Can we stop pretending that slaughter is ‘humane’?
- Published: 13 May 2014
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The most recent exposé of cruelty at an abattoir in NSW, Australia last week is a harsh reminder that euphemisms may assuage our guilt but do not change the suffering experienced by animals on the killing floor, writes Katrina Fox.
14 May 2014
Each day millions of sentient, intelligent beings and their families – including babies – are rounded up and shipped off to the gas chamber where they are put to death.
No, the above scenario is not a reference to a particularly horrific time in European history. It’s the mass killing of pigs in slaughterhouses. And it’s considered ‘humane’.
But this video released by animal rights group Aussie Farms shows the process to be anything but humane. According to operations director Chris Delforce, the disturbing footage was filmed in February by a hidden camera at an abattoir in Corowa, NSW, a facility owned by Rivalea, the country’s largest pork producer.
It shows a pig who is too disabled to walk into the chamber being kicked, thrown and prodded by slaughterhouse workers with an electric goad. Screaming out in pain and terror, the poor creature is then trampled on by his or her companions also being forced to their death.
In this ‘humane’ contraption, small groups of pigs are lowered into the chamber filled with carbon monoxide. But rather than slipping quickly into a peaceful ‘sleep’, the reality is far less idyllic as the terrified animals fight for their lives, flailing around, squealing, desperately trying to escape.
Rivalea has condemned the allegations of abuse, claiming it is atypical of its operations. Perhaps it is, but many in the meat industry take this line, often blaming ‘rogue operators’. Yet the volume of incidents captured at various abattoirs by undercover activists belie these claims. From over 100 instances of kicking and bashing of turkeys and young calves dragged, pushed and prodded to smashing pigs over the head with a sledgehammer and leaving them to die in agony, the callous treatment of farmed animals appears to be endemic rather than exceptional.
Even those animals who manage to live a better quality of life outside the factory farming system still suffer a brutal and unwilling death, rendering the terms ‘humane meat’ and ‘humane slaughter’ oxymorons. Even this pig farmer in the US agrees.
The so-called ‘ethical meat’ movement was popularised by authors such as Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma). But no amount of fancy euphemisms like ‘conscientious omnivore’ change the fact that billions of animals struggle in terror and agony before gassed, shot, or having their throats cut – regardless of how well they lived beforehand. No animal willingly gives or sacrifices their life so we can eat them, despite how much we might like to believe this convenient narrative.
The irony is that many ‘humane meat’ advocates declare themselves to be ‘animal lovers’. They may even live with companion animals such as dogs. Here’s the thing: Pigs are more intelligent than dogs. In the western world, we are horrified by the dog meat trade in Asian countries. The idea of dear Fido being trucked off with thousands of his kin, witnessing their brutal deaths before being killed himself is incomprehensible to us.
Dr Melanie Joy explained this cultural disconnect we have between farmed animals and pets in her 2009 book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. Carnism, as she calls it, is the reason why many people will happily devour a bacon buttie while cuddling their beloved pooch.
“How we feel about an animal and how we treat it, it turns out, has much less to do with what kind of animal it is than about what our perception of it is,” she writes. “Carnism is the belief system in which eating certain animals is considered ethical and appropriate.”
The ‘happy meat’ brigade, desperate to consume animal bodies without feeling guilty, rush to buy from ‘ethical butchers’, patting themselves on the back for their ‘conscious’ choices.
The truth is, there is nothing ethical or conscious about an industry that involves violence and killing. And while of course it is better for animals to live a higher quality of life outside factory farms, the term ‘humane’ in this context is deceptive. ‘Less cruel’ is more accurate. It is a reminder that a meal containing meat is a product of pain, fear, suffering and death.
Let’s stop pretending otherwise. Because as long as we turn a blind eye and allow ourselves to be seduced by sugar-coated terms created by those with a vested interest in taking the lives of others, we condemn more animals to inhumane treatment.
As Voltaire said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”