out information on factory farming and screened John Robbins' video "Diet for a New America". A related local event on Monday was a panel discussion on vegetarianism sponsored by the Boston Vegetarian Society. According to Evelyn Kimber, Boston Vegetarian Society president, education is the aim of their outreach events. "[We hope] to bring greater public awareness to the many benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle-spiritually, ethically, health wise, and environmentally," Kimber said. World Vegetarian Day is held annually on the first day of October as a worldwide celebration for vegetarians. The day was established in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society, and is intended to promote the joy, compassion, and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism. "World Vegetarian Day is a celebration, life-affirming," Lawrence Carter, volunteer at Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM), said. "World Farm Animals Day is the other side of the coin." World Farm Animals Day, held annually on October second, is sponsored by FARM, a Bethesda, Maryland-based non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating and eliminating animal abuse. The purpose of World Farm Animals Day, according to FARM, is to expose as many people as possible to the suffering of farm animals and related damage to the environment and human health. The day was first observed in 1983 as a grass-roots outreach event and has grown to include over 250 observances nationwide this year. "Factory farming" is the name given to the method of producing animals for food in which cost is minimized and profits are maximized, to the detriment of animal and human health. Factory farming has come to be the main method of meat production in the US-essentially replacing small, family-owned farms. Nearly all of the nation's meat, milk, and eggs are now produced using this approach. In contrast to images of green pastures, barnyards, and pigpens, today's farms are made of concrete and steel, and today's farm animals are given doses of drugs on a daily basis, cramped, mutilated, and abused. Such extravagances as bedding and natural light have been eliminated from the lives of these animals. Farm animals are specifically excluded from all humane legislation at both state and federal levels, according to FARM. Several books have sought to increase awareness of the animal abuses inherent in factory farming, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book "Diet for a New America," by John Robbins (Stillpoint, 1987). According to the book, the efforts to maximize production have resulted in the exhausting of animals' natural capacities for growth and reproduction. Chickens, for example, are kept in mesh cages that restrict their movement. These conditions breed stress and disease, and the birds often react by mutilating or killing each other. The conditions are ideal for the spread of many diseases, including salmonella. Farmers have resorted to treating chicken feed with doses of antibiotics, which weaken the natural immune systems of the chickens and cause antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to appear, thus compounding the problem. A vicious cycle emerges, in which stressed animals living in diseased environments are drugged, engendering ultimately more stress and disease. The trade journal Poultry Science reported that 90% of the dressed product from a poultry processing plant was contaminated with salmonellosis. Instances of animals attacking each other as a result of their inhumane treatment has become commonplace. For instance, pigs have been known to bite at each others' tails and rears, sometimes killing each other. The standard practice to deal with this problem is to cut the pigs' tails off. Another "preventive" measure used to keep chickens from pecking one another to death is "debeaking," or cutting off the birds' beaks at birth. Painful growths result, which render some birds unable to eat. The form of observance of World Farm Animals Day is left completely up to the individual action sites, according to Carter. Observances in larger cities have included funeral processions in New York City and Washington, D.C., and candlelight vigils outside slaughterhouses and the US Department of Agriculture. One former livestock raiser in Knoxville, Tennessee, performs a dramatization of Abraham Lincoln reading an emancipation proclamation-for the animals. All concerned would like to see legislation enacted to protect farm animals. "The easiest kind of reforms are the individual reforms," Carter said. "[This happens] if someone becomes aware of the pain that goes into that food, and looks at the subsidies that we [as American taxpayers] are paying to the meat industry, and at the deficiencies in USDA inspection, and says 'I don't want to be a part of that.'" Sources include: "Diet for a New America," John Robbins, Stillpoint Publishing, 1987. Farm Animal Resource Movement, Bethesda, Maryland. "Salmonella Contamination in a Commercial Poultry Processing Operation," Poultry Science, 53:814-21, 1974. North American Vegetarian Society, Dolgeville, New York.