By Bronwyn Slater
The vast majority of the population is completely unaware of what happens to animals who are raised for food. Many people who have gone vegan have done so because they have become aware of the extreme cruelty and suffering that farmed animals have to endure. In this article I will try to outline some of the cruel procedures that are performed on farmed animals. It is important that everyone who eats meat or animal products knows what happens to these animals during their short and often miserable lives.
- Half of all new-born chicks are male. Males are of no use to the poultry industry so the new-born chicks are placed (alive) in a grinder with rotating blades, or they are suffocated by gassing or by being thrown into rubbish bags.
- Chickens bred in intensive housing or battery systems have their beaks cut off with a hot blade (without pain relief). This is in order to prevent them from pecking each other as a result of frustration and lack of space. Debeaking can cause pain throughout the bird’s life.
- Battery hens are crowded together with little more than the size of an A4 page per hen, and they cannot indulge in their natural behaviours such as dust-bathing and nesting.
- Hens have been bred to produce up to 300 eggs per year. They are descended from a species which laid only 12 eggs per year. This puts enormous stress on their bodies and they can suffer from a range of illnesses such as osteoporosis, respiratory illness, peritonitis, lung, liver and heart disease, ascites, cancer and prolapse.
- Meat chickens have been bred to grow very large in a short space of time. In some cases, the birds suffer broken legs as a result of having to support an unnatural amount of weight.
- Chickens are rendered unconscious prior to slaughter using electrical water baths or gas. For electrical waterbath stunning, chickens are hung by both legs onto a moving shackle line. The birds’ heads swing into the electrified water in the bath and a stunning current passes through their body. A machine then cuts their throats.
- Most pigs are raised indoors in intensive factory farms where they cannot indulge in their normal behaviours such as rooting (ie. digging with their snouts). They have to live on slatted floors with no straw bedding, in dark crowded conditions. These animals will never see daylight.
- Young piglets have their teeth clipped in order to prevent injuries to other piglets or to the mother. This is done without pain relief.
- Young piglets also have their tails docked, usually without anaesthetic. This is to prevent the tails being bitten by other animals.
- Within the first week of life many male piglets are surgically castrated, without anaesthetic or pain relief, by cutting the scrotum with a scalpel, pulling out their testes and cutting them off. This is a painful procedure and is done in order to improve the taste of the meat from the animal (ie. to prevent ‘boar taint’). They are left with an open wound and long lasting pain and distress as a result.
- Females are artificially inseminated.
- Sows who have given birth are placed in farrowing crates where they cannot move or turn around. The idea behind the farrowing crate is that it prevents the sow from accidentally crushing the piglets while feeding them. The sow suffers terribly as she must remain completely immobile in the crate for up to 5 weeks.
- Significant numbers of pigs die during transport. They travel badly and are easily stressed. They do not have sweat glands and are particularly susceptible to heat stress during transport.
- Pigs are rendered unconscious prior to slaughter by electrical stunning or gassing. With carbon dioxide anaesthesia pigs are lowered into a chamber containing a minimum concentration of 70% carbon dioxide. The pigs then lose consciousness and must remain in the gas mixture until dead. The animals are then shackled by one hind leg, hoisted and have their throats cut. Undercover investigators found that pigs suffer terribly as a result of gassing. In order to gather footage, an activist had to climb down into the chamber while wearing an oxygen tank to position hidden cameras. Immediately they noticed their eyes burning, which led to the discovery that when carbon dioxide reacts with liquids or mucus coated membranes (like that of the eyes, nostrils, sinuses, throat, and lungs), it forms carbonic acid. From their first lungful of gas, these pigs are literally burning from the inside out.
- Cows only produce milk after they have given birth to a calf. In order to make them pregnant, they are usually artificially inseminated.
- After they give birth, the calf is removed from the mother within days or weeks, often causing enormous distress to both mother and calf.
- Males are generally not used for meat production, and in the UK many male calves are shot at birth. Others may be sent abroad to be bred for veal, in which case they will be slaughtered when they are only a few months old.
- Cows have been bred to have very large udders, producing up to 10 times more milk than any calf would ever need.
- Both males and females (depending on the breed) may have their horns removed in order to reduce injuries as a result of aggression. This painful procedure is known as disbudding or ‘dehorning’. It is carried out without anaesthetic.
- Males are castrated, usually without anaesthetic.
- In the EU and US cattle may be reared intensively indoors in crowded systems with slatted floors. As a result, cattle are subject to lameness and injuries.
- Many cattle are transported for slaughter abroad. The live transportation of cattle is extremely stressful for these animals as they endure cramped conditions and extremely hot temperatures.
- Prior to slaughter cattle are rendered unconscious by being shot in the head with a captive-bolt pistol or by means of electrical stunning (by applying an electric current to the brain and heart simultaneously). If using a captive-bolt, the slaughterman stands on a platform, in front or to one side of the pen and shoots the animal in the head between the eyes and the ears in order to accurately target the brain. The pen side then opens and the unconscious animal rolls out of the pen, is shackled by one hind leg, hoisted on to an overhead conveyor and moved to the bleed area. The animal dies from loss of blood. In some cases the stunning is not done properly and witnesses have reported animals being still conscious while their throats are cut.
- Sheep spend much of their lives outdoors and are very vulnerable to the weather. Many sheep and lambs die from exposure in snow and freezing temperatures.
- Male lambs are castrated (usually without pain relief) by applying a tight ring, clamp or surgery.
- It is common for lambs to have their tails docked. This is partly to prevent the accumulation of faeces around the tail and reduce lesions and infections from flies. Tail-docking is carried out with a knife, hot iron or tight ring around the tail.
- Mulesing is the surgical removal of sections of skin from around the tail of a sheep, usually with no anaesthetic. Mulesing is often performed on Merino wool-producing sheep in Australia to reduce the incidence of flystrike – lesions and infections caused by blowflies.
- Lambs are usually slaughtered when they are around 6 months old.
- Prior to slaughter the sheep and lambs are stunned using either electricity or a captive-bolt pistol. They are then shackled, hoisted and bled until they are dead.
- Turkeys have been selectively bred to grow faster, reach heavier weights, and have very large breast muscles. This has led to various health problems including painful leg disorders and body system failures, e.g. heart failure.
- Overstocking barns means birds have difficulty moving around to reach food and water, and may be unable to avoid aggressive individuals.
- Females are artificially inseminated.
- Birds can suffer from painful skin and foot sores and eye and respiratory problems.
- To reduce injury from feather-pecking, when turkeys are a day old, part of their beaks are cut off. This procedure is painful but performed without anaesthetic.
- Turkeys often suffer broken legs and wings (and may even die) from rough handling during catching, crating and transportation to the slaughterhouse.
- Following stunning in a waterbath, the birds are killed by cutting a combination of veins/arteries in their necks. However, some may not be stunned properly and regain consciousness before their throats are cut. If the main arteries are not effectively severed they may be conscious as they are plunged into the scalding tanks.
- Goats are generally reared indoors in sheds and are unable to indulge in their natural behaviours such as running, jumping and climbing.
- Newborns are separated from their mothers and are fed formula while the milk is taken from the mother.
- Male goats are unnecessary to the goat milk industry and are slaughtered at birth.
- Disbudding is common and young goats have their horns burned off with a hot iron – a painful and stressful procedure that has been described as ‘potentially life-threatening’.
- In fish farms, large numbers of fish are confined in a small area which can cause serious welfare problems.
- Overcrowded fish are more susceptible to disease and suffer more stress, aggression, and physical injuries
such as fin damage. Along with lack of space, overcrowding can also lead to poor water quality, so the fish have less oxygen to breathe. Rearing fish in cages prevents their natural swimming behaviour. Salmon are migratory, and would naturally swim great distances at sea. Instead, they swim in circles around the cage.
- Food is often withheld from farmed fish before a stressful procedure, such as transport or slaughter. Some fish may be starved for two weeks or more.
- Farmed fish are slaughtered by a range of methods. Some methods cause immense suffering, such as gassing with carbon dioxide or cutting the gills without stunning. Some fish are simply left to suffocate in air or on ice, or may be processed while still alive.
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