How we treat animals can sometimes have public health implications. Who can forget the Humane Society of the United States investigation in which dairy cows too sick and crippled to walk were bulldozed by forklifts and dragged with chains to slaughter by a leading supplier of beef to the federal school lunch program? The investigation triggered the largest meat recall in U.S. history for violations of regulations meant to keep the public safe from mad cow disease. In response, California passed a law to strengthen protection of downed farm animals from abuse, but it was largely nullified by the Supreme Court last month at the behest of the pork industry, who would stand to lose the most if downed animals were removed from the food supply.
Last week, a new undercover investigation of leading pork producers—including a supplier of Walmart—uncovered institutionalized abuses, including the confinement of pregnant pigs in “gestation crates,” virtually immobilizing them their entire lives. What impact might this have on human health? In collaboration with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, a prestigious body that included a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, concluded that industrialized animal agriculture posed “unacceptable” public health risks and specifically called for an end to gestation crates, noting that “practices that restrict natural motion, such as sow gestation crates, induce high levels of stress in the animals and threaten their health, which in turn may threaten our health.”