Animal rights organisation Animal Aid has long campaigned for the introduction of mandatory CCTV in UK slaughterhouses. Animal Aid has secretly filmed inside 13 randomly chosen slaughterhouses and found that 12 of them were violating animal welfare laws; so it seemed clear that stricter regulation was needed. Without transparency, animal abuse can continue unabated.
Mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses has also received widespread support, from 200 MPs, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Green Party, and the SNP.
The campaign has now paid off, as CCTV will now be compulsory in all slaughterhouses, as part of Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to bolster the UK’s reputation as a global leader on animal welfare. Gove said:
…these measures provide a further demonstration to consumers around the world that our food is produced to the very highest standards.
Meanwhile, BVA President Gudrun commented:
Mandatory CCTV in all areas of slaughterhouses will provide an essential tool in fostering a culture of compassion that could help safeguard animal welfare…
However, while I welcome any measure which aims to prevent the worst forms of animal abuse, I do not believe this new legislation will prevent animal cruelty.
‘Culture of Compassion’?
The BVA President argues that this new measure will foster a “culture of compassion”, but this seems like a huge stretch of the meaning of the term ‘compassion’. These cameras will let vets have unrestricted access to footage of every slaughterhouse in England. Does this increased transparency mean that animals will live a painless life until the moment of painless slaughter?
No, not really.
While this recent piece of legislation may see a welcome decrease in abattoir workers beating, throwing and stomping on animals, boiling chickens alive, using improper stunning methods and leaving truckloads of animals to suffocate or freeze to death, animals will still suffer in all the ways that are warranted by our ‘compassionate’ animal welfare regulations. Animal Aid director Isobel Hutchinson concedes:
although this development is a huge step forward, we urge the public to remember that even when the law is followed to the letter, slaughter is a brutal and pitiless business that can never be cruelty-free.
Chickens will still be debeaked without anaesthetic, pigs will still have their genitals, teeth and tails removed without anaesthetic; male chicks will still be gassed or ground up alive, cows will have their calves removed from them, and livestock of all kind will be confined in cramped, filthy and unnatural industrial sheds. Stunning can still fail, leading to painful deaths. And CCTV will not be placed in the vehicles in which these animals are transported, and in which they suffer prolonged periods of cold, overcrowding, exhaustion, dehydration and stress. In addition, there won’t be CCTV cameras installed in dairy and egg factory farms, since the legislation applies to slaughterhouses only.
The government, BVA, FSA and the media would have you believe that these cameras will prevent animal cruelty, but the truth is, they won’t. How can we claim to have a ‘culture of compassion’ when factory farms still exist?
The Problem With the Animal Welfare Perspective
I don’t oppose this legislation. However, I do think it creates a false impression that compassion for animals – as the BVA President believes – means improving how animals are exploited, rather than standing resolutely against animal exploitation from the outset.
The animal rights philosopher Gary Francione argues that measures like this promote the myth of ‘humane slaughter’. Furthermore, rather than actually protecting the interests of animals, he says that measures to improve animal welfare, in fact, have the opposite effect, since it implies animal exploitation can be justified: animals just have to be exploited in the right kind of way. As an animal rights advocate taking an abolitionist approach, he thinks the animal welfare movement further promotes the myth of ‘happy exploitation’. In this way, the animal welfare approach may extend the culturally sanctioned practice of animal cruelty, with gradual reductions in animal suffering along the way, but never categorically calling for an end to it (because this is considered ‘unrealistic’ or ‘impractical’).
But with previous culturally sanctioned practices that we now deem wrong on principle and always, can we comfortably apply the welfarist approach? Can we really argue that an abolitionist approach to slavery was unrealistic and impractical? Slavery isn’t acceptable once the treatment of slaves is ‘improved’. We can apply this reasoning to any abhorrent act and see why the welfarist approach doesn’t sit well. This is not to make a moral equivalency between human and animal exploitation necessarily, but only to point out that a compassionate approach to the exploitation of any sentient being should involve an effort to alleviate suffering as far as possible.
CCTV cameras will not stop animals from suffering unnecessarily. One can only hope that enough vets will watch footage of these factory farms to realise – as many people who do who watch such footage – that the lives destined for these animals cannot justifiably be funded and perpetuated.
By drawing on the lessons from history, and looking at cases where the interests of humans and animals have been fought for, it seems clear that the protection of rights is the most morally defensible and effective way to reduce suffering.