False hopes and misunderstanding 'welfare'
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


There's an Elephant in the Room blog
August 2017

In the end, defenceless individuals go in to a slaughterhouse, they die, they come out in pieces in a refrigerated vehicle. That won’t change and that’s the problem. We harm or we don’t. We kill or we don’t. We use or we don’t.

It is that situation on which we must focus. As advocates, we are betraying those billions who need us to be clear on their behalf every time we suggest there is a grey middle area where the fundamental atrocity may be enacted in a more acceptable way. Be vegan.

caged hens
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

All the regulations that lay down ‘welfare’ requirements for animals being unnecessarily used by humans (and all uses fall into this category) are designed with a single purpose. So what is that purpose? All we need to do is use common sense and think critically about it.

Just to clarify what ‘welfare’ means

As a species, the indisputable reason for all our breeding, raising, milking, egg taking and killing of these sentient individuals is for us to use them. This use is predicated on our assumption that our trivial interests are more important than their rights to live unharmed. In other words, the basic premise is that they simply don’t matter enough to be allowed to live. They are regarded as resources, commodities, commercial assets and nothing more. In order to do what we do without seeming like monsters in our own eyes, we have to delude ourselves that they have NO importance, NO feelings and NO interest in their lives.

Given that this absolutely must be the case in order for all our use of them to occur, it is at best naïve to think that any regulations, including those that misleadingly use the word ‘welfare’ in their description, are in ANY way designed to protect the feelings, wellbeing or individual integrity or autonomy of these ‘resources, commodities and commercial assets’. Indeed, any lessening of the level of torment to which our victims are subjected is purely coincidental because the purpose of ‘welfare’ regulations is to safeguard the commercial value of those who are deemed to be resources, commodities and assets. It’s not about the animals. It’s about those who consider themselves to be their OWNERS, those who have a financial interest in their exploitation. These ‘owners’ change as our victims go though the processing that converts each one from living, breathing individual to an assortment of packages on shelves somewhere, but essentially all ‘welfare’ regulations are designed purely to protect the interests of these owners.

Pause for reflection

Before I continue, I’d like to share a memory of my own that occurred just as I was writing this. It dates back to the days before I was vegan yet considered myself to be an aware and ethical consumer. I look back on that time with complete incomprehension; what on earth was I thinking?! My ignorance would be laughable if it were not for the tragedy that every single non-vegan choice that I made in my everyday life was actually causing horrors as bad as and worse than the majority of things I so vociferously protested about. But anyhow. I digress.

I used to follow – and contribute to – a number of groups that used issues such as CCTV, fur, circus, live export (opposition to which I’ve since heard appropriately referred to as being in favour of ‘kill ’em and chill ’em’) to raise funds. These funds were apparently used partly to pay their career activist staff, and partly to create images and films of breaches in ‘welfare’ regulations.

caged rabbit
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

During this time before I was vegan these groups fed me a constant diet of horrific imagery that led me to seriously believe that these breaches in the regulations were not only commonplace but were what we should all be fighting to oppose. And oppose them I did, while I also wore, used domestic and personal hygiene products, and consumed a diet consisting of the torment of these same victims. These groups never even mentioned veganism or if they did it must have been on a back page somewhere or at the end of a long list of possible options that I might like to consider after coughing up cash for their coffers. If they mentioned veganism I honestly never took note of it. My use and consumption of animals, their milk, eggs and body parts continued unchecked, and in some areas increased, so reassured was I by the praise and gratitude that these groups sent my way for ‘all that I was doing to help make the world a more compassionate place’. In no way did it ‘raise my awareness’ in a manner that led me to become vegan. Only vegan advocacy did that. Now I feel ill to think I fell for such a transparently cynical line.

When I write of the danger of misinforming consumers and encouraging them to feel ‘ethical’ without stressing that the only ‘ethical’ use is NO use, and ‘no use’ means veganism, I’m talking from personal experience. I’m relating the experience of the many other vegans who share this memory; the many other vegans who, like me, would give anything to go back and find out about veganism on the very first day they realised that nonhuman animals are harmed by human ones.

The purpose of monitoring

So to continue, once we shift our focus away from the idea that ‘welfare’ means anything to do with concern for the feelings, wellbeing, or autonomy of our victims, we begin to see things in a totally different light.

The recent announcement of compulsory CCTV in English (as opposed to UK) slaughterhouses is a classic example of a measure that may be considered to be an attempt to reassure ‘concerned’ consumers (like I used to be) about ‘welfare standards’. I have no doubt at all that those who do not think critically about this strategy will be duped by what I see as a cynical ploy, and the only predictable effect of such a measure will be a likely increase in consumption of animals, their eggs, secretions and body parts.

I cannot for a moment imagine what anyone could possibly think that CCTV in slaughterhouses might be used for. Apart from anything else a recent article quotes a Food Standards Agency rep as saying, ‘We see CCTV as an invaluable management tool for business owners to help with compliance with official controls and to improve animal welfare standards across the industry.’ In this, at least, they are being honest. It’s a management tool.

Regulation breaches lead to ‘damaged goods’ which costs money. Regulation breaches may result in unhygienic practices where there may be health risks to staff and consumers leading to lost revenue and costs. Regulation breaches increase the considerable risks of personal injury to staff and operatives, as well as equipment damage. Costs. Breaches of regulations can lead to prosecutions by food standards inspectors and others, and the availability of CCTV footage may permit longer time periods to be monitored and inspected by, I’d guess, fewer staff resulting in cost savings. Breaches of regulations can lead to unfavourable publicity that results in loss of consumer confidence with potential loss of revenue. And the list continues. Follow the money.

What CCTV is absolutely NOT, is any sort of ‘awareness raising’ mechanism installed by the animal harming industries and their governing and partnering bodies, to show the general public the enormity of the processes that they are carrying out and thus discourage consumption.

False hopes

livestock truck
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

From reading the ‘step in the right direction’ and ‘raising awareness’ comments, it seems that there is some idea on social media that people will be able to tune in and view slaughterhouse footage, and that this will, in some unfathomable way, ‘raise awareness’. Apart from the fact that this is not the intent of these systems and there is scarcely the remotest possibility that they will be available for public viewing any more than the security CCTV of your average factory or parts warehouse, what on earth would anyone hope for others to see on the CCTV?

Even the most unaware consumer of animal derived substances must surely be ‘aware’ that animals are killed in slaughterhouses. There’s no need for CCTV to prove that.

Is it hoped that CCTV will reveal wall-to-wall breaches in regulations? I was certainly encouraged in the past to believe such a thing was most likely the case. Now I don’t consider that, and I realise we have no knowledge of the statistical frequency of regulatory breaches. I have no doubt that they occur as in an other industry, however the issues that I discuss on a daily basis seek to address the fundamental atrocity of all use and all killing.

Even done by the book, slaughter of sentient individuals who don’t want to die and fight with every ounce of strength they possess to stay alive, is a messy, violent business. It doesn’t look nice. It is noisy, gory and stomach-churningly horrific. Who in their right mind would want to sit glued to a real-time-slaughter-cam? If they were looking to view ‘nice’ killing; compassionate’ slaughtering; placid, unperturbed individuals cheerfully raising their heads to offer their throats for slitting; calm, unconcerned children of other species tranquilly gazing at the camera whilst being stunned, they would definitely be disappointed.

Maybe some are hoping for close-ups to confirm that individuals are actually dead while their hooves are being sawn off, while their bellies are being sliced open so that their steaming organs and still-trembling entrails can slither out; that they’ve actually stopped struggling while their hides are being torn off?

To think that we have such a thing called a slaughterhouse, where people are employed to grab an animal, use electric prods to force it (he/she) to go where they want, to jam bolts in their heads, to slice their throats, hang them from chains and watch them die as blood drips out of their throats and legs kick desperately. To think that even exists – in the numbers that it does – we’re not talking about a few ‘bad people’ that do that… we’re talking about this is the norm! If we can’t stop and look at that and say ‘Holy crap! What have we done?’. If we can’t face that we will not be able to face anything.
~ David G. Coles, author of The Insanity of Humanity

chicken slaughter
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

The point that I seek to make is that it is extremely unlikely that the advent of industry systems to enforce industry regulations are going to help our victims one little bit.

The fundamental atrocity is that we consider that slaughtering other individuals is acceptable.

In the end, defenceless individuals go in to a slaughterhouse, they die, they come out in pieces in a refrigerated vehicle.

That won’t change and that’s the problem. We harm or we don’t. We kill or we don’t. We use or we don’t.

It is that situation on which we must focus. As advocates, we are betraying those billions who need us to be clear on their behalf every time we suggest there is a grey middle area where the fundamental atrocity may be enacted in a more acceptable way.

Be vegan.

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