Animal Welfare

The food industry’s impact on animal welfare is evident from the sheer numbers of animals slaughtered. The scale at which killing of animals for food takes place across the globe is staggering. More than 80 billion land animals are killed for food every year, whilst the number of fish and shellfish killed annually runs into the trillions. 80 billion corresponds to about ten times the current human population on Earth: for every single person alive, ten land animals and hundreds of fish and shellfish are killed every year. The biggest contribution to the land animals figure comes from chickens, with more than 20 million being killed every day, which equates to more than 2,000 chickens being killed for food every second.

This industrialized killing is just the tip of the iceberg of suffering that is imposed on animals by the food industry. Most of the killed animals will have been subjected to continuous and intense cruelty during their short, prematurely curtailed lives. About three quarters of them will have been factory farmed, with this proportion rising to as much 99% in the US. These factory-farmed animals are forced to exist in ultra-cramped conditions, deprived of sunlight, fresh air, and grass. Cows are worked relentlessly, being forcibly impregnated on a continuous basis whilst at the same time producing 25 litres or more of milk every day. The calves they give birth to will be taken away from them within 48 hours. Many of the male offspring will be killed shortly after birth.

As for chickens in egg farms, most of the males will be killed, usually by gassing, when just 1 day old. The surviving females will be forced into horrifically packed cages and sheds, where disease is rife, and will often suffer gruesome mutilations such as de-beaking. Factory-farmed pigs are also victims of extreme cruelty. They will have their tails removed, the ends of their teeth and parts of their ears will be cut off, and males will be castrated, with all of these procedures being carried out without painkillers. The pigs will then live out their short lives in desperately over-crowded and squalid pens.

When farmed animals are slaughtered, they will in almost all cases have lived only a small fraction of their natural lifespans. For example, pigs are typically killed at the age of 5-6 months, whereas their natural lifespan is 10-12 years. Lambs, who would otherwise have lived for 12-14 years, have their lives ended at 4-12 months. Dairy cows, who would have lived for up to 20 years, are typically killed at the age of 4 years; beef cattle, who have a similar natural lifespan, will be killed at 18 months. Chickens have a natural lifespan of up to 8 years, but egg-laying hens will be slaughtered at about 18 months, and chickens raised for meat at just 5-7 weeks. Turkeys, who would otherwise have lived for up to 15 years, are typically slaughtered before they reach 4 months.

The worldwide normalisation of this horrific treatment and routine mass-slaughter of our fellow creatures is all the more shocking given the growing evidence for the high levels of sentience and cognitive abilities that animals possess. It is now generally accepted by scientists that all vertebrate animals, including fish and birds, are sentient, and capable of experiencing pleasure and happiness as well as pain and suffering. Chickens form friendships, recognize each other, and display empathy. Cows enjoy cognitive challenges, and become excited when they work out a solution to a problem.

Pigs are particularly intelligent animals, and research has shown that their cognitive skills match those of three-year-old children. They express a range of emotions, both positive and negative, through the sounds they make. Sheep also have significant mental abilities, and can experience multiple emotions. Fish display social intelligence, and are able to co-operate with each other to obtain food. It has also been established that some non-vertebrate animals, including squid and lobsters, are sentient and can experience a range of emotions including pain and fear.

The most effective thing that anyone can do to help reduce the cruelty and exploitation that farmed animals are subjected to, and to show respect and compassion for all sentient creatures, is to follow a plant-based rather than a meat-based diet.

For more information, see:

For data on the numbers of animals killed for food, see:

For data on the ages at which farm animals are slaughtered, compared to their natural lifespans, see:

For research and evidence on animal sentience, see:

The changing concept of animal sentience by Ian J.H. Duncan, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 100, 11 (2006)

Animal Sentience: Where are We and Where are We Heading? by Helen Proctor, Animals 2(4), 628 (2012)

Animal sentience: history, science, and politics by A. Rowan et al., Animal Sentience 31 (1), 401 (2022)

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