The Last Pig: exposing ‘humane’ farming’s betrayal of farm animals

For over a decade, Bob Comis operated a small-scale pig farm in upstate New York. Over time, his incongruous relationship with the pigs began to trouble him. He experienced delight and laughter in their company. Yet, each week he drove a small number of pigs to the slaughterhouse. Eventually, he turned his back on pig farming. This change of heart encouraged him to pursue vegetable farming and embrace veganism.

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Today, Comis’ farm is abundant with new life; vegetables sprout from the earth that once bore hoof prints.  The pigs are gone. A number of pigs were spared the fate that awaited their kin at the slaughterhouse. They are living out the rest of their days at animal sanctuaries.

Filmmaker Allison Argo was drawn to Bob’s story, and  – with cinematographer Joe Brunette –  is producing a film called, The Last Pig.

I interviewed Argo about the power of Bob’s story, her inspiration for making the film, and ‘humane’ farming’s betrayal of animals.

You can read my article here.

Argo and Brunette have launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of the film’s final scene and the editing process. You can contribute here.

Shining a light on Australia’s pig farming industry

Back in August, I interviewed Chris Delforce, the writer and producer of Lucent, a new Australian documentary.

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Lucent provides a comprehensive exposé of the largely hidden Australian pig farming industry.

Chris told me about the disturbing findings that undercover footage has revealed on Australian pig farms – the diseased and distressed sows; the dead and dying piglets; the painful procedures performed on piglets without anaesthesia; the beatings and abuse inflicted on pigs by workers; and the overcrowding and cannibalism.

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Lucent premiered in Sydney in October, and has screened in other states.  On Sunday 23 November, Lucent is screening in Brisbane at Event Cinemas, Brisbane City Myer Centre from 3.00 – 5.00 pm. To purchase tickets, click here.

To read my article Lucent: Exposing the Australian pig farming industry, click here.

For more information about Lucent, Australian pig farming and Aussie Farms, click here.

Image credit: Aussie Farms

Animal testing for cosmetics: Is the end in sight?

The European Union banned animal testing for cosmetics and the import of animal-tested cosmetics in 2013. An Australian Senator, Lee Rhiannon, seeks to introduce an identical ban in Australia.

The Australian cosmetics industry argues that a ban is unnecessary, as animal testing of cosmetics has not occurred in Australia in recent years.

My latest article for The Scavenger explores the issue of animal testing of cosmetics in Australia, and provides a global overview.

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‘Unimaginable pain and suffering is endured by half a million mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits for the global beauty industry each year. Their tiny bodies are poisoned and burned; they endure blindness and mutilation.

Rabbits are subjected to eye and skin irritation tests, in which chemicals are dripped into eyes and rubbed onto exposed and abraded skin.

Guinea pigs, a popular companion animal of young children, endure skin allergy testing.

Rodents are subjected to “acute oral toxicity” tests, where a substance is forced down his or her throat, and directly into their stomach, via a syringe.

“Lethal dose” tests are conducted by forcing the animal to swallow large amounts of a test chemical. As the name suggests, this test determines the dose that causes death.

Animals in laboratories are wholly at the mercy of the humans who use their bodies as testing implements. Rodents, rabbits and guinea pigs – small animals who are gentle and docile (the very characteristics that make them popular children’s companions) – are completely defenceless.

Once their ‘usefulness’ as laboratory tools has ceased, they are killed by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation (without anaesthesia).’

To continue reading, click here.

Ally

photo credit: iStock

Hatching Projects: Not all they’re cracked up to be

Hi friends 🙂

I am ending my extended blogging break by introducing an article that I wrote about classroom hatching projects for Discordia Zine.

 

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Chicks in the classroom: Not all it’s cracked up to be

The children squeal and jostle as they compete for a good viewing spot.

‘Ok, boys and girls, do you all remember what to do?’ The question is largely rhetorical. Of course they remember! They have practised many times, and all have eagerly awaited this moment.

‘Cluck, cluck…cluck, cluck’. The teacher joins the chorus of children’s voices. Their efforts are rewarded: An egg with a pronounced crack emits a faint chirp.

One by one, the inhabitants of the eggs emerge into an incubator; to a motherless existence. The chicks do not experience the welcoming chirps or body warmth of a doting and nurturing mother. Instead, a heat lamp set to 37 degrees Celsius provides their only warmth. They will never know the comfort of snuggling beneath a mother’s outstretched wing.

An unhatched egg lies still, and silent. Several of the children express their concerns for the unborn chick. The teacher knows that it should have hatched by now: the chick is dead.

What is a hatching project?

Hatching projects are promoted as ‘fun and easy do-it-yourself programs that enable children to see chicks actually hatching from their eggs’. School teachers are particularly encouraged to use hatching projects in their classrooms, and some companies also offer hatching projects to nursing homes.

 

To continue reading, click here.

 

Photo credit: ozecha

 

 

{A-Z:Veganism} K is for Kill Floor

The concrete floor is bitterly cold beneath her body.

She attempts to stand. But her weak legs cannot support her, and she collapses.

Milk gently flows from her engorged udder, and mixes with blood on the floor.

The blood of her kin.

The white and red swirls drip into a nearby drain.

Soon, her blood will join the stream.

***

K is for…

Kill floor.

Each year, billions of animals take their last breaths on the world’s kill floors.

It is difficult to imagine the slaughterhouse environment as anything other than brutal.

The confusion and terror of the animals.

The smell.

The noise.

While researching J is for Jacob – a piece about the experiences of Australian animals subjected to the live export trade- I viewed photos and videos taken on kill floors in Indonesia and Egypt.

Some of those images are seared in my memory.

Bulging eyes. 

Gaping wounds.

Blood. So much blood. 

I could never subject myself to witnessing these sights first-hand.

But some individuals do.

This post highlights the experiences of three people who spent time in slaughterhouses. All three produced books that provide a disturbing glimpse into the slaughterhouse environment.

Sue Coe, artist and author, spent many years visiting slaughterhouses across the United States. Armed with a sketchbook, she visually documented the struggles and deaths of countless animals – cows, horses, goats, pigs, sheep. The product of that documentation is a book titled ‘Dead Meat’.

Of witnessing the killing of goats in an Arizona slaughterhouse, she writes:

‘The door slowly closes. The older man grabs the front and back legs of a goat, swinging the goat to the ground. He pins the goat down by putting his boot on the other leg. The second goat watches and backs away…The younger man electrocutes the goat and cuts [the] throat. The second goat cries like a child, she shakes. They drag the first goat, still kicking and writhing, into a concrete pit’.

Understandably, Coe writes of her desire to save animals:

‘Sheep bleat even after their throats are cut. They writhe. Every part of my being says to stop it, save them, which is impossible…I feel sick and my legs are shaking – my hands too – I concentrate on acting ‘normal’. Various animals are killed. I look for a way out’.

There is no way out for the animals. They leave the facility as ‘boxes of meat parts’.

In his 1906 novel, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair writes about the experiences of immigrant workers in a Chicago slaughterhouse in the early 20th century.

Sinclair gathered information while working ‘incognito’ in Chicago meatpacking establishments. He intended his novel to expose the exploitation and appalling conditions endured by workers in slaughterhouses. Of ‘wool-pluckers’ he writes:

‘[their] hands went to pieces…for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off’.

However, many readers focused more readily on the issues of food contamination that the book highlighted.

The general public were alarmed by descriptions such as this:

‘There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for 2 years, but the supply was renewed every hour’. 

And this:

‘When, for instance, a man had fallen into one of the rendering tanks and had been made into pure leaf lard and peerless fertilizer, there was no use letting that fact out and making his family unhappy’. 

Of workers who had fallen into the tanks, he writes: ‘Sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!’. 

Sinclair conceded that the public cared little for the workers in slaughterhouses but they certainly ‘did not want to eat tubercular beef’. Or human-laced lard.

What about the non-human animals in slaughterhouses of the early 20th century?

Of the slaughter of pigs – referred to as ‘porkmaking by machinery’ – Sinclair writes:

‘There were high squeals and low squeals, grunts, and wails of agony: there would come a momentary lull, and then a fresh outburst, louder than ever, surging up to a deafening climax…One by one [the workers] hooked up the hogs, and one by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats…[The hogs] vanished with a splash into a vat of boiling water’.

Clearly, slaughterhouses of the early 1900’s were brutal environments for non-human and human animals.

More than one hundred years after the publication of Sinclair’s book, Timothy Pachirat, Assistant Professor of Politics, made the decision to work undercover in a Nebraska slaughterhouse. He writes about his time there in a (non-fiction) book that has been dubbed ‘The Jungle for the 21st century’.

Published in 2011,  Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Policitics of Sight, provides an account of industrialised killing from the viewpoint of a participant. 

Of his motivation to experience a slaughterhouse from the inside, Pachirat states:

‘I wanted to understand how massive processes of violence become normalized in modern society, and I wanted to do so from the perspective of those who work in the slaughterhouse’. 

How do the workers perform this ‘work’, day in and day out? How do they regard the fear and resistance of the animals that they are paid to slaughter? Are they callous and heartless people with little regard for animal suffering?

The pages of Pachirat’s book provide some insight into these questions.

The politics of sight

Patchirat discusses the fact that modern society censors, compartmentalises and conceals that which is unpalatable. The annual killing of billions of animals in slaughterhouses is hidden from the public gaze.

In Dead Meat, Coe states:

‘…When Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’, packinghouses were very proud of their slaughtering techniques and would offer guided tours for the public…By the end of the 20th century, that [was] no longer the case. The public is not welcome. Slaughterhouses, especially the larger ones, are guarded like military compounds’.

The branding of animal rights activists as ‘terrorists’, and attempts to introduce legislation that would ban the filming of undercover footage in slaughterhouses (and factory farms), demonstrates the lengths that industry will go to in order to conceal that which is ‘hidden in plain sight’ (to use a phrase coined by Pachirat).

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Photo by author

But the act of killing is concealed and compartmentalised within the slaughterhouse too.

Workers are separated into departments within the slaughterhouse environment. Consequently, Pachirat explains, it is conceivable for non-kill-floor workers to bypass entirely the witnessing of animals being killed in the slaughterhouse. Moreover, it is easy for most workers to avoid encountering a live animal at all – even in a slaughterhouse that kills hundreds of thousands of animals per year.

What about kill floor workers? Surely, they can’t avoid the reality of their role in the killing of sentient beings? 

Pachirat argues that the act of killing is hidden here too. In the very place that we would expect it to be most visible:

‘…the kill floor is divided spatially into a clean side and a dirty side. The dirty side refers to everything that happens while the cattle’s hides are still on them and the clean side to everything that happens after the hides have been removed. Workers from the clean side are segregated from workers on the dirty side, even during food and bathroom breaks’. 

This separation is required to avoid contamination of the finished product – the ‘meat’ – but it also serves to conceal the violence of killing.

Of the eight hundred workers on the Nebraska facility’s kill floor, only four workers are directly involved in the killing of the animals. Moreover, less than twenty workers have a direct ‘line of sight’ to the killing of the animals. Pachirat states, in a 2012 interview:

‘Of 121 distinct kill floor jobs…only the ‘knocker’ both sees the cattle while sentient and delivers the blow that is supposed to render them insensible. On an average day, this lone worker shoots 2,500 individual animals at a rate of one every twelve seconds’.

This undisputed fact – that only the ‘knocker’ administers the captive bolt gun – allows for the remaining workers to distance themselves from the act of killing. Pachirat states:

‘…the kill floor operates with 120+1 jobs. And as long as the 1 exists, as long as there is some plausible narrative that concentrates the heaviest weight of the dirtiest work on this 1, then the other 120 kill floor workers can say, and believe it, “I’m not going to take part in this.” ‘

Pachirat provides a powerful example of the way that euphemism is used in the slaughterhouse, to disguise the sentience of animals:

 ‘…the use of language is another way of concealing the violence of killing. From the moment cattle are unloaded from transport trucks into the slaughterhouse’s holding pens, managers and kill floor supervisors refer to them as ‘beef.’ Although they are living, breathing, sentient beings, they have already linguistically been reduced to inanimate flesh…’

Pachirat argues that the responsibility for the violence inflicted on animals in slaughterhouses does not rest solely on the shoulders of the ‘knocker’ or the other slaughterhouse workers.

It rests with all of us.

‘Our complicity lies not in a direct infliction of violence but rather in our tacit agreement to look away and not to ask some very, very simple questions: Where does this meat come from and how did it get here?’

***

The dairy cow’s body is still now – but still warm.

She did not consent to her death.

Nor did she consent to the theft of her newborn babies during her short life. At 7 years old, she was still many years from old age.

Soon, rough hands will work quickly to remove her head and hooves. A man with a power saw will remove her skin.

In life, she was prized only for her ability to produce milk.

She will leave the slaughterhouse in pieces.

***

Although not within the scope of this article, the correlation between increased crime rates and slaughterhouse work has been explored, and makes for interesting reading. Research suggests that crime rates are higher in towns and suburbs that contain a slaughterhouse.

Are violent people drawn to slaughterhouse work, or does the nature of the work encourage slaughterhouse workers to act violently outside their workplace? Or a combination of both?

To read more about these issues, refer to these articles:

Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates: An Empirical Analysis of the Spillover From ‘The Jungle’ Into the Surrounding Community (2009) Fitzgerald, AJ et al. Organization and Environment.

Animal abuse leads to human abuse (2012) Grezo, C New Internationalist

***

References for K is for Kill Floor:

Coe, S (1995) Dead Meat Four Walls Eight Windows, NY, USA.

Pachirat, T (2011) Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Policitics of Sight Kindle eBook, Yale University Press

Sinclair, U The Jungle Kindle eBook, Waxkeep Publishing

Solomon, A Working Undercover in a Slaughterhouse: An interview with Timothy Pachirat  March 2012

Note: The experiences of the dairy cow (in my intro and conclusion) were inspired by Coe’s drawing, Meat Fly (click here).

In my A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

Ally 

{A-Z:Veganism} J is for Jacob

J is for…

Jacob.

***

DATE: October 2012

LOCATION: Slaughterhouse, Ismailia, Egypt.

As Jacob’s body is forced into a slaughter box*, he panics.  The slaughter box is coated in the blood of his kin, whose necks were hacked while fully conscious.

The gentle Brahman steer from Western Australia manages to escape the slaughter box.  His left foreleg breaks. Hobbling on three legs, he flees to an outside pen.

Trapped in the pen, Jacob ducks and weaves to escape a slaughterman who descends on him, brandishing a knife. The slaughterman slashes at Jacob’s face and legs with the knife’s blade.

Jacob’s tail swishes, and his broken leg swings in seemingly impossible directions. There is no reprieve. The knife-wielding slaughterman slashes and stabs at Jacob’s body, relentlessly. He stabs the knife into Jacob’s eye, repeatedly.

Eventually, Jacob collapses to the ground. The slaughterman continues to slash at Jacob’s face and legs. He cuts Jacob’s tendons to immobilise him. Jacob attempts to stand.

Horrifically, the slaughterman begins to hack at Jacob’s neck. Blood pours from a gaping wound on Jacob’s neck. Yet, he tries to stand. Again… and again.

Jacob is on his knees in a pool of blood. His white body is stained with patches of blood. He can no longer stand. He continues to move his head, attempting to avoid the knife. He resists death with each breath, with each movement of his head.

It is a fight that he does not win.

**

LOCATION: Egypt

WHO: Dr. Mahmoud Abdelwahab, Veterinarian and Lyn White, Campaign Director, Animals Australia.

DATE: April 2013

Sitting in the shade of a large umbrella, Dr. Mahmoud Abdelwahab tells Lyn White about a white steer: Jacob.  Above the sounds of birdsong, a video camera captures his words:

…‘And the story of this steer started when they wanted to kill this steer in the box. And they can’t control this steer. So this steer ran out and jumped. So its leg was broken. So the company must bring this cattle. So they ordered the worker – whose name is Essam, he’s a butcher – to kill this animal by any way. Any way.

And they didn’t provide him with any means. Only his knife….So they order him to slash the tendon, to put the knife in his eyes, all this footage what you see….All this bad action, he [was] forced to do these actions’.

Dr. Abdelwahab, a veterinarian, blew the whistle on the brutal treatment of cows at the two Egyptian slaughterhouses approved to slaughter Australian cattle. This includes Ismailia, where Jacob was tortured and killed.

Dr. Abdelwahab leans forward in his seat, and declares:

‘….We haven’t any rules to control bad treatment. I want our government to…to take any step to stop that. But our government not do anything’.

Jacob’s treatment was not an isolated case.

Dr. Abdelwahab informs White that brutality and violence is endemic in the slaughterhouses. He declares that the only concern is for the meat inspection phase. There is no regard – from slaughterhouse management, butchers, or the Egyptian government – for the way in which the cows are killed. He states that there are no consequences for slaughterhouse workers if they engage in the ‘bad treatment’ of animals, such as cutting tendons.

White asks :

‘The veterinarians that are at the abattoirs, do they ever stop bad treatment’?

There is a brief pause before Dr. Abdelwahab answers her question. He is blunt in his response:

‘Lyn we don’t care about…’ A pause. He points to his chest:

‘Not me. I speak about all Egyptians. We don’t care about animal welfare. So, this action happened yesterday, and today, and will happen tomorrow, OK?’

He released the footage to Animals Australia in the hope that the organisation could enact positive change in his country. Dr. Abdelwahab tells White that the footage of Jacob was filmed by slaughterhouse workers as ‘a joke’. This was not a case of undercover activists filming gross acts of brutality. This is a film that was never intended for widespread viewing**.

***

DATE: 16 May 2013

LOCATION: Parliament House, Canberra, Australia (during Question Time).

Andrew Wilkie, the Federal Member for Denison, ‘has the floor’. He stands:

‘…..Prime Minister, if you won’t end the [live export] trade, will you give an unambiguous, personal guarantee that there’ll be no further animal welfare abuses like this…’

Mr. Wilkie reaches down and retrieves a large object. He unfurls it, and holds it in front of his body. He is silent.

It is a picture of Jacob. His blood-stained face is clearly visible. It looks as though he has been crying tears of blood. This image of Jacob was captured during the final moments of his life.

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Source: Animals Australia

There are jeers from other members of the Parliament. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, appears to look at the image briefly, then spins in her seat, putting her back to Mr. Wilkie who continues to hold the image aloft.

The Speaker of the House is heard ordering Mr. Wilkie to ‘remove the prop’. Eventually, he folds up the picture, and takes his seat.

The Prime Minister stands:

‘…I think all members of this House, members of the Australian community in general, are appalled by animal cruelty. I think we all share those sentiments, and to the extent that we ever see images of animal cruelty we are all revulsed by those images. I understand that, and the live export industry understands that as well…’

The Prime Minister asserts that the live export industry is important for employment, particularly in the north of Australia. She discusses recent government measures to improve regulation of the industry, specifically tracking and tracing of cattle. Clearly, her government is not prepared to ‘take on’ the live export industry. She concludes:

‘…The purpose of having tracking and tracing is so that you can find instances where people have done the wrong thing and you can act on those instances. That is the approach we are taking to the live animal export industry and the approach that we will continue to take’.

The Prime Minister returns to her seat, and in doing so she turns her back on Jacob and his kin.

Australia’s Live Export Trade

In 2012, Australia exported 617,301 ‘head’ of live cattle (cows) to overseas markets. The largest market for Australian cattle is Indonesia (278,581 head in 2012), followed by China (56,026 in 2012). Australia exports beef and dairy cattle, as well as goats and sheep. Other countries that receive live animals from Australia include: Malaysia, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Libya, the Philippines, Turkey, Israel, and Pakistan. And Egypt.

In the 6 months to January 2013, Australia exported 15,300 live cows to Egypt. This represents a 5% increase on the previous 6-monthly figures. The Egyptian trade is worth $25 million annually.

The live export industry claims that Australia is ‘the world leader in the export of live cattle, sheep and goats’. The industry states: ‘Of the 109 countries exporting livestock globally, Australia is the only country in the world that invests in animal welfare beyond its borders’. The industry boasts that Australia sets a global ‘benchmark’ for ‘animal welfare performance’.

By no stretch of the imagination can Jacob’s treatment be regarded as a ‘global benchmark’.

This is not the first time the live export trade has come under the spotlight for gross animal abuses in Egypt. In light of this, and Dr Abdelwahab’s comments about endemic ‘bad treatment’ and lack of regard for animal welfare, one is entitled to ask: Did the Australian live export industry know that Australian cattle were still being subjected to brutality in Egypt?

Interestingly, when the live export industry discovered that Animals Australia possessed footage of the slaughter of animals inside Egyptian slaughterhouses, they ordered an immediate suspension of trade to Egypt. This suspension is still in force.

Steps are being taken to re-open the trade at the conclusion of an investigation by Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

In 2011, it was revealed that Australian cattle were subject to acts of brutality in Indonesian slaughterhouses (Warning: very graphic images). The Australian government responded by suspending the live animal trade with Indonesia, despite an outcry from the industry.

Ultimately, the Indonesian trade resumed and the government implemented the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS). This is the ‘tracking and tracing’ system that the Prime Minister referred to in her response to Mr. Wilkie.

However, Australian cattle in Egypt are not subject to the ESCAS.

In Egypt, Australian cows are killed without prior stunning. Their throats are cut with a knife while they are restrained and fully conscious. Death is not instantaneous. That is the best case scenario.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and LiveCorp co-published a document in 2012, called: Standard Operating Procedures for the Welfare of Cattle in Overseas Markets. This document contains standard operating procedures (SOPs) pertaining to the ‘pre-slaughter and slaughter management of cattle in overseas markets’.

There are 6 SOPs – animal handling, land transport, feedlot operations, lairage, slaughter with stunning, and slaughter without stunning.

What is the standard operating procedure for slaughter without stunning? What does the SOP say about the manner in which Jacob should have been killed?

The SOP for slaughter- without stunning commences with a standard from the intergovernmental organisation, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). It states:

‘Restraining methods that immobilise by injury- such as breaking legs, cutting leg tendons, or severing the spinal cord –  cause severe pain and stress and must never be used’.

Jacob endured the pain of severed leg tendons, and Dr. Abdelwahab indicated that this type of ‘bad treatment’ was meted out in Egyptian slaughterhouses.  Clearly, Australian cows have been subjected to a practice that is in breach of this OIE standard.

Moreover, the SOP requires that animals be restrained when slaughtered. Once the animal is restrained (in a slaughter box, for example), workers are instructed to cut the animals throat using ‘a single, uninterrupted fast stroke of the knife‘. The SOP states that workers must refrain from using ‘the point of the [knife] blade to make the incision’. Rather, the incision must ‘sever both carotid arteries’.

Who is to blame for Jacob’s mistreatment?

In light of the Prime Minister’s comments about acting on instances where ‘people have done the wrong thing’, who is in the ‘wrong’ here?

Is it Essam, the butcher? Is it the slaughterhouse management? Is it the Egyptian government? The live export industry? Is it the Australian government?

The tip of the iceberg: Additional footage emerges from Egypt

Animals Australia has obtained additional, disturbing footage of Australian cows (warning: graphic images of animal suffering) in both of the slaughterhouses…..

A conscious steer with a severed throat attempts to stand. Cows are hoisted by their back legs before verification that they are dead. Bellowing, salivating, and struggling animals. A blood stained slaughter box. Disturbingly, a white steer stands. His throat is missing – in its place a gaping hole. He is conscious….

These images are very graphic and disturbing. The animals captured in this footage endured immense and inconceivable suffering.

It is difficult and confronting to bear witness to the suffering of Jacob and his kin. But, our distress in viewing these images pales in comparison to the suffering of the animals subjected to this brutality.

Some opponents of the live export trade argue that all animals destined for overseas markets should be slaughtered in Australian slaughterhouses, and their bodies (carcase) shipped in chilled vessels. It is argued that this would provide jobs in Australia and improve ‘animal welfare’. A ‘win-win’. Currently, Australia exports ‘red meat products’ to numerous overseas markets.

I am horrified by the treatment of animals subjected to the live export trade, but I do not regard the killing of animals in Australia as a happy solution. While watching the video of Jacob, it was palpably clear to me that he wanted to live. He fought with every ounce of his diminishing strength.

He fought from the outset- he refused to allow his body to be forced into the slaughter box.

Moreover, it is incorrect to assume that animals do not suffer in Australian slaughterhouses. It is convenient to believe that horrific abuse occurs only in overseas markets – but it is simply not true.

Footage from a turkey slaughterhouse in Sydney and images of the brutal treatment of newborn calves by slaughterhouse workers in Victoria demonstrate that torture and brutality is meted out in slaughterhouses on Australian soil.

At a bare minimum, animals in slaughterhouses experience the sights, sounds, and smells of their kin being slaughtered. Regardless of the manner in which they are killed -whether they have been stunned or tortured- animals do not willingly give their lives to humans.

As an ethical vegan, I want to see an end to live export. It is undeniable that this trade inflicts immense suffering on animals. As an ethical vegan, I want to see an end to the suffering that industries inflict on animals for profit.

An end to live export?

On Monday (27 May), Andrew Wilkie, MP, tabled a private member’s Bill in Federal Parliament. The proposed legislation, Live Animal Export (Restriction and Prohibition) Bill 2013, would see the end of Australia’s live animal export trade by July 2017.

Wilkie asserts that the trade, and the Australian government, are ‘out of last chances’.

***

Notes

*Slaughter box – a box designed to immobilise conscious animals while their throats are cut. Click here to see one. Warning: These are graphic images. The slaughter box looks like a torture device. The animals are clearly distressed.

** The video of Jacob’s torture begins with footage of Jacob in the outside pen. I wasn’t going to watch the video. But I did. I knew that I couldn’t write an accurate portrayal of his death if I didn’t watch the video. I told myself: ‘Jacob isn’t suffering now. Watching the video will not add to his suffering’.

The video does not show Jacob’s final moments. It ends while he is still alive. It is hard to watch, of course. I waited until I was alone. I did not want my children to view or hear the video, inadvertently. On my first attempt, I couldn’t make it through to the end. I paused the video. I closed it down. I cried. Then I steeled myself and went back.

I am not suggesting that you have to watch it. One thing is clear. No animal deserves to be treated in this way. It is wrong. You can see the video here. (There is a point where you are told to stop watching if you do not want to see the graphic images).

Ally

In my A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

{A-Z:Veganism} I is for Inspiration

I is for Inspiration.

Who (or what) do you credit with inspiring you to embrace veganism?

I credit Dr. Neal Barnard with inspiring me to consider (and, ultimately, embrace) veganism.  Or, more accurately, a magazine interview with Neal Barnard.

It was 1995. December. The festive season.

I was 18, a university student, and one of those ‘vegetarians’ who ate seafood.

I was heading to beautiful Byron Bay with my mum, sister, and our friend Jasmine, for a two-week holiday.

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I had brought along a copy of (the now defunct) New Vegetarian magazine, to read in the car as we headed up the coast. It was the spring/summer issue, with KD Lang on the cover.

The cover also featured a smaller, black-and-white photo – a bloke called Dr. Neal Barnard, standing in front of the Sydney Opera House. I had never heard of him.

Somewhere north of Coffs Harbour, I began reading a 4-page interview with Dr. Barnard. As I read the opening paragraph –

‘Dr Barnard grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, in the middle of cattle country….’

– I had no idea that my belief system was about to be radically challenged.

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The early part of the interview discussed Dr. Barnard’s experiences in medical school. It focused on his experiences with patients suffering from debilitating heart disease, and breast cancer. He mentioned his mother’s battle with a ‘dangerously high cholesterol level’, and how 6 weeks of following a vegan diet led to the level plummeting. She was a convert after that!

Some of this information was not new to me. I knew that I did not require red meat to be healthy, and I had ditched it a couple of years earlier, inspired by a book called Old McDonald’s Factory Farm (You can read about that ‘realisation’ here).

Then, I came to the topic that would change my world view.

‘As a committed vegan, Dr. Barnard is scathing about the western preoccupation with milk and dairy products…’

I didn’t know any vegans at that stage of my life.

I adored cheese. I knew that rennet was made from the stomach lining of baby cows, so I chose to purchase a ‘vegetarian’ brand of cheese that didn’t contain rennet.  I thought baby cows were adorable, and the thought of harming one was abhorrent. Even during my time as a meat eater, I chose to abstain from eating veal. I didn’t understand carnism back then!

Dr. Barnard seemed to be saying that dairy products weren’t healthy. Really?

The interview jumped back to Barnard’s childhood in North Dakota, where he ate ‘pork chops or roast beef just about every day’. The impact of his ‘scathing’ opinion may have been lost. But, fortunately, there was more compelling ‘anti-dairy’ information to come.

Just to drive home the point, and ensure that I never regarded dairy products in the same way again, the entire last page of the interview detailed some of the health concerns of dairy products. Dr. Barnard stated: ‘I have ten main reasons why dairy food is not good for health…’ Ten! Wow. This was news to me. I re-read and reflected, trying to absorb the details.

All these years later, I still remember the initial impact that the information had on me.

By the time we reached Byron Bay, I had begun to seriously consider ditching dairy from my diet. Discovering that dairy products were not healthy allowed me to remove my blinkers. I could no longer disregard the cruelty of the dairy industry. If dairy products were not necessary for bone health…. in fact if they were actually injurious to human health, I needed to stop consuming them.

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I had some familiarity with the workings of a dairy farm. As a child, I spent Christmas holidays at a dairy farm owned by my aunty and uncle (in fact, we also visited the farm during our Byron Bay holiday. That’s me cuddling my friend Charlie, the fox terrier, above).

On the farm, over the years, I learnt that the calves were removed from their mothers shortly after birth. I knew that a truck came to ‘collect’ some of the calves, and that the mothers bellowed for days. I knew that the incessant bellowing saddened my mum too. No one wanted to tell me or my sister that the calves were going to their deaths.

I had been led to believe – as all of us are – that dairy farming was necessary. I accepted that humans required cows milk for bone health. 

Now Dr. Barnard was telling me otherwise.

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The trip to Byron Bay marked a significant time in my life. I was a teenager, at the dawn of my adulthood. I had finished my first year at university. I got my first (and only) tattoo that holiday!

Most significantly, the journey that began a couple of years earlier with the discovery of a book about factory farming, was now gathering momentum.

The interview also mentioned Neal Barnard’s recently released book Food For Life: How the New Four Food Groups can Save Your Life. I purchased a copy upon my return to Sydney. I read it cover to cover, enthusiastically consuming and absorbing the words. I still own the book. It sits on the same bookshelf as Diet for a New America, another truly inspirational book.

By late March 1996, I was 19 and a vegan.

I wholly embraced that part of my heart that loved and respected animals. I faced up to the fact that ocean dwelling creatures were sentient beings. I acquired the knowledge to live a healthy life, without consuming dairy products and eggs. I began reading about animal rights.

I had embraced a vegan ethic, not just a vegan diet.

This ethic shapes and influences all facets of my life today.

So, thank you Dr. Neal Barnard, from the bottom of my heart. I owe you.

I also extend my gratitude to the interviewer, Robert Fraser, for bringing the words and wisdom of Neal Barnard to my attention.

Who has inspired you on your vegan journey? I’d love to hear your stories!

Ally

In my A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

{A-Z:Veganism} H is for Hatching Project

H is for…

Hatching project.

This is Sarge:

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Sarge the rooster.
Photo used with kind permission of B. Carmody.

Here is Sarge as a chick, with his sister and brothers:

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Chicks dust-bathing.
Photo by author.

I first encountered Sarge when he lived in an egg. His egg, his world, was part of a school hatching program.

The fragile inhabitants of those 12 eggs emerged into an incubator, to a motherless existence. They did not experience the welcoming chirps or body warmth of a nurturing mother. A heat lamp set to 37 degrees Celsius was their only warmth and comfort.

What is a hatching project?

Hatching projects are promoted as ‘fun and easy do-it-yourself programs that enable children to see chicks actually hatching from their eggs’. School teachers are encouraged to use hatching projects  in their classrooms.

One company, Living Eggs , asserts that their program provides children with ‘the opportunity to experience the miracle of life first hand…’. Hatching projects are promoted as ‘hands-on’ enhancements  for life cycle studies.

When participating in the Living Eggs hatching program, schools are provided with an incubator, eggs, a brooder box for the chicks, educational resources and chick feed.

The company aims for the chicks to hatch on a Wednesday (‘please inform us Wednesday afternoon if there are no signs of hatching‘), and instructs that all chicks should be moved to the brooder box by Friday afternoon. It is requested that a ‘responsible person’ take the chicks home over the weekend.

On Monday, the chicks are ‘ready’ to be handled by the students. On the twelfth day, at the completion of the program, the chicks are collected, along with the incubator and brooder box.

What do hatching projects teach children? 

According to the companies that provide this ‘experience’ for pre-schools and schools, children are learning about ‘the life cycle’.

A testimonial on the Living Eggs home page states:

 ‘A wonderful stimulus for work across the curriculum. It gave the children an amazing experience of a real life-cycle’.

Perhaps the chicks were a ‘wonderful stimulus’, however, I do not agree that there is anything ‘real’ about this set-up. A hatching project is not indicative of a ‘real’ life cycle. It is totally artificial!

Another testimonial exclaims:

Brilliant!  One of the most unique bonding experiences ever.’

Huh!? Who bonded? The kids? The kids and teacher? Or the kids and chicks? Perhaps the teacher and the chicks bonded?

It is disappointing that there is no concern for hen-chick bonding –  the bond between mother and baby.  I am curious to know what the children are told about the ‘absent’ mother.

In fact, one of the criticisms directed at hatching projects is that the chicks may ‘imprint’ (bond) with the children who are caring for them, only to experience separation anxiety when they are removed from the school a few days later.

Opponents of hatching projects assert that children are being taught to regard the fragile chicks as mere ‘teaching aides’, not sentient beings. This is further enforced when the chicks are collected at the end of the project. The chicks are disposable.

A classroom environment can not emulate the role of a mother hen, who rotates her eggs up to 30 times a day to ensure proper embryonic development.  A mother hen communicates with her offspring while they are still inside the eggs, welcoming them and guiding them as they emerge from their eggs.

This particular ‘educational experience’ patronises children. We only give them part of the story. Yes, the avian egg is fascinating. However, the ‘life cycle’ that is demonstrated to school students is a false one.  A mother, a hen, is essential for the life cycle. She is the layer of eggs, the one who gave them life.

Not just Chicks

I was dismayed to discover that one company,  Hatch n Grow , provides duckling eggs as part of its hatching program.

The Hatch n Grow website provides the following cautionary announcement:

‘PLEASE NOTE: Ducklings can drown if you don’t provide a step for them to get out of the water by themselves. It’s always best to supervise the ducklings in the water and if at any time they look tired or cold put them back near their heat light for a rest.’

It is very unlikely that a duckling would drown under the guidance and supervision of her mother, but in a busy classroom a tired or struggling duckling  may go unnoticed.

The web site also states that their program is:

Great for keeping the kids in the neighbourhood occupied at home during the school holidays.’

Is that the value we truly wish to place on living beings? When we use living beings as ‘occupiers’ of our children’s time, we treat them as a novelty. The ducklings are reduced to the status of a play thing, a toy.

Ducklings are very cute, undeniably so. I am sure that  my kids would love to hold one. But, this is where our influence and guidance as parents is so important. It is essential that we instill in our children a belief that ducklings (and other beings) are not play things, that they have inherent value as living beings.

At all stages, we must ask: Is this action beneficial to the duckling (or chick)? Is it kind, is it right? This process requires empathy.

We must also ask: What are my children learning from this experience? Are these the types of beliefs that I want them to develop about animals?

I do not want my children to regard animals as toys. This belief, therefore, influences the type of activities  that I would seek for my children to be involved in.  Hatching projects in the home are definitely out.

Sarge’s Story

I rescued four of the chicks from the school hatching project that Sarge was a part of, and took them home to my suburban backyard.

My sister and I named the chicks according to their unique features: Sarge appeared to be ‘the boss’, the benevolent leader. Tails grew her white tail feathers first. Lionel’s tail feathers appeared as distinct ‘lines’. Baby was the smallest.

They were tiny, precious and fragile- and we fell in love with them.

As they grew, two things became apparent-

1. Three were roosters, Tails was the only hen;

2. They were ‘broilers’ (meat chickens), not ‘egg laying’ chickens. The company had stated that the remaining chicks, Sarge’s siblings, were going to a ‘free range’ egg facility.  I had not believed this assertion at the time and, as our chicks ‘grew’ into broilers, we confirmed the claims to be false.

Broiler Chickens

As the chicks grew, deformities began to emerge. And grow they did. Rapidly. Broiler chickens have been bred to gain weight fast. They are commonly slaughtered at approximately 30-35 days old (but no later than 55-60 days old). They are just babies.

I felt so relieved that I had brought the chicks to my home. What fate had awaited them otherwise?

Before long, the chickens could barely carry their own weight. Any amount of exertion would render them exhausted. At times it seemed conceivable that their fragile legs may snap under the weight of their unnaturally large bodies. Eventually, Lionel could only walk short distances at a time.

At the time that we shared our lives with Sarge, Lionel, Tails and Baby I had not eaten chicken for 4 years. I had read about broiler chickens and their crippling deformities. I had seen photos of them.

Now, I was sharing my life and home with broiler chickens. I observed their dust bathing and their exploration of the backyard. My heart ached as I watched them struggle to walk.

I wanted everyone to meet them. To know them. To know what these beings endure in order for humans to eat roast chicken and chicken nuggets. They were just babies. Do people realise that they are eating babies?

There was a happier ending for Sarge, Tails, Lionel and Baby.

A New Home

Once Sarge, Lionel and Baby began crowing each morning, it became apparent  that it was time to find them a more suitable, more rural home.

That is when Bede Carmody came in to our lives. Bede was living on a property that was home to ex-battery hens. He agreed to provide a home for our 4 friends. For this act of kindness and compassion, I will be grateful to Bede, forever.

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Tails, resting at her new home.
Photo used with kind permission of B. Carmody.

Bede updated us on the lives of our broiler friends with photos and letters, and it became apparent to me that he had welcomed them into his heart.

Sadly, all of  these precious chickens died before their first birthday. 

Unlike millions of their kin, however, they died FREE. They were not slaves, they were not subjected to the stress of transportation or the horrors of a slaughterhouse – and they knew kindness. In a chicken production facility, they would have been slaughtered before they reached 2 months old.

A Poultry Place

Bede Carmody now runs a no-kill sanctuary called A Poultry Place in Southern New South Wales. A Poultry Place (APP) is home to rescued and unwanted hens, roosters, ducks, turkeys and geese. No doubt, some of the roosters in residence are former hatching project chicks. APP celebrated its 12th birthday this week.

I have not seen Bede for many years, but I look forward to the day that I can hug him and thank him again for his kindness.

I eagerly anticipate  the day that Mat and I visit  A Poultry Place with our children.

For this is the appropriate place to gain a ‘hands on’ educational experience about chickens and ducks (and others).  I want my children to learn about the lives of the precious beings who reside there, to understand that the residents have been blessed with a  second chance. I want them to hear about the personalities, habits and ‘quirks’ of Bede’s feathered friends.

My kids can also gain some ‘education’ by helping Bede with some of the never-ending jobs that stack up at an animal sanctuary! I’m thinking cleaning, shoveling, feeding…..that is very ‘hands on’!

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Sarge and his pals at dinner time.
Photo used with kind permission of B. Carmody.

Have you visited an animal sanctuary? Please let me know in the comments. 

An alternative to chicken hatching programs, a lesson plan called Beak, Wings and Feet is available here.

More information about A Poultry Place is available here.

You may also want to check out my post E is for Eggs

References:

Edgar’s Mission

World of Animal Welfare (WOAW) 

In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

Ally

{A-Z:Veganism} G is for Gelatine

G is for…

Gelatine.

During my primary school years, it was not uncommon for all students to be restricted to the classrooms during recess and lunch breaks.

We would eat the contents of our lunch boxes at our desks, chatting, and gazing longingly at empty playgrounds through closed windows.

It wasn’t whole school detention or inclement weather that kept us indoors- it was a foul stench.

My suburban Sydney school was situated directly across the road from an enterprise called Davis Gelatine.

The manufacture of gelatine (gelatin) and tallow occurred a few yards away from the grounds of my primary school, for the entire seven years of my primary education.

Maybe it is no surprise that I am vegan! Perhaps the roots of my veganism were established during those years.

I remember that the smell was repulsive. It filled the air. My sister recently recalled that it ‘smelt like hell’.

I recall being told that gelatine was made from horses hooves. My juvenile brain conjured up images of amputated hooves boiling in large pots, cauldron style. It really did smell that bad.

To my mind, the factory was a dark and sinister place.

I also remember the frustration of our school principal whenever the air quality was compromised. In my senior years, the principal was also my class teacher. I recall occasions that she retreated to her office to telephone the company, her simmering anger palpable.

Surely the factory would have controlled the odour if it was at all possible?

Or, perhaps the company had little regard for the complaints of a local school principal.

I am grateful that I didn’t live in the vicinity of the factory. Many of my school friends did.

The smell hindered our freedom to enjoy the outdoors. It robbed us of fresh air. The smell was repulsive, but was it also toxic to young lungs?

Gelatine manufacturers are frequently located near slaughterhouses. This is where the raw materials of the gelatine production process are sourced.

Davis Gelatine was built in 1917, at a time when a slaughterhouse was located in a neighbouring suburb. By the time I attended primary school, the slaughterhouse was long gone.

A year after I graduated from primary school, the factory relocated to a rural area in Queensland- presumably near a slaughterhouse. It is my understanding that the factory was ‘forced out’. Times had changed. This type of enterprise was no longer welcome in a residential area.

My sister was fortunate to spend her last couple of years at school free of the foul stench and indoor restrictions. The neighbours must have been ecstatic. The frustrated principal had retired by this time, so -like me – she never experienced the improved air quality.

What is gelatine (gelatin)?

Gelatine is derived from collagen.

Collagen, definition:

The fibrous protein constituent of bone, cartilage, tendon, and other connective tissue.

Collagen is present in the bodies of humans and non-human animals – including birds, reptiles, fish and mammals.

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In gelatine manufacture, the raw materials are commonly pig skin, cattle skin and bones.

According to the Gelatine Manufacturers of Europe, approximately 80% of the edible gelatine manufactured in Europe is produced using the skin of pigs. The remainder is derived from fish, the skin of cattle, and bones.

How is gelatine manufactured?

The pre-treatment process (conditioning) of gelatine manufacture differs for pig skin, and cattle skin and bones. All raw materials are cut, washed and de-greased. An acid process is used for pig skin, while an acid and alkaline process is used for cattle skin and bones.

The rest of the manufacturing process is the same for all raw materials, and involves extraction, filtration, concentration, drying, grinding, milling, testing, packaging.

What is gelatine used for?

Gelatine is used as a stabiliser, thickener, gelling agent or texturiser in foods.

Sweets, baked goods and desserts may contain gelatine as an ingredient. It gives lollies like ‘snakes’ and ‘jelly babies’ their form, their chewy consistency.

Isinglass, derived from the swim bladders of fish, is one of the oldest forms of gelatine. It is used in the fining process of some alcoholic beverages.

Gelatine is used in the pharmaceutical industry for items like capsules and tablets. It is also used as a replacement for blood plasma in blood plasma ‘expanders’.

Gelatine is used in the photographic industry, in the production of photographic materials. Specifically, ink-jet printer paper is coated with gelatine. It is also used in the production of X-ray films.

Gelatine may also be present in the following diverse items:

nail polish remover

fondant icing

implantable medical devices

match heads

sandpaper

A ‘non-gelling variant’ of gelatine is known as hydrolyzed collagen, and may be present in cosmetics.

Alternatives to gelatine in food products

Some sweets that have traditionally contained gelatine, like marshmallows and jelly babies, are now available gelatine-free.

We buy a packet of gelatine-free jelly crystals each year to make our Christmas trifle. For people who enjoy making their own jelly (jello), there is a product called agar agar, derived from seaweed.

For information about using alternatives to gelatine in food preparation, see Gelatin Alternatives.

***

My children know that most lollies contain gelatine. From a very young age, they have known that their parents like to inspect any ‘party’ bags that they receive at birthday parties. Oh how my children love party bags!

My children have attended many birthday parties where they have been provided with vegan lollies in their party bags (that usually cost four times as much as non-vegan lollies). I truly appreciate the efforts of parents who cater so thoroughly- and generously – to our family’s veganism.

Incidentally, I love party bags that don’t contain sugar laden treats, or any food at all. This type are loved by vegan parents and/or health-conscious parents alike. Perhaps not as loved by children though!

Our local ‘health food’ store stocks a decent array of vegan lollies.

But, they haven’t become a feature on my shopping list. Some things are best avoided- whether they contain gelatine or not.

For a list of vegan lollies available in Australia, and to view photos of the ‘raw materials’ (body parts) of gelatine manufacture, see ‘They put WHAT in my lollies!?’ Now I know why Davis Gelatine smelt so repulsive!

***

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Gelatine production, like leather production, is a by-product of the meat industry. Pigs and cows are not specifically killed for the manufacture of gelatine. However, the fact that the by-products of the industry (skin, hides, bones) are sold on, ensures that the entire industry is more viable (and profitable).

My experience with the gelatine factory as a child demonstrates that the production and manufacture of animal products impacts negatively on the environment, affecting people’s enjoyment of outdoor spaces.

Naturally, I haven’t suffered any lasting affects from spending many a lunch break indoors.

However, my experience is a reminder that humans and our environment are paying a high price for the meat industry.

Of course, non-human animals pay the ultimate price.

References:

Gelatine Manufacturers of Europe

Gelatin Manufacturers Association Asia-Pacific

In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

Ally

{A-Z:Veganism} F is for Fishing

F is for …

Fishing

‘Recreational’ fishing is a form of hunting that occurs in Australia’s oceans and waterways. It would not be overstating the matter to declare that fishing is one of Australia’s national past times.

Fishing is commonly referred to as a ‘sport’ and a ‘recreational activity’, and is regarded as a suitable activity for children to engage in.

Lake

The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ website contains a section on fishing for children, called ‘fish ‘n’ kids’.

Children can explore the following contradictory topics: ‘Learn to Fish’, ‘Help Save Fish’, ‘Pet Fish’ and ‘Fish Recipes’

Presumably the ‘fish recipes’ section does not have any overlap with the ‘pet fish’ section. Moreover, I have a novel idea to help ‘save’ fish……Don’t ‘learn’ to fish!

In the learning to fish section, children are advised:

‘like any sport it’s wise to be careful when you’re fishing so you don’t hurt yourself and others.’

Unfortunately, the term ‘others’ does not refer to the targets of this ‘sport’. In fact, the term ‘sport’ is entirely misleading.

SPORT, definition  –

an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

This definition brings to mind a football (soccer) match or a swimming event. A ‘real sport’ – an activity where the participants consent to their involvement and the competitors are evenly matched.

Clearly, fish do not consent to being pursued by humans brandishing fishing rods. The ‘competition’ is not evenly matched. It is ludicrous to label fishing as ‘sport’. Fishing involves the pursuit and killing of a live animal – this is hunting, clearly.

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Elsewhere on the NSW Department of Primary Industries website I located a section called ‘Welfare of Fish’. This section contains one clause, called:  Humane Harvesting of Fish and Crustaceans.

In relation to fin-fish, the clause states:

It is important to be able to apply humane dispatching methods to any fish that are to be harvested. Percussive stunning is considered a good approach provided it is done swiftly and delivered to the correct area.’

Percussive stunning is described in the following manner:

‘Fish should be hit with a sharp blow to the head in the area just above the eyes (the area adjacent to the brain) using a special tool such as a heavy wooden handle …When applied correctly, the fish’s gill covers should stop rhythmically moving and the eye should remain still.  Fish should only be bled after the fish has been dispatched’.

Dispatched? Euphemisms are used to disguise the reality: dispatched in place of killed, percussive stunning in place of bludgeoning.

Furthermore, the term ‘humane dispatching’ is an oxymoron.

In ‘Help Save Fish’, children are given strategies to protect fish and their habitats. One tip encourages children to refrain from washing food scraps down the sink as this can ‘pollute waterways and harm fish’. This implies that children are only expected to display care and concern for fish and fish habitats when they are not holding a rod.

Once children are engaged in the ‘recreational pursuit’ or ‘sport’ of fishing it is acceptable to harm fish by hooking them through the lip, removing them from their aquatic home, bludgeoning them and then watching them bleed out (or perhaps they witness an adult perform this gruesome procedure).

Why are these fish not worthy of protection?

Companies that market children’s fishing adventures commonly refer to the ‘back to nature’ aspects of fishing. For example, one company states on its website:

‘Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Australia and it is a great way to get children away from the computer or TV and experience the outdoors, to bond with you as a parent and learn a thing or two about the environment at the same time’!

Another company asserts:

‘[We] are supportive of the worldwide movement to reconnect children with nature’.

A fishing company director laments the fact that (according to her) none of the children in her ‘vacation care group’ had ‘hung out in the great outdoors, let alone climbed a tree or built a cubby house’. She was bewildered that – in a group of 16 children (aged 10-12 years) – only one had ever been fishing before.  

Her company also offers an intensive 5-day workshop, with subjects titled: ‘What’s my Line’; ‘We are Champions’ and ‘Fish are Friends’.

What?! Fish are friends.

Apparently, this topic focuses on ‘environment and fish habitats’. It’s the same message espoused by NSW DPI – only some fish are worthy of our respect and compassion.

I wonder how the staff would answer a child who questioned why some fish are regarded as friends and others are regarded as ‘prey’.

The director’s concern for children’s disengagement with nature is admirable. However, I cannot support her proposed method for helping to alleviate the disconnection. To my mind, the killing of ocean dwelling beings is an act that further disconnects children from the natural world.

The wonder that is evoked by the lulling water, the gentle breeze, or the leafy, peaceful surroundings should extend to the life forms swimming beneath the water.  To appreciate and bask in the beauty of nature that exists above the waterline, and then kill that which dwells beneath is to disconnect oneself from the natural world.

Australian culture teaches children that the killing of a sentient being is a valid recreational pursuit, a worthy way to spend time outdoors, and a fitting way to engage with nature.

Alas, fish are not regarded as impressive in their living state, as members of a diverse, aquatic dwelling species.

During my research for this blog post, I viewed dozens of images of young children and teenagers holding corpses of fish. Most children were smiling broadly, clutching their ‘prize’. I saw tiny fish and enormous fish, all with blank eyes. It really is quite grotesque….and sad.

Most people would be (justifiably) horrified if they saw children clutching the corpses of rabbits or cats, while grinning broadly. Why is our reaction different for fish? Is it because they are so dissimilar to us?

A carnist value system deems it acceptable to pursue, maim and kill fish. Carnism also explains why an individual eats some types of fish, while regarding other fish as ‘pets’ and inedible (eg. goldfish).

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I do not support the maiming and killing of sentient beings in the name of recreation or ‘engagement with nature’. As parents, we can encourage our children to ‘get outside’ and connect with nature, without engaging in an activity that destroys (and devalues) the lives of aquatic dwelling beings. I choose to educate my children that all fish are important and worthy of our respect; that aquatic dwellers are part of a complex web of life.

I choose to enjoy the spectacle of a radiant sunrise without a fishing rod in my hand.

How do you assist your children to engage with nature?

Ally

In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

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