Why bans on non-stun slaughter miss the point

I’m indebted to Adam Corlett of the Lib Dems for this post, in which he sets out an ethical case for going vegan. I am not (yet) at that point, but particularly appreciate Part 3 of the post, in which he outlines the vast litany of horrible practices inflicted upon animals by modern factory farming methods. I have replicated the relevant bits below.

Here is a list of things that happen to pigs:

Typical lives for farmed pigs:

  • Sows are commonly artificially inseminated (or they are ‘served’ up in a rack to a male), usually within 5 days of the previous litter being removed; and then spend around 16 weeks in a concrete pen
  • For boars, semen is often collected by electro-ejaculation (an electrode inserted into the rectum), while others receive vasectomies to become ‘teaser boars’
  • Piglets are typically born – in unnaturally large litters – into a metal farrowing crate, in which the mother essentially can’t move for four weeks at a time twice a year (though in the UK outdoor births with greater freedom are also common). 18% of piglets die at this stage.
  • Their 8 needle teeth are clipped (cut off almost to the gum) – without anaesthetic – to avoid damage to the sows’ teats. In the wild this is avoided by allowing the sows to move.
  • Parts of their tails are cut off – without anaesthetic – to limit the pigs harming each other
  • Outside the UK, male piglets are generally castrated – without anaesthetic – in order to reduce aggression and change the taste of their meat
  • Tags are typically pinned through their ears
  • Piglets are given a large injection of iron
  • Weaning happens at a very early age (so that the sow can be bred again)
  • After weaning, the vast majority of pigs (>90%) live entirely indoors, on slatted floors, and packed together. The guidelines say only that they must “have enough space to allow all the animals to lie down at the same time”.
  • On the off-chance that pigs are reared outside, nose rings may be inserted to make it more painful for them to root, to reduce the amount of digging
  • Pigs are generally fed cereals and soya – around 2kg a day that could otherwise have gone directly to feeding humans
  • Cannibalism of both dead and live pigs has often been observed
  • Disease is common, from diarrhoea at an early age to outbreaks like foot and mouth (leading to mass killings)
  • Obviously the potential exists for abuse, with examples of workers kicking and beating pigs, stabbing them with pitchforks or spraying paint up their noses for fun
  • Pigs are slaughtered at around 5-6 months of age
  • They are prodded into cramped lorries and then transported. Around 1 in 100 pigs die in at this stage. In winter, apparently live pigs can be frozen to the inside of trucks and need to be ripped off, while in summer heat stress is possible.
  • Across the EU, 28 million pigs a year experience journeys of over 8 hours
  • At the abattoir, they are usually pushed into a cramped gas chamber where they are suffocated by CO2, which involves around 30 seconds of conscious suffering
  • Alternatively, electric stunning (followed by bleeding out) can be used but this doesn’t always work perfectly and the wait before stunning can apparently be stressful

It’s hard to know what conditions are really representative, but I reckon these two videos show neither the worst nor the best of the UK pig industry:

And here is a list of things that happen to chickens:

Typical lives for farmed chickens:

  • In the case of egg-laying breeds, male chicks will be killed almost immediately. In the UK this is done using gas but in many other places they go into a grinder.
  • The tips of their beaks are removed (using an infrared beam) to limit their ability to harm one another densely packed conditions. (Note that a bird’s beak “is a complex sensory organ with numerous nerve endings” and is its main means of interacting with the world.)
  • Male chickens may have their claws, spurs and sometimes comb/wattle/earlobes removed
  • Chickens now lay roughly an egg a day, compared to once every few weeks in the wild. Large eggs are believed to be more painful and can lead to ‘vent prolapse’.
  • Industrial egg-laying and inactivity make osteoporosis common, leading in turn to bone fractures, chronic pain and death
  • Although ‘battery cages’ were banned, their main replacement is simply a slightly larger cage
  • Free-range is probably less cruel, though birds typically still spend the vast majority (and in many cases all) of their time indoors, in a very cramped barn with thousands of others in awful conditions. 16,000 birds sharing a shed would still be free range.
  • Even after debeaking, pecking is extremely common when there’s so little space or enrichment
  • Chicken and eggs with the Soil Association Organic label do come with significantly higher standards (though it’s a shame they consider GM feed to be a comparable problem) but this accounts for only 2% of eggs and the cost is over 70% more than regular “free-range”
  • Meat chickens tend to be kept in sheds at densities of 17 per square metre or more
  • As meat chicken litters are not changed until the flock is killed, 82% of even Grade A chicken shows hock burns where the high level of ammonia in the air has burned the skin
  • Chickens can easily live more than 5 years (even 16 in one case). But egg-laying hens are killed after a year or so, while chickens bred for meat are usually killed at 33-38 daysExtremely rapid growth in the latter often causes sudden death, severe lameness, bone defects, or deformity
  • The majority of fast-growth chickens have severe walking problems
  • Chickens are caught (by hand or machine) and put in crates, to be transported. Around a million chickens a year in the UK die on the way to be slaughtered, due to suffocation or broken bones.
  • At a processing plant, birds that aren’t gassed are likely to be hung up by their (often already injured) legs and stunned unconscious as they pass through a water bath
  • Where stunning fails to work, there are many cases of chickens being boiled alive
  • With the rise of halal meat in the UK – far beyond actual demand – almost 1 in 5 chickens now have their throats cut without being stunned first, with the British Veterinary Association expressing “grave concern” about this [Note: here, I would encourage Adam Corlett to treat the BVA’s claims with a large pinch of salt]
  • Again, there is huge potential for abuse, such as “jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs and slamming them into walls” or smashing their heads against rails to kill them

The video below has a vegan agenda, but hopefully it gives some idea of what the caged and “free-range” approaches look like in practice:

And here is a list of things that happen to cows:

Typical lives for cows:

  • Artificial insemination is most common, with semen collected through electro-ejaculation and cows impregnated by inserting a pipette and guiding it up through the cervix using the other arm inserted into the rectum
  • Calves and mothers are separated within the first few days, which can be very distressing for both
  • fifth of male dairy calves (i.e. 1 in 10 of all dairy cattle) are simply shot at birth
  • Dairy calves that are not killed may be kept in cramped cages alone for veal, beef or until ready for impregnation. Others will be exported.
  • Ears are tagged, and freeze branding may also be used
  • If females are born with more than 4 teats, these ‘supernumeraries’ are cut off with scissors – without anaesthetic
  • Dairy cows are reimpregnated whilst still lactating, to minimise the gap between lactations, and milked for 7 out of 9 months of pregnancy
  • They graze in the better half of the year, but an estimated 20% of dairy cows are never allowed outside
  • Cows spend most of their time on concrete, often slippery with manure and urine
  • Lameness is very common (and interventions such as shackles and foot trimming may help, though over-trimming is another problem)
  • Dairy cows of course produce (and carry around) vast volumes of milk
  • Mastitis is very common (note: astonishingly, homeopathy is commonly used to try and cure mastitis on organic farms across Europe)
  • Udder flaming is used to remove hair and keep udders clean (which is not necessarily painful but may go wrong)
  • Around 1 in 4 adult dairy cows are culled each year. They reach an average of 3 lactations (or you might say offspring) each, before they are culled due to reduced fertility, mastitis, lameness, reduced yield or other reasons. Arguably these are all related to the huge strain that is put on their bodies.
  • In horned cattle, usually the horns are removed (disbudding) using a hot iron or caustic soda (with pain relief in the UK), possibly while the cow is restrained in a cattle crush
  • Male calves for beef tend to be castrated
  • With fewer abattoirs than there used to be, cows may be transported quite long distances to slaughter
  • Electric shock instruments can be used if cattle refuse to move
  • 1% of cattle (but a quarter of sheep and goats) are not stunned before slaughter, due to the religious exemption

The videos below show the simple realities of separating calves from mothers.


Pretty grim reading, isn’t it? Which must lead to the inevitable conclusion: even if kosher/halal slaughter were as bad as the BVA and RSPCA make out (spoiler: it isn’t), the final few moments of a comparatively small number of animals slaughtered by Jews and Muslims are but a drop in the ocean compared to the suffering inflicted upon animals by modern factory farming methods. Which must mean, in turn, that anyone who calls for a ban on kosher/halal slaughter, without themselves (a) being vegan and (b) calling for everyone else to go vegan, is (at best) highly selective in their concern for animal welfare.

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1 Response to Why bans on non-stun slaughter miss the point

  1. Pingback: Campaigns against kosher: a looming threat? James Mendelsohn | Engage

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