Piggy on a Plate / Fowl Play / Talking Turkey / Assault and Battery / Lamb to the Slaughter / Milky No-Way / Bulls to you / The Slaughterhouse / Stunned / Electric Tongs / Captive Bolt Pistol / Electrified Water Bath / Religious Slaughter
Juliet Gellatley is the Founder and Director of Viva!. She has a degree in zoology and is a leading authority on vegetarian and vegan issues launching many successful campaigns from Convert-a-Parent and SCREAM!! to Pig In Hell and a campaign that stopped the nationwide sale of 'exotic' meats. She also created National Vegetarian Week. Juliet produced the double award-winning teenage videos, Food Without Fear and Food for Life as well as Devour the Earth and coedits Viva!Life magazine. Juliet has given hundreds of talks on animal rights and vegetarianism and ardently believes that youth education is the key to a more compassionate world. She is frequently interviewed on radio and TV. Juliet is author of The Livewire Guide to Going, Being and Staying Veggie, Born to be Wild and the classic book on vegetarian issues - the Silent Ark.
Imagine you just landed on Planet Earth and want to find out more about the diet of the human race. You know that people who eat animals run a much greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. They are more likely to suffer from gall stones, obesity, diet-related diabetes, kidney stones, food poisoning and constipation! You also know that livestock farming is a hopelessly inefficient way of feeding people and that it causes pollution on a staggering scale. On top of that, you have discovered that incarcerating and killing animals causes great pain and suffering.
Coming from an advanced planet which encourages compassion and wisdom, you obviously expect to find that most people on earth will be vegetarians and vegans.
To your amazement, instead you discover that each year, meat eaters in Britain consume their own weight in animal flesh. Over the period of a lifetime it amounts to:
5 Cattle / 20 Pigs / 29 Sheep / 780 Chickens / 46 Turkeys / 18 Ducks / 7 Rabbits / 1½ Geese
You may find it impossible to believe that over 850 million animals are slaughtered for food in Britain each year. This breaks down as:
2.3 million Cattle
19 million Sheep and Lambs
16 million Pigs
792 million Chickens
35 million Turkeys
18 million Ducks
1 million Geese
5 million Rabbits*
But how are these animals farmed? Surely humankind must show some compassion and respect for its fellow creatures with which it shares the Earth?
Pigs are more intelligent than dogs and used to live wild in Britain. Now they are kept locked in prisons for meat. Pigs lived in the great forests and woods that covered most of the UK eating beech nuts, acorns, other seeds and nuts, insects, roots and occasionally carrion. Their snout and strong neck helped them to grub up roots and other food. Not keen on temperature extremes, they sought shade under the trees when they were hot and made nests from the litter on the forest floor when they felt it was getting too nippy. All the wild pigs in Britain were hunted to extinction in the seventeenth century.
Instead of being free, with a right to a natural existence, more than 90 per cent of piglets are factory farmed. In investigations of farms all over Britain, Viva! exposed diseased, dead and dying animals.
In almost every fattening unit was glaring neglect and indifference - broken legs, abscesses, ruptured stomachs, animals coughing with pneumonia, others panting from meningitis, cuts and lacerations from the perforated metal on which they are forced to live.
One farm investigated in Yorkshire - which supplied major supermarkets - looked almost derelict, with junk and debris everywhere and only an array of grimy windowless sheds as the give away to what it farmed. An overpowering stench of ammonia and faeces was overwhelming.
There was no light inside but a cacophony of noise - a scrambling and clattering of animals in fear. The camera lights revealed baby pigs in barren metal pens and the noise was their feet on the bare metal floors as they charged to get away. There were so many of then that there was no place to go or hide.
This near darkness, these utterly barren, sterile conditions is their home for over a month - about one-fifth of their lives. One pig had a broken leg, others were stunted and suffering from 'scabby pig' from which they will almost certainly die. Some were lame, others had deformed spines.
Outside in a rusting trailer was a pile of rotting corpses, discoloured and bloated from days of decay were half submerged in putrid rainwater.
In the 'second stage grower' pen, there were around 200 large pigs in an area of about 10m by 12m. Overcrowding is typical of this industry. The pigs squealed and screamed, biting in their desperation to be let out.
The pigs are killed at about five months old for sausages, bacon, ham and pork.
The 'breeding stock' - the pigs kept to produce the piglets which are killed for meat - usually give birth in a small farrowing crate on a concrete or perforated metal floor. Sows have strong maternal feelings and would normally spend days building a nest of leaves or straw. In a crate they cannot do this and so lapse into stereotyped behaviour where they repeatedly try to build a nest in their barren cell.
The bars on the crates stop the mother pigs from being able to move - they cannot take a step forward or back or turn around. This causes the pregnant animals to ache all over and many have back and leg problems.
The bars also stop them from reaching their babies when they give birth, although the babies can reach their mother's teats to suckle. The piglets are taken away early at about three weeks old and kept in the fattening units. Five days after her piglets are taken away, the sow is made pregnant again and the whole misery-go-round continues.
While red meat consumption declines, more chickens are being eaten than ever before. Sadly, some people believe that white meat is somehow healthy. They are wrong. Chicken meat clots arteries, triggers cancers and is one of the biggest causes of food poisoning in the world. And chicken farming is outright cruel.
Chicks are kept in sheds called broiler houses where up to 100,000 birds are crammed with less than 600cm2 of space per bird (about the space of a computer screen). The floor is concrete and laid with sawdust, wood shavings or chopped straw but soon becomes covered with the animals' excrement. The filth may attract rats and flies bringing disease and because the birds are forced to spend their entire lives standing in their own droppings, they are in terrible pain from hock burns (burns to their feet and legs), breast blisters and ulcerated feet. (Think how sore a little ulcer is in your mouth and then imagine having ulcers all over your feet.Yuk.) The windowless sheds are artificially lit for 23½ hours a day. This deters the chicks from sleeping and instead makes them eat more. A fat bird means more money. And money is used to excuse all sorts of cruel and sickening things that humans do to animals and even their own kind.
Broiler chickens are ready for slaughter at 1.8kg live weight in 42 days, half the time it once took. They go to death with the bodies of adult chickens and the blue eyes and high pitched 'cheep' of little chicks. The birds grow abnormally fast because they are fed growth promoting antibiotics and are selectively bred to do so.
The result is that the bones of many break under their ballooning weight and their hearts are frequently unable to cope. The Agricultural and Food Research Council (which supports factory farming) state that up to four fifths of broiler chickens have broken bones, deformed feet and legs or other skeletal defects. According to the National Farmers Union, about 72 million birds die in broiler houses every year - before they even reach the slaughterhouse.
At Christmas it would be nice to think that humans show some goodwill to other creatures. And increasing numbers do. But many British still celebrate Christmas by killing 11 million turkeys. And yet this British "tradition" only began in the Industrial Revolution and became widespread in the 1950's when factory farming began.
Turkeys are still wild in America. It makes you even sadder to think of the farmed birds when you have seen them free in their natural environment. Wild turkeys are actually very handsome, with black wing and tail feathers that shimmer red-green and copper, contrasting with their white wing bars - nothing like the all-white, broad-breasted, meat strains bred in our farms today. They enjoy roosting in trees, but build their nests on the ground. If they are threatened, they can fly as far as 1.6km at an amazing 88km/h (55mph). Strange that so many people think turkeys can't fly. Seeds, nuts, roots, tubers, grubs, grasses, legumes and sometimes small amphibians and molluscs (snails and slugs) make up their varied diet. The turkeys semi-wild nature means that they suffer very badly in factory farms.
Yet almost all turkeys are intensively reared in Britain. One day old chicks (known as poults) are either placed in large, windowless broiler sheds or in pole barns which have natural light and ventilation. Up to 25,000 birds may be crammed into a shed - giving only 0.27 - 0.37m² space per bird. As they grow they can hardly move and the floor becomes putrid and stinks of excreta. Like broiler chickens, the poor turkeys are in agony from burns and ulcers on the feet and breasts. Professor John Webster, Head of Department of Animal Husbandry, Bristol University says:
"One quarter of the heavy strains of broiler chickens and turkey are in chronic pain for one third of their lives. Given that poultry meat consumption in the UK exceeds one million tonnes per annum, this must constitute in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man's inhumanity to another sentient animal." (Animal Welfare: A Cool Eye Towards Eden, Blackwell Science, 1995)
Instead of the wide variety of food that a turkey is meant to eat, farmed birds are given pellets of the same unnaturally high protein feed, day in, day out. A boring, never changing diet causes frustration and stress to almost all farm animals. Because farmed turkeys are forced to grow quickly and have an unnaturally large breast size, many are in severe pain as their heart and legs cannot withstand this abnormally rapid growth. About two million baby birds die mainly from heart attacks before they reach slaughter weight. Turkeys are never cannibals in the wild but in overcrowded, filthy and boring conditions they may peck at each other relentlessly. Instead of changing the conditions, some are debeaked with a red-hot blade at 5 days old.
At between 12 to 26 weeks old, the end comes for the birds and many are destined to become the "traditional" Christmas type of dinner - oven-ready turkey. Those worn out from constant breeding are made into processed meats, such as turkey "ham" or "sausages".
Some of the saddest turkeys are the ones kept for breeding. They can grow to the huge weight of six stone and have such diseased hip joints that they can barely walk.
Doesn't it seem strange that when people sit down for Christmas dinner, to celebrate peace and forgiveness and all the better things in life, they do it by first cutting something's throat and killing it? When they "coo" and "aah" and say what a lovely turkey they're munching into, they close their eyes to the pain and filth that was its life. And when they carve its huge breast they probably don't even know that this great lump of flesh has turned turkeys into freaks. We have produced a creature that can't even mate without us doing it for them using artificial insemination. Not a very merry Christmas for them! Turkeys are naturally "bootiful" but what we have done to them is anything but that.
Do chickens kept for their eggs fare better? After all you've seen all the ads and egg boxes that proudly declare "country fresh" and "fresh from the countryside", "farm fresh". Surely this means hens are free to roam the fields and woods? 'Fraid not! Unless an egg box actually has the words FREE RANGE, it is almost certain that the eggs are from battery hens. (In 1998 Marks & Spencer stopped selling battery eggs and only sell free range; a positive move that came about from public pressure against the cage system.) However around 85 per cent of Britain's eggs are produced on battery farms, where the hens are squashed together in small cages. They can never spread their wings, scratch in the earth, perch or make a nest, dust-bathe, search for food that is tasty and natural, or even walk or run.
Instead, five hens are packed into a cage of only 45 x 50cm. (slightly bigger than your average microwave oven) and are never allowed out again until they are taken for slaughter.
The average wing span of a hen is 76cm - so movement and natural behaviour is severely restricted. Thousands of cages are stacked into windowless sheds - with artificial lighting for about 17 hours a day to promote egg laying. Up to 30,000 birds are packed in these sheds and they are all fed, watered and their eggs collected by an automatic system. When a hen lays an egg, it rolls onto a conveyor belt and is taken away to be boxed. Birds of 18 weeks old are put into these cages and are not removed until they are 18 months to two years old, when they are killed. Try to imagine the frustration, the boredom, the anger that this system creates. Hens in more natural conditions will often live for 7 years - sometimes much more. Slaughtered battery hens are processed into soups, baby foods, stock cubes, school dinners or used in the restaurant trade.
And what of the male chicks? Because battery hens are bred to be lean, to eat little and lay a lot, 40 million male day old chicks are killed every year - too skinny for meat, unable to lay. Their bodies are used as fertilizer or as feed for farm animals.
Hens in the wild lay only 20 eggs a year, which will mostly have been fertilised by a cockerel and will hatch. There are no cockerels in battery sheds so all eggs are infertile. The battery hen has been bred to produce an unbelievable 300 eggs a year - nearly one a day. However, this breeding has not stripped them of their instincts and desires. Like hens in the wild, they need a safe, private place to lay their eggs, something which is not available when sharing a cage with so many other birds. The process can take up to an hour or more, during which time they will attempt to hide from their cagemates. The frustration often makes them become aggressive. Hens lay eggs because it is a bodily function which they have no control over, not because they are "happy"
Creatures whose nature is to move around almost ceaselessly during daylight hours must, when restricted like this, somehow substitute their desire to peck and scratch in the ground. The only source of interest left to them is the feathers and flesh of their cage mates which they frequently peck - sometimes to death. If you were squashed into a phone box with four other people - maybe people you didn't even like - perhaps you would become aggressive after a few months (or a few days?!). These "vices" could be stopped by providing a decent amount of space but instead of this many farmers practice beaktrimming - a red-hot blade removes part of the beak when the birds are young. Some die from bleeding or shock.
The combination of a lack of fresh air and daylight, selective breeding, and caging in overcrowded conditions has led to the spread of diseases and to distress and suffering. Prolapses, egg peritonitis, cancers, infectious bronchitis and Gumboro disease are just a few of the conditions that thrive in battery houses. The bones of battery hens are often so brittle that they will snap like dry twigs. The Agricultural and Food Research Council states that one third of battery hens suffer from broken bones. A review of all scientific studies on battery farming by the University of Edinburgh concludes that "battery hens suffer" and that battery cages should be outlawed. But then you didn't need a scientist to tell you that, did you? The two million battery hens that die each year in their cages are testimony to that.
Sheep are kept for their wool, skin, meat and milk. On the face of it, you think that they have suffered the least from the growth of factory farming - here free range actually means free range. Yes, sheep mostly still live in the open in conditions that are fairly close to their natural environment. They eat mostly a natural diet and are allowed contact with other sheep without being overcrowded or caged. When young, most are protected and nurtured by their own mothers - something denied to most factory-reared animals. Compared to battery hens or factory farmed pigs, they have a good life, or do they?
Having watched huntsmen maraud across the countryside on the pretence of protecting sheep from foxes, you'd be forgiven for thinking these must be special creatures indeed. Precious even. But it's all a sham and four million sheep die each year of cold, hunger, sickness, pregnancy complications or injury and one million lambs die of exposure within a few days of birth.
Sheep are suited to the dry, rocky land of hill country, being prone to foot diseases when kept on damp, low land. Despite their inherent unsuitability for living on low-lying land, much of the Midlands has been given over to sheep rearing as has Sussex, Kent, Devon and many other unhilly counties. The life led by these creatures is considerably different to those reared on the uplands, such as in Wales.
Subsidies and science have allowed the size of the British flock to increase from about 34 million to 45 million animals from 1982 up to 1998. The UK is the EU's biggest sheep meat producer (380,000 tonnes in 1998), followed by Spain and France. However, almost 40 per cent of UK sheep meat and live sheep were exported in 1998 as the British taste in lamb has been declining since the 1980's.
Some 43 per cent, or £488 million out of £1.1 billion in 1998, of the income of sheep farmers in Britain comes from the public purse, from taxation, from you and I. The government stated in 1994 that: "Most hill farmers and many lowland sheep keepers would be incapable of financial survival if subsidies were withdrawn."
All red meat producers receive Government subsidies of one kind or another. No other industry is cushioned in this way. It is ironic that a trade which is damaging and cruel receives such support.
Normally, sheep breed once a year and have one or two lambs. The ewe (female sheep) naturally comes into season in the autumn or winter and the five-month pregnancy ensures that most lambs are born in the warmer conditions of spring when food is plentiful. But farmers, lured by the higher prices paid for Easter lamb, change this natural breeding cycle so that lambs are born earlier. Many never survive the cold. The ewes are made to come into season early with the use of hormones or by being kept indoors and controlling the amount of light they receive - the decline in daylight hours being responsible for triggering oestrus.
The most profitable produce of British sheep is their lambs - wool coming a distant second, producing between five and 10 per cent of total income per ewe - so they are under pressure to produce more and more offspring. Some may have three or four lambs a year - leading to more intensive, indoor rearing because of their inability to cope with this many lambs in cold weather.
Lambs are often slaughtered at about four months old, although some are killed as young as ten weeks and others up to 15 months. The meat from older sheep is called mutton and is less popular than lamb so is mostly used in processed foods. Ewes are able to live to the age of 15 or so but are slaughtered after four to eight years.
Sheep have been bred to grow more wool than nature intended. Naturally, they have an outer covering of hair, with the wool making up just a fine undercoat. Domesticated breeds have been "improved" to increase the wool and to reduce the coarse hair. Hill-breeds still have quite coarse coats as protection against the weather but breeds such as the Merino have only a fine, soft fleece. Domesticated sheep have to be shorn every year before the weather becomes too hot and uncomfortable and it can be a stressful experience for animals not used to being handled.
About 27 per cent of UK wool comes from slaughtered sheep, usually lambs.
If you were an alien visitor, by now you would surely be wondering if all creatures on earth took second place to money. And of course the answer would have to be yes. But the biggest shock is yet to come. Unlike many humans, the alien would know that an animal can only give milk when it has given birth to its offspring and it doesn't pour from an animal tap whenever needed. For a continual supply of milk it would be obvious that a cow would have to be made pregnant every year but the method involved would shock anyone.
After a nine month pregnancy, a cow's tiny, teetering calf is separated from her after only one or two days.
That's how long it takes for the calf to suckle the disease-preventing colostrum from its mother but not long enough to snatch the milk which must all be kept for humans, up to a staggering 7,000 litres a year, ten times more than her little calf could ever drink. If the calf is a male it is very likely, after only a week, he will be shot - an unwanted by-product of the dairy industry. (Before BSE he would have been crammed into a lorry with hundreds of other calves and despatched on a journey to France or Holland, petrified, bewildered and often deprived of water, food or rest. On arrival he would have been placed in a veal crate.)
But what of its mother cow 324? It was her eighth calf and will probably be the last. The genetic manipulation and dietary controls which have led to her extraordinary output of milk carry with them a cost, all borne by the cow. She has a one-in-three chance of her udders secreting pus and painfully swelling with mastitis, and the antibiotics forced up her udders don't have much success in controlling the disease.
Because of the strain of carrying her oversized udders, she is likely to be amongst the one third of cows who are lame from foot and leg disorders. And her body consumes so much energy for milk production that her muscles simply waste away. From a distance, these skin-covered coat racks, munching grass, seem to be in an idyll. But the ugly truth is that a quarter of dairy cows are so exhausted by the process they never see their third year, despite having a life expectancy of 21 years or more. Most cows are killed at four to seven years, often pregnant when they die. Their meat is then used for soup, burgers or processed foods.
Professor John Webster, Department of Animal Husbandry, Bristol University says:
"The dairy cow is a supreme example of an overworked mother. She is the hardest working of all our farm animals and it can be scientifically calculated. It is equivalent to a jogger who goes out for six to eight hours a day which is a lunatic pursuit”. He states that almost 100 per cent of cows suffer from laminitis - a disease which causes 'great pain to the cow' (MAFF). Tissue lining of the foot becomes inflamed and may lead to ulcers. Professor Webster continues: "To understand the pain of laminitis it helps to imagine crushing your finger nails in the door then standing on your fingertips."
In intensive farming, many cows are kept in "zero-grazing" systems. This means that they are kept indoors, where they can't follow their natural, very strong instinct to graze. Grass is brought to them, and they are also given a high-protein diet to increase their milk yield.
There are many different systems for raising cattle for meat, the least intensive being the suckler herd. The calf is kept with its mother until weaned and then put on grass until it is heavy enough to be killed at about two years old.
At the other end of the spectrum, the most intensive method is where calves are taken from their mothers at birth and reared in pens on milk replacer and feed pellets. During the first week of their lives they are usually castrated and have their horn buds chemically burnt out. In the case of older cows a hot iron might be used and, theoretically at any rate, an anaesthetic.
To put weight on before slaughter they are taken to fattening sheds and fed on high quality cereals. There may be straw bedding but it is becoming common to use slatted concrete floors on which cattle find it difficult to stand, often resulting in lameness. Some farms keep up to 8,000 animals this way, cramming them into sheds to stop them from moving around and "wasting" energy in keeping warm. They gain weight quickly and are ready for slaughter at only 11 to 12 months old.
You have now seen how land animals are treated by humans - as mere commodities devoid of any feelings. So what of the creatures of the oceans and rivers? "Oh, we don't have to worry about them because fish don't feel pain!" A convenient excuse you may think, ensuring fish are treated as though they have no right to be on planet Earth and if we continue the way we're going it won't be long before they aren't.
Eighty to 100 million tonnes of fish are caught each year, mostly from only five different groups - herrings, cod, jacks, redfish and mackerel. And to catch these, all kinds of other creatures suffer. Drift nets up to 40 km long catch everything in their way including dolphins, porpoises, small whales, rays, sharks, diving sea birds and species of fish which are not wanted. Fish that are caught in trawl nets are often crushed to death under the weight of the catch. The 'debris' which comes out of the net - shell fish, crabs, starfish and every conceivable type of crawling, swimming, burrowing creature - is simply shovelled back into the sea, most of it dead.
Those fish which are still alive by the time they make it on to the decks of fishing boats have one of two fates. Either they are allowed to suffocate to death in an alien environment or they are disembowelled with a gutting knife. Fish such as plaice will desperately cling to life for hours out of water and may well be filleted alive.
In an apparent concern at overfishing, the EU has instigated fish quotas for different species for each member country. What frequently happens is that once a boat has reached its quota for, say, cod it continues to fish for haddock. But as cod and haddock swim together the cod which are caught are simply returned to the sea - dead from suffocation, crushing or injury. (See Viva! Guide 9: Planet on a Plate.)
A growing sector is industrial fishing where "non edible" (to humans that is) species such as sand eels and ling are caught to produce fish oil or to be turned into high protein livestock and salmon feed or simply to be used as fertilizer.
The myth that fish are cold blooded and so can't suffer is difficult to shake off. The term 'cold blooded' isn't even accurate as the animal's temperature varies according to its surroundings. For example, some cold blooded animals that live in tropical waters can have higher temperatures than most "warm blooded" mammals. And neither term has anything to do with the central nervous system which is responsible for whether a creature can feel pain or not. Like all vertebrates, the fish nervous system consists of a brain, a single nerve cord along the back (spinal cord) and nerves which enable the animal to feel good and bad sensations. Of course fish do feel pain!
Like land animals, fish are also factory farmed and there are between 1,000 to 1,500 fish farms in Britain alone that mainly rear trout or salmon.
Up to 20,000 young salmon are packed into freshwater tanks measuring only between four and 10m in diameter. After a year to 18 months they are taken to loch or river estuary cages where they are injected with antibiotics to control diseases. They are then regularly doused with pesticides to kill plagues of sea lice. Despite this prolific use of chemicals, between 20 and 50 per cent die from diseases such as cancer or pancreas and kidney infections.
Before they are killed by being cut across the gills with a sharp knife, the fish are starved of food for two weeks. This is simply because it is less messy to take out the insides of a fish that has not eaten.
If you were from outer space, your alien brain would so far have been seriously intellectually challenged but don't worry because there's worse to come! How do you explain to an alien that humans happily eat meat but refuse to think about how it gets there - don't want to know how it gets there - because it upsets them? Most people don't want to work in a slaughterhouse, have never set foot in one and refuse to listen when you try to tell them about it. How much business would a restaurant do if, when someone ordered lamb chops, they were given a very sharp knife and a three-month-old lamb and told to cut its throat?
It might even remind you of your Martian children who shut their eyes when frightened because if they can't see the Klingon they think it doesn't exist. So desperate are some organisations to keep people's eyes closed that they try to rubbish charities like Viva!.
As a superior being you firmly believe that the truth cannot harm a person, only help them to make the right choices. So here it is!
Slaughter, like any other business, is subject to all the usual business approaches - efficiency, incentives, cost control and so on. The animals which go through its doors are units of production and the quicker they're killed the higher the earnings, the greater the profits. Slaughter becomes production line just like a car factory.
The pigs, sheep and cattle arrive in lorries and are unloaded into a series of pens called the "lairage". Chickens are normally left in their crates to await their slaughter.
Most animals are killed by having their throats cut and the rules say that they must first be stunned - made unconscious - to save them from feeling pain. Well, that's the theory and it immediately falls flat when it comes to religious slaughter. The drive for speed and efficiency can also result in the rules being bent but it is the methods themselves which make a nonsense of this supposedly humanitarian concern. Different methods are used for different animals. Some of them are:
Electric tongs are used on pigs, most sheep and some calves.
An electrified water bath is used almost exclusively for poultry.
Gas stunning is used on some pigs and poultry.
The captive bolt is used on cattle, most calves and some sheep.
The animals are taken from the lairage to the stunning point either individually or in groups where they are penned and stunned one by one in front of each other.
The low-voltage tongs consist of terminals which look a bit like headphones and are attached to insulated handles - imagine a large pair of garden shears with a round bit on the end of each blade. The slaughterman clamps the terminals to the animal's head, hopefully in front of its ears, and triggers an electric shock which is supposed to render it unconscious. A chain is then placed around a hind leg and the creature is hoisted into the air where its throat is cut - called "sticking" - allowing it to bleed to death - called "bleeding out".
Well, that's the theory but the stunning lasts for only about 20 seconds and if the slaughterman is too slow the animal can regain consciousness. This happens quite regularly according to the Food Research Institute. It found that with sheep, the time between stunning and sticking was usually more than 30 seconds and in some cases more than a minute. What this means is that millions of animals are conscious when their throat is cut.
Productivity has a bearing as slaughtermen are usually on piece rates, being paid on the basis of how many animals they kill. To be truly effective the tongs need to be placed in exactly the right position on the animals head and held there for at least seven seconds. For the sake of speed this often doesn't happen. Animals can and do regain consciousness but often don't show it because one effect of the electric shock can be to induce paralysis for up to 30 seconds.
The European Union Veterinary Committee says: "Under commercial conditions, a considerable proportion of animals are either inadequately stunned or require a second stun. This is mainly because of poor electrode placements, bad electrical contacts and long stun-to-stick intervals". (Scientific Veterinary Committee Animal Welfare Section. 1996. Report on the Slaughter and Killing of Animals. Directorate-General for Agriculture; European Commission.)
This little device is like a pistol but when the trigger is pulled and the cartridge explodes, instead of firing a bullet it shoots out a metal bolt. The bolt can only travel 9 cm as it's still attached to the pistol. Cattle to be killed are driven single file into a roofless metal box one at a time, the pistol is placed against their forehead and the bolt fired into their brain. Done properly the animal will immediately lose consciousness but often it isn't done properly. A bad or hurried aim, a sudden movement from the animal and the bolt can miss meaning agony inflicting terrible pain and requiring a second attempt.
Again the method of killing is to haul the animal up by a back leg and cut its throat.
The reason that animals are first stunned rather than being killed immediately is to allow their body to continue to function for a short time, enabling the creature's heart to pump out its own blood. Bacteria in the blood does cause the meat to deteriorate but it's now known that it makes no difference to the amount of blood lost whether the heart is beating or not.
Poultry represent the ultimate in efficiency. They enter the packing stations as living creatures and leave as wrapped, fresh or frozen table birds or in pies and other meat products. To feed this efficiency, a carefully planned production line is organised with lorries laden with crates full of birds arriving at set times throughout the day.
The chickens and turkeys have their legs placed in metal shackles and are hung upside down on a moving conveyor. Many of the chickens will already have broken bones. For turkeys it is particularly painful because of their weight and no exceptions are made even for the hugely overweight male breeding birds which can top 27 kg (about 60 lbs) - as much as an eight or nine-year-old child. The strain on their usually diseased hip joints is enormous and painful.
The conveyer belt passes over an electrified bath and one by one their heads are dragged through it. Some birds miss the bath by raising their heads and these arrive at the human throat cutter fully conscious. The larger packing stations often use mechanical throat cutters and for smaller birds it can mean that the blade misses their throat and cuts their head while for larger birds it can mean a cut on the breast. If these failures aren't noticed it can mean that fully conscious birds are dipped into the scalding tank. This is a procedure which loosens the feathers and is another stop on the relentless production line.
The European Union Veterinary Committee report that they are concerned by this method of stunning because the wrong size shackles are often used; pre-stun shocks in turkeys are very high (80%) because their wings hang lower than their heads and touch the water first; and currents may not be high enough to kill or lose consciousness. Viva! states in its report on slaughter that ventral neck cutting is not usually carried out and so birds are often conscious when they reach the scalding tank. Heads of ducks and geese in particular may not be immersed in the waterbath at all.
(Scientific Veterinary Committee Animal Welfare Section. 1996. Report on the Slaughter and Killing of Animals. Directorate-General for Agriculture; European Commission and Viva! report on Slaughter 1998.)
(For a fully referenced report on religious slaughter, see Going for the Kill, Viva! Report on the Religious (Ritual) Slaughter of Animals, 1998.)
As part of their religious faith, both British Jews and Muslims have special dispensation from the usual rules of slaughter. Animals killed to provide their kosher or halal meat are sent to the knife fully conscious. It can be a slow and laborious process for a stressed and terrified creature.
For Jewish shechita slaughter, cattle are placed in an upright pen one at a time; he or she is pushed forwards so that their head sticks out one end; a plate moves up from the floor to support the underside of the body and the head is raised by a chin lift which extends the animal's neck so that his/her neck can be cut more easily. When the throat has been cut, a side gate is raised and a hind leg is shackled. The chin-lift and belly plate are released and the animal is pulled out of the pen by a hoist and moved to an overhead rail.
The animal is supposed to be killed instantly by a single cut across the neck, however the reality is somewhat different as the following description of Viva! footage of the killing shows:
'The cow's neck is extended and the head lifted upwards by a chin lift in an upright pen. The animal's nostrils are flaring, eyes staring and it is salivating. The slaughterer cuts the cow's throat by slicing across it, backwards and forwards 13 times. The cow jerks away from the knife as far as it can and its facial reaction shows pain and great aversion. The cow does not collapse immediately (the filming ends before it does).....'
A huge problem with religious slaughter is that millions of animals bleed slowly. Anil et al say: "It is well recognised that unstunned calves which bleed poorly can take a long time to die." It takes more than five minutes for the animals to stop trying to stand normally.
(Anil, M.H. et al 1995. Welfare of Calves - 2. Increase in Vertebral Artery Blood Flow following Exsanguination by Neck Sticking and Evaluation of Chest Sticking as an Alternative Slaughter Method. Meat Science, vol 41, 2, 113-123.)
Professor Donald Broom, specialist in farm animal behaviour, University of Cambridge says:
"Animals are not stunned during the Jewish Shechita or the Muslim Halal religious slaughter procedures. There is a period of consciousness after the throat is cut which may last for 30 seconds to several minutes during which the animal must be in great pain and distress. As the heart still beats after stunning and blood drains from the animal just as effectively whether or not the animal is stunned there is no logical reason why stunning should not be carried out before the throat is cut."
(Broom, D.M. & Fraser, A.F. 1996. Farm Animal Behaviour & Welfare. Bailliere Tindall.)
For Muslim halal slaughter, sheep and goats are placed on their backs in a metal cradle or simply hoisted up by a back leg before having their throat slit. Poultry are held head downwards while their throats are cut.
Hardly surprisingly, many Muslims and Jews have turned against religious slaughter and eat previously stunned meat, or even more effective they have become vegetarian.
Imagine once again you're a visitor to earth from outer space, a creature of higher intellect and greater perception than humans so you are obviously already a vegetarian. You find it inconceivable that your earthling friends, now they know the truth, won't join you in such a necessary and fundamental change. They could continue to bury their heads in the sand, but what's the point - it won't go away. There's an old saying - if you can't beat them join them. In this case, the only way to beat them is not to join them. Join Viva! instead. It's always here on Earth to help you every step of the way.