Many people adopt a vegetarian diet because they don’t want to kill animals for food, and they think vegetarian foods are no-kill.
Sadly, the vegetarian diet does involve a lot of killing. Unfortunately the two main animal products that vegetarians consume – dairy and eggs – contain just as much cruelty and suffering as meat does.
New Zealand has over 4 million dairy cows. Most cows are kept in herds upwards of 100 individuals; in these numbers the cows cannot get to know one another, and social structures cannot properly form. This means the majority of cows are living in socially awkward situations, with unclear hierarchies, and this causes great stress.
Every year, these cows are forcibly inseminated – many people consider this rape – and spend the next nine months growing a calf inside them. Within a day or two of birth, the calf is separated from the mother and either sold, or killed or confined to become veal, or kept as a replacement for the female population.
Three months later, while still lactating, the cow is once again inseminated, and the cycle goes on. Sometimes, to speed up this process cows have their calves prematurely aborted. This process can be quite medically complicated. Her body is used over and over like this for about five years until her milk production starts to decrease. She will give birth to many calves that she is forced to bear. She will rarely know them. Many of them are immediately killed. When her milk production decreases – well short of her potential 25-year lifespan – she is killed. She may die with major mineral deficiencies as a result of intensive dairying.
In both dairy and egg production we see common suffering and death.
Male chicks are killed at an early age as they are not useful to the industry. They are hatched and killed by gas or ‘maceration’, otherwise known as ‘instantaneous fragmentation’. This process involves sending newly-hatched chicks down a conveyor belt and blending them alive. This happens all forms of egg production, including free range. Females get to spend their days as slaves to the industry, in extremely stressful conditions, with their bodies abused over and over, only to be killed well short of their natural lifespans.
Layer hens have a rather similar story to dairy cows. The 50% of chicks not killed at birth – females – will spend the next 18 months of their lives confined to small spaces; in the case of battery and barn hens, never even seeing the outdoors. Both free range and battery-farmed hens have the tips of their beaks cut off. Layer hens have been bred to lay upwards of 300 eggs per year – this places enormous stress on their bodies and wears them out while they’re still young. At around 18 months old – and well below their natural lifespan of 8 years – their egg production starts to decrease, so hens are killed as another waste product.
Both industries have just as much suffering and death as the meat industry, and a vegetarian for ethical reasons should really be a vegan.
*It should also be noted that the environmental impacts caused by the dairy industry (especially methane emissions, soil degradation, water pollution and deforestation) can also be resolved by adopting a vegan lifestyle, but cannot be resolved through vegetarianism.