The type of animal exploitation that directly harms the most animals is their use for food. Many people have never stopped to think about this and just take it for granted that using animals for food is fine, and that animals aren’t harmed much by it.
The reality, though, is that animals are harmed very much not only by being deprived of their lives, but also by other harms that come from the production of animal foods.
Although aquatic animals are often disregarded, more animals are harmed by fishing for food than by any other human use. These animals, billions each year, suffer terribly in different ways when they are fished and killed.
After fishing, fish farming has the next highest number of victims of human exploitation. In fish farms, animals endure terrible conditions before they are painfully killed. Their situation is not any better than that of animals in land factory farms.
The lives of chickens and hens are short and full of suffering. The vast majority raised for their flesh or eggs live crammed together in tiny spaces. They only see sunlight when they are taken to a slaughterhouse. During their lives, they live under artificial light, which results in more economically profitable exploitation, but alters the hens and chickens’ biological cycles. It generates tremendous stress, which leads to behaviors such as pulling one another’s feathers out and cannibalism. With the aim of minimizing the harm done by such behaviors, it is normal for the chickens’ beaks to be partially amputated, a painful operation usually carried out with a blade, or using other methods such as infrared beak trimming.
Many people think that, though killing animals to eat their flesh harms them, using them for milk production does not. This is not correct, though. Cows are forced to give birth so they will give milk, and their calves are taken from them and sent to slaughterhouses. Cows are also killed in their youth when their production decreases. Calves are often killed when they are just babies to be eaten as tender meat, or raised for a few months for “veal” or “beef” production.
In most farms pigs live in filthy conditions with very little space. Sows used for breeding are locked in crates in which they cannot move, and their children are mutilated in different ways and killed when they are only a few months old.
Sheeps and goats are also commonly bred and killed. They are used for several purposes, including for their wool and for the production of milk and meat. They are also killed when they are young, some when they are just babies.
Even among those concerned about the defense of animals, it is not uncommon to be unaware of the plight of animals in fish farms, despite the significant harms animals may suffer in these places. There are many diseases they can suffer, some of which are agonizing and lethal. Moreover, these diseases are often passed on to other animals living in the wild, harming them, too. Additionally, the antibiotics the animals are given can be harmful to them due to side effects, and can also negatively affect other animals in the wild.
The situation of nonhuman animals living on land farms makes them very susceptible to a number of diseases. In addition, the conditions under which they live help the spread of these diseases to the point they can become massive epidemics. Because the threshold host density for these diseases to thrive is vastly exceeded, the crowded living conditions facilitate the proliferation of such diseases in these animal populations.
One feature of animal exploitation that is symbolic of the slave status of animals is their branding. But the harm branding causes to animals is more than symbolic, since it causes them pain and sometimes leads to infection.
The harms animals suffer when they are sent to be killed starts before they reach the slaughterhouse, during their transport. They are confined in extremely uncomfortable spaces where they suffer due to weather conditions, tiredness, thirst and hunger, among other reasons.
Slaughterhouses are like torture chambers for animals. In them, animals may be stabbed or slashed with knives, boiled or skinned while fully conscious. They endure fear and terrible anxiety. All this is in addition to the obvious fact that they are deprived of their lives.
Huge numbers of bees suffer in a variety of ways from their exploitation by humans to make honey1 and other products. All the evidence available indicates that they, as many other invertebrates who have a centralized nervous systems, do have the capacity to feel suffering and pleasure.