Most of us would agree that it’s wrong to harm animals and we all say that they should be treated ‘humanely’. However most of us would struggle to define what ‘humanely’ actually means in real terms, because it is a word that means different things to different people. It sits alongside a raft of other feel-good words that we are actively encouraged to think of as related; words like ‘free range’, ‘organic’, ‘pasture raised’, ‘corn fed’; words that suggest that the package contents had a wonderful life before winding up in shrink wrap in a supermarket mortuary aisle.
Just to be clear here, marketing is a science and it’s enormously lucrative. Those who market substances derived from the lives and the bodies of members of other animal species, take full advantage of consumers’ almost complete lack of knowledge on the subject and go to great lengths to suggest that the products they sell were produced in a way that does not conflict with our shared values of caring about animals. As part of this, they often employ feel-good labels alongside reassuring endorsements by various industry partnering organisations that mendaciously claim to represent ‘animal interests’.
Taking advantage of what we don’t know
Knowing that most consumers don’t know – and in many cases would prefer not to know – any of the details or the true definitions, the words are often illustrated (not always subtly) to suggest that they represent a good thing; cue suggestive images of jolly cartoon hens on green grass in sunshine, smiling cartoon cows with jaunty cartoon udders, even (disturbingly) cute and smiling pigs cheerfully slicing their own bodies.
To a greater or lesser degree, the general theme is to seek to make the dismembered parts and secretions as sanitised as possible, bearing no possible reminder of the true owner. It would never do to remind the consumer of the defenceless, distraught individual whose unique and precious body they comprised not so very long before. It would never do to open a window into the injustice of their lifelong and relentless use as a commercial asset, where every minute aspect of the existence they endure is governed by humans to maximise their own commercial advantage and fulfil the peaks and troughs of consumer-demand-led misery.
If we look into the industry definitions of ‘humane’ or ‘free-range’ or any other of the words we look for on labels, we will find that they are technical terms, used as a result of compliance with a list of fairly loose conditions. Despite our assumption that they have something to do with victim well being, these are words long since co-opted by the harm industries, words used by the industry for a very specific reason.
Keep on telling us we’re ethical
Despite recent and transparently untrue attempts to suggest that only ‘happy’ victims yield eggs, breast milk and body parts, that reason has nothing to do with respect for our victims, nothing to do with recognition of their individuality, and nothing to do with acknowledgement of their right to live unharmed. Why would it? For the industries that sell body parts and secretions by the kilo, litre or carton, victims are not regarded as sentient individuals; they are resources, business assets used for profit and nothing more. The reason that the feel-good words are promoted is that it’s good business.
Every time we see any of the feel-good words on a package using or containing breast milk, eggs or body parts, or indeed on any animal-derived substance, it is a clear admission that suppliers know that their consumers like to be told they’re being conscientious. As someone who was not always vegan, I know only too well that not only do consumers like to be reassured this way, but we readily abdicate to the supplier most of the responsibility for ensuring that their products will allow us to continue to feel good about ourselves while pretending we’re causing as little harm as possible.
Our actions, our responsibility
But we can’t have it all ways. Either we recognise that our victims matter, that they have feelings, that they can be harmed and hurt. Or we don’t. The fact that so many of us act as I once did, looking for the feel-good words in the misplaced hope that my choices minimised harm, is a clear recognition that for most of us, we know that they matter.
The mere fact that the industry could even consider promoting the nonsensical suggestion that our victims must be ‘happy’ to give up the substances derived from their broken and tormented bodies is an admission that the consumers are not alone in recognising that our victims matter.
However, as always, we should remind ourselves to follow the money and not let the mob or the marketers dictate our actions by falsely seeking to absolve us of responsibility for them.
There is only one way to cause as little harm to others as possible. And that way is to become vegan. In fact causing as little harm as possible is the definition of veganism. Find out about it today. Be vegan.