Animals Killed for Meat
The meat industry is by far the biggest killer of animals around the world. It’s also responsible for relentless, routine cruelty to pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, ducks, geese and other animals who suffer every minute of their short lives.
The story is similar for all animals reared for their flesh. Females are repeatedly forcibly impregnated. Babies are torn away from their mothers, mutilated, kept in filthy and severely crowded conditions and fed a cocktail of drugs and chemicals sometimes causing their bodies to become oversized, resulting in numerous health problems. Then, often when they’re only a few months old, they endure a stressful and terrifying trip to the abattoir, where many are killed while still conscious.
Chickens | Cows | Ducks and Geese | Pigs | Sheep
Chickens raised for meat, or “broiler chickens”, are farmed more intensively than any other type of animal. Newly hatched chicks are sent into huge, dusty, windowless sheds with 30,000 or more other birds. Bred and fed to have such a large upper body that they can barely support their own weight, these unhappy birds may reach “slaughter weight” at only 41 days old.
Chickens on these grim factory farms commonly suffer from severe health problems, including deformed or arthritic legs because of excess weight gain, foot rot from never having their bedding changed, infectious diseases such as salmonella and listeria and heat stress, heart failure, breast blisters and dermatitis caused by severe crowding. As if this weren’t bad enough, farmers frequently subject the animals to agonising procedures such as amputating part of their beaks with a red-hot blade.
The animals are sent to slaughter without ever having roosted in a tree, taken a dust bath, interacted with their parents or done any of the other things important to chickens. They are roughly shoved into crates and driven to the abattoir, where they are shackled by their legs and hung upside down. Their heads are plunged into an electric water bath that is supposed to stun them before their necks are cut – but this doesn’t always work, and the animals sometimes regain consciousness as they bleed to death or are plunged into defeathering tanks filled with scalding-hot water.
Cows used for beef can be kept on intensive factory farms and may spend their entire lives indoors, never grazing in the open air or having space to move around. They are “fattened up” on a highly unnatural cereal-based diet which causes them almost-constant digestive pain and can lead to metabolic diseases. Some hellish, artificially lit sheds have slatted floors, which are uncomfortable for cows to lie on. Even grass-fed cows usually spend some of their time inside, often in crowded, faeces-filled feedlots. And many animals develop respiratory problems because of the choking chemicals that fill the air caused by the piles of manure in the packed feedlots.
During the ride to the abattoir, cows frequently collapse from exhaustion. Once unloaded, the animals are shot in the head with an electric bolt gun in order to stun them. But inept, overworked employees often fail to do this properly, so many terrified cows go to their deaths kicking and screaming, still conscious as they’re skinned and dismembered.
There are many stories of cows making extraordinary dashes for freedom on their way to the abattoir, by jumping from moving trucks, leaping fences and swimming across rivers – because animals value their lives just as we do.
For veal, male baby calves born to mothers in the dairy industry are shipped to the continent when they’re only a few days old. There, they are confined to dark crates. All alone with no room to move, the frightened animals may be fed a diet that’s purposely low in iron so that they become anaemic, their muscles atrophy, and their flesh remains pale. By the time they’re sent to be killed, many of these infants are so weak that they can barely walk up the ramp to the abattoir.
Millions of ducks and geese are intensively farmed each year for their flesh. Like other animals used by the meat industry, they’re kept in miserable, cramped conditions, far removed from their natural habitat, and are killed before they reach adulthood.
Some birds endure a still more horrific ordeal: being force-fed for the production of foie gras, a notoriously vile foodstuff which is illegal to produce in the UK but can still be sold here. To make the “fatty liver” pâté, workers grab ducks and geese by the neck, shove metal pipes down their throats and pump massive amounts of grain into their stomachs several times a day in a barbaric process known as gavage.
The torture continues until the animals’ livers swell to up to 10 times their normal size, pressing against their other organs, including their lungs, which causes them to pant constantly. At slaughter, birds are hung upside down, have their throats slit and are left to bleed to death.
Veterinarians agree that there is no humane way to produce foie gras. PETA has undercover video footage of foie gras farms in France which clearly shows how force-feeding causes birds intense, prolonged suffering. Awareness about the cruelty of foie gras production is growing, and increasing numbers of chefs and retailers now refuse to sell the product. PETA will keep campaigning against the “delicacy of despair” until it’s banished from British shelves.
Pigs are friendly, loyal and intelligent animals who often out-perform dogs in learning tests. They are naturally very clean, live in small family groups and love playing, exploring their surroundings, foraging for food and building nests for their offspring.
But pigs imprisoned on factory farms don’t have the chance to carry out this natural behaviour. Crammed into barren concrete pens, they may never see the sun or breathe fresh air. Boredom and the stress of extreme confinement can drive the animals to engage in aggressive behaviour such as tail-biting, so farmers routinely cut off their tails and grind down their sensitive teeth, usually without painkillers. Female pigs endure chronic pain after having rings forced through their noses, while male piglets may be castrated without anaesthetics – a barbaric procedure which is legal in the EU.
Before they give birth, mother pigs are confined to gestation crates so small that they can’t even turn around, let alone fulfil their strong urge to build a nest as they would naturally. They’re forced to become pregnant over and over again, while each litter of piglets is torn away from them after only a few weeks, sent to fattening pens before being sent to the abattoir. There, the cruelty continues – the animals are hoisted upside down by their back legs and their throats are cut, often without having been effectively stunned. About 10 million pigs meet this fate each year in the UK alone.
What could be cuter than the sight of a fluffy baby lamb? But at least half of those lambs you see frolicking in springtime will be dead before the year is over: millions die of exposure, malnutrition or disease within days of birth, while male lambs may be slaughtered for their flesh when they’re only 10 weeks old. During their short lives, they undergo painful mutilations, such as having their tails cut off or being castrated without painkillers.
Sheep left out on the hillsides hardly fare better. They are often shamefully neglected, suffering from lameness, painful infections, flystrike and parasites, such as ticks. And every winter, thousands of animals freeze to death in icy conditions.
Before being sent to a terrifying death, these sensitive animals endure rough handling and long, traumatic journeys in severely crowded lorries, often without adequate food, water or ventilation as they are transported to livestock markets to be sold and then to the abattoir. In the cruel practice of live export, sheep’s suffering is prolonged as the animals are crammed onto ships and transported to overseas abattoirs on a grim voyage that can last for days or even weeks.
What You Can Do
The best thing that anyone can do for animals is not to eat them! Not eating meat is the simplest way to save the lives of up to 100 animals every year – and to reject the daily cruelty and animal abuse that occur in abattoirs and on factory farms in the UK and elsewhere.
Ditching meat is also one of the best things that you can do for your health and the environment.