Every year, approximately 70 billion land animals1 and trillions of fish are slaughtered for food, while animal agriculture also drives countless wild species to extinction.
US Animal Kill Clock 2020
animals have been killed for food so far this year in the United Statesanimalclock.org
Most animals reared for meat, milk and eggs are factory farmed. They live out their lives crammed inside sheds or vast warehouses, with nothing to occupy their minds and without individual care. Billions die before they even reach slaughter age, out of sight and out of our minds. Yet, when faced with the realities of life on farms – the filth and squalor, sickness and desperation – most of us find the system impossible to justify. None of us wish to be responsible for inflicting such suffering, and yet – when we buy meat, fish, eggs or dairy – we cannot avoid that uncomfortable fact that we are supporting it and ensuring it continues.
Food labels, like ‘free-range’, ‘outdoor-bred’, and ‘grass-fed’ can be misleading. Free range, for example, does not mean the animals ever went outside, just that they had access to it. Piglets who are outdoor-bred may be brought into industrial indoor fattening units within a few weeks of birth. And grass-fed cows are unlikely to have been on pasture all their lives, but could have been confined for long periods and simply fed grass-based feed.
While these products are marketed specifically to reassure us that all is well, and often depict happy animals on the packaging and in the adverts, the reality is that animals suffer at every stage of their lives so we can consume their flesh, milk, and eggs.
Five Secrets of Modern Farming
Mothers lose their young. Female animals are treated as breeding machines and very few are permitted to nurture their young. Eggs are taken from hens and hatched industrially; piglets are taken from sows when just a few weeks old; and calves are taken from dairy cows so they don’t drink their milk. For days after their young are taken, sheep and cows can keep calling for them.
Cows don’t just produce milk, they must first be made pregnant. This is the same for all mammals. In order to keep the milk flowing, dairy cows are repeatedly inseminated, which takes an enormous physical toll on them. Their bodies break down, and many are considered ‘spent’ before they reach their sixth birthday.
Farming creates unwanted ‘by-products’ and they are also killed. Male chicks born into the egg industry are considered worthless as they cannot lay eggs, and so they are killed – either gassed or ground up – on their very first day of life. Similarly, male calves born into the dairy industry cannot give milk. Some may be reared for veal or beef, while others will be shot at birth.
Mutilations are commonplace. Chickens and turkeys have the ends of their beaks sliced off, cows are castrated and de-horned, while pigs may have their teeth and tails clipped – all without anesthetic or analgesic.
No one gets out alive. Sows used to breed piglets are not retired when they get too old. They are shipped to slaughter. Even egg-laying hens and dairy cows are slaughtered when they are no longer considered productive enough, and their scrawny bodies turned into low-grade products.
What About Fish?
Commercial fishing vessels scoop up tens of thousands of fish at a time. The animals at the bottom of the net may be crushed by the weight of fish above them, while the rapid change in pressure can cause their stomachs, intestines, and eyes to be pushed from their bodies. There are no welfare regulations governing slaughter at sea.
On farms, fish are packed densely into often-filthy enclosures. An array of chemicals is needed just to keep them alive. In this stressful environment, many fish will become aggressive and may bite off the fins, tails, and eyes of others. Such distressing and destructive behavior can be seen in other factory farmed animals, too.
Animals, like us, are sentient and intelligent beings with distinct personalities. They feel comfort, happiness, fear, and pain. They can be joyful, sad, frightened or bored, and they can grieve for the loss of their young. They form friendship groups and have preferences, and their lives matter to them in the same way as ours matter to us. We know this is true of our companion animals – the dogs, cats, and others we share our homes with – and it is also true of farmed animals. Given the chance, cows run and jump for joy, chickens love to chase a football and sheep can be very playful. But on modern farms, none of this is possible, and even the most basic instincts – including to roam, nest and nurture their young – are denied them.
For most farmed animals, there is nothing at all that makes their life worthwhile, and while we may not be the ones to put them in cages or cut their throats, we are sponsoring their suffering with every purchase of animal products.
Thankfully, there is a kinder way.Sign me up
1 ‘Strategic Plan 2013-17: For kinder fairer farming worldwide’, Compassion in World Farming [https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3640540/ciwf_strategic_plan_20132017.pdf]