This week there has been much discussion about undercover footage from a slaughterhouse in Yorkshire. This isn't the first such video but it does seem to have captured more attention than many of its kind.
Part of the reason is that the slaughterhouse in question is a halal one, making it easy for most people in the UK, who are not Muslims, to feel outraged without being in any danger of having to change our own habits.
It's much easier to feel outraged about animal suffering when it's somebody else's fault and somebody else who needs to change their behaviour. Which is one of the reasons why this story has given renewed vigour to campaigns to remove religious exceptions to stunning and for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses.
I'm sure support for these campaigns stems from good intentions, but neither is the solution to animals suffering for our food industry. In fact, there's a strong argument such campaigns do more harm than good in the long run. Not least because they perpetuate the notion that there's a benign way to kill and eat around 60billion land animals globally every year.
Let's consider stunning: can we honestly say that it makes slaughter 'humane'? If stunning then slitting one's throat is humane, why don't vets offer it when our beloved companion animals need euthanasia? I think most of us, if we're completely honest with ourselves, already know the answer to that question. The fact is, if we wouldn't want something done to a loved one, or to ourselves, we can't call it humane.
With this in mind, one has to question how CCTV would improve the fate of animals who are slaughtered. According to the Food Standards Agency's latest report: 55% of red meat and 43% of white meat slaughterhouses already have CCTV in place. However, the vast majority of footage goes unwatched. The campaign for making CCTV mandatory doesn't seem to have a satisfactory solution to this, other than suggesting vets could look at footage if an incident was reported to them. Do we really believe this is enough to ensure workers on busy cut lines always have welfare laws at the forefront of their minds?
In reality, most slaughterhouse workers don't set out to breach welfare laws but rather, under the pressure of a physically dangerous and emotionally blunting job, cannot afford to care for each animal they kill as an individual. If they did, they simply wouldn't be able to continue to function. This is perhaps one of the harms of slaughter that we most often neglect to consider: the double bind we place upon slaughterhouse workers. We demand they care for the wellbeing of the animals they slaughter whilst not caring enough to stop slaughtering them altogether. One former slaughterhouse worker describes this problem in Gail Eisnitz's book, Slaughterhouse:
"The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit [where hogs are killed] for any period of time--that let's [sic] you kill things but doesn't let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that's walking around in the blood pit with you and think, 'God, that really isn't a bad looking animal.' You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up to nuzzle me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them. ... I can't care."
Activist and former investigator TJ Tumasse summed up the problem well in a speech last year. He explained that too often people use these undercover investigations to identify a scapegoat; be it an individual, a company, or a particular process; rather than holding the entire system responsible.
And that's just it; the problem isn't with individual incidents or cases; the whole system is founded upon causing harm. Every time there's an undercover investigation, suffering is found, whether physical abuse or terrified animals screaming for their lives, knowing very well they are about to die. The problem of animals suffering in the food industry isn't something that can be isolated and removed. It isn't how we use and kill animals that needs to change, it's that we use and kill them at all.
Humane slaughter does not exist. You cannot take the life of an individual, who does not wish to die, without causing them harm. CCTV and stunning aren't going to change that fact. All these measures do is hand the food industry marketing tools to help ease our consciences so that we keep on buying.
It's time we stopped our complicity in this. Time for us to stop blaming scapegoats, to stop demanding other people change their behaviour, and instead recognise that change begins with each and every single one of us. The change that's required doesn't involve finding a new supplier, going to protests, or demanding changes in the law. It's much simpler than that, and all it takes is one thing: we just need to be vegan.