This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
This is not a comfortable conversation
Have we honestly accepted how far away we as humans have detached ourselves from the natural world? It’s not just that we use animals as an abundant resource – from our food to our clothes – but the way in which we do it. It needs to be admitted that industries can be knowingly, staggeringly cruel.
Although many countries have animal welfare legislation, it is weighted more towards the industries that use animals than the animals themselves. For example, in the US rats and mice are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act and therefore a limitless number can be used in testing. In the UK, cruelty to animals receives a maximum sentence of just six months in jail. So, you could abuse, torture and kill hundreds of animals illegally and you will spend less time in jail than you would for having a spliff in your pocket.
But why does it matter? It has been well documented that people who find it easy or enjoy abusing animals hold psychopathic tendencies and are more likely to go on to hurt people. But actually, it goes back to that point on separation. It is a surprisingly short jump between eating meat and buying leather handbags to destroying the Amazon rainforest and wiping out entire species – including ourselves.
Covid-19 has shown how inextricably linked to nature we are as humans. And yet when we forget this we become vulnerable. It was the destruction of nature and abuse of animals that led to a dormant virus in probably a pangolin to killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world. If companies had taken the time to consider animal welfare in the pursuit of production then this scale of damage would not be caused. But also, if us as consumers had taken the time to consider animal welfare in the things we buy, then those market signals would not have driven producers to cause such destruction.
Being aware of animal welfare in our consumer habits is easy. It doesn’t cost any more, it makes us feel good, and it really makes an impact – not just in an economical and moral sense but in a societal way too. Populations that care about animals and are more connected to nature are happier, healthier, less stressed, and aware of the world around them.
But it is uncomfortable to look the truth of the matter square in the face and understand how our buying habits impact animals every day. It takes courage and empathy to do that; so I urge you to be brave and read on. Because, simply put, if we don’t care about non-human life, then we don’t care about human life.
Have you ever sat back to consider what your clothes are made of. The leather in your shoes, the fur on your coat, the feathers in your jacket. They are made of bits of animal. You have wrapped the skin of your feet in the skin of a cow, or goat, or even alligator. It is such a strange condition for humans to knowingly do something like that instead of use wildly available, cheaper, better alternatives. Again, it comes down to separation. Don’t think of the leather as leather. Think of it as what it is… cow skin.
Luckily, the fashion industry is flowing with innovations and exciting technologies that make these old, fusty materials redundant. How about shoes made of pineapple, or jackets made from ocean plastic, or trousers made from mushrooms. More often than not, these materials are stronger, more durable, easier to clean and, frankly, more interesting than anything else that’s in your wardrobe.
Of course, our impact on animal welfare goes beyond using them as raw materials. The fashion industry emits more carbon emissions than the air and shipping industry combined, creates unmanageable amounts of toxic waste, and is a constant drain on global resources – which leads to deforestation and child slave labour.
Buy better. Stop buying clothing made from pieces of animals and go for something better. Something that’s worthy of wearing, showing off and starting a conversation.
You’ll find that price differences don’t exist in the materials that are used, but in the quality of manufacturing and brand identity.
The latest, limited edition trainers made from pineapples cost less than the next run of the mill Nike shoe made in their millions.
This is not an easy read. It is understandable why we don’t want to know the truth behind the welfare standards used in meat and dairy production. It takes courage to look directly at a world you have relied on every day and likely ignored for years previously. It takes courage to look honestly at that truth.
Obviously, the use and killing of animals for food has unavoidable welfare issues. But are we aware of the different levels of cruelty within in the system? Have you considered whether your acceptable level of cruelty is the same as the industries you’re buying from? Have you ever been to an abattoir to see how your meat is handled? If not, why not? This is what you eat, so surely you would want to be invested?
We don’t look closely because we know we won’t like what we see. We know that we will not find it acceptable. We know that it may lead us to change that we don’t want to make.
Instead of forcing you to look at endless photos of undeniable animal abuse, here is just a glimpse into how eggs, milk and bacon are produced. Staples probably sitting in your fridge right now.
Only female chickens lay eggs. So what happens to all the male chicks that are born? You have probably never considered it but they are killed in industrial sized hatcheries that provide chicks to the majority of the egg industry. Most often, they are ground up alive through a mincing machine. Over 7 billion chicks are killed every year. And it’s not just eggs. 40 million female goslings are killed every year in the foie gras industry.
Meanwhile, female chickens are transferred to egg farms where they lay 250 to 300 eggs a year, compared to wild hens that lay 10 to 15. Some 95% of hens live in battery cages, small wired pens to stop them moving as much as possible.
Hens often get stressed and will peck each other, sometimes to death. Hens have their beaks cut off without anaesthetic to prevent this, despite the beak having more nerve endings than a human finger.
When egg production drops to below five a week (usually between 12-18 months) the hens are sent to slaughter. Comparatively, a wild hen will live for 10 to 15 years. A common form of slaughter is throat cutting, which is ineffective. Therefore the hen is still alive when it is put into boiling oil for feather removal.
So, now you know.
Have you considered how milk is produced? This is the industry standard.
A female cow is artificially inseminated in order to make her pregnant. Over her nine month pregnancy, the same as humans, she will start to produce milk.
When the calf is born it is removed from the mother immediately and often killed, sometimes for veal. Mother cows and calves cry out for each other for days – as we would.
The mother produces milk for the now missing calf for up to two months. At this point, she is artificially inseminated again and the process repeats.
That is how we produce milk.
The vast majority of pigs are farmed in intensive factories and not the sty speckled fields we are often shown.
When a mother sow gives birth, she is penned into a “farrowing crate” so she can’t move. She is kept there permanently in order for the piglets to suckle, which they do once they have their teeth clipped to prevent damage to the teat.
After three weeks, the piglets are moved to pens with metal slatted floors to allow excrement to fall through, and have their tales cut off. This is illegal in the UK but standard practice in 85% of pig farms. The mother will be inseminated again within two weeks.
For the next five months the piglets are fattened up with artificial food, growth hormones and antibiotics to suppress disease. They are then gassed in large groups. The gasses are not designed to anaesthetise or stun, but only to kill. So, that’s where your pork comes from.
None of this is easy to read. It is hard to accept that the food we’ve been eating and the industries that produce it are so at odds with our own vision of health, welfare and cruelty. But that is the reality. To not accept it is denial. To ignore it is cowardice.
The easiest, quickest, cheapest and healthiest way to remove animal welfare issues from the food you eat is to adopt a plant based diet. Now you have seen some of the raw facts about the meat and dairy industry, this type of diet may be easier (indeed a relief) to adopt.
Right now, millions of monkeys, cats, dogs, mice, rabbits and other animals are locked inside laboratories across the world. Many stay in empty cages completely alone and in pain while they wait for next terrifying and painful procedure that will be performed on them.
A lack of environmental enrichment and the stress of their living situation cause some animals to develop neurotic types of behaviour such as incessantly spinning in circles, rocking back and forth, pulling out their own fur, and even biting themselves. After enduring a life of pain, loneliness, and terror, almost all of them will be killed.
The assumption in the general public is that this is essential to produce things like vaccines and antibiotics and that it is a price worth paying to save the lives of millions of humans. But actually, animal testing mostly happens for every day products like shampoo, lipstick or soap. Companies like L’Oreal, Nestle, Mac, S.C. Johnson, Neutrogena and Dove all test on animals. They are among thousands still testing on animals whose products line most of our shelves.
The vast majority of animal testing is completely unnecessary. In fact, most of it isn’t even required by law. It is done systemically, without thinking and bought by unwitting members of the public like you. Technologically advanced non-animal test methods can be used in place of animal testing. Not only are these tests more humane, they also have the potential to be cheaper, faster, and more relevant to humans. One of the biggest barriers at the moment is that some countries, such as China, still require proof that foreign products have been tested on animals, so many companies are carrying out these procedures just so they can open up their markets. In other words – make more money.
The power to end this daily cruelty lies with the consumer, as governments not only ignore the issues but encourage and often pay for it too – with taxpayers money.
The message is simple. Stop buying products that have been tested on animals. Whether that’s your favourite soap, that snack you love or the perfume you use.
Do you still love your favourite products knowing that they have caused pain and suffering to endless animals?
Often products will say “This product has not been tested on animals”. While that might be true per se, more often than not the chemicals and components that make up that product have been, so be careful.
There are only 3 cruelty free logos you can truly trust (below). Look out for them.
Not all products will show one of these logos however. This is because they need to pay a fee to use the logo and may not be able to afford it. Therefore, use the various company databases to see whether your product exists on there. Only about 50% of products on the database actually show the logo on their packaging. Checking also helps you confirm if a product is using the logos illegally.
- Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide
- PETA’s Cruelty-Free Company Search
- Choose Cruelty-Free List