We live in a world in which non-human animals are exposed to unimaginable suffering. The suffering of animals in agriculture exceeds human-inflicted suffering of animals in all other areas of life many times over. This is primarily due to the fact that almost all domestic animals fall into the category of “livestock”. In Switzerland almost 80 million terrestrial vertebrates are killed annually for human consumption – in comparison to around 500,000 animals that are killed annually for research purposes. At a figure of 75 million, chickens form the overwhelming majority of animals killed, followed by pigs at around 2.5 million.
Animals in agriculture are viewed as an economic resource that can be further optimised, and prior to slaughter they live in conditions that would often be unthinkable for other animals. Broiler chickens suffer particularly badly: They are grossly overfed, and at the end of their all-too-short existence (a scant 5 weeks) they can barely support their own weight. Many experience damage to their legs or cardiovascular problems, because the heart can no longer properly supply the body with blood. Up to four percent are not slaughtered but die in the shed. Pigs also live in cramped conditions, and very few of them ever have the chance to wallow in mud outdoors, as is their nature.
The immense animal suffering in agriculture is unnecessary and avoidable. Developments in research demonstrate potential alternatives. Nowadays there is broad consensus that research on animals raises some serious ethical questions. This awareness has given rise to regulations that have resulted in a sharp decline in experiments on animals. The most important of these regulations states that it is not permitted to kill an animal unless it can be proven that there is no viable alternative. However, in agriculture millions of healthy animals are slaughtered after a mere fraction of their life expectancy, without any imperative for the lack of an alternative to be proven.
This is particularly galling given that there is far less at stake in agriculture than there is in research. The development of a new drug has the potential to save countless lives, whereas the consumption of animal products is primarily to please the palate. Considering the fact that there is an obligation to find alternatives to animal testing, this proviso should be all the more stringent for agriculture. Thus, to Sentience, it is clear that the well-known 3R principle adopted by research – Refine, Reduce, Replace – must also be implemented in agriculture. Animal husbandry should cause less suffering (Refine), be quantitatively reduced (Reduce) and – insofar as available – replaced by alternatives as a matter of urgency (Replace).