Dying An Inhumane Death: How Slaughterhouses In New Zealand Get Away With Murder
A recent article in Stuff claimed that “meatworks are ‘gory and messy and nasty’, but the slaughtering’s humane”. While the article acknowledges the stressful process of transportation of animals, it makes the assertion that the actual killing itself is humane. It claims that the stunning process that immediately precedes the actual slaughter is instantaneous and renders the animal insensible while s/he is killed.
This may well be true, if the stunning process is always effective. And yet, I remain unconvinced that we can narrow the slaughter down to that one instant. I think it is important that we don’t separate the transportation and holding of animals in slaughterhouse pens from the actual slaughter.
The Codes of Welfare governing animal slaughter and transport in New Zealand are woefully inadequate to prevent suffering on a mass scale.
Animals being sent to slaughter often travel long distances. It is a very uncomfortable journey. It is filthy, hot and noisy with exhaust fumes and slippery floors covered in urine and excrement. Not exactly the Orient Express.
New Zealand has a Code of Welfare for Transport within New Zealand. I think that most people accept this Code as evidence that animals have their welfare needs met during transport. Yet even when adhering to this Code of Welfare animals suffer horrendously.
The Code of Welfare for Transport sets a minimum standard for the time between which animals must go without water. For ruminants such as cows this is 24 hours. If the ruminants are pregnant or lactating, then it is 12 hours. This is timed from the period within which water is first removed to within 2 hours of arrival at the slaughterhouse. Mature animals also do not need to be unloaded for rest for 24 hours.
The implications of the above minimum standard are enormous in terms of animal suffering. Adult animals can legally be on a truck for 24 hours, and during this time may not be offered water or rest. They also can legally go without food for 36 hours.
In short, it is legal to transport mature animals for 24 hours without rest, water, or food in a hot and smelly truck. For young 4- 10-day old calves they can legally go 12 hours on a truck and 24 hours without milk. 'Milk lambs' (those still being fed by mother) can legally go 28 hours without a feed before being slaughtered.
This is the high animal welfare standards New Zealand boasts of.
Once at their destination they are loaded into pens where they wait for their turn.
This video shows animals waiting their turn at a slaughterhouse in Whanganui taken by animal rights activist Sandra Kyle on February 22, 2021
The weather was in the 20 degree plus range and there is absolutely no shelter from the sun and the bovines are packed in tightly.
Yet the Commercial Slaughter Code of Welfare states that:
"The lairage must provide adequate shelter from adverse weather conditions and ventilation to protect the welfare of the animals being held for slaughter."
It seems that there is room for rather minimal interpretation of the Code.
Here is another quote from the Commercial Slaughter Code of Welfare:
"When animals give birth in the holding pens, the welfare of both dam and offspring must be protected."
Exactly how they are protected is not stated.
It is disturbing that any animal would begin their life on a concrete slaughterhouse floor. The newborn calf will be separated from the mother and dispatched of (killed). The mother will then go on herself and be slaughtered.
The regulations during the slaughter of pregnant cows is for the calf to remain in utero “for at least 15-20 minutes after the maternal neck cut or thoracic stick." If the calf shows any sign of life after being removed from the womb it must be immediately stunned and killed.
This presents unique ethical issues. Does the unborn calf feel pain? The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reports that calves in utero are insentient and unconscious due to neuro – inhibitors in the brain. However, the ability of calves to feel pain in utero, especially in the third trimester, cannot be ruled out entirely.
Cows may also be lactating when sent to slaughter. The regulation for lactating cows in New Zealand are as follows:
"Lactating dairy cattle with distended udders must be slaughtered within 24 hours of arrival unless milked."
It is, in my opinion, unethical that lactating cows stand for any length of time in a holding pen dripping milk from their distended and painful udders.
We need to face this horror. Stare it in the eyes and understand what we are doing is not humane and does not come under the umbrella of 'welfare'. We cannot narrow the slaughter process down to the one instant in which the animal is killed. This is just one small part of a long journey to death for farmed animals.
You have a choice. Choose compassion over suffering and eat a plant-based diet. Don't be a part of this horror story.
Dr Lynley Tulloch
Animal rights activist and writer, PhD in sustainability education and ecocentric philosophy