Does making food from animals equal cruelty?
Humans are animals that have evolved hunting, eating meat and foraging for wild foods as have many other animals. Where we differ is in the development of our intellectual capacity that now enables us the empathise and have a conscience. We contemplate mortality and for many the act of killing for food can be unsettling. Right off the bat, there can be no argument against that if the world were to switch to a vegan lifestyle, the vast majority of animal welfare issues that surround farming would be eradicated. But is the issue really so black and white?
Is scale of slaughter a matter of perspective?
Vegan campaigners commonly present astronomical and incomprehensible statistics on the number of animals killed in the food productions, which when compared to the number of humans on the planet isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. For example, 792 million chickens are slaughtered for food each year in Britain , but when you consider that Britain has a population of 64 million, this only amounts to 12 chickens per person each year. A headline that reads “each person in Britain eats 1 chicken per month” doesn’t quite achieve the same shock factor.
The sex of livestock often plays a key role in their fate. For example approximately 30-40 million day-old chicks are killed in the UK every year because male chicks don’t lay eggs and cocks/roosters cause a lot more trouble than their female counterparts. In no natural setting would a human settlement be home of flock of roosters. Not if they ever wanted to have a lie-in. Similarly, 156,000 male calves are killed in the UK each year due to their inability to produce milk, with many others exported to mainland European countries where they are kept in small pens during their short lives to produce veal.
However, the meat and dairy industry do not have the soul responsibility for animal casualties as with virtually every aspect of food production animal deaths are caused. Even in agriculture there are a sizeable number of animal deaths caused by factors such as pest prevention, chemical usage and harvesting.
Modern human’s disconnect at the heart of animal issue
For a species who has thrived eating meat for 2.5 million years we seem to have become incredibly squeamish about the whole thing of late. One of the top reasons why people adopt a vegan diet is because they don’t like the idea of killing and eating an animal, or for animals to suffer through the farming and food production process. In fact, there are a significant number of omnivores who think the exact same thing but choose to turn a blind eye and who could blame them given how successful the food industry has become in hiding its cold efficiency in killing billions of animals for food each year?
The history of human evolution has shown us to be a species of predatory hunters. Anthropologists have long assumed that the development language could be linked to activities such as hunting, where a hands-free means to coordinate a group in order to catch food was a necessity. However, the issue that modern humans face is that the way in which we now live and eat have become so far removed from our ancestral heritage. Our physical output takes place in the gym, dancefloor or sports field (if at all) and our communication takes place by remote with our food presented to us at kiosks in boxes.
Modern man’s loss of respect for itself and where its food comes from is at the heart to our broken relationship with the natural world. Were we required to catch and kill our food, we would be forced to empathize with and better respect the animals that we eat, that would no doubt be on a vastly smaller scale than that of sanitized meat consumption.
The meat manufacturing monstrosity
One point that those on either side of the debate can largely agree on is that the food industry itself is central to many of the ethical issues we face. Whilst there are those who will disagree on principle with killing animals for food – for one human to raise, kill and eat an animal does not fundamentally equate to an animal welfare issue. Rather, it is the mechanization of factory farming, acting to remove humans from the raising and slaughter whilst treating animals as nothing more than units of stock, that has lead us to dire state of animal welfare in modern food production.
In battery egg production, hens can have their beaks trimmed using a hot blade with their lives then spent living in cramped conditions. In standard chicken production (i.e non-free-range), birds are handled roughly throughout their lives and live in crowded barns.
Within milk production, cows are artificially inseminated on a regular basis to maintain the conditions that enable them to produce milk. Cattle farmed on American large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations, stand side by side with several thousand other animals up to their knees in manure. Under these conditions the usage of drugs is essential. Cattle can be fed growth hormones to increase the yield by as much as 100%. Furthermore, concentrated farming such as this can easily lead to the spread of disease, so the animals are routinely fed antibiotics – a practice that could be a potential cause for the reduction in effectiveness of antibiotics in fighting viruses in humans.
When animals are ready for slaughter they are packed into vehicles then driven several miles, sometimes internationally, to the abattoir. The legal standard for slaughter in the UK requires that animals are stunned before killing, most commonly by electrocution or a bolt fired into the brain, before the animal is then hung up and its throat is slit allowing for it to bleed to death. However with religious slaughter, where animals are dispatched in accordance with religious practices such as halal and kosher, they are permitted to forgo the more humane stunning process. Thankfully not all animals killed under religious standards are dispatched without stunning with around 37% of sheep and goats, 25% of cattle and 16% of poultry killed without being stunned first. Only meat killed in accordance with the religious practices can be sold as so (i.e halal or kosher).
By making allowances for religious slaughter it allows the bar for animal welfare to drop even lower in an industry that is already failing in this area. Undercover investigations have revealed that across the board, from religious to organic, there are hideous abuses committed to animals in abattoirs on a regular basis due a lack of funding into competence training, monitoring and regulation.
Humans are animals but animals aren’t humans
Empathizing with other living things is a natural trait of human behavior. However, thanks in part to our Disney informed upbringings, many of us entertain notions that animals are humans on all fours that think and feel just like us. Whilst, of course, there are many similarities, animals are physiologically different to humans. Their brains are less developed and some don’t have the same pain receptors as humans. For example, the human nerve that enables us to feel excruciating pain has 83% pain receptors whilst some fish they have between 0-5% and most insects have no pain receptors at all.
These physical design traits make perfect evolutionary sense. Insects base their survival strategy upon keeping out of harm’s way as best they can and reproducing in high numbers in the hope that one in a million will survive. Pain feedback would serve little purpose within this strategy. Whereas, for territorial animals like lions, fighting plays a crucial role in the survival of the fittest. The pain resulting from a fight will inform which Lion is the strongest and genetically superior, who will go on the breed with the Lionesses and produce the most healthy cubs.
It is miss informed to compare an animal’s ability to think and feel pain as analogous to that of a human. Never the less, the act of extinguishing a conscious being’s experience of existence should be viewed as a significant event and something not to be taken lightly. The sad fact is that the expectation for low-cost food has provided the conditions that allow for the vast majority of failures in animal welfare in the food production process, with the blame falling squarely on the shoulders of the consumers.
 Viva! – http://www.viva.org.uk/resources/campaign-materials/murder-she-wrote
 Humane Slaughter Association, 2014 – http://www.hsa.org.uk/downloads/technical-notes/TN14-gas-killing-of-chicks-in-hatcheries.pdf
 The Vegan Society – https://www.vegansociety.com/sites/default/files/CompassionForAnimals.pdf
 Mayell H, National Geograpic News, 2005 – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/02/0218_050218_human_diet.html
 Nelson K, Language in Cognitive Development Emergence of the Mediated Mind – Graduate School and University Center, The City University of New York Cambridge University Press, 1996
 EU Council Regulation Directive 1099 2009. Page 9 – Chapter II Article 4 (para 1 & 4) – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325000/regulation_1099_2009_en.pdf
 Food Standards Agency – Results of the 2013 animal welfare survey in Great Britain – https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/2013-animal-welfare-survey.pdf
 A typical human cutaneous nerve contains 83% C type trauma receptors (the type responsible for transmitting signals described by humans as excruciating pain). The rainbow trout has about 5% C type fibres, while sharks and rays have 0%. Source: Snow P.J.1993 pp. 97–103.