The intensive rearing of livestock has until recently been a matter of concern to only a minority of people. It was considered solely an animal welfare issue. Increasingly however, evidence is coming to light showing the serious effect it can have on the people who work in this industry.

Casual attitudes are inevitable where thousands of creatures are processed on an un-ending conveyor belt of feeding and killing. Repetition is bound to desensitise anyone to the welfare of individual animals. But to see where this can lead you only have to go on the internet, key in Cruelty on Factory Farms, and read the accounts of former employees. Almost anything you can imagine happening in an understaffed, ill-supervised environment where low overheads and high through-put are paramount – happens.


One of the worst cases of cruelty to get into the newspapers happened in England on a Bernard Matthews turkey farm. Two young men, using poles intended as aids for rounding up the stock, were secretly filmed playing baseball with live birds. Their lawyer said they had been influenced by “peer pressure.” He told the court: “In this sort of environment the one thing you cannot do is step outside what everyone else is doing.”

The risk of certain individuals being led into sadism is always present where respect for living creatures has been eroded. Despite the secrecy policy of the majority of factory farms, it now appears that exposure to this behaviour can lead to brutality being regarded as normal. Today, therefore, we must face the fact that what was once seen as an animal tragedy, is in fact one which embraces human beings as well.

It doesn’t end there. Research suggests a clear link between cruelty to animals and violence towards people. In America, an FBI analysis showed that a high proportion of those convicted of violent crimes have histories of animal abuse. One study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University put it as high as seventy per cent.

At the same time it has become clear that we can no longer justify the division which we have always maintained between the animals and ourselves. In recent years science has taught us a great deal about what we and our fellow creatures have in common physically. It is now accepted that they are sentient beings which experience fear and pain as we do. In many cases their senses are far superior to our own. And these “dumb” creatures have their own means of communication.


We can no longer claim that what separates us is more than a matter of degree. And in many ways they have the advantage over us. So what grounds do we have for continuing to treat our fellow creatures as different in kind from ourselves? Encouraged by the Church, man has always clung to the soul as the single thing that separates him from the rest of creation. But spirituality in man manifests itself through such qualities as love, symbiosis and altruism. And anyone who has lived close to animals knows that these are not the monopoly of homo sapiens. Those most aware of this – and who live their lives accordingly – are indigenous peoples such as the First Nation Americans, the Inuit and the Aborigines.

The evidence today is that these groups – often looked down upon as primitive – have been right all along. Each life form is really an aspect of a single, indivisible whole. There may be variations when it comes to individual development. And we progress at the pace of the slowest. But in the end we are one. On the factory farm – as in everything – we are in this together.



Valerie is going to present this to the Civil Society Dialogues of the EU Trade Commission on April 21 08.