09/03/2016 09:42 GMT | Updated 10/03/2017 05:12 GMT

It's Time We Reconsider What We Define as Humane

Something I often hear these days, is how little meat some people eat now, and that what they do consume is from small, local, farms, where things are done "humanely".

I used to have the same approach. I recognised a problem with the way we treat animals, and I bought into the idea commonly foisted upon us, that we just need to improve the way we treat them. If the marketing is to be believed, these smaller farms are the stuff of fairy tales; cows frolicking happily in lush, green, pastures, sheep ambling over rolling hills, all tended to by a kindly farmer who loves them dearly.

It's not hugely surprising then, that there's this idealistic view of animal agriculture in the UK. It's in our interest to believe this stuff, because if it weren't true, it would contradict our collective identity as a nation of animal lovers.

It's often said that we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. That may be so, but the standard practices these laws permit really are a case of being the least worst rather than anything that could be described as "best". Time and again, undercover footage shows these laws are largely meaningless to the animals they purport to protect.

This week brings another video, although not an undercover one this time. It was filmed by Sarah Fenney, who happened upon the scene whilst walking on a public footbath in Derbyshire. Perhaps what makes this particular video so shocking is that the scene had been left openly visible, as if it were nothing to be concerned about.

What's more, it appears to be on one of those small farms we love to believe in, where the animals are supposedly treated with love and tenderness. The scene that unfolds tells a very different story to the one we are sold in marketing literature though. A sheep lays dead in full view of her peers, who are so tightly packed into their pen that one is standing on the back of another. A young cow is wedged between a gate and wall, bleeding severely from his head, unable to sit down and looking rather wobbly on his feet. In an accompanying photograph, several cows are chained to the wall, unable to move about or turn around. Elsewhere apparently, there is a dog kept in a small barn, surrounded by excrement.

Credit: Sarah Fenney

According to Sarah, despite looking around, and knocking on doors, there was no help to be found on the premises. DEFRA's response to a call for assistance was reportedly that there seemed to be, 'nothing illegal as such' about the situation. The local council apparently advised, upon being told about the tightly chained cows, that perhaps they have no need to turn around. The RSPCA, it seems, only became interested in taking on the matter when emphasis was placed on the dog rather than any of the other animals present. This should serve as a stark reminder of how differently we treat animals, depending on whether we regard them, purely arbitrarily, as friends, or food.

It has been said by some that it's just fine and normal to leave wounded farm animals without veterinary treatment. It has also been said that it's pretty common to have the bodies of animals who have died laying about the place, as losing animals prior to slaughter is a fairly regular occurrence.

Perhaps a lack of veterinary treatment is considered normal by some within the industry. I'm sure there are others who would say it's not. Either way, this sort of situation definitely isn't just a one-off. A 2014 report indicated that in the UK alone, around 43 million farmed animals die each year due to starvation, sickness, fires, traffic collisions, neglect, and exposure.

Of course, there are people who will argue, no matter how many animals die from neglect, or suffer from abuse, that it's simply a case of needing more robust enforcement of the rules. But how much do people who believe this really know about the rules? Not a lot, I would guess. Many of the industry's standard practices are nothing short of barbaric. Forced insemination of female animals, gassing and suffocation of day-old chicks, castration, debeaking, dehorning, teeth clipping, tail clipping, all carried out without anaesthetic, routine separation of mothers and babies, starvation for a whole day prior to slaughter, the list goes on. All of this is before we even get to the matter of slaughter.

How can we honestly say that any of this is "humane"? I wouldn't wish this sort of treatment on my worst enemy, let alone innocent animals whose only "crime" is to have been born the wrong species. Our use and slaughter of billions of animals every year is anything but, "humane".

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'll keep saying it until people choose to listen. None of this is necessary. We have no need to use and kill animals for food, clothing, entertainment, or any other reason. To harm and kill another being without necessity is profoundly unjust, no matter how you paint it. There is only one way to bring this injustice to an end; and that is, my fellow animal-lovers, for each of us to be the change by being vegan.