Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places ~ Leonardo da Vinci- painter, architect, scientist, astronomer – genius of the Renaissance times.
The reality of meat today in Australia and other western countries is that it mostly comes from animals raised in factory farms. This trend towards intensive factory farming grows as the demand grows. For example in the USA, the proportion of meat that is from factory farms has now reached 99% and Australia is not far behind. The other sobering fact is that virtually all meat comes from very young animals killed at a fraction of their natural life span as summarized in the table below. To learn more about the ages of animals at slaughter click here.
Even those who still hold on to a belief that exploiting animals can somehow be justified, will have grave ethical concerns with the reality of life and death imposed on animals in modern factory farms. Since it is all done behind closed doors, with strict security, it is hard for the general public to get a feel for how animals are raised and killed. Furthermore, the reality of the process is so confronting that most people would not want to see it. The question is then, if it is too confronting for us to watch, should we support these practices. For those wanting to see the reality, we recommend the Australian documentary Lucent. To watch Lucent for free click here. This is based on undercover video of day to day activities in modern farms (including free range), and in modern slaughterhouses.
In the following sections we provide facts on each type of meat:
With the increase in popularity of chicken and pork in Australia and around the world, the consumption of beef and lamb is on the decline. Still, many people are of the mistaken belief that farm in Australia at least, meat is raised humanely, and the image is of pasture fed cows roaming free. As is so often the case this positive image sold to consumers bears little resemblance to the reality. Read more about the production of meat. Putting aside the undeniable major environmental issues with all meat, the unavoidable reality is the abusive, violent process of turning these peaceful young sentient animals into our food. With beef and lamb, this starts with herding the animals into crowded trucks at the farm. Those who have participated in this are left with the uneasy feeling that these animals are feeling great fear. At the end of the uncomfortable road trip the animals are unloaded to stockyards at the slaughterhouse, or in the case of approximately 30% of beef cattle. they arrive at a crowded feedlot of up to 40,000 animals for finishing prior to slaughter1. To learn more click here. In all cases, the final journey for these young animals is up a race towards the kill floor1. Significant force is normally required to push the animal forward as the animals can no doubt hear and sense the danger that is ahead of them. With the sights, sounds and smells in these places, there can be little doubt the animals will be terrified and as with all sentient animals will fight for their life. Details of these killing production lines are not generally accessible to the public but videos obtained using hidden cameras show them to be even worse than we might imagine. The documentary Lucent shows the truth of modern farms and slaughterhouses. The standard killing practice is to stun the animals using a metal bolt gun to the head, then have their throats cut. Following that, they are hung upside down to bleed out. The animal must be alive at this point or the bleed out does not occur properly which is important for the taste of the meat. The stunning is a delicate process which if not done properly could mean the animal dies and therefore does not bleed, or is awake for their final slaughter.
Chicken (and other poultry) in Australia and around the world, are almost all factory farmed. The birds live in close confinement with anywhere up to 60,000 individuals in a single shed. Most will never step outside or experience natural light. Chicken is Australia’s and the world’s most popular meat. The majority (85 – 90%) are raised in sheds where artificial lighting is used to keep the birds eating and growing as fast as possible. The remainder is referred to as free range and about 1% is organically grown. Read more about broiler chickens here.
Due to selective breeding, meat chickens grow unnaturally fast, many are crippled before they are sent to slaughter (at around 45 days old). Some grow so big that their legs are unable to support their own body weight. Bone weakness often results in degenerative diseases, with increasing pain and discomfort as they grow. To read more on chickens and the chicken meat industry refer to the report prepared by Voiceless2.
In recent years, scientists have learned that the average chicken is surprisingly intelligent with communication skills on par with those of some primates. Chickens have also been found to solve complex problems, empathize with individuals that are in danger and can recognize 100 individuals of their kind. It is also now known they experience a range of emotions including fear, anxiety, boredom, frustration, discomfort and distress. Chickens, turkeys and ducks are all sentient animals. This mean they feel pain as well as possess an innate desire to live. To read more on the surprising intelligence of chickens see the Voiceless To know more on the surprising intelligence of chickens, read the Voiceless report here2 and the study titled, The Startling Intelligence of the Common Chicken, published in 2014 in Scientific American3.
In nature chickens live in small, relatively stable communities and form complex social relationships with fellow chickens within those communities. The extreme confinement and conditions provided to the majority of farmed birds, completely disregards their sentience and that they have this emotional, intellectual and social complexity2.
The duck meat industry is estimated to produce over 8 million ducks annually in Australia. They are killed after 6-7 weeks after a life in a factory farm, similar in conditions to those of meat chickens. In addition ducks have no access to water to exhibit their natural behavior. Free range duck farms are similar in conditions with partial confinement. There is no legal requirement in Australia for commercial duck farms to have water available for ducks to swim, bathe, or even dip their heads. To know more about the duck industry read the findings here.
Pigs are highly intelligent social animals, who naturally live in family groups. They are thought to be even smarter than dogs with intelligence the equivalent of a 3 year old child. Nine out of 10 (90%) of pigs raised in Australia are raised in factory farms. Read more about factory farmed pigs here.
In Australia, it is legal and common practice to confine pregnant pigs to sow stalls (small metal and concrete cages, barely larger than the mother pig’s body). They are so small she cannot even turn around. These sow stalls cause serious physical and psychological harm yet they are used because they simplify farm management and maximise the number of pigs that can be kept in a given area. When giving birth, sows are confined even more restrictively in a ‘farrowing crate’ where they can barely move. This frustrates her natural nesting behaviors. The piglets are removed prematurely also which causes further stress. Read more about sow stalls here.
Over the course of their lives, factory farmed sows are repeatedly impregnated until they can no longer produce enough piglets and then they are slaughtered. This so called ‘reproductive failure’ is the main single reason for sows to be killed. On average, sows have four pregnancies over two years before they are killed. Not long after birth, male piglets are routinely castrated without pain relief. Also Piglets’ teeth are often clipped without anesthetic. Read more about common procedures in pig farming here.
The pigs raised for their meat on factory farms, known as ‘porkers’, generally spend their whole lives indoors. They are housed in crowded, concrete-floored pens with no natural light, little space and no opportunity to forage for food in natural surroundings. Research has shown that factory farmed pigs suffer prolonged depression. For many of these pigs, the trip to the slaughterhouse is their only chance to experience life outdoors and to feel the wind and the sun. Read more on the issues behind factory farmed pigs here.
Free range Pork
The idea of free range is the pork industry’s response to increasingly aware consumers, who are beginning consider ethics in their choices. As always the flaw in this is that profit remains the primary goal, and the animals still are seen as a means to this end. So, as always, the consumer image is vastly different to reality. Many so called “free range” pig farms still use farrowing crates and practices like tail cutting. To learn more about free range pork click here.
How ever the pigs are raised, they all end up in a crowded truck off to a slaughterhouse at a very young age. As referenced above, pigs are slaughtered on average at 4 – 6 months of age, and suckling pigs at 2 – 6 weeks.
Pigs are intelligent sentient animals who want to live just as we do, and will fight for their life. All pigs whether free range or factory farmed, are killed in the same manner, in what can only be described as a a very violent process.
Undercover footage obtained by Aussiefarms and presented in the documentary Lucent showed pigs being forced (using electric prods) into metal cages, then lowered into a gas chamber where they would squeal, violently thrash and struggle as they slowly suffocate. Most pigs in Australia, including those raised “free range”, are killed in these carbon dioxide gas chambers, which are regarded as “best practice” and “humane” by the pork industry. We believe most people disagree.
It may surprise many that there is a flourishing rabbit meat industry in Australia. Further these are not wild rabbits. The most common rabbits bred for meat are New Zealand Whites4. While the Australian rabbit industry was once based on wild rabbits, following the release of the calicivirus (RCD) to control wild rabbits, it has become lawful to breed rabbits in captivity for slaughter.
Now most rabbit meat is from factory farms. The target female rabbit (Doe) productivity is 7 litters per year with four to five rabbits per litter. The Department of Primary Industries report advises that each breeding doe is kept in a separate cage with her litter until weaning at about 4 weeks of age. The young (kittens) are then moved to another cage, where they should be kept until slaughter at 12 weeks of age. The doe is then culled after weaning 7 litters4.
Rabbits are not protected in any way under the law. They are not viewed as companion animals such as dogs or cats even though they are a very popular pets. There are no welfare laws protecting them, whether they are kept as pets or if bred for slaughter. Many chicken breeders supplement their income by additional caged rabbits which they sell for slaughter. The caged conditions rabbits are kept in are unnatural and will be stressful for the individual rabbits5. In practice in the factory farms the rabbits are confined to cages suspended over the floor, often stacked one on top of the other4. Rabbits naturally enjoy room to move5, but in these cages, this is severely restricted. They are fed low cost grain for fattening purposes.
Rabbits do not have to be stunned like other animals classified as livestock before they are slaughtered. They may be killed in any fashion convenient to the slaughterhouse worker6. This is usually done by either breaking their necks, by pulling down on the rabbit’s head while simultaneously pulling back on their hindquarters or by cracking their head with a pipe. These methods are not foolproof, and rabbits often end up screaming in pain during this process before their throats are slashed and they are hung upside down to bleed6.
Our future selves will consider meat eating barbaric ~ Peter Singer – Australian moral philosopher and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University
 Sustainable Table. 2013. Meet your meat. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sustainabletable.org.au/Hungryforinfo/Factory-farming/tabid/106/Default.aspx.
 Voiceless- the Animal Protection Institute . 2011. Meat chickens. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/meat-chickens
 Smith, C. et al, 2014. The Startling Intelligence of the Common Chicken. Scientific American, [Online]. 310 (2). Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-startling-intelligence-of-the-common-chicken/
 Department of Primary Industries. 2006. Farming meat rabbits in NSW. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/content/agriculture/livestock/rabbits/farming-meat-rabbits-nsw
 Bradley Bay, T, 2006. Exotic Pet Behaviour. 1st ed. Missouri: Saunders Elsevier.
 Davies, S. and DeMello,M, 2003. Stories rabbits tell. 1st ed. VA: Lantern Books .