Wendy Valentine is an investigator and founder of Hillside Sanctuary in the United Kingdom.
At Hillside we are often asked if we recommend meat, eggs and dairy products with labels suggesting they are "humanely" produced. We simply cannot, as such labels are always misleading. There is no way to create animal products free of injustice and cruelty.
Over the past ten years we have documented the tragic plight of many animals on farms operating under one "welfare consicious" scheme or another. In particular, we have investigated a number of farms accredited under the Freedom Food scheme, monitored by the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). The Freedom Food label appears on animal products for which the public pays a premium price, believing that by doing so they are somehow being kind or helping animals.
In reality, several of the Freedom Food-accredited farms we have investigated are so bad that television producers have chosen to show our footage on high profile programmes. In 2003, we investigated one RSPCA monitored Freedom Food duck farm where we found conditions so appalling that the RSPCA was forced to bring a prosecution against the poultry producers, Kerry Foods, to whom they had previously given Freedom Food accreditation.
Although we had hours of footage clearly showing the extremity of the exploitation and suffering, the RSPCA refused to use our footage in court. Instead they showed the judge footage that they had taken after all the sick, injured and dying ducks had been killed and taken away, resulting in Kerry Foods being acquitted. We believe this happened because it wasn't in the RSPCA's interests for a farm they were promoting and supposedly monitoring through their Freedom Food scheme to be successfully prosecuted. And before too long, Kerry Foods was back in the Freedom Food business. This demonstrates the very real problems that arise when animal advocacy organizations put their good names behind labels that convince the public a product is "humane."
In another case, two pigs were boiled alive at a slaughterhouse that was Freedom Food-accredited by the RSPCA. A slaughterhouse worker said this: "The pigs come to the abattoir and we stun them, then stick them [cut their throats] before they go into a tank of boiling water to get rid of the bristles. Twice last week they weren't stuck properly, and the pigs went into the tank alive, burning them. It's really cruel. The pigs went into a hot burning tank and it is no different from if you or me went into boiling water. It burned them, and they went a funny colour."
A spokesman for the meat company confirmed the validity of this report, but said that the worker responsible had been sacked. He also declared that his firm is "committed to the highest standards of animal welfare." The irony of his statement is doubled by the fact that, while the horrible atrocity of being boiled alive is considered by this company to be "an isolated incident," one that led to the sacking of an employee, the horror and injustice of stunning these animals and cutting their throats one after the other can be described as being in accordance with the "highest standards of animal welfare." It cannot be said enough: there is no such thing as humane slaughter.
At a turkey farm which had been given RSPCA Freedom Food Accreditation, we found birds soaked in excrement, shivering with cold. Some birds were left with horrific injuries for days, and dead ones were just left to decay amongst the living. Our investigators filmed an open bin full of decaying carcasses, some partly eaten, lying in a sea of maggots!
In 2003, we received a note from a former Trustee of the RSPCA, who stated, "I also feel it is impossible for any organisation to economically monitor that every creature so-labelled has been raised and killed according to any set of standards." We at Hillside agree, and that's why we have now made an official complaint about the Freedom Food scheme to the Advertising Standing Authority. We feel the public is being misled by the Freedom Food label.
Animal advocacy organizations that get involved with endorsing animal products are going to end up falsely reassuring the public at best, and at worst, reinforcing the myth that using and killing animals can somehow be made kind or "humane." It can't. Fortunately, there is a way out for us all. Every time we choose food not derived from animals, we're preventing a terrible injustice from happening. That's an act of kindness and respect for animals, and ourselves, that we can trust as being for real.