When it comes to compassion, we can no longer look the other way.

By Rachel Parent


Not long after we are born, we are surrounded by animals. The newly born child will take to them immediately and will feel a need to grasp and cuddle. These animals are something to be adored. I don’t mean real animals, of course. I’m referring to the stuffed toy variety. You know, those fluffy representations of creatures with big smiling features.

Within a few years, your parents might then take you to a petting zoo, featuring a variety of friendly animals like sheep, guinea pigs, goats, rabbits and miniature donkeys to be petted and fed. I’m guessing many of us might have great childhood memories of a favorite toy animal, a family pet or a visit to somewhere to pet a rabbit or a goat.

In our developmental years, we are so open to ideas about the world around us. And whether it is about selling stuff to kids, narrating wonderful tales of adventure or presenting the trials and tribulations of life and overcoming adversity, animals have been used to get messages over to children. Without even realizing it children are falling in love with these sentient beings only to have them served on their plate’s hours later.

There comes a period, however, when as children we must ‘grow up’ and become part of the world that adults live in. We must prepare ourselves for what lies ahead and abandon many of the notions of animals that we were familiar with in our early years.

Animals (both real and made up ones) played a great role during childhood, but it’s time to toughen up and prepare for the harsh realities of life. And part of the ‘harsh reality’ is putting all those positive associations with animals aside as we are led to believe it is okay to eat Porky the Pig, slice up good old Rudolph, kill Tony the Tiger for his coat, painfully pluck Mother Goose’s feathers for a trending coat brand or rub some chemical in the eyes of Bugs Bunny to see if they are safe for humans. Walt Disney, a true visionary animal lover and vegetarian, would be horrified.

We are told that animals feel little pain when slaughtered for food because it is done ‘humanely’, or we are informed that it is perfectly fine to torture animals through vivisection or with various substances because people have a right to know whether this or that product is safe for them to use. Human needs, desires and appetites demand that animals be slaughtered or abused in one way or another.

In 2013, the British artist Banksy produced a wonderful piece of visual art called ‘Sirens of the Lambs’. It consisted of a truck load of cute, stuff toys peering from gaps in a vehicle being driven through New York supposedly on its way to an abattoir. It was a poignant reminder of how we are happy to depict animals in one way for children yet treat them so badly in reality.

While most of us like to think of ourselves as animal lovers, many people too often ignore the suffering of and cruelty towards animals. And thanks to industrial factory-farming methods being increasingly used across the world, the end-result of that suffering and cruelty could well be on the plate in front of them.

Factory farming is a process that includes intensive cultivation of livestock in confined spaces, which is then sent for processing into meats for consumers. Annually in Canada more than 650 million animals are slaughtered for meat consumption. The animals live in small areas for their entire life without being exposed to fresh air, sunlight or natural diets. These animals are brutally processed by the system and receive no compassion in return. All they see for their short lives are the dark living quarters and the cages that surround them. Animals may be mentally less capable then humans, but that gives us no right to force horrible living conditions upon innocent creatures.

Take chickens for example. More chickens are killed in the US every year than there are people in the world. There are two types of chicken - broilers and layers. They have different bodies, engineered differently. Layers produce eggs and broilers are bred for flesh. Broilers have been engineered to grow more than twice as large in less than half the time than they did 50 years ago. The causes great stress on the animal, whose internal organs are under stress and who often have great difficulty walking. Chickens once had a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Today’s broiler is killed at around six weeks. Their daily growth rate has increased roughly by 400 per cent. All male layers in the US - more than 250 million chicks a year - are killed (see this).

Last year, Animal equality produced a virtual reality film project that showed the public how a factory farm operates. A factory farm pig is born in confinement, its tail is docked and teeth clipped and it is castrated (if male), all without pain relief. It is separated from its mother, which has been pinned down by a metal bar, and will never see the outdoors. If the pig is female, ahead of it lies a life of artificial insemination and the taking of its children by humans time and again, for as long as it remains fertile. Males will be taken to be fattened and will again live in overcrowded cages and fattened for five months until slaughter.

Hidden filming inside factory farms shows that, from pigs and cattle to chickens, the stories are similar. Mercy For Animals’ undercover operations in the US and Canada verify this (videos can be viewed here), and Animal Equality has conducted similar investigations across Europe. Cruelty seems to be standard practice.

None of this is good for the animals concerned (fed with genetically modified grain drenched with herbicides) or for the health of people who end up consuming meat contaminated by antibiotics, artificial hormones and steroids. None of it is good for the environment either, with a cocktail of agrochemicals and pharmaceutically contaminated animal waste seeping into the soil and water supplies.

There is as well the entire issue of global warming, with children marching for climate change without realising that what sits on their plates everyday may be one of the greatest contributors to global warming – factory farmed livestock. Accordingto EcoWatch, animal agriculture, specifically CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) contribute up to 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 37% of methane gas release, contributing more toxins for the environment than all forms of transportation combined.

We were all once children and most of us we brought up to love animals. But as adults is it okay to adopt a don’t look don’t see attitude to how we treat them? It raises the question: how do we as individuals personally regard the mass slaughter and exploitation of animals? At the very least, meat-eaters, vegans and vegetarians need to join together and challenge the ethical, health and environmental implications of industrialised meat production and whole ethics of factory farming itself.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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