Standard Mutilations For The Unseen Animals

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Mutilation. It sounds dramatic. Traumatic. Barbaric even.

It is.

It is also no wonder it is not the word used when discussing it in the agriculture industry. Yet a rose by any other name is just as sweet...and vice versa. 

They are systemic in raising animals for food and instead are referred to as terms such as tail docking, beak trimming and mulesing, just to name a few. Surgical procedures done with no pain relief, done only because of the repercussions of the manner in which we are rearing these sentient beings for food – by that I mean in mass factory farms. 

Tail Docking

Why would you need to cut off the tail of a piglet?

Because when you keep these intelligent animals in barren sheds with thousands of others, they freak out… and fair enough, so would I! When they freak out, they can bite other pigs’ tails. So we have decided we should just cut them off. Problem solved?

Cutting off their tails causes acute trauma and pain since the tail has lots of nerves and the pigs struggle, scream, and clamp their tails between their hind limbs, indicating that pain – OBVIOUSLY! 

If a child goes around hitting other kids, we don’t just cut off their hand, we figure out WHY he is hitting, and address the issue. The same can be said about tail docking in pig farming – when you treat the underlying problem, the tail biting disappears. Tail biting occurs because overcrowding, early weaning and a failure to provide an environment which enables pigs to forage and explore. 

On organic free-range farms, pigs do not have their tails removed – nor are they permitted to in Australian organic farms – because they don’t bite each other! Studies have found that even just by giving pigs straw they were more active, with 25% of their active behaviour being directed towards the straw, such as chewing and carrying it rather than biting! 

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Stopping any living being from being able to carry out natural instincts will always cause stress and consequential behaviour. IN pigs, studies show they:

“The data indicate that pigs are generally exploratory animals with an appreciable proportion of their time devoted to ... examining the distant and immediate environment and in collecting, carrying and manipulating food items ... They used their rooting pads to flatten and push items; the snout was used for grubbing out thick roots. Morsels on the bark and wood were licked, while old tussocks of grass were overturned so that their roots could be eaten. Young grass on the other hand was carefully grazed. In boggy areas they dug more deeply to get at the roots of sedge grasses and these together with the roots of trees appeared to be prized”.

The EU and UK have been “exploring” changes to tail docking – specifically administering pain relief for the procedure - in the previous few years and now farmers may be rewarded for not chopping off the tails of piglets without anaesthetic under government plans to divert EU subsidies into improving animal welfare after Brexit.

Routine docking of pig tails is “illegal”, but seven million pigs a year — 70 per cent of the total reared in the UK — still undergo the painful procedure because of a loophole in the law which hopefully the changes to animal welfare will provide a move towards change! Switzerland is an example that it is possible to farm without chopping the tail of an animal as they banned tail docking along with farrow crates. 

The result is it does cost more.

And so, it should. These are animals not cardboard boxes we are talking about. Switzerland dealt with the price increase to their farmers by protecting them from cheaper imports who do use these barbaric methods and helped them make the transition by giving payments for complying with high animal welfare standards.

Teeth clipping

On many farms it is routine practice to clip the piglets’ eye teeth almost down to gum level during the first few days of life. They do this to stop litter mates biting or injuring each other or the mother’s udders. 

Why would injuries happen in such a natural state such as feeding her young? It doesn’t when sows are allowed to farrow and feed her children as nature designed it. The issue arises because of the WAY we keep them. Totally restricted in farrowing crates.
The use of farrowing crates leaves the mother pig unable to control the behaviour of her offspring. In a natural environment, if a piglet were to bite her it would be dealt with by a sharp reprimand from its mothers’ snout.  A farrowing crate prevents the sow from dealing with such a problem and allows the piglets unrestrained access to her. Not only is the farrowing crate incredibly cruel for the sow, it is another example how factory farming methods are creating issues! 

For a brief over-view of the standards of how your pork was raised please check here.

Debeaking

Birds don’t escape the mutilations – nor the conditions that are behind the reason for needing them. De-beaking involves the partial amputation of the hen’s beak. 

It is done to chickens and turkeys. 

To egg laying hens and to “broilers,” the meat producing hens. 

A red-hot blade or infra-red technologyis used to slice off part of the beak, often there is a metal bar on which the beak is placed and an electrically heated blade then cutts through it. No surprise that sometimes too much of the beak is removed…but no matter how much beak is cut off, it is painful for the animal and done with no pain relief. 

Debeaking


The European Commission’s Scientific Veterinary Committee described de-beaking as a “serious mutilation” and found that amputation results in significant changes in the behaviour of the birds. The hens spend less time pecking and drinking than before – because it hurts! 

·     Note The infa-red tech may be cleaner but remains painful to the bird

The justification is that removing the beak prevents pecking and cannibalism, which occurs when the birds are kept in the standard factory farmed conditions – like the pigs, causing them great stress. Again they are unable to fulfil basic instincts such as foraging or dust bathing. 

Then it is no surprise that there is no need to remove beaks on birds who are kept on organic pasture-raised farms… 

In Australia the Standards of organic produce under Australian Certified Organic are: 

 Chicken and poultry

- Organic chicken meat comes from birds that have access to pastures for most of the daylight hours.

 - Birds have enough feeders and drinkers to allow them to form natural social groups without competing for food and water.

- Birds have weather-proof housing, with enough perches for normal roosting habits.

- Farmers can keep 2500 chickens per hectare to ensure space, 800 turkeys per hectare

- Debeaking is NOT allowed.

Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia standards:

- Hens are housed in sheds and have access to the outside during daylight hours.

- Within a shed there are a maximum of 10 birds per square metre up to 1000 birds.

- Outside there are a maximum of 750 birds per hectare.

Beak trimming is allowed to prevent feather pecking.

* Note RSPCA standards:

- Cannibalism should be at first be prevented by removing possible stressors such as lighting or humidity, before beak trimming is considered necessary and is carried out. Which on other words means beak trimming is permitted and happens to RSPCA approved eggs and chicken/turkey meat. 

Europe is leading the way with animal welfare standards with countries including Finland, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Netherlands all have banned beak trimming. 

In Germany there is a program for the farmers to encourage the transition, for example in 250 farmers in Lower Saxon, a German region, have applied to join the scheme, giving a clear signal of their engagement in improving animal welfare. The initiative aims to bring an end to beak-trimming of hens and tail docking in pigs. Applications cover nearly 600,000 layers and well over 115,000 finishing pigs from the conventional and organic sectors.

Egg farms accepted on to the scheme will receive a premium of €1.70 for each hen with an intact beak and additional space.

Whereas while the UK government enacted a ban on beak trimming in 2002 for 2011, they then deferred it to 2016 and again postponed it – despite their neighbours in Europe showing it is possible and the big chains listening to consumers wanting better welfare standards. This is seen by McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, M&S and Waitrose moving to cage-free production for the eggs they sell and 85% of Waitrose eggs come from non-beak-trimmed birds.

Dehorning

The horns are often removed from both dairy cows and beef cattle in order to avoid the risk of animals injuring each other. Young animals can be disbudded, i.e. the horn bud is removed to prevent the growth of horns. Once, however, the horns are well established, dehorning is the only way of removing them. 

The most common method of disbudding is to kill the horn-forming tissues by applying a hot iron to the horn bud when the calf is 4-6 weeks old. This device is similar to a soldering iron. 

Dehorning is a major procedure. The horns are cut off with a saw, horn shears or cutting wire. Once the horns have been removed, the blood vessels must be cauterised (the horn contains both blood vessels and nerves). 

 Castration

We all know that the scrotom area is highly sensitive. Yet young male calves have to endure their scrotums are cut open, their testes pulled out and cut off – with no pain relief. They bellow in pain – because it would be incredibly bloody painful!

Another way castration is done is with a rubber ring or other device is used to restrict the flow of blood to the scrotum; eventually leading to their testicles falling off. 

Castrated calves can suffer from inflammation, infection and chronic pain. Sometimes the complications from this surgery can even be fatal.

They castrate the males to stop from fighting and make them easier to handle. My argument would be that in any humane society, we would at the least give an animal pain relief when cutting off their genitals. To not do so is simple barbaric. 

 MULESING

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Australia has a lot of sheep. Over 70 million of them. Thats more sheep on our land than people.

We also have a lot of flies down under. Those flies are annoying to us, but to the 70 million sheep they can be fatal. “Flystrike” is a major problem for sheep in the Australian wool industry. Blowflies lay their eggs on the skin of the sheep and then they hatch into larvae, which feed on the sheep’s tissue, producing inflammation, general systemic toxaemia, and even death. Something the farmers didn’t need to deal with in Europe back in the day… a hazard of farming the way we do on this hot dry land of ours…

To manage the flystrike, farmers have been mulesing for years, where the skin is sliced from the buttocks of lambs without anaesthetic to produce a scar free of wool, faecal/urine stains, and skin wrinkles.  Over 20 million merino breed lambs are currently mulesed each year - Australia now the only country in the world to carry out this procedure.  

Mulesing involves cutting a crescent-shaped slice of skin from each side of the buttock area; the usual cut on each side is 5 - 7cm in width and extends slightly less than half way from the anus to the hock of the back leg in length.

For the past few years, sheep producers have been encouraged to use a local anaesthetic when carrying out the process after great pressure from animal welfare groups and high-end brands buying their wool. But it is not mandatory and it is self-regulated. The industry has also been looking into alternatives to mulesing such as:

  • Choosing genetically proven to produce a bare area around the back end. The trait is highly heritable, which means most of the offspring will end up having a smaller risk of getting flystrike - but this of course takes time to be seen through generations of sheep.

  • Changing the time of shearing, so sheep have the least amount of wool when there is the highest risk of flystrike, usually in summer

  • “Crutching” more regularly to remove the wool around the back end of the sheep and decrease the chance of providing that wet wool environment. 

  • Application of chemicals can also keep flies at bay for as long as 12 weeks.

Last month NZ banned mulesing - hopefully adding to Australia to also enforce a ban of this painful mutilation. Farmers can be optimistic that if none of the other options have worked for them, that Victorian Vet John Steinfort has come up with “cryogenic breeching process” as an effective alternative to surgical mulesing. The process involving applying liquid nitrogen to the breech area of sheep.

Animal Justice Party will be bringing the issue of banning mulesing back to Government in the form of a bill to make it mandatory to apply pain relief and for mulesing to be phased out over a two-year period. 

When you talk to farmers from the big farms today they believe that these mutilations - this animal husbandry - is for the animals “own good."

I don’t think so.

Neither do many other consumers. Even the ones that eat meat and dairy. We need to change the conditions on the farms that are driving cause behind opting for these mutilations. At the very least, if not that, we MUST give the animals pain relief when removing parts of their bodies and if we buy meat or dairy, support the supplies that are taking these steps. The RSPCA agrees, welcoming the news that animal pain relief product Tri-Solfen is now registered for dehorning and disbudding of beef and dairy calves, as well as providing pain relief post-mulesing.

With more options now available, there’s simply no reason for not providing pain relief for animals when undertaking painful procedures.

Even Nestle, one of the worlds largest food corporations has committed to phasing out mutilations without pain relief - which will reach over 7000 suppliers around the globe. These are steps in the right direction for the unseen animals - the ones we raise for food and clothing. For we would never allow these procedures to be carried out on our pets or animals in our zoos - so why for the others?

This is NOT a vegan issue. It is an issue of welfare. An issue of being compassionate to other living beings.