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September-October 2016

Why we must end factory farming in Canada

We can't continue to ignore the invisible animals

Jo-Anne McArthur

ThisMagazine50_coverLores-minFor our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!


When I started documenting the invisible animals in our world about 15 years ago, I didn’t know I was doing historical work. But I see that now and am so happy that I am not alone in bearing witness through photos and film so that others may see, know, care, and change. Animals desperately, urgently need this change.

Invisible animals are those we eat, wear, and whose bodies were used in research for the (often purported) advancement of science and medicine. I say that they are invisible because they aren’t the dogs and cats we so cherish. They aren’t the charismatic megafauna we revere from afar. We actually have the closest relationship with these invisible animals, these ghosts, but we never give them any thought. And if we do, we think of them as parts, not as sentient individuals. We call them spare ribs, instead of a pig. Wings, instead of a chicken. Leather, instead of a cow. Fur trim, instead of a mink or fox.

I’ve been to more than 50 countries to bear witness and document, but sadly it’s also very easy for me to do this work in my own backyard. I know that you, too, have seen the transport trucks carrying pigs, chickens, and cows along our Canadian highways, even in the height of heat waves or the freezing depths of winter, where animals commonly arrive at their destination dead or dying. I don’t believe that people are bad but we make poor choices when we’re uninformed about where the products (“products” being animals) we buy come from, or how they were raised and killed. I’ve spent months of my life on fur farms now. My pictures and films tell their story. I can tell you that when people look, and really take the time to see and think, they don’t continue to support these horrific practices.

The good news is that there is an awakening afoot. The lives of these ghosts are being brought to light. Factory farms can no longer hide the deprivation and insanity that goes on behind closed doors. Animal industries are being exposed and being called upon to change.

Everywhere now, these previously invisible animals are being discussed and are being given consideration. We are acknowledging that they are sentient, and admitting that how we treat them is wrong.

There’s never been a more pressing time to take part in making the world a better, kinder, more just place for animals. Frankly, it’s an emergency. One way to change our point of view about the animals we use each year, who number well over 500 million in Canada each year alone (and that doesn’t include sea life) is to think of them as individuals, just as our beloved companion animals are. We can’t feel a number like 500 million. Our brains can’t process having empathy for a large number of individuals like that. But a million isn’t a million. A million is made up of one, plus one, plus one, plus one.

More good news: there are now more ways than ever to help animals in Canada and worldwide. If you enjoy taking photos, or are a journalist, take to your camera and pen and document their stories. Share. Show. We need to see what’s going on.

If you want to see things for yourself, please do, and encourage others to join you. Facing cruelty is difficult because we’re compassionate; seeing it hurts. But it’s also difficult because we’re then faced with our own complicity in these cruelties. But we must be courageous. For them. For a kinder world. If we care about animals, as I know so many of us do, we have to be courageous and take a stand for them.

Jo-Anne McArthur, created the We Animals project. She is an award-winning photojournalist, author, and activist who’s documented the plight of animals for over a decade and is the subject of the documentary The Ghosts In Our Machine.

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