Is there such a thing as humane slaughter?

As consumers, we often hear the term ‘humane slaughter’ used in connection with the meat, egg and dairy industries but the term ‘humane’ means ‘having or showing compassion or benevolence’. It is hard to see how that describes the deliberate taking of another’s life.

‘Humane slaughter’ is a marketing term – and an oxymoron – that provides a type of ‘psychological refuge’, which allows us to imagine the animal we are eating did not suffer during her final moments.

In a way, the growing need for meat, egg and dairy producers to market themselves as ‘humane’ indicates a social shift in the way people view animals today. Empathy, experts say, is hard-wired into our genetics – and with the advent of social media and countless industry exposés, it’s harder and harder to deny the grim realities of animal agriculture.

In today’s changing social climate then, many people are asking the question: is there really such a thing as humane slaughter?

Industry proponents generally describe ‘humane killing or slaughter’ as occurring when an animal is ‘rendered insensible until death ensues, without pain, suffering or distress.’ In theory, an animal will be stunned prior to bleeding out, so they are unconscious as they die.

However, we know that in practice that even this bleak minimum standard is not always met, with countless animals fully conscious as they have their throats slit, are shot in the head, are gassed, electrocuted, or worse. And even when stunning is provided, it often fails, requires multiple attempts and causes terrible suffering all of its own.

Former workers from slaughterhouses and factory farms have given haunting,
real-life accounts of how this ‘humane slaughter’ process is anything but. Often, these ex-industry employees also suffer from long-term psychological impacts resulting from continued exposure to extreme levels of violence, suffering, and death.

Of course, the very notion of ‘humane slaughter’ is intrinsically flawed, as it assumes that an animal does not value his or her life.

As these workers will tell you – animals fight for their lives, right until their very last breath. They experience fear, pain, suffering, and loss, often beyond our worst imagination. Given the chance, these gentle, innocent beings will also fight to protect their friends and their young.

In this way, ‘humane slaughter’ relies on the fallacy that animals are not conscious beings. However, in 2012, a leading group of scientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which stated that animals (including both vertebrates and invertebrates) are conscious. This means animals are sentient, can experience what happens to them, and have mental states which can be positive or negative for them as individuals.  

This is important because the capacity of an animal to have both positive and negative experiences is what makes them vulnerable to harm. As Animal Ethics remarks, “there are powerful reasons to conclude that this is what should matter when it comes to giving someone moral consideration and not discriminating against that being.”

An individual animal values their life just as much as you or I. And ultimately, there is no ‘humane’ way to kill someone who does not want to die.

Another fatal flaw surrounding ‘humane slaughter’ is that the concept assumes a human’s only moral obligation is to provide an animal with a ‘quick’ death – but what of the conditions these animals endure during life?

US data suggests that over 99% of farmed animals spend their lives on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs.) The horrific treatment of animals on such factory farms is well-documented, and happens in countries all over the world.

Factory-farmed chickens are kept in restrictive sheds, with little or no access to the outdoors. Most factory-farmed pigs will be kept in ‘sow stalls’, or cages so small they can’t even turn around. Factory-farmed cows may spend time outdoors, but are still confined to feedlots without access to pasture or grass. Ducks are denied proper swimming water for the duration of their lives – which are always cut too short.

There is nothing ‘humane’ about denying an animal access to the sun, or suppressing their natural behaviours. Breeding practices designed to maximise weight gain (or production of eggs and milk) also cause animals to display notable signs of stress, ill health and even premature death.

As Game of Thrones actor Jerome Flynn recently said: “[Animals’] lives are miserable from the moment they are born, until the day the lorries arrive to take them to slaughter. Yes, at the end of all this suffering, they are hauled off to the abattoir, where the sights and smells of blood and entrails are stomach-turning.”

Nothing humane happens in a slaughterhouse.

The majority of people do not want to inflict harm on animals. In fact, a 2017 survey conducted by The Guardian found that 75% of American adults believe they usually eat meat, dairy, and eggs “from animals that are treated humanely”.

When we understand that ‘humane slaughter’ is little more than a marketing term, we can see that even consumers who care about animals’ welfare are likely to be contributing to their suffering. Fortunately, every individual can help end this cycle – and we can all start today!

Factory farms and slaughterhouses only exist because of consumer demand. Instead of supporting inhumane practices, take the Million Dollar Vegan pledge and ‘try vegan for Lent.’ By reducing or eliminating meat, eggs and dairy from your plate, you can help end animal suffering, whilst enjoying new and delicious plant-based meal plans.

You’ll discover that a vegan diet is fun, tasty and – in the truest sense of the word – humane. Start your journey and download the Vegan Starter Kit today.  



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