Ed Winters on the Death of Animals

Posted on 20th December 2023 by Anna Orhanen

In his second passionate and thought-provoking book, How to Argue With a Meat Eater (And Win Every Time)Ed Winters – vegan educator, activist and bestselling author of This Is Vegan Propaganda – arms his readers with impressive rebuttals to key arguments often made against veganism, whether in relation to the environment, ethics, health or nutrition. In this exclusive piece, Ed talks about the ethics surrounding killing animals for food.

Losing a non-human family member is one of the most painful experiences that we can face. We form deep and strong connections with the animals we love in our homes and when they die it can cause significant emotional distress and grief.

If the loss itself wasn’t difficult enough, many pet parents face the heavy decision of deciding when euthanasia becomes the most compassionate choice. However, due to the love we have for our companion animals, the nobility of euthanasia is grounded in the pursuit of ensuring that the killing of our beloved non-human companions is carried out as humanely as possible.

So with this in mind, any responsible pet parent who has come to the difficult realisation that euthanasia is now the most compassionate choice, would want to choose the option that is the best and most humane option available. Which, according to the messaging from the animal farming industries, would mean that they should contact their closest slaughterhouse and schedule an appointment there. After all, the CEO of the National Pig Association (NPA) calls the method of slaughter responsible for how around 90% of pigs are slaughtered in the UK “the best, most humane and efficacious commercially available option.”

The only problem is, this quote from the CEO of the NPA was actually referring to the use of carbon dioxide gas chambers. If not gassed, animals are stunned and killed in the UK by being electrocuted or having a bolt shot into their skull before then having their throats cut and being bled to death.

But the thing is, even though we’re told that animals are slaughtered humanely, we would never take our companion animals to slaughterhouses to be euthanised. Although the question then is, why?

Why would we be shocked and outraged if euthanasia methods were the same as slaughter methods if slaughter methods are humane and the welfare and wellbeing of animals in slaughterhouses is the best it can be, which is the narrative that’s served up and fed to us? Clearly something is amiss.

Either we believe what we’re being told about slaughterhouses but don’t want our companion animals to be killed in the best or most humane method possible, or we are at least on some level aware that we are being manipulated into believing a narrative about the slaughter of animals that isn’t true.

So, let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s say that we open up a thesaurus and find the word humane, what synonyms would we find? Benevolence, compassion, kindness. Is forcing an animal into a gas chamber compassionate? Is cutting an animal’s throat and bleeding them to death benevolent?

Now let’s look for synonyms for the word slaughter, what do we find? Massacre, murder and bloodbath. How does compassionate bloodbath or benevolent massacre sound? The truth is, slaughterhouses are many things, but humane is not one of them. When viewed objectively, humane slaughter is an oxymoron.

However, it’s no wonder that we want to believe that slaughterhouses are humane. We care about animals and find animal cruelty and suffering deplorable. Socially and legally we think of people who kick dogs as being morally repugnant. Yet, if kicking animals is an act of animal cruelty, how can forcibly impregnating animals, mutilating them, taking their babies from them, forcing them into gas chambers and cutting their throats not also be cruel?

In fact, no other industry comes close to the animal farming and fishing industries when it comes to the scale and volume of animal suffering and cruelty found within them. But if kicking an animal is a crime, then how is it right that practices and actions that cause far more suffering and harm are not only legal but are considered ethical and even humane?

When we euthanise our companion animals, we do so because it is in their best interests. Everything about the process of euthanasia is carried out with their wellbeing in mind, from the initial decision for them to be euthanised to the calm, kind and peaceful manner in which they are treated and the method in which they are ultimately killed.

This is why euthanasia of sick and suffering animals is humane: because it is in the best interests of the individual who is being killed and everything about the process is set up with this in mind.

The slaughtering of animals for food does not take place because it is in the best interests of the animals. We don’t slaughter and eat animals because we think that’s the most compassionate way to treat them.

This is the inherent paradox of calling the needless and violent slaughter of animals for food humane. After all, is it more humane to exploit, harm and kill or to not? Slaughter is inhumane. However, we don’t want to think of ourselves as being inhumane people, which is we try to convince ourselves it is the opposite. But this denial of the reality of slaughter shows us something important: what we do to animals is a violation of the values we have.

Perhaps all we need to do to is imagine ourselves or our companion animals in the place of farmed animals, because the reality of what we do to farmed animals is far from the reality we would wish on ourselves or the animals we love.

We don’t like to think about what we pay to have happen to animals because It’s deeply upsetting to think about the situations they are forced into and the violent things forced upon them. However, as Aristotle once said, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

So while the truth of what happens to animals is harrowing, the benefit of coming to terms with the falsehoods perpetuated by the animal farming industries is that we can not only align our values with our actions, but in doing so we can end the horrifying and inhumane reality of what animals are being needlessly forced to endure.


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