Visual imagery is powerful, whether witnessing it firsthand, in print or in film.
My first view of animal slaughter came from watching a black and white documentary set to classical music—the only sound throughout the movie. It was a 1970s kosher slaughter film Friends of Animals produced that showed what was exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. Eating meat could not be made palatable by the Humane Slaughter Act anyway, as it’s so-called improvements were a farce.
Alice Herrington started Friends of Animals in 1957, and that film compelled her to become vegetarian and gave her an impetus to shake down federal laws and regulations to see which ones made sense, and to challenge the ones that didn’t. Unlike other animal advocacy organizations, FoA did not want to regulate atrocities; we wanted to abolish them, and still do. For us, the solution is always eliminating the demand.
Although the Act required meatpackers to stun cows and other animals (other than birds) into unconsciousness instantaneously prior to killing them, exceptions were made for religious purposes, and all of this was bunk anyway.
Gail Eisnitz, author and Humane Farming Association’s chief investigator, points out the reality of improperly stunned animals at slaughter plants: “We can’t kill them fast enough. The three-second per pig electric stun is just how fast each individual line is moving; some plants have two lines running. Line speeds used to be limited to 1,106 pigs per line per hour. Now, under the New Swine Inspection System, plants can run at whatever speed they wish. The impetus for increasing line speeds was strictly to increase profits for the pork industry.”
The Humane Slaughter Act was supposed to offer consumers the assurance that a stunning device rendered the animal unconscious before their throats were cut, or they died by cardiac arrest. Improperly stunned animals are still alive when other obscenities are imposed on them and speeding up the lines adds nightmare on top of nightmare.
Speaking of nightmares, you could not ignore the chilling imagery created by headlines like, “Farmers forced to kill hundreds of thousands of pigs as meat packing plants across the country close” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Producers were given carte blanche to kill the backlog of animals on their farms through a method called “ventilation shutdown.” They sealed off all airways to their barns, intensifying the heat and humidity inside and leaving them to die overnight.
“I think that on-farm killing may be even more cruel than slaughter at the slaughterhouse because it takes so much longer,” Eisnitz explained. “In one operation, producers increased the temperature in the barn to 120 degrees, which wasn’t hot enough to kill the pigs until they added steam.”
That brutality is an American Veterinary Medical Association approved standard, she adds, which producers, the industry and U.S. Department of Agriculture tout as such.
What these horror stories remind us of is that the buck really stops with each of us. Only we can stop these atrocities.
As Rutgers Law Professor Gary Francione emphasizes, “If we educate people so that they stop consuming animal products, farmers will stop producing animal products and slaughterhouses will close. If they do not, there will always be animal farms and slaughterhouses. It’s that simple.”
I would be remiss not to mention that the exploitation and consumption of wildlife not only creates misery for those animals too but triggers crises of our own making. Take worldwide wild animal wet markets, where flesh is sold for food and medicinal purposes, setting the stage for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 to emerge. (Genetic sequencing currently indicates that horseshoe bats are the ultimate source of COVID-19.)
New York State, where FoA was founded, is home to more than 80 live animal markets. The markets sell chickens, ducks and other animals and some are killed on site. New York State Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal and State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda have introduced a bill to shut down the markets, which are ticking time bombs.
As virologist and Professor Ethan Will Taylor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro says: “When chickens are packed close together in stacked cages, in unsanitary conditions and under high levels of stress, which is known to be immunosuppressive, they are more likely to be capable of spreading any such infections that they might be carrying, amongst both the caged animals and the humans in the local environment. Finally, slaughtering animals on site under squalid and unhygienic conditions just massively increases the possibilities for transmitting blood-borne diseases. There are lots of reasons why live animal wet markets can pose a risk, not only for individual disease transmission, but also a risk for a zoonotic outbreak.”
What we do in the next five to 10 years will define the future of humanity, says Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist and lead author of a new study, “Vertebrates On the Brink as Indicators of Biological Annihilation and the Sixth Mass Extinction,” which reveals accelerating extinction rates that also threaten human life.
It is enormously important to halt the loss of biodiversity and deforestation as ecosystems provide fresh water, pollination and disease control. All too often, the roles of plants or animals in our ecosystem are only understood after a species is gone, he says.
Eating animals is not only a moral issue but an ecological issue as well. Vegan plant-based diets are healthy and good for animals and the environment, and our future depends on them.
Ferris Jabr writes in The New York Times Magazine article “How Humanity Unleashed a Flood of New Diseases:” “Ultimately, the prevention of zoonoses demands more than practical interventions; it requires a fundamental shift in perspective. Humans have a long history of treating the world as our stage and other creatures as our props.”
Only by going vegan are we going to be able to ensure our second act.
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, has presided over the international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She has also served as president of the San Antonio-based sanctuary Primarily Primates and is a food activist and author of three vegan cookbooks.