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By Justin Kerswell, Viva! campaigns manager
If you picture the scene: a crowded shopping centre; then from amongst the jumble of legs wanders a tiny kitten. Unsure on his feet and obviously lost and alone there would be no shortage of people trying to help.
Then imagine a young piglet or lamb wandering amongst shoppers. An even more incongruous scene, for sure, but again many people would go out of their way to help and try and rescue that animal – to make sure there was a happy ending. Only, for farmed animals – apart from those on sanctuaries – there is no such thing as a happy ending.
It is hard-wired into most of us to protect infants – be they human or other mammals. Yet the sad truth is that those of us who choose to eat meat, eggs or dairy are each complicit in the deaths of thousands of baby animals in a lifetime.
Such is the collective moral schizophrenia, people melt at the site of kittens and new-born lambs gambolling in the fields yet will eat meat without a twinge of conscience. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way.
One of the things that constantly shocks people I speak to is how young farmed animals are before they are killed. Despite advertising and other popular notions to the contrary, farms are not benign places for farmed animals. Most are intensive factories designed to get animals from birth to slaughter in the quickest time possible. They are certainly not sanctuaries.
The brutal truth is that farmed animals are only kept alive as long as there is profit in doing so. For animals killed for their meat it is as soon as they have put on as much weight as possible to produce the highest yield. No farmer will feed animals any longer than he or she needs to. There is simply no financial incentive to do so – and it is all about the money.
Although it is often termed reaching adult weight that term is misleading. Today’s farmed animals are far removed from their natural ancestors and have been selectively bred to reach that weight much earlier than they would do naturally. Ducks killed for meat are typically just seven weeks old. Piglets are killed at just six months old.
For me, this fast track to death really hit home during a visit to a massive ‘broiler’ factory farm hidden behind trees and hedgerows near a pretty English village. Apart from the stink you might not know it was there until your nose told you otherwise. There were 30,000 birds in that particular shed – just one of many. These chickens bred for meat were nearly six weeks old (soon to be taken to slaughter). In other words they were babies – no more so evident than in the fact that all still had their blue eyes and still would as they hung upside down from shackles as they approached the electrified water baths.
Those farmed for their milk or eggs admittedly live a little longer. Yet what they make up for in time lived they pay for in debilitating daily grind and the emotional toil of having their babies taken away from them repeatedly. They produce far more than they were designed to naturally to either feed their own babies or to produce new life – and this takes its inevitable toll. They too are killed at just a fraction of their natural lives.
If their offspring are the wrong sex to produce either milk or eggs their lives can last little more than a day or two. Viva!’s undercover investigators have filmed male chicks gassed or macerated alive at British hatcheries because there is no money to be made keeping them alive. And we have filmed baby male dairy calves ripped from their mothers and shot in the head simple because they cannot produce milk.
For some, death comes before they are even born. Pregnant dairy cows sometimes end up in British slaughterhouses. Abattoir vet Gabriele Meurer witnessed the slaughter. She told Viva!, “Sometimes when pregnant animals are hanging on the line bleeding to death, you can see the unborn babies kicking inside their mothers’ wombs.”
Does this horrify you? It should. The positive is, of course, all this death is avoidable. No farmed animal – regardless of whatever age they are – has to die for you if you choose to stop eating meat, eggs and dairy products.
The best way to end the suffering of animals is to go vegan - or at least start in that direction. We can help you do just that.
Please also consider a donation to help us continue to expose animal abuse. If you like what Viva! does and want to become part of our work why not join today?
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