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Time to Close Slaughterhouse Doors

Time to Close Slaughterhouse Doors

By Sandra Kyle

The continued existence of slaughterhouses represents a pressing moral dilemma in our time. In a social-media world we can no longer pretend that the sterile cut of meat in our supermarket trolley didn’t begin with the killing of a terrified animal who didn’t want to die. There is no more turning away from the inconvenient truth that slaughterhouses exist and it is time to address the violence and injustice carried out behind their closed doors.

A mass-based, grassroots animal justice movement is now growing, spearheaded by the Worldwide Save Movement. The Save Movement began in 2010 when Anita Krajnc started Toronto Pig Save. In 2015 she was taken to court for giving water to panting pigs through the bars of a slaughterhouse truck. The ‘Mischief’ charge was thrown out, the world’s press covered it, and animal activists were inspired to join her. Now there are more than 170 groups worldwide who ‘bear witness’ to farmed animals en route to slaughter, including one in the Waikato.

Many of these animals – pigs, chickens, cows, sheep and other farmed animals – still have hours to endure; others may have only minutes to live. They arrive thirsty, hungry (animals are often fasted before they are slaughtered) and stressed. Animals I have reached out and touched have been trembling. It is easy to believe that they sense what is in store for them.

On a recent Sunday, in wind and driving rain, fourteen people gathered outside a slaughterhouse in Hamilton. This plant, along with a sister processing centre nearby, exports to fast food restaurants and supermarkets in over forty countries.

Sunday is a busy day at the slaughterhouse. We saw a number of large cattle trucks entering and leaving the premises. During the time we were there the cows who peeked forlornly out at us could have been transformed from warm, breathing animal to slab of meat. The whole process can take as little as 90 minutes.

The frightened animals would have been unloaded, herded into a waiting pen, steered through a chute onto the kill floor, stunned by electric shock, hung upside down their tongues dangling from their mouths. Their throats would have been cut, head and feet removed, hide peeled off. Then the butchers would have further broken them down by precision knifework to fulfil their destiny as sirloin, tenderloin, chuck, brisket and other cuts of meat. Within 90 minutes these cuts would be in vacuum sealed bags, ready to go on another truck to take them to local supermarkets, or to the airport to head for overseas.

I would like to raise another issue here, that of CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses. Some political parties and even animal groups in New Zealand are currently campaigning for this. While this measure may ensure the adherence to accepted rules of slaughter, it doesn’t address the heart of the problem. CCTV ‘normalises’ animal slaughter when we know that it is completely unnecessary as we can live a healthy life on a plant-based diet. In giving the tick of approval to so-called humane slaughter it also condones the fact that the vast majority of farmed animals live in appalling conditions.

These poor beings are crammed in dark smelly sheds never feeling the warmth of sunlight on their back, thwarted at every turn from being able to live their natural lives. Meat chickens are overfed until their legs break or their hearts give out, their necks wrung or otherwise disposed of at just five weeks of age. Layer hens can lose all their feathers through the stress of living on an A4 sized area, and being pecked at by their equally desperate sisters. Pigs – animals that are thought to have the intelligence level of a three year old child – suffer extreme confinement and environmental deprivation and routinely chew the bars of their cages. Some scream their frustration; many others sink into catatonic despair. Dairy cows have their babies taken from them every year until they are spent at a fraction of their natural lifespan and are themselves sent to slaughter. Bobby calves are born to die at just four days old.

Most decent people love their pets, and hate the idea of hurting them. Farmed animals are equally as sentient as our pets, and some are arguably more intelligent. Why love one and eat the other?

It is easy to forget that slaughterhouses exist. They do not advertise their presence in our midst; they operate in the shadows. But ultimately they are there because of our demand for animal products. If we can be healthy, strong, and build muscle on a plant-based diet, without contributing to the suffering and death of animals, then why wouldn’t we?

Meat stops a beating heart. Alternatives exist. Slaughterhouses are no longer acceptable in a civilized society. It is time to close them down.

Sandra Kyle is a Waikato-based teacher, writer and broadcaster

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