I have posted before about my poor record as a vegan. I am not as singleminded as most vegans and this was brought home to me earlier this year when one of the websites I follow, Go Vegan Scotland, published a post that made little sense to me. It described an English school which had reared a group of four piglets to educate the children about animal husbandry. Once they reached adulthood (5 months) they were returned to the breeder. Allowing children to learn about farm animals and permitting them to consider their death and consumption as pork pies, full English breakfasts and ham sarnies was too much for some vegans who created a great deal of fuss. It is likely that the experiment will not be repeated, much to the detriment of the children and probably the pigs. Conditions in pig farms are often substandard IMHO and having kept and eaten pigs myself I know how fun loving and playful they can be if given space to run around and enjoy themselves – as I expect they did at the school.
Go Vegan Scotland went much further and argued that not giving in to Vegan demands to allow the pigs to move on to an animal sanctuary infringed the human rights of a child of vegan parents at the school. Frankly this sort of silly over-reaction simply makes non-vegans turn away from considering veganism as a sensible movement.
What would have been sensible would have been to lobby for the exercise to go to its logical conclusion, with the children following the pigs to the slaughterhouse and viewing the unpleasant reality of how farm animals make the transition from fun-loving personalities to sausages and mince. I worked on pig duodenum for several years and consider that visiting my local abbatoir and watching the “innards” slither down the chute to reach the men who processed the whiffy bits would do more for veganism than any amount of protesting about ” ‘uman” rights” by well-intentioned hippies.
Which leads us on to the question of animal slaughter in the UK. Frankly I am very concerned about several aspects of the process. The loss of hundreds of small abattoirs has created longer journeys for the animals. The trade-off should be higher standards in those that remain, but an increasing number of slaughterhouses making use of the religious exemptions from the requirement to avoid pain by pre-stunning offset any such gains.
In my ideal world we would all eat lentils, but I know that is not going to happen. Eating meat is in our DNA and most people will not let go of their lust for flesh. My philosophy is simple. If we cannot prevent the raising of animals for consumption they MUST have a good life and a good death. That is all I hope for for myself and those I love. Why not for farm animals too. And let us not forget that most wild animals get neither and precious few humans achieve it either. However we can aspire to make it so for farm animals.
Compassion in Word Farming has the right idea on most things. They were founded in 1967 by a British farmer and they campaign to end factory farming. However I have come to suspect that the biggest problem we now face in the UK is not the absence of a good life, but the reality of a bad death for an increasing percentage of animals.
In 2015 the Independent newspaper reported on secretly filmed footage showing British abattoir workers repeatedly hacking at sheep’s throats, hurling them into solid structures and kicking them in the face.
Other images captured during the filming of the Halal slaughter of 400 sheep over three days showed:
*Sheep being kicked in the face and head, lifted by their ears, fleeces or legs, and hurled into solid structures.
*A worker bouncing up and down on the neck of a sheep that is still conscious.
*Staff laughing over a sheep bleeding to death with spectacles drawn around its eyes in green paint.
*Knives being sharpened in front of sheep, which also saw other animals being shackled and hoisted.
*Sheep falling from a chute on to a slippery floor in the kill area and frequently thrown head-first into a solid upright structure, which is part of the conveyor.
Some of these abuses might also have been captured in non-Halal or Kosher abbatoirs but for the first time, for myself anyway, attention was drawn to the fact that some people were exempted from the laws that stop the rest of us from torturing animals. Slit your dog’s throat and you will be prosecuted. Slit the throats of 400 sheep after mumbling some Arabic words and you get your pay cheque and a pat on the back from the boss.
Best practice requires stunning of the animals before they are killed. When stunning is done correctly, the animal feels no pain and it becomes instantly unconscious. When animals are not pre-stunned or when electricity is used only to immobilize and paralyze animals to hold them still (as in so called pre-stunned Halal slaughter), a painful and slow death by exsanguination is inevitable. A quick search of YouTube will provide enough examples of the horrors of Halal slaughter to stop you sleeping for a month. I dare you to watch this video and still consider that Britain should accept the horror of Halal slaughter. Go on. Agree with me or watch this and never sleep again.
The solution is very simple. exemptions from humane slaughter that currently permit killing farm animals in Britain by methods which may have been acceptable to primitive desert dwelling nomads but which are no longer tolerable in a civilised society must be withdrawn. Nobody has to eat meat and if anyone’s belief system does not permit them to eat humanely killed meat then that is all to the good. The ranks of vegetarians and vegans will be boosted and these people will be healthier and happier for the change. Nobody has to eat meat and nobody should have the right to kill animals with pain and fear just because they believe they should be able to. We banned bull fighting, bear baiting, dog fights, fox hunting and much more besides to the horror and fury of those who believed they had the right torture dumb beasts. Religious slaughter is no different and it must be stopped.
In the interim and for the benefit of slaughter generally, mandatory CCTV may be the way forward. Indeed recently the government has launched a consultation on plans to make CCTV mandatory for slaughterhouses in England. It is proposed that cameras would be placed in all areas of the slaughterhouse where live animals are present. Slaughterhouse vets would have unrestricted access to the footage.
To my mind that only goes part of the way. Half of all slaughterhouses already have CCTV (According to the Food Standards Agency around 49 per cent of red meat slaughterhouses and 70 per cent of white meat slaughterhouses have some form of CCTV), but Animal Aid in a recent series of undercover filmings identified several abattoirs who were lawbreaking and had CCTV installed. The CCTV had not prevented these breaches of the law. I would require all slaughterhouses to stream the CCTV footage to the internet to permit the public to check they were complying with the law. Frankly I have little confidence in the slaughterhouse vets.