As Paul McCartney once said: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian." Environment Secretary Michael Gove's announcement that CCTV will be mandatory in all abattoirs in England brings us a little closer to having "glass walls" - especially if the footage will be watched by someone who can and will take action against perpetrators of abuse. But while this is a good first step, let's not get ahead of ourselves by hailing this as a victory for animals, as some news reports are suggesting.
It's easy to lose count of the number of undercover investigations that have shown animals in abattoirs being punched, sexually molested, burned with cigarettes, and otherwise assaulted before being killed. A recent exposé by Animal Aid showed gentle sheep being kicked, hacked at, and thrown headfirst into metal structures at an abattoir in Yorkshire. Footage resembling a horror film shows that they were taunted, pinned down, kicked, stood on, threatened with knives, and lifted up by their ears and fleece. And while mandatory CCTV may help prevent these and other egregious cases of abuse, it won't stop the terror and routine harm that animals endure in the patently cruel process of industrialised meat production.
The indefensible habit of eating burgers, nuggets, and bacon means that sentient, intelligent beings are bred by the billions and kept in dark, dirty cages or warehouses - and most never see the light of day or breathe fresh air until the day they're loaded onto the lorry bound for slaughter. Just this month, PETA revealed conditions inside a so-called "free-range" egg farm in Cambridgeshire. As is typical for "free-range" facilities, the chickens were crammed not into cages but into filthy, crowded sheds, where many had lost their feathers as a result of severe stress and ammonia burns from their own accumulated waste. Birds who died were left to rot, and others resorted to attacking each other out of frustration at the distressing, squalid living conditions.
Another investigation undertaken by Hillside Animal Sanctuary at a "Freedom Food"- certified farm in Cheshire revealed partially paralysed pigs left to suffer, unable to reach water, and lying helpless in their own waste. The "Freedom Food" scheme boasts that it offers consumers an "ethical" choice and that the animals "have had a better life". Better than what, one has to wonder.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that every single eyewitness investigation conducted by PETA and other animal-protection groups has shown rampant abuse and unimaginable suffering in abattoirs and on farms. Every single one. Because when it comes to raising and killing animals on an industrial scale, any measure of kindness, respect, or decency goes out the window.
Of course, we should insist on transparency when it comes to the way animals who are used for food are treated, and installing CCTV in abattoirs may very well stop some of the worst forms of abuse that animals face. But it won't eliminate all of them - not by a long shot. As long as consumers continue to buy meat, milk, eggs, and cheese (even though supermarkets are full of delicious plant-based choices), animals will suffer. That's why the kindest choice will always be simply to leave them off our plates.