Heading in the direction of being vegan

‘…or if we can’t be vegan we can at least head in that direction.’ I’ve seen so many variations on that theme as a comeback to the call to be vegan that appears in almost every piece I write. Today I saw it again. I’ve given the words a lot of thought and I have to conclude that when ‘heading in the direction of veganism’ is thought to be a possibility, it is a clear illustration that the speaker hasn’t really grasped what veganism is.

Please note that as always, this statement does not refer to new vegans who are currently transitioning, incorporating the ethic into their life. This transition period is generally very short (for many it can’t happen quickly enough), but can vary depending on circumstances.

Pragmatism or betrayal – it’s a matter of perspective

At this point I can almost hear the rasp of keyboards being dragged into position by the ‘every little helps’ and ‘can’t all be perfect’ brigade (some vegan, some not), ready with their ‘world won’t go vegan overnight’, and ‘we have to be realistic’ preludes to a blistering criticism of such ‘purist attitudes’. Yes, I’ve been around on social media a good while and I’ve seen and heard most of the put-downs. The phrases lack originality, probably because they have become overused stock items, plucked whole and unconsidered from the shelf of platitudes that we have all, at one time, been guilty of using without due examination.

Just to be clear, although born vegan as I think we all are, I was not raised vegan and am ashamed to say I spent most of my life that way. I woke up with a jolt in 2012.

That year, and for as many of my (then) 56 years as I could recall, I thought of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, ethically aware, honest and honourable. I wasn’t perfect (who is?) but I thought that I was trying. I often said that I thought of myself as an animal lover. I abhorred what I considered to be cruelty to any animals, and as well as sharing petitions and ranting about ‘cruelty‘ and the need for ‘compassion’ to any that would listen, I donated to a number of organisations that claimed to look out for the interests of animals. In return, they sent me images in the post, many of which were so vile that I have been unable to forget them. I once even received a manicure kit (?) in a leather wallet if I  recall, inscribed with the logo of some ‘Humane Society’ or other. I detected no irony in this.

Of course, as an animal lover and a hater of ‘cruelty’ I shopped for the very best, most ‘humane’ labels (as endorsed by the XYPCA of course), spending as much as I could afford on the animal products that I had grown up to believe were essential for the health of my family.

The curse of compromise

So, without a trace of conscience (why would I have, what with the humane labels and donations and the back-patting of the ‘animal welfare‘ organisations whose staff were paying their mortgages with my cash?), I snoozed on in my ethical bubble. I didn’t eat ‘meat’ or at least, not often (doesn’t everyone say that?), but cheese… oh, how I loved the taste of cheese. And eggs. And I delighted in wearing wool. Angora – bliss! I loved leather; boots, shoes, jackets, bags, chairs. Touching it and breathing in the scent was so pleasurable. Now, as my gorge rises at the memory and I fight not to gag with disgust it is hard to believe the person I was, but that’s how I can write about this. I’m not pointing a superior finger and finding fault. I’m writing from bitter and heartbreaking experience. But moving on.

I made it clear to my conscientious consumer contemporaries that I was very much one of them. Saving the forest, planting trees, worrying about litter, sending (most of – well it’s not always convenient, is it?) my glass bottles for recycling, visiting second-hand shops for clothes and furniture.  I was ‘mostly’ vegetarian, except for the odd occasion (to be sociable, you understand – I mean, when someone goes to the bother of cooking something for you…). And prawns. Oh – and apart from the leather. And the sweets loaded with gelatin. And silk scarves (well so what? They were presents!). Oh yes, what a trooper I was!

Where was I heading?

So, since I was so ethical and conscientious, would you say I was ‘heading in the direction’ of being vegan? After all, many of the things that I was doing were the very things we see so many ‘pragmatic’, ‘realistic’ people suggesting that we could all do to ‘cut down on animal cruelty’ and ‘reduce suffering‘ because we ‘can’t be perfect’.

I’m sure some would say I was definitely ‘heading in the direction’ of veganism. But they’d be talking absolute rubbish. I was not moving at all, not heading in any direction, wallowing smug and satisfied in the absolution that I bought every so often with donations. I was not vegan. I remained completely committed to using other individuals for my own most trivial interests without even questioning why. I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing as veganism; except of course what I’d heard about the stereotypical, undernourished, sandal-wearing hippy, choking down worthy muesli only one step removed from sawdust, while taking a break from hugging trees.

The loop of mistaken need and entitlement

And this brings me to the whole point of this and it’s a point I’ve made before. When we are not vegan, we are hurting, harming and killing innocent and defenceless individuals who value their lives and don’t want to die. There are no exceptions.

*** – whether we have one victim or billions is irrelevant. By not being vegan we are harming and killing others because we think it’s somehow acceptable to do so; maybe because we think we have to; maybe because we feel entitled, maybe because we consider our own interests are more important than those of our victims.  However we square our actions with our conscience – if we even have a conscience about them – we are killing other individuals when we have no need or right to do so. We can do it to fewer individuals, we can do it to fewer species; we can obsess about the environments or practices that facilitate our consumer choices; we can make judgements and protest about the degrees of brutality and violence that are completely inevitable elements of our demands, make different menu choices one or two days a week, but – Return to *** and keep reading the loop. It’s the way it is.

Breaking out of the loop

I say that I woke up in 2012. It was in 2012 that I stumbled across information that led me to understand what veganism is, and I broke out of the loop and became vegan. I was not heading that way. How could I be? I was stuck in the loop of self-congratulatory ‘conscientious’ consumerism. I was a killer. When I was a killer, I couldn’t gradually head in the direction of not being a killer, because it’s a binary thing. One is a killer or one is not a killer. And each of us is a killer until the final time that we take a life. It’s really that simple and it’s not on a sliding scale. And we can only make the switch from killer to non killer, non vegan to vegan, once we actually know what veganism is.

Once we know, we each have a personal choice to make, and no other can make that choice for us. We can choose to be vegan. Or we can choose not to bother. It is a personal thing, a decision driven by the values that we hold and the way in which we wish these to define us.

As a vegan advocate, all I can ever do is explain how veganism is the only way that allows us to live in a way that reflects the values that most of us like to claim are important. The issue that we must address is not how we treat our unnecessary victims but rather the fact that we have victims when it is unnecessary. Once we, as individuals, deal with that as consumers at the checkouts, everything; health, environment and everything else will flow directly from our changed behaviour.

Before we have even heard about veganism, we cannot be ‘heading in its direction’ because it’s binary and we are stuck in a loop. Once someone knows what veganism is, really knows that it is a rejection of harm to other individuals who value their lives and want to live, it is at best disingenuous to excuse continued harm and killing by claiming to be ‘heading in the direction’ of being vegan. I’ve heard it said that once you know what it is, the only honest reason not to be vegan is ‘because you don’t give a shit’.  There’s a lot of truth in that.

Be vegan.




*In case any readers wonder if it’s safe to click on any of the links in my essays, please note that I do not use images depicting violence and gore.


Posted in Awakening to veganism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Not ‘chicken’. Chickens. Individuals.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The word ‘chicken’ has come to represent a cooking ingredient. Despite – or perhaps because of – a world where information has never been easier to discover, those with vested interest in making money from using animals, and the powerful advertising propaganda they wield to ensure their continued profitability, have become more ruthless than ever before. No one is ever encouraged to understand the consequences of their demands as consumers, particularly when these consequences run counter to every single value that the majority of people believe that they hold. In adverts and programmes on every available form of media, in stores, and in restaurants, a steady stream of soothing reassurance veils the grotesque trade in suffering and death with a carefully constructed facade of acceptability. ‘Everyone does it. Everything is fine. Don’t worry. We’ll keep selling if you keep buying.’

Chicken. That cookery ingredient in the mortuary aisle; bags of wings, bags of legs, bags of breasts, halves and quarters, fillets and drumsticks, livers and hearts; emblazoned with reassuring labels that use words like ‘happy’ and humane’ and ‘freedom’, labels boasting about ‘welfare’, about ‘quality’ and ‘freshness’.

It’s so clinical, isn’t it?  With our use of others so normalised by incessant reinforcement, so complacently unchallenged and accepted by the majority of consumers, it is as if the misery, the gore and the screaming had never even existed. Most seem oblivious. The majority of those who use the word ‘chicken’ are thinking of recipes, of sauces and accompaniments.

Chickens. Individual chickens.

The very first time we decide to look at the facts behind the ingredient, requires a conscious effort of will; a determination to reject conditioning that we have possibly not been aware of up to that point, the courage to face the truth.

So let’s make that effort of will to really see the body parts in the supermarket mortuary aisle as it is or was; not ‘chicken’ the ingredient, but chickens as individuals. Let’s look back a few days in time to see them alive; warm, sparsely feathered, blue-eyed, quietly cheeping babies, each one motherless, hatched in a temperature-controlled drawer in a hatchery, transported to endure their entire existence in a sunless ammonia reek with thousands of other motherless infants.

Let’s see them in our mind’s eye as they were; panting open-beaked with distress, being packed into crates and stacked high on road transports, fleets of them, shuttling in and out of our slaughterhouses, day after day, hour after hour. There is a miasma of dread hanging over a slaughterhouse as the transports park precisely in the diesel-fumed yard, alongside waiting and empty refrigerated vehicles.

Not just looking; actually seeing

Let’s focus in on these stacked crates, on these small individuals; these tiny, trembling creatures, sick with unimaginable terror, helpless babies huddling together for comfort. When we allow ourselves to truly see, we can feel the pounding panic of their infant hearts; we can sense their utter desperation; the crushing futility of their feeble, fluttering struggles against implacable hands as the bowels of hell yawn to receive them.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

To the accompaniment of whirring machinery, hurrying hands abruptly whisk each small individual from the meagre comfort of quaking bodies pressed together, trying to hide.  Suspended side by side with their friends, hanging splay-legged from shackles for easier disembowelling, powerless to escape the gut-churning journey into contraptions from the darkest reaches of the depravity we humans inflict on our sentient kin.

Baby chickens. At the hands of our species they each know pain and fear in a way we humans hope never to experience. How could the mechanised slaughter of innocent creatures be any other way?  Finally every trace of their minds, their memories, the very essence of each unique personality is gone, erased with their heartbeats and their gasping breaths; sliding sluggishly down gore filled drains. Only echoes and the stench of fear and entrails remain, as the shrink-wrapped packages emerge.

Making our blood run cold

And so they now lie, pale and motionless in the supermarket mortuary chill, contorted, headless, footless, dismembered.  Each small corpse a tragedy, an individual tale of a life that was never lived. 42 days from egg to slaughter is not a life. Yet despite that, it was all these babies had.  They had absolutely nothing else to call their own.

It is of no relevance whatsoever what the labels say. They say exactly what they need to say to make the uninformed part with their cash. It is only when we look behind these labels to the truth, we see that they mask unspeakable violence, fear, and agony. And these are the completely inevitable consequence of choices that require others to pay with their lives for our convenience. The only way we can stop being the consumer whose demands are insisting on the nightmare, is to be vegan.

Be vegan.

Posted in 'Happy' exploitation, Advocacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking about things other people do

When confronted with information about what is done to members of other species at the hands of our own species, have you ever caught yourself saying, ‘at least things like that don’t happen here’?  I know that in the past I certainly have.  With several years behind me of trying to keep an open mind with Google at my fingertips, I can clearly see now that the sentence was uttered from a place of hope and habit, rather than knowledge of any facts whatsoever.

On reflection, I think it’s possibly a shared cultural reflex; we all recite things without real insight; repeat ‘information’ that we believe to be true without ever taking the time to confirm it. When these ‘facts’ relate to members of species other than our own, it is comfortable for us to cling to them. I know this from past experience as well as more conversations that I can count with others whose experiences are similar to my own.

The habit of our unconfirmed ‘knowledge’ allows us to maintain a state of complacency. It serves to reinforce our personal and internal narrative that casts each of us as an ethical and concerned individual who would protect the defenceless and champion the innocent; it normalises the unspeakable frenzy of violence that underpins our everyday life to the extent that it rocks our world to its very foundations on the day we finally open our minds to the truth.

False knowledge

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Taking refuge in the myth that ‘it doesn’t happen here’ frequently occurs when we hear about a practice or action and decide that we consider it to be cruel. We go on to rationalise that ‘there are laws against cruelty‘ here so that practice or action won’t happen here. This train of thought – one that I remember all too well – leads to a reassurance that we can go on doing what we do, without need for concern because clearly it’s ‘other people’ and ‘other countries’ that are causing the problem. This is true wherever our particular ‘here’ is; whoever fits our particular definition of ‘other’ people; whichever countries we consider to be ‘other’.

The thoughts in this blog stemmed from seeing yet another comment on a post about animal use that demanded to know where this particular incident took place, who could be complained to, insisted that a petition was necessary etc. In this particular case, the post was a purely factual one about what is referred to as ‘the dairy industry’. The comment was a typical manifestation of the idea that in the normal run of things, everything is absolutely fine except for a few exceptional instances or circumstances.  The writer was clinging to the ‘knowledge’ – that we have all no doubt shared at one time – that once these isolated instances are dealt with and those responsible are reprimanded, no underlying problem exists.

Myths and why they remain

The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The first thing any of us must realise is that animal use is big business.  It’s impossible to express how deeply rooted it is in every part of our culture. From foodstuffs to clothing, furnishings to toiletries, drugs to entertainment, the innocent victims of our callous and brutal use are all but invisible to the majority of us as we go about our lives; anaesthetised to the completely inevitable consequences of our choices as consumers by a potent mix of habit, imaginary entitlement and false necessity.

From the moment we open our eyes each day, we are wearing and walking in flayed skins and shaved fibres; we wash our clothes and bodies in substances tested on and containing ingredients from defenceless creatures who never knew a moment of peace; we place bets on and are entertained by the helpless capitulation of innocent creatures to our brute force and incarceration; and we shop for body parts, for breast milk and for eggs without even a nod to the reality that each of our purchases created a victim, each of our purchases is evidence of a life used for our interests at the expense of the true owner, an unacknowledged epitaph of individual tragedy for someone who valued their life and their person and most definitely did not give us permission for our actions.

The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.

~ Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights

With our ruthless exploitation of other individuals so entrenched, the industries that rely on it for their vast wealth, hugely politicised and subsidised, are deeply invested in ensuring that consumers either do not learn of practices they would rightly find abhorrent, or if they do learn, are provided with a spin that normalises the horror and quiets any stirring of concern.

The truth behind the myth

However, to return to the particular comment that sparked these thoughts, ‘dairy‘ is a business of commercialised reproduction. It is a business of forced pregnancy; of separating mothers and their babies to facilitate the using of their breast-milk (commercially known as ‘milk’) as a commercial resource. This resource is sold for profit either as a liquid or as any one of the many substances we have become accustomed to consuming without the slightest consideration for mother or infant: yogurt, ice cream, cheese, butter and so on.

Contrary to the myth, and the alleged exceptions to the rule, there’s no way round this. All the labels that we have been taught to look out for, all the myths about ‘welfare’, do not prevent the fundamental procedure from happening because reproductive exploitation is the key process that underpins the industry. It IS dairy. Protesting about separating dairy mothers from their infants is akin to protesting about slaughtering an individual while simultaneously demanding their dead flesh for our dinner table; it creates a paradox.

This is not exclusively a dairy issue or even a farming issue; it’s a ‘using the lives and bodies of other individuals’ issue. Every use that we make of others is exactly the same. The circumstances of our use inevitably violate and disregard every right and interest of our victims in favour of our own convenience and unnecessary preferences.

Furthermore, although it is a misconception encouraged by the industry, it is incorrect to consider that regulations referred to under the general heading of ‘welfare’ are in any way designed to protect the feelings, the well-being or the individual autonomy of those whom the fact of our use of them designates as resources and commodities. Indeed, any lessening of the level of torment to which our victims are subjected as a result of adherence to ‘welfare regulations’ is purely coincidental because the purpose of regulation is to safeguard the commercial value of those who are deemed to be commercial assets through consistent practices and maintaining consumer confidence. It’s not about the victims in any way. Regulations are designed by and for those who have a financial interest in exploitation.

So does it ‘happen here’?

So here’s the truth. When we find ourselves shocked or outraged by some action or circumstance affecting members of other animal species, we are invariably witnessing a symptom of the pervasive system of prejudice known as speciesism; a learned behaviour whereby we, as humans, accord or withhold the rights that belong to others by virtue of their birth, simply because they are not human. When we are horrified and sickened, it is because we are seeing – however briefly – through the veil that screens the seething, writhing, whimpering terror of our use of other individuals, from our gaze. Whatever we are witnessing is not an exception. It is reality. It is everywhere, in every country, on every TV screen and billboard and magazine and it is being driven by our choices as consumers and by our unchallenged speciesism.

So to return to the initial assertion that ‘at least things like that don’t happen here’; yes they do. Perhaps they happen to a different species, perhaps they happen in a laboratory, perhaps they happen fully sanctioned and legitimised by ‘welfare regulations’ on a farm or in a breeding facility or in a slaughterhouse, in a backyard, on a racecourse, in a circus or a zoo, but actions that are the equivalent of whatever most offends our senses do most assuredly happen here.

And what is essential for us to recognise, is that if we are not vegan, then at this very moment, someone, somewhere, is screaming and whimpering, begging in vain for their life and for an end to our ruthless exploitation in order to supply our personal demands. It’s happening in our name.

That’s the completely inevitable consequence of making choices that require others to pay with their lives for our convenience. That’s what not being vegan actually means.

Be vegan.

Posted in Addressing resistance to change, consumer demand, welfare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

‘Surely taking milk and eggs doesn’t kill?’ – FAQ

There are many who persist in the notion that taking milk and eggs from other individuals does not result in their deaths. It’s an assertion that’s frequently seen on social media and it simply could not be more incorrect.

In keeping with the reality of any other business asset or machine, those whose breast milk and eggs are taken from them and sold to humans, are considered to have no value outside the purpose for which they are used. Every moment they exist, the cost of their food and accommodation must be greatly exceeded by the money that can be made from the substances that are taken from them. Once that profit margin starts to diminish, there’s no retirement plan.

Many millions of dairy mothers of various species are slaughtered each year because they have started to produce less breast milk and are not sufficiently profitable to be considered worth keeping alive.

Each dairy mother is impregnated multiple times during her existence as a breast milk machine in order to trigger lactation. These infants are ‘surplus to requirements’ if they are male. They are slaughtered while young; the only variable is how young. Their numbers are hard to gauge because in many cases they are not even considered important enough to count, so negligible is their value to the industries.

Globally, it is estimated that there are 7.4 billion chickens laying eggs. With their bodies selectively bred to overproduce at extreme levels, each of these individuals will exist approximately one year before her overworked and broken body can produce no more and she is packed off in a crate to the slaughterhouse. The industry euphemism is ‘spent’.

To sustain that global flock, the same number of female chickens will require to be hatched each year. Half of all hatchlings are male and are slaughtered within a day because they don’t lay eggs.

Chickens are not the only species of bird used for eggs. Once again, statistics about these are hard to gather but the same principles apply. Males don’t lay eggs. Each female is killed as soon as her overworked body starts to fail.

So to summarise, in a single year, taking breast milk and eggs results in the slaughter of the following sentient individuals:

  • Over 150 million dairy mothers of various species (out of a global number of almost 800 million dairy mothers);
  • An unknown number of male infants birthed by those dairy mothers;
  • 7.4 billion egg laying chickens;
  • 7.4 billion newly hatched male chicks;
  • Uncounted numbers of other species used for eggs.

These numbers take no account of males of various species used for their sperm or hens used by breeders solely for producing fertile eggs. I’m confident there will be other groups of casualties that I have inadvertently left out and I will update this as I become aware of them.

These are the inescapable facts. The claim that using eggs and breast milk are harmless activities, can come only from one who lacks information or is determined not to accept the truth.

Once we know these things and recognise that our species has no need or justification for perpetrating these atrocities, becoming vegan is the only thing that makes sense.  Be vegan. Today.

More information:

Dairy in a nutshell

No such thing as a humane egg

Chickens and eggs – what about the males?

Hens and puppy mills – an analogy

Advertising Standards Agency rules that dairy is inherently inhumane 

Posted in dairy, eggs, FAQ | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A plea to shoppers

Today there are millions of individuals in the death trucks, packed in crates, queuing in slaughterhouses. For each one who waits, quaking, a pulse throbs warm and strong under soft skin while a heart pounds with anxiety. They listen to those who have gone before, hear their panic, the high-pitched screams of horror and of agony. They smell the metallic tang of blood, the warm stench of entrails, the slaughterhouse miasma of unspeakable horror.

Desperately huddling together as they seek reassurance, each will ultimately face the terror alone. Each will fight with every last ounce of their young strength but their battle will be futile; suspended, each warm pulse spurting brightly through the gash made by our blades while that strength falters and dies; lifeblood pooling, sliding into drains and channels.

They have no defence against our brute force and technology, no hope of reaching a species determined to ignore their sobs and pleas; to regard them as nothing more than resources, commodities, ingredients.

We cannot save them. Their conception and their measured existence was planned according to a supply schedule; their executions will go ahead, for one reason only; because of the demands of consumers. That smiling shopper, trolley filled with breast milk and with cheese, with eggs and with dismembered flesh, humming tunelessly as they browse the aisles; that ordinary person who could have been you or could once have been me, pondering how to serve up this dead and dismal chunk of shrink-wrapped flesh for the family meal.

That shopper ordered the slaughterhouse bloodbath. That shopper demanded the misery of their victims’ existence as commodities. That shopper bought a nightmare so they could have that flesh, breast milk and eggs to put in their shopping trolley. That shopper paid the wage of every hand that carved through the lives and flesh of those bewildered and horrified innocents.

Only by being vegan can we stop being that shopper. We are the only hope of those who will face that slaughterhouse queue in the future. They really have no one else. We owe them veganism and absolutely nothing less. Only by refusing to be that shopper, by ending consumer demand for death, can there be any prospect of a world without slaughterhouse queues.

Be vegan. Today.

Posted in Advocacy, consumer demand | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Being absolutely clear

When we advocate on their behalf, it is vital to focus on the injustice of ALL the uses that we make of members of other species. We need to ensure that it’s clear that even in the ‘best’ of situations, where every activity is tightly regulated and the letter of the law is observed to the last detail, what we are doing as a species is deeply wrong. Our use of the lives and bodies of others for any purpose is an atrocity. There are no exceptions. It is the acknowledgement of this reality that demands that we become vegan.

It’s important to realise that most people do not want to face this fact and when confronted with it, will struggle mentally to find a compromise position that allows them to continue to feel good about their own actions while demanding the least possible change of behaviour.

When we allow our audience to conclude that the fundamental problem of our use exists when regulations are being breached, where stricter legislation is needed, or where specific species are being harmed, we may inadvertently offer an easy route to that compromise position. We see the results of this compromise when those who are not vegan, campaign for regulatory reform and enforcement, or focus on the plight of individual species or groups with protests and complaints.

The compromise position allows those who are not vegan to feel good that they’re doing ‘something’ while in fact, by not being vegan their own daily activities are resulting in horrors just as devastating for their own victims, as those they are protesting against.

How do I know? I was one of them once. I will be forever grateful for that unknown advocate who made me realise that there is no point in complaining about what others are doing when we ourselves are responsible for something just as bad, if not worse. That is when I became vegan. We can’t save those defenceless individuals who are already in the brutal system of violence and harm that non vegan cash has purchased, but by convincing others to become vegan, we can gradually bring the whole unjust nightmare to a halt.

Our victims are being hatched and milked, confined and mutilated, violated and electric-prodded onto transports. They are screaming in laboratories, defeated and sick with despair in all the hells that our consumer demands have built for them. They are queuing in the slaughterhouses every second of every day.  They want to live and they are depending on us to leave no room for misunderstandings.

It’s not the where, or the when, or the how they are used that’s the problem. It is the fact that they are used at all. It has to stop because it’s wrong.  Be vegan.

Posted in Advocacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Chickens and eggs – what about the males?

I find my thoughts returning frequently to chickens; these wonderful, gentle, friendly little birds whose species bears the brunt (in terms of sheer numbers) of our own species’ arrogant delusions of entitlement and staggering ignorance about necessity. I’ve written many times about these bright, complex and fascinating birds. So why do I keep writing more?

Because there are just so many reasons why we all need to stop using them; because they so richly deserve to be recognised and championed; because there’s simply too much to say in one piece. And because I live in hope that I can find new words to reach the hearts of those who have not previously acknowledged the horrors of what we are doing as a species. My most recent article about chickens drew an analogy between puppy mills and hens. Several readers pointed out that this article concentrated on the selective breeding that has been perpetrated upon these defenceless creatures and did not address other aspects. That’s true and it was deliberate. I did it because selective breeding is often the very last reason that advocates may mention when asked the question about why using  hens for eggs is unethical.

Here, I’d like to fill in another piece of information; and other reason why we simply need to stop the madness.

The limits of empathy?

I’ve been blogging and using social media for several years now, and over these years there’s been a particular trend that I couldn’t help but notice. My posts on social media about chickens, and particularly those about eggs and the individuals who lay them, tend to attract less outrage, and more defensive and contradictory reactions than posts about almost any other animal rights topic or species.  There is less support and there are fewer ‘shares’. Even this post is likely to go up like the proverbial lead balloon. Is it because few people are prepared to recognise that there’s even a problem with our exploitative behaviour? Is it because people feel insufficiently informed to defend a stance against egg use?  I’ve often wondered about this, dredging up recollections from the days before I became vegan in an attempt to understand why.

In almost all other species, many readers can empathise with, understand, and decide to reject the violence inherent in all our use of other animals; violence that is epitomised by our brutal exploitation of female reproduction. However as soon as someone mentions eggs, everything changes. Suddenly it becomes all about the type of environment in which they are used, the way they are treated while being used; there are calls for stricter enforcement of regulations to govern how they are used, there are some who advocate ‘backyard’ environments in which to use them, there are anecdotes and claims about personal ‘exceptions‘ to the inherent brutality of our use, all seeking to disprove the need for moral rejection of the unnecessary exploitation of a fellow sentient species.

On behalf of those billions of defenceless victims whose primary value to our species lies not in who they are as individuals, but rather in the number of eggs that their  fragile and selectively bred bodies can produce before they self-destruct, it is distressing to witness their continued torment being promoted, championed and excused on all sides.

So what do we all need to know?

In these essays I hope to cover everything I have learned about chickens and why we all need to stop using them.  I hope to provide statistics about their use for their flesh, their use for eggs, and the continuing selective breeding that seeks to further maximise human profits at the expense of defenceless victims. Hens, roosters and chickens need us all so desperately and so it is vital for everyone who advocates on behalf of animals to understand that even were they to be accommodated in a perfect environment and afforded the best of treatment, this can never address the fundamental issues at the heart of an insidious industry that responds to consumer demand for an unnecessary dietary indulgence, while keeping hidden the truth about the horrific practices that are the inevitable consequence.

So what about male chicks….?

I’ve no idea where the notion came from but I did once imagine that as only the females could lay eggs, it seemed logical that the males would be used for their flesh. Well, guess what? The truth, as I learned once I finally shook off the decades of brainwashing, was unthinkable. Contrary to what many suppose, chickens who lay eggs and those who are used for their dead flesh are separate breeds; breeds that have each been ‘adapted’, selectively bred and genetically modified to maximise the profit-making potential of whatever use is being made of their bodies.

The males of egg laying breeds are killed shortly after hatching; suffocated or macerated with the resultant bloody sludge used as pet food or fertiliser.  ‘Instantaneous mechanical destruction’ (maceration) is listed as an approved method of ‘culling’ chicks, poultry and ducklings by the staggeringly inappropriately titled RSPCA (prevention of cruelty, anyone?) as part of their ‘*welfare standards’. Let’s bear in mind that these are guidelines for the treatment of lifelong captives on death row that refer to ‘five freedoms’ without even a trace of irony or shame.

Which brings me to another memory. At one time I fancifully imagined that ‘welfare’ meant something to do with well-being. Although we are encouraged to think it does, the industry word ‘welfare’ has absolutely nothing to do with the life, the thoughts, the feelings or the well-being of our unnecessary victims as unique individuals . The word ‘welfare’ refers to a collection of guidelines and recommendations developed by the exploitation industries and their collaborators to standardise practices, minimise risk to assets and employees, and maximise profit.

So let’s talk numbers

Statistics about the size of the global flock of egg laying hens are ridiculously hard to come by. There are endless statistics available about eggs; glossy marketing blurb that analyses and details tonnage per country, global market shares, market trends and other information couched in the most impersonal terms of resources and commodities.

However hardly anywhere is it possible to find statistics about how many tiny feathered slaves are labouring despairingly in hell to produce this ‘commodity’. 

A US industry site quoted a 2014 global flock of 7.2 billion individuals (7,200,000,000). In the US, after a small dip in 2015, the number of individuals rose by approximately 3.4% in 2017, and this dip and percentage increase is similarly reflected in the UK. In view of this, it is not unreasonable to extrapolate that the global flock is likely to have reflected this trend and currently stands at approximately  7.4 billion individuals (7,400,000.000).

This number is clearly significant for a number of reasons, however I have been keen to establish it on this occasion in connection with one of the least publicised victim groups within an industry predicated upon wall-to-wall atrocities.

Fertile eggs will generally hatch 50% female and 50% male. In order to have and maintain the size of a flock numbering 7.4 billion females, 7.4 billion males will have hatched alongside their sisters only to be regarded as waste in an environment that does not see chickens as sentient individuals but as commercial assets and the means to create wealth for our species.  It is possible to attempt to ‘screen out’ males before hatching and although there have been undertakings to introduce this by 2020 in the USA, industry sources report that this target is unlikely to be met and in any case, it is not globally relevant. Here we have yet another example of some-day-never ‘commitments’ for the distant future, a commonly used ploy to maintain consumer confidence.

So – to cut a long story short – I estimate that 7.4 billion (7,400,000.000) male chicks are annually subjected to death (the industry euphemism is ‘culled’) within hours of hatching. Methods vary. Suffocation. Gassing. Maceration. The RSPCA, that ever kindly bastion of devoted care for those who do not share our species recommends:

‘They must be destroyed promptly by a recommended humane method such as carbon dioxide gassing or quick maceration. Chicks must then be carefully inspected to ensure they are all are dead.’

If the options available for those deaths were presented to you or to me for our own demise, that of a loved one or one of our companions, I think we’d soon realise just how monstrous the lie of ‘humane’ ‘culling’ truly is.

Think about it. 7.4 BILLION deaths. And that’s before a single egg is used.

Be vegan.


*RSPCA welfare standards for hatcheries – see page 10 for approved slaughter methods. https://science.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232725856522&mode=prd

**Extract from ‘In a nutshell: the victims of vegetarianism  ‘Birds used for egg production include chickens, ducks, quail, guinea fowl, pheasants, rhea, ostrich and geese.’


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Thought for a spring day

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

Returning home from an errand to Edinburgh at 6 am, I am haunted by images of so many chicken death trucks. Even now when I close my eyes, I see them still. Like a viscous wave, I feel the cloying draught of their passing, smell the acrid stench of terror clutching at me. The temperature is 4 degrees on a day when heat is expected, so the curtain sided trucks are open to the bitter chill. Each infant who huddles, a crouching pale blur within the blue and yellow crates, has endured about 42 dawns, days marking out the profit-driven span of their misery.

Fighting nausea as I drive behind, I watch the few, stray, baby feathers, swirling, falling, disappearing.They flutter in the chilly air like snow onto the windscreen. These feathers know a freedom that their trembling infant owners will never know; swirled on a spring breeze that they have never felt until today; glinting in the cool sunshine they will never feel except today, their death day, on this convoy from hell, to hell.

I know what awaits these defenceless little ones; the shackles, the shock that stuns the fortunate, the agony, the scalding tanks, the blades. There are no ears willing to heed their despair, their terror, as they face the nightmare, lonely for the mothers that they never knew; innocent, helpless and afraid in the place where the blood flows and death awaits.

These doomed infants are paying the real price for the demands of every single shopper scooping bloodless packages of flesh into their trolley, paying with their blood and their agony, the real cost of every single, casual, thoughtless ‘I’ll just have the chicken, please’ in a cafe or a restaurant.

Knowing the horror, who would willingly support it?

Please. Let today be the day you say, ‘Not in my name.’

Be vegan.

Start finding out about being vegan here:

Do we need to eat animals? https://wp.me/p4TmPw-rK

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Hens and puppy mills – an analogy

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

Not a day goes by that I fail to see someone contradicting a post that explains – often at some length – that there is no such thing as a humane egg. As soon as there’s a post about eggs, up pop the comments saying it’s not necessary to be vegan, how lovely it is to keep hens in back gardens and use them there for eggs. ‘Problem solved’, these comments seem to say.

Given that every credible vegan advocate says the same thing; that egg use can never be ethical, it is astonishing that anyone would imagine for one moment that those who speak against using hens have not carefully examined all the science and the background to a subject about which they are generally extremely well informed.

‘Let’s just take all the hens to a nice place and keep on using them.’  Sorted. If such a quick fix existed, does anyone really think that animal rights advocates would miss something so obvious? Apart from the fundamental violation of rights and individual autonomy that underlies our species’ assumption that we can use the lives and bodies of others for our convenience, why is there is an automatic assumption that either the post is wrong, or that they’ve missed the easy solution? Why doesn’t such a post make readers think, ‘I can’t understand why anyone would say that, maybe I should take the chance to find out more?’

I’ve struggled to find an analogy because an equivalent to the enormity of what humans have done to hens is hard to find – if indeed it exists. To find a comparison in terms that most of us can relate to, I decided to consider dogs as an alternative species.

Hens – an analogy

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals with the Montreal SPCA

Dogs. Puppy farms and puppy mills. Light blue touch paper and stand well back! I can’t imagine anyone with any concern at all for other species who will say that these are a good idea. It is customary to see universal and vitriolic condemnation of this practice whenever the subject crops up in social media.

Now, still thinking of puppy mills, imagine you were to discover that certain breeds of dog had been selectively bred so that without being impregnated, they would produce a litter of puppies almost every single day, because that way, the money making potential for the sale of the puppies could be maximised. Most people would be beyond outraged. There would be howls of rage and the internet would reverberate with righteous indignation. True?

To continue this analogy, what about the puppy mill mothers, these defenceless, innocent mothers who were giving birth each day? Can we even begin to imagine the strain that this repeated birthing would put on their bodies? Can we even begin to understand the misery of such an existence, an existence where the only value that is placed on them comes from the sale of their puppies? Their lives would be bleak, their bodies depleted and prone to disease, an endless cycle of wrenching physical turmoil until death claimed them. I think any of us would instinctively empathise with them and know that it is utterly wrong to inflict such an atrocity on any sentient individual.

Humane puppy mills

So on to the final part of this analogy. If I were to post an article, stating that there is no such thing as a ‘humane’ puppy mill, what sort of reaction would it cause? Would there be agreement or would there be a rush of contradictions?

Would we see comments like,
‘That’s not true. Why not rescue some puppy mill mothers and give them a lovely home where they can have their puppies every day?’
‘I have a little dog that I rescued from a puppy mill and I love her like family. She still has puppies most days and I see no problem with using them to make a bit of cash.’
‘Puppy mills aren’t a problem as long as the dogs aren’t living in cages in a horrible environment.’

I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t see anything of the sort. And the reason for that is that quite clearly, although the environment in which exploitation takes place is certainly worth mentioning, the underlying issue would not be the environment, but rather the selective breeding that had resulted in daily birthing and the consequent physical and emotional trauma this would cause.

Some might also go further and appreciate that as long as these genetically mutated dogs existed and as long as there was a market for the puppies, there would be those who would exploit the situation for profit at the expense of the health and well being of the dogs. There might even be calls for the genetic mutation to be brought to an end, in a similar way to what has occurred with some breeds of dogs and cats where certain physical traits such as flattened faces, exaggerated through selective breeding in order to place ‘aesthetics’ before physical function, had reached the stage that they were causing serious impairment for the individuals affected.

Still with me? Well to the best of my knowledge, as of now, NO such genetic mutation has been carried out to cause puppy mill mothers to have a litter every day. I’d never say never, because I long ago lost any faith in our species having an ethical line they will not cross when serving their own interests at the expense of others. However let’s go back to hens.

So, back to hens

Unlike puppy mill mothers where the genetic modification described was an imaginary one for the sake of this analogy, exactly this type of genetic mutation HAS been selectively bred into all the hens that we use for eggs today, regardless of whether they are obtained directly from a hatchery, or from someone whose backyard hens have laid fertile eggs. Let’s read over the preceding paragraphs, and think ‘hens’ for ‘puppy mill mothers’ and ‘eggs’ for ‘puppies’.

The key point here is that the wild ancestors of the breeds that we use for eggs, lay two clutches of about 6 – 10 eggs a year for the purpose of raising young. Their bodies evolved with this behaviour as an integral part of their physical make up.

The TSHR (thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor) gene coordinates reproduction with day length, confining breeding to specific seasons. A mutation disabling this gene enables chickens to breed and lay eggs all year long, and contrary to claims that their laying is just ‘doing what comes naturally to them’, it is the exploitation of this mutation that causes hens’ bodies to operate in overdrive and to lay over 300 eggs a year at a catastrophic physical cost to their health and well being.

Further research and breeding programmes are in progress to further increase the number of eggs each hen is capable of laying; to increase the size of these eggs taking account of the cost of feed required, with a current aim being 500 eggs before the hen’s body becomes unprofitable. At no point in any of these considerations is there any acknowledgement of the fact that these ‘egg laying machines’ are in fact sentient individuals who are being unspeakably harmed by our meddling.

The driver behind all of this egg use, is consumer demand for eggs. As long as there is consumer demand for eggs, there will be a financial incentive to those who supply that demand. The only way any of us can effectively advocate for the well-being of hens who lay eggs, is by calling for the end of that consumer demand. In addition to egg use being morally unjustifiable, eggs are, in any case, extremely harmful to humans.

And a final thought

When we read of a breeding mother being rescued from a puppy farm, the first thing that the rescuer will do – and it almost goes without saying – is that they will arrange for her to be sterilised to spare her the risk of future births. I’m glad that there are people out there who do that. In doing so, possibly for the first time in her life, the rescued mother is being recognised and valued for who she is. By ensuring that her reproductive system can never be exploited again, the rescuer is taking steps to ensure that although the horrific past, and the legacy of damage that may be its likely consequence, can’t be undone, at least whatever time remains will be spent without deliberate reproductive harm being caused to her.

I am glad that some hens escape the cycle of use that their mutated reproductive systems impose on them and I know several vegans who rescue hens. I understand that hormone implants are the least risky method for stopping the cycle of incessant egg laying and these are used wherever possible. Unfortunately, each implant requires to be periodically renewed, availability can be unreliable and appropriately specialised veterinary staff hard to find, but nevertheless, so many try their absolute best to remove the burden of egg laying from those they rescue. When implants are not possible, eggs are fed back to the hens who laid them and are greatly enjoyed. Few, however, would ever claim that sanctuary and rescue are solutions to the problem. And none of the vegan rescuers that I know, would sell or give eggs to other humans, thereby condoning and perpetuating continued consumer demand for eggs as an appropriate food item.

Only by ending consumer demand for the products of exploitation, can any of our victims ever be valued for who they are rather than for what we can take from them. When it comes to individuals rescued from reproductive exploitation, don’t they all deserve the same consideration?

Be vegan.

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Just another crank

The ONLY way to stop harming animals is to be vegan. It’s the least we can do.

In the past, every time I saw that in a post, you know what used to happen?

I used to think, ‘Well that’s what ‘extremists’ say, but of course that doesn’t apply to me.  That’s not about people here, people like me. I care about animals; I think it’s wrong to harm them.’ Does that sound familiar?

My thoughts continued, ‘I’m sure that using animals is a necessary evil but I look for the ‘best’ labels, the most expensive brands, the most ‘humane products’.  Of course I know about all these awful things that people do, but they don’t happen here. That’s what happens in other countries.’

Are you sitting there, shaking your head, thinking those same thoughts that I used to think? Maybe you’re quietly congratulating yourself for proving me mistaken.  Maybe you’re feeling slight sympathy for someone you consider to be another misguided crank.

Well, just as I was when I thought these thoughts, you’re wrong. I was. Dead wrong. Wrong at the cost of the lives of more than 74,000,000,000 land individuals and trillions of individual fishes and marine creatures each year; each of them sentient; each of them desperate to live unharmed.

Can any of us afford to be so wrong, when the facts are within reach? And if we resist seeking out those facts, what does that say about us, our values, our integrity, our sincerity?

No matter what euphemistic names we call the substances we buy, using others for their dead flesh, for their breast milk, for their eggs, as laboratory test subjects, as entertainment or for any other reason is not a ‘necessary evil’. As human animals, we have no need to consume others, no need to participate in lifelong, cross-species breastfeeding, no need to manipulate the bodies of female birds to produce eggs to consume at the cost of their health and wellbeing. Without need, we have no justification at all for creating a victim out of every creature that we use.

None of it is necessary and only those who have much to lose financially, or who are ignorant of the science, will tell you otherwise. So, as I did, we must each ask ourselves what a ‘necessary evil’ truly is, when it is shown to be unnecessary.

There are many links within this post, and links in abundance elsewhere in this blog; I hope you’ll explore. It’s up to each of us to act as our conscience demands. When our decisions and our actions are guided by the truth, we cannot help but realise that the ONLY way to stop harming animals is to be vegan. It’s the least we can do.

Be vegan.


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