THE recent publicity over Whanganui woman Sandra Kyle's activism on closing slaughterhouses by 2025 raises some interesting reflections — not the least of which is the sheer scale of what Kyle is up against.
Farmed animals generate huge profits for those in the meat industry.
In New Zealand the meat industry is the "second largest goods exporter, generating $6.7 billion in export revenue in 2016 of which 85 per cent was exported".
The closing down of slaughterhouses here will disestablish an institution responsible for killing millions of farmed animals globally every year for food.
Statistics from the Ministry for Primary Industries indicates a total of 28,029,189 cattle, goats, pigs and sheep were killed in the year 2016-17.
The concept of a million is a hard one to imagine; try thinking about it like this: 1 million seconds is 12 days. It would take around 336 days to count all those animals if you counted one per second.
This brain-bending exercise hopefully gives some sense of the scale of animal slaughter in New Zealand yearly.
If we add the poor meat chicken into the equation the statistics go up even further. More than 115 million chickens are killed annually for their meat — that's more than all the other animals put together.
Within this vast system of animal production and consumption, farmed animals become distanced from the individuals that they are.
They simply become a statistic, reduced to a mass of marketable commodities. They become the slab of meat in the picture of your meal you last uploaded on social media.
Most people accept killing animals for meat as a necessary evil, and the slaughterhouse is an integral part of the process through which sentient animals become reduced to flesh for consumption.
In the past, animals used to be slaughtered in huge, open-air markets. In medieval London these were called The Shambles.
Such visible suburban killing has now been replaced by the advent of industrial-model slaughterhouses on the outskirts of the city. We see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil ... but we certainly consume it.
Yes, we may not have time to count all the animals that are killed for food each year, but we certainly make time to eat them.
Statistics from OECD show that in 2017 New Zealanders ate an average of 72.2 kilograms of meat per year. This consists of mostly poultry (37.9kg), pork (18.1kg), Beef and veal (13kg), and lastly sheep (3.2kg). We're basically eating around our own body weight in the flesh of other animals. In short, people have a vested interest in slaughterhouses.
They want to eat animals, but I am pretty sure most don't want to kill them themselves. That's because killing is an act of violence, and most people don't like to take the life of another animal.
So we've invented killing machines to do it for us in efficient, compartmentalised and invisible structures on the outskirts of society.
And this is where Kyle stands — she stands at the intersection of human compassion and human apathy. Kyle bears witness to the suffering that most people turn from.
Predictably she is facing some opposition to her quest to close slaughterhouses.
The meat industry is no easy beast to tame. The marketing techniques that the meat industry uses to promote the consumption of animal flesh to consumers are sophisticated and have had vast amounts of capital behind them. In the face of this, Kyle stands determined to fight.
For those prepared to delve beneath the surface of mainstream thought we can hear the message of compassion she is attempting to convey.
Dr Lynley Tulloch specialises in sustainability education, and has lectured at the University of Waikato for 11 years. She is an animal rights advocate and founder of Starfish Bobby Calf Project, a grassroots vegan activist group.