Following the new outbreak of foot and mouth disease, emphasis in the news has been on how well (or badly) the government has dealt with the crisis, the problems suffered by farmers and the ongoing investigation into the source of the outbreak. One very important aspect has been completely ignored.
I wouldn’t for a moment say that the issues I have named above are not important. Of course they are, each in their own way, but in my opinion, the unnamed issue is just as important and the fact that it gets no mention should be seen as a blot on our conscience. I speak of the welfare of the cattle involved in the crisis, of whom tens, if not hundreds, will be slaughtered either because they have the disease or might possibly have been in contact with it. To gloss over the killing of so many animals – animals who have done no harm whatsoever but who have been harmed by human failure – is abominable. This should be stated plainly and deplored.
You may argue that these animals were all destined for slaughter eventually in any case and that conditions in the slaughterhouses of this fair land are far from kind and gentle but such an argument is a red herring. The conditions prevailing in slaughterhouses are a separate issue that needs urgent attention though no government seems interested in giving any thought to it. When animals are killed in these circumstances, it is reported as if it is a mere corrective action like washing the floor of an operating theatre after use. The fact that tens (and possibly hundreds) of sentient animals capable of understanding what is being done to them are put to death in frightening and painful circumstances (haste lowers efficiency) this should not be pushed aside as if it is of no importance.
Whenever man comes into collision with other species, it is they who lose out. We destroy habitats and then bemoan the disappearance of species. We pollute the land and drive out the wild life and then cheer the re-establishment of a token population as if this is a huge victory. The real victory would have been not to destroy the land and its wildlife in the first place but that point seems too subtle for most people to understand. When humans fall ill, they are treated with elaborate care. When animals fall ill, they are disposed of “for their own good”. Think of that next time you fall ill with a curable disease: is the doctor about to administer a lethal injection “for your own good”?
How we treat our pets is bad enough but how we treat our farm animals is much worse. It is a scandal and a horror. Most of the time, the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus put it out of their minds as they munch their bacon rolls or their steak sandwiches. It is only when there is a crisis like a foot and mouth outbreak that for a moment – just for a moment – we have a chance to wake up, look at what is happening and take stock of it. Then, of course, we go back to sleep and forget about it. Nothing changes. The suffering continues.
Who is responsible? Is it the government, everyone’s favourite whipping boy? Or is it the farmers? Or is it the food industry that is now so powerful that I doubt whether even national governments can control it? All of these are responsible to a degree but let me tell you who the real culprit is: it is you. As long as you unthinkingly go along with the food industry and the farming industry, you are responsible for a hidden but huge toll of suffering. Though I have been a vegetarian for 20 years or more, I still include myself among the guilty so I ought really to say we rather than you.
Not that it makes a ha’p’orth of difference: neither you nor we will do a damn thing about it and the suffering will continue.