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Veganism & Ethics: How Your Diet Affects the Lives of Animals

While there are well-documented health and environmental benefits to veganism, one of the most compelling arguments for removing all animal products from your diet is ultimately an ethical one. Animals are complex creatures, fully capable of experiencing love, pain and joy.

The meat industry would like us to ignore this fact, but when we look at the reality of life for animals, in particular farm-raised animals, it’s clear that adopting a vegan or whole-food plant-based diet (WFPB) is the most humane option available.

An ethical vegan is someone whose lifestyle and choices are shaped by their desire to avoid all cruelty and suffering to animals. In fact, ethical veganism goes far beyond a plant-based diet. The limits ethical vegans put on themselves don’t stop at their food choices but extend to all their consumption choices. For this article, however, we are going to focus on why a cruelty-free diet in particular is so important.

Factory, Organic & Free-Range Farming

Humans have farmed animals for thousands of years, but how we reproduce, feed, house and care for them has changed dramatically over the centuries. There’s a good chance you’re not aware of the horrible conditions that animals raised in a factory farm face, including everything from cramped conditions and unsanitary living quarters to lack of sunlight, persistent disease and lack of medical care. Not to mention the fact that these animals never get to breathe fresh air, flap their wings or exhibit their natural behaviours. In short, the way these animals are treated is both cruel and barbaric. So, what about free-range? Sadly, the reality isn’t much better from an animal’s standpoint. Don’t be misled by packages of meat, eggs and dairy with pictures of happy animals and reassuring labels proclaiming “organic” or “free-range” practices. Animals on these types of farms often spend just as much time confined to crowded and dirty sheds and receive equally inhumane treatment as their factory farm counterparts. While technically a free-range farm is required to provide animals with access to outdoor areas, most governments don’t specify how much time or space they should be given. Not to mention that animals on so-called organic and free-range farms often endure the same cruel treatment — debeaking, castration, branding and dehorning without painkillers — as animals on conventional factory farms. Other examples of animal cruelty include cows on organic/free-range dairy farms not being given antibiotics, even when very sick, because medicated animals lose their “organic” status. For cattle it's not much better, they have their horns and testicles cut off, and many are branded with searing-hot irons. Pigs receive similar treatment, having their tails cut off, their ears notched, and rings forced into their sensitive noses. And lastly, chickens are forced to have 2/3 of their sensitive beaks cut off, which causes them chronic pain for life. As you can see, while free-range and other supposedly “humane” types of farming are promoted as alternatives to factory farming, they are no better. At the end of their sad lives, all these animals are sent to the same slaughterhouses. Here, they are subjected to a cruel end: pigs are hung upside down and have their throats cut while still conscious; chickens are still able to feel pain when they’re submerged in scalding-hot water for defeathering, and many cows remain mentally awake as their bodies are hacked apart.

Egg & Dairy Farming

While taking a stand against the cruel meat industry is a good start; it’s not enough. If you genuinely want to be an ethical eater, it is necessary to investigate the harsh realities of dairy and egg farming too. Little, if any thought is given to the rights of a hen or cow to live a happy life. There is nothing natural or decent about modern-day dairy and egg farming practices. Here are some startling facts you might not know:

  • Hens in factory farms are forced to lay as many as 30 times more eggs than they would naturally.

  • 95% of all egg-laying hens live in cramped battery cages, each getting a space smaller than an iPad.

  • Hens are often cruelly de-beaked and frequently suffer from broken bones, haemorrhaging and dehydration.

  • Typically, the only daylight given to the hens is one small opening inside a shed of 20,000 hens. They are never let out for exercise or socialising.

  • A cow’s natural lifespan is about 20 years. But cows used by the dairy industry typically "wear out" after just five because of being constantly impregnated.

  • Most new-born calves are forcibly removed from their mothers within 12 hours of birth. This separation is extremely distressing to both the mother and her calf.

  • A male calf will spend the first 2-3 months of its life trapped alone in a small pen being fattened up ready for slaughter as veal.

  • Cows are forcibly impregnated — a highly invasive and stressful procedure — every year; they are kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth and lactation.

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