WASHINGTON, DC—According to a joint study conducted by the FDA and the Department of Agriculture, nearly three out of four members of the U.S. livestock population show signs of clinical depression, with the vast majority of cases going untreated, government officials said Monday.
"The FDA is charged with the task of preventing potentially disastrous outbreaks of disease within the U.S. livestock population," said Henry Wolcott, Assistant Undersecretary of Agriculture, Psychiatric Division. "I'm afraid that, in this case, our intervention came too late. Our study shows that 73 percent of U.S. cattle, goats, sheep, and swine suffer from serious psychiatric problems."
Signs of clinical depression discovered by the researchers include severe listlessness, lack of motivation, and a flattening of emotional affect marked by glazed eyes and slow movements.
"Everyone is concerned about mad cow disease or the bird flu," Wolcott said. "What the average person fails to appreciate, however, is that mental disorders can be just as debilitating as physical ones. If you look into these animals' eyes, you can see the blank gaze of hopelessness and despair."
"It's tragic," Walcott added. "It's no kind of life, not for man or beast."
Walcott said that millions of animals across the nation while away the hours unproductively, not moving until forced to do so by an outside factor, such as a farmhand or a milking machine.
"Most of the cows we examined barely had the energy to drag themselves from the barn out to the field," Walcott said. "Once in the field, they tended to spend most of their time quietly brooding and chewing cud, showing little to no willingness to communicate with their herd-member peers. Their depression was so debilitating that they needed to be coaxed out of inactivity through the use of hollering, physical force, and, in extreme cases, trained dogs."
The study also noted the average U.S. cow's tendency to emit low, mournful moans.
Walcott said that the majority of sheep studied rarely moved during the day, opting instead to stand in one place, often avoiding sunlight and acting only when the food supply in the immediate area was depleted.
"Like many undiagnosed depression sufferers, it seems that a lot of U.S. livestock escape the emotional emptiness of their lives by overeating," Walcott said. "Most appear to care nothing about their personal appearance. And, as any ranch-hand who has ever shoveled manure can tell you, they make only limited effort to keep their physical surroundings in order."
Dr. Theodore Nelson, author of The Slow Slaughter: Growing Up Livestock In An Uncaring World, has made combating bovine ennui his personal mission.
"Sadly, much of our nation's livestock feel they have no future," Nelson said. "They see life as short, brutal, and bereft of purpose. They may appear to be functioning normally—eating feed, producing milk, and generating high volumes of fertilizer—but inside, many are just waiting to die."
In his book, Nelson calls for a federal program to provide Selective Livestock Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors to animals in need.
"The signs that these animals are depressed were right in front of us, but too many of us in the food sciences were blinded by narrow-minded agricultural orthodoxy to see them," Nelson said. "But we can't think this problem will be solved through medication alone. Cattle have to learn to believe in themselves. They've got to see themselves as more than walking hunks of meat or they'll never get better."
The government's report also contained preliminary data suggesting a rate as high as 95 percent for severe anxiety disorder among U.S. poultry.