The Hardest Day Yet: Why It’s Time to Change

The Hardest Day Yet: Why It’s Time to Change
Crossing into The Netherlands we were greeted by screams from these lorry trailers.

We heard them screaming from the road. It was a sunny day and people cycled by as if nothing unusual was happening beyond the road.

We'd just cycled across the border from Belgium into The Netherlands.

Two big lorry trailers sat in a farm yard, completely packed with crying pigs who emitted despicable sounds. For awhile we stood from far away, simply registering.

Then a surge of blind rage carried us forward to the gate.

The farmyard gate was open so we rode right in close enough to touch the pigs. What we witnessed was complete anguish. They were covered in cuts and bruises, dirty and kicking each other in distress and anger.

Their sounds chilled our hearts. A stench hung heavy in the air.

Steven photographed and we spoke soft words of love for these helpless beings, even as their own sounds drowned us out. The noise was unbearable.

Eventually a worker came out looking worn, suspicious and a bit angry. Language blocks prevented clear communication, but his hand gesture of “get out” was obvious.

We left with racing and breaking hearts, and soon the same lorry-full of pigs passed us on the road, heading to the inevitable slaughterhouse. The scene there is bloody and painful, contrary to what marketing tries to convey. A smell of excrement and filth trailed after the prosession and shrouded us as we cycled in its wake. It was obvious these pigs had already lived lives of suffering.

Tears carried me for miles thereafter.

That day we cycled by many more windowless and stinking pig farms, so many that we nicknamed the road Death Alley. Looking back now, "death" isn't the appropriate word. Death is a natural part of life. What's happening here is torture.

We all hold such power in our hands to leave the world better than we left it, and to protect all who share the planet with us from such senseless horror.

I wished that all supermarket aisles could play these screams, include the fowl smell and sad eyes. It's the same for cows, sheep, chickens, and every other animal used for one part or another.

I felt rage and deep sorrow, wanting to despise everyone involved, even my former self when I ate animals. I know these emotions lead down a bitter and jaded road.

Instead we ground with compassion and turn the powerful energy of anger into determination. Energy to tell the stories of these billions of animals who are crying and enslaved, who so desire the chance to play and sleep in a clean bed too.

In a sick twist of irony, we passed by the sign below while cycling in Germany, a country well-known for its pig-heavy cuisine. Sausages are a stereotype, but who pauses to look into what's behind the phallic-shaped bundles of animal flesh? The animal agriculture industry is working hard to hide the truth. The sign is part of a campaign to boulster the images of farmers by emphasizing how much love they put into their professions.

The image of the happy farm is all around, making people believe a false narrative. Love hearts in front of a piglet who is mutilated, treated as a commodity and soon cut into pieces? 

These signs are dangerous.

They continue a myth and deprive animals of justice. The reality is that most people eat pigs kept in factory farms, where, piglets are certainly not treated with love. A Day in the Life of a Piglet by World Animal Protection explains what happens to Piglet 83739:

"Piglet 83739 is one piglet among millions suffering this same day in factory farms around the world. At just a few days old, piglets endure painful mutilations.

  • Tail docking, done in the belief it will avoid pigs biting each other’s tails out of boredom and frustration in barren environments with no enrichment.
  • Teeth clipping or grinding, done so piglets don’t bite their mothers’ teats while fighting for milk, because most mother pigs in factory farming have been bred to produce more piglets than they can feed at once.
  • Castration of male piglets, done to prevent pork from male pigs developing an unpleasant smell and taste - even though this occurs in only a very small proportion of pigs after puberty.

This trio of mutilations creates ongoing pain for at least a week and future fear of the humans responsible for their daily care.

The stress from these ordeals means Piglet 83739 will have a lower immune system, and his wounds put him at a greater risk of infection. Antibiotics will be given to him and his siblings to make sure they don’t get sick. This is his first day of suffering, but it won’t be his last."

Isn't life for a pig better on a small farm?

It's perhaps the most common argument.

"Yes, but I buy my meat from a local orcanic farm where I know the pigs are treated kindly by loving farmers."

There is no way to dance around the final outcome. Humans have unnaturally taken animals out of the ecosystem, domesticated them for centuries, and kept them captive for the same reasons an industrial farm does. One approach of "farming" may seem slightly better than the other, but no one can deny the sole purpose of keeping pigs locked up in the first place.

Even before the final slaughter, the entire life of a pig is shrouded in misery. These are highly sociable and intelligent animals. Imagine living your entire life kept in captivity. Seeing life from the other's perspective helps to grow empathy for sentient beings.

Regardless of how they lived, they all meet a slaughtered end.

Did you know that pigs are gassed in gas chambers? The words "gas chamber" bring up the horrors of the past.

Contrary to popular belief, there's nothing humane about gassing pigs, as outlined by Sentient Media. The article shares,

"The CO2 stun itself can take up to a minute. Pigs are herded into metal cages and then lowered into gas chambers, where they are gassed for roughly 90 seconds. The pigs cling to the cold metal cage, conscious for anywhere from 15-60 seconds and writhing in agonizing pain.

“The gas acidifies eyes, nostrils, mouths, and lungs,” writes Philip Lymbrey, CEO of Compassion in World Farming in a recent blog post, “meaning the animals feel like they are burning from the inside out.”

After being gassed, pigs are hung upside down from their legs. Their throats are slit and they bleed out.

A pig farmer in Sweden turned vegan after seeing the truth.

Gustaf Söderfeldt and his wife ran a small-scale pig farm to offer what they thought would be a solution to factory farming. Customers felt good about buying meat they thought was treated better than others. But Söderfeldt noted he would have no customers if they knew the full truth of his farm.

Söderfeldt shared for an article Farmer Goes Vegan,

"Our customers loved to hear that the pigs had had “a good life”. But of course, they didn’t want to hear about the ugly side of raising the animals. If I’d told them that a mother sow didn’t want to be separated from her babies or that the pigs screamed with anguish as they were loaded onto the lorry bound for the abattoir, I wouldn’t have kept a single customer. No one wants to know about the nasty parts of the meat industry. Everyone just wanted to hear about how “good” and “humane” our meat was."

Having heard the very screams he talked about, we can only affirm his words.

Söderfeldt continued,

"Most of our customers bought meat from us to silence their own consciences. People don’t want to admit to themselves that they’re supporting an industry that treats animals horribly. That’s why they buy so-called “humane meat”: that way, it’s easier to feel better about eating other meat, too."

Read the full artcile Farmer goes vegan: ‘I made the change because I didn’t want to keep slaughtering pigs’ to learn more about how Söderfeldt's story and how he converted his farm into a thriving vegetable production.

What about the farmer's livelihood?

Communities claim they need animal agriculture for their economic security and this depicts the corruption of our system. When economic gain trumps the welfare of sentient beings, what does that say about our society?

Beyond this question, the claim is not a fixed truth in a society immensely capable of adaptation and innovation. Imagine all the numerous ways we humans have adapted throughout the ages. There are a number of resources to help farmers become vegan. Transfarmation founded by Mercy for Animals is just one example of many resources supporting farmers who want out of the animal agriculture industry. Farmers turning vegan are not alone, as illuminated in the BBC's article The meat and dairy farmers who are going vegan.

Söderfeldt wrote about his own conscience as a pig farmer, stating how horrible he felt inwardly but how actively he tried to ignore these feelings. He maintains that other farmers feel this too. The demeanor of the farm worker we met in The Netherlands affirms his words. This man did not look happy.

Why shoo visitors away from your profession, unless you're not proud of it?

Why do we introduce children to farmed animals, but not take them to the slaughterhouse? If witnessing the killing of animals is too dreadful for kids and most adults to see, then shouldn't we reconsider?

Farmers are suffering too.

Farmers today face mounting pressures. Their livelihoods are tested from all sides and there's a secret hidden beneath the surface. Many farmers are suffering with their mental health. Pressures to produce, stress about money, isolation, handling animals, peer pressure, animal welfare charges, a drastically changing climate, long working hours, little time-off and poor physical health are some of the many challenges farmers face, according to a Surge Activism article.

The article reveals,

"A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US showed that suicide rates in farmers have increased by 40 per cent in the last two decades and that farmers are more likely to die by suicide than in many other occupations."

So, who benefits in the long run?

The idea that pigs on small farms are happy is a narrative created to reassure the human's natural love of animals. No one likes seeing someone else suffering. Children are more likely to play with piglets than try to eat them.

It's time to dismantle the image of the altruistic animal farm. They are animal prisons polluting the natural world and fueling the human health epidemic of disease and social disparity. Abundant evidence paints a different narrative of the friendly farm, as explained in "Just because it's a small farm doesn't make it cruelty free."

Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year. The Netherlands slaughters 17 million pigs a year. The U.S.A. slaughters 130 million pigs a year.

To put those statistics into context, the human population of the U.S. is 329 million. Imagine a third of the U.S. population disappearing in a single year and that's how many pigs are killed. In a year. For Germany, that number is more than half the human population.

The country leading the pig slaughter, by far, is China.

In 2016, China slaughtered 715 million pigs in a single year.

As gruesome as these numbers are, the story shifts when we control these pig deaths with the size of the human population consuming them. As stated through research on Faunalytics:

"Surprisingly, China is not even in the top ten when it comes to per capita pig consumption! An average of 0.50 slaughtered pigs per Chinese resident puts the country just outside of the top ten list. Denmark, which slaughters the most pigs per capita, slaughters more than six times the number of pigs as China when calculated on a per capita basis. Spain is the only country that appears in both top ten lists and could be an interesting country for advocates to target."

The bottom line is:

Globally, 1.5 billion pigs are killed in a single year.

Cheap meat consumption is rising all over the globe, in European countries, in China and elsewhere.

Even as the vegan movement is growing, grotesque and monumental actions are unfolding to meet the rising cheap meat demand. It's difficult not to feel stuck in a psychotic dystopian novel when learning about the many ways humans are perfecting acts of cruelty.

China is building multi-story pig prisons, dubbed "pig hotels" by the media. The rising epidemic of swine flu has pig farmers and governments scrambling for solutions and their answer is horrific. The video below shows a brief glimpse of one, without pigs, and what makes it even worse is the upbeat music played along the footage. Pigs will be bred, fed and slaughtered all under one roof in a highly controlled space to prevent the spread of swine flu and therefore prevent economic losses. Instead, a herd of 600,000 pigs will lose their freedom and their lives every year while never leaving this facility.

It really does feel like a dystopian novel come to life. Is this the world we want to hand over to our children?

What the innocent German billboard doesn't depict:

The killing process is mechanized and ruthless. In some German slaughterhouses, pigs are killed every 3 seconds. A group of 60 workers can kill 600 pigs in an hour. In one Essen slaughterhouse, 64,000 pigs are killed in a week.

These statistics were highlighed in a Spiegel International article but do not bring to light just how much pigs suffer. Their suffering is forever seared into our minds from what we witnessed in The Netherlands.

We aren't here to berate individuals. The human experience isn't good vs evil. There are many complex reasons why the animal agriculture industry has morphed into a grisly system of treating life as cheap and disposable.

Animal industry workers are suffering too.

Research has shown that slaughterhouse workers endure increased levels of depression, anxiety and agression. A 2021 psychology review cited fourteen studies focused on the prevelance of mental health disorders, the coping mechanisms used, and the link between slaughterhouse employment and crime perpetration. Workers are paid low wages and countries often employ foreign workers, sometimes illegally. The price of cheap meat? Raided slaughterhouses and upended communities by the Washington Post outlines how undocumented workers in the U.S. are heavily relied upon in the killing and meat-packing industry.

But do we need scientific studies and investigations to answer a simple question of the heart:

Is your instinct to pet a lamb or kill a lamb?

The late slaughterhouse worker-turned-vegan activist Virgil Butler shares harrowing experiences from his days on the chicken kill floors:

Cheap and disposable is exactly how society treats animals and the humans who are involved in the process. This goes far beyond the food system. Nearly every facet of human life includes some part of an animal, from products to testing. But we don't have to use animals, for anything.

It's time for all the players of this industry - farmers, consumers, etc. - to wake up.

To understand the full reality of how damaging eating animals is, for the animals, your health and our planet, there are now countless resources, scientific articles and documentaries showcasing everything you need to know.

In short, animal consumption creates deep animal suffering, is linked to major cancers and diseases such as heart disease, and is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emmissions and habitat loss.

We recommend beginning with the resources on the Surge Activism website and watching Surge's Ed Winters explain more in his famous speech:

Another eye-opening resource is the work by Dr. Melanie Joy, a psychologist who has done extensive research on the cultural frameworks influencing how we relate with animals. Her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows is a profound examination of our belief systems.

Watch Dr. Joy in her TEDx speech, "Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices."

Join the Vegan movement:

To begin your vegan journey, there are so many guides to answer every question you have. We recommend this (free) book by Empathy for All Animals:

The Complete Guide to Veganism

Thank you for considering a massive shift to save animals, protect the planet and imrove your health. You are certainly not alone in this transition, we're here to help you!

What is animal agriculture hiding?

While we strive toward compassionate and peaceful forms of advocacy, there's no way to disguise the pain of what's really happening in the animal agriculture system. To use a common phrase, we can't sugar-coat the truth. Doing so would be an injustice to the animals. Sidenote, did you know that most sugar uses the bones of animals to make its white appearance? Animals are hidden in many products.

It is compassionate for the animals to bring their suffering to the forefront. To be of witness. To demand change, for them. For everyone.

It's time to see what is really happening behind the scenes of marketing myths. The documentary Dominion, below, depicts the reality.

We encourage you to take care of your mental health first.

If you are currently going through a challenging time and unable to witness animal suffering, this may not be the moment to watch Dominion. That said, it's also everyone's responsibility to understand the truth of every product we consume and the far reaching consequences. We are together in this.

The very opening scene of this documentary plays the same sounds we heard on that day witnessing the pigs in The Netherlands. Although we'd watched many documentaries up until that point, including Dominion, there's no way to prepare for the real face-to-face experience. It shook us to our core. Watch this documentary with a loved one.

"Dominion uses drones, hidden and handheld cameras to expose the dark underbelly of modern animal agriculture, questioning the morality and validity of humankind’s dominion over the animal kingdom. While mainly focusing on animals used for food, it also explores other ways animals are exploited and abused by humans, including clothing, entertainment and research."

The documentary is age-restricted due to difficult imagery. You can follow the link to watch it for free on YouTube.

A storm on the night of meeting the pigs.

We crossed most of The Netherlands that day and found a wooded area to camp in just before the German border. A thunderstorm rolled through that night, mirroring our emotions of the day. In these bangs of thunder and flashes of lightning we perceived Nature's emotion, blending the energy of the storm with our own until there was no discerning one from the other.

We are powerful beings in a turbulent world.

The question is, what kind of change are we going to make with our personal thunder and lightning?

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller