Over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans. More than 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses around the world. These shocking figures do not even include fish and other sea creatures whose deaths are so great they are only measured in tonnes.
Animals are not simply food products, but thinking, feeling individuals who want to enjoy their lives. An animal's life is as important and irreplaceable to them, as ours is to us. But as children we are conditioned to view cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and fish as inferior beings whose reason for existence is to provide us with meat, milk and eggs. This way of seeing other species is known as speciesism. It's time for us to change the way we see the other animals with which we share the planet. We need to stop thinking of them as just resources, and to start viewing them for who they are: individual sentient beings whose lives deserve to be respected and valued.
The solution: veganism
There is a very simple way we can prevent the greatest amount of animal suffering from taking place: By adopting a vegan diet we can personally save up to 95 animals a year, and thousands during our lifetimes. Most of us already believe that animals should not be harmed unnecessarily yet eating animal products harms and kills animals and is unnecessary for human health. Choosing a healthy, varied vegan diet means respecting the lives of animals and refusing to take part in their exploitation.
Most of the individuals that die for our consumption are fish. So great is the quantity of bodies that they are counted by the tonne, which makes it difficult to calculate just how many die. Despite the numbers in which they are caught and how they are regarded, fishes are individuals with the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, as confirmed by numerous scientific studies. According to Huntiford (2002), fishes have senses for detecting stimulation of pain, and cerebral mechanisms which process the stimulation and provoke negative physical responses.
Many different methods are used to catch fishes but almost all of them will die a gruesome death. Victims of commercial fishing nets tend to die of suffocation, or crushed under the weight of the other fish or frozen in the boat’s cooling chambers. Others go through agonising decompression when they are hauled to the surface and their eyes and internal organs literally explode. Fishes hooked on lines or by anglers endure having their sensitive mouth parts ripped open by sharp hooks before being clubbed or suffocated. On fish farms many thousands of fishes are crammed together and forced to swim in circles. Parasites and infections run rampant on fish farms, and can spread to wild fish.
All commercial egg-laying hens, both battery, free-range and organic, start out life at hatcheries. Since male chicks don’t lay eggs, and are not used in the meat industry (instead, faster growing ‘broiler’ birds are used), they are considered ‘useless’ and are suffocated, gassed or minced alive at a day old. Most females spend their lives in tiny wire ‘battery’ cages, and even ‘free-range’ birds can legally be kept in huge sheds in their thousands, with many of them unable to even reach the outside. Many 'free-range' hens are also de-beaked to prevent them pecking each other in the crowded conditions, just like their caged sisters.
Commercial hens are kept alive on farms for their ability to produce eggs. As soon as hens pass their peak and start laying fewer eggs than before, they are slaughtered. This happens to all hens, including free-range and organic, at around one to two years of age. A hen's natural lifespan can be ten years or even more. More about hens in the egg industry
Just like humans, cows will only produce milk if they give birth. Forcible impregnation is carried out each year and the calves are separated from their grieving mothers shortly after birth. Female calves may go on to be exploited for milk but the unwanted males and 'excess' females are either shot at birth, or briefly raised for veal before having their lives drastically cut short in the slaughterhouse.
The modern cow used for milk has been bred to produce far more milk than her body can cope with. As a result of the toll on her udder, and the hours spent standing on hard concrete floors being milked, she is plagued by mastitis and lameness with up to 50% of UK cows being affected with these painful conditions each year. Although cows can live for up to 25 years, the vast majority of 'dairy' cows are killed at around 5 years old, when their milk production drops and they are considered ‘spent’ by the industry. More about cows in the milk industry
As well as for their milk, cows are also exploited for flesh. 'Beef' cows are normally killed the year they are born, even though naturally they would live 25 years or more. The calves exploited for 'veal' are removed from their mothers to be bought and sold soon after birth. The majority travel long distances to farms in Europe. Forced removal from their mothers, and others of their herd, causes them a great deal of anxiety since they are sociable creatures capable of recognising each other and establishing strong relationships that can last their whole lives. Leather is also a death sentence for a cow. Buying cow skin directly supports farms and businesses that make their money from animal exploitation. Leather is the second most profitable product of the meat industry.
Pigs are smart individuals fully aware of their own existence, and enjoy their lives when given the chance. They can spend hours playing, rooting in the ground, lying in the sun and exploring their surroundings with their keen sense of smell. They take pleasure in doing these things and like us, want to continue experiencing and enjoying their lives.
Possibly those who suffer most in this industry are the 'sows' used for breeding. They are repeatedly forcibly impregnated throughout their lives, often severly confined, and then separated from their babies soon after giving birth. They suffer both physically and mentally. The lives of these pigs, and their capacity to reproduce, are seen as no more than a way of creating more units of production. Mothers unable to give birth to the required number of piglets are sent to the slaughterhouse.
‘Broiler’ chickens who are raised for meat, turkeys, and ducks, are crammed into huge sheds and bred to be ready for slaughter so quickly that their legs often cannot support the weight of their bodies, and many suffer heart attacks. Chickens and turkeys are sociable creatures who like to forage, to be with their companions, to bathe in sand, and to bask in the sun. For these reasons they suffer enormously when they are deprived of their freedom and devoid of the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours, just as we would suffer if we were unable to do what we longed to do. Ducks in addition require water to fulfil their needs, to keep clean and to be free from infection. Most ducks are reared without water and suffer immensely due to the frustration caused by their inability to satisfy their natural desires.
The animals above are not the only victims of our eating habits. Rabbits, deer, woodpigeons, ostriches… any kind of animal that we take advantage of, is victimised. 900 million mammals and birds, and hundreds of millions of fish, are victimised in Britain every year for the simple reason that we like the taste of their flesh, or the products of their bodies.