All animals that are killed for human consumption are actually very young. Farm animals in factory farming never live for more than a few years and compared to the average human lifespan this has to be considered a short time. But even using standards that are specific to the species in question, animals in factory farming are slaughtered at a young age. Using online data, we found that, for example, dairy cattle in factory farming on average live for four and a half years, while cows in fact can live to become 30 years old. Poussins only live for six weeks. Pigs can live for 15 to 25 years, but in factory farming are slaughtered after only 12 to 25 weeks. Lambs are sometimes slaughtered when they are five months ‘old’, but in spring the meat of so-called baby lambs from animals between the ages of 8 to 12 weeks is popular. Turkey chicks are slaughtered at the age of 12 weeks, larger turkeys at the ages of 16 to 20 weeks. Rabbits are slaughtered at 11 weeks and ducks when they are 7 weeks old. In the fur manufacturing industry mink are killed after only 7 months.
In addition there are the ‘useless’ animals such as day-old chickens and billy goats which are killed as soon as possible, sometimes in an absolutely barbarian way.
All this shows that farm animals have a much shorter life than they could have lead in nature.
The life free-ranging animals lead is often somewhat better and in many cases lasts somewhat longer (sometimes up to twice as long), but it still can’t be considered very long.
For fear of being eventually dethroned by Jesus, King Herod ordered all boys under two years of age in the Bethlehem area to be murdered. This event is also known as the ‘massacre of the innocents’ because children are, by definition, considered to be clean and pure.
The killing of children, and in general all crimes against children (such as assault, neglect etc.), are seen by virtually everyone as more serious crimes that should be punished more severely than crimes against adults. Offenders who commit such crimes are more likely to be sentenced to some form of therapy.
The murder of children is repulsive to almost everyone because –especially young- children are completely defenseless, (can) have committed no wrongs and are completely dependent on adults.
Yet many people do not recoil from killing (or having them killed) and consuming millions and millions of very young animals each year.
Many people are attracted to young mammals and birds. Their ‘cute’ appearance, but also their awkwardness, affection and playfulness instinctively appeal to probably most of us. According to certain ethologists and psychologists this could be connected to the feelings people need to develop naturally towards young children to guarantee their safety and their successful development. Young animals resemble our own offspring in certain ways and that would explain why they are able to almost automatically put us in the right mood.
Another theory is that young animals, among which children, are so endearing and stir such positive feelings because they are completely harmless and give us the opportunity to identify with them on an emotional level (empathy) and in this way give rise to compassion (sympathy).
Young animals, outside of the context of factory farming, often evoke feelings of endearment anyway, but this apparently does not discourage producers and consumers from sacrificing them on a massive scale for their culinary and other pleasures. What should we think of this macabre phenomenon?
One possible explanation is that the killing of young animals takes place out of sight for as much as possible, and in this way only people who are directly involved are confronted with it. For example, an acquaintance of mine worked at a slaughterhouse for a while and only after some time he found out that an employee like him was not only supposed to slaughter adult pigs, but young piglets as well. He was so shocked by this discovery that he purposely caused an 'accident' during which he cut his own thumb so that he could report sick. This incident shows that it is possible that many people simply do not realize how old the animals they eat actually are. I personally know some-one who eats meat, but has for years abstained from eating the meat of immature or very young animals, which shows that the age at which animals are slaughtered does make a moral difference even to people who are no vegetarians.
In addition to ignorance an extreme form of denial can play a part, which is connected to what I described earlier in my article ‘The Denial of Injustice’. A former female colleague of mine thought is wasn’t worse to use younger animals for consumption, but actually less bad. Animals that are killed at a young age have hardly experienced life and in this way would have less to lose than adult animals that would be strongly attached to life. If you extrapolate this argument the killing of young human children, including babies, would be less evil than the killing of adults.Someone writing a cooking column went as far as to say that lamb would be preferable to other types of meat, because it is almost certain that lambs have lead a relatively free life. In other words, this fact is supposedly more important than the fact that they have been slaughtered as lambs.
Killing young animals as an expression of speciesism
People who eat meat have a very different attitude towards the young of other species than towards human children. Many people who eat meat have probably have no special objections against eating immature or young animals on a conscious level, because they do not realize how young the animals in question are exactly or because they suppress those objections the moment they arise. This is connected to the omnipresent speciesism. Deep-seated reactions, such as endearment and the urge to protect a vulnerable creature, emotions which are linked to our moral intuition, are set aside to benefit our own purposes, in such a way as would be considered shocking and criminal should it concern young of our own species. We probably never deny our potential for humanity and compassion as much as when we needlessly harm defenseless young creatures.
The opposition against seal fur has increased because we have seen images of seal pups being mercilessly clubbed to death. It is not at all inconceivable that similar images of farm animals might further cause speciesism to waver where it concerns our own meat consumption.
All animals who are killed for their meat or their skin are in fact too young, because they should have had the freedom to live as long as possible.