They too feel pain and loss

2011-04-13 00:00

HOW did you get into working for Compassion in World Farming?

As a meat inspector at abattoirs around the country for several years.

Have you always been interested in animal welfare?

No, but when I was at abattoirs I would ask myself, "Why are they handling animals in this manner?" Remember that it went against the Animals Protection Act and the Meat Safety Act, so I was just doing my job at the time.

This passion [compassion towards animals] grew within me, but I was unable to get involved until I had a meeting with my current colleague, Louise van der Merwe, at Compassion in World Farming and an informal co-operation was established and what we shared grew until I was on board full time.

What was your greatest aspiration as a child?

To be a medical doctor, but my parents could not afford the fees so I settled for any discipline that had biology and anatomy in it. My second­ choice was biomedical engineering, but because I applied late environmental health was suggested.

What is the worst thing you have seen that people do to farm animals­?

The slaughter of a conscious pig with a blunt knife. The ordeal lasted for almost 20 minutes.

Have there been any initiatives that you have seen people start which you are really impressed by?

The Spier Biodynamic farm rears chickens as naturally as nature­ can provide. The Boschveld farm gives community members male chicks that are born into its egg industry, thereby empowering them and helping them to fight poverty.

Do commercial and organic farming make a difference to the welfare of animals?

To some degree. You can farm organically­ and not treat your animals well, meaning that you can feed them naturally and still cause them to suffer by, for example, tail docking them.

How should consumers choose meat products that have been farmed in environmentally or animal-friendly ways?

We are currently devising a means for people to have a choice by selecting­ according to a labelling scheme in the market. However, this will largely be based on the animal welfare and not the environmental aspect of farming.

Are there animal products that are particularly notorious for poor animal welfare that consumers should know of?

All eggs that are not labelled "free range" would be from battery cages. All chicken flesh that is not properly labelled would be from intensive­ or industrial farms and almost all pork, which is not properly labelled, would be from pigs that come out of sow stalls or crates.

What else should the public be aware of as areas of neglect or the mistreatment of animals?

Experimentation in university laboratories, working animals like donkeys or horses, circus animals such as lions, elephants and so forth. Also the shooting or hunting of animals as a sport.

What is your view on the use of animals­ in sports such as horse racing, equestrian events and dog fighting?

I would prefer animals­ to be treated as sentient beings, meaning that they feel pain, loss and other emotions that are complex to our current comprehension.

Therefore they are better left alone if there is no understanding of how they perceive a particular circumstance, for example racing. But fighting is totally inhumane and unethical.

What is your view on keeping animals­ in captivity?

Here the question to be asked is: "What do they prefer, which environment would they rather be in?" Animal behaviourists and animal scientists can answer this question with absolute certainty — that animals­ prefer to be in the wild — and I second that.

Some communities use animals for labour. Is it possible to ensure the fair treatment of animals without affecting the livelihood of the farmers or foresters?

This is what Compassion in World Farming is advocating: let us treat animals as humanely as we can as long as we benefit from them. The problem with the current situation is that the farmer is trying to make as much money as he or she can while neglecting the most basic of animal needs.

• Join the Compassion in World Farming conversations on Facebook at www.facebook.com/compassion.za

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