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Normally, sheep breed once a year and have one or two lambs. The ewe (female sheep) naturally comes into season in the autumn or winter and the five-month pregnancy ensures that most lambs are born in the warmer conditions of spring when food is plentiful. But farmers, lured by the higher prices paid for Easter lamb, change this natural breeding cycle so that lambs are born earlier. Many never survive the cold. The ewes are made to come into season early with the use of hormones or by being kept indoors and controlling the amount of light they receive - the decline in daylight hours being responsible for triggering oestrus.
The most profitable produce of sheep is their lambs - wool coming a distant second, producing between five and 10 per cent of total income per ewe - so they are under pressure to produce more and more offspring. Some may have three or four lambs a year - leading to more intensive, indoor rearing because of their inability to cope with this many lambs in cold weather.
Lambs are often slaughtered at about four months old, although some are killed as young as ten weeks and others up to 15 months. The meat from older sheep is called mutton and is less popular than lamb so is mostly used in processed foods. Ewes are able to live to the age of 15 or so but are slaughtered after four to eight.
Slaughter of lambs
The average meat eater consumes 21 sheep over a lifetime, not including 4-5 lambs who die before reaching slaughter age. Each one of these was a gentle, friendly individual with his or her own unique personality, just the same as your pet dog or cat. Something, perhaps, to contemplate over the Sunday roast.
In any given year, 99-120 million sheep are kept for their meat and wool in Australia alone, and 10-15 million will face the slaughterer’s knife. Also killed will be around 12 million babies known as “prime lamb”. At 4-6 months old when they should be frolicking in the field under their mothers’ watchful gaze, they will be driven into killing stalls, surrounded by the stink of blood and the cries of their frightened companions, to be electrocuted and have their throats cut. As with all methods of stunning, the effectiveness of electrocution varies according to the worker’s skill and the pressure he is under, the upkeep of equipment, individual animals’ metabolisms, and many other factors. Sheep may regain consciousness before their throats are cut or while their blood is pouring out. A UK Study found that most slaughterhouse workers did not know what voltage or current should be used for effective stunning, or for how long it should be applied.
It is a comforting fantasy that the animals we slaughter are somehow oblivious to their impending fates. An eyewitness account of sheep awaiting slaughter suggests otherwise. “They were shaking, trembling…they could smell the blood, their eyes were absolutely wild. As they went in (to the killing box) some of them made sounds like crying babies. Of course they knew what was happening”. A neuroscientist states that “There is overwhelming evidence other mammals have many of the same basic emotional circuits that we do”. Their lives, welfare and relationships are important to them, just as ours are to us.
For slaughter to be considered even remotely humane, it is imperative that animals be stunned unconscious first.
In Australian abattoirs stunning is standard and accepted by most religious authorities — however a disputed legal 'loophole' has led to a small number of Australian sheep abattoirs practising ritual slaughter without stunning.
In Australia approximately 32 million sheep are killed in abattoirs each year for human consumption (both domestic and export). The vast majority of sheep are pre-stunned in accordance with the relevant Australian Standard, and in line with State legislation (for domestic consumption) and federal legislation (for export).
Australia's trade in chilled and frozen 'halal accredited' meat to the Middle East and other markets is increasing significantly each year. The majority of this meat comes from animals that were stunned before slaughter. Frozen and chilled mutton and lamb exports to the Middle East grew to over 80,000 tonnes in 2010, worth some $433M (source: MLA). In the same year live sheep exports were valued at $323M.
In most abattoirs sheep come along a narrow race to the slaughter area, electric tongs are placed on either side of the sheep's head, and are held there for around 2 seconds. The sheep is rendered unconscious and the 'stun' will last for around 45 seconds. Electrical stunning itself does not injure the sheep. Industry standards state that the sheep's throat must then be cut without delay (after the stun) to ensure bleed out (insufficient blood/oxygen to maintain life) prior to the time the sheep would normally regain consciousness. Once 'bled out' the sheep's body will then be hoisted onto a processing line to be skinned, gutted, and cut up.
There have been many studies to determine the degree and duration of sensibility, consciousness, pain and suffering involved with unstunned slaughter. The time observed for the interval from throat cut to unconsciousness for sheep has varied in those studies from 2 seconds to 20 seconds.
Costco is one of America's biggest lamb distributors in the United States, and all of Costco's lamb is processed according to halal standards. In an interview, the corporate buyer for Costco's meat, explained that Costco's halal lamb wholesale purchases are not responsive to Muslim pressure; instead, they are driven by overriding economic factors.
To Costco's credit, the big-box chain is one of the few honest outlets, and it does display the halal certification stamp on the back of shrink-wrapped packages. When most of the world's lamb is produced and processed in Australia and New Zealand -- and when most of those plants have abandoned the practice of separate slaughterhouses in favor of accommodating the uncompromising demands of halal markets -- it is easy to conclude that most of the lamb sold, even to large Western outlets, is halal-processed, stated The American Thinker.
The short life of lambs: An undercover investigation conducted in Italy by Animal Equality
March 26, 2013 - A new Animal Equality investigation reveals shocking torture to lambs raised for their meat in Italy. For over a year, undercover investigators have captured shocking footage never seen before by the Italian public.
Every year, in Italy during the Easter Holidays, over 4 million lambs, sheep and goats are slaughtered. This is due to the consumption of this meat being a tradition to celebrate the holidays. The extortionate number of lambs killed every year is horrifying and forms part of a cruel massacre. This figure is even greater if we consider sheep and goats, which are exploited equally during this period of the year. The overall number of slaughtered animals prior to Easter totals approximately 800.000.
Animal Equality's cameras captured:
• A lamb was left dead for days outside its pen causing a huge risk of contamination for all the other animals. The lamb, which was in an advanced stage of decomposition, hadn’t died the day the images were taken but rather several days before. The activists also filmed lambs and sheep that had been left in extremely contracted conditions for hours. This resulted in, severe stressed behaviour and animals trampling on each other.
• Farm Managers often handled the animals carelessly and with an unnecessary propensity towards violence. The recorded aggressions included the handling of animals by the neck, dragging them to the floor vehemently and throwing them into trucks.
• The recorded scenes in the slaughterhouses were even more disturbing. In the lamb slaughterhouse, the animals were again kept in extremely poor conditions, tightly packed in a pen limited by metallic gratings. They were stressed, petrified and piled up on top of each other. While waiting to be killed, the animals screamed in agony as they wounded themselves on the metal gratings.
• When animals are slaughtered, they are not completely stunned and are still aware of what is happening. They continue to kick and flail until they bleed to death.
Animal experts after watching the footage said:
DR. ADELE LLOYD, Vice President of Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics - Australia
The lambs were observed to be picked up by the forelimbs then shackled and hoisted by the carpi (wrists). This is a painful method of restraint that can lead to injury such as torn muscles and ligaments. This position is very unnatural for these animals and causes them distress as they try to ‘right’ themselves by kicking out which could potentially lead to more serious injuries such as shoulder dislocation or fracture of the carpi.
BERNARD ROLLIN , distinguished professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University / TERRY ENGLE, Professor of Animal Sciences Colorado State University - USA
Live, conscious animals were tossed around with absolutely no concessions to the fact that they were alive, aware, and screaming hideously. The animals were sometimes so crowded they could not move. Nothing was done to alleviate hypothermia. The list goes on and on. The slaughter video was equally savage, with fully conscious, struggling animals being bled out and handled with no compassion or mercy. The stunning apparatus on one occasion causes the animal's wool to catch fire. In short, the facility depicted in these videos should be immediately closed down, and the personnel never again be allowed to work around animals. Everyone complicit in these activities should be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by the law. I seriously doubt that any ordinary people viewing this footage would ever eat lamb again.
JOHN SORENSON, Professor Department of Sociology Brock University - Canada
Even those who are not Christians can recognize that the Easter holiday is intended as a celebration of life and rebirth. Unfortunately, many choose to celebrate this holiday by consuming the flesh of animals and each year at this time millions of lambs, sheep and goats are killed to provide these grisly feasts. Animal Equality’s undercover video investigation of several farms and slaughterhouses in Italy reveal the brutality that underlies the Easter celebrations and the commercial use of animals. Animal Equality has once again performed a valuable service by raising the question of whether or not we will continue to endorse this taken-for granted brutality.
DR. LORELEI WAKEFIELD, founder of the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Animal Welfare Society - USA
Slaughterhouses must spare animals any avoidable pain and distress related to killing. That is their duty. Unfortunately, lambs at this facility undergo completely avoidable distress and suffering. Handling methods such as hoisting and shackling fully aware lambs are terribly stressful and frightening. Ill lambs are neglected for extended periods of time and conditions are unsanitary. The workers ignore signs of pain and consciousness in dying lambs, rather than taking methods such as re-stunning to lessen their pain. Lambs are gentle animals that deserve humane care and treatment. At present, this operation falls short of meeting even the most basic welfare standards.
In light of all the evidence, Animal Equality reports that this is not one single isolated case but it is instead the reality that repeats itself everyday. By means of this investigation, Animal Equality are launching an informative campaign through SalvaUnAgnello.com (For Italian speakers) to invite people to take a pledge against this violence. The pledge involves the commitment of not consuming products such as lamb meat, as its consumption contributes to the great suffering these animals receive. Therefore, we welcome people to join an animal-free diet this Easter. Moreover, we invite people to request that supermarkets refrain from selling these products. In under 48h, Animal Equality's pledge is proving to be a huge success, with thousands of people joining us to defend lambs during these Easter Holidays!
Animal Equality wants to invite the public to reflect on what happens to these very young animals: every year in Italy about 4 million lambs are killed for human consumption and they are partly imported from eastern Europe (mainly Romania) and partly bred in Italy.
Italian organisations (not the Pope) call on people not to eat lamb at Easter!
In a press release from March 2013, the Italian associations for the protection of animals and the environment (Enpa, Lav, Oipa, Leidaa, Lega del cane, Marevivo) issued a statement -- which had (due to a misinterpreted Google translation) unfortunately and wrongfully been attributed to Pope Francis I -- calling on Italians not to eat lamb at Easter.
"Among the oldest Christian communities, the lamb was represented on the shoulders of the shepherd and it symbolized the soul saved by Christ.
The slaughtering of lambs for Easter has no foundation in the Christian tradition, rather it has roots in the Old Testament.
It 's a bloody rite, in stark contradiction with the concept of resurrection, which brings with itself the renewal of faith and hope, it is a rite not necessary in a society, ours, already steeped in violence and death, which only serves to satisfy the interests of the food industry" ... are the words of these Italian organisations expressed in their joint press-release.
All animals, can feel pain and suffer. If you care about those lambs who were killed for their meat, and believe that animals should not be harmed unnecessarily, then please spare a thought for all those other animals, and make the compassionate decision, by adopting a diet free from animal products.
Sources & references:
Go on to Inside the Fur Industry: Trapping Maims and Kills Animals
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