The problem: factory farming
According to the latest FAO statistics, 77 billion farmed animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption globally. This equates to 211 million animals per day, 8.8 million per hour and 2,442 animals per second.1 The vast majority are factory farmed, where they are 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. The number of animals slaughtered worldwide has been growing at a rapid pace, driven by the increased consumption of animal products. Overall, the number of animals slaughtered per person has increased by 5% between 2014 and 2018. This can be explained by population growth, rising incomes, 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 Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index focusing on farmed animals (VACI).
The VACI is an interactive index that evaluates and ranks countries based on the nature, extent and intensity of cruelty associated with farmed animal production and consumption in a sample of 50 countries that together account for almost 80% of the world’s farmed animal population.3
The VACI complements and makes use of the World Animal Protection Index (API).
How does the VACI differ from the API?
While the API addresses the quality of animal welfare legislation and regulation across countries, the VACI seeks to measure the full extent of actual farmed animal cruelty. The VACI focuses on outcomes by providing estimates of the origins, scope, and intensity of human-induced animal suffering.
The VACI recognises that the level of overall animal cruelty is influenced by (but not always directly correlated to) the quality of animal welfare legislation and regulation. Three of the six high income countries that qualify as more than adequate performers under the API are also rated highly under the VACI. On the other hand, whereas the Netherlands is listed as a good performer in animal welfare under the API, it ranks 36th under the VACI. Thus, the VACI is a complement to the API, rather than an alternative.
How are countries assessed under the VACI?
The VACI focuses on the same 50 countries included in the API which are among the largest producers of farmed animal products in the world. It seeks to assess the suffering caused by producers and consumers of farmed animal products, as well as the countervailing effects of the animal protection legislative and regulatory environment:
- Producing Cruelty assesses country performance based on the number of farmed 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 farmed animals, captured by the ratio of plant-based protein to farmed-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 farmed animals, as reflected in the quality of the regulatory frameworks that protect, or fail to protect, farmed animals – the exclusive focus of the API.
* Voiceless published the original VACI online in 2017. The current 2020 edition is based on 2017-2020 official statistics which were compiled before the onset of COVID-19.
Learn more about how each country’s performance was measured, 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’s development.
So how did the countries perform in 2020?
Overall, the three countries that the 2020 VACI ranked the highest (i.e. the least cruel) were India, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Kenya. Those ranked the lowest were the United States, Australia and Belarus.
The quality of the enabling environment captured by the API matters, as extremely cruel practices are constrained by good regulatory frameworks. This is an element captured by the Sanctioning Cruelty category of the VACI. 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 ranked higher under the VACI scale.
Comparative Performance – VACI/API
|A: Very Good||No country was awarded this grade||No country was awarded this grade|
|United Republic of Tanzania||Denmark|
|Republic of Korea||Colombia|
|Japan||Republic of Korea|
|China||United Republic of Tanzania|
|F: Very Poor||Morocco||Algeria|
|United States of America||Vietnam|
How does the 2020 VACI compare to the 2017 VACI?
Although the overall numbers of animals slaughtered and consumed both increased between 2013-4 (VACI 2017) and 2017-8 (VACI 2020), there are some encouraging trends including the gradual spread of vegetarianism and veganism. Additionally, the proportion of vegetable protein has increased at the same rate as the increase in animal protein, suggesting that the overall rise in animal proteins may not be due to consumer demand but for other dietary reasons. The number of large mammals and rabbits killed and consumed have also declined.
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 the VACI will both inform and prove a valuable tool for the animal protection community, as well as inspire future changemakers to help create a kind and compassionate world for animals.
2017 VACI data can be accessed as PDF downloads from each country profile.
The animal cruelty impact of the pandemic will be mixed. Millions of animals have been killed as a result of the pandemic, but more animals are likely to be spared due to major disruptions in supply chains that will reduce slaughter rates. In parallel, plant-based food consumption and production have increased. Policies relating to the production and consumption of animals will vary from country to country. Some countries may create stricter regulations or implement a ban surrounding the production and consumption of wildlife. Stricter regulations and further intensification of factory farmed animals, however, may be accelerated due to biosecurity concerns. Overall, COVID-19 has created an opportunity to educate the public on the link between the intensification of animal agriculture and highly pathogenic viruses.
Learn more about factory farming.
- These figures are based on the 2018 FAOSTAT database, being the most current and reliable data on global animal slaughter rates available at the time of the 2020 VACI’s creation. See the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ‘Livestock Primary’, FAOSTAT. This figure does not include the over one trillion aquatic animals killed annually for food or as bycatch, or the millions more slaughtered in non-food related industries such as within textiles, cosmetics, entertainment and other industries.
- See, for example, FAO, ESA Working Paper No 12-13 ‘World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050 – The 2012 Revision’.
- In 2014, the world’s farmed animal population was 29.2 billion, with the 50 countries included in the VACI sample home to 24.3 billion.