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.
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.
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