In many countries in the Far East, cruelty to animals is obvious and shocking. Western visitors to these countries are often upset at the brutality and wanton cruelty they have seen. But in fact, much more cruelty actually takes place in Western countries. Unlike in the Far East, the cruelty takes place behind closed doors, and is carried out by corporations, rather than by individuals.
At least in the West, most people have some affection for cats and dogs, and are upset when they hear of cruelty towards them. Yet the pig, an equally intelligent animal, is treated with complete brutality.
In their natural environment, pigs would live in social groups, and spend much of their time rummaging for food. Before giving birth, sows make a nest and line it with leaves and twigs. In a factory farm, none of this is possible. The baby piglet is forcibly removed from her mother and kept for most of her life in a stall so small that she can barely move. While she is weaning her piglets, the mother is constrained by an "iron maiden" which prevents movement altogether. Because of the stress caused by this cruelty, pigs kept in factory farms often bite each others tails. Instead of reducing the stress that causes this, farmers cut off their tails with a pair of side-cutters. If a dog or cat were treated in this way, the owner would be prosecuted and socially ostracised.
Chickens which are kept for eggs spend their entire lives in a space half the size of a piece of writing paper. As many as seven birds are kept together in the same cage, crammed so tightly that they can barely move. To stop them pecking at each other of frustration, their beaks are cut off in a painful operation. Fortunately, battery farms are illegal in many countries in Europe; however, this is not the case in the USA.
Recent protests in the UK have highlighted the way in which baby calves are taken from their mothers and trucked across Europe to be fattened up for slaughter. In many cases, they had neither food nor water for two or three days. But in fact the real horrors come after their journey.
Pale veal meat fetches a premium in expensive restaurants: the meat tastes basically the same as ordinary meat, but is pale because it contains very little iron. The flesh of very young calves is pale, but as soon as the animals are weaned and start eating grass their flesh darkens. In order to feed them up, while at the same time keeping their flesh light, they are kept on a liquid diet which contains just enough iron to keep them alive, but permanently anaemic. They spend their entire lives in crates so small that they cannot turn round, nor sleep properly. This means that they are constantly uncomfortable, and are unable to groom themselves. They have no bedding, because they might eat this, and thereby take in iron. To add to the boredom and misery, they are kept in almost permanent darkness.
The only reason for this cruelty is so that the large agri-business companies which run them can save a little money. It is not necessary for animals to be kept in such intensive conditions.
Indeed, it is not necessary for humans to eat animal flesh at all. Feeding plant protein to animals is extremely wasteful: it takes about ten kilos of plant protein to produce about one kilo of animal protein. Because of this waste, there is not enough food for everyone on the planet.
Animals are also regularly abused in the name of science. Contrary to what the mainstream media would have us believe, the vast majority of animal experiments are not part of essential medical research. Nor is the cruelty limited to rats. Dogs, cats and even chimpanzees are regularly abused in experiments which are deliberately painful.
Animal experiments fall into three main categories. First, there are non-military experiments, which are carried out in universities and research institutes throughout the world. Some of these experiments are directly relevant to medicine: they extend our knowledge of physiology, and help us to understand drugs and disease processes. However, many more are only of theoretical interest. For example, animals may be given electric shocks in order to investigate learning behaviour: thousands of experiments are performed, most of which are essentially repetitions of what has gone before. Little is learnt, and most of the results are irrelevant to humans.
A more sinister area of research is the military. Although this is funded by tax-payers, the nature of the experiments, and the results obtained, are kept secret. In his book "Animal Liberation" Peter Singer describes a series of experiments in which chimpanzees are taught to control a type of flight simulator using a series of electric shocks. When they had done this, they were irradiated and exposed to nerve gas, to see how this affected their ability. In practice, this meant that the animals were so ill they could barely move, yet at the same time had to control the machine: they received electric shocks each time they made a mistake. After a thousand monkeys had been deliberately tortured in this way, it emerged that the results were of little real use.
A third area of research is product testing. The two best-known procedures are the Draize test and the LD-50 test. The Draize test is used to test the effect that caustic substances have on a rabbit's eyes. Rabbits are used because they dont cry: this means that the test substance stays in place until it is removed by the experimenter, sometimes as much as three weeks later. During this period, the rabbit is completely immobilised, and is in continuous pain. The effect of the test substance is determined by comparing the state of the rabbits eye against a series of standard pictures: depending on the test substance, the eye may be ulcerated, swollen, bleeding, or completely destroyed. The Draize test is used regularly on tens of thousands of animals a year to test new cosmetics, cleaning fluids, and so on.
The LD-50 test is used to test the toxicity of new products. In this test, animals are force-fed varying amounts of the test substance: the aim is to see how much is needed in order to kill half the subjects. In practice, this means that animals are kept in obvious distress for many weeks or months: it is not possible to put them out of their misery, because this would defeat the whole purpose of the test. Moreover, some test substances are not actually toxic. This means that the animals are killed, not by poison, but because their stomachs burst or because their guts become completely blocked up. It is extremely doubtful if the bulk of these experiments are of any real use: for example, the amount of toothpaste that would be needed to kill a rat, is, in human terms, equivalent to several litres. It is doubtful if many humans would accidentally eat the equivalent of fifty tubes of toothpaste.