When Hurricane Irene threatened the East Coast of the U.S. in August, residents scrambled to prepare for its destruction. Though the storm left damage in its wake, including the deaths of 16,000 chickens who drowned at a Delaware farm and the loss of dozens of dairy cows who died in New York and Vermont, losses were less than expected. That was good news not only for people but also for animals – including farm animals, whose suffering and deaths during disasters are typically ignored by the media.
When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, farm animals were the hurricane’s largest population of victims. More than six million farm animals, mainly chickens, perished in that disaster. The few news stories that addressed this massive loss of life focused mostly on the marketplace and what the industry would consider “insignificant” financial losses that resulted from the storm. The animals – except for the thousand or so rescued by animal protection groups, including 700 chickens who came to live at Farm Sanctuary – were seen largely as economic units, not as feeling creatures. It is tragic that so many animals died and shameful that their deaths went unnoticed by the public.
Natural disasters force us to confront our own vulnerability. When disasters approach, some areas may be evacuated, but all of us are at nature’s mercy. Imagine what it’s like for farm animals, who are constantly at our mercy. Hurricane Irene’s fury diminished as she came ashore, but the brutality of the factory farming system grinds on unrelentingly. The animals are under our control from conception to consumption, never to be reprieved.
Natural disasters strike from time to time, yet manmade disasters continue daily. These are the disasters we can prevent. We can choose to boycott the products of factory farming and to purchase plant foods instead. Hurricane Irene reminded us of how helpless we humans sometimes are, but we must also remember how powerful even our smallest choices can be.