Recent undercover reports have revealed a disturbing but unsurprising disregard for animal welfare laws in UK abattoirs. In just the past two years, over 4000 'major' breaches have been made, each potentially affecting hundreds of animals. Common breaches include animals not being stunned properly or at all before slaughter, freighted animals being left for too long in overcrowded lorries, often in very hot or very cold conditions, and deliberate abuse by slaughterhouse workers.
Many people think cruel practices don't happen in the UK, or don't happen to free-range animals or organic meat. Not only are those people are mistaken, they're also missing the point. These animal welfare laws are of little to no value, as transgressions often only result in warning letters and dropped prosecutions. But even if they were taken seriously, this wouldn't put an end to cruelty in the meat industry.
It's interesting (and horrifying) to examine how UK animal welfare laws change when applied to different species. It's rightly illegal to slit a dog's throat, or hang a cat upside down and run it through a pool of electrified water. It's horrible to even consider.
But when it comes to pigs, cows, chickens and other farmed animals, those actions are routine. It's legal to put male chicks through a grinder, or to gas them. It's legal to shoot animals in the head, to slit their throats, to cut off their horns and beaks without anaesthetic. It's legal to stack them in crates, and freight them long distances with no food or water. What is legal and what is moral are completely different issues.
Most people would go vegan instantly if they bore witness to the sounds, sights and smells of slaughterhouses before sitting down to eat. Because most people can't stomach the reality, we hide it from view and pay other people to deal with it - often resulting in great psychological damage in slaughterhouse workers. The painful truth is that even if a person does not kill an animal first hand, by paying for meat they are sanctioning the death of that animal, and the manner in which it was killed.
We often hear that the UK has incredibly high welfare standards for farmed animals - it's something we seem to be almost proud of; a statement used to justify our food choices. Let's put aside the fact that these standards are irrelevant, as they're not properly enforced. Even if they're the highest standards in the world, this just shows that the food industry and society need to change. Animal welfare at the moment translates into captivity, pain and suffering, followed by death. Surely we can do better than that?
The meat industry is exactly that - an industry. It will never have the animals' best interests at heart, as it exists to turn a profit, not to treat animals well. Wherever corners can be cut, wherever profits can be maximised, this is what is going to happen. Until we stop looking at animals as a commodity, and start seeing them as individuals with their own needs and desires, we are going to keep seeing cruelty and violence.
Welfare laws in industries which profit from killing animals will always be a sham. This is because humane meat is a myth - there is no humane way to kill an animal who does not want to die. The next logical step for someone who truly believes in animal welfare is to stop funding industries which profit from animal cruelty, and to go vegan.