I need to preface this post by making it abundantly clear that this is in no way a criticism of vegetarianism – anybody who has taken the conscious decision to make an ethical change to their life in the hope of reducing the needless suffering of animals deserves to be commended. What I do believe, however, is that if that decision has been taken on the grounds of compassion, then veganism is surely a natural progression.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I went straight from meat-eater to vegan overnight. The main catalyst for this was watching Earthlings. This film exposed me to, amongst other things, the harrowing cruelty of the dairy and egg industries. It wasn’t something I’d ever even considered before.
I mean, cows naturally produce milk, Right? chickens naturally lay eggs, don’t they? Where’s the harm in that?!
You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that – the egg and dairy industries spend inordinate amounts of money on marketing campaigns that portray small, idyllic farms with a few chickens scratching in the dirt, laying eggs on soft beds of straw. Cows grazing lush green pastures, a milk-maid gently filling a bucket of fresh milk from its udders.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth…
Like any mammal, a cow must be pregnant in order to produce milk. Cows are forcibly, artificially inseminated to induce this. Their entire life becomes an intensive cycle of pregnancy and lactation aimed at yielding as much milk, and therefore profit, as possible.
This unnatural, intensive cycle causes great strain on the cow’s body. Mastitis, a painful infection of the udder, is common as a result. To increase production and profitability, cows are regularly injected with Bovine Growth Hormone – this biological manipulation makes the cow produce up to 12 times more milk than they would naturally, only serving to exacerbate the problem. It is illegal in Europe.
Intensive factory farming is commonplace nowadays – thousands of cows confined to tiny stalls in vast, windowless sheds, tethered by a metal chain and hooked up to milking machines in perpetuity. Lameness is common amongst herds, with cows so overwhelmed and exhausted from years of exploitation that their legs give way meaning they cannot even stand under their own power any more.
At this point, no longer productive, the cows are sent to slaughter. This usually happens around 6-7 years of age when the cow is ‘spent’ – a cow’s natural lifespan can be as much as 25 years under natural conditions.
The continuous pregnancies obviously result in calves being born. If the calf happens to be female, she will likely be forced into the same cycle of abuse as her mother. If the calf is male, he will probably be sold into the veal industry and slaughtered at around 24 weeks old.
Regardless, the calf is torn away from its mother within 24 hours of giving birth. This is extremely harrowing for both mother and calf. Emotional bonds in animals have been shown to be as strong as those in humans.
Egg laying Hens also spend the vast majority of their lives in overcrowded, dark sheds. The modern egg-laying hen is the result of decades of genetic manipulation aimed at producing a much larger yield of eggs – around 250 per year. Consider the fact that wild hens only lay around 15 eggs per year and this will give you an idea of how much these birds are being pushed to their limit.
The intensive cycle of egg-laying is responsible for causing a variety of disorders and diseases in hens, including crippling Osteoporosis. To produce an egg a hens body draws Calcium from its bones. Over time the continuous production depletes the hens calcium levels and Osteoperosis is the result. Broken bones are therefore a common occurrence.
Despite ‘free range’ labels becoming more and more common, this does not quite equate to the type of freedom that one might imagine. In fact, it’s downright deceptive. Hens are still crammed into massive sheds by the thousands, with only occasional access to the outdoors. In practice ‘free range’ means that there is access to an outdoor area for a section of the day, but with the massive number of animals inside the sheds, access is severely restricted.
Those that are caged suffer an even worse existence. Between 5-10 birds occupy a cage. Each Hen has between 67-76 square inches of space – consider that a standard piece of A4 paper is 94 square inches. These intensely cramped conditions create difficult conditions in which the normally peaceful birds are often driven to violently pecking each other.
Being constantly sat on hard wire cages causes cuts to the hens feet and results in other injuries. There have been instances of hens becoming fused to the wiring, where wounds have healed around the metal. Battery cages are illegal in Europe but many of the same practices and problems described here still persist.
Due to compulsive feather-pecking behaviour brought about by the extremely stressful conditions they’re kept in, the hens are routinely ‘debeaked’ at a few days old. This entails exactly what you might imagine – the hens beak is seared off with a hot blade without anesthetic. Yes, it’s extremely painful.
Hatcheries supply bird farms with female egg-layers, but male chicks are useless in the eyes of the producers as they cannot lay eggs. These chicks are killed immediately by one of several methods; Some are gassed. Some are thrown into macerators which grind them up alive. Some are thrown into containers by the hundreds and left to die.
The egg laying females are considered ‘spent’ at around 18 months old when their production levels decrease. They are slaughtered. These same hens could live up to 15 years in the wild.
This is just a very brief overview of the horrific existence that many animals endure at the hands of the egg and dairy industries. For a much more detailed account i recommend reading Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’ or watching the documentary ‘Earthlings’.
I don’t intend this blog to be a stream of preachy, guilt-trip articles – I’d sooner show people how much fun and how fulfilling and healthy a vegan lifestyle can be. But people will rightly question my choices and it’s important to nail down a few facts that frame that decision.
What are your thoughts? Did you know about these routine practices? Would you consider going vegan now you know that these industries lead to as much death and suffering as the meat industry does? Leave your comments.