The Dangers of Welfarism
Thirty years ago, at the age of 13, I went vegetarian. It's frustrating to think that it took until just six years ago to finally go vegan.
When I started my life as an investigator, the organizations I worked with promoted welfarism - small, incremental improvements to the lives of farmed animals. Sadly, these "improvements" are often only on paper and not enforced. I learned this the hard way. I had been negotiating with Maple Leaf for months, urging the company to adopt a ban on the use of electric prods. When they finally agreed to it, I was thrilled, believing it would result in a marked reduction in abuse of the pigs. The company promoted its new welfare announcement, receiving positive media attention. However, when I returned to my covert inspection post I was horrified to see that the company was not enforcing its new regulation. Drivers simply hid their electric prods in hollowed out rattle paddles or zip-tied them to the inside of their trailers, using them while in the trailer, then quickly exchanging them for rattle paddles before exiting the vehicle. The pigs screamed just the same and the rates of metabolic downers and those suffering heart attacks because of the abuse were also the same. I felt sick. I had helped Maple Leaf polish up its image and very likely allowed guiltless consumerism of pork while changing absolutely nothing for the pigs themselves. I felt I had betrayed the animals.
Still though, I wasn't ready to cast off the cloak of welfarism. I flew to Europe to see how Canada "could do things better". I wanted to see clear improvements, but instead I saw a continuation of suffering - just different kinds of it.
I was allowed to inspect the largest chicken slaughterhouse in The Netherlands. The managers were open to sitting down and discussing what could be improved. Meeting with them was nothing like meetings with industry back in Canada - the Dutch were open and reasonable (probably because there they have unannounced government inspections with actual enforcement of the regulations). Still though, the system they had moved to (after government-commissioned research showed the ineffectiveness of the electrified stun bath) was a CO₂ system. All of these systems - whether they're called Controlled Atmosphere Stunning/Killing (CAS/ CAK) or Low Atmosphere Pressure Stunning (LAPS) act on the same principle - they starve the body of oxygen. Because our brains have evolved to recognize a lack of oxygen, we panic and thrash, gasping and straining to breathe. It's painful and terrifying. Additionally, in birds, the carbon dioxide converts to carbonic acid on their mucous membranes (the lining of their noses and throats) and burns them from the inside out. While the plant recognized this and agreed that a system using inert gases such as argon or nitrogen was superior (our brains haven't evolved to recognize it, so, by all accounts, we simply pass out without pain), they argued that it was too expensive to institute. As an aside, I was also allowed to inspect a pig slaughterhouse that had just converted to CO₂ as well. Just as with the birds, it was a horrific death. The pigs strained their necks up through the bars of the elevator car, gasping and panicking, squealing and screaming for 18 agonizing seconds. The birds flailed even longer. Yet, here in North America, a number of animal advocacy organizations are promoting the adoption of these systems.
It took longer than it should have but I finally came to recognize that cruelty is inherent in the animal agriculture industry. Whether animals are outwardly beaten or slowly beaten down by having child after child torn from them, all animal agriculture relies on complete control over animals - from birth to death. And all for products we don't need.
I regret my years as a welfarist and can only try to make up for them now by sharing what I know and being a strong advocate for animal rights. I hope you'll be able to take the short route to veganism. The animals simply can't wait for us to take the meandering path any longer.