Students should ask for change within Dining Services

Josh Balk

Earth Day is a time when we examine our impact on the planet and make personal resolutions to help make the environment cleaner and improve the treatment of animals. Some of us vow to be more consistent recyclers, while others pledge to plant trees in their neighborhoods. What many of us have yet to discover is that one of the most important actions we can take for the planet has to do with our food choices.

Most animals raised for food are forced to live inside massive industrial warehouses. These animal factories are leading polluters of our rivers, lakes and streams. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. In fact, 2.7 trillion pounds of manure is generated by livestock operations each year. This huge amount of waste is often concentrated around each farm, causing near-by residents to suffer from the nauseating stench stemming from the air and waterways.

Animals are by far the biggest losers in the growing epidemic of industrial farms. Most egg-laying hens are restricted to overcrowded cages too tiny for them to spread their wings. They’re often starved for up to two weeks to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. These birds are never able to partake in natural behavior, breathe fresh air or even go outside.

Those chickens raised for meat are selectively bred and given loads of antibiotics to reach market weight as quickly as possible. This process takes only 45 days — nearly twice as fast as it did in the 1950s.  Forced rapid growth is responsible for an immense amount of suffering, including heart problems and painful leg disorders. These chickens, like their egg-laying counterparts, never escape the stench of their own feces nor do they step foot outside.

Pigs also are intensively confined in factory farms. Both pregnant and mother pigs are held in crates too narrow for them to turn around or move to change direction, while their piglets have their tails cut off and are castrated, both without painkillers.

Right here at Kent State, students can help animals raised for food by urging Dining Services not only to offer more vegetarian meals but to stop purchasing the most abusive animal products. Though this might seem daunting, the university will not be alone in this effort. With the help of The Humane Society of the United States, students are working to reform their dining facilities at more than 80 universities, including Yale, Arizona State and Cornell. And, their efforts are already succeeding: Just this month, students at George Washington University persuaded their school store to stop carrying eggs from caged birds. Kent State should and can be the next university to make this far-reaching commitment to help laying hens.

Such reforms at university dining facilities would go a long way toward phasing out the most egregious practices of abuse in animal agribusiness. It’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate Earth Day.

Josh Balk is an outreach coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States. Contact him at [email protected].