Maybe you know a person like this: she’s a self-described animal-lover. She rescues dogs. She gives to wildlife organizations. Maybe she even volunteers at a shelter. And because of her love for animals she goes out of her way to buy “cage-free” eggs and “humanely” slaughtered animal products. And why not? Advertisers assure her that the animals she buys are raised on idyllic farms and allowed to live the good life before being killed in the most gentle and pain-free manner possible. She’s doing the compassionate thing, right?
I’m not assigning blame — after all, I could be describing my myself here. I used to buy “humane” products, too, before I researched it and found out how misleading those labels are. I discovered that happy meat marketing campaigns are just that — marketing campaigns. They are designed to manipulate consumers in order to increase profits when the truth behind these products is anything but “humane.”
But just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the labels weren’t deceptive. Let’s imagine that all cage-free egg hens really did roam freely amidst the rolling hills of clover as promised by the feel-good illustrations printed on egg cartons. And let’s say that slaughterhouses were pain-free, terror-free operations that gently took the lives of animals while ensuring their utmost comfort. Would it be ok to eat animal products under those circumstances? After all, there would be no suffering — right?
Well, we might stop to consider what it means to suffer. Is suffering all about physical pain? Or do we also cause suffering when we separate mother from child? When we manipulate female reproduction and decide which babies live and die? Do we cause suffering when we keep animals in unnatural environments? Or disrupt their social bonds? How about when we take away their only life for no ethically-justifiable reason?
Clearly, not all suffering is related to physical pain. Animals suffer by being confined, bred, controlled, separated from their families and natural environments, and so on. And of course, they suffer the loss of their lives when they are killed.
When we take that into consideration, it’s easy to see how use = suffering. By that I mean that there is no way to use and kill animals for human benefit without causing them to suffer to some degree – be it physically, emotionally or psychologically.
Of course, not every animal will suffer in the same way or to the same degree. But the reality is that somewhere along the line, whenever we use animals for our own pleasure, profit, entertainment or convenience – there is suffering involved. And the worst part? None of it is necessary. We aren’t doing this out of need, we’re doing it out of greed, convenience and desire. Once I realized that, I went vegan. And if you’re someone who cares about animals, I hope you’ll consider it, too.