Fine Us If You Must, But Vegan Activists Will Never Stop Raiding Aussie Farms
WARNING: Graphic images and content.
I’m kind of a simple person. I see things that are wrong, and so I try to understand them, so that I can fix them.
I decided when I was 10 that animals probably didn’t want to be eaten, and so I went vegetarian; and for nine years, that was enough for me. I thought I was doing my part. I didn’t know what a battery cage was, I didn’t know what a macerator was, a race and knocking box, a farrowing crate, a bolt gun. The terms ‘exsanguination’ and ‘controlled atmosphere killing’ meant nothing to me. I’d never met a pig, a cow, goat, duck or sheep.
Veganism, I thought, was a bit extreme -- what was wrong with eating eggs or cheese if the hens were going to lay anyway and the cows needed to be milked?
I knew about slaughterhouses and factory farms but only in the vaguest sense; footage existed, but it wasn’t recent and it wasn’t from Australia so I didn’t really concern myself with it or feel any real urgency to do anything. I was content enough with the idea that things are pretty good here, that there are strict animal cruelty laws with any wrongdoing quickly identified and stamped out by our government or the RSPCA.
And so this superficial, unchallenged conception that I had about the animal agriculture industry was enough for me.
It wasn’t until Animals Australia ran a campaign in 2010 about bobby calves -- the male calves in the dairy industry who are all killed because they can’t produce milk -- that I realised that maybe there was more to the story that I was missing. So I started researching, wondering why all these calves were being bred in the first place if they were just going to be killed, and learned that cows, like humans, must give birth in order to lactate, and to keep the milk flowing they’re repeatedly re-impregnated.
No more milk for me.
I learned that the same thing happens in the egg industry -- while the female chicks go on to become egg-layers, the male chicks are useless and are sent into a macerator (an industrial blender) or gas chamber in their first day of life. Some 12 million of them every year in Australia. Meanwhile, the females are killed at around 18 months of age when their laying starts to slow down.
No more eggs for me.
There was no Australian footage of any of this though, and almost no information from government or industry sources. I’d try to tell people, and they’d dismiss it as being something that only happens overseas.
I wondered what else I’d been lied to about, what else was being kept secret, and realised that the only way to find out was to see inside these facilities, these factory farms and slaughterhouses, for myself. I made some friends in the local Animal Liberation group who took me out on a few rescues, removing animals from massive turkey farms or cage-egg sheds and allowing them to live out their lives free from harm at a sanctuary.
It wasn’t long before I felt like I needed to be doing more. I heard a rumour about a pig farm not far out of Canberra, and so a friend and I went for a drive and managed to find it, and then returned at night to see inside.
I still remember it vividly, seven years on. Mother pigs confined to tiny cages in what I later learned were called farrowing crates, their piglets in a larger box around the cage. The mothers -- sows -- could only sit up, lie down, or at best take a step forward or backwards, they couldn’t turn around. Here they’d remain for six-eight weeks at a time. This was my first time meeting pigs, but their expressions, the look in their eyes, could not be misinterpreted. They were broken.
I remember the ‘grower’ sheds, where hundreds of pigs were crammed together, living on top of each other in their own waste.
In a building adjacent to one of the farrowing sheds, we discovered a makeshift slaughterhouse. I remember the wheelbarrow left there overnight, overflowing with entrails and viscera, being eaten by a pig who had escaped the pens.
I remember a pig’s head, hanging on a hook, his eyes slightly open and mouth agape, a few metres from his torso that had been split down the middle. On a nearby bench, a knife and sledgehammer stained with blood. And the scalding tank, filled with a murky brown mixture of blood, water and dirt, with chunks of fur and skin embedded in the mechanics.
Over two months we returned repeatedly, purchasing hidden camera equipment from an electronics store and, after spending a few days figuring out how to use it, installing it in the disused air-conditioning vents that ran along the ceiling of the main farrowing shed and a ledge that overlooked the slaughter room. The footage captured workers throwing piglets across the aisles and kicking them along like footballs, while their mothers watched on screaming in protest; routine mutilations like tail and teeth cutting performed on young piglets without pain relief; the owner of the facility bludgeoning pigs with a sledgehammer in his slaughter room.
Once we felt we had enough evidence to show that there were systemic issues here, we took it to the RSPCA and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), who organised a raid of the facility with the police. The owner knew they were coming though, having been tipped off by the DPI a couple days prior, and had been able to clean a few things up and ensure he wasn’t found mid-slaughter. Still, the RSPCA found enough to lay 53 charges of animal cruelty, which were later dropped after the DPI threatened to remove their investigatory and prosecutory powers.
The media storm and public outcry was incredible. The pork industry distanced itself completely, claiming that it was a “one-off”, a “rogue operator”. Completely unsupported, the facility was forced to shut its doors.
By then though, I knew better than to believe anything the industry said. So we set out to prove them wrong, finding similar cruelty at 40 other piggeries over the following two years, around half of them in NSW. The industry, embarrassed by the constant flow of footage undermining their claims of “humane” and “ethical” farming, and no longer able to use the “rogue operator” line, fell silent.
On several occasions, we found animals who needed urgent veterinary care, including a sow who had given birth to a litter of stillborns, causing paralysis in her hind legs. Unable to pull herself to the food and water at the front of her cage, she had begun chewing on her legs.
The footage was immediately given to the RSPCA and police, who did nothing for a few days until further trespass was threatened, by which point the farmer had shot her.
In early 2014, we learned about the use of carbon dioxide gas chambers at all the major pig slaughterhouses in the country, including one in NSW. The only information we could find about this process was that it was the most “humane” way to stun pigs, and had been in use for more than 20 years. There was no footage. So, evading their security, we installed hidden cameras again and captured, for the first time, what happened inside those chambers.
Our small team gathered in the motel room after retrieving the cameras to watch the footage, and it quickly dawned on us the gravity of what we’d uncovered. The pigs are forced -- often with a painful electric prodder -- into one of several cages, two to three at a time, and then lowered into the gas before coming up the other side unconscious or dead.
A sort of ferris wheel of death.
Every pig who entered that gas could be seen screaming and thrashing in agony, desperate to escape. This is what the industry had been calling “humane”. The footage was seen by millions all over the world.
We turned our sights to other common practices that we knew occurred but didn’t have Australian footage to prove it. In 2018, we released Dominion, a feature-length documentary comprehensively exploring all the main ways that animals are used and abused for commercial purposes in Australia -- the culmination of eight years of researching, investigating and documenting.
Now, the industry and the government are paying attention and starting to act. Not to stop the systemic cruelty, and not even to engage with the Australian public by opening an honest discourse about what’s happening to animals.
They are acting by imposing draconian laws aimed at curbing the further release of damning footage, and punishing those whistleblowers who seek to obtain or publish it, or even speak out against it in any way that upsets the social order and causes anyone to stop and think that maybe this is not an industry they want to be supporting with their purchases.
Framing it, as they have, as a matter of “farmers vs vegan activists” despite the total lack of violence, aggression or personal vilification shown by activists towards farmers, or as a matter of biosecurity despite the total lack of biosecurity hazards caused by activists in 40 years of covert investigations, is entirely an effort to draw the attention and the conversation away from the industry-standard, legalised and now heavily-documented animal cruelty that is rampant across our country, and away from the fact that consumers are being intentionally deceived and outright lied to.
It’s perhaps the most transparent thing they’ve ever done.
Ultimately, as long as these facilities exist -- unnecessarily breeding animals, using, abusing and brutally slaughtering them without any sort of transparency or honesty -- there will be people willing to risk everything to bring it to the public’s attention. Why? Because we believe that Australians are good, decent people who care about animal suffering more than they care about someone’s apparent right to make a buck from it.