In May of this year Australians were outraged by the news that Australian cattle exported to Indonesia for slaughter had been brutally tortured in Indonesian abattoirs. But while the scandal was attributed to the poor training of Indonesian workers, a close inspection of slaughterhouse methods reveals that cruelty is an inescapable byproduct of animal slaughter no matter where it takes place and regardless of how well-trained animal handlers are.
In slaughterhouses in the United States, for example, where animal welfare standards are enforced by no less than the United States Department of Agriculture, cruelty still dominates the industry.
There, cows are forced into kill boxes at the rate of 400 per hour. Each cow is supposed to be killed by stunning, but at the speed at which these animals are dispatched, it is inevitable that many are not killed or even rendered unconscious. At the end of the line those unfortunate enough to still be alive are hung upside down from hooks like all the rest where their throats are slit, their hides are ripped from their bodies, and their hoofs are cut off though they are fully alive and conscious. In this position they struggle with whatever strength is left to them as they bleed to death.
The inferences to be drawn are obvious. Whether in Australia, the United States or any other place in the world where animals are slaughtered for food, so long as cruelty is a part of the modus operandi, the animal foods that people eat can only be derived through the suffering of animals.
If we want to put a stop to that suffering only two choices are available. Either we eliminate the suffering in the slaughter process or we eliminate animal products from our diet.
As to the first, the question becomes, is it even possible to eradicate animal suffering from the animal slaughter process? And as to the second, the power to remove animal products from the diet as a means of eliminating suffering to farm animals lies exclusively with every individual and is a choice that is open to everyone.
Let us take a look at some of the chief players involved in slaughtering animals. First are the animals slaughtered for food. Next comes the public that consumes the slaughtered animals but wants animals to be treated humanely. Third are the farmers and those engaged in food production who are responsible for the manner in which animals raised for slaughter are treated. Fourth, we have the government which is responsible for supervising animal slaughter. The government is always tied to business interests which demand that commerce continues at all costs even if the most reprehensible kinds of cruelty to animals are uncovered. This renders the government incapable of doing the morally right thing – that is, if we believe that cruelty to animals is morally wrong. Fifth come those citizens who refuse to participate in the cruel treatment of animals under any circumstances and who work to eliminate the suffering of animals.
The players above can serve as a model from which we can determine that if we believe that animals should not suffer by human hands, then it is impossible to do the right thing unless we eliminate the suffering caused by humans one way or the other. This is especially important for the public because the members of the public know intuitively that if they approve of actions that in any way cause animals to suffer – including those committed by their own government and the corporate sector – they then condone and become participants in causing the suffering. Moreover, if they approve of it continuously then cruelty toward animals becomes a way of life, and their lives are then cruelty-based.
An important factor also to be considered is that what happens in slaughterhouses represents only one part of the suffering which animals destined for slaughter endure. In order to reach the abattoirs, animals have to be transported there. And the transportation of animals invariably involves considerable suffering to the animals.
Cows are crammed into 18-wheelers for journeys of hundreds of miles without food or water under the most deplorable conditions. Neither air conditioning on the hottest days of summer or heat on the coldest days of winter are provided. Many of these animals suffer heart attacks along the journey.
Pigs experience similar conditions. Though they normally live 10 to 15 years, they are transported to slaughter after living only six months. In the winter, the pigs are packed so tightly in the unheated trucks that their skin freezes against the sides of the trucks. Handlers have to enter the trucks and cut the skin loose with knives.
Chickens also suffer a gruesome fate. More than 40 billion chickens are transported every year. After only 45 days of life, boiler chickens are loaded into crates for transport. Throwers grab several chickens by their legs and throw them to catchers who stuff them tightly into crates with other chickens at a rate of 1000 to 1500 per hour. These chickens suffer dislocated and broken hips, legs, and wings. An estimated 95% of the birds sustain broken bones with three or four different breakages. En route, they are given no food, water, or shelter during extreme temperatures. They cannot even spread their wings in the tightly packed crates and many die and lie underfoot of the other chickens in their crates. Chickens are extremely sensitive to pain and suffer considerably.
Animals transported by ship also are subject to dangerous conditions and put at high risk for injury and death. Several ships have sunk, caught fire, or have had equipment failures at sea that have cost the lives of many thousands of animals.
At every step of the process that turns animals into food, we encounter the fact that it is a cruel endeavour that causes much suffering to animals. Suffering is built into the system.
Farmers, unfortunately, have become so habituated to farming techniques that include such methods that they have become indifferent to the suffering farming imposes upon the animals.
Small wonder that they see nothing amiss in putting baby calves into dark crates where they cannot turn around and where they are lonely and fearful without their mothers. The mothers bellow for days at the loss of their infants which have been taken from them. The farmers feed the young calves an iron deficient formula designed to keep their flesh white for humans to eat. The calves suffer from anemia, diarrhea, and pneumonia. After a few months the calves are killed.
And what of the fathers of these calves? They are kept in huge feed lots containing hundreds of pens filled with cows numbering into the tens of thousands where they stand in excrement-filled lots and are fed a diet of coarse grains in order to fatten them for market. In their pens they are injected with antibiotics to offset the chemicals and disease resistant bacteria in their feed.
Cows are intended by nature to graze on grassy plains, eat shrubbery, and feel the warmth of the sun on their backs. Only humans with an eye on profit could so subvert nature’s intentions as to confine cows in small pens in filthy, manure-filled environments in which the air is thick with bacteria and particulate matter and feed them an unhealthy diet of grains and antibiotics just so humans can eat them.
The above descriptions barely scratch the surface of the all-pervasive suffering to which animals used in the food chain are forced to submit.
Unfortunately, the suffering of farm animals described in this article is built into our food. Without it, these foods could not be produced. If we are concerned about eliminating the suffering of animals, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the extent to which the suffering of animals permeates the entire food production process.
Wherever animals are slaughtered larger forces are also at work. For example, around 56 billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption every year. The carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide gasses and the waste they produce pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink. Livestock produces as much in greenhouse gases as the entire transportation sector.
And to get rid of the excrement, enormous quantities of manure are stacked into mountains of waste or loaded into lagoons, the sludge from which is spread way too thickly over crops where, like the mountains of manure, it seeps into the earth and contaminates the ground water that finds its way into our rivers and streams.
A United Nations report indicates that already 38% of the entire ice-free land surface goes to livestock production. With the world population expected to rise from nearly 6.7 billion to 9 billion in the next thirty-five years, how much of the ice-free land surface will then be required for livestock? And what about the next thirty-five years after that? Shall we then put our livestock on the moon just so human beings can continue to satisfy their appetite for animal flesh?
Besides the suffering of animals in our food production system and the pollution of our rivers and streams, the list of the issues associated with the widespread, systemic exploitation of animals as it relates to the quality of human life has become a serious matter to which more and more thoughtful people are turning their attention.
These problems include the increase in poverty in the developing countries caused by growing grain to feed animals for human consumptions on land that should be used to grow crops to feed impoverished people.
It involves the fraudulent taking of billions of tax dollars by our universities for needless animal research that could be going to address important societal matters.
It concerns the creation of unnecessary drugs for the treatment of conditions such as heart disease and excessive weight caused by eating animals.
And it includes the epidemic of childhood obesity that is ruining the health of many of our children so that already one-third of boys and even more girls (39%) born in the year 2000 are now at lifetime risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
If we want to eliminate the suffering of animals, one of the best ways we can do this is to simply stop eating them. Unfortunately, this idea seems to fill us with dread that we will die from a lack of protein and that our poor taste buds will never forgive us if we do.
But contrary to the propaganda put out by the meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy industries, the facts are that if we simply satisfy our daily caloric needs, a feat easily accomplished by consuming a diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains, we will meet our protein needs (small amounts of vitamin B12 should supplement a vegan diet).
Concurrently, we might want to begin to investigate the claim that animal protein in our diet is a leading cause of the killer diseases, a scientific fact being ignored by our healthcare organisations and certainly not one that the meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy industries are anxious to discuss.
As for our taste buds, abandoning an animal-based diet opens up all kinds of fresh tastes and flavours. For those who like to cook, it is a whole new culinary adventure. Going without animal foods can only lead to enormous benefits for our personal health, the betterment of the earth, and the welfare of innocent animals.
If we want to feel the clearness in our hearts and minds that results from right living, if we want to feel that we are good people and that our compassion is limitless, if we want the peace of mind that comes from living in a way that is not tied to the suffering of animals, and if we hope to make an imprint on the world that will leave it a better place than we found it, then we can do no better than to live in a way that expresses concern and caring for the welfare and well being of the other species that cohabit our planet. There can be no better place to begin than to stop eating animals. When we do, we will eliminate much of their suffering.
David Irving is the author of The Protein Myth: Significantly Reducing the Risk of Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes While Saving the Animals and the Planet (O-Books, 2011). This new book illustrates how we can avoid the major killer diseases by eliminating animal products from our diet. The Protein Myth makes a compelling case that the way to a healthier life and a better world is ending the exploitation of animals. The book is available from all good bookstores or visit www.newdawnreviews.com.
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DAVID IRVING’s writing on animals rights issues have appeared in many blogs and journals. He has been a vegan for the past 25 years. Currently, he is finishing up a book about vivisection. An accomplished musician and composer, he graduated Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University. His compositions are performed in the United States and Europe. David makes his home in the upper Catskill Mountain Region of New York where he attends to and is attended by his four cats, Looney, Goldie Boy, Lewie-Lew, and Spats.
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 129 (November-December 2011).
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