I had a surreal moment recently, when two beliefs I hold dear crossed paths like never before. I’m a lifelong veggie: despite the occasional sneaky sausage at a friend’s barbeque, I’ve basically stuck to filling up on quorn and tofu. That’s belief number one.
One of my main reasons is the suffering of farm animals in the food industry – something which is coming under increased scrutiny.
Last week, an early day motion in the House of Commons supported the use of CCTV recording in equine slaughterhouses. The MP behind the motion, Liz Saville Roberts, said she was alarmed by the “conditions” and “inhumane treatment” of the horses.
In France, meanwhile, animal suffering has become a major public scandal after the largest public slaughterhouse in Limoges was exposed by the animal defence organisation L214. Their footage revealed the horrible slaughter of pregnant cows, in which unborn calves slowly die in the womb and bovine foetuses are thrown away as waste into dumpsters. The killings were gruesome, and the suffering heartwrenching. It turns out that many of the two million cows slaughtered every year in France are pregnant.
Watching videos like the ones just released renewed my sense of relief at not being an active participant in the animal food chain.
It’s an ethical challenge, and not only for animal rights activists in France. German, Danish, Dutch, and Swedish ministers have asked the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) for a scientific opinion on the possibility of bovine foetuses experiencing pain.
Moreover, reports say the German government has proposed that the European Commission ban the slaughtering of pregnant cows. My faith in humanity has been somewhat restored.
Well, almost. The sympathy shown for these unborn calves is welcome. But why are we only talking about cattle? This brings me to the other belief I hold dear: I’m pro-life, or anti-abortion, or whatever you want to call it.
We Brits are a nation of pet lovers, forking out £4.6bn a year on them, while wildlife documentaries like Planet Earth leave us wide-eyed. So how much more should be we be concerned with protecting our own unborn? You know, the future scientists, doctors, inventors, and yes, the future disabled, depressed, and alcoholics.
There were 191,014 abortions in England and Wales last year, including 3,213 unborn children killed on disability grounds. That’s a 3.7 per cent increase on 2014.
Are we seriously the only species who train our fellow humans in the “art” of killing our young in the womb, with procedures and drugs to boot? Quite a contrast with the fierce, nurturing, and protective nature shown by any number of animals towards their young – watch momma rabbit take on a snake if you’re in any doubt.
I am afraid our reasoning is inconsistent. There is talk of an upcoming ban on slaughtering pregnant cows at the very least during the last trimester of gestation, partly because of the pain they can feel. But unborn children react physically to “outside stimuli such as sound, light and touch”. Surgeons entering the womb to perform corrective procedures on unborn babies have witnessed them “flinch, jerk and recoil from sharp objects and incisions”.
Human abortions in the case of suspected Down syndrome or cleft palate are legal up until birth in the UK. TV actress Sally Phillips’ documentary and Lord Shinkwin’s bill have highlighted this outright discrimination loud and clear. Yet for some, the treatment of human foetuses is currently raising less alarm than the fate of unborn calves.
Strikingly, the “it’s just a clump of cells” argument, while repeatedly applied to humans, has not yet been mentioned in the bovine debate.
Are we being led to believe that the unborn calf is more worthy of protection than the unborn human? Sometimes it seems so to this pro-life veggie.
Alexandra Tompson is a legal analyst at ADF International, a legal organisation that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith
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