WARNING: Some readers may find parts of this article disturbing
“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” – Dmitry Merezhkovsky, The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci, 1900
The Human Slaughter Association states that ‘animals should always be reared, transported and slaughtered humanely.’ What a brilliant oxymoron.
Every year in the UK approximately 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 2.6 million cattle and 10 million pigs are slaughtered. The 2022 UK animal clock estimates that this year over 6 billion animals have been killed for food. To help put the numbers into perspective, there are 8 billion of us on this planet. We hear statistics a lot, but more often than not, these numbers go in one ear and out the other. But perhaps an outline of what goes on in slaughterhouses will find a permanent home in your consciousness.
“Our own worst nightmare such a place may well be; it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath these grim steel roofs.” – Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place,” 2002
A former abattoir worker describes the inside of a slaughterhouse, sharing that there are ‘animal faeces on the floor, you see and smell the guts, and the walls are covered in blood.’ The people who work in slaughterhouses must enter into a place where ‘the odour of dying animals surrounds you like a vapour.’ She describes that there is a skip, filled with cows’ heads, skin removed but eyes still attached, that felt like she ‘had hundreds of pairs of eyes watching…pleading, as if there were some way I could go back in time and save them.’ Those employed to work in slaughterhouses are unsurprisingly likely to develop mental health disorders, in particular depression and anxiety, as well as violence-supported attitudes.
“You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate,” The Conduct of Life, 1860
When a cow is slaughtered, it is first stunned. The feet are removed before they are suspended by a hind limb. The carcasses are then skinned. The skin is then usually salted so it can be preserved for the purpose of being used for leather products. Heads are then removed. This is a lawful process.
There are laws which ‘protect’ animals ‘during transport, at livestock markets and at slaughter.’ These laws aim to achieve a ‘humane’ level of slaughter. The EU Directive 93/119/EC, implemented in GB by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 states that ‘animals bred or kept for the production of meat, skin, fur or other products must be spared any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering during movement, lair aging, restraint, stunning, slaughter or killing.’ Has it been considered that this is impossible to do? If you, a being capable of emotions, were being carted around and put into incredibly awful environments and conditions, would you be able to stop stress from eating away at you? No words or actions would be able to calm you down. There is no question about whether cows can feel emotions, there is a plethora of evidence that they do. They ‘experience a full spectrum of complex emotions, including excitement, love, sadness, and fear.’ All of this is avoidable. We are the ones who have made this a ‘necessity’. We are the ones who need to undo this.
How can slaughter be humane? It is said that to achieve this, the animal has to be restrained and stunned in a way that it is ‘insensible to pain’. There are an abundance of issues within this. The laws regulating the process of slaughtering animals is an organised mess. This is not shocking however, as how do you regulate something so incredibly soulless?
There are efforts to help the creatures. The 2010 movie ‘Temple Grandin’ follows the efforts of the fantastic Dr. Temple Grandin to change America’s cattle industry. For ‘nearly three decades, Temple Grandin has been leading the change for animal welfare reform’. She stated that, “I think we can eat meat ethically but we’ve got to give animals a good life.” People very easily become defensive in their argument that they refuse to stop eating meat. She understood this. Realistically, we cannot abolish all slaughterhouses overnight. But there is still much that we can do.
Dr. Temple Grandin said, “there are a certain percentage of people who shouldn’t be handling animals. They’re bullies and like to rough them up. They shouldn’t be there. But there’s an even bigger percentage that know what the right thing to do is, when they see it. They just need to be taught.” She understood cattle, she examined and felt the stress and fear that the animals go through. She also created processes which decreased the levels of fear. For example, it was proposed that the handling systems with straight chutes and dead ends prohibit successful flow of cattle through the race, and that a curved design with no dead end would mean that the cattle can more naturally follow each other around the system. This led to landmark achievements that really transformed an element of the industry.
“Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.” – Sir David Attenborough
The only way we can change what these precious creatures go through is to educate ourselves. It is the first step, and the most crucial step. Demanding a change in the industry without possessing adequate knowledge of the current system is like an untrained soldier running onto a battlefield. Knowledge is power. The more power we hold, the louder our voices will be. Know the processes, know the laws, but also understand that it is not enough. Ignorance is not bliss. Watch movies such as ‘Temple Grandin’ and perhaps even read her books. There is an endless amount of resources which we can use, we have no excuse. Let’s create more change, and make sure it is implemented in our law systems.