We call ourselves a nation of animal lovers, yet every year in the USA, around 9 billion and in the UK, around 1,000 million animals are bred and killed for food. Most of them will have been reared in factory farms and slaughtered at just a few months or weeks old.
Cruelty-free is the Holy Grail of personal care. Formulated for humans but whose efficacy is not tested on innocent animals, the growth in demand for cruelty-free products is a testament to the increase in ethical choices and the number of consciously shopping consumers. Earning an ethical stamp is a great way to build confidence and trust in a brand.
The conditions on factory farms are far removed from the happy farmyard scenes you see portrayed on egg boxes or in TV ads. Modern factory units exist to produce meat and dairy products as quickly and cheaply as possible, and the animals are given the bare minimum needed to survive. Crammed into stinking sheds, most will never roam freely, nor will they ever breathe fresh air or see natural daylight. Many will die before they even leave the farm, victims of the terrible conditions in which they live; and for the rest, a terrifying and bloody slaughterhouse death awaits.
But animal suffering is not limited to factory farming; animals in so-called ‘higher welfare’ farms suffer, too. The male chicks of egg-laying hens, for example, are killed at just a day old simply because they will never lay an egg and won’t gain weight fast enough for meat production. This happens regardless of whether a farm is intensive, free-range or organic. On dairy farms, calves are separated from their mothers shortly after birth so that milk meant for them can be bottled for human consumption. Again, this happens on all farms, regardless of the level of welfare.
Fish are dragged out of the water in huge nets the size of football pitches. Non-target animals including dolphins, whales and turtles are often caught up and die, too. Other fish, such as tuna, are speared on hooks on the end of long lines, and slowly dragged to their death. Some sea birds are in increasing danger of starvation as their food source – fish – dwindles. And the lives of farmed fish are just as dreadful; thousands of fish are forced to reside in factory-farm conditions, where disease and cruelty is rife.
Animals are treated by the farming and fishing industries as if they are unfeeling machines, alive only to generate maximum profit. But each fish, chicken, lamb, cow or pig is a sentient being capable of experiencing pain, fear, discomfort and distress.
Billions of intelligent animals, capable of feeling fear and pain, suffer in the dark without sympathy or compassion at a scale that is hard to imagine.
Do animals feel pain?
The desire to survive is a basic evolutionary precept not exclusive to humans. Pain is both a critical indicator of injury or illness as well as a strong motivator to avoid actions that lead to (or prolong) injury or illness. While there is no reason to assume non-human animals don’t feel pain, the scientific community has explored and debunked the myth many times over. Cows, chickens, and many crustaceans and fish feel pain.
Do animals fear their death?
Yes. Many of the animals we eat are highly intelligent creatures capable of feeling fear and empathy.
Numerous scientific studies demonstrate that the animals we eat fear for their own wellbeing. Animals including fish, rats, and mice defend and even mourn the loss of their family and friends.
Until recently, most people were unaware that pigs are as smart as dogs. Pigs use tools, understand symbolic language and mirrors, can be house trained, wag their tails when happy, control their environment, and are empathetic. Even less intelligent animals like chickens, rats and mice demonstrate empathy.
I like eating meat. Can I still help?
If you’re not ready to go vegan, you can still save animals without dramatically changing your diet. Here are a few completely effortless ways that you can make a big difference:
At the grocery store, purchase only the amount of meat that your family is certain to eat. American consumers throw away 21.7% of the meat they purchase–needlessly killing billions of animals.
Opt for products from animals that haven’t been tortured. When purchasing meat, egg, or dairy products, look for obvious animal welfare labeling on the packaging. And never eat veal or fois gras.
Eliminate one animal product from one meal each day (e.g. drop the sausage at breakfast, grilled chicken from your salad, or bacon from your club sandwich).
Offset your animal cruelty footprint by donating to a highly rated animal welfare charity. These organizations uncover animal abuse and advocate for the humane treatment of the animals you eat.
Explore animal-free dietary options. There are amazing new cruelty-free substitutes for everything from milk and ice cream to hamburgers and cold cuts coming to market every year.
Check out the charities noted above for more information and ideas on ways to help. Additionally, learn about becoming a reducetarian with a diet that includes fewer animal products.
Isn’t this just the natural order?
We often hear: “it’s the natural order of things” or “just what God intended.” The fact that something is natural does not automatically make it good. Disease and murder are natural. Treating animals humanely is no more an affront to nature than curing disease or criminalizing murder.
Nature can be cruel; industrializing that cruelty is wrong.
How many animals are killed for food in the US each year?
The United States Department of Agriculture reports that 9.59 billion land animals were slaughtered in 2018:
Cattle (incl. calves): 33,585,100
Sheep (incl. lambs): 2,264,900
Accounting for U.S. animal meat imports and exports2, 8.05 billion land animals were killed to support the U.S. food supply:
Cattle (incl. calves): 33,390,000
Sheep (incl. lambs): 6,207,000
Adjusting for pre-slaughter farmed animal mortality rates3, industrial farming claimed the lives of 8.38 billion land animals in 2018 to support the U.S. food supply:
Cattle (incl. calves): 35,810,000
Sheep (incl. lambs): 6,880,000
Aquatic animal deaths are challenging to calculate since these lives are measured in tons. A very thorough analysis completed by Counting Animals estimated that 3.8 billion finned fish and 43.1 billion shellfish were killed to support the U.S. food supply in 2013.
Taken together, more than 55 billion land and sea animals die annually to support the U.S. food supply. Adding in bycatch (sea creatures caught and discarded–injured or dead) and feed fish, the total number jumps substantially.
To put this in perspective, during World War II–the deadliest conflict in human history–more than 60 million people were killed over 6 years. The same number of animals die in support of the American food supply every ten hours.
How many animals die for food in the United States every second?
Land animals only (USDA 2018 slaugher + imports – exports + pre-slaughter deaths)4:
Every year: 8,380,450,000
Every day: 22,960,000
Every hour: 956,700
Every minute: 15,950
Every second: 266
Inclusive of land and aquatic animals:
Every year: 55,286,450,000
Every day: 151,470,000
Every hour: 6,311,000
Every minute: 105,190
Every second: 1,753