Does Humane Slaughter Exist?
The term ‘Humane Slaughter’ sounds like an oxymoron in itself. Is it really possible to slaughter
an animal with respect and to maintain a standard that warrants the term ‘humane’?
Every year in the UK approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80
million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for the food industry. The emergence of the term
“Humane Slaughter” suggests a growing concern and awareness of animal suffering. The
concept of Humane Slaughter itself relies on the assumption that animals have no interest or investment
in staying alive in the same way we as humans do. In other words, they are considered to not be
intelligent enough to value their own lives. This, therefore, condenses the moral obligation to animals as
being as simple as minimising the amount of pain that they feel when they are slaughtered. The rise in
lifestyle choices to avoid eating meat and even animal products altogether indicates a building
awareness of how our food choices directly connect to animal suffering. The debate of whether we are
entitled to eat animals, and for some even their produce, is very much ongoing. After all, animals eat
other animals, but does that mean we should, and if so, what is our obligation in terms of quality of life to
the animals we choose to eat?
What exactly is Humane Slaughter?
The RSPCA defines the human killing of animals as “when an animal is either killed instantly or rendered
insensible until death ensues, without pain, suffering or distress”. The criteria for this definition includes:
– Death of an animal without pain, suffering or distress
• Instant unconsciousness followed by rapid death without regaining consciousness
• Reliability for both single or large numbers of animals
• Simplicity and minimal maintenance
• Minimal detrimental impact on operators or observers.
These criteria are considered the standard for Humane Slaughter. The argument can be made however
that breeding an animal with the sole purpose of raising them to market weight for slaughter and human
consumption doesn’t sound humane in itself. I guess the assumption in play is that it is our right to eat
animals, and animal products, and the rules and regulations for how to exercise that right are what’s
Is It Humane For Workers?
The meat industry covers more than just animals when it comes to casualties, in 2015 a report by Oxfam
America stated that the poultry industry in particular, “churns out a lot of chicken, but it also churns
through a lot of human beings.” They also reported that from every dollar spent on a Mcdonald’s
Chicken McNugget, less than 2 cents goes towards the processing labor. In other words, only 2 percent
go to the people doing the arguably most difficult and dangerous job within the whole process.
Condition is generally considered worse in poultry slaughterhouses, where they have the least union
representation. According to United Food and Commercial Workers, unionised workforces make around
15 percent more than non-unionised workers and workforces. So the costs of working in a
slaughterhouse aren’t offset by the low rate of pay and, worse than that, workers put their own physical
wellbeing on the line. With the speed of production lines going twice as fast as they were forty years ago,
this high stress and speed inevitably lead to serious injuries. It seems that the focus lies on the product
being made at any cost, anything else is a secondary priority – even the humans charged with delivering
the so-called ‘humane’ slaughter.
Do Slaughter Houses De-Humanise Humans?
The consistent and systematic killing of animals, even if termed “humane”, has sparked numerous
studies into the effect it has psychologically on workers in terms of their attitude to violence. Author
Timothy Pachirat from Yale University has published a compelling and in-depth analysis of the
psychological affects in his book, ‘Every Twelves Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of
Sight’. The everyday de-humanising of animals, in terms of their right to life, is arguably tainting the
generic value for life in society. The meat industry does promote, both directly and indirectly,
permission or justification for violence against animals. Of course, the aim of ‘Humane Slaughter’ is to
reduce the violence and cruelty associated with killing animals for food. But does taking the sport out of
it, and reducing the impact on the animal’s life, buy you permission to take its life? Furthermore, does
this open up a positive psychological link between us and permissible violence, we may be feeding
people through the humane slaughter of animals but, what else is being given in the process?
How Do Slaughter Houses Impact the Environment?
The livestock farming industry has a huge environmental impact. It contributes to water degradation,
biodiversity loss, acid rain, and many more forms of negative contributions to our climate. It supposedly
contributes around eighteen percent of all human-produced/ initiated greenhouse emissions worldwide.
This is more than all that’s created by ships, cars, airplanes, boats, and any other form of transport.
Reducing this impact on the climate is essential in order to meet global greenhouse gas emission
reduction targets, which are in place to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Meat production is
considered to be extremely inefficient – in particular red meat. It can generally take 25 kilos of grain or
feed, to produce 1 kilo of beef, in addition to the 15,000 liters of water required to do so. Meats like pork
and chicken take less, but are still by no means is it an efficient industry, even when reduced to simple
The economic environment is affected also. Feeding grain to livestock in such fast quantities worldwide
drives up the price of grain. This makes it even harder for the poorer nations and communities to by grain
for their own human consumption – and it isn’t like they can afford the meat it produces either. You could
argue all this grain and water used to produce (in comparison) small amounts of meat for the global
market, could instead be used to feed people directly and irrigate crops. It is estimated that if all the grain
used to feed livestock were made available to people, we could potentially feed an extra 3.5 billion
people. So, should we just eat the food the animals eat and cut out the middle-man? So to speak.
The Hidden Agenda of Humane Slaughter
It is important when considering the motif behind ‘Humane Slaughter’ to remember that, like any
business, it is a profit focussed industry. The aim of humane slaughter is perhaps more so geared
towards streamlining the process of killing animals for profit. As we have learned already in this article, it
isn’t the most efficient business to run. It can be strongly argued that the fact that the animal suffers less
is only relevant as it also affects the overall profits made by slaughterhouses. The fact that it also
reduces suffering, is perhaps a by-product of what is simply a logically implemented manufacturing
process. The fact that the interest in treating the animals humanely extends as far as them reaching
market weight, beyond which they stop being an investment, reveals a lot as to their primary purpose in
the eyes of the average meat farmer and manufacturer. As long as there is money to be made in the
production of meat, there will inevitably be the practice of slaughtering animals. There certainly is a rise
in vegan and vegetarian lifestyle choices, as well as products and places to eat that enable and
celebrate that way of living. Perhaps one day the meat alternative market will be the bigger power, and
we will start to see a change and a decrease in the level of demand for meat and animal produce. By the
sounds of it, it could positively impact our planet and it’s inhabitants to do so.