We believe, together with many animal welfare organisations around the world, that an animal's welfare whether on a farm, in transit, at market or at a place of slaughter should be considered in terms of “five freedoms”. These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysis of welfare within any system together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare within the proper constraints of an effective livestock industry. They can be easily applied to the animals that produce our food in Hong Kong.
Although some of the fresh meat and poultry offered for sale in Hong Kong is from animals reared locally, the bulk of it is derived from live animals imported into Hong Kong, mostly from China, for slaughter. Many of these – pigs, goats, cattle and poultry – are transported long distances with limited provision for food and water.
This can easily lead to hunger and dehydration, and distress. To combat this, cattle are sometimes "force fed" with water by having a hose passed down the oesophagus and the stomach over filled with water causing obvious suffering.
Many of the food animals in Hong Kong spend much of their lives in conditions which cause obvious discomfort. This may range from fish in wet markets or restaurants kept in shallow tanks in direct sunlight to pigs being reared in conditions with no bedding and poor ventilation. Often only small changes need to be made to the environment of these animals to alleviate a great deal of their suffering, for example by providing bedding to pigs.
Broiler chickens are intensively reared for meat production. These birds are kept in sheds containing often several thousand chickens on litter floors. Dirty litter and poor ventilation leads to burns on the bird’s hocks and respiratory diseases. Commercial broiler chicks have been bred to grow at a tremendously fast rate and can now reach slaughter weight in as little as six weeks, compared to several months before. This often leads to pathological fractures and other injuries causing considerable chronic pain. Another factor which contributes to broken bones is rough handling while catching these birds and then transporting them to market.
The intensive rearing of food animals in abnormally large groups, very cramped and often barren conditions removes the freedom of animals to perform much of their normal behaviour. Breeding sows are often kept either tethered or in very small stalls with not even enough room to turn around. These husbandry systems deny animals the opportunity to display even the most basic of behaviours. Many abnormal behaviours, such as cannibalism and aggression, are also seen in stressed, overcrowded conditions. To prevent this from happening many animals face mutilations such as beak trimming and tail docking, both usually carried out without anaesthesia.
A large portion of the poultry and fish consumed every day in Hong Kong is purchased in wet markets. In most cases live animals are held and killed as they are purchased. Almost without exception, poultry in Hong Kong wet markets are slaughtered by exsanguination with no stunning. This means that the birds have their throats cut and bleed to death while fully conscious. As well as the often rough handling involved in restraining these birds, they are fully conscious while they are bleeding to death, causing considerable fear and distress. The SPCA firmly believes that all animals should be properly handled and then instantaneously rendered unconscious before slaughter to prevent this degree of suffering.
Food animals are every bit as sentient, every bit as capable of fear, pain and suffering and every bit worth respecting as our pet cats and dogs.