Let's make no mistake. Slaughter is always going to be a brutal, gory business that inflicts suffering on animals, exploits them and deprives them of their most fundamental right - life. No amount of regulation or independent scrutiny is ever going to change that, and make meat 'ethical' or 'humane'. But we campaigners also have to be realistic. The world is not going to go vegan overnight, and while animals continue to be killed, we have a duty to protect them from the illegal violence that we now know is rife in UK slaughterhouses. And that's where our campaign for mandatory, independently monitored CCTV in slaughterhouses comes in.
You've probably read about our undercover investigations inside ten randomly chosen UK slaughterhouses. I'll spare you too many disturbing details, but incidents included stunning equipment being used sadistically to give animals electric shocks, pigs being kicked in the head, and sheep being picked up by their fleeces and thrown. We found evidence of cruelty and lawbreaking in nine out of the ten slaughterhouses we investigated.
You might think that, as soon as the findings of our first investigations were published, a shocked government would have leapt into action to ensure that such abuses could never occur again. But, no less then seven years since we began our investigations, the government still appears to be paralysed by apathy.
In Israel, the story has been very different. After a series of exposés by Anonymous for Animal Rights, the Agriculture Minister ordered CCTV cameras to be installed in all slaughterhouses. The footage will be streamed to the control room of the Veterinary Services, where it will be monitored. We don't yet know how stringent the monitoring process will be, but what we do know is that abuse has been detected, and the government of Israel has taken action as a result. This is a lot more than can be said for the current Number 10 administration, and indeed the coalition government before it.
The source of apathy in Westminster isn't clear. The call for mandatory, independently monitored CCTV in slaughterhouses has received widespread public and political support, and has the backing of the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British Veterinary Association. While opinions on the ethics of eating meat vary widely, no one - from vegans to farmers - believes that animals should endure being kicked, punched or tortured in their final moments.
The UK government has come up with all sorts of excuses. It says that slaughterhouses already have Official Vets to monitor welfare, and that the cameras have their limitations. But it's clear that the current vet-focused system - which costs taxpayers around £30 million per year - is failing to protect animals from illegal violence and incompetence.
Another issue often raised by politicians is that our campaign has already resulted in many slaughterhouses installing CCTV. Indeed, the ten largest supermarkets will only deal with abattoirs that have this measure in place. But CCTV can't protect animals if the footage isn't checked, or if a blind eye is turned to the abuse. We investigated two killing plants that already had CCTV, and uncovered some of the worst abuse we have ever seen. At one of these, workers were found punching pigs and burning them with cigarettes, and at the other we filmed sheep having their throats hacked at with a blunt knife while still fully conscious. The unmonitored cameras had clearly done little to protect animals, which is why the call for independent monitoring of CCTV footage is such a crucial part of our campaign.
We know that even independently monitored CCTV cannot stop the abuse altogether. Slaughter is never going to be cruelty-free, and there is always a risk that people who spend their entire working day killing will become desensitised to suffering, or take the misery of their gruesome job out on the animals they are slaughtering. But something has to be done. Failing to implement this practical, common sense measure, simply because it isn't perfect, is like refusing to wear a seatbelt because it won't always save your life in a car crash.
Anyone concerned with campaigning against animal abuse will be used to hearing that the UK is a 'world-leader' on animal welfare. If these are anything other than empty words, then the government must follow Israel's lead and make independently monitored CCTV mandatory for all slaughterhouses.
And if we, as the public, care about protecting animals, then the best thing we can do is to stop paying for them to be slaughtered. Going vegan has never been easier, and is the best way to ensure that your purchases are free from slaughterhouse violence.