The problem: factory farming

Around 70 billion farm animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption globally. This equates to over 191 million animals per day, almost 8 million per hour or 2,200 animals per second.1

The majority of these animals are factory farmed, where they can be confined for the entirety of their lives in sheds or cages, subjected to unnatural diets and environments, and exposed to painful practices and procedures, often without pain relief.

As a result, factory farming causes the greatest suffering to the largest number of animals globally. Sadly, the number of animals slaughtered worldwide continues to grow at a rapid pace, driven by increased consumption of animal products. This is due to:

  • population growth;
  • rising incomes in developing countries, resulting in an increased appetite for ‘animal protein’; and
  • more countries transitioning away from traditional pasture-based farms to factory farming.2

Why a global Animal Cruelty Index?

Voiceless, the animal protection institute, and a team of international animal welfare advocates have joined together to produce the first ever Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index focusing on farm animals (VACI).

The VACI aims to provide an interactive index that evaluates and ranks countries based on the nature, extent and intensity of cruelty associated with farm animal production and consumption in a sample of fifty countries that together account for almost 80 percent of the world’s farm animal population.3

The new index complements and makes use of the World Animal Protection Index (API). While the API focused on the quality of animal welfare legislation across countries, the VACI seeks to measure actual farm animal cruelty.

How are countries assessed under the VACI?

The VACI focuses on the same 50 countries included in the API. These countries were selected among the largest producers of farm animal products in the world. The VACI seeks to assess the suffering caused by producers and consumers of farm animal products, as well as the countervailing effects of the animal protection legislative and regulatory environment, as follows:

  • Producing Cruelty assesses country performance based on the number of farm animals slaughtered for food every year (on a per capita basis), whilst taking explicit account of the fact that animals are treated and protected differently in each country.
  • Consuming Cruelty assesses country performance based on the consumption of farm animals, by looking at the ratio of plant-based protein to farm-animal protein consumed and the number of animals consumed in each country (on a per capita basis).
  • Sanctioning Cruelty assesses country performance based on the societal and cultural attitudes to farm animals, as reflected in the quality of the regulatory frameworks that protect, or fail to protect, farm animals.

Learn more about how Voiceless measured each country’s performance and the overall logic behind the Index. Michael Morris was one of the creators of the VACI, read Michael’s article to learn more about the VACI development.

So how did the countries perform overall?

Overall, the countries that VACI ranked the highest (i.e. the least cruel) were Kenya, India, and the United Republic of Tanzania. Those ranked the lowest were Belarus, the United States and Venezuela.

This ranking provides a fresh perspective relative to the landmark index published on November 24, 2014 by World Animal Protection – formerly WSPA. Whereas the API focused on the quality of animal welfare legislation and regulation across countries, the new VACI focuses on results by providing estimates of the origins, scope, and intensity of human-induced animal suffering.

As a result, India rises from an adequate performer under the API to second place under the VACI. Canada drops from a marginal performer under the API to a very poor performer under the VACI and the United States moves down from the marginal category in the API to the extremely poor category in the VACI.

The level of overall animal cruelty is influenced by (but not always directly correlated to) the quality of the animal welfare legislation and regulation. Thus, only three of the nine high income countries that qualified as more than adequate performers under the API were also so rated under the VACI. Whereas New Zealand was listed as the world leader in animal welfare in the API it now ranks 30th under the VACI. Similarly, the United Kingdom, listed as among the best performers in the API, ranks as a marginal performer (rank 20) on the VACI.

This said, the enabling environment does matter: extremely cruel practices in developed and developing countries alike are constrained by good regulatory frameworks – a dimension captured by the sanctioning cruelty index. But good intentions and even good regulations are not sufficient. Countries with more plant-based diets and countries that have not adopted factory farming are suitably rewarded under the VACI scale. Thus, the VACI is a complement to the API – rather than an alternative. A detailed comparison appears below.

VACI API
A: Best Kenya Austria
India New Zealand
United Republic of Tanzania Switzerland
Philippines United Kingdom
B: Good Nigeria Chile
Switzerland Denmark
Germany Germany
Austria Netherlands
Sweden
C: Adequate Ethiopia Australia
Indonesia Brazil
Niger France
Sweden India
Italy Italy
Romania Malaysia
Japan Philippines
Chile Poland
Pakistan Spain
D: Marginal Vietnam Argentina
Algeria Canada
China Colombia
United Kingdom Indonesia
Egypt Japan
Denmark Kenya
France Mexico
Poland Peru
Mexico Republic of Korea
Colombia Romania
Republic of Korea South Africa
Peru United Republic of Tanzania
New Zealand United States
South Africa Uruguay
Uruguay
E: Poor Turkey China
Spain Nigeria
Thailand Thailand
Azerbaijan Turkey
Morocco Ukraine
Ukraine Venezuela
F: Very poor Netherlands Algeria
Argentina Egypt
Malaysia Ethiopia
Myanmar Morocco
Brazil Myanmar
Australia Niger
Canada Pakistan
Iran Russia
Russia Vietnam
G: Extremely poor Venezuela Azerbaijan
United States of America Belarus
Belarus Iran

Changing hearts and minds for a kinder planet

While the VACI presents disturbing statistics, there is hope. With a burgeoning global animal protection community, a growing appreciation for the sentience of animals (as well as the environmental and human health implications of animal consumption), and rapidly increased availability of healthy, delicious, and affordable cruelty-free alternatives, a more compassionate world is possible.

But we have a long way to go, and education is pivotal to changing hearts and minds. We hope that this VACI will both inform and prove a valuable advocacy tool for the animal protection community, as well as inspire future generations to make kinder lifestyle choices.

Learn more about factory farming and how you can make a difference.

  1. These figures are based on the 2014 FAOSTAT database, being the most current and reliable data on global animal slaughter rates available. See the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ‘Livestock Primary’, FAOSTAT. This figure does not include the billions of aquatic animals killed annually for food or as bycatch, or the millions more slaughtered for our clothes, cosmetics, scientific or medical research, entertainment and non-food related social and cultural norms.
  2. See, for example, FAO, ESA Working Paper No 12-13 ‘World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050 – The 2012 Revision’. Predictions of growth in global meat consumption may need to be revised downwards, following a government directive by the government of China that encourages a reduction in meat consumption.
  3. According to the latest FAO statistics available, the world’s farm animal population was 29.2 billion in 2014 while the 50 countries included in the VACI sample harboured 24.3 billion farm animals.