Human Diet and Animals

To any thinking person, it must be obvious there is something terribly wrong with relations between human beings and the animals they rely on for food. It must also be obvious that in the past 100 or 150 years, whatever is wrong has become wrong on a huge scale, as traditional animal husbandry has been turned into an industry using industrial methods of production.

— JM Coetzee
Sydney Morning Herald
2 February, 2007


Millions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle are housed and transported in unbelievably cruel conditions and then slaughtered every year in Australia for food and for by-products such as hides, milk and eggs. Legislation throughout all states and territories of Australia exempts this ‘class’ of animals from practices which would ordinarily be regarded as cruel if they were inflicted on other animal species, and particularly on companion animals.. The industrial scale and abhorrent nature of the production and killing processes currently employed is at a level well beyond the worst nightmare of many.

While it is a given that the demand from Australians for animal meat and by-products is highly entrenched and actively marketed and is unlikely to change significantly in the short to medium term, the Animal Justice Party believes the vast majority of Australians will not tolerate the unnecessary suffering of animals for food including through intensive ‘farming’, mutilation procedures without analgesia, and long-distance transport. Therefore, a major goal of the AJP is to bring awareness of these practices to the community, engaging them to exert consumer pressure and advocacy to expedite major improvements for ‘farmed’ animals. The AJP will seek to encourage action through the legislative and policy process to ameliorate any pain, distress or suffering to which animals used for food are routinely exposed.


Domesticated animals have been grazed and farmed extensively in Australia since early European settlement. Initially, most would have been slaughtered ‘on farm’ or in butchers’ establishments or small abattoirs. As stunning devices had not been invented and it was not common to shoot animals, the kill was usually done while the animal was conscious, and it would only lose consciousness upon ex-sanguination.

After the Second World War, Australia, as did Europe and North America, adopted more intensive farming practices, particularly for poultry and pigs.. This meant that most of these species were gradually moved from extensive environments to enclosed, very highly populated housing. For meat chickens (broilers) this involved housing in large closed sheds on litter and this method was later adopted for turkeys and ducks. Egg- laying hens spend their entire lives in tiny wire (including the floor) battery cages, often multi-tiered, in enclosed sheds. Pigs have small pens made of metal with concrete flooring, and pregnant sows are often housed in ‘sow stalls’ which are only marginally larger in size than the animal’s body.

In the last thirty years there has been an increase in ‘feedlots’ for cattle, where they are kept in outside pens at a high stocking density to be ‘fattened up’ for ‘marbled’ meat over a six to twelve-month period before slaughter.

Dairies are now becoming more intensive and cows can be housed in sheds on sawdust only 50 metres from the milking sheds, where sometimes, with high energy yield feed, they will be milked up to three times a day.

The Five Freedoms

Out of concern about the way in which intensive (factory) ‘farming’ adversely impacts upon the wellbeing and welfare of each individual animal in such establishments, a list of five freedoms has been developed.  Most animal protection organisations around the world, including advisory councils such as the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which advises the EU and British Parliaments, have pressed for the incorporation of these five freedoms into farm practice.

The freedoms are:

  1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.

The Animal Justice Party supports these five freedoms and believes that they must also apply to the transport and slaughter of animals. For as long as the slaughter of animals for food remains beyond the law,, animals that cannot be killed by gunshot or captive bolt stunning ‘on farm’ must be transported over the shortest possible distance to the abattoir, and not treated with gratuitous cruelty when they arrive.


The AJP acknowledges the abundant evidence of the deleterious health impact on humans of a diet which is high, or even moderately high, in animal protein. There are numerous scientific, professionally analysed and critically peer-reviewed studies that support this view.

These deleterious impacts on human health include heart disease, obesity, circulatory disease, diabetes, antibiotic resistance etc.i

It is for these reasons, along with the aforementioned inevitable positive impact on the wellbeing of animals, that the AJP supports education about, and promotion of, a diet that includes the fewest possible animal products. This is sometimes called a ‘non-violent, or cruelty-free, diet’.

Ethical considerations

From veterinary science, animal biology and animal behavioural science it is clear that ‘farmed’ animals, like all other animals, both human and non-human, exhibit a range of complex emotions and have a multiplicity of interests and profound needs. They experience contentment, affection, loss, pain, fear and loneliness. Even with the best will and welfare practices in the world, if animals are used for food they will experience distressing emotions, including pain and terror, particularly during the process of slaughter, with its inevitable violence prior to and at death.

A second ethical consideration relates to our responsibility to our hungry and starving fellow humans. .The world’s people can be fed, but one of the major obstacles is the fact that much of the grain, soya beans and other crops grown are used to feed farmed animals. The world’s cattle alone consume enough food to feed 8.7 billion people, more than the entire population of the world.

‘Feeding millions of tonnes of grain to billions of animals to feed humans is callously indifferent to the undernourished people of the world, whose sustenance depends upon the same basics (wheat, soya beans, vitamins and minerals) as the food fed to factory-farmed animals.’ – United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 2008.


No one, including environmentalists and environmental scientists, can deny the detrimental impact of animal agriculture on the environment. This has not just recently become apparent, but occurred when the first tree was felled to make way for pasture for sheep and cattle.

As intensive agriculture has proliferated over the past sixty years, the clearing of land to grow grain to feed animals has escalated. The serious impacts of nitrates and other compounds from effluent released from factory farms into water tables and waterways has been documented extensively and the air pollution from intensive farms has also been well documented.

In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a Report called Livestock’s Long Shadow. This report states that animal agriculture industries are one of the ‘most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.’

The use of water for intensive agriculture, and particularly for dairy, is staggering. For example, it takes between 50,000 and 100,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, but only 2,500 litres to produce a kilogram of rice, and even less to produce fruit and vegetables.ii

  1. Campbell TC, and Campbell TM. 2006. The China Study. Benbella Books.
  2. Meyer, Wayne 1998. Water for Food: The Continuing Debate. Cooperative Research Centre for Irrigation Futures

This AJP policy should be read in association with the following other policies:

  • Live Animal Exports and the Export of Animal Products
  • Farm Production Animals
  • Domestic Saleyards and Abattoirs

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