About this essay

This essay (or is it a polemic?), began as a few dot points in 2014, scribbled down to help me clarify my thoughts about animal welfare, particularly in the industrial abuse of animals, and how their mistreatment merged with topics such as veganism, what we teach our children about animals and critical environmental issues such as global warming, species loss, pollution, land degradation and the over-use of fresh water. I didn’t give much thought to the relationship between veganism and improved human health at that stage because all I wanted was a few facts and figures about what I saw (and still do) as the more important issues.

Over time the dot points coalesced into something bigger, which I decided to put online. It is quite handy because now if anyone asks me why I’m a vegan I can reply, ‘Oh, have you read my essay? I’ve laid it all out there.’ And then if they do bother to read it, the foundations for a later discussion are laid.

Overall, it has an Australian flavour, because this is where I live, but the principles upon which it is based extend beyond the artificial borders of countries into some more global realm of shared thoughts.

I am aware that some of what I’ve written will soon be out of date because science is advancing rapidly on a number of fronts that pertain to animal welfare. This is fantastic news and if you want to follow where it’s all going, one way I can recommend is to make a donation to, say, a cellular agriculture venture, and get on their mailing list. That way you’ll get the latest information about their work and links to a number of related organisations…and your continued donations will be greatly appreciated, as well as needed. However, I digress. The point I wish to make is: even though science and technology are soon going to swamp some of what I’ve written, the key message—that we must stop abusing animals immediately—will remain unchanged.

And finally, if you would like to use any of my original text to further the case for improved animal welfare, please go ahead. No need to ask. I apologise if some of the referencing is underdone but this is not a scientific paper, or anything like one.

And please share the link to this work on social media if you feel so inclined because getting the pennies to drop and the blind spots to clear up is difficult and every little bit will help.


Mike Bourchier

May 2018




Animals are not just living things; they are beings with lives… that makes all the difference in the world…next time you are outside…notice the first bird you see…you are beholding a unique individual with personality traits, an emotional profile, and a library of knowledge built on experience…what you are witnessing is not just biology, but a biography.

Jonathan Balcombe i

If I was to offer you a completely new range of things to eat—food with marvellous tastes, textures and mouth-watering aromas—I think there’s a good chance you’d be interested in trying them because generally speaking that’s exactly what we look for in our food. So let’s assume that you have accepted my offer. However, before you get underway there are a few things I have to tell you.

  • Firstly, in order to obtain this food, several species of animals, mostly cows, pigs, chicken and sheep, had to be killed, and in most cases this was done in cruel and painful ways. Prior to being killed these animals were subjected to various forms of ill-treatment and as their lives drew to a close and they became aware of their impending doom, they experienced high levels of terror, sufficient in fact to change the nature of their flesh.

  • Secondly, the methods employed to produce this food are highly inefficient and environmentally disastrous in terms of water pollution, water wastage, land degradation, species loss and the production of greenhouse gases.

  • And finally, eating this food will, in the long term, significantly increase your chances of developing certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and, it seems increasingly likely, dementia.

So, are you still interested? I assume, and certainly hope, that by now you’ve changed your mind about eating the stuff, but if you are a consumer of animal products in any form (not just food) these are exactly the sorts of things you are helping to facilitate with every purchase. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s what ninety-five percent of the population in the developed world1 is doing every day of every week.

So why do we do it? Why do we treat our fellow travelers so barbarically? If causing such levels of suffering in so many animals is not highly unethical, then what exactly is unethical behaviour? By any measure, the mistreatment of animals by commercial operations that act ‘legally’ among us goes far beyond the pale of what could ever be acceptable in a civilised society and presumably that is the type of society we want to live in.

 It’s an abhorrent situation, many centuries in the making, but the past is the past and it cannot be changed. The question now is: what can we do about what confronts us today? How can we as individuals, working within the sphere of animal welfare, help move our societies a step closer to a state of civilisation? Surprisingly, the answer is quite simple: withdraw financial support for the industries which are causing, or contributing to, these problems. Just stop buying anything that relies on animal abuse for its existence. There are many other actions we can take in addition to this, but none are as effective as refusing to give them our money, because, like all commercial operations, the animal-abuse industries exist for one reason only—to make a profit. Without it, they will cease to exist.


Each person who chooses to withdraw their financial support for the animal-abuse industries—which of course extend well beyond food production—become, by default, vegan.

This is not as disturbing as it may initially sound even if the words vegan and veganism conjure up uncomfortable thoughts of oddballs, extremists, trendy bandwagon jumpers or tiresome do-gooders looking for a drum to beat. Yes, there are some vegans who can be described this way, but as a general rule such descriptions are neither fair nor accurate. Today, the concept of veganism has a much broader and more powerful meaning despite outdated dictionaries still defining it as simply a diet that excludes all animal products. For many of us, myself included, being vegan has got very little to do with what we put in our mouths per se and much more to do with the whole picture of animal welfare, the contribution of animal agriculture to the looming environmental catastrophes and plain old human health. Indeed, veganism, by its very nature extends beyond non-human animals to a deep concern for human beings as well because we are all of us, in our capacity to suffer, inseparable.

I think of veganism as a moral and political response to a critical situation, and while it certainly does mean having a diet free of animal products, this is no more than an inevitable consequence of the decision to take action. Veganism is NOT a squeamish dislike of sausages, leather shoes and horse-racing simply because they exist, nor is it a quasi-religious fad diet designed to make the devotee feel ‘different’ or ‘superior’. It’s got nothing to do with religion, culture, career, age, gender or anything else that distinguishes us from each other. Veganism is about lowering the demand for food, clothing, entertainment and anything else which causes high levels of suffering among the animals it exploits and, as a corollary, increases demand for those which do not. It is both a re-balancing of our relationships with animals and decisive action to preserve and defend the natural environment. Veganism has clear, measurable goals, many of them simply zero.

The scope of animal abuse

If you read on you will notice that I have directed a lot of my comments and antipathy toward the meat and dairy industries. This is not because they are necessarily the cruellest; it is because they are the biggest, towering as they do over the landscape of animal abuse. Between them these two titans are responsible for the terrible and completely unnecessary suffering of billions of cattle, chickens, turkeys, geese, pigs, sheep, goats, fish, horses, dogs, camels, buffalo and other species, and the sooner they are replaced by plant-based food industries, cellular agriculture and other scientific and technological advances that do not involve animal exploitation, the better our societies will become.

By concentrating on the meat and dairy industries I don’t want to suggest that those animals who fall foul of other exploitative industries are necessarily better off, because often they are not. Consider for a moment the fate of circus animals, trapped in small cages or chained up for most of their lives, deprived of any reasonable quality of life, carted around the countryside in all weathers, whipped, threatened, and forced to learn stupid tricks; marine mammals, such as orca and dolphins, that would swim for thousands of kilometres if they were in the wild, held in captivity and forced by the staff of marine parks to entertain people from the confines of over-sized swimming pools, and worse still, locked up overnight in tiny tanks where they can barely move; birds imprisoned in cages, deprived of social interaction or the chance to fly, bored beyond description—an exquisite form of torture in its own right (and one that is used in our human prison systems), is something unbearable to witness; race horses restrained in their stalls for twenty-two hours a day when they should be roaming or grazing with others of their own kind, whipped on race day and then discarded and killed for pet food when they break a leg or the sums don’t add up; free-ranging animals of the open plains and forests—the gorillas, monkeys, wildebeest, gazelles, big cats etc., confined in zoos where they suffer the mental anguish and eventual madness of an isolated prisoner; the millions of mice, rats and chimpanzees subjected to cruel experiments in the name of science and the rabbits and hares into whose eyes the cosmetics industry drips its chemicals. These are a few examples of animals whose lives can be as bad as, or even worse than those of the ones we raise for their flesh; and each is as entitled to be freed from their human-induced hells as any other.

If you run your finger down a list of all the forms of animal abuse we in the developed world indulge in, one thing stands out as common to all (with the possible exception of some scientific experimentation) and that is they are all unnecessary. There is simply no need for any of it. Surely we’re capable of feeding and entertaining ourselves without having to sink to these levels of depravity? Even the use of animals in experiments, which, from our anthropocentric view of the world we deem necessary, is waning and seems destined to become a thing of the past in the next few decades.

Factory Farms

Among the worst crimes in human history are today’s factory-farms. The industry name for them says it all: ‘Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations’.ii These sickeningly overcrowded hell-holes, which I will describe in detail in a minute, are far and away the number one cause of prolonged suffering for animals in the world today. According to the heartless economic principles of factory-farming, an animal is merely a unit of production to be confined, controlled and exploited for monetary gain. Any action taken to improve its well-being—that does not also increase profits—is deemed a waste of money. This type of thinking may make ‘economic’ sense, but the consequences for the animals caught up in it are ghastly.

It may sound an exaggeration to say (as I did) that what is happening to animals in factory-farms ranks as some of the worst evil that human beings have ever engaged in, particularly when you consider the mass barbarities that litter human history. But it is actually closer to an understatement than an exaggeration, and that surely ought to give us all pause for thought. If it doesn’t, then it’s hard to imagine what could.

As Yuval Harari says in his masterpiece, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind: ‘If we accept a mere tenth of what animal-rights activists are claiming, then modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in history.’ iii And when you think about what is going on, for how long and the massive numbers involved, you can confidently remove ‘might well be’ from his comment and replace it with ‘is’.

A most disturbing thought is that the extent of factory-farming may very well increase as the world’s human population continues to grow. United Nations’ demographers expect there to be more than nine billion people on earth by 2050. That’s two billion more people demanding resources than there are today, and unless there is a major shift in behaviour many of them will want to eat meat. As a result of this rapid growth, global meat consumption is predicted to double over the next forty years, although how this ghastly statistic could possibly be achieved without huge input from cellular agriculture (meat grown in bioreactors), nobody understands, because conventional production is now close to its maximum output. What may happen, and something every person on the planet should greatly fear, is that even as the developed world continues to move away from animal products, countries with huge and growing middle classes, such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria and China, will go in the opposite direction, demanding more and more meat, resulting in more and more factory-farming. The global picture may become much worse than it is today although there are some big unknowns in this equation. How rapidly, for example, can cellular agricultural meat production be scaled up over the next few decades and will education, heightened social awareness, government policies or even a blind fear of environmental catastrophe, be sufficient to stem demand for meat in these huge human populations?

Furthermore, factory-farms are the main incubators of both infection-resistant antibiotics—those ‘super bugs’ for which we have no cures—and the mutated viruses that cross over to humans from other species, of which Avian Flu, HIV/AIDs and Ebola are recent examples. To date, these new pathogens have not caused global devastation, but it is predicted that the number of people they will kill will rise to around ten million each year by 2050—a ten-fold increase on current numbers.iv

Environmental impacts

If being party to animal cruelty on this scale is not sufficient reason for some people to alter their behaviour they might be moved to do so by the chilling fact that animal agriculture is a fundamental cause of many of our gravest environmental problems, among them: land clearance to create grazing land, and the associated soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and reduced carbon capture capacity that accompanies it; over-fishing and the destruction of marine ecosystems; water pollution; fresh water wastage and  the production of methane, a significant greenhouse gas, are just some of them. Each is critically important in its own right and each can be greatly ameliorated, even rectified, if we move to a plant-based food system. If we stop feeding a third of all our grain and soy to animals trapped in factory-farms, vast areas of land can return to naturally occurring vegetation and there will still be sufficient food for all people. But time is rapidly running out and we have to get moving, even if only to blunt some of the effects of the environmental damage we’ve already caused and we certainly can’t rely on last-minute technical solutions to give us a ‘soft landing’ when the causes of global warming have already gained such irreversible momentum.

People power

In the face of all this gloomy news it is easy to become despondent, especially when we look at how big the meat, dairy and other animal-abuse industries have become and at how normalised their products are within society. I know that sinking feeling well, because I drive through the farming country of New South Wales in Australia regularly and I see the scale of it all. It’s huge and sometimes the thought of bringing about meaningful change feels a bit like trying to nudge a fully-laden iron ore carrier off its course using a rubber dinghy. But it may prove to be easier than that because people-power, when properly harnessed, is incredibly strong and has the potential to increase exponentially once it takes hold in the shared human imagination. Official statistics don’t show it, but in the developed world a major shift in people’s views on veganism, animal welfare, the environment and healthful plant-based nutrition, is well and truly underway, and it’s gaining momentum. Just the other day (May 2018) Woolworths in Australia reported a 10% increase in the sale of vegan foods in the last 12 months. Every day the penny is beginning to drop more frequently, adding thousands of vegans to the tens of millions who have already arrived.

As Margaret Mead said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ v

In this case the ‘small group’ comprises the roughly forty million people globally who have chosen to become vegan for ethical reasons. These are people who have access to abundant, cheap animal products but choose not to consume them because they want to do something about the dreadful mess we’ve got ourselves into. That is what an ethical vegan is. And while 40 million is a comparatively small group in a global population of over seven billion (representing only 0.6%), it is still a lot of people and sufficiently large to ignite an idea in the collective human imagination. Just as a flaring match head is tiny compared to the forest fire it starts, a concept as potent as veganism, which is fuelled by logic, compassion and urgency, can spread in the age of social media as quickly as an Australian bush fire on a hot, windy day.

Scope of essay

I have deliberately focused on the major animal-abuse industries in this essay because of their sheer size and because they are a problem we can really do something about. It does mean, however, that I haven’t touched on more esoteric topics such as whether or not it is OK to swat a fly, stamp on an ant; or eat a jellyfish, an oyster, the carcass of an animal that has died of old age or was run over by a truck. Nor have I mentioned anything about what actions we might justifiably take if our houses are plagued by rats or mice, or if we’re feeling self-conscious about the tens of thousands of little animals we slaughter each morning when we wash our faces. I’ll leave that to the Buddhists because they’ve had a long time to think about such things. I’ve also avoided tricky modern day questions about how to deal with introduced animals which are killing native species and in other ways destroying the environment. These are issues for another discussion. One thing I have done is make a few comments about the role of animals in scientific experiments and the need for blatant (but temporary, I hope) hypocrisy on our part if we are willing to accept treatment using modern medicine that has it’s roots in animal abuse.

1. Why the blind spot?

I think it’s instructive to ask why a large majority of us give financial support to industries that cause such tremendous suffering to such huge numbers of animals when there is no need for us to do so. If we had to eat animals to survive, then supporting the meat or dairy industries would be another matter entirely, but this is not the case as the Australian government-funded health information and advice service, Healthdirect vi makes abundantly clear. We don’t need to consume any animal products to be healthy, which means we don’t need these industries either. So why are they still here? The main reasons, it seems to me, are their sheer size, their integration into the economy, and their high levels of public acceptance; but all these could change very quickly if the broader public comes to understand the harm they cause, not just to their animal victims, but to the environment, human health and the ethical basis of the whole society.

But still, the question remains: why are these industries supported? Why is it, for example, that smart, caring folk, many of whom would claim to ‘love’ animals, and may indeed have pets of their own, and certainly would not like to think of pigs being tortured, have no qualms about eating bacon for breakfast? One obvious explanation is that they have a blind spot when it comes to animal suffering, at least as it occurs within the animal-abuse industries. They’ll rush their cat or dog down to the vet at the drop of a hat, but do they ever consider what actually lies behind the pet food they buy?

I think of blind spots as psychological safety nets, somewhat akin to burying one’s head in the sand and hoping it will all go away or at least it won’t be mentioned. It’s not difficult to see why blind spots have arisen in relation to animal welfare because there are so many very bad things going on; and bad things are usually easier to avoid than to confront, especially if everybody else is doing it. But that alone doesn’t make it OK.

Here are three reasons which I believe may explain (in part) why blind spots are so common when it comes to the welfare of animals caught in the maws of the animal-abuse industries:

  • Firstly, for most of us, watching, even thinking about, extreme cruelty is a disturbing thing. Not only can it be very upsetting, it has the potential to cause us psychological injury, and so we instinctively protect ourselves against it by not looking at it. I, for example, have never watched people being beheaded by terrorist organisations online because I know it would give me horrible recurring thoughts for the rest of my life.

  • Secondly, there is the inconvenience of knowing that if we do confront the truth about something that relies on extreme levels of cruelty for its existence, and we are financially supporting that behaviour, we might, indeed we should, feel an obligation to do something about it—and nobody likes the thought of that! It’s much easier to ignore reality a lot of the time than to face it.

  • And thirdly, we’re cautious about leaving the safety of the herd—which, in the case of adopting a vegan lifestyle, means parting company with the non-vegan majority. This caution is quite understandable because as social animals the advantages of belonging to a group are wired into our psyches. Indeed, our very survival has relied upon membership of a group for eons and we cannot change our instinct to belong any more than we can change the colour of our skin.

These three reasons: a ‘self-protective’ avoidance of the facts, and reticence to do anything because it just seems all too hard, and fear of leaving the herd may between them explain the existence of some of our blind spots. Other reasons could be just not caring one way or the other—the ‘I don’t give a shit’ mentality, fear of being thought of as a weirdo or a sappy do-gooder, a love of meat and dairy products to the exclusion of all else, the misguided notion that humans need to eat animal products to remain healthy or the mental disposition of psychopathy—the inability to care about suffering in others.

Whatever our reasons, and we can determine them through some honest self-examination, they are all, by definition, subject to reason itself. Our ability to change our behaviour in response to a reasoned argument is one of the greatest strengths of being human and part of why we are this planet’s dominant species. Nobody should doubt their capacity to respond in this way or think they are too old or set in their ways to change. That’s called ‘giving up’.

Self-delusion is another method we use to guide ourselves into safer psychological waters. It can be a useful protective mechanism and one might argue we live in a delusory state most of our lives, but self-delusion can also be the mechanism by which we allow ourselves to believe that what goes on behind the walls of the abattoirs and factory-farms might just creep across the line of what we would find acceptable, even if we knew all the details. Deep down we know this can’t possibly be the case but there’s nothing like a little self-deception to create a psychological wormhole just large enough for us to wriggle into. Highly delusional people may even tell themselves that the government is regulating the animal-abuse industries competently on their behalf; although given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that would be a delusionary stretch few of us could make with any semblance of conviction.

Many of our blind spots first took hold in our young and developing childhood brains. Most of us, in the developed world at least, begin eating meat within the first year or two of our lives where it is simply treated as ‘food’ in the same way that dairy products, fruits, nuts and vegetables are thought of as food and the ethics about where meat comes from are never discussed. Consequently, very little connection was ever made between the object on the fork and the animal whose flesh it once was. Euphemisms such as pork, beef, lamb and chicken deflect the argument away from its brutal realities and into a safer psychological space where a lamb chop can be equated with a peanut butter sandwich. It is in this same gravelly soil of the mind where our ingrained conditioning has taken hold that the arguments for animal welfare and veganism must try to germinate and sprout. Shifting one’s psychological position from the status quo to one where meat and milk are seen, not for what they are in an organic sense, but for what they represent, can take a good deal of individual effort. But it can be done and often is, with surprising ease.

There is an almost endless stream of reasons to explain why we turn a blind eye to the widespread and horrific animal suffering in our midst, but at the end of the day, can any of us plausibly let ourselves off the hook as easily as we do?

2. Down at the slaughterhouse

The animals we eat, milk, experiment upon, turn into apparel, and use for entertainment or as beasts of burden, are very like us in many ways. Most of them are mammals, and closely related to us in evolutionary terms. They have nervous systems and behaviours similar to our own, and they experience fear, pain and suffering as we do. There is no need for us to twist ourselves in knots trying to determine how much they suffer or whether they suffer more or less than we do. That they do suffer in a comparable way is all we need to know.

But what do I mean by suffering? It is a concept open to various interpretations, so to ensure that we are all on the same page, here are three examples of what I would define as actions that would cause severe suffering in humans:

  • having your head methodically caved in with a hammer.

  • being held by your ankles by someone who is about to drop you off the top of a tall building.

  • being kept in solitary confinement, and slowly driven insane through social deprivation.

Each of these scenarios conjures up levels of pain, shock, terror and mental agony, which, thankfully, most people never experience, but which the animal-abuse industries inflict on their victims every day. Isn’t that worth thinking about? In fact, if we all understood that, and acted accordingly, there wouldn’t be any need for further comment and I could stop writing right here. But unfortunately, that’s not the case.

(At this point I feel compelled to diverge a little and acknowledge the many thousands of men, women and children around the world who are suffering in similar ways at the hands of other people. From the concentration camps, torture chambers, and inhumane prisons of the more barbaric regimes, to the use of solitary confinement in supposedly ‘advanced’ countries, revolting forms of torture are being used everywhere we look. And while it is relatively easy for us to reduce the scale of animal abuse by choosing not to give the perpetrators our financial support, it’s a different matter when it comes to the lives of people falsely imprisoned, tortured and murdered in other countries. Often there is very little we can do to help them beyond supporting human rights organisations like Amnesty International and pressuring our government to take action. Just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but results will often be harder to come by. It is important to bear in mind that there is really no difference between the suffering of these people and that of our animal cousins and all are equally deserving of our efforts to end to their torment.)

Where, one may rightly ask, is the evidence that the animals down at the slaughter house suffer as greatly as I have suggested? Fortunately (although I hesitate to use that word), there is a great deal of evidence to support this claim and I would encourage anyone who has any doubts to start an online investigation by keying animal abuse by the meat industry into a search engine and following the links. You will be horrified by where it takes you.

Or if you want to take a shortcut to a few selected sites, and have the stomach for it:

  • look at these young pigs going to the gas chamber in this Australian abattoir:

http://animalsaustralia.org/features/not-so-humane-slaughter/ vii

  • see what happens to these calves on this one:

http://www.animalsaustralia.org/features/they-stabbed-babies/?r=583a767006b901480226416&ua_s=e-mail viii

  • listen to the vegan activist, Gary Yourofsky: a brilliant public speaker.


  • look at the documentary Cowspiracy (also available on Netflix)


  • follow the link below to gain a different insight into the dairy industry

http://freefromharm.org/dairyfacts x

Or you might wish to read these books (or at least a few chapters from them):

  • Animal Liberation – the seminal work of Peter Singer.xi

  • Farmageddon: The True Cost of Meat by Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott. xii

  • Eating Animals by John Safran Foer. xiii

This is just a light sprinkling of what is available but I know most people won’t open any of these links, or the books, because getting up close and personal with what is being done to the animal victims in this story is not easy. So for those who cannot bear to witness the stark reality of what they are throwing their financial support behind, you will just have to take my word for it—it is all very dark and it makes you question the very ethical bases upon which our societies rest.

If you are one of those who think your country has good animal welfare protection laws and that they are being competently enforced on your behalf, think again. Governments all over the world are universally doing an appallingly bad job of protecting the animals and that won’t change as long as vested interest groups, such as the meat industry, are able to stifle the voice of reason.

In Australia, for example, it is disgraceful beyond words that, in 2018, the live export trade, which ships farm animals to countries where they are treated with barbaric cruelty, is being expanded, instead of terminated. As a result of government policy, cattle, sheep and goats are shipped out, under inhumane conditions that will kill and injure many of them before they even reach their destination, to places where they are stabbed in the face with knives; bashed on the head with hammers; slowly hacked to death with multiple blows to their throats; locked in the boots of cars in forty degree heat, and more.

And what makes it all the more unforgivable is that it is done with the full knowledge of the Australian farmers who raise the animals, in cahoots as they are with the exporters, and the state and federal governments. These groups have been told, and shown, time and time again for decades, what is happening to these animals and yet they have done nothing apart from occasionally paying lip-service to the animal welfare lobby. All the while they clamber for live exports to continue because they make a few bucks out of it. One can understand why political party hacks and their poll-driven leaders don’t have the moral fibre to oppose live exports, but you would think that the farmers themselves would refuse to send their animals overseas in these circumstances. But no, they happily wash their hands of any responsibility once the truck, loaded with those whom they have betrayed, passes through their front gates.

The acts of cruelty associated with live exports are well-documented. They’ve been known about for years. We only need to look at some of the reports from Dr Lynn Simpson, an Australian vet, who took fifty-seven trips onboard live export ships.xiv And to compound matters, we have very little chance of preventing the acts of extreme cruelty towards animals, which are daily occurrences in countries to which Australia exports its livestock, despite the government’s pretence that we do. This fact alone is more than sufficient reason to stop exporting animals immediately and slaughter them in this country. Not that what happens within Australia’s domestic meat industry is much better, but the evidence suggests it is the lesser of two evils, particularly if the sea journey is removed.

Just before I published this essay (June 2018), the footage below was shown on Australian television. Everyone should take a look at it.


It was filmed inside a ship taking sheep from Australia to the Middle East in August 2017. And remember, this is standard practice, not an exception. It is what happens when greedy, cruel people treat animals as commodities and no amount of public hand-wringing or policy tinkering by government ministers will change this. There is only one solution when it comes to the live export trade. It must be stopped immediately, and forever. I should add, the Australian government continues to allow these ships to operate, albeit with mildly altered conditions, and the animals are still suffering terribly. To their great shame our political class hasn’t had the guts to stop this ghastly business despite being presented with any amount of conclusive evidence for decades. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister say enough is enough, because no amount of financial losses by either farmers or those others profiting from the live export trade, or fear of being sued by these people, or losing votes in rural seats, can in any way justify allowing its existence for a moment longer. Moving decisively to end it would be what real leadership looks like. And certainly, it would take a bit of spine. But what is the point of striving to lead if when you finally make it you’re only going to spread yourself like a blob of ectoplasm with equal amounts hanging down each side of the fence?

3. Let’s go shopping…

I wonder what the effect on meat sales would be if shoppers were given a graphic reminder of what happens inside an abattoir while they were deciding on what type of meat to have for dinner.

Let us imagine for a moment, television screens above the meat section in our local supermarket, or on the wall in our butcher’s shop, showing us just that. The sound is turned up, and we can see the electric prods, gassings, throat-slittings, electrocutions, and firing of bolts into animals’ heads while they scream in fear and struggle desperately for their lives. Of particular poignancy would be the last minutes of those animals, who, having survived the ‘killing’ process, are boiled, hung upside down on hooks, skinned and hacked to pieces while still alive. They still scream and bellow at this stage, just the way you or I would. This is not some sort of exaggerated television horror show designed to make a point; it’s what happens every day of the week as the United States’ abattoir workers interviewed for Gail Eisnitz’s book, Slaughterhouse, xv, make clear. And nobody should assume what happens in their own country is any different and in many of them we already know it is much worse.

Giving shoppers access to footage of this nature would make buying meat a much more honest experience than it is today, and it would remove the, ‘I didn’t know’ argument from the discussion entirely. With that gone, what would be the effect on sales? It’s hard to know, but at least the notion of informed decision-making would be well-served. However, we can be sure that screens such as these not going to be installed while the majority of the population continue thinking as they do. For one thing, shoppers themselves would be up in arms. The last thing a lot of them want is to be reminded of the truth, and of course the truth is also the last thing anyone profiting from meat wants to see in the light of day. But crimes of this enormity will always continue to surface just as they have been doing with monotonous regularity for decades. Some things are just too big to keep hidden.

Anyone who eats ‘free-range’ chicken meat or eggs because they (rightly) believe the lives of battery chickens are a monstrous crime, should have a look at this footage from Star Poultry, an abattoir in Victoria, Australia. It was shown on television by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on the ‘7.30 Report’ on 16 November 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-16/chickens-boiled-alive-inside-melbourne-abattoir/9157186 xvi

The chickens who are killed in this abattoir are free range animals, but that means nothing once the meat industry gets hold of them. It is, in my view, footage such as this that shoppers are entitled to see because for many people it would make such a difference and put them on a track they would soon find themselves be very glad to be on.

We hear a lot about informed decision-making these days, so, in the spirit of the times, let us all start making decisions about what we eat based on the best available information. To do this we will of course need an unrestricted view of what happens to those animals who go in the front door of an abattoir, valuing their lives just as we value ours, and who come out the back, hacked to pieces. What better way to observe this process than through the lens of a camera and what better place to watch it than in the meat section of the supermarket?

4. Homo sapiens and meat

Meat has nourished our species, homo sapiens, since our beginnings in Africa about 150,000 years ago and fossil records indicate our hominid ancestors had tools, thought to be used for cutting up animal flesh, approximately four million years before that.xvii In other words, it seems highly likely that meat has formed an integral part of our diet, and that of our pre-human forebears, for many millions of years, explaining, perhaps, why we like it so much today.

Humans are omnivores, meaning our diet can consist of a wide range of plant and animal foods. Somewhat surprising then to find what lousy scavengers we are, and how poorly equipped for the task of catching and killing other animals. We are a sort of ‘English gent’ among meat eaters. Our long, convoluted gut is more closely associated with digesting plant material, and should we eat meat that has been subject to bacterial decay, as scavengers do, we become violently ill and can easily die. We lack the strong jaws and teeth of omnivores such as dogs, and we cannot even defend ourselves against a four-kilogram (ten pound) feral cat without a weapon. We are too slow to catch any animal larger than a hamster, except perhaps a sloth, and we would be quite incapable of killing it with our bare hands, even if we did. And should it die of fright, we would be completely incapable of eating it, unless we had the right tools to cut it up, and a fire to cook it on.

Humans are also hopelessly neurotic and hilariously squeamish. Easily put off by bad smells and unpleasant sights, many of us are even afraid of puny adversaries, like mice and spiders. And, unlike genuine meat-eaters, we are capable of empathy and sympathy, both of which are emotional states that can only be a hindrance to a species that must kill others to survive. I don’t think any salt water crocodile is going to spare a person because he or she felt ‘sorry’ for them. And yet, despite our many limitations, we have defied all logic to become the most prolific meat-eaters on the planet, and in so doing, have created a completely unnecessary living hell for billions of our fellow creatures.

In nearly all cultures meat plays a central role, often appearing as the most important food at weddings, religious ceremonies, corporate events, dinner parties, back-yard barbecues, school lunches, family meals and the like. Eating meat has become such a deeply ingrained and culturally-nuanced practice that its ethics are hardly ever discussed and, in my experience, if the conversation does drift in the direction of animal welfare it quickly becomes couched in terms of what people ‘like’ to eat, or what they fallaciously think they ‘need’ to eat, or a claim that it’s ‘natural’ for humans to eat meat—all arguments designed to legitimise one’s ‘desire’ to eat meat—as if all these self-centred red herrings can be successfully substituted for a discussion about the animal suffering involved.

If indeed most people think of meat as an everyday item—like paper, petrol or peanuts— it would be just what we would expect given its linear connection with our evolutionary past. Eating meat is a completely normal activity and I wouldn’t suggest otherwise, but it doesn’t mean we have to remain stuck in the groove of that ever-playing record. The world of people, technology, science and social ideas is moving forward faster and faster and the time to challenge many of our ingrained habits has arrived. Much of what we think of as ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ was proscribed by conditions we have since moved beyond and now technological advances are providing us with improved alternatives; food being one obvious area. We now have the opportunity to develop new ethical bases for our civilisation, not least among them a radical overhaul of our relationships with other living creatures.

In Australia, sports clubs, as well as a multitude of other community groups, raise money every weekend by way of ‘sausage sizzles’, a type of outdoor barbecue. This is considered a fun thing to do and certainly appears to be quite a benign activity if you don’t trouble yourself about the origins of what the barbecue is offering. At sausage sizzles, children and adults wander around eating beef or pork sausages smothered in tomato sauce and wrapped in white bread. This is meat-eating at its most normalised and questioning its morality would be met with astonishment by some, perhaps resentment and anger by others. But question it we should, because the sleep-walking acceptance of meat-eating exemplified by sausage sizzles is right at the heart of the animal welfare debate. The lack of cognisance that allows so many of us to think of sausages and bananas as ‘food’ only, and not distinguish between their origins, is what allows us to subconsciously accept that sausages and bananas are deserving of equal consideration. This may seem like nonsense, because that is what it is, but what it does do is allow us to organise something like a sausage sizzle without having to consider that the bill of fare is constituted from the flesh of living creatures who scream in fear and writhe in pain as they go to their grisly deaths. Bananas don’t do this because they are plants; and plants do not have nervous systems of anywhere near the complexity of those found in animals. If we ever find out plants experience pain and suffering as animals do, we’ll be in trouble, but I don’t think that day is ever going to come.

For those who love sausage sizzles, the good news is: there’s no need to give them up! All you need to do is swap the minced-up animal body parts for vegan sausages, hamburger patties and schnitzels. You can still have the white bread and tomato sauce and even the non-dairy butter. And while it is true, the vegan products don’t taste the same as animal flesh, some of them are already quite good, and as more and more people turn to them we can be sure competition will drive their improvement until they represent what people want.

A particularly sensitive subject, and one that is often ignored, perhaps wisely in some circumstances, is that the decision by one group of people not to eat animal products, out of concern for animal welfare (rather than for reasons such as health), carries within it an inherent criticism of those who do eat meat. This imbedded criticism is unavoidable when two such starkly different viewpoints collide and most of us deal with these potentially uncomfortable situations by pretending they don’t exist, particularly in social situations where food is in the process of being eaten. I know some animal welfare activists disagree with such a display of manners, and say that avoiding the conversation at any time is tantamount to cowardice and an opportunity lost. I’m sure they’re right, to a degree, but isn’t there also wisdom in picking one’s moment, because very few people respond kindly to having their morals publicly critiqued, or having someone else’s ideas thrust down their throat. Besides, despite the evidence all around them, most people have never really thought these issues through and are not equipped to debate the subject on the spot anyway. There is a time and place for everything and when it comes to discussing the welfare of those animals whose bodies are adorning the plates around you, the dinner table, in my view, is not usually one of them.

I get the impression that a lot of people think that becoming vegan would be difficult to do because they would find it hard to give up certain animal products. But in reality it is quite often the opposite, possibly because, besides the core ingredients of a vegan diet—fruit, vegetables, legumes, pulses, grains and so on—there are plenty of processed food options around these days and the range is growing and improving all the time.

For those who enjoy cooking and kitchen experiments, vegan food can be as complex and intricate as any other and you don’t have the problem of things going ‘off’ as you do with animal products. Cities such as New York and London have five-star vegan restaurants, and apparently a good percentage of their clientele are meat-eaters who come for the wonderful food. The point is, don’t think you would be missing out if you adopted a vegan diet. It’s simply not the case and if your veganism is driven by a desire to do something about animal welfare and the environment, then any desire to eat meat quickly fades into the background anyway.

5. The world’s poor

Although rapid population growth and the effects of climate change may soon see millions of people teetering on the brink of starvation, at this point in time there is enough food being produced globally to feed everyone on the planet. Despite this, wasteful practices, and the deft hand of international politics, ensure that many people are starving unnecessarily, and millions more struggle every day to secure a reliable food supply. For these people, life is an exhausting and stress-filled battle and the luxury of being able to choose whether or not to eat meat, milk or eggs, does not even arise and it would be ludicrous to suggest they adopt a vegan diet when their survival may depend on the small amounts of animal protein they can obtain.

As the world’s human population spirals out of control, soaring to nine billion or more by 2050, it appears that the race for the survival of our species is well and truly under way. Compounding the problem of too many people is the need to maintain the vast monocultures of wheat, rice, maize and sorghum that form the basis of today’s mass food production systems. It’s a risky business because crops grown in these circumstances are highly susceptible to both climate change and disease and if the worst-case scenarios come to fruition they may crumble very quickly, leaving the world’s poor, and many who wouldn’t consider themselves poor today, with nothing to eat.

Crop failures are expected to become increasingly common as climate change makes vast areas of today’s farmland too hot and dry to be productive.xviii How, in those circumstances, will we be able to justify feeding a third of our grain and soy crops to farmed animals, which then turn only about 17% of it into usable food, that is, as meat, when these same plant foods could be going to directly to starving people?

If tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of impoverished people do run out of food—what will they do? Hungry people might riot; starving people cannot. They are too weak by that time. Most people, I assume, would try to get to a place where food was available. That may sound logical, but moving from, say, central India to central Europe, would be a very difficult thing to do. Given that a poor agricultural worker could even manage it, the real question remains: how would those people who have sufficient food react to unwanted, uninvited, mass migration on such a scale? They may not even have enough food to feed these multitudes and it doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to envisage the oceans and the land borders seething with the cadavers of poor people who had to flee their homes or face starvation.

A hotter, climatically volatile and more troubled world, without sufficient food or fresh water, is not a place where anyone would choose to be and nobody, not even the very wealthy, will be immune from its effects if we allow this to occur. The thought of such a world is, surely, sufficient reason for each of us who has a choice in the matter, to be moving away from animal agriculture as fast as we can in order to free up for human consumption, more of the grains and soy which are currently fed to animals. And while such a redistribution could be the difference between starvation and survival for many, but it would not be a permanent solution if the global human population continues to grow at it’s current rate, particularly when it seems certain climate change is going to reduce overall agricultural output. When this happens it is hard to imagine it will be any other than the poorest people—the subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, India, central Asia and China—who are hit hardest, the soonest and the worst.

6. Health and nutrition aspects of veganism

The following statement is taken from the abstract of a paper published by the American Dietetic Society entitled: Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets in 2009:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stage of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. xix

This statement highlights the crucially important fact that we can get all twenty of our essential amino acids, plus the fatty acids, minerals and vitamins we need for healthful living, from a judicious combination of nuts, seeds, oils, grains, pulses, legumes and fruit. The only thing that today’s plant-based diet does not provide in sufficient quantities for adult humans is Vitamin B12, which we have traditionally obtained either from the soil we consume with our plant foods, or from animal sources. Vitamin B12 is created by bacteria, not by animals, and can be obtained in a vegan diet either by eating supplemented food, taking it as a daily vitamin pill or by way of an injection. Omega-3 fatty acid intake can be assured by taking a small amount of flaxseed oil each day.xx It is easy to get all the nutrients we need from a vegan diet and we need look no further than the millions of people worldwide who are living healthily on plant foods alone to see this is true. Any doubts we have in this regard can be easily allayed through personal research or by talking with competent professionals.

For those of us who live in Australia, here is a list of health practitioners who can help: https://www.veganaustralia.org.au/vegan_health_practitioners xxi

Good information about a vegan diet, can be found here: https://www.veganaustralia.org.au/live_vegan and by browsing these two sites as well: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) https://www.peta.org/ xxii; and Animal Liberation https://www.animal-lib.org.au/ xxiii

On the local front, I would encourage all Australian vegans, and those thinking about it, to join Vegan Australia http://www.veganaustralia.org.au/ as a matter of course. It’s a wonderful national asset.

In my own case, when I became vegan I had a full set of blood tests to give myself some baseline data, and I continue to do this annually. It’s the sort of check most people over 50 should do anyway and to date my results have been within the normal range for everything, including Vitamin B12.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55 recommend that adults consume at least two serves of fruit and five to six serves of vegetables per day.xxiv A serve is half a cup of vegetables or a cup of salad and most vegans would eat these amounts as a matter of course. And note the use of the words ‘at least’ because this implies that the optimal amount is unknown and my guess is that eating more fruits and vegetables than these small amounts will provide additional benefits.

There is a lot of published data that suggest we should, at the very least, cut consumption of animal products to a minimum if we want to enjoy better health. For example, The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/ in Australia draws attention to the link between red meat consumption and colorectal and renal cancer. There is also evidence to suggest that substituting one serve of nuts for one serve of red meat every day may result in a significant reduction (19%–30%) of cardiovascular disease risk.xxv

The utterances from official bodies such as the NHMRC invariably err on the side of caution, as they should, but everyone who has a vegan diet can be buoyed by a growing body of evidence that it is the healthiest of all. It is the diet that health economists can only dream about for the general population because they know the trillions of dollars that would be saved across the globe if its nutritionally complete, low fat, high fibre characteristics were widely adopted.

And while it may be true that small amounts of lean meat from free-ranging animals, those which have enjoyed a varied diet, can be beneficial to human health, today’s fatty, factory-farmed supermarket meat is a vastly different proposition, coming as it does from sick, unhappy, abused animals that get no meaningful exercise. Even the cattle that graze most of their lives in paddocks are ‘finished off’ in feedlots where they are crowded together and fed a high-energy diet of wheat, barley and growth hormones to make them gain weight rapidly.xxvi

To compound matters, feedlots, like so many farms, often have no shade, which in Australia’s hot environment is just another example of the thoughtless cruelty we have come to expect from the meat industry. Then there are the diseases such as tick fever, footrot, enterotoxaemia (pulp kidney), bovine respiratory disease, blight (pink eye), feedlot bloat, acidosis, liver abscesses and botulism (a bacterial disease that causes paralysis) which are caused by stress, dehydration, transportation, inadequate food and the feedlot environment.xxvii And these animals are yet to face the dreadful brutality of the slaughterhouse where so much cruelty occurs ‘outside the guidelines’.xxviii Are these really practices anyone would want to support, health matters aside?

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United States pork industry loses $275 million a year because of

severe short-term stress just prior to slaughterall this may result in biochemical processes in the muscle in particular in rapid breakdown of muscle glycogen and the meat becoming very pale with pronounced acidity (pH values of 5.4-5.6 immediately after slaughter) and poor flavour.xxix

Under the same conditions, sheep, cows and turkeys will also produce equally unpalatable meat.xxx This shows us quite clearly what terror does to animals at a physical level and how it affects their flesh, which people then go on to eat. More importantly, it means we can set aside any fanciful notions that animals about to be murdered are unaware of what is about to happen to them. They know they’re about to die and they’re terrified, in just the same way you or I would be. That, I think, is worth dwelling upon.

7. What are we teaching our children?

The first time an urban Australian child sees animal flesh is usually as an object lying on a polystyrene tray covered by a layer of clear plastic wrap. Or peering through the butcher’s shop window, they might see meat surrounded by green plastic frills, reminiscent of gentle pastoral scenes and the idyllic life of grazing animals. Children all over the developed world have similar experiences and are told by their parents, ‘this one comes from cows and this one comes from sheep’, and meat, ‘tastes yummy’, and, ‘meat is good for you’. But how many of them are told the truth about what those animals had to endure before their flesh ended up on those trays? None, perhaps.

How many of us would take up an offer to see the inside workings of an abattoir? How many parents would take their children to see the whole process from the unloading of the animals off the trucks to the point where they are slaughtered? Not many, I would wager, which is understandable. I would not have done it with my kids either. Yet it is these same parents, many of whom couldn’t cross the threshold of an abattoir themselves, who happily feed meat to their children, content to perpetuate the fiction that it all appears on their plates by way of some benign and harmonious process in which nobody suffers. It is this myth, more than anything else, which explains why meat-eating remains as normalised within society as it is today. But we are now well into the 21st century and given the amount of information we have to refute such nonsense, isn’t it about time we stopped telling our children that everything is OK and started sharing the truth with them? They are going to find out soon enough anyway and many of them are going to look askance at their parents and wonder why they didn’t ever think it through.

Raising children provides parents with a wonderful opportunity to (among a lot of other things) demonstrate a humane attitude towards all sentient beings. Why make children unwittingly complicit in something as profoundly wrong as factory-farming and other forms of animal abuse when the alternatives are so freely available? Parents, who aim to normalise the healthiest diets and the most compassionate and environmentally responsible attitudes within their families, have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to act as generational circuit-breakers and pass on to their children, not the results of their own conditioning, but of their own reasoning.

8. Cruelty in specific industries

The dairy industry

The dairy industry, with its carefully cultivated images of cows grazing in green pastures, is worth examining because so many people see its products as ‘vegetarian’ in nature, as if they are something quite benign and separate from meat. As a result of this careful alignment, the dairy industry often slips under people’s radar and we hear questions such as, ‘how can milking cows be doing them any harm?’, as if this is all there is to it.

Well, it’s not like that. During its ‘working life’, a dairy cow is subjected to a cycle of repeated pregnancies and periods of lactation that force her to produce far more milk than her body is designed to do. She can only maintain the required level of milk production under these conditions for five or six years, after which she faces the same grisly death as those animals who are raised for their flesh only. The natural life-span of a cow is about twenty-five years but she can expect no mercy from the dairy industry which considers her nothing more than a machine for converting grass or grains into milk. As a result, her welfare is only of concern if it has an impact upon her milk production. Once this falls below a certain level she is more profitable as a carcass, and onto the truck she goes.

As the world’s human population grows, the demand for cows’ milk seems likely to increase, and we can expect to see American-style, high-density factory-farms, proliferating around the world. In these mega-facilities, thousands of cows stand all day long on concrete floors, sometimes knee-deep in their own excrement, existing on an unnatural high-fat, high-protein diet and milked up to three times a day. The days of dairy cows roaming in pastures, as they often still do in countries like Australia and New Zealand, are numbered because grain-fed factory-farming squeezes more milk per dollar out of these benighted creatures and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. As the herds increase in size and become more densely squashed into these concrete prisons we can expect to see even greater areas of our best agricultural land planted in corn (maize) to feed them. True, it is a diet that cows would avoid if they had a choice and which probably makes them feel sick half the time, but who cares about that in the dairy industry. These are just milk-making machines on their way to becoming cheap meat.

There is no getting away from it. The dairy industry is a major contributor to animal suffering, even if it has managed to keep that inconvenient truth at arm’s length for a long time. But cheese and yoghurt lovers, don’t despair! The market for vegan cheeses and yoghurts is growing strongly, and they will continue to improve as competition drives innovation. At the moment, most of the cheese is pretty bad, but cellular agriculture, a scientific method where animal tissues are grown in laboratory-like conditions (see section 22), is certain to play a major role in future cheese production, and it can only be a matter of time before today’s best cheddars and camemberts are produced without having to brutalise a single cow.


One of the most egregious examples of systematic animal cruelty is that inflicted on veal calves, whose soft, un-exercised muscle tissue is drooled over by the meat industry and TV chefs. These gentle little creatures are wrenched away from their distraught mothers when they are only a day old and put into small, darkened crates where they are unable to turn around or engage in any form of normal social behaviour. You can imagine their terror and confusion. After six weeks of living in this hell, they are slaughtered, and we all know how they’d be treated in that process. How can such appalling cruelty be allowed? And how on earth do the perpetrators of these crimes sleep at night? The production of veal should never have been legal; it is a crime that shames every higher human ideal, and yet today’s governments either ignore it or actively encourage it, and those people who buy veal ensure the horrific abuse of these little animals continues unabated.


Make no mistake, fish are animals and their flesh is meat. Have a look at this article on the PETA website that describes the pain and fear felt by fish


There is no reason to believe that fish do not suffer enormously when they are dragged to the water’s surface with a hook through their mouths; when they become ensnarled in a net and drown; or when they are left to suffocate in the air.

Although research into the mental capacities and social behaviour of fish is still in its infancy, scientists are revealing, again and again, the extent to which we underestimate and misunderstand fish, and indeed, all animals. As Stéphan Reebs points out in his book, Fish Behaviour, xxxii and Sonia Rey Planellas refers to in The Conversation, xxxiii we now know that fish cooperate with each other when hunting; are able to remember characteristics of their neighbours and competitors; try to deceive or manipulate others; use tools; make logical deductions from known facts; and navigate by remembering complex mental maps.

Fish are smart, sentient creatures, beautifully adapted to their environment. They are obviously quite different to us in many ways, but this does not give us the right to treat them as though they are incapable of suffering. It’s a pity they don’t have vocal chords.

It is not widely known that fish farming is as cruel, inefficient, and as environmentally destructive as factory-farming on land. Around 100 billion fish are subjected to this torment each year, 90% of them in Asia where carp and tilapia are the most commonly exploited species. In the West, it is most often salmon and trout that are the victims.

In Scotland, to use an example that typifies the industry internationally, up to 50,000 salmon are stocked in sea cages at a density of one bathtub of water for each seventy-five-centimetre-long animal. The salmon are often infested with parasites, and their bodies, fins and tails, are rubbed raw from being so densely packed. These ocean-going travellers swim around in endless circles like distressed zoo animals pacing their cages before they are starved for a few days, hauled out, bashed on the head and have their throats cut. xxxiv

The lives of farmed trout in Scotland are even worse! They are kept in fresh water dams at densities of twenty-seven fish, each thirty centimetres in length, in the equivalent of one bathtub of water. Imagine that! In these conditions, the trout develop clogged gills and pop eyes as they compete for oxygen and space and battle disease, injury and stress resulting from over-crowding. xxxv

Who can say that animals kept in these conditions are not being subjected to extreme cruelty? Just because it happens below the water’s surface, and fish have no voice for their tormentors to hear, does not mean that this industry is any more acceptable than land-based animal-abuse industries. It is the same old story of human greed coming before animal need. If we buy fish, farmed or otherwise, we are providing financial support to industries that perpetuate great cruelty.

In 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that 90% of all wild fish populations were either ‘fully fished’ or ‘over-fished’. For example, the United States West Coast sardine population is down by 95% since 2006. To make matters worse, about a fifth of all wild-caught fish are pulverised and fed back to farmed fish, pigs and chicken, adding another unnecessary layer of stupidity to the complex web of cruelty and waste that underpins all the meat industries.

Speaking of waste, consider this. It takes between three and five tonnes of small pelagic fish, such as anchovies, to produce one tonne of farmed salmon or trout, and twelve to twenty tonnes to produce one tonne of factory-fed pigs! The fish farming industry claim that salmon are very efficient at putting on weight because they only need be fed 1.2 tonnes of ‘food’ in order to obtain a weight gain of one tonne. What they don’t say is that the 1.2 tonnes of oily pellets they feed to the fish take up to five tonnes of pelagic fish to produce!

This is incredibly inefficient, and so absurdly unsustainable that you have to wonder who dreamt it up. Even as the industry now moves towards feeding farmed fish more canola oil and ‘by-product’ from land-based livestock, which may include skin, bone, blood, plasma, hooves, horns, feathers, offal and gelatin—30% of their feed still comes from fish pellets. How can we be surprised that wild fisheries globally continue to collapse if this is an accepted business model? xxxvi In addition, uneaten food and fish faeces build up on the sea floor beneath fish farms, altering the chemistry of the sea bed and reducing water oxygen levels. This can be a particularly serious problem when fish farming is carried out in shallow harbours that are not well flushed, as they often are not, leading to mass fish deaths and degradation of the whole ecosystem.

The pink flesh of farmed salmon would be grey if colourants hadn’t been added to their diet and their flesh is twice as fatty as that of their wild counterparts. The primary cause for this is the high fat diet they are fed, designed to make them grow faster and therefore be more profitable. And farmed trout is a whopping 79% fattier than wild-caught trout, and both species have much higher levels of chemical contaminants when they come from the factory farm.xxxvii

So next time you see that lovely pink salmon in the fish shop think about the cruelty that underpins it and the wasteful, environmentally destructive practices it represents. There are many healthy, humane and sustainable choices that we can make to take the place of fish—so let’s take them.


A paper by Lori Morino and Christina Colvin of Emory University, published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology,xxxviii documents that pigs have excellent long-term memories; are whizzes with mazes and other tests requiring location of objects; can comprehend a simple symbolic language and can learn complex combinations of symbols for actions and objects; love to play and engage in mock fighting with each other, similar to play in dogs and other mammals; live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals, and learn from one another; cooperate with one another; can manipulate a joystick to move an on-screen cursor, a capacity they share with chimpanzees; can use a mirror to find hidden food, exhibit a form of empathy when witnessing the same emotion in another individual. xxxix

And this is what is allowed under Australia’s Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals (Pigs): xl

  • life-long confinement indoors

  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night

  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to six weeks, day and night

  • tail docking without anaesthetic

  • ear notching without anaesthetic

  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic

  • castration without anaesthetic

The relentless, ongoing mental and physical torture that these highly intelligent, social animals suffer in piggeries is beyond description. Again, we must ask ourselves, why on earth do we allow it? What sort of sadistic monsters are we that some of us could even conceive of a system so foul, let alone put it into practice, while many of the rest of us buy the flesh of these animals, ensuring this cruel, wasteful, unnecessary industry continues? Again, there is no excuse for any of this and no need for it either. If you want to help put a stop to it the solution is pretty simple: stop buying the stuff. And don’t fall for the free-range pork business. Those pigs may have better lives but at some point they are loaded onto a truck and taken to the abattoir, and we know what happens to them then. Pigs are notoriously hard to kill and probably suffer more than any other species once that process starts.

Chicken eggs

The chicken egg industry operates at widely varying levels of cruelty. At its worst, in the production of so-called ‘cage eggs’, tens of thousands of hens are crammed into cages where they have barely any space to move. Flapping their wings, an important natural impulse, is out of the question because there simply is not enough room.

These intelligent animals have the ends of their sensitive beaks cut off with a hot blade without the use of anaesthetic. Their beaks remain so painful afterwards that their food consumption falls away for weeks. The cages in these dungeons are stacked one above the other so that the faeces and urine of those above falls freely on the birds below. The stench of ammonia is unbearable. The birds spend their whole lives standing on an eight-centimetre by nine-centimetre area of crippling, feet-deforming wire, their de-feathered bodies pumped full of antibiotics to combat the rampant diseases that are inevitable in such conditions.

Those who die are left to rot beside their fellows. The surviving egg-layers remain in this hell for two years, after which time they are sent en masse to slaughter—which is itself a process of rough-handling and general abuse that subjects them to a whole new set of agonies; such as, broken bones, or being hung upside down on a conveyor belt, and then passed through an electrified bath and over a throat-slitter. Those who lift their heads at the wrong time and are still alive after all this, are scalded to death in the feather-removal process. The flesh of these egg-laying birds is so bruised it can only be used in processed foods like chicken soup, or for pet food. The caged-egg industry is one of the worst of all abusers. If it were a human entity it would be regarded as criminally insane.

Chicken meat

Chickens raised for their flesh, known as broilers, are packed, up to 40,000 at a time, into large sheds. By the time they reach their market weight of two kilograms, about six weeks later, each bird has an area of less than a sheet of A4 paper to stand on. These chickens are quite different from the egg-layers. They have been selectively bred to rapidly grow large amounts of breast muscle tissue. The breasts become so large, so quickly, that some are forced to hunch over, scraping their breast muscles on the faeces and urine saturated floor, causing a painful form of ulceration called ‘breast blister’. Because these birds are so young, and their growth so rapid, many of them still chirp and have the soft feathers of baby chickens, but the bodies of adults.

In this macabre world, their internal organs and skeletons cannot keep up, and as a consequence, they often suffer from hip fractures and organ failure. Many of them can barely stand, and none have the opportunity to forage, roost, dust-bathe or experience any normal activities in their short lives. The lights are dimmed to reduce their movement. They are fed a mixture of grains, meat and animal fats, and water, from long troughs that run the length of the sheds. The whole process is automated. xli

First-time visitors report the eerie horror of 40,000 chickens sitting in the gloom, in complete silence; the air filled with ammonia, dust and feathers. The next disturbance for these chickens will be when a team of workers moves through them, grabbing them by their legs, and cramming them into cages to be taken to the slaughter house. Many of them will have their legs and hips broken at this point and will suffer excruciating pain.

Chickens are not robots; they are sensitive, intelligent beings with complex social behaviour. They are as intelligent as cats and dogs. What exactly have they done to deserve to be tortured like this?

Anyone with a shred of compassion who looks at the chicken meat and egg factory farms is forced to ask yet again: what the hell is going on? Why do any of us buy chicken or eggs in the face of all this? Is this really something that any of us should be supporting no matter how cheap their flesh and ovulations have become? These are far, far more important things to consider, and denying ourselves the pleasure of sinking our teeth into the flesh of these horribly abused animals is a very minor sacrifice indeed.

Predictably, the expression ‘free range’ has been hijacked by big business because they know many people are opting for free range when they purchase their eggs and chicken flesh, thinking that they are striking a blow for animal welfare as well as obtaining a better product. That might have been true once, but listen to this: the Australian Federal Government now allows factory farms that stock chickens at up to 10,000 birds per hectare to call themselves free range.xlii

That is one square metre per bird! This is factory-farming pure and simple, so be wary of anything labelled free range, particularly that which makes its way onto the shelves of the big supermarket chains. It goes without saying, the best thing we can do is give up eating eggs and chicken meat, but for those who plan to continue eating eggs, please do some online research to ensure your supplier is not stocking their fields at more than 800 birds per hectare, and that the birds are free to roam on green pastures for most of the day. You may have to pay a little more for these eggs, but it is certainly worth it.

Some egg producers have installed cameras so that potential customers can view the birds online. This is a step in the right direction, but it is much better to arrange a visit to the facility and see for yourself. Count the birds and pace out the boundaries. If you are not allowed to have a good look around it is almost certainly because your supplier has something to hide. And do not forget that even the best-kept free range chickens in commercial operations are sent to abattoirs for slaughter once their egg-laying lives are over, and so, they, too, stand a good chance of being blasted with boiling water while still alive.xliii