Killing Can Be Kind
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
This commentary originally appeared in ALV’s newsletter and is reprinted
with kind permission.
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