Speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism. It is the assignment of different values, rights or consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership – the exclusion of all non-human animals from the rights, freedoms and protections afforded to humans. It’s the assumption of human superiority that ultimately leads to the exploitation of animals.
Ask yourself – why do we love some animals but use, torture and eat others? Many of us live with companion animals, we consider them members of our families and assign them rights within our households. Dogs are our “best friends” and we serve our cats, we love our bunnies and we pet our hamsters etc. We recognise their sentience. If someone suggested, we eat them, we’d be horrified. Yet we don’t consider farmed animals as having the same individual personalities, sensitivities, or the will to live.
All animals are sentient. They have complex relationships with members of their own kind, just like we do. They have individual personalities, just like we do. They love their offspring and have the inherent need to nurture, just like we do. They, just like us, have a strong will to live.
All sentient beings – human or non-human – suffer equally. There is no relevant difference between humans and other animals when it comes to the question of whether or not we have the right to use, torture, dominate, or kill them. There is no moral justification for it, and so we must continue to expand our circle of moral inclusion to encompass all individuals who are capable of suffering, as we are.
Each of us have a personality and a desire to live. Mother cows despair when their babies are taken away, repeatedly; pigs are social and feel frightened when they are loaded onto transport trucks to the slaughterhouse; chickens crave sunlight and dustbathing when incarcerated in cages.
The consumption of eggs has been rising steadily in the UK and, as a result, more and more birds are suffering.
In the UK, 12.9 billion eggs are eaten each year, and 35.3 million every single day. It is estimated that there are 38 million egg-laying birds within the UK farming industry. Half of these are incarcerated in so-called “enriched” cages housing up to 80 hens.
In the wild, hens lay eggs once or twice a year, yet modern farming industry forces hens to lay 300-500 eggs per year.
Mammals, including humans, only produce milk when pregnant. Cows, sheep and goats are mammals, which means that they also only produce milk for their babies. These animals have their babies taken from them within hours of them being born so that humans can take the mother’s milk instead.
Just like all mothers, farmed animals grieve over the loss of their children. The separation of mothers and babies is cruel and a painful experience. Mother cows have been known to cry out for their babies over days and days.
In the UK, over a billion farmed animals are killed for their meat each year in slaughterhouses. This figure comprises over 2.6 million cows, 975 million broiler chickens, 40 million ‘spent’ hens, over 10 million pigs, 16 million turkeys, over 15 million sheep, and 14 million ducks and geese.
‘Meat’ is the flesh of an animal: its skin, muscle, tissue and fat. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists processed meats as Class One carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer. Red meats are listed as Class Two carcinogens, meaning that they probably cause cancer. Red meats are listed as Class Two carcinogens meaning that they probably cause cancer.
Fish are the most exploited animals on the planet. They are killed in such massive numbers that they cannot be counted individually. Instead, official figures are recorded by weight, however we do know the number of individuals killed each year in the UK runs into the billions.
It is well documented that fish suffer and feel pain. When they are dragged out of the water, their eyes pop out because of the change in pressure and they suffocate, which can take anywhere from between 55 to 250 minutes if they are not gutted first. Fish are often gutted while still alive and fully conscious.
Lobsters are highly developed. They carry their young for nine months, and when left in peace, can live for more than 100 years. They recognise other individual lobsters, remember past acquaintances and have elaborate courtship rituals. They take long seasonal journeys, often traveling for hundreds of miles. Elder lobsters help guide young lobsters across the ocean floor by holding their claws in a line that can stretch for many yards.
Scientists have determined that lobsters, like all animals, can feel pain. Lobsters feel even more pain than we would in similar situations because the lobster does not have an autonomic nervous system that puts it into a state of shock when it is harmed. It feels itself being cut. The lobster is in a great deal of pain from being cut open and feels every iota of pain until its nervous system is destroyed during cooking.
Ella and other female pigs on farms are kept in crowded and cramped sheds in between being forced into tiny farrowing crates to give birth. Ella was first forcibly impregnated when she was six months old and, due to selective breeding, she gave birth to 10 babies. Pigs in the wild only have four or five babies.
Farrowing crates are cruel, metal prisons in which the pig stays for months after giving birth. Ella lives in one and is unable to turn around. She is forced to lie down or stand in her own excrement.
A broiler chicken is a bird that is raised for their meat. Sweetpea was hatched inside an industrial incubator. She and her fellow chicks were then placed in a giant barn. Sweetpea lives with 40,000-50,000 other broiler chickens.
Birds like Sweetpea suffer immeasurably in their very short lives. Sweetpea was selectively bred to grow extremely fast – so fast that her body will struggle to keep up with the rate of growth. Her legs will buckle under her weight as she grows and she may struggle to get to the water and feeders.
There are different methods used to house the hens; cages, percheries (barns), free range and organic. The birds have very little space. Such is the lack of space, many can never spread their wings or fly. They live in their own waste, and dead or dying birds lie amongst them. The term ‘free range’ simply means that barns must have ‘pot holes’ leading to an outside range… though many birds never reach the outside.
To increase laying, all hens are fed a protein-rich diet and are exposed to light for almost 24 hours a day. This pressure placed on the bodies of hens means they develop reproductive diseases.
Chickens are intelligent animals. They are inquisitive and have a natural instinct to explore. They are prevented from exhibiting their natural behaviours such as nesting, foraging and dust-bathing. Their confinement can lead to physical and psychological problems such as; osteoporosis, muscle-wasting, tumours, depression, frustration and grief.
Hens will peck at each other as a result of being unable to move around. To stop hens pecking at each other – which can cause injury – female chicks have a large portion of their beaks cut off when they have just hatched. Beaks are full of nerve endings and they are sensitive to pain in much the same way that human fingertips are.
New born chicks are sorted into males and females. The females will go on to become egg-layers. The male chicks are killed - usually by gassing - on the day that they are born.
All egg-laying hens are sent to slaughter and killed at approximately 72 weeks of age after their egg-production has slowed down and they are considered ‘spent’.
As of 2017, the UK dairy herd stands at 1.9 million cows at any given time, and approximately 2 million calves. Females are forcibly impregnated each year to maintain their milk production. They carry their babies for nine months like female humans.
Female calves will become just like their mothers - stuck in the perpetual cycle of enforced pregnancy. They will be milked each day until their milk production reduces or they can no longer bear children. At this point, the females are sent to slaughter which usually happens between five and six years of age. A cow’s natural life expectancy is 25 years.
If calves were to suckle from their mothers, they would do so five to six times a day which would leave around two litres of milk in the udders at any one time. On farms, however, cows are only milked twice a day which leads to an unnatural build-up of 20 litres of milk in the udders. This can lead to lameness of the hind legs and a painful infection of the udders called mastitis. The infection causes pus to enter into the milk and one litre of milk can contain as many as 400,000,00 somatic (pus) cells before it is deemed unfit for human consumption.
Male dairy calves are seen as a ‘waste product’ because they cannot produce milk. They are killed shortly after birth or are transported thousands of miles across Europe where they are raised and killed for veal.
Whether male or female, calves are isolated and housed in tiny hutches. They may also be chained. These babies may suckle on the bars of their enclosures and cry out for their mothers.
Almost all dairy herds are kept inside for at least six months of the year, including those with labelled “Free Range”.
Pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, turkeys, ducks and geese are intelligent, social and inquisitive animals. The females of each species are exploited for their reproductive organs so they are repeatedly impregnated, their babies are taken away from them and they are sorted into gender. Male cows, pigs, chickens and sheep are slaughtered within the first few months of life. Ducks and geese who are exploited for foie gras are not separated by gender.
Each species is housed in cramped, barren conditions and it is rare for any of them to experience fresh air or grass prior to being loaded onto slaughterhouse trucks. Chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese are all thrown into crates to be transported to slaughter. They often break bones including their necks and if they do not die immediately, they suffer a grueling journey.
Each species is selectively bred to grow quickly so that the least amount of money has to be spent on rearing them before slaughter. The rate of growth leads to limb deformities and problems with their organs such as heart failure. Infections are common because of their living conditions and lack of veterinary care. Prior to being sent to slaughter, animals are subjected to painful procedures such as dehorning, branding, ear tagging, tail-docking, castration and teeth-pulling all without anaesthetic.
The slaughter process is invariably terrifying and painful for animals. Sheep and birds are generally subjected to electrocution via the head. Many animals at the slaughterhouse either do not lose consciousness or they regain consciousness before they have their throats cut while they are hung upside down.
Large-scale abattoirs stun birds using either electrical waterbath or controlled atmosphere systems. In waterbath systems - the most commonly used commercial stunning method, live shackling is used where birds are grabbed from transport containers and forced into leg shackles upside down on rails. Their legs may already be broken due to rough handling during farm shed ‘depopulation’ and terrified birds struggle and flap frantically. If a flapping bird hits its neighbour(s) with its wings, the neighbour(s) may also be disturbed and begin flapping. Involuntary inversion causes birds stress and it has long been recognised that the practice of hanging birds upside down in shackles before stunning causes immense pain and suffering. Yet it is still done to billions of birds each year. Once shackled, birds move along the rail at fast speeds and go on to be dipped into electrified water fully conscious. If birds move their necks (“swan neck”), then they will carry on the line to have their necks cut fully conscious. Fast line speeds mean it is impossible for workers to check who is conscious, and who isn’t.
Pigs are mainly gassed now in the UK - they are forced into gas chambers fully conscious. Footage of Australian pig gas chambers shows the extent of the fear and panic as the chambers are lowered down into the CO2 gas - a gas that burns their eyes, noses and throats. This horrific method of slaughter is deemed “humane”.
Cows receive a bolt gun to the head which is designed to kill them instantly, however many are not killed and, indeed, regain consciousness before their throats are cut, again while they are hung upside down by their legs.
Each animal feels pain and fear. Some will fight for their lives while others become resigned to their terrible fate.
Massive nets that can be as large as football pitches are dragged through the ocean and catch any animals that get in the way. Species that get caught include fish of various breeds, whales, sharks, turtles, dolphins, squid, octopus, lobsters and crabs. Marine animals that are not the targets of the fishing trawlers are often killed or injured by the nets. They are thrown back in to the water to die slowly.
Some fish are farmed like land animals. This involves thousands upon thousands of fish being selectively bred and spending their entire short lives living in confinement. Marine animals naturally swim for miles and miles each day but those who are farmed are unable to do so which leads to them thrashing about and swimming in their own waste. Fish farms are plagued by diseases because of the confined conditions and as a result, the fish are dosed regularly to kill parasites. These diseases often spread to wild fish living nearby. As if all of this wasn’t awful enough, wild fish are often caught and fed to farmed fish.
The slaughter of fish is barbaric as little legislation exists to protect them. Most farmed fish are boiled alive, suffocated or gutted while alive and fully conscious. Wild caught fish suffer the same fate.
Anyone who has ever boiled a lobster alive knows that when dropped into scalding water, lobsters whip their bodies wildly and scrape the sides of the pot in a desperate attempt to escape. This method of killing lobsters is unnecessary torture.
While marine biologists can't seem to agree on which method would cause the least suffering, they do agree that there really is no humane way to kill these sensitive and unusual animals.
Ella’s piglets have to suckle from her in an area called the ‘creep’ which keeps them separate from Ella but within reach of her teats. Her piglets are always taken from her at three to four weeks of age. This causes both Ella and her babies distress and is done so that Ella can quickly be impregnated again.
Ella’s piglets are housed in barren cages with perforated floors. They have their tails cut off and teeth pulled out without anaesthetic. It is said that this prevents them from trying to bite each other. Many of Ella’s piglets get infections due to the filthy conditions in which they are forced to live. At six weeks of age, they are moved into another area where they are fed a high protein diet in order to fatten them up for slaughter. They are bred to grow faster than their bodies can cope with so they often suffer leg deformities, heart and respiratory problems, and lameness. Antibiotics are routinely mixed in with their feed in order to combat the many infections that they contract.
After four to six months, Ella’s babies are sent to slaughter unless they are selected for breeding. More than 10 million pigs are slaughtered each year in the UK. Many die on the long journey to slaughter due to overcrowding, stress, extreme temperatures and rough handling.
At the slaughterhouse, Ella’s babies are gassed with Carbon Dioxide which leads them to gasp for air and thrash about as their insides burn. The gas is supposed to kill them. Some of her babies receive electric shocks to the head instead of being gassed. In both cases, most of Ella’s babies are conscious and aware of what happens to them next. The next step is slicing their throats open with a knife to make them bleed out before being chopped up.
Ella is just two years old today. When she is between three and five years old, the farmer will decide that she’s not producing enough piglets and he will subject her to the final horrors of her life; slaughter. If Ella lived in the wild or at a sanctuary, she would have the potential to live until 15 years of age.
Sweetpea might end up unable to move at all and get stuck on the ground that is covered in excrement. Her body will become burned by the ammonia in the excrement and her skin will be raw. She will be surrounded by diseases that are bombarded with antibiotics.
There is a strong chance that Sweetpea will suffer with a condition called ascites which leaves the heart and lungs unable to supply the body with enough oxygen. Many of the broiler chickens living with Sweetpea will die inside the barn because of the unbearable conditions. As many as 6% of Sweetpea’s fellow chickens will suffer this fate; that is equal to approximately 50 million birds.
If Sweetpea doesn’t die inside the barn, she will be picked up at six weeks of age and thrown into a crate to be driven to her death. She will break bones and possibly have her skull crushed as the crate is slammed shut and thrown onto the truck.
Sweetpea will never know the joy of foraging or dust bathing. She will never feel the grass under her feet and the only time she will see daylight is when she is on the slaughter truck.
She will be hung upside down from her feet, electrocuted and then her throat will be cut. She will be terrified and she will cry out in pain. She will be killed at just six weeks of age but if she lived in the wild or at a sanctuary, she could live to eight years old.