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.
Today our consumption of meat is no longer a matter of survival, rather it is now a choice we have available to us. Facts about the processes involved are hard to come by since farming and slaughter are all done behind closed doors, with strict security in place. Another barrier is the confronting nature of any act of slaughter means that consumers may avoid exposing themselves to this reality. There is film footage available from sources such as the Australian documentary Lucent. This movie shows secretly obtained undercover video of day to day activities in modern farms (including free range), and in modern slaughterhouses. To view Lucent click here.
Some key facts about meat production today are as follows:
- There are major environmental concerns with meat farming. These are discussed separately under the earth tab on this website.
- 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.
- In Australia and other western countries most meat comes from animals raised in factory farms. The trend towards more intensive farming continues. For example in the USA 99% is from factory farms and Australia is not far behind.
In the following sections we provide facts on each type of meat:
There is a belief in Australia that meat is raised humanely on pasture with the animals roaming free. The key facts as summarized below indicate this is not an accurate belief. Read more details about the production of meat here.
- After a short life on the farm, the animals are transported in trucks to their next point of processing.
- At the end of what can be a long 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 about the feedlots click here.
- At the slaughterhouse significant force is normally required to push the animals up a ramp towards the kill floor. There is clear evidence the animals destined for slaughter experience fear, and as with all sentient animals they will fight for their life.
- Details of the kill floors are not generally accessible to the public but videos obtained using hidden cameras are available. These tell a story for those willing to watch. The documentary Lucent shows footage from modern farms and slaughterhouses.
- The standard killing practice is to stun the animals using a metal bolt gun to the head, then their throats are 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 with human error either leading to an inadequate bleed, or leaving the animal conscious during their final slaughter.
- Chicken is Australia’s and the world’s most popular meat. The majority in Australia (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.
- Chicken (and other poultry) in Australia live in close confinement with anywhere up to 60,000 individuals in a single shed. Most will never step outside or experience natural light.
- 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 means they feel pain as well as possess an innate desire to live. To read more on the surprising intelligence of chickens, read the Voiceless report here2 or the study titled, “The Startling Intelligence of the Common Chicken“, which was 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 vast majority of farmed birds, shows almost no regard to 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. The ducks are killed after 6-7 weeks following a life in a factory farm, similar in conditions to those of meat chickens. In addition these ducks have no access to water to exhibit their natural behavior .
- 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.
- Free range duck farms are similar in conditions with partial confinement. To learn 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). The stalls are so small she cannot even turn around. These sow stalls are known to cause serious physical and psychological harm. They are used because they simplify farm management and maximise the number of pigs that can be kept in a given area. Read more about sow stalls here.
- When giving birth, sows are confined even more restrictively in ‘farrowing crates’ where they can barely move. This frustrates her natural nesting behaviors. The piglets are removed prematurely also which causes further stress.
- 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 anaesthetic. 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 exposure to life outdoors. Read more on factory farmed pigs here.
Free range Pork
- Many free range pig farms still use farrowing crates and practices like tail cutting. To learn more about free range pork click here.
- All free range pigs end up in the same slaughterhouses 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.
- Like any sentient animal pigs will fight for their life. All pigs whether free range or factory farmed, are killed in the same manner.
- Most pigs in Australia, including those raised “free range”, are killed in carbon dioxide gas chambers, which are regarded as “best practice” and “humane” by the pork industry. 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 chamber where they squeal and violently struggle as they slowly suffocate.
- One defense of these farming methods offered by the industry is that if we want to eat pork, factory farms are the only practical way to meet the demand.
- There is a substantial rabbit meat industry in Australia. Most of the animals are raised in factory farms.
- The most common rabbits bred for meat are New Zealand Whites as shown in the pictures4.
- Female rabbits (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 are kept until slaughter at 12 weeks of age. Does are culled after weaning 7 litters4.
- Many chicken breeders supplement their income by additional caged rabbits which they sell for meat.
- The caged conditions rabbits are kept in are unnatural stressful for the rabbits5.
- Factory farms have the rabbits confined in cages suspended over the floor, often stacked one on top of the other4.
- Stunning procedures for rabbits destined for slaughter are vague and so procedures vary. Standards talk of breaking their necks by pulling down on the rabbit’s head while simultaneously pulling back on their hindquarters, or simply by cracking their head with a pipe. 6.
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 .