Most people are against factory farming—but what about grass-fed, free-range, humane? Nowhere is animal agriculture more idealized than the rolling green landscape of Ireland. Let’s take a close look at the very best we have to offer and see if the ideals live up to their promise.
I want you to imagine that one morning you wake up, and as you stretch in bed, your fingers graze your oak headboard—and suddenly, before your eyes, you see the tiniest acorn fall to the ground, sink into the earth, shoot up into a great oak, get cut down by industrial machinery, chopped into pieces, manufactured into a headboard, packaged, shipped, displayed, and purchased by you. This all happens in the span of a few seconds.I want you to imagine that one morning you wake up and as you stretch in bed, your fingers graze your oak headboard and suddenly, before your eyes, you see the tiniest acorn fall to the ground, sink into the earth, shoot up into a great oak, get cut down by industrial machinery, chopped into pieces, manufactured into a headboard, packaged, shipped, displayed, and purchased by you. This all happens in the span of a few seconds.
You start thinking maybe you aren’t quite awake—it was just a particularly vivid dream. But when you throw back your sheets, you’re regaled with their entire journey from cotton seedlings in a field, all the way to adorning your mattress.
By this point you’re understandably afraid to move, so you yell for a loved one, instinctually reaching out to them as they rush in. And it happens again. Only this time you’re not watching their history, you’re seeing it through their eyes. Every moment in their life as they saw it, every experience as they experienced it—all in the blink of an eye.
It’s all so much at once you find yourself unable to explain to them what’s happening—at least not without sounding insane. So you laugh it off—must have been a bad dream—and thank them when they offer to make breakfast. Maybe getting something in your stomach will settle things down.
You keep your socks on as you make your way to the table to save yourself the life story of your floors and carpets, and pull back your chair with your foot before carefully sitting down. You decide to just use a single fork for everything that you’re going to eat so that you don’t have to learn more than you care to know about utensil production.
Your plate is set before you and your loved one or family member or roommate joins you. You smile and thank them and say you must have just been hungry. And then you make the mistake of taking a bite of bacon. And it happens again.
Just imagine the full scope of this—every item you pick up at the store, every piece of clothing you put on, every person whose hand you shake or hug. How would your understanding of the world and those around you change? And how would it affect your food choices?
Hello, my name is Emily Moran Barwick. I’m an animal liberation activist, an artist, an educator and a vegan. I created the YouTube channel and accompanying website, Bite Size Vegan, where I educate people about veganism through a wide array of video styles covering a diverse range of subjects. [Note: I’ve kept this article largely true to the speech transcript. This may, however, at times sound a bit odd in the written form.]
In our time together today, I’m very likely going to challenge some of your life-long beliefs. I’m going to ask you to set aside your preconceptions, suspend any certainties, and try to see with a fresh set of eyes that which you’ve never questioned. The everyday, ordinary, accepted aspects of your daily life.
I am aware that this is a great deal to ask of you, especially coming from a total stranger. I’m asking for your trust when I haven’t even earned it.
But believe it or not, I am not here to force my beliefs upon you—to criticize your country, culture, traditions, religions, or beliefs. I’m not here to shame or shock you. I’m not even here to make you vegan. I won’t pretend to have that power. And no one really makes any lasting change through force anyway.
Today, I’m simply here to show you what is really going on every second of every day all around the world behind closed doors—including here, in Ireland. I’m here to present evidence—for your consideration—that things may not be as they appear
Undoing a life-long belief is no easy task. But in order to make informed decisions, to look ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are truly living the values we purport to have, we must know the truth. We must educate ourselves about what is really going on, not rely on what we’ve been taught. We must make decisions based on facts, not fantasy.
I’ll want to preface this talk by saying that I’m going to be transparent with you and I’ll even tell you if I don’t know something.
I will be focusing rather intensely on the situation here in Ireland. Now I’m obviously not from here—and as much as I strive to be diligent in my research, it would be a grave misjudgment and incredibly presumptuous on my part to come here and try to tell you about your own country, especially on something so incredibly central to your country’s history, economy and culture, as animal agriculture. The facts I’ll present today are not of my creation—I’ve sourced them from primarily Irish governmental and industry documents, the European Union, and many, many others.
You don’t even have to believe me—I will be providing you with a link to a resource sheet containing a full transcript of this talk with detailed citations for every fact I state, a full bibliography and additional resources so that you can dig deeper. We’ll only be able to barely scratch the surface in this brief window of time we have together.
So let’s get started. For anyone unfamiliar with the term “veganism,” vegans do not eat, wear, or use anything that came from someone else’s body. We don’t eat meat, drink milk or eat cheese. We don’t consume eggs or honey. We don’t wear leather, wool, silk, or down. We don’t use products that were tested on animals or contain byproducts from their slaughter. And we don’t attend circuses, zoos, aquariums, or any other event that exploits living beings for our entertainment and pleasure.
Now you may think this is an extreme way of life—most people do. Maybe it seems unrealistic, unnatural, even dangerous. Perhaps a well-intended but misguided over-reaction to isolated cases of animal cruelty.
After all, most people identify as animal lovers—they don’t want to cause the suffering and death of innocent beings anymore than vegans do. But all those undercover videos of abuse and horror stories of cruelty you hear in the news—those are in America, right? Or China. Or some far away land. Or a case of one corrupt individual giving all farmers a bad name. Or the inevitable product of factory farms, big agribusiness, and corporate greed.
But it’s not like that here. Here we have smaller farms. Higher standards. Better conditions. Stronger regulations. Our farmers care about their animals.
Maybe your family or you yourself are involved in some aspect of animal agriculture and find the claims of many animal activists objectionable, inflammatory, and completely out of line with your own practice. Or maybe the rolling green pastures you drive past, with peacefully grazing cows seem to be another world from the vegan arguments against beef and dairy. Or maybe you have a friend who raises their own chickens for eggs and treats them like family members, nothing like the tiny cages in the media.
Certainly there’s a middle ground between systematic abuse and the extreme measures of veganism? A way of farming animals that’s inline with the inherent values of humanity: stewardship, compassion, respect for life, humane treatment.
Assuming this is the case, how much do you know about the exact nature of these higher standards and stronger regulations—or even the origin of the animal or animal product on your table? Where were they born? Where and how were they housed? How were they treated? How were they killed?
Unfortunately—or, you may think fortunately—the hypothetical exercise we started off with is total fantasy. The vast majority of people posses very little to no knowledge of where their food comes from and how the individuals from whom it was taken were treated—including the Republic of Ireland and the whole of the EU. 
What we eat is such an accepted part of our every day life that most of us have never even thought to question what we’ve been told. This isn’t due to a lack of intelligence—this information is deliberately difficult to find—and even then, it’s couched in euphemisms and dense legal language. Which makes you wonder— if there’s really nothing wrong with how we breed, raise, and kill the animals we eat—if it really is better here, why such make such an effort?
Today we’re going to decode this language, look behind closed doors—we’re going to take that figurative bite and see the history of the animals we eat. And this is not just about them, but also the environment, our health, and the health of our family. You deserve to know the truth about what you’re putting in your body—about what you’re feeding your children. And you certainly deserve to know what you’re paying others to do to animals in your name.
Now I’m not even talking about instances of overt abuse and neglect—which have and do occur in Ireland— because we all know such cruelty is unacceptable. What we’re going to focus on are the standard operating procedures and best practices. You may already be familiar with some of what I’ll cover—perhaps it’s even part of your every day work—but remember today is about seeing these accepted conventions through new eyes—the animals’ eyes—and questioning our mentality towards these beings. To this end I’ll be using terminology you may find objectionable when applied to non-humans—perhaps overly anthropomorphic. This is a perfect example of our completely contradictory beliefs.
Humane regulations are an inherent admission of animals’ ability to suffer and feel pain. So how can we claim that our standards are higher, our animals better treated, that they’re healthy and happy—then deny that they even possess these capacities when asked to see from their perspective? We cannot have it both ways. So let’s see how the vast majority of Ireland’s population lives.
The Republic of Ireland’s human population is now over 4.7 million. Of course this does not include the over 1 and a half million pigs, 5 million sheep, almost 7 million cows, and 11 million chickens and other birds. As you most likely are aware, Ireland’s main animal agriculture outputs are dairy and beef, however the most highly consumed animal products in the Republic are pig meat and poultry. In fact, Ireland has one of the highest levels of poultry meat consumption within the EU at 32.8kg per person in 2015, finally overtaking Irish per capita pig meat consumption by over a kilo.  And, believe it or not, at least according to the respective countries’ statistics from 2014, Ireland’s population consumed almost 7 kilos more poultry per person than the United States, and between 9 and 24 kilos more red meat, depending on the measurement parameters.
It just so happens that the most highly consumed meats in Ireland are the most intensively farmed, though this can be easy to miss as the Agricultural Census groups pigs, poultry, horticulture, fruit and mixed crops as “Other.” Ireland’s pig industry states in its own 2015 report that “currently 99%+ of Irish pigs are bred and reared in indoor, non-straw bedded, slatted or solid floor systems.” In 2003 the European Commission stated that while “the majority of pigs for fattening (81 %) are reared on units of 200 pigs or more,”…[t]he industry in…Ireland is characterised by units of more than 1000.”
Within the pig industry worldwide, it’s standard practice to “process” piglets—a perfect example of the euphemistic terminology with which we reduce individuals to inventory. It allows us to distance ourselves from our actions. During “processing” baby pigs have their teeth cut or ground, their ears sliced or pierced, their tails cut off and boys have their testicles ripped out—all without anesthetic.
While the Irish pig industry seems to favor raising intact males, the Republic’s laws explicitly permit unanaesthetized castration, along with teeth and tail cutting of piglets under 8 days of age. Ear tagging, notching, or other “lawful application” of identification are permitted at any age on any animal.
Baby pigs are killed before they’re 6 months old—a decade before their natural lifespan. The brief time they get to spend with their mother is through the thick metal bars of her farrowing crate. Nursing mothers are tightly confined, unable to turn around or interact with their babies.
Pigs are highly intelligent and incredibly social, ranking with primates in their level of social cognition. Mothers can recognize their piglets by sound alone, and sing to their babies while nursing—referred to in studies as “nursing vocalization.” But despite their scientifically recognized array of complex emotions, piglets are separated from their mother within days or weeks of their birth, with Ireland specifying no earlier than 21 days.
The sooner her babies are taken, the faster she can “re-enter production.” At her “time of service,” the astounding term for forceful penetration of her vagina with an instrument full of boar semen, she may legally be chained in place, one of the number of exceptions allowing the tethered restrained of pigs. Tethering stalls as a whole, where pigs were chained in place all the time were outlawed by the EU in 1995, but as we’ll continually see with all regulations, this came with ample exceptions, loopholes, and a 10 year window for implementation.
In 1998 91% of Ireland’s mother pigs were still confined to sow stalls or tethered. And when sow stalls, also known as gestation crates, were subsequently outlawed through a 2001 EU decision, again with ample fine-print exceptions and only for a certain portion of their pregnancy, Ireland was one of nine member states found to be non-compliant in 2013, with the European Commission stating they’d “had twelve years to ensure a smooth transition to the new system and to implement the Directive.”
Later that same year, the organization Compassion in World Farming released an undercover video from their investigation into five pig farms in Cork, Waterford and Kerry, with one investigator stating,
“These are the worst pig farms that we have seen in Europe, and the worst conditions that I have seen in years.”
They found pigs covered in their own excrement, relegated to filthy pens, cannibalizing dead pigs left in their pens out of boredom, bins full of carcasses, weak and emaciated pigs left to die, open wounds, among other violations.
Fearing their findings were an indication of conditions within “a large section of Irish pig farming,” the organization noted how “Ironically, as these investigations were taking place, Ireland held the EU Presidency. During their tenure, the Irish Government made a show of taking the lead on animal welfare.”
Humane regulations do not equal humane treatment. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a tendency to dismiss these kinds of investigation as isolated incidents—five isolated incidents in this case. That’s why I’m laying out in such detail the exact nature of the highest standards available—standards that reduce intelligent beings to machinery. That allow the repeat sexual exploitation and confinement of mothers, the mutilation of babies, the separation of families in order to churn out the next round of living products.
If we look at Ireland’s own portrayal of ideal conditions, images printed in welfare guides, pig farms featured on Ear to the Ground, [footage & images available in video above at 16:58] and make the effort to see with a fresh set of eyes, how can we call this treatment humane? If this is the highest standard, what’s happening when the camera’s not rolling?
This particular episode of Ear to the Ground perfectly illustrates our true motivation for enhanced welfare—allowing a few pigs to access to the outdoors for the first time in their lives to see if this improves the flavor of their flesh and the price their carcasses will fetch.
Ireland’s Pig Industry Stakeholders in their own 2015 report cite animal health and welfare as major challenges, and propose a financial incentive of €200 per sow for depopulation—meaning payment for killing and “restocking” their “inventory.”
In 2015, 3.2 million pigs were killed in export-approved plants in Ireland. When we add in the estimate for non-export approved plants and the 181,000 Irish pigs shipped alive to other countries, the body count climbs to 3.6 million (3,575,737). This does not include pigs “destroyed” for disease or depopulation, nor the worn out mother sows killed with their “production” declines. Deemed unfit for human consumption, even in their death’s these serially abused beings are denied any recognition of individuality.
If we are capable of treating these social, intelligent, emotive beings—who show affection and play in many of the same ways as our beloved canine companions—with such malicious, selfish disregard, imagine what we’re capable of doing to beings with whom we’re less able to relate.
2015 was a banner year for the Irish Poultry and Egg industries, with rising global demands and domestic consumption. Along with poultry surpassing pig flesh as the most eaten meat in the country, Irish egg consumption and production are also rose, with the nation’s 240 egg producers churning out 281 million more eggs in 2015 than five years prior.
By sheer quantity alone, chickens are the most severely exploited of farmed land animals. the mothers of the pig industry, layer hens are imprisoned, used up, and thrown away when their bodies give out prematurely from the extreme demands of production. Hens lose vital nutrients every time their body forms an egg. Every aspect of their lives is regulated to ensure maximum output.
From breeding them to produce eggs at an alarmingly unnatural rate, to controlling their laying cycles with days and days of persistent light followed by long periods of complete darkness, to starving them for weeks at a time in an effort to force yet another egg cycle from their worn out bodies, a process benignly referred to as “induced molting.”. Of course, the EU essentially banned the complete removal of food and water in 1999, so instead of suffering through up to 3 years of this brutality, European hens whose production has declined have the good fortune of being slaughtered around their first birthday.
The vast majority of the world’s more than 7 billion layer hens spend their abbreviated lives in cramped battery cages, unable to even extend their wings. Now you may have heard the big fuss about the European Union’s groundbreaking directive set in 1999 banning “barren battery cages” by 2012. From the media coverage, you’d think EU layer hens are living in luxury. But as we’re seeing with humane regulation, the devil is truly in the details.
In reality, the directive merely replaced barren battery cages with “enriched,” meaning furnished, battery cages. Reports extolled how hens would now be afforded 750cm2 each, neglecting the legislation’s clarification that only 600 of these would be usable due to “furnishings”—meaning this most “revolutionary” advancement for the rights of layer hens granted them each an additional 50cm2.
Understanding the true impotence of this legislation makes its pathetic implementation all the more baffling. In 2012, nine countries told the European Commission that their farmers would not meet the deadline for conversion, with four additional countries saying it was unlikely they’d be ready.  These thirteen countries had over 12 years to grant the laying hens they enslave a meager 50cm2.
And all the while the media celebrates the victory for animal welfare, the public eats more and more eggs, reassured by their higher standards, and the individuals this entire charade is supposed to be for, remain just as exploited.
This is readily evident if when we put a face to the figures. Meet Alice and Joy. [see photos in video above at 22:00] They were both liberated with a few of their sisters from Irish egg farms and brought to Eden Sanctuary just outside of Dublin, where they walked on grass and saw the sky for the first time in their life. Alice came from a battery cage farm. Joy came from an enriched cage farm.
Eden’s founder, Sandra Higgins, described in a report on the EU Directive the conditions in which Joy and her friends were imprisoned.
“A large number of them had extremely inflamed and swollen bodies, obviously stressed to the limit by the human demand for eggs. One hen was barely able to walk, her legs unable to keep her body upright because they were forced so wide apart from the swelling in her abdomen. Some had prolapsed from the effort of laying eggs. Some died of egg peritonitis. Joy, like the others, was exceptionally light, with a mere covering of skin and feathers over her sharply protruding keel or breast bone. She had ammonia scalds on her skin.”
Apparently they hadn’t seen the news to know how fortunate they were to be living under the highest of standards.
Confronted with this reality, most people propose a shift to free-range and cage-free facilities. But as we’ve seen, the only comfort these labels bring is to our own conscience. Cage-free birds are crammed into tiny sheds and have twice the mortality rates of battery caged hens. They still have their sensitive beaks cut or burned off, and as they still suffer the same predisposition to osteoporosis from their inbred overproduction of eggs —which, with their increased opportunity for movement, results in an increased incidence of fractures.
Their bodies are their prisons.
The most horrifying consequence of our perverse genetic manipulation, is the fate of male layer chicks.
We’ve optimized our machines, you see, and designed one kind of chicken for meat and another kind for eggs. Because of this, the egg industry produces billions of unwanted male baby chicks every year.
To “dispose of”—as it’s termed—these baby chicks, they are either painfully gassed, slowly suffocated in plastic bags, or they are ground up alive. This is standard practice all over the world, regardless of cage-free, free-range, and organic labels. The EU regulation under which Ireland operates lists maceration as the preferred method, specifying that chicks must be less than 72 hours old when the are killed –they are not even granted three days of life.
Now you won’t find any mention of this barbaric practice in Ireland’s newly implemented Animal Welfare Act, or anything specifying methods of confinement and slaughter. And even if you manage to unravel the convoluted language and trace the overly complex changes in legislation enough to find what eventually became part 7 of Schedule 5 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations, you’ll find, amongst a myriad of disturbing details of legalized murder, “The permitted methods for the killing of chicks,” cleanly laying out the proper way to grind up conscious, living, feeling, day old babies.
Of course if you happen to look deeper and find that Schedule 5 was deleted in its entirety in 2013, you may understandably assume chick disposal was abolished. In reality, the reason Ireland’s new Welfare Act seems so sterile is that it simply defers the gruesome details to the EU Regulations, and Ireland-specific supporting statutory instruments.
I hope by now my initial claims that we can’t trust what we are told are sounding slightly less like a conspiracy theory. If you’re wondering why this hasn’t been exposed on the news, it has. And every time it’s people are appalled, outraged, disgusted. They wonder how anyone person or industry could be so barbaric. And they continue to eat eggs, not realizing they’ve just answered their own question. The European Commission estimates that the EU kills 330 million chicks every year, with global estimates at 3.2 billion.
The chickens of Ireland’s raises meat industry aren’t any better off, bred to grow at such alarming rates that they collapse under their own weight before being sent to slaughter at only 5-6 weeks old. In 2015 Ireland killed a record 80.3 million chickens in approved export plants alone.
Ireland’s SafeFood review not only describes in detail how Irish chickens are hung upside down and dragged through electrified water baths, but also addresses the health impact on the human population. Campylobacter is the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis in Ireland, with “the highest burden…seen in children under five.” In 2008, of the broiler chicken carcasses inspected from Ireland, 98% were contaminated with Campylobacter.
That same year, Ireland had the most outbreaks of Cryptosporidiosis and E-coli in the entire EU and EEA. And I’m sure your familiar with bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease—which brings us finally to most iconic and the most profitable sectors of Ireland’s animal agriculture: dairy and beef.
Ireland is home to over 6.3 million cows. 1.7 million were slaughtered in factories & abattoirs in 2015, with total “disposals” as it’s termed, reaching nearly 2.1 million. But these numbers say little about the lives of these beings.
We all know milk comes from cows. We may think they have a constant supply of milk and even that they need to be milked to relieve the pressure. But cows are mammals, just like us. They produce milk for one reason: to feed their babies.
Cows carry their babies for 9 months, just like we do, they lactate to feed their babies, just like we do, and after weaning, they stop producing milk, just like we do.
So in order to have a constant supply of cow’s milk for human consumption, we need a constant supply of pregnant cows. In the dairy industry, as we’ve seen with mother pigs, cows are repeatedly subjected to what we call artificial insemination. But were we to awake in the condition of our imaginary scenario, take a sip of milk and see the same experience from the cow’s perspective, we’d not hesitate a moment to call it rape.
Cows are restrained, anally penetrated by the inseminator’s arm, and vaginally penetrated by the semen-containing rod. Aside from the trauma of this experience, cows often sustain internal injuries, which is why AI training on female cows at slaughterhouses is gaining popularity. After all, any damage to working cows would slow down production, and what’s another violation when they’ll be dead soon anyways?
No matter where she’s raised or how she’s housed, when a dairy cow gives birth, her baby is taken away. Can’t have them sucking up all the profits, after all. Animal Health Ireland’s handy CalfCare guide advises that “dairy calves should be removed from their dams,” meaning mothers, “immediately after birth and hand-fed colostrum,” which is the very first milk all mothers produce, containing important antibodies. They go on to explain that “the dairy calf is going to be separated from the cow anyways” as “dairy cows are not bred for their mothering abilities,” citing the low quality of their colostrum.
Not only does this negate the emotional devastation of having child after child taken away, but it even uses the consequences of our own exploitation as a means of justification. Cows bond intensely with their calves and will cry for days when they are taken. A former cattle rancher friend of mine turned vegan when she witnessed her cows chasing the trailer as it took their children away. She says they cried for days and only stopped when they lost their voices. This is not anthropomorphizing. It is a mother’s grief and it’s utterly heartbreaking to watch.
If her baby is male, he is sent to a veal farm where he is tied down, unable to move, or locked in a cage where he cannot even turn around until he’s slaughtered while still only a few weeks old. Veal, an industry that even many meat-eaters oppose, wouldn’t exist without dairy. Every cup of yogurt, every scoop of ice cream and every glass of milk is directly connected to the deaths of those baby calves. Of course the dairy calves of Ireland are shipped to other countries to meet their fate.
Female calves are doomed to suffer the same fate as their mothers, whose worn out bodies give out around 4 or 5 years of age, despite their natural lifespan of 20 years or more. They’re sent to slaughter for cheap meat and pet food, deemed unfit for human consumption. At the slaughterhouse, many of these mothers face their final and most brutal separation from yet another child. While formal statistics are difficult to obtain as most studies focus on the economic cost of “fetal wastage,” accounts range from approximately 10% to 70% of cows arriving at the slaughterhouse pregnant.
Ireland’s welfare laws allow the unanesthetized castration of cows up to 6 months of age with a burdizzo, or a rubber ring around their scrotum up to 8 days of age, as well as the painful removal of their horns up to 15 days. Of course Ireland’s Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council recommends these procedures not be carried out simultaneously with the weaning of beef calves, stating that, “Weaning of the suckled calf from its mother can be particularly stressful for both the cow and her calf.”
Their dairy brochure offers a single bullet point, that “Weaning of calves should be done with the minimum of stress.”
An EU audit encompassing only a fraction of Irish dairy farms between 2012 and 2014, found up to 70 welfare violations per year, stating that “the most frequently detected in bovine animals is mutilation.” And that despite corrective measures, “the number of mutilation non-compliances detected from 2012 to 2014 remained stable.”
Living beings aren’t meant to be production machines. Dairy cows are prone to infections from frequent milkings, and are often pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, all of which seep into their milk. Even here in Ireland there’s an official number of pus cells allowed in milk, euphemistically referred to as the “somatic cell count.” In the United States, 750,000 pus cells are allowed in every mL, with the EU specifying 400,000 cells/mL and Brazil allowing 1,000,000 cells/mL].
Yes, Ireland’s dairy and beef cattle are largely pasture raised and on much smaller farms than industrial production. But even that’s changing. With the end of the milk quotas, Ireland’s largest dairy farmer said that in order to compete, “the dairy farm of the future is going to have to be bigger.”
And for the cow, the pig, the chicken, duck, turkey, for the lamb or sheep—they don’t know the name of the company or person enslaving them. They don’t know what size the farm is or in what country. They are just as robbed of their rights and their lives regardless of location
Our rationalizations and justifications are of no use to those whom we exploit. With some of our most impressive mental gymnastics, which would be admirable if it weren’t so horrific, we say this barbaric mutilation, this conversion of living beings from someONES to someTHINGS is for their own good.
Because if we if we don’t clip their teeth or cut their beaks or slice off their tails, they’ll attack and chew on each other. What we fail to mention, is that these behaviors are stress responses to confinement in overly-crowded, insanity-inducing conditions. If we didn’t put them in these abusive conditions, they wouldn’t react the way they do.
But we humans love to play the role of savior in the disasters of our own creation. We swoop in to milk the cow and relieve the painful pressure of her swollen udder. Pressure that wouldn’t exist had we not taken her child away.
We’ve spent all this time looking at the treatment of animals in Ireland, but the truth is, Ireland exports the vast majority of its outputs, including 90% of beef and around 85% of dairy. In addition thousands of live pigs, chickens, sheep, lambs, and unweaned calves—babies we’ve stolen away from their mothers—are shipped out of Ireland on extended, terrifying journeys to other countries through all manner of weather extremes. If they manage to survive the journey, they’re either fattened up for slaughter, or in the case of veal calves confined and slaughtered, or simply killed immediately.
Ireland’s transport reports show regular violations of animal welfare regulations, with Ireland as a whole receiving a Formal Notice from the EU in 2011. And when these beings arrive at their final destination, the nature of their treatment and their deaths are out of Irish hands. Undercover investigations continue to expose brutal abuse of these imported animals.  Ireland ships living beings across the EU as well as to destinations like Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Kosovo, Albania, Rwanda, China, and the Ukraine.
EU Live Export Investigation Footage
But what about the animals that you eat? How are they treated? Looking again at what’s eaten the most, 60% of pig meat and 90% of chicken consumed in Ireland are imported. Another SafeFood report found the majority of Ireland’s population had very low awareness as to the actual source of their food, illustrating how a single slice of Hawaiian pizza processed and packages in the Republic of Ireland, would have ingredients from at least 19 countries.
Ireland is home to multiple multinational corporations with the world’s largest beef producer, JBS, recently relocating their headquarters to the Republic, amidst criminal proceedings for violating Brazilian laws.
In surveying and observing Irish consumers, they found that “While many aspired to be healthy, economical, and to support the domestic market, this did not follow through to their purchasing behaviour. It was observed … that there is a marked difference between consumers’ attitudes and their behaviours.”
This finding was echoed in an EU study on awareness of slaughter regulations, with the majority of Irish consumers unaware of the details or even whether regulations exist, and just two of the 13,500 respondents from across the EU citing animal welfare at slaughter as a consideration in their meat purchases, with the main driving forces being quality and price.
Once again money trumps ethics.
Yes, the industry keeps the truth deliberately hidden, but to be honest, most of us prefer not to know. We say we love animals, but it’s impossible to love someone and profit from their death. Of course farmers take care of their animals. But we only need to look at the language to see it’s not compassion, it’s maintenance of inventory.
We even limit the parameters of their so-called legal protection by the bottom line of cost. We amass mountains of paperwork, conduct thousands of studies, spend untold amounts of money, form governmental, institutional and industry panels, all to decide, define and decree the right way to rape, confine, mutilate, kidnap and kill.
I mean it really is absurd when we step back and think about it. Do we have manuals on how to humanely rape? Or how to compassionately kidnap? Or ethically rob? Of course not because those are oxymorons. They cannot coexist. But when it comes to our treatment of animals, we will bend over backwards and create massive paper trails of regulations to feel good about what we are doing.
We turn these living beings into data points, flowcharts, and percentages—calculate to a decimal point’s certainty the exact cost of every aspect of their lives and details for their deaths. We relegate the annual mass murder of over 3 billion day-old conscious, innocent babies to a footnote. A footnote in a study conducted for the welfare regulations we’re so graciously creating. We deem them legally sentient, deserving freedom from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear, distress and mental suffering—then use this very recognition of their capacity to feel the same emotions and sensations as we do to design—in language so disturbingly detached it’s nothing short of sociopathic—the exact manner in which we may legally violate, imprison, cut, burn, alter, and murder them.
This is how profoundly illogical our thinking is when it comes to animals. It goes against all basic human understanding. Knowing better but doing wrong anyway is worse than having no knowledge. Yet we have the audacity to hold this legislative recognition of non-human sentience on high as a giant step forward for the rights of animals. As if systematically exploiting individuals with fully admitted knowledge and comprehension of their capacity to suffer is something to commend.
Look what we offer ourselves as evidence of progress: a reduction in animals slipping and falling on their way to slaughter in one abattoir in one country. When we look at our actions from the other side, the perverse absurdity of our deluded self-congratulations is astounding. If you were in the place of these beings, how grateful would you feel if your captor laid down a bathmat on the ramp to your execution?
Is this really the best we have to offer? Being the most courteous murderers? The most considerate rapists? Pouring untold resources into these convoluted laws and regulations, all the while completely blind to the fact that there’s another option entirely.
One we don’t have to manipulate our values to justify. One we don’t have to couch in euphemistic terms or bury beneath incomprehensibly dense legislation. One that allows us to finally align our actions with our values and become the people we believe ourselves to be. Good people. Kind people. Animal lovers. Stewards to this earth and its inhabitants.
Before we address—very briefly—issues of the environment and health, I’m going to play a short video. While I’ve included footage on your resource page of the undercover investigation into Irish pig farms and the brutal abuse and prolonged slaughter of live exported Irish animals, I decided to take a different approach here today. The video I’m going to play only includes footage of government-sanctioned conditions and practices, all completely legal here in Ireland.
If it really is better here, we should have no objection to watching. If you feel you must turn away, I’d just ask you to think on the question: “If I can’t watch the process, do I have a right to eat the product?”
In my years of being vegan and speaking with many, many non-vegans, I have yet to ever hear one reason that even comes close to justifying putting a sentient being through what we just saw. Not one.
You cannot watch that and say that the animals we kill for our food don’t know any better. That they die peacefully and humanely. They can sense the fear. They can smell the blood. And they fight. They fight to the end.
And you can’t say that it’s happening in some far away place because it’s happening all over the world. The CO2 chambers you saw – those were the medieval devices lowering pigs to an extraordinarily painful death of burning from the inside out – that is seen as the most humane method of slaughtering pigs.
The EU, in its groundbreaking legislation, recommended phasing out the use of carbon dioxide, but said “the impact assessment revealed such recommendations were not economically viable at present.”
Interestingly enough, Butina, the company that manufactures the very chambers you saw in that video—and the ones operating here in Ireland—was one of the stakeholders involved in that assessment.
It’s the absurdity of murderers deciding how they’re allowed to murder.
As we saw with the disease outbreaks, it’s not just the animals’ welfare that’s compromised. In Ireland, just like the United States, heart disease is the number one killer. We’ve long had proof that a balanced vegan diet can prevent and even reverse heart disease.
74% of men and 57% of women in Ireland were overweight or obese in 2010, with the World Health Organization designating Ireland as the leader of Europe’s obesity crisis, with almost the entire adult population predicted to be overweight or obese by 2030.
More than 1 in 4 children in Ireland are overweight or obese, with a SafeFood study finding 61% getting insufficient dietary fiber, 40% exceeding recommendations for dietary fat, and all exceeding salt intake by 50%, specifying that “processed meats … made a major contribution to the salt content of all children’s diets,” the very kind of meat that the WHO has designated as a class one carcinogen. 
We’re taught that animal products are necessary for protein, vitamin D, B-12, iron, and other nutrients, but these “foods” are a package deal—inseparable from their disease-promoting components.
I’ve included more in-depth information on health and nutrition on your resources page, as well as a link to a free comprehensive guide to going vegan from Eden Farm Sanctuary’s Go Vegan World campaign—but I want to speak very briefly to fishing and the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
Whether you eat fish and marine life or not, this matter impacts all of us. The ocean, or rather the phytoplankton within the ocean, provides somewhere between 50 and 80% of our oxygen and the oceans ecosystems store carbon in massive quantities—we are destroying the very lungs of our planet with the delusion of sustainable fishing.
Setting aside all arguments for animal ethics, the destructive nature of animal agriculture, the environmental crisis at hand should be on the forefront of Ireland’s agenda—too protect and preserve the incredible landscape of this country, in which its citizens take well-deserved pride. And while Ireland is the first country to implement a nation-wide sustainability program, it unfortunately mirrors all of the major green initiatives and government panels the world over, proposing and celebrating symbolic gestures, essentially applying media-friendly Band-Aids to a severed limb.
Animal agriculture accounted for 34% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, the single largest contributing sector. It’s responsible for 97.5% of ammonia, 89.2% of methane, and 94% nitrous oxide and a greenhouse gas that is 296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
Ireland had the 4th highest greenhouse gas emission per capita in 2011 The National Competitiveness Council reported in 2008 that the ROI was “one of the highest carbon emitters on a per capita basis in the OECD,” utilizing less than half the OECD average of renewable sources, with no waste to energy conversion, stating “the least preferred waste solution from an environmental perspective, dominates in Ireland.” Their subsequent 2015 Scorecard, showed Ireland’s environmental performance (EPI score) and rate of improvement still lagging behind OECD average, with particularly poor performance “in relation to biodiversity and protection of habitats, fisheries and water sanitation.”
Keep in mind this is the impact of the iconic, grass-fed, pasture-raised Irish agriculture. As it is, EPA documents show time and again the waste lagoons from pig and dairy farms and wastewater from rendering plants contaminating Ireland’s protected waters, and mislabeled or non-compliant handling of SRM materials, meaning remains at risk of containing mad-cow disease, directly threatening the public health. 
The Irish Times reported the increasing environmental devastation of New Zealand’s dairy practice, saying how that country was “often held up as an example of what Ireland could have been if the milk quota regime had not pulled the handbrake on our growth.” Twenty days later, the quote was lifted.
Even if this approach was the ideal we hold it up to be, we simply don’t have the land for the number of animals we eat every year. The amount of land that it takes to produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based foods will only yield 375 pounds of meat.
You can grow 15 times more protein on any given area of land with plants versus animals.
We have environmentally reached the point beyond personal choice–beyond “you eat how you want to eat and I’ll eat how I want to eat.” This is a global crisis and it’s not about you and it’s not about me anymore.
We say that children are our future but what future can they have when we are eating the planet to death? The world cannot sustain meat, dairy and egg production. It simply can’t. We have to start aligning our actions with our values.
I understand that animal agriculture is more deeply rooted within Irish culture than I can possibly comprehend—an enormous source of pride for your country, which is all the more reason to take action. Far from contradictory, offensive, disrespectful or extreme, the principles and practices of veganism are the best hope for healing our planet, and of preserving the beauty and history of countries like Ireland.
And in making this shift, we’ll need farmers more than ever—those who know the land when so many of us find it foreign. We’ll rely on them for our food as much as we ever have.
We cannot justify what we do to animals out of tradition. Our traditions do not alleviate their suffering. And our customs do not dictate the value of someone else’s life. Traditions can be wrong. And customs can be cruel. There are many atrocities in the history of humanity that we now look upon with disgust and disbelief at what used to be commonplace.
And you don’t have to give up taste or even giving up our favorite foods. These days there exist vegan alternatives for virtually every meat, cheese, dairy creation, even eggs. And you can find recipes online for making your own versions if the readymade alternatives aren’t available in your area or are too expensive.
Veganism, far from being an extreme lifestyle, a threat to tradition, is the most sane and rational way to live. It’s the most powerful tool we have for saving our planet, for improving our health when we eat health-consciously, and for regaining our compassion- for becoming the people we believe ourselves to be: Good people.
And good people don’t destroy the planet, leaving our children without a future. Good people don’t throw newborn babies into grinders. Good people don’t rip day old babies away from their mothers. Good people don’t rape, torture and murder. Yet “good people” everywhere are doing all of these things with every bite of every meal.
But that’s the beauty here. You no longer have to buy into the lie. You decide what goes into your body. You decide whether you want to continue to have others kill for you. You decide whether you want to continue consuming death, terror, and heartbreak.
You have the information at you feet. The responsibility now lies in your hands. You decide.
And my hope is, you’ll decide to go vegan.
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— Emily Moran Barwick