Sussex students have been experiencing a ‘pigs-eye-view’ of a British slaughterhouse, using virtual reality headsets in Library Square.
Students witnessed the entire life of factory-farmed pigs, including piglets being castrated without pain relief, sows suckling their young in pens so cramped they can’t stand, and six-month-old pigs thrashing as blood drains from their bodies through their slit throats.
The footage was shot using GoPro cameras in a factory farm that conforms to all ‘best practice’ regulations.
Some students were horrified by what they saw, with one second year engineer saying “it was really scary.”
Lawrence, a fourth year Management and Entrepreneurship student said: “I’ve never thought about animal rights before. I don’t know if i’m going to become a vegetarian but it’s definitely going to make me think about how often I buy pork and what kind of pork I do buy.
“It made me feel a bit sick when they slit their throats. Hearing that even free range [pigs] have a six month life expectancy – it’s not that much.”
Students who watched the video still seemed unwilling to take up a vegetarian diet. Mechanical Engineering second year Elliot said: “To be honest I like meat too much. I’m very much a meat eater but I have considered vegetarianism. I might be cutting out bacon.”
Rob Hill from the video-makers Animal Equality said: “If people have issues with best practice farming then maybe they will think about reducing meat. Had we gone for hidden camera work with individual staff brutalising animals a lot of people would see that and think its bad pennies.
“What we are saying is that the industry itself intrinsically compromises the animals and because of the economic model to make a profit you have to con- fine them. If the general public want a cheap product then the animals pay directly. We are just allowing people to wise up to the reality for the pigs that they eat.
“There aren’t open days on factory farms so this is about the general public going to a farm with us in a very immersive emotional way where they can reflect and react.
“Some students come by and it hits them unexpectedly because we like to think that we are good people and that everything we eat, if it is legal and above board, how could the animals suffer? Even in free range and organic farms the animals are still slaughtered in the same way.”
VegSoc Committee member Anthony told The Badger that not all of the society’s events were as distressing as iANIMAL: “Watching that video for anyone with any sense of empathy is going to be a horrible experience but that is not what VegSoc are entirely about. We want to present the facts but being a vegetarian or vegan is also quite a fun experience. Vegan food is not bland and it is not boring.”
He said that it is hard to work out how successful events like the virtual reality experience are: “It is very easy to empathise when it is right in front of your eyes. Whether or not it has a lasting change is another matter. I was made into a vegan after watching a movie like this so I know that it does work anecdotally.
“The chances of it actually converting someone today are pretty slim but it puts the idea in peoples minds and triggers a bit more awareness.”
The iANIMAL event ran from 12-14 April in Library Square.
Additional reporting by Timothy Chikon