Voices: If you’re outraged by the police car hitting a calf (but still eat meat), you’re a hypocrite

Well, that video of Surrey Police ramming an escaped cow has certainly upset everyone, hasn’t it? Social media was absolutely awash with condemnation all weekend. Famous folk joined the fray, with everyone from James Cleverly to Jeremy Clarkson lining up to say how nasty it was.

As a vegan and animal liberationist, I was glad to see everyone condemning this brutality against an innocent animal (particularly a cow, because they’re my favourite animals). But I couldn’t help but notice a great irony in the public outrage.

Unsavoury as the facts may be, they’re still facts: if you eat beef, then you are paying to have cows dragged into a slaughterhouse, killed and then chopped up into bits. If you eat cheese, you are paying for cows to be forcibly inseminated and then have their babies stolen from them straight after birth, so the farmers can steal the milk.

I know. It’s unpalatable – but it’s true. And contrary to the way products are advertised, you can forget any ideas that farm cows have a “good long life”. In natural circumstances, cows can live up to 20 years – but they are slaughtered for their meat at around 18 months. Female dairy cows are killed at around five years of age, while male calves on dairy farms are often killed within days of their birth – and nearly always within five months.

That’s what you’re paying for when you buy beef and cheese. That’s what you’re supporting with your hard-earned money. So why is cruelty to cows in different circumstances seen as so unconscionable?

Don’t get me wrong – what the police did to the escaped calf is absolutely horrific. I hope those responsible are dismissed from the force and hauled into court and I hope the farmers hand the cow over to an animal sanctuary. Watching video footage of the incident made me genuinely upset.

But I can’t help wondering sometimes whether farmers put some secret ingredient into meat to wipe out people’s self awareness. Let me put it simply: if you eat beef then you’re not on the side of that cow. You’re on the side of the people who will slit that cow’s throat and chop her into pieces. You’re not that cow’s friend, you’re her enemy. Are you sure that’s the side you want to be on?

Of course, there is no such secret ingredient, in the end, because there doesn’t need to be. Many meat eaters have double standards, but it’s got nothing to do with a lack of self awareness. Instead, it’s most likely down to “speciesism”: the idea that some species have more moral rights than others. You might not have heard of speciesism, but you will doubtless be very familiar with it.

If you get angry about people eating dogs in east Asia, even though you eat cows, pigs and sheep, then that’s speciesism. If you think trophy hunters are evil, even though you eat animals that were killed in a slaughterhouse, that’s speciesism. If you coo at cute animals at the zoo and then eat a ham sandwich at the canteen, that’s speciesism.

But here’s the thing: you weren’t born believing that some animals deserve to be cuddled and others deserve to be killed, or that it’s wrong to be violent to cows in one way but fine to be violent to other cows in another way. You were conditioned to think that way. But who did that conditioning? Or, to put it another way: who is getting rich from your speciesism?

Around 90 billion animals are killed for their meat each year, so I hope at least some of the meat eaters who were upset by what happened to the cow will wake up and see how much suffering and bloodshed they are causing.

As the broadcaster, John Simpson, put it: “Isn’t there something a bit illogical about getting upset by a police car hitting a cow, then sitting down to enjoy a Sunday lunch of roast beef?”