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August 2006
Myth: Killing Can Be Kind

Guest Editorial
By Patty Mark

 

ALV President, Vice President and Secretary (Patty Mark, Noah Hannibal and Erik Gorton) chained in the same spot preventing cows from being killed. Photo by Sally Brien

Churchill Abattoir, April 28, 2006—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 Australian 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 slaughter.

The killing lines start at seven a.m. 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, and the shower room where the cows were hosed down prior to their death was only meters 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 seven centimeters 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 froze 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 was in New South Whales when a free-range pig was approaching the stunner. She was hysterical, frothing at the mouth. Her chest heaved and caved as she struggled valiantly and continuously to escape. I ached to yell out, “Stop, enough!” and 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, longer than normal, to both sides of her head.

Last year 55 billion animals were slaughtered for food and every year that death toll rises. 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 has 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!

The Bin Was Filled With Faces
It took me 25 years to chain myself to the abattoir killing floor and say no. 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 we passed a bin filled to the brim with the faces of cows killed the day before.

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 (Rodale).

Yes, Peter Singer is an articulate writer and known globally as the ‘father’ of the animal movement and without a 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 those wild-caught, or casually describe how to be a “conscientious carnivore.” Just make sure the animals you eat aren’t factory farmed but are instead humanely raised.

Singer’s recent media interviews seem to place abolitionists in the box marked ‘fanatic.’ I don’t believe people who oppose abattoirs and the institutionalized and systematic killing of others are fanatics. We are in the minority. 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.

Patty Mark, president of Australian animal advocacy organization Animal Liberation Victoria (www.alv.org.au), is the pioneer of the global open rescue movement. This commentary originally appeared in ALV’s newsletter and is reprinted with kind permission.


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