My name’s Cody Carlson, and from 2009 to 2010 I went undercover at some of the nation’s largest factory farms, where I witnessed disturbing conditions like workers amputating animals without anesthesia and dead chickens in the same crowded cages as living ones. I took entry-level jobs at these places for several weeks at a time, using a hidden camera to document what I saw.

The first time I went undercover was at Willet Dairy (New York’s largest dairy facility). The second was at Country View Family Farms (Pennsylvania pig breeding facility). The third was at four different facilities in Iowa owned by Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises (2nd and 3rd largest egg producers in the nation). The first two of these investigations were for Mercy For Animals, and the third was for The Humane Society of the United States.

Proof: pic of me and a video segment I did with TIME magazine on the investigations I did.

Comments: 1149 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

peacechicken222 karma

How do you mentally handle experiencing the horrors of farm animal abuse first hand? And how do you make yourself do what's required to "blend in", I'm assuming you've had to participate in the abuse yourself?

I have SO much respect and gratitude for the work you and all undercover animal rights investigators do. I could never do it myself, I would curl up into a ball and cry hysterically the first day. Thank you.

undercoveranimalover214 karma

Thanks for the kind words. Working undercover involves doing things you'd never do in normal life - even if that's just standing still while other people do horrible things. My tactic was just to always remember why I was there and what I was there to accomplish, and to keep in mind that if I acted out, I'd be fired immediately and lose the opportunity to help. When my job required me to hurt the animals (for example, by amputating tails and testicles at a pig farm), I always tried to make sure that I did so with more care than the worker that would likely replace me. It's not a good answer to your question, but it's the best I have. It certainly wasn't easy for me.

I also used the fact that I was new to my advantage - if something particularly disturbed me, I would say so - I even reported a number of things to management. Once, that resulted in me getting accused of being undercover, but more often, people just told me that it bothered them too at first, but that I'd get "used to it."

anne1980207 karma

Preventing animal abuse seems like something everyone should get behind. Vegans and vegetarians already have this issue on their radar, but even people who eat meat should have a right to eat animals that were not tortured or abused during their life. In any case, thank you for being one of those people who actually goes out and does something, instead of just complaining about it.

undercoveranimalover67 karma


sport32116 karma

what was the most disturbing thing you witnessed?

undercoveranimalover324 karma

I saw a lot of messed up stuff in those years,so it's hard to pick one thing, though there's a particularly tragic fate that befalls many egg-laying hens that stands out in my mind.

On the vast majority of egg farms, hens are kept in stacks upon stacks of crowded wire cages, called "battery cages," where they never leave. Conveyor belts bring them feed and take their eggs, pipes give them water, and they basically sit their all day, 7 to 10 per cage, trampling each other and vying for space.

They're bred to lay so many eggs that commonly, they "prolapse," which means that their oviduct basically inverts and spills outside of their body. It's a very painful condition, one that's common to animals that are intensively bred; I've seen it on dairy and pig farms before. However, with egg-laying hens, this organ can get tangled in the cage wires, causing extreme pain while depriving them of the ability to get food or water. So they basically starve or get trampled to death as their organs are slowly pulled out of their body.

The craziest part is that in these facilities, there can be as little as one human worker per 300,000 birds. This means that most birds suffering this fate will never be noticed, and even worse, when they are, workers are not expected to help them. I was actually reprimanded by my supervisor for trying to help these birds and voicing concern for them. She said it was a distraction from my duties.

LostSoulsAlliance101 karma

My god, that's horrific!

I've seen documentaries on those type of farms, and it really impressed on me just how much like a real factory these things are: with the conveyor belts, cages, etc. They're not treated as living creatures AT ALL. Strictly a commodity as if they were manufacturing widgets.

I try to buy free-range cage-free eggs, but I've heard that a lot of those are not really what they claim to be.

undercoveranimalover166 karma

Yea, it's true that those labels don't mean much. "Cage-free" birds are typically still extremely crowded and trample each other. They also don't have access to outdoors. "Free-range" is, at minimum, the same thing as cage-free, but with a little concrete patio where a small percentage of birds can be in an area that gets fresh air. Until we revise those standards, your best bet is to get local eggs from reputable farmers, or to avoid eggs altogether.

cmj7gh29 karma

wow, that's disgusting.

I wonder if you think that those problems can be entirely overcome legislatively? It seems to me like it's more of a problem of demand - if the American egg industry needs to produce 74 Billion eggs/year* can we ever expect to beat those human:bird ratio and mass production problems? Do you think it's possible to match production in humane conditions if we legislatively mandate it? Or should we focus on decreasing demand?

  • I have no idea how accurate that source is...

undercoveranimalover37 karma

Hey there. I sort of address this below, but to answer your question I do think that a realistic solution requires both.

Mnightshamamalama97 karma

After being exposed, where they forced to change their ways or are that still doing as they wish?

undercoveranimalover203 karma

Thanks for the question. Some places I investigated changed their practices as a result of my expose. For example, Willet Dairy stopped "tail-docking" (chopping off the tails of cows without anesthesia) after Mercy for Animals released my footage. The local DA also charged and convicted a worker there for animal cruelty, and Willet's biggest customer - a cheese purchaser for Domino's - cancelled their contract with them, so hopefully now they understand that animal welfare should be taken seriously. The best thing to come of that investigation, though, was that New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal introduced a bill to ban tail-docking throughout the state. Unfortunately, that bill stalled in the Ag Committee. :P

Other places I investigated are still doing things exactly as they have been - especially the pig and egg farms that keep their animals locked up in cages so small they can't even turn around or extend their limbs. Fortunately, Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society are now doing a really good job of getting the word out to consumers and corporations that buy from these farms not to support these practices.

AliceAlcibiades96 karma

Small-scale meat farmer here.

First, thanks so much for your work. Working with pigs and seeing them happy and healthy on my farm makes it almost impossible for me to watch footage from factory farms. I don't think I'd be able to even tour a factory farming facility without breaking down.

I do have some questions/critiques, however. We try to do as little intervention with the animals as possible -- no tail docking, no hormones/antibiotics, no ear tags, etc. The one thing we absolutely have to do is castrate male piglets. If you don't, there is a major risk that the meat will end up tasting "tainted," as if it's gone bad (not to mention the danger to farmers and female pigs if there are a number of sexually mature males in the herd). I don't know how they castrated at the farm you visited. Here, it's a quick process that takes about 30 seconds per pig. We do not use anesthesia -- to try to dose an animal so small and young would result in very high mortality rate. The piglet screams as it's happening, of course, and I know it hurts, but as soon as they are done and sprayed with antiseptic they go immediately back to normal life...we've never had one get infected, we've never had any pigs act hurt post-op. They literally go back immediately to playing with their litter-mates and running about.

I'm just wondering, since anti-castration is a thing I hear about A LOT from non-farmer animal rights activists, what would the alternative be? It is one of my least-favorite farm chores, but we have thought about it carefully and determined that to handle it the way we are handing it is the most ethical and responsible thing to do at this point in time. I understand that the footage of castration is dramatic and that is likely why it gets used...but why the focus on a procedure that even ethical animal welfare approved small farms undertake?

undercoveranimalover45 karma

Hey Alice. First, thanks so much for your comment/question/kind words. Getting positive feedback from small farmers makes my day.

Some would argue that nothing we do to harm farm animals is really "necessary," since we could just as well eat vegetarian. I'm more inclined to think we should dispense with the illusion that life, for anyone, can or should be perfect. It sounds like your hogs have a nice home and caring stewards, and if castration is part of the "rent" they have to pay, I think that may be a sacrifice worth paying. Obviously, people who are harder-core about animal rights than I might disagree.

Castration features prominently in undercover videos, I would imagine, because it clearly has a visceral effect on the viewer, as you noted; most people can imagine how much it would suck to have their testicles ripped out with bare hands, even if it's harder for them to imagine life in a gestation crate.

AliceAlcibiades3 karma

Thanks for your reply! It's so heartening to see a farm animal activist who can see things in shades of gray and not just in black and white. It really helps the discussion and makes me feel hopeful that maybe humans who care about animal welfare (farmers and consumers and vegetarian activists) can work together and make life better for livestock.

undercoveranimalover4 karma

I couldn't agree more!

rlseafor79 karma

I watched a documentary on HBO a few years ago where a guy did the same. Honestly it was like 4 in the morning they showed some of the farms and the mistreatment of animals such as cows, pigs and chickens. Some of the images I will never ever get out of my head.

One was where they were transporting baby pigs by throwing them like footballs. Some would die by the result of hitting their heads and they would just throw them in the trash after.

One was where there was a giant pig and it needed to be put down. But instead of using poison or shooting it... They hung it by a forklift. While the pig was struggling, the men were hitting it with shovels, shooting it with guns, punching it, etc. this would take up to 20+ minutes for it to die.

Then there was the burning of the beaks on chickens. They would do this so that the birds would eventually stop squawking. It one of those things that I watched and regret yet don't at the same time.

It honestly makes me sad to be a human, Because there is nothing we can do to stop it. I mean I stopped eating anything pig because I was more disgusted by the way they treated the pigs more than any other animal. I was a 23 year old man at 4 in the morning, who legitimately starting crying because of what I saw.

And to top it all off, the only one who received any punishment was one man who got a 50$ fine for the transportation of the baby pigs.

Sorry for the rant

undercoveranimalover74 karma

Great rant. You're referring to "Death on a Factory Farm." The investigator profiled in that video is the coolest guy you'll never meet.

stonemender64 karma

How do you suggest the industry change for the better?

How would the industry get from where they are to this better model/place?

undercoveranimalover180 karma

Great question, and I'll try to do it justice. In the short term, intensive confinement systems need to be phased out immediately. I'm referring to gestation crates for breeding pigs, battery cages for laying hens, and veal crates for veal. These cage systems keep intelligent and social animals immobilized in a way that destroys their bodies and their minds - animal welfare expert Temple Grandin compared it to living your entire life in an airline seat. So that needs to go, like right now.

In broader terms, I'm a big fan of what's called the "Five Freedoms," which were originally proposed by the British Government's Animal Welfare Council in the 1960s. These include freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear or distress. I think these freedoms are easier to provide than we may think, and primarily, they involve giving animals room to roam, explore, and socialize.

How do we get there? Well, for one, consumers need to demand it. Vegans, vegetarians, and conscious omnivores have been making great strides in advancing these issues in recent years, but we're still a minority.

Legislation is also vitally needed to set minimum animal welfare standards and prevent companies from "racing to the bottom" in order to cut costs. Several states have recently banned intensive confinement of at least some farm animals, and national legislation was recently proposed by a bipartisan group of Congresspersons that would create minimum standards for egg laying hens, and also require labeling so that consumers could choose to go even farther. That stalled this year due to immense opposition from some agribusiness groups, which is criminal IMO. Hopefully it will pass next year.

Economic policy plays a role too. We should be subsidizing farmers who switch to more humane, environmentally sustainable, and worker-friendly systems, instead of systems that favor consolidation, animal cruelty, and environmental devastation, as we do now. The EU is actually making some decent progress with this in their Common Agricultural Policy, tho of course I think they could be doing more.

Sorry for the long answer. There's probably a lot more we can be doing, but I think those three aspects are the most important.

IanJL131 karma

I grew up on an average sized dairy farm in Scotland and our animals are treated well. I think britain has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. The problem with american farms is that they are so large and intensive that they put profits ahead of everything else.

undercoveranimalover55 karma

Yup. Also, the American model is being exported around the world, particularly in rapidly developing countries like China and India, where the demand for animal products is growing exponentially. I know that the UK is currently facing a major identity crisis in this respect - the first dairy CAFOs opened up a few years ago. At the same time, as you noted, they (and Australia) have passed some of the most meaningful farm animal welfare laws out there, though I don't think I'd say they go far enough to stem the influx of factory farms, which are already the norm in the egg and pork sector...

IanJL110 karma

I don't know very much about the egg or pork sector unfortunately, but i do know that at the start of this year, keeping hens in cages with basically no space became illegal. I think this applies to all countries within the EU.

undercoveranimalover24 karma

Yes - and the US introduced legislation similar to the EU's, though it didn't get voted on unfortunately. That legislation is great, but it only makes factory egg farms a little better by putting minimum size requirements on the cages. It doesn't do much to protect traditional family farms or ensure a high level of animal welfare.

nurphgun52 karma

As a vegan and a person who does not hesitate to show others the realities of factory farm cruelty, I am often met with either antagonism, judgment, or dismissal from friends and family. Has your role as an undercover investigator affected your social life in any way? Do you find yourself openly talking about this work in daily life, or is it something you shy away from discussing except in certain communities or situations?

undercoveranimalover47 karma

I admire people who take every opportunity in their personal life to get out the word about farm animals, but that's not me. Funny enough, I'm just not big on conflict. Most people I know either know me from before I went undercover, or met me in the context of what I've done since, so these experiences don't come up too often on the day-to-day.

Instead, now that I'm no longer working undercover, I try to take opportunities like this forum to get the word out. Recently, I wrote a few editorials for the Atlantic, a long article for VegNews, and have appeared as a "talking head" on some documentaries.

I think it's great that you are vocal about what you believe in, and as long as you are conveying your beliefs in a respectful way, it's not necessarily your fault how people respond.

SleazyJReezy12 karma

Would you link to the Atlantic articles, please?

GaiaTheory17 karma

I would also like to know how this has affected you personally. After revealing your undercover status did your personal relationships change? Did you get treated differently?

undercoveranimalover23 karma

Actually, people have been very cool about it. I thought it would make it hard to get a "normal" job again, but it's actually helped me get some really cool jobs as a legal professional, since people see I can work hard, am trustworthy, and follow through on my commitments.

There's a good chance I'm a little cynical and darker than I used to be, but that might just be a product of getting older and/or living in New York.

noodlebucket42 karma

I donate to Mercy for Animals and passionately believe in your efforts, so thank you for what you did, and sacrificing your personal sanity (I'm assuming) for an ultimate change in how we treat 'livestock'.

my question: Does treating animals terribly stem from a financial necessity, or laziness, or both?

second question: in reference to going vegan, it seems to me that we have a serious problem- people love meat. They were raised on meat, it embodies important cultural traditions. (holiday ham?!). do you really think it's possible to change this? Or do you have a more realistic objective?

undercoveranimalover60 karma

Awesome that you support MFA - they're the best.

I think a bit of both, but certainly financial considerations are at the heart of factory farming. See my comments above for more detail. On smaller farms, however, often it's laziness or callousness that can allow animals to be neglected or abused. But if you could quantify the total amount of suffering that goes on in the animal ag sector, I think the vast majority is a result of cost-cutting.

Your second question is very astute. Interestingly, "flexitarians" have done more to reduce demand for animal products in recent years than vegans, if only because there are so many more of them. Campaigns like "Meatless Mondays" have been especially effective, and can often introduce people to plant-based eating and let them move in that direction at a pace that they find comfortable. The growing number of excellent meat-substitutes, from Tofurkey-style plant-based products to the looming specter of "in vitro meat" (actual meat produced from cells in a lab, which may soon be commercially available) are also great tools to help us shift towards a more humane, sustainable diet.

I don't see the world going totally vegan anytime soon. In the meantime, I'm inclined to let someone have their holiday ham, if that helps them eat vegetarian fare the other 364 days a year.

LadyHaemonchus36 karma

I have been involved with the livestock industry for the great majority of my life. I was raised on a small family farm, my B.S. is in Animal Science, and I am pursuing a Master's in Sheep Parasitology. I really have no specific question, I would just like you to comment on what I am going to write, or's whatever. I just feel like it needs to be told. Being raised by a mother who is a Veterinarian, a sense of animals being "people" too was something that seems to be in my genes. When I started my undergrad, I was amazed to hear how my fellow peers-people who would no doubt be working elbow-deep in the world of factory farming and careers closely related to such-would refer to animals in general. I had assumed that people wanting a degree that revolved so closely around animals would want to treat them as more than money, as more than just a means to an end. They spoke, and acted, as though farm animals are here solely for humans to do with as they pleased. It was quite disturbing. Not to mention the fact that I live in the bible belt; this would only enhance the behavior, as they used their god as a justification to their actions. I had thought that once I entered a higher level of education, things would improve. False hope. It seems as though even the professors are accustomed to this backward, narcissistic thinking. It is almost as if the professors are teaching the students to think this way. I understand that the industry has improved greatly over the last 40 years, but I feel like it is at a standstill. It seems that the University farms only do things as humanely as they are required, and even then it is only if they are at risk of getting in trouble. This has been troubling to me for some time now, and I really see no end in sight. I get laughed at for the way I treat my sheep, with everyone saying that I treat them too well and feed them too often. So no, it is not necessarily solely legislation's fault that things are the way they are. There is a problem with the core of the industry. When the people teaching the future of farming how to behave are mocking the "animal rights bullshit" (direct quote from several different professors), the problem will continue. And I really have no ideas on how this issue can or will be fixed. I guess the old timers must retire before anything can be accomplished. And, like I said, this is not a question. Just some facts that I think everyone should know.

EDIT: I should have stated that I am from the States. I have no idea how things are elsewhere.

undercoveranimalover6 karma

Thanks for your comment. I think things will change because of people like you.

[deleted]34 karma

A lot of states are now trying to ban undercover investigations at factory farms - Utah and Iowa already have. For those who don't know much about this, here's a good intro: ag-gag video from The Humane Society

New York Times piece "Banned From the Barn"

What do you think of these proposed laws? If they continue to be enacted how would they change the landscape of whistleblowing?

undercoveranimalover32 karma

I think they're a threat not only to animal welfare and consumer rights, but to the basic precepts of democracy. I could go on this for a while, but in the interest of answering everyone's questions, please check out an article I wrote here:

johnsoej0234 karma

what are your views on free range farming? are you vegetarian/vegan? if yes was it being in the farms that made you become one?

undercoveranimalover76 karma

Speaking strictly for myself, I'm not against the idea of animal agriculture per se; I just think farm animals deserve a good life, considering all that they give us. They certainly don't deserve the life of constant agony to which nearly all farm animals in the U.S. are currently subjected. So I think free range farming can be okay under the right conditions - although the meaning of that term is unregulated, and often misleading as currently employed.

I was a vegan for the last 10 years, including while I was undercover (though I had to eat meat on a handful of occasions to keep my cover), and vegetarian for a number of years before that. Recently, I've gone back to eating a small amount of eggs from truly free range farms. Even these farms involve some cruelty - for example, male chicks are still killed at birth since they don't produce eggs, and female layers are killed once they're no longer productive. Whether this outweighs the benefits to hens that get a good, albeit short life on pasture, I'm not sure.

Either way, the bottom line is that to ensure that animals are well-treated and to reduce our impact on the environment, the amount of meat, eggs and dairy we currently consume needs to be reduced substantially. Vegans, vegetarians, and "flexitarians" all help meet this goal.

kallebumkvist26 karma

In the uk we have the 'British Hen Welfare Trust' that tries to help farmers switch over to free range where possible and campains for battery hen welfare. They also buy the 'spent' laying hens and sell them on to the public (at only £4 each, and they continue to lay about 250 eggs a year for several years!)

Is there anything similar in the USA, or do the hens all just get disposed of? Also do the spent hens get used as meat or are they just thrown away?

undercoveranimalover20 karma

I hadn't heard of that, but it sounds like a great program. The EU does something similar through its Common Agricultural Policy, though not as extensive. Interesting how the UK has been such a leader on this issue.

In the US, spent hens are mainly ground up and turned into dog food, soap, and cosmetics. There is one spent hen slaughterhouse, though, that presumably turns these poor creatures into low-grade chicken meat for human consumption.

kallebumkvist6 karma

Were all of the cages in the establishments you worked in the individual 1-bird-per-cage ones, or are there a variety?

I think that with realtively little modification huge improvements in welfare can be made. The conventional small cages are actually illegal in the uk now, instead we have what politicians like to call 'enriched cages'. Obviously I'd prefer it if we went fully free range, but these do seem much better if the farmer really does have to keep rearing with cages. They allow the birds to have some semblance of a social life/ pecking order, perches, a secluded corner to nest in and space to move around and stretch.

Were the establishments you worked in financially struggling, or sound?

Do you think most consumers are aware of the conditions? Do you think they care?

What would happen when a hen died in the battery farm, was there any way to notice/ remove the corpse or would it just stay there and rot until the hens were spent and the cages emptied?

Thanks for doing the AMA, it is really fascinating!

undercoveranimalover13 karma

The places I worked at were the 2nd and 3rd biggest egg corporations in the country. They're doing quite well! The birds are kept 7 to 10 per cage, and each cage was about the size of a microwave. Dead birds usually languished there until someone noticed them and pulled them out - by then they were often mummified.

Glad you enjoyed! Nice handle by the way, I love those books!

snookedbe34 karma

how can we make sure to not support these farms if we want to continue to eat meat?

undercoveranimalover57 karma

As a vegetarian, I'm not an expert on this. If you can, I'd suggest trying to meet local farmers you trust, perhaps at a farmer's market, or join a food coop if there's one in your area. There's also websites, like the Eat Well Guide, and various certification schemes like Certified Humane that you might be able to find. But again, there are limits to this approach. Substantially reducing or eliminating your consumption of animal products is your best bet.

sluttycow33 karma

After watching some of those documentaries it really portrays that all animal factories are awful. Is this true.

Also how has this changed your personalty.

undercoveranimalover70 karma

Unfortunately, cruel treatment isn't an aberration - it's the rule on factory farms; it's built into their business model. Keeping animals tightly confined, pumping them full of growth-promoting drugs, amputating their beaks, tails, horns, testicles, etc., neglecting essential medicines, and immediately depriving them of their young are all at essence cost-saving devices that have been uniformly employed throughout the industry. So yes, anything that can be called an "animal factory" is necessarily awful, IMO.

As for my personality, I think it's made me a little more pragmatic in my activism. These animals are not statistics - they're individuals with personalities that are suffering really, really badly. We may not see them, but they're out there, and they need our help. Anything that helps relieve their suffering, even a little bit, needs to be doggedly pursued. For example, it's hard to say that a lot of the higher welfare systems that are gaining traction in the EU and some US states eggs are truly "humane," but man, are they better than the alternative, and I'm hoping to see more progress on this front.

katieinwonderland29 karma

I'm really interest in doing work for farm animals, I've talked to Mercy for Animals and Gene Baur at Farm Sanctuary, and plan on interning there soon. I just really want to say THANK YOU for what you do. Thank you for your courage, to enter a situation where you know there to be cruelty. Doing some of my own rescue work, I know the results of some of the ignorance and downright evilness of some people. At least with rescue, you know the animals are safe now. Doing the work you did takes a lot of courage, and it so very much ACTUALLY changes the way America sees what's on their plate, which has been a long time coming! Thank you!

undercoveranimalover23 karma

Thank you. Have a great internship and keep doing great work.

castor_pollox28 karma

This man deserves the "thanks for your service" comments usually reserved for the military clowns. Thanks for your service!

undercoveranimalover12 karma

Thanks for your thanks.

Bunnyfloppyearz26 karma

Thank you for doing what you do.

You rock!

undercoveranimalover25 karma

Thanks. You rock too.

syakazza25 karma

How did you manage to get this job? Are you a known investigative journalist or you just knew the right people?

undercoveranimalover43 karma

Hey there. I was actually working for a private investigation agency that specialized in white collar crime. I emailed the head of Mercy For Animals cold one day, asking if I could help do background research, and he asked if I would be willing to do this instead.

Most investigators don't have backgrounds in investigations or journalism, though. They're just folks that are willing to work hard, act professionally, and really care about animals. Many groups accept applications online.

mooseman18213 karma

Wait so your saying its easy to get into being an investigator? If this is true please let me know because thats what I want to do when I get older and that would make my day, allow me to quit my job, and do what I have a passion for!

undercoveranimalover24 karma

I didn't say it was easy, just that there's no one skill set or background that will qualify you. Your best bet is to inquire with an organization. Don't quit your day job... yet.

antipeterleague24 karma

As a fellow animal lover and longtime vegan, I gotta say keep doing your thing. Despite wanting to get involved myself, I would NEVER be able to go through an hour of what you went through. Keep educating people and hey, maybe one day vegans won't be the butt of dinner-table jokes!

undercoveranimalover10 karma

Ha, thanks. In the meantime, we should learn how to take a joke. :)

derrat21 karma

Hi. I live in Utah. Our Governor helped pass legislation that made this type of investigation considered as a "terrorist" act. This has made my blood boil. Do you have any advice, or have you had any experience in working in a state with this type of law in place? I was thinking that I could take pictures from the side of the road, but, I don't know this would show anything more that all of the animals crammed together in tiny pens before going into the slaughter house. Thank you for any advice or comment.

undercoveranimalover8 karma

I addressed this elsewhere, but check out my article on this subject:

Also, if you're into legal theory, check out a great article by my homey Lewis Bollard.

ninetyfables21 karma

Did you ever feel like breaking cover over what you saw? Your answer about the chickens and the tangled oviducts was pretty harrowing. I can imagine it took quite a toll on you mentally.

undercoveranimalover61 karma

At the dairy farm I first worked at, which was in upstate New York in the dead of winter, I routinely saw newborn calves get left to freeze to death out in an uninsulated tin shed. These calves were born just to get their mothers to increase their milk production, and have nearly no economic value themselves - they're typically used to make really cheap meat, like TV dinner stuff. Thus, the farm operators didn't seem to care that a large number of these calves were slowly freezing to death before the rendering truck could survive.

I spent a lot of time hanging out with these guys during my breaks, trying to comfort them. They would bellow helplessly whenever I tried to leave, and it broke my heart to do so. I often thought of breaking cover to take one to a rescue. Certainly in hindsight, I think I was able to do a lot more good by staying undercover, but those little doe-eyes have left a firm impression on me, and ultimately contributed to my throwing in the towel on investigations two years later.

geebitux19 karma

Most people have probably seen the types of clips that you provided, showing horrible treatment of farm animals. How prevalent would you guesstimate that this type of behaviour is in the U.S. and elsewhere (particularly in Europe if you have any knowledge of that)?

undercoveranimalover31 karma

There's basically two types of animal cruelty that we've found to be pervasive on animal farms - systemic abuse, and rogue workers.

The first is far more concerning to me, and is, as I've noted elsewhere, the rule on modern factory farms. It includes intensive confinement, medical neglect, amputations without anesthesia, and many other troubling practices. Often, the media focuses on the rogue workers, and doesn't give these problems the attention I think they deserve.

However, the sadistic rogue workers are also surprisingly pervasive. Keep in mind that most of the time, we don't go into a farm based on a tip, but simply go work at whatever farm happens to be hiring. That makes me think we're getting a pretty good cross-sample of the American farm landscape. Despite that, nearly every farm that has been investigated (and certainly every one that I've worked at) has at least a couple workers who take pleasure in beating or mistreating the animals, and worse still, no one ever says anything about it. I think they're so acclimated to the cruelty endemic in factory farming that they've stopped looking at these animals as anything other than large, noisy machines that are in the way of their punching out and going home. It's a major problem, but in many ways, I think it's a symptom of the systemic problem, and not necessarily solely the "fault" of the individual worker.

redrabbit3318 karma

What would you say to people who think horrible treatment of animals is only in a small number of factory farms?

undercoveranimalover37 karma

I've addressed this in other comments, but basically, undercovers have investigated about 100 farms over the past 10 years, and found egregious cruelty on each one. This is because cruel practices are built into the business model, and not the result of any one person's sadistic tendencies. See my other comments for more detail.

Bmxcooldude16 karma

How could i get into this line of work?

undercoveranimalover21 karma

Email an organization and tell them you're interested!

doitforthederp12 karma

Hello. I do not have a question. I just wanted to say that I have always been a meat eater and have typically stayed away from this type of information because frankly, I don't want to know what goes on in farm factories. But after reading your responses you have convinced me of the importance of being a "responsible eater." So thanks.

undercoveranimalover5 karma

That is awesome to hear.

fuzlilbun11 karma

Hi there -

How did you select the facilities that you investigated?

Can you give some examples of large-scale facilities that are "doing it right"?

undercoveranimalover11 karma

More like, they selected me. I would apply to various farms either in person or online, and go work at the first one that hired me.

I'm not an expert, but the closest thing to a big company I can think of that seems to be doing it right is Niman Ranch, though I've heard that they've weakened their standards since Bill Niman was bought out. If I'm right, Niman gives their pigs room to forage outdoors, build nests, and socialize, as their nature requires.

jordankasteler11 karma

After working at factory farms does it make you angry or sad to watch your friends and family consume the very thing you saw being produce from sentient animals?

undercoveranimalover30 karma

It can be frustrating, especially with my dad, who is on one hand my closest friend and my biggest fan, but also has not changed his eating habits at all and even got a dog from a breeder recently. :P That said, people are people, and if you drive yourself crazy for every perceived shortcoming they have, you're going to be a lonely dude.

bridget198910 karma

What are your thoughts on the reputations of the various animal rights organizations?

PETA, HSUS, ASPCA, and others. Which are the best organizations, and which are corrupt? PETA has been attacked forever, and I know a lot has been going around about ASPCA lately. (Can someone help me out with that infographic that circulated Facebook for a while with their CEO's salary and how much of your donations actually go to animals?)

"In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States had an operating budget of $99,664,400. (See line 18 on page 1 of this document.) But it paid less than one-half of one percent of all that money to organizations that do hands-on dog and cat sheltering—the functions its TV ads suggest are HSUS's main focus."

The reason I ask is that when people want to make donations for animals, they often go for a large organization, not realizing exactly where their money goes. What do you know about these organizations' reputations? Can you vouch for the good (or bad) of the organizations you worked with?

Edit: I am an animal-loving vegetarian, and as I said in a reply below, I understand that there are forces working against animal rights, including Center for Consumer Freedom. Which is why I'm asking for voices directly from these organizations to tell me what they're like. Could anyone provide me with what I'm actually asking for?

undercoveranimalover11 karma

This is wading sort of far afield for me, but I'll say this much: if you look at their financial statements, no animal protection group pays its employees anything more than the industry standard for comparably sized non-profits, and in many cases, they pay much less.

I clerked for the Humane Society's litigation department last summer, and to a person, these people could be making at least three times as much in the private sector. No one goes to work for one of these groups for any reason other than genuine altruism and love for animals.

As for that old red herring about how the HSUS doesn't give all of its money to pet shelters, of course it doesn't! HSUS is primarily about large-scale change. They run public awareness campaigns, law enforcement trainings, disaster relief, litigation services, legislation and policy advocacy, and much, much, much, much more. HumaneWatch is funded by a smorgasbord of agribusiness groups that want HSUS to give more to shelters so they have less to spend on programs that interfere with their bottom line.

Xyombiekiller66610 karma

is it really more expensive to treat the animals better? I mean does sliding a cage 6 inches more apart really cost that much more? some people are disgusting.

undercoveranimalover26 karma

The costs of basic welfare improvements - like getting rid of gestation crates and battery cages - are pretty negligible, like a few cents on the dollar. More ambitious standards - like giving animals access to pasture and nesting materials - can cost a lot more, but if you're committed both to eating meat and avoiding egregious animal abuse, it's a small price to pay. There's a great book on this called "Compassion by the Pound."

[deleted]10 karma

Was the cruelty and negligence a result of poor management or were these practices actively encouraged?

undercoveranimalover10 karma

I've answered this elsewhere - cruelty was primarily a result of how the animals were housed and treated as part of the facilities' business models. However, workers who abused the animals for fun were also well-known and tolerated by management, if not actively encouraged.

hebrew_orphan_asylum9 karma

Was there any factory farm you worked in that ended up not being so bad with how they handled their animals?

undercoveranimalover7 karma


spectre739 karma

I recently read the book "Fast Food Nation" and was very disturbed by the amount of power that the large industrial farms and the major meatpackers wield in Congress, especially in terms of inspections, sanitary standards and worker exploitation. How do you feel about those issues?

gburgdan8 karma

Videos showing the abuse animals have to endure such as the ones you have helped make has made me a long time vegan almost 5 years now. Thank you for your work. So I wanted to know most of the workers of these factory farms and such do they fit a certain profile or something? Like ex cons who only find that as a place of employment. Did they same anything about having to treat the animals so poorly? Any obvious psychological damage they endured?

undercoveranimalover5 karma

I address this elsewhere, but basically, these places are located in economically depressed areas, and workers are generally either poor local folk or highly vulnerable undocumented workers, who in either case don't really have any other option. Some may take the work in part for the chance to beat up helpless creatures, and others may be so disturbed by the conditions that, by forcing themselves to repress their natural empathy for the animals, they manifest a deeper resentment of them (this is referred to as "reaction formation" in psychology circles). I think the same can be said of cops, priests, prison guards, politicians, and anyone who takes work in a field that has major power imbalances. That said, most of the workers were fundamentally good folks, and I think the blame should lie on a system that privileges cheap meat at all costs, and not on individual workers.

whenlearningtofly8 karma

i am now a vegetarian. thank you.

undercoveranimalover4 karma

Best news ever. Thanks!

undercoveranimalover3 karma

Thank you!

spectre738 karma

A couple of months ago I saw a want ad online for PETA looking for investigators to be "hired" by pharma and cosmetic companies and go into animal testing labs etc. and document. My first thoughts were of being found out and possibly arrested for trespassing, fraud etc. How did you avoid that?

undercoveranimalover11 karma

We avoid getting arrested the old fashioned way: by obeying all the applicable laws. We don't trespass (which means going somewhere uninvited), we give our real names and identifying information on job applications, and we don't commit "fraud," which is a legal term to describe bilking someone out of their money on false pretenses. What we do is a time-honored form of investigative journalism that dates back at least to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," and which the Supreme Court has upheld as legal on several occasions. As other commenters have mentioned, some states recently passed "Ag Gag" laws to make our investigations illegal - I think this suppression tactic is going to backfire when these laws are ultimately declared unconstitutional.

HagWeed6 karma

Are you now numb to videos, pictures, sound clips, stories, etc., of animal cruelty?

undercoveranimalover15 karma

Definitely not. They trouble me more now than ever. I barely watch them now, though; I've already seen a lifetime of it.

Veganarking6 karma

How was the process of going through the investigation? Did you ever talk to the people who were comitting these horrible cruelties? How hard was it to remain neutral through this entire period?

undercoveranimalover3 karma

I worked along side these people every day. As I indicated elsewhere, most of them were fundamentally nice people, and they didn't approve of the conditions - they just worked a job to pay the bills. I don't think the fault lies with them, but rather with a farming infrastructure that lets producers cut costs by crowding and confining animals, pumping them full of growth enhancing drugs, chopping off parts of their bodies, and just generally denying them the opportunity to express their natural behaviors. It was tough to remain neutral, but I did so in order to get the evidence I would need to take this issue to the court of public opinion, and in some cases, to the District Attorney or USDA, since I think the opportunities for self-regulation here are non-existent. That said, I did voice concerns to management on several occasions; each time, I was told that it was just how things worked and I should get used to it.

acslide4 karma

What is something I (anyone) can change RIGHT NOW in my day-to-day life to make a difference re: the horrible practices/conditions you have described?

undercoveranimalover7 karma

Go vegan, or at least substantially cut back on your consumption of animal products.

Replace the animal products you do eat with higher welfare alternatives.

Share undercover videos on your social media feeds.

Hand out leaflets from Vegan Outreach on a busy street corner.

Schedule a meeting with your elected representatives and tell them how important animal welfare is to you (best to go in with some specific agenda items... check out the Humane Society of the U.S. webpage for help with this).

There's a lot more you can do, but this is the first that comes to mind. I give some other examples earlier in this thread.

rspct4animals3 karma

Not sure if this was already asked... Can you tell us about the treatment of the male calves on the dairy farm? How quickly were they removed from the mother? Were they fed at all? Were they heading to a slaughter plant or to a veal producer? How quickly were they picked up? How far did they have to travel?

undercoveranimalover4 karma

Hey there! I do address this earlier, but not in detail. Basically, dairy cows are impregnated about once a year to keep their milk production at the highest possible levels - some 16 times higher than they would produce under natural conditions! This frequent impregnation not only wreaks havoc on their bodies, it also creates too many calves for all of them to be used in dairy production, especially for the male calves who obviously can't produce milk. Also, because these are Holsteins and other breeds not designed for meat production, they can't be profitably raised for normal beef.

Instead, most newborn calves get to spend about 10 minutes with their mother - enough time to get the colostrum they need to survive - before they're dragged away by their hind legs into a separate shed, where they'll spend a day or two waiting for a rendering truck that will take them to be slaughtered while they're still only days old. This produces a product known as "bob veal," a cheap form of beef that is used in TV dinners and airline food. These calves are called "bob calves."

It's a tough experience for the mother cows. I saw a few return to the spot where they gave birth for days afterward and look in the direction where they calf was dragged off, bellowing helplessly. I'll never forget one that kept looking at the shed, then at me, then at me, each time bellowing dramatically at me in a way that seemed to say, "HEEELLLPP!!" or maybe, "FUCCCKKK YOOOUUU." One of my coworkers, a young guy that had been doing this for two years, said they "go crazy" when he takes their young.

What I discussed earlier was the fact that these bob calves have almost no economic value to the farm operators, since their meat is so cheap, and this means that they are routinely neglected. At the farm I worked at, which was near Ithaca in January 2009, these calves were left in an uninsulated tin shed, and I witnessed too many to count slowly freeze to death. I pled with the farm manager and staff veterinarian to do something, but they were unmoved. I would spend my breaks hanging out with these calves, trying to comfort them, and whenever I got up to go back to work, they would below and plead for me to stay (sorry for all the anthropomorphizing, but it seemed obvious what they were saying at the time). Newborn calves are just about the cutest looking creatures on the entire planet, so these experiences broke my heart in a big, big way.

Chullachaqui2 karma

How did you film without being noticed?

Also, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work you have done.

undercoveranimalover5 karma

Nice try, industry stooge! j/k. We use a cutting edge hidden camera, about the size of the pinhole, that can be hidden anywhere on our person.