“Humane”: What’s in a Word
(Transcript of Podcast Episode)
The fourth in a slow release of already existing podcast episodes.
This How To Go Vegan podcast episode titled
““Humane”: What’s in a Word”covers a question some of us might have and that is: Isn’t it okay to eat animal products if they’re “free range”, “cage-free”, “organic”, locally-raised, or “humanely raised”?
I’ll talk about this topic informally, and personally.
Let’s talk about the term “humane”, a term we hear in the public sphere mostly in relation to animals. The word “humane” promotes the idea that there are “compassionate” and “kind” ways we can exploit sentient animals.
We tend to only talk about “humane” in relation to humans when we talk about imprisonment, euthanasia, solitary confinement, detention, or killing people. When we hear the word “humane”, we should expect that the outcome for those involved will, no matter what transpires, be less than desirable and will involve some suffering and injustice at best. In the case of sentient animals, our application of what we believe is “humane” for them, if applied to humans, would be considered torture. In other words, any time that word “humane” is uttered, it’s almost always the case that something morally questionable and possibly unjust is going to follow, whether it’s execution, refugees, interrogation techniques, asylum seeker detention centres, industrial prisons, or in this case, the animal industry and regulation of animal exploitation. We know that it will ultimately mean suffering for someone.
For example in the US industrial prison system (and most prisons around the world), much of what prisoners endure, particularly the use of solitary confinement, a form of torture, should be considered completely morally unacceptable. Prisoners are almost completely reliant on their captors, and society doesn’t know, and often does not want to know what goes on behind prison walls. In US prisons, prisoners are being used as slave labour. It’s neo-slavery. It’s not enough that they are incarcerated for a period of time, but for most prisons, the whole system is designed to be a form of degradation, dehumanisation and in some cases, torture. Yet penitentiaries were promoted as more “humane” than transportation, the exiling of people to remote colonies where they were forced to work as virtual slaves, for crimes like stealing a loaf of bread or a shirt, transportation being seen as “humane” compared to execution, or punishments like chopping off hands. The guillotine, electric chair, gas chamber, all were efforts celebrated as “humane” alternatives to previous practices. This is what “humane” means: something horrible that is deemed to be slightly less horrible than something else.
For sentient animals, due to the unquestioned societal belief that they are our property simply because they are a different species, the “humane” conditions we keep domesticated animals in and our treatment of them, would be considered torture if applied to humans. But because other species are viewed as “lesser”, and because they have no voice of their own, they are completely vulnerable. And we take advantage of their complete vulnerability. Something we need to understand is that while sentient animals are viewed as property, our interests will always trump their interests every time. Even in the “best” of circumstances, there’s great suffering as I will give an example of toward the end of this episode.
But even if the word “humane” in some bizarre alternate universe meant zero suffering: a wonderful happy life for all animals concerned. And even at the time of their murder, they were cradled in our arms, stroked gently with Mozart playing in the background while they were killed, it would still be wrong. It is wrong because despite laws and society reinforcing the belief that animals are ours to do with what we wish, in truth, they are sentient beings, they are not our property, and ultimately, we’re still killing them for our trivial reasons of palate pleasure, convenience, habit and tradition.
Unfortunately many of us today, thanks to large animal organisations endorsing and promoting “humane” animal exploitation, and “humane” animal products, feel it’s morally acceptable to eat “certified humane” animal products because we are told that these animals were raised “compassionately”. We think to ourselves: well if an animal rights organisation thinks this is OK, it must be OK.
If I may I would like to share my experience. Not long after my partner and I became vegan in early 2005, we had the impulse (that many have) to try and do something to end this terrible exploitation. We did a brief search online and came across PETA, a very prominent large animal organisation. I looked at their site and found they were promoting many single issue campaigns. Most involved targeting industry and many campaigns were asking industry for “improvements” in their treatment of animals. None of these campaigns asked members or the public to go vegan. We just naturally assumed that if one was a member of a so-called “animal rights” organisation, that before one did anything at all, the first thing they would need to do is go vegan, to stop using animals. Later to our amazement, we were to discover that most of PeTA’s two million plus members were not vegan, which was a real eye opener as to how ineffective these large animal organisations are, that even their member base is eating, wearing and using animals. But I’ll get to that later.
So shortly after becoming vegan in early 2005, we started an animal rights group that consisted of the two of us, so we could have an identity when we advocated. We had a brief and naive dalliance trying to influence government departments. We were invited to go and observe a slaughterhouse where chickens are slaughtered. We declined because I couldn’t think of anything worse. I had read the description. My imagination is vivid enough. I don’t want to physically stand there while animals are terrified, mutilated and murdered in a production line before my eyes. After a couple of meetings with Department of Primary Industry employees we quickly noticed they were trying to co-opt us, trying to get us “on side”, and talk about “improvements” rather than ending use. I think this is most definitely a tactic they employ whenever animal advocates approach them. If we are “on side”, if we eventually agree with them and endorse their position, then we are not causing trouble for them. And if the public sees that animal activists are making alliances with industry then it reinforces the belief that the best we should hope for animals is that they are exploited and killed “humanely”. And of course, this is pretty much ALL the public witnesses these days – large so-called animal “rights” organisations praising industry, endorsing and even promoting industry’s so-called “humane” animal products. Here’s an example: In Jan 2005, Peter Singer, Farm Sanctuary, PeTA, In Defense of Animals, Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, VIVA (USA), The Humane Society of the United States, Compassion in World Farming and a few other animal organisations sent a support letter congratulating John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods on his “happy” animal products. PETA, Farm Sanctuary, and Viva! USA Mackey claims were “stakeholders” in this the process of discussing what “humane” welfare standards Whole Foods should implement. Fast forward to 2015 and PETA has filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods for what PETA describes as Whole Foods’ deceptive marketing and the complete lack of enforcement of its animal welfare standards. This from an organisation which has a porn site and which gave an award to a slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin. It would take far too long to list all morally confused campaigns these large animal organisations participate in and promote. And what all these activities do is encourage the public to think that “animal rights” groups are in agreement and in business with animal industry and government departments on how animals are being used.
In our brief and naive dalliance with government departments, Primary industries talked with us about PeTA’s recommendations for Controlled Atmosphere Killing – the gassing of chickens with helium or nitrogen instead of the traditional method of hanging them in shackles, stunning them, slicing their throat and de-feathering them in a scalding tank. It was during this awful conversation and I remember it well, to my horror I fully realised what we were talking about. I realised that we were talking about sentient animals and what was the “best” way to murder them, the most “humane” way to murder them. I felt sick in my stomach and I decided there and then, that I never wanted to talk to these people again. I felt like the whole conversation was simply wrong. It was immoral.
Around that same time, I naively thought we could influence an animal ethics committee. We talked to them about their standard of what was “humane” (“necessary cruelty”) and what was “inhumane” (“unnecessary cruelty). We said to them that both were unethical and cruel. In retrospect it all seems silly that we thought that those on the “Ethics Committee” in their heart of hearts didn’t already know that it was all cruel and wrong. They were employed to make it seem like there was some oversight, a “watchdog”, and that there were some regulations in place. But this “animal ethics” committee did not come into existence out of some concern for animals. They existed to reassure the public that we were not inflicting “unnecessary” cruelty on those animals used in experiments.
But here’s the problem: While our non-vegan society views animals as property, animals have no rights. They are basically viewed as a “thing”. It means we cannot negotiate rights for them. The only way we could end cruelty for those animals used in experiments, is for their use to end. But while most of society is not vegan and thinks animals are resources, demand for their use will continue, particularly when they mistakenly think using animals in experiments is necessary. The very act of breeding sentient beings into existence to be used as a “thing” is wrong. The very act of confining sentient beings, depriving them of their freedom is wrong, no matter what we do to them from that point on, just as it is wrong to confine humans without their consent. So whether we are simply observing animals in confinement, or whether we are performing invasive and extremely painful and lethal procedures on them, it is without their consent. And if we believe that we need to perform torturous and lethal procedures on animals, then our needs and whims will always violate their very fundamental right not to be used as a “thing”. To use sentient animals, self aware individuals in this way, is a rights violation.
The unquestioned basic assumption of the “animal ethics” committee we spoke to is that we as a society have the right to breed animals into existence to be used for experiments, simply because they are a different species. Society once experimented on disabled people. Society once did experiments on people of different races without consent or knowledge. In fact this has been going on as recently as this century. In relation to nonhuman animals, because they are property and therefore it means they have no rights, society’s needs will always outweigh the interests of animals. At this present time, many people (including “animal ethics” committees) are under the mistaken belief, due to convention, misinformation and disinformation, that it’s “necessary” to use animals in experiments. The fact is it’s “unnecessary” to use animals in experiments (or for any other purpose) and I’ll link to some good resources which explains why.
I spoke to a non-vegan friend online just recently who watched Earthlings (a documentary about society’s pervasive use of animals). Although Earthlings does not have a vegan message, my friend was horrified at what takes place in all animal industries and what is viewed as acceptable. She could plainly see that there was no way to “fix” this situation and that she had been complicit by creating demand for animal products and use. She could plainly see that terrible “cruelty” was built-in to any animal industry and that there was no possible way to make it morally right, except to abolish it altogether and that meant being vegan and educating others.
This is the message I am trying to convey in this episode. Society claims it is against cruelty to animals. Many of us believe animals morally matter. Many of us often go to great lengths to save an animal from harm no matter what species. But we don’t make rational connections. We are relieved when an animal escapes a slaughterhouse and is rescued by a farm animal sanctuary, and then we sit down to our cheeseburger. We claim that when it comes to animal exploitation that we are against “unnecessary” cruelty. We want animals to be treated “humanely”. But if one does any real research at all, the very notion of “humane use” is not only a myth, but it’s impossible. There’s no right way to do what is essentially inherently immoral. And since we don’t need to eat animal products to be healthy and we don’t need to wear or use them at all, we only do so out of habit, pleasure, tradition, and convenience. So all our reasons are trivial. If there’s no good reason to use them at all, then ALL animal use is “unnecessary” cruelty.
It shows the depth of our speciesism that we think that giving an animal a few inches more leeway in a cage is “humane”. It is speciesism to think it’s “humane” to take their children from them and kill them. It’s speciesism to think it’s “humane” to gas them, or castrate them without anaesthetic or cut their sensitive beaks off without anaesthetic, or starving them. The list of torture is endless and unimaginable. It shows the depth of our speciesism that we find it reassuring when we walk into a store and see “compassionately raised” stamped on slabs of flesh in the display case or when we see commercials with cartoon cows dancing and singing on our TV screens, or even more perversely, when we see smiling cartoon animals happily giving up their life for us, pigs in aprons cooking up bacon.
So let’s rethink the term “humane” animal use for a minute, because like most of us, we haven’t really thought about this issue at all and what it entails. We’ve been looking through a smoke screen at this issue all our lives.
“Humane” is a loaded, and deceptive word. I touched on this issue on what’s wrong with promoting animal welfare in an episode where I talk about my personal experience being vegan. I spoke about the catalyst which made me decide to go vegan: my discovery online about the normal functioning of the dairy industry and how cows and their calves are treated. I later found out after becoming vegan that it doesn’t matter whether it’s “industrialised” farming or “organic” or so called “free range” or “enriched cages”, or if they are labelled “Freedom Food”, “RSPCA approved”, “5 step animal welfare” etc, all these are labels are designed to deceive us. They are designed to appeal to our empathy and ethics, and to soothe our conscience while making us complicit, and they are a marketing ploy designed to sell animal products, often at a hefty price. Animal welfare and animal welfare standards on labels on products have little if anything to do with any concern for animals. In fact, the basic premise of animal welfare is that “unnecessary”, intentional harm to an animal is wrong and should be avoided, but any harm “necessary” for a typical use is acceptable.
Free-range”, “cage-free”, “enriched cages” or “locally-raised” are all uses that are both unnecessary and harmful (because we can be vegan); therefore, are wrong and should be avoided. It is irrelevant that some of these operations may be less harmful than “more industrialised” uses. And let me add that “free range” today often means 10s of thousands of animals in large faeces ridden, smelly, cramped, sheds, with sick, starved and dying animals being trampled to death.
So what fuels this belief that we can do what we do to sentient animals?
Let talk more about speciesism.
Speciesism and animal welfare reform are inextricably intertwined. It’s sometimes difficult to talk about one without mentioning the other, because if we were not speciesist, if we didn’t have a level of discrimination against animals, and if we recognised them as the sentient beings they are, we would not be promoting the notion that it’s morally acceptable for us to use them as long as we do it “humanely”.
Speciesism (just like any form of discrimination – racism, sexism, heterosexism etc) is the act of “otherising”. It’s an irrational prejudice of favouring one or more species over other species without a morally relevant characteristic providing justification. We ignore the morally relevant characteristic of sentience which allows us to exploit and kill sentient nonhuman animals for food, clothing, research, and entertainment, all of which are unnecessary.
We irrationally morally compartmentalise. An example of speciesist compartmentalisation is when we value, and love a dog while we sit at a gathering where the body of a turkey, pig or fish is at the centre of the table.
Just like any other ethical position we adopt, whether it be against homophobia, or against heterosexism, or racism, or sexism etc, we don’t adopt an ethical position part time. We don’t adopt an ethical position 3 times a week and then participate in slurs, and violence the rest of the week. We hopefully internalise the reason that discriminating against humans, no matter what race, gender, sexual orientation, ability (cognitive and otherwise) etc, is wrong and then we bring our actions in line with that ethical position. We probably all agree that less suffering is better than more suffering but most of us would not support campaigns which call for more “humane” child exploitation, because hopefully we agree that child exploitation is morally wrong. It should not be happening but sadly child slavery and slavery in general is widespread in the world. But just because it is widespread, does not mean we should be supporting campaigns to make it more “humane”. We should be calling for its end.
There is nothing different in the way we should behave when it comes to our response to addressing our speciesism. Yet many of us make moral compromises, encouraged by large “animal advocacy” organisations. We take half measures and use excuses like, we are on a “journey” or that “every little bit helps” or we become “reduceatarians” (reducing our consumption of animal products), or we buy “humane” animal products, and so forth: all measures which are not morally consistent and which mean we are still participating in exploitation and violence. We need to apply the same morally consistent response to sentient animals as we do to humans. If we do not, then we have not fully addressed our own speciesism. And this is one reason why this podcast exists: to explain and reinforce why it is so important that we fully recognise our own speciesism and then respond accordingly by becoming vegan and educating others to be vegan. It’s the only rational response.
I was speciesist before I became vegan and even after becoming vegan, it took a little while to address this, because there’s a lifetime’s worth of speciesism to undo. Unfortunately, not all who call themselves vegan thoroughly address their own speciesism. Not all of us who call ourselves human rights activists address all our bigotry and prejudice towards humans either and there’s a lifetime’s worth of discrimination (including speciesism) we’ve been exposed to that we need to address.
In life it’s important to question everything. It’s something many of us are not encouraged to do at school and today there are many universities that discourage certain opinions also. As Prof. Noam Chomsky said “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”
We are taught to subscribe to binary gender stereotypes, to ignore the abuse of economic power under capitalism, to think the distorted and elitist two party representative systems are “democratic”, to conform to heterosexist norms, to accept structural racism, to accept patriarchal society, to accept that idea that politicians and government actually care for our well-being, to believe that Western countries invade other countries for “humanitarian reasons”, to accept that imperialism and perpetual war is normal. We are taught to accept without question that capitalism is the best system, to accept that that animals are “lesser” than us and therefore here for our use, to obey illogical rules and unjust laws and not question them.
But not all laws are just.
Not all rules are fair.
Not every position held by a majority is ethical or just.
Not all opinions are valid (even if the internet gives them equal standing).
Not all individuals who hold the attention of a movement are possibly the best representatives of that movement.
Not all politicians have the best interest of their constituency at heart and so forth.
It’s important to question our own motivations at regular intervals in our life and examine our opinions and positions. It’s important to question our politicians and our governments. It’s important to question why there is social inequality. It’s important to question what the media reports. It’s important to question our social and personal belief systems, our political positions, in short, just as it is important to look after our physical health, it is important to regularly examine our views on everything, particularly long-held positions. And if we feel we have examined something thoroughly we can accept it, and at some point think about it again. As Mark Twain wisely said “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
So having talked about speciesism, I cannot talk about the term “humane” and animal welfare without mentioning large animal organisations and their instrumental role in being the >main driver in promoting “humane use”, so please excuse me if I mention this issue every so often. It’s important.
For many of us who call ourselves vegan, it is true that INSTEAD of calling for what animals deserve – for society to go vegan – we promote regulation of animal exploitation via single issue campaigns. In doing so, we demonstrate a lack of conviction, lack of moral consistency and lack of confidence in our position: which is that nonhuman animals deserve at least one basic right: not to be used as “things”, as resources, as property. One would hope we would speak differently and clearly when talking about human rights issues. But sadly those of us who call ourselves vegan and who support large animal organisations will make all kinds of excuses as to why we do not speak clearly about veganism. We will even put forward skewed studies in a desperate effort to back up our speciesist position. We will make all kinds of excuses as to why we do not ask the public to go vegan straight out. But the truth of that matter is, we demonstrate that we do not fully understand what animal rights means. We do not fully understand what veganism is and we have not internalised the position that nonhuman sentient animals are moral persons.
And here’s what we need to remember and take on board.
IF we truly believe that all sentient beings, no matter what species, are morally equal, and if we truly believe that exploiting sentient beings (no matter what species) is wrong, then we must act in accordance with that position that there is no hierarchy of suffering, there is no hierarchy of species. If nonhuman animals are sentient, then ALL exploitation in ALL it’s forms is wrong. I wish all of us who call ourselves vegan could take that as a given, write it down and place it on our bed-side tables and look at it every morning upon awakening.
If we have not internalised fully this ethical position, and if we do not fully believe this in ourselves (which I think is the case with many, many vegans who promote welfare and single issue campaigns that privilege one species over another, or seek “improvement” in use), then what we sow is what we will reap from this lack of understanding and lack of moral consistency. We will most definitely spread our moral confusion to others. And this is what we see today everywhere. We see moral confusion behind all the speciesist single issue campaigns, especially those that promote “humane welfare improvements”, promoted by all large animal organisations and by their supporters, and this has been going on now for decades. It’s fully entrenched. It’s normalised. Many vegans do not question it. And this is why the nonviolent, grassroots, abolitionist vegan movement has finally come into existence, because we have needed an alternative movement to the current “humane use” movement.
Please understand that I’m not questioning the motivations of anyone in these large animal and so-called vegan organisations. I can’t read anyone’s heart. I’m not saying that there are not good, well-meaning people who are supporters or who are working in these organisations. I’m sure there are many. But we have to be honest with ourselves and examine what we are doing and start calling out our own speciesism, and we have to at least have an open mind to be able to recognise it. And if we are called out on something, (hopefully in a respectful civilised way) we need to at least think about it and see if there is some truth in it, before we discard it. And that includes any accusations levelled at those of us in the abolitionist vegan movement.
But back to welfare reform: I would hazard a guess that anyone who is abolitionist vegan, prior to becoming one, experienced a time where they stopped going along with the majority of animal advocates and had to think about who and what they were supporting in these large animal organisations. What I am essentially saying, is that speciesism is rampant and implicit in the “humane” use movement, and this moral confusion is something we very much need to address before we begin to educate others about the rights of animals / veganism.
The fact is we cannot have animal rights WITHOUT veganism. And veganism has to be up front and centre in our advocacy. It’s a straight path, with no diversions, no obfuscation, no trickery. Veganism cuts at the root of speciesism while everyone else is hacking at the branches. When all we do is prune a tree, we end up making the root system much stronger. We don’t want to reinforce the public’s speciesism, but that’s what happens if we do not have veganism as our moral baseline, and instead promote “humane use”. Whenever we say, “This way of using animals is better” we are really saying “Animal exploitation is acceptable, justifiable, ethical, as long as we do it like this.”
As I mentioned in another episode, all large animal organisations explicitly or implicitly endorse and promote “humane” use of animals. Some speak out of both sides of their mouth on this issue: on one hand saying there’s no such thing as “humane” exploitation, but then supporting and endorsing single issue campaigns which implicitly or explicitly endorse it.
And something which many of us probably don’t realise is that if we all called for the end of use by promoting veganism, industry would respond by implementing these welfare “improvements” anyway. By focusing on “abuse” or “cruelty” instead of opposing use altogether by promoting veganism, it clearly demonstrates our speciesism. It states there are “better” ways of exploiting animals. It reinforces the belief that there’s such things as non-abusive slaughterhouses or non-abusive dairy farms or non-abusive egg farms and so forth, which is simply false. Focusing on “reducing cruelty” instead of calling for end of use (veganism) is something even so-called vegan organisations promote and I’ve explained that often this lack of clarity is not so much due to poverty of ambition, “pragmatism” and speciesism, but it is a business model.
Why do large animal advocacy organisations advocate “humane” use?
Large animal organisations are businesses. As they grow in size, they require a more involved structure. Big campaigns require money. Advertising, newsletters, flyers, magazines to members and the public, all require money. Fundraising becomes a priority. Accountants, professional fundraisers, PR people are all needed. So the larger animal advocacy organisations find they “need to” employ many people, and some of them make six figure salaries with all the benefits that these positions entail. All this requires significant amounts of donations to maintain. What attracts the public, donors and new members, is splashy and shocking protests and demonstrations, celebrities and lots of individual single issue campaigns, highlighting this or that “abuse”, and asking for support for “change”. It then becomes important to have goals that are “achievable” in the short term… donors want to see “success”, so everything, whether it’s some pathetic torturous incremental reform or anything which is remotely pro-animal becomes a “victory”. This often means highlighting “humane use” reforms. It’s a lot easier to push for a different type of killing, than to demand for an end to killing. Not only that, it requires frequent liaison with animal industry. And when some animal industry company implements some pathetic change, large animal advocacy organisations both “celebrate their success”. And as a way of encouraging other companies to do the same, they congratulate the company that is exploiting, and killing, non-human animals in “better” “more humane” ways. That’s why we see large charities like PeTA or Animals Australia, promoting “happy” animal products, slaughterhouses, and stores that stock “humane” animal products. They end up promoting animal use, not opposing it. And they have to cater to their donor base, which is mostly non-vegan. This often means being mealy-mouthed about veganism, if they mention it at all.
Large animal organisations rely on single issue campaigns and undercover investigations for fundraising. Organisations like PeTA or The Humane Society of the United States, to name a few, have 100s of millions of dollars in their coffers. Little, if any of this is used for vegan education. A constant flow of single issue campaigns, generally for “humane” improvements, is important to these organisations because SICs are their “bread and butter”. When the CEOs of these large organisations say they are being “pragmatic”, this is code for, “we cannot promote veganism front and centre because it would alienate our non-vegan donor base, and we need their donations”. All large animal organisations tend to treat veganism as, at best, optional and promote it in a humancentric way, as a way to “reduce cruelty” and as a diet, and since promoting veganism clearly runs counter to their business model, large animal organisations have been instrumental in society’s increasing demand for “humane”/ “happy animal products” and “happy” animal exploitation. By pushing for “humane” use, they actually work against ending use because it enmeshes animals further in the property paradigm.
But you may still be unconvinced and ask, well isn’t this a good thing? Don’t welfare regulations protect animals from “unnecessary” cruelty?
No. Animal welfare regulations do not protect animals from “unnecessary” cruelty. Firstly let me further elaborate on the notion of “necessary” and “unnecessary”. I guess we need to really ask ourselves why any cruelty is acceptable at all? What is “necessary” cruelty? And why should it be acceptable? I will attempt to give an exaggerated example of how ridiculous and extreme the idea of “necessary” and “unnecessary” cruelty is. If we put a dog who shares our life in a kennel for the a few days and the owner of the kennel said, “well I whipped and kicked your dog daily because she was barking, but don’t worry, I never tried to strangle her”, would we think that acceptable in any way? Would we think any “cruelty” toward our dog appropriate? The kennel owner felt that regularly whipping and kicking “our” dog was “necessary”, but strangling her for barking would be considered “unnecessary” cruelty. I should think we would think ANY cruelty to our nonhuman friend would be completely inappropriate wouldn’t we? And we wouldn’t think whipping and hitting is better, more “humane”, than whipping and kicking. We wouldn’t support a campaign for that. We recognise that dogs are sentient, they have self awareness and they do not want to suffer. We consider “our” dog a “family member” despite the fact that she is considered property by society. We have arbitrarily assigned her moral value that we do not afford other species. “Our” dog has a name. She has self awareness, a personality, likes and dislikes, loves us, engages with others and the environment, and the world. The dog who shares our life, loves her life, has an interest in continuing to live, and just like us, does not want to die. We know this if we pay any attention whatsoever to the dog who shares our life with us.
But out of convenience or simply because we don’t or won’t think about other species, we ignore the obvious sentience of pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats and so forth. Like dogs, they have self awareness, interact with the environment, with others, have personalities, likes and dislikes, interact with the world, love their young, have an interest in continuing life and, just like us, do not want to die. What they do not have is our personal attention. What they do not have is a shared personal existence with us. What they often do not have is a name, they have a number. But just like the dog who shares our life and who is loved so much by us, each and every member of those other domesticated species does not suffer less, does not love their life less than the dog whom we consider a “family member.” And that’s the truth. We can deny it all we want as we stand in front of the “meat” section in our deli, or in front of the “free range” eggs section, or the “organic” dairy section of our supermarket, but it’s a reality.
So the very notion of “necessary” cruelty and “unnecessary” cruelty, is somewhat perverse and very odd indeed. And the word “humane” usually just means “better” cruelty, but cruelty none-the-less.
We have morally compartmentalised these species. Most of us are outraged at the thought of someone murdering a lion for entertainment, particularly if we give him or her a name. Most of us are outraged when we hear of some individual intentional torturing an animal (no matter what species), yet when we consume animal products (including the welfare standard rating ones), we pay someone to torture and murder them for us. We think goats, pigs, chickens, cows etc are not the same as our dog and we do not accord them equal moral value because we have not had any daily personal experience with them, any ongoing personal interaction with them, as we have had with the dog who shares our home. We make arbitrary assumptions that dogs and cats are “family members”, and every other species is just here to be used as resources. But even if we suspended our belief for a few minutes and opened our mind to the reality that all sentient species possess many of the qualities we value and love about the dog with whom we share our life, we might start to question what we are doing. But even if other species are nothing like our dog, even if they are aquatic animals like squid or lobsters and show no recognisable emotions on their face, they are still sentient and deserve our moral consideration. And using them is unnecessary, so all cruelty is unnecessary cruelty.
A year before I became vegan, I fostered Anjushri and her babies from a local shelter in Sept 2004. That was approximately 9 months prior to my becoming vegan. We loved Anjushri and her babies almost immediately after bringing them home. We watched how she loved her babies and protected them and her every living moment was devoted to their safety. We were devoted to her safety and happiness from the moment we adopted her. Prior to becoming vegan 9 months later, I didn’t put it together that she was not unlike any of the sentient beings who we were eating or wearing. Those sentient beings I considered food at the time were once all young like Anjushri’s babies. And had I known each and every one of them, I probably would have loved and valued them just as much as Anjushri and her babies. Tragically on some level we probably know there’s something wrong with what we are doing, but it is buried under a tremendous amount of speciesism and moral compartmentalisation.
The truth is the “humane standards / animal welfare” industry tends to accept are those that protect their property. They don’t want animals’ bodies to be damaged. That’s why some Australian slaughterhouses’ preferred method of killing is to suffocate groups of pigs in small gas chambers filled with carbon dioxide. It’s less likely to cause bruising and damage to their “product”, and it reduces claims of injury from their workers. But carbon dioxide makes animals panic. If we put a bag over our head and filled it with carbon dioxide quickly and someone held the bag tightly around our throat, what would happen? We would become extremely anxious, and then become violently agitated, thrashing about, desperately trying to breath. Pigs experience all the same reactions we would. And as I mentioned earlier, PeTA campaigned in Australia for “Controlled Atmosphere Killing”, and PeTA is an organisation which states that animals should not be used for any purpose. It takes the pigs a while to die as they panic, scream and gasp for air and finally asphyxiate in these gas chambers. Can you imagine what that must be like for them? And let’s remember that controlled-atmosphere killing is promoted as more “humane” than a captive bolt to the head, hung upside down in shackles and the throat sliced. PeTA encouraged industry to adopt controlled-atmosphere killing because PeTA said it would cut down on worker injuries and claims and would prevent damage to the bodies of animals which can occur when animals are not properly “stunned” and when they are flailing and panicking upside down in shackles. These are the “selling points” when PeTA and similar organisations try to “change” the mind of industry.
We must be clear, “humane use” “welfare standards” and “reform” have nothing to do with any concern for animals. It’s all about appearances and how it looks to the public and it’s mostly about economic efficiency. Animals represent dollar signs. What we hear about these welfare regulations and slaughterhouses is that they are supposed to “protect” animals from “unnecessary” cruelty, but as we can plainly see, the whole cost of doing business is cruel. It’s built in. It could not be any other way. And “humane” animal products represent more dollars for businesses because most consumers DO have a moral concern for animals, and many of us are willing to pay more for “humane” labels. And producers, with the help of all large animal organisations, exploit and betray this public concern.
So I’ll leave you with this if I may. It’s a description of the normal functioning of the “organic” dairy industry. This is the supposed “good” way to exploit dairy cows: Keep in mind that the following is a description of “humane” practice.
““Organic” cows are repeatedly impregnated, often on a device called a “rape rack”, where they are inseminated either artificially or by a bull. Cows would normally live about 20 years, but due to the economics of the “organic” milk industry, they are usually slaughtered after about 5 years when they lose the ability to generate commercially-viable quantities of milk. During this short 5-year life, they are pregnant about 9 months out of every 18 to 24 months and give birth to a calf two or three times. Some of the female calves will end up as dairy cows to eventually replace their mothers and grandmothers. Most of the calves from “organic” dairy producers, however, are forcibly abducted from their mothers – who often grieve the loss intensely – and sold to the veal industry. Although some “organic” dairy cows are permitted to graze outside during part of the year, many “organic” cows never see the light of day until they are transported to slaughter.
Just as with “free-range layer hens”, “organic dairy cows” and their calves are transported and slaughtered in the same manner as any other cow or steer. Often, they are confined to a tractor trailer for days of transport, and sometimes through extremely hot or cold weather conditions. Because they are depleted from so much milk production and from genetics designed to maximize milk output, they are often much weaker than “beef cattle” when they arrive at slaughter. Indeed, most of the “downers” – cows too sick to walk – are dairy cows, including dairy cows from “organic” dairies. When they arrive at slaughter, “downers” are often cruelly prodded with electric prods and/or bulldozed into slaughter. Actual slaughter can be an unimaginably horrific and terrifying experience. Although the cows and steer are supposed to be “stunned” with a captive-bolt gunshot to the skull, this can be difficult for workers to achieve, especially with the rapid pace at which the animals are moved on the line. This can result in the animals being fully awake when they are shackled, hoisted upside down, and cut at the throat. Because cows and steer who are not properly stunned are sometime flailing around at the cutting section of the fast-paced line, they occasionally miss the throat cut or the cut is not sufficient to kill them. Due to production pressure to keep the line moving, these cows and steer will often end up alive at the hide-ripping machine.
Commercially-viable milk production, including “organic” milk production, regardless of the label it is sold under, is extremely cruel to cows and calves and requires mass-slaughter. “Organic” dairy cows are physically and psychologically broken by the time they reach the slaughterhouse, which can be an unimaginable horror story in itself. Consuming “organic” dairy products – milk, cheese, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream – simply makes no sense for anyone concerned about the treatment or slaughter of animals.” (from What is Wrong with Vegetarianism?)
So that’s a description of supposedly “humane” dairy farming, the “good” type of exploitation that we are all encouraged to support. It is horrific, and yet we are urged to buy these as “humane” animal products. “Humane” is a word that is not only misleading, but it betrays our desire to be ethical. It’s a betrayal because it’s not ethical at all to USE animals. Period. “Humane” is a trick to sanction horror, and quiet our conscience and make us complicit.
So let me be clear what veganism is and why we should become vegan and promote veganism.
Veganism (the ethical position) rejects the notion that it’s morally acceptable to exploit animals for any purpose, no matter how “humane” we might claim it to be. If we truly believe that exploiting sentient beings is wrong, or at the very least if we believe “unnecessary” cruelty is wrong, then we must be vegan because we don’t need to eat animal products to be healthy, nor do we need to use animals for any purpose (clothing, labour, hunting, experiments and so forth), so all our use of them is unnecessary. If we agree with this, we cannot be anything less than vegan or promote anything less than the abolition of animal use (veganism) to the public. In short, the basic premise of veganism is that all our uses of animals, especially the most typical uses, are both unnecessary and harmful; therefore, are wrong and should be avoided. We are either vegan, or we are participating in violence. There’s nothing in between.
What I would like you to take from this episode is that there’s no such thing as “humane” use of animals, and even if there were, it would still be wrong and that the very word itself is problematic. So let’s abandon any false notion we might have about “humane” animal use and let’s be vegan and promote morally consistent veganism.
I will leave some links in the information section of this episode which will explain this in greater detail.
Thanks for listening. Till next time. Bye for now.
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