This is probably the most important factor for many people in the Western world embarking on vegetarianism and veganism. A vegan diet is important to animal rights and to the stopping of animal abuse and suffering because the majority of animals killed by man are simply for consumption. In addition, vegans say no to hunting, animal testing and fur trading amongst other things. By taking any simple action like not eating meat, not buying leather or not buying animal tested products, vegans are trying to show that human beings do have a compassionate side.
The factory farm, as opposed to the family farm, is a large scale production factory run purely for profit, regardless of the suffering animals endure. In order to maximize profits, large numbers of animals are cramped into tiny spaces. Their freedom to move about and enjoy what life they have is gone. Such is the overcrowding that they exhibit stress-related behaviour like self-mutilation. Extreme breeding and feeding methods force animals to grow at a fast rate, placing strain on their systems. Many pigs are confined without natural bedding materials like straw. They are offered no stimulation and like humans, they dislike both boredom and monotony. In modern veal production, calves are removed from their mothers after a day or two and put into restricted conditions (veal crates or wooden stalls) where they cannot graze and are not allowed any physical contact with others. Since the tenderness of veal is produced by the lack of muscular development, the calves are deliberately deprived of any exercise like walking.
The slaughter of animals is certainly not always a quick process. Transporting animals to the slaughterhouse can often involve long journeys where animals are kept in hot, confined conditions with no water. Hens suffer broken wings, pigs may be crammed on top of each other and handlers often use electric cattle prods. Once in the slaughterhouse, many await a long and painful death.
Vegetarians who eat eggs or drink milk should spare a thought here. Dairy cows are made pregnant by artificial insemination every year, and, for most part of the year, are milked, even during pregnancy. To increase milk production, growth hormones are used. After giving birth, the mothers are separated from their calves so that more milk can be sold and so that males can be sold as veal. Cows are rendered useless once their milk output decreases. Sooner or later, they will end up in the slaughterhouse too.
The battery hen is another example of just how cruel man's exploitation of animals has become. These hens are caged for life, without being able to see the sunlight or experience such natural activities as scratching and perching. Studies show that, once released, many hens start to flap their wings and take quickly to dustbathing which helps maintain the quality of their feathers. Some hens lay about 300 eggs a year, causing osteoporosis and broken bones owing to depletion of calcium reserves. Many die from exhaustion. Whether hens are battery or free range, they are not allowed to live after egg production has stopped. And like cows, hens produce male offspring. So each hen represents a male chick which has had to be slaughtered, either by being gassed in bags or by being thrown alive into mincers to make animal feed.
This has surely been a controversial topic which needs no introduction and one which has caused heated debates. Many people have seen pictures of rabbits subjected to appalling experiments. The well-known Draize Eye Irritancy Test involves substances like oven cleaners being introduced into eyes to observe any signs of irritation. Fortunately, more and more companies are now doing away with animal testing due to public outcry. Cosmetics, shampoos and household cleaners are just some of the things tested on live animals. More frightening are the chemicals and diseases used for medical, agricultural and defence research. Testing products on animals never guarantees safety for humans because we are physically different. A classic example is the drug thalidomide which was proven safe by animal testing but caused severe deformities. Vivisection, the use of animals in school classrooms and laboratories, has wasted countless animal lives, not to mention money. Money is put into animal research in order to find cures for illnesses like cancer. Most cancers are preventable and many are caused by pollutants, diets, tobacco and lack of physical exercise. An alternative would be to use such funds to help prevention in the first place.
Zoos and circuses
Animals have long been used to entertain us but are the animals having fun themselves? Don't bet on it. Zoos, if they must exist, should provide their residents with a caring and loving environment which is close to their natural habitats. Unfortunately, there are not many of these around. The most barbaric institutions consist of, once again, filthy cramped cages. Animals may show stress and boredom induced behaviours. Many problems simply boil down to neglect. And where do many of these animals come from in the first place?
Other animals are forced to perform unnatural acts and tricks in the circus. They don't choose to. What goes on after the show may involve caging and beating. The best circuses around are those with human performers only and there are plenty, including the Cirque du Soleil.