Twenty-five years ago I made my first abattoir inspection. I had read
a study on "dark-cutting" and porcine stress syndrome which
investigated the regular occurrences, measured scientifically, of how
stress (fear) affects the quality of meat at the slaughterhouse. The
Victorian Department of Agriculture arranged to take me to several
slaughterhouses and knackeries to show me first hand how "humane" and
regulated the killing was. I was hesitant to go, but determined to
prove the absolute fear and terror animals suffer prior to their
The killing lines start early, by 7am I was standing on the narrow
walkway above the stun pen. I was dressed in slaughterhouse gear:
white coat, rubber boots and white hat covering my hair, my clipboard
and pen in hand. The iron chains and heavy metal gates were loud and
slamming, steam was rising, the shower room where the cows were hosed
down prior to their death was only metres along the chute leading to
the stun pen. One by one the cows were jabbed with an electric prod to
keep them moving. Their eyes flashed and darted wildly about, their
nostrils flared wide open and some were frothing at the mouth. The
closer the cows got to the stun box the more frenzied they became,
contorting their bodies in all directions to try to go back - to
anywhere else. The more they resisted the more the painful jabs from
the electric prod forced them forward.
I braced myself to watch my first murder, I had taken the first
sedative in my life an hour earlier, it seemed to get me through. When
the cow is locked in the stun box she looks upwards and a captive bolt
pistol is aimed at her head. A steel shaft 7cms long penetrates her
skull and renders her unconscious. It can take several attempts to hit
the right spot. This happened and the cow desperately kept trying to
avoid the gun by banging and clanging her body into the sides of the
stun pen. Our eyes met just as the bolt entered her head. My life is
frozen in that moment and I promised her that for the rest of my life
I would do all I could to shut down abattoirs. The blood stained notes
from 1981 are still in my files.
Many more cows, sheep, pigs and horses were to follow in subsequent
inspections in various abattoirs. Pigs scream the loudest and fight
the hardest to escape the knife. The most prolonged suffering I've
ever had to witness at an abattoir was in NSW when a free-range pig
was approaching the stunner. She went hysterical and was frothing at
the mouth and her chest heaved and caved as she struggled valiantly
and continuously to escape. I ached to yell out, "STOP, ENOUGH!" and
to hold her in my arms, soothe her, give her a drink of cool water
then take her to a safe place. Smoke rose from her temples as the man
held the electric stunner firmly and longer than normal, to both sides
of her head.
55 Billion animals were slaughtered for food last year and the death
toll rises yearly and doesn't even include fish and other water
animals. The world human population is 6.5 Billion and growing. Humans
are ravenously addicted to eating other animals; we can't seem to
stuff their legs, wings, hips and heads into our mouths fast enough.
The level of terror and violence our meat habit created is
astronomical and unmatched by anything else on the planet. Turn the
tables just once, put humans in the killing line and see how fast
things would change!
It took me 25 years to chain myself to the abattoir killing floor and
say, "NO". Ten other people did the same at the Churchill Abattoir in
Queensland during the World Meat Congress on April 28 this year. We
stopped the slaughter for a few hours until the violence and anger of
the slaughterhouse owner and workers came down heavy on us, their
angle-grinder whizzing and whirring vicious sparks in our faces. The
owner sinisterly snarled "I'm really going to enjoy this" when he
began cutting. As we were escorted off the property I passed a bin
filled to the brim with the faces of cows killed the day before. We
were ridiculed and laughed at, called lettuce heads and myself a meat
pattie; even the Premier, Peter Beattie, said we got what we deserved.
A bigger assault hit when we returned to Melbourne. A strong spirit is
the most powerful tool an animal activist can have and integrity is
the rock on which the animal movement must stand. The spirit was
saddened and the rock was wobbling, however, when I read several book
reviews about Peter Singer's new book co-authored with Jim Mason, "The
Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter".
Yes, Peter Singer is an articulate writer and known globally as the
"father" of the animal movement and without doubt, this book will open
some eyes and close mouths to certain types of food. However, Singer
is letting many animals down and turning a blind eye to their brutal
slaughter, rubber-stamping their death by cautiously trying to keep
the status-quo happy.
It's much easier for Singer and more palatable for the public, that he
advise them on what "meat is the most humane to eat", whether one
should eat "farmed fish or wild ones", or casually describe how to be
a 'conscientious carnivore'. Just make sure the animals you eat aren't
factory farmed and are 'humanely' slaughtered.
Singer's recent media interviews seem to place abolitionists in a box
marked "fanatic". I don't believe people who oppose abattoirs and the
institutionalised and systematic killing of others are fanatics. We
are in the minority and we are taking on 'the world'. Sadly, it's
become clear that Singer is an "Uncle Peter" rather than father to the
animals. During his radio, TV, and print interviews promoting his new
book Singer failed to take the excellent opportunity to promote in any
way a vegan lifestyle as the true ethical choice for less suffering,
terror and destruction in the world. As Gary Francione, Professor of
Law at Rutgers clearly and simply states: "Veganism is the one truly
abolitionist goal that we can all achieve - and we can achieve it
immediately, starting with our next meal."
This is an alarm bell appealing to compassionate people and animal
activists everywhere to step back and look at the bigger picture. If
we substitute humans for animals in Singer's reasoning the inherent
speciesism of his viewpoint becomes clear. Would we argue that fewer
beatings and a longer chain would make slavery acceptable or ethical?
Not any more than we should contemplate 'kindly' cutting the throat of
an innocent animal to feed our face.
While Singer would argue that his moderate approach provides a
stepping-stone for the average consumer who is frightened by the word
vegan, it merely serves to perpetuate the false belief that animals
are our property to use as we like. It's our job to lead the way to
abolition. To work for anything less is to put your finger on the
trigger of the captive bolt pistol.