Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Gender sometimes gets in the way in English. Saying he or she all the time when trying to give equal weight to both sexes is clumsy and tiresome. Finnish solves this problem with han, one word for both genders.
Han means he or she.
If we adopt han in English it could also stand for it and would:

  • Avoid repeating he or she all the time.

  • Avoid saying only he when both genders are meant. (The feminine is subsumed under the masculine in English grammar.)

  • Avoid belittling animals by calling them it, as if animals are lifeless objects like sticks and stones. (See It.)

  • Examples:

    Han sat down to tea with scones.

    Han is a thoughtful and independent cat.

    The dog yawned, stretched, then han got up.

    I held out a banana and the monkey ate han.

    Some people have wondered if the equivalence of the sexes in Finnish has some connection with women in Finland getting the right to vote long before other women in Europe. If we stop calling animals it, might we not start to treat them better too?

    Two other good Finnish words are hanet meaning him or her and hanen meaning his or hers. It in Finnish, by the way, is se.

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Hens & Eggs

Humans have made chickens the most common and widespread bird on Earth. There may be as many as 70 billion chickens worldwide (see Tables 1 & 2 Chickens). Egg-laying hens number about five billion of this figure and their eggs are the most commonly eaten bird egg.

Chickens are domesticated descendants of the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) that lives in south-east Asia. The parental needs of domesticated hens are fundamentally the same as their wild ancestors. A free-living domestic hen searches for a suitable site for a nest. When she finds one she scrapes a hollow and builds up her nest. After laying a number of eggs she starts incubating them. Before the chicks have hatched they 'talk' to each other, she clucking and they peeping back. The unhatched chicks can entice their mother to turn the eggs over and call her back if she has left the nest. After hatching, she runs about clucking and pecking the ground, showing her brood how to get food and what to eat. If any chicks stray she rounds them up and at night keeps them warm under her wings. After six to eight weeks they roost together in the trees and after a further four to six weeks she leaves them to rejoin the other adult fowl.

A red junglefowl lays 12 to 20 eggs a year; a domestic hen is bred to lay nearly 300 eggs a year. A red junglefowl can live for several years in the wild; a commercial egg-laying hen lives one year or less then goes for slaughter, worn out by egg-laying.

The chicken industry divides the domestic hen into three groups. Egg-laying hens are bread for egg production, broilers are bread for their meat, and a few hens are retained as breeding stock to make the next year's crop of egg-layers and broilers. All males, except for a few breeders, have no use alive and are killed as chicks to use in various products (see Male Chicks, below).



  • The US has 280,000,000 egg-laying hens.

  • They lay 86 billion eggs annually (annual average 1999-2003).

  • Each American eats 250 eggs a year on average.

  • 99 percent of hens are caged.

  • Most egg farms each hold 75,000 or more egg-laying hens.

  • Some egg farms hold one to five million egg-laying hens.

  • Mostly from National Agricultural Statistics Service, United States Department of Agriculture, especially their Livestock Track Records, September 2004, and from United Egg Producers.


  • Britain has 30,000,000 egg-laying hens.

  • They lay nine billion eggs annually.

  • 22 million are caged hens.

  • Two million are barn hens.

  • Five million are free-range hens.

  • From British Egg Information Service.

Table: Number of egg-laying hens in the top five egg production countries and worldwide.
Countries Numbers Of Hens
China 800,000,000
USA 280,000,000
Japan 152,000,000
India 123,000,000
Mexico 103,000,000
Worldwide Total 5,000,000,000

Egg-laying Systems

Egg-laying hens begin their lives at a breeding farm. At around 20 weeks of age they are taken to start a new life of egg-laying. Egg-laying hens in commercial egg production are kept in one of three systems: cage (sometimes called 'battery') system, barn system and free-range system.

Cage System

Tens of thousands of hens live permanently in cages, several hens per cage, in a long dark shed (see photo below). Several of these sheds make up a chicken farm. Hens in a cage are so crowded they cannot stretch their wings.

Caged hens in their shed at a factory farm

Tiers of caged egg-laying hens packed several to a cage stretching into the distance. No room to spread a wing. Note the eggs and dim lighting (the birds are lit up only by the camera's flash). Courtesy Farm Sanctuary.

Cages are staggered in tiers three to six cages high and. They are made of wire mesh so that droppings pass through for easy removal (see photo below). Cages have sloping floors so that eggs roll away for collection out of reach of the hens. Feeding, watering, heating, ventilation and electric lighting are automated. Individual hens do not receive care because they are cheap and expendable. Seriously ill hens are chucked out to die with those already dead.

Caged hens at a factory farm

Close-up view of hens packed together in the same cage. Note the laid eggs rolled for collection into the gutter. Courtesy Farm Sanctuary.

Barn System

Hens are kept confined to huge, long, dusty, windowless sheds called barns or percheries. A chicken farm comprises many shed like this. Within a shed the hens have litter areas, nest boxes and rows of perches. In theory hens are free to roam about a shed but with up to 16,000 hens per shed there is almost no room to spread a wing. Care and feeding is the same as for caged hens; the former does not exist and the latter is automated. After a few weeks the hens are cleared out for slaughter and the sheds are cleaned and disinfected for the next batch of hens.

Free-Range System

Free-range suggests hens living unhindered in green and pleasant fields. Indeed, during daylight hens can exercise in fresh air, see real daylight and get environmental stimulation. But there is a downside. Thousands of hens can be packed into a few semi-barren acres. (Maximum legal density in Britain is 1,000 hens per hectare or 2.5 acres.) On large-scale farms less than half the hens may actually venture outside their housing. Housing can be as poor as the barn system. The hens' lives are short, as short as caged and barn hens; after about a year of egg-laying they are sent for slaughter. A slightly system is hens laying 'organic' eggs. The hens are reared in the free-range system on organic land and fed organically produced food.


The living conditions of hens, especially of caged and barn hens, ensures hens suffer a wide range of health problems, including tumours, leg deformities, osteoporosis and ulcers. Some constant problems are:


Caged hens especially cannot fulfil basic behavioural needs such as wing flapping, dust bathing, scratching and pecking the ground, perching and nest-building and laying eggs in a nest. A domestic hen never sees a rooster; her eggs, the ones you buy in the shops, are unfertilised (though with the same nutritional value as fertilised eggs).


Crammed into cages and barns, without sunlight or exercise and constantly losing calcium by laying so many eggs (shells are made mostly of calcium), hens suffer brittle bones that break easily. If not killed quickly by stock keepers they die from paralysis and starvation (unable to reach food).


Caged hens cannot scratch the ground to keep their claws trim. So their claws can grow long and twisted and may get entangled in the wire floor of their cage. The hens may then starve or dehydrate to death as they cannot reach food and water. Some hens have their claws cut off to prevent injury.

Pecking, Cannibalism & Debeaking

Hens peck and attack each other in their cramped cages and packed barns and suffer serious wounds and feather loss. Ultimately it ends in cannibalism when birds constantly peck a downed bird's wounds. Debeaking is the chicken industry's response to try and diminish this problem: part of a chick's upper beak is sliced off (no pecker - no problem). Farm hands debeak birds without applying anaesthetic and it the birds suffer acute and chronic pain; some chicks die from shock. Beaks are sensitive to touch and contain pain receptors; they have to because birds feed by pecking and preen themselves with their beaks so have to feel what they are doing. Without a functioning beak a bird must endure a poor life.

Free-range hens are also at risk. They also suffer pecking and cannibalism at some 'free-range' farms and are similarly debeaked.

'Spent' Hens

Disease and stress are such that hens suffer a high death rate during their egg laying life. Possibly up to a quarter die. And the rest after twelve months of laying eggs are killed as they are too weak to continue as layers - they are 'spent'. Spent hens are cleared out. Being very cheap they finish up in pet food and low-priced human food.

End of Hens

At the end of her egg-laying life a hen is ready for the abattoir. She is grabbed upside down, held in the same hand with four or five other hens as they are gathered up, and stuffed into a small crate packed with more hens. Bones often brake in the process. Creates are stacked high in a truck and in hot weather the hens suffocate for hours before the journey begins. Abruptly wrenched out of her crate at the slaughterhouse more bones may break. She is shackled upside down by a leg on an endless production line with thousands of other hens for automated stunning and dismemberment. For more see Chickens, under Transport & Slaughter.

Male Chicks

For every female there is a male. But as only hens make good commercial meat producers and of course egg-layers, male chicks must be disposed of. So neck dislocation or decapitation follows soon after hatching; or for very large numbers poisoning by carbon dioxide (CO2) gas or mashing alive in a mechanical mincer. Thus for every billion hens, a billion male chicks must die. They go into animal feed, pet food, cheap human food and fertiliser.


Most labels on egg cartons in the US have little bearing on welfare, no legal enforcement of standards, and serve to confuse. In Britain, eggs from caged hens are sometimes deceptively labelled 'farm-fresh' or 'country-fresh' and their true origin is not stated. However, under new legislation egg producers in the European Union must, irrespective of sales blurbs, label their eggs:

  • Battery eggs are from caged hens

  • Barn eggs are barn eggs

  • Free-range eggs are free-range

  • But few people read the little labels or wonder what the wording means.


    Welfare workers have tried tirelessly to ban cages. Now European Union law bans cages from 2012 (the Laying Hens Directive). However, the chicken industry has fought back and the cage system will continue with 'enriched' cages, slightly bigger than normal cages and including a nest, perches and some sort of litter for the hens to peck and scratch. So the old system and hen suffering will continue unabated.


    People give some animals a modicum of consideration, but they give chickens virtually nothing. Crammed into cages or densely packed into sheds, their eggs constantly removed, they cannot engage in even the most elementary nest-building and mothering behaviour. They are denied even such a fundamental act as stretching their wings. These are sentient animals, subjects of a life who can suffer and deserve moral standing as much as any other creature. Yet they are granted no rights and their treatment flies in the face of the Five Freedoms of animal welfare.

    The Hen & Egg business is a microcosm of man's inhumanity to animals for profit and for keeping a massive human population in as many eggs as it can use and waste in foolish pursuits. In the quest for efficiency and maximum production the chicken industry has lost all touch with its roots on the traditional animal farm and has abandoned every notion of morality. The industry and the public who willingly, unknowingly or uncaringly support it represent humanity at its moral worst. Eating battery and barn eggs (and eggs from dubious free-range farms) is a trivial indulgence of already well fed people that costs hens intolerable lives and appalling deaths.

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The animal holocaust is the mass destruction of animal life by humanity. The animal holocaust is a direct comparison with the mass murder of people, Jews in particular, in the Nazi era (1933 - 1945). The animals especially referred to in the animal holocaust are farm animals, but the animal holocaust equally applies to all animals and their populations that humans systematically abuse and destroy, including animals used in experiments, animals killed for their fur, and the human caused mass extinction of Earth's wildlife.

No one knows how many animals people kill every year. The United States alone kills two million pigs a week and people worldwide kill around 70 billion chickens a year. At any rate, humans have killed trillions of animals since the Second World War and are continuing to do so at an execrating rate.

The animal holocaust resembles the Holocaust in the use of transports, concentration camps (factory farms), death camps (slaughterhouses), and systematic mass slaughter. Other comparisons of the animal holocaust with the Holocaust are the manipulation of concentration camp inmates and animals to perform experiment on and the manufacture of people and animals into commodities, such as soap and lampshades.

A number of individuals and groups have expressed anger at what they see as an inappropriate if not a corrupting comparison of the Holocaust with the human treatment of animals. They say the correspondence is tasteless and trivialising because of humanity's (assumed) unique moral basis. However, the comparison of the Holocaust with the animal holocaust is suitable in that both show humanity has the attitude and the capacity to destroy sentient beings on a vast scale when the circumstances arise that allow and spur it to happen.

The juxtaposition of images of the Holocaust with the animal holocaust is a striking device to shock people into admitting the scale and existence of the human abuse of animals. The animal holocaust is treated in modern books, such as Charles Patterson's Eternal Treblinka. The title of the book comes from a quote attributed to author and Holocaust survivor Isaac Beshevis Singer: To animals, all people are Nazis. For them it is an eternal Treblinka. Animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, one of the leading animal rights organizations, use Holocaust imagery to publicise their campaigns. Their message is that animals are not ours to abuse but that we must treat animals with respect.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1976), notorious for his membership of the Nazi party, is cited as saying in a 1949 lecture: Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps.... (Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1990): Heidegger, Art and Politics, page 34, and sometimes wrongly attributed to Heidegger's 1954 essay, The Question concerning Technology.)

Whether or not you disagree with the juxtaposition of Holocaust and animal holocaust, the comparison has generated publicity that makes more people aware of the human-imposed suffering of animals and might make some people think twice about their animal diet. Antagonists, however, say the comparison of animal suffering with the Holocaust may gain the cause of animal rights some attention but will lose it support.

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Human Overpopulation

In 1798 the Englishman Thomas Malthus published An Essay On The Principle Of Population voicing apprehension about human population growth. He pointed out that the human population grows more quickly than can be matched by food production and was already overtaking its food supply. He predicted environmental degradation leading to massive famine, disease and war. Malthus was writing in response to the optimism of the Enlightenment that humanity can tame the environment and that human potential was boundless.

The disaster Malthus anticipated did not happen, agricultural and industrial revolutions saw to that. But the spectre of Malthus has not gone away. His warning seems even more applicable today and on a worldwide scale. The global human population as it grows is ever increasing its use of resources. Even the most fundamental resources like water, land and air are in short supply and being polluted. Estimates are that humans already use over half the world's accessible fresh surface water and have changed or degraded up to half of Earth's land surface through agriculture and urban building. By 2030 there could be one billion cars - 100 million of them in China alone - choking Earth's atmosphere and considerably contributing to global warming.

The human population reached 0.3 billion in year 0 (two thousand years ago). Then it took 1,800 years to reach its first billion. But from there on the pace of human population growth burst its barriers and in the last few decades a billion more people are added to the population every few years - see Table 1: Landmarks In Human Population Growth Worldwide.

Table 1: Landmarks in human population growth worldwide.
Year Number of People
0 AD 300,000,000
1804 1,000,000,000
1927 2,000,000,000
1960 3,000,000,000
1974 4,000,000,000
1987 5,000,000,000
1999 6,000,000,000
2020 (projection) 7,500,000,000

Source: The World at Six Billion. United Nations Population Division.

At the present rate of human increase, three babies are added to Earth every second, making a quarter of a million more people each day or 80 million more people annually. Over half (about 60 per cent) of humanity lives in just ten countries - see Table 2: Top ten human populations by country.

Table 2: Top ten human populations by country.
Country Population in millions
China 1,323
India 1,103
United States 298
Indonesia 223
Brazil 186
Pakistan 158
Russian Federation 143
Bangladesh 142
Nigeria 132
Japan 128
TOTAL 3,836

Source: World Population 2004. Population Division. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations.

Human numbers at the current rate of expansion might reach 300 billion in another 15 decades. However, Earth's resources cannot sustain anything near this number of people and humanity would die off before achieving this mass. Wars for diminishing resources, breakdown of societies followed by disease and starvation would consume humanity first. Fortunately, for some of the world's people, influences like family planning, modern contraception, education and prosperity create a desire to bear fewer children. Consequently, population growth is slowing, although this is also due in part to disease, like the rising death rate from AIDS.

Overpopulation & Animals

A massive human population goes against animals gaining rights. Billions of more humans mean people kill billions of more animals (livestock and wild). As the human population expands worldwide meat consumption has increased three and a half times in the last four decades, from about 70 million tonnes to nearly 250 million tonnes a year.

Ever more people will deplete much needed resources that would have gone to wildlife. Water is becoming a scarce resource in more parts of the world as people increasingly channel it off for agriculture, industry, leisure and domestic use. Forests are logged to make anything from pencils to buildings and the animals in them are turned out and die off. Growing cereals denies the use of the land to animals, and they may be killed if they use the crops themselves or trample them. The worldwide consumption of cereals will increase by 66 per cent and consumption of forest products by 120 per cent from 2000 to 2050 (Living Planet Report 2002, WWF).

Human overpopulation destroys wildlife and imposes suffering on animals. Sources say that as the human population grows, one or more species goes extinct every 20 minutes.

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Human Recognition

We assume that cats, dogs, horses and other animals we are close to can distinguish one human from another. If they can recognise individual people then presumably many other species can too. Individual recognition of humans by animals is important because:

  • It shows that animals are more intelligent than we may think. Animals are not mindless automatons as some people have declared (eg Aristotle and Descartes).

  • It influences our view of animal intelligence. We think a dog is intelligent if he can tell us apart from other people and think he is stupid if he cannot.

  • We tend to treat animals better the more intelligent we believe them to be.

  • Recognition by animals of individual humans has not been thoroughly researched scientifically. Now, however, some studies show that laboratory rats can distinguish familiar humans from strangers, even when a rat experiences a human for only ten minutes and then must choose between that human and another human not experienced before (H Davis et al: Preference for familiar humans by rats. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 1997). And other research shows that adult sheep and lambs a few weeks old can recognise the faces of each other and individual people (J W Peirce et al: Human face recognition in sheep. Behavioural Processes, 2001).

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Human Superiority

People often assert that humans are superior to animals. Reasons given are that humans are conscious and self-aware, rational, intelligent, speak language, are artistically creative, and have moral freedom and souls. They say these characteristics indicate superiority because they are valuable for us to possess as individuals and for the rise of civilisation; they are more valuable than mere animal strength, keen eyesight or swiftness.

However, it is unreasonable to judge animals solely by the standard of human values and to claim the importance of human characteristics only from the human point of view. For a balanced outlook, we must judge animals from the perspective of their own capacities and values (assuming we really know what they are, which we do not). From their position, a bear and an eagle would reject human capabilities as purposeless. From the perspective of a bear, strength and a good nose are everything. Without sharp vision and swiftness, an eagle would perish.

Another common misconception is that humans are morally superior to animals. The notion is wrong for two reasons. First, if you claim animals are not moral agents (that is do not know moral right from wrong) then you cannot claim humans are morally superior, because you cannot judge a standard against something that does not exist. You cannot judge the goodness of butter against nothing. You can only judge one standard against another standard.

Second, if you assume animals are moral agents (that is act morally), then you can compare and contrast the morality of one species with another species, but you cannot claim that one species is morally superior than another. The morality of human-kind and wolf-kind are neither better nor worse than the other; humans are morally good at being humans and wolves are morally good at being wolves. You can compare and contrast Mozart with Beethoven, Newton with Einstein, or butter with engine oil. But you cannot rationally claim that one is superior or inferior to the other. You might voice a preference for one over the other, but that is just your personal taste. Humans and wolves (or any other animal) are just different and that is all you can say.

Also see Prejudice and Speciesism.

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Hunt Saboteurs Association

Hunt saboteurs (or sabs) engage in non-violent direct action in the field to prevent hunters with hounds from chasing and killing animals for sport.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association, founded in Britain in 1963, was the first organisation methodically to confront organised hunting of animals for sport, particularly fox hunting with hounds. The Hunt Saboteurs Association acts as an umbrella body for local hunt saboteur groups around Britain. Hunt saboteur groups are financially and politically autonomous.

John Prestige, a 21 year old freelance journalist, founded the Hunt Saboteurs Association and was its first chairman. He aimed to make hunting with hounds impossible. The Hunt Saboteurs Association believes every animal has a right to be protected and saved from death by sporting groups. The Association says the only way to prevent hunts killing animals is by being in the hunting field and disrupting hunts without malice to the hunters. The original idea of disrupting hunts was first tried out in 1958 by supporters of the League Against Cruel Sports.

Hunt saboteur tactics usually involve delaying or confusing the hounds to give the quarry time to get away. Hunt saboteurs employ a few basic techniques like calling, blowing hunting horns, cracking whips, and covering the sent of quarry with pungent sprays. The first action of hunt saboteurs was opposing the South Devon Fox Hunt in 1963. The hunt was called off as a result of the action, the first time a hunt had to be cancelled because of direct opposition by protesters.

Fox hunts reacted to this sabotage by employing private security firms or their own people to try and control hunt saboteurs. That raised policing and public order issues. Police sometimes turned a blind eye to violence against saboteurs at hunts, sometimes perhaps because of uncertainty about what powers private security guards could wield. The British Government eventually brought out laws with sections specifically obstructing the action of hunt saboteurs. Hunt saboteurs reacted by ignoring the laws in the field and contesting them in the courts. However, in 2003 an Act of Parliament banned hunting with dogs.

© 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved