A Beginner’s Guide to Cruelty-Free Living

The human being stands apart from other animals because of a superior capacity of making decisions. Humans have a wider understanding of different possibilities, which ironically, we can use to ensure that all animals are treated fairly.

When we make choices, we determine who we are as individuals. We use different methods and capacities, some emotional and some rational, to understand the advantages. Be it moral or pragmatic, selfish or altruistic, we consider each possibility carefully.

It’s this freedom of choice that has so many people turning to a cruelty-free lifestyle.

What does cruelty-free mean?

Cruelty-free is an all-encompassing label for products or activities that do not harm or kill animals. First used by Lady Dowding, who persuaded manufacturers of fake furs to use the label Beauty without Cruelty and later went on to found a charity of the same name, the term was popularised in the 1970s with the campaign “Fashion with Compassion”.

Since then, ‘cruelty-free’ has gone beyond the animal rights movement and fashion to include products and activities that consider the environment and ecosystem. Take organic produce farming for example - limiting pesticide runoff into lakes and streams can be considered cruelty-free.

Why is cruelty-free important?

Humans, while capable of emotional and rational thinking, somehow have come to the decision that cruelty to animals is okay providing it serves benefit to people. Animals are continuously harmed in factory farming, animal testing and the clothing industry.

Factory farming

It seems a stark fact, but two in three farm animals in the world are now factory farmed.

A “factory farm” refers to a large-scale industrial operation that houses thousands of animals raised for food - such as chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs - and treats them with hormones and antibiotics to prevent disease and maximise their growth and food output. Often, the beaks of chickens, turkeys, and ducks are removed to reduce excessive feather pecking and to help reduce the cannibalism seen among stressed, overcrowded birds.

Sadly, incidences of animal cruelty in factory farming are on the rise. This is despite a growing global want for organic and ethically-produced food. Reports of breaches are in fact so common these days that CCTV is now being introduced into every abattoir in the UK.

Livestock are being stunned, crushed, trapped, overheated, injured and are dying during transport.

Animal testing

According to PETA, over 100 million animals are killed each year in American laboratories. Imagine this on a global scale!

Animals like mice, rats, frogs, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, monkeys, fish and birds are continuously used for biology lessons, medical training, chemical, drug, food and cosmetic testing, as well as curiosity-driven experimentation. Before their deaths, many of these animals are forced to inhale toxic fumes. Others are immobilised in restraint devices for hours. Others suffer fates far worse, too horrific to even mention here.

Clothing industry

Fur for clothing is something we think we’re coming away from, but in actual fact, it’s an industry that’s still rampant. According to PETA, more than one billion rabbits and 50 million other animals are raised on fur farms or trapped in the wild for the purposes of making fur. And that’s just each year!

In China, the largest exporter of fur, there are no laws protecting animals and no penalties for animal abuse. It’s been estimated that 2 million cats and hundreds of thousands of dogs are killed for their fur, many of which ends up being mislabelled as ‘faux fur’.

Add to that belts, boots and jackets courtesy of leather, and animals really are paying the ultimate price for fashion.

5 steps to start living cruelty free

The statistics above are pretty horrific, and when you use your freedom of choice to really think about about, taking action to live cruelty free is worth the effort. You can do this by:

1. Eating with compassion

The humble act of grocery shopping is your most powerful opportunity to take action against animal cruelty. Each time you shop you can make a difference.

The words “organic” and “vegan” might sound like expensive adjectives, but an organic vegan diet is one of the best ways you can live cruelty free. Whether you choose organic vegan every day of the week, one day a week or once a month, you can be a source of fairness and kindness in the world.

If you’re not ready to go the full caboodle and overhaul your diet completely just yet, there are smaller actions you can take that are a step in the right direction.

  • Never buy cage eggs

Most egg-laying hens are forced to spend their short lives crammed inside battery cages where they can’t even stretch their wings. Even those that are able to roam free often suffer terrible fates should their egg production wane. And don’t get us started about unwanted male chicks!

If you really want to keep eggs in your diet, get your own chickens. That way you can control how well they are treated. If you can’t do that, look for Certified Humane eggs and small producers on family farms. Organigrow, for example, is certified with BFA organic free range eggs that exceed organic standards for animal welfare. We’re not saying it’s ideal, but it’s a far cry better than some other big brand egg production.

  • Consider your milk

You might be surprised to learn that cows don’t automatically produce milk. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk when lactating following the birth of a calf. To ensure there’s enough milk to meet supply demand, dairy cows are impregnated each year and their newborn calves taken away so that their milk can be harvested for human consumption. This means that hundreds of thousands of calves, just a few days old, are slaughtered as ‘waste products’ of the dairy industry. Do we really need to explain why soy, oat, rice and other dairy-free alternatives are a better option? (And if you haven’t yet tried macadamia milk, give it a go - it’ll change your life, we promise!). If it’s calcium intake you’re worried about, look for calcium-fortified varieties.

  • Choose organic for the Dirty Dozen

If you’re not ready to take the organic plunge wholeheartedly, the next best thing is to shop organic for the Dirty Dozen, an annual list released by the Environmental Working Group outlining the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticide residue. This year’s list includes: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, capsicum, potatoes and chillies.

  • Limit your meat intake

A meat-free diet isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay - especially if you’re transitioning, we get that it’s hard to go ‘cold tofurkey’. Instead, you can try limiting your intake. Start small by saying no to certain types of meat. You might like to say goodbye to processed meat, for example, as this offers the least health benefits. You could then start cutting your serving size down. Make your meat an accent rather than the star of your main meal, and instead of a double cheeseburger, try a single. After a while you’ll notice your mindset start to change. Instead of viewing hamburgers, steaks and fried chicken as the main course and beans, sweet potato and salad as the sides, you’ll automatically have it flipped. With this new mindset, eliminating a side won’t seem so bad.

2. Beauty without cruelty

Before buying any cosmetic product, be it mascara, foundation, soap, shampoo or conditioner, check to see if it has been tested on animals. If you’re not sure by the labelling alone, don’t buy it until you’ve done some research. Visit the brand’s site and look for the ‘contact us’ section.

Here are some questions you can ask over email:

  • Do you test on animals at any point during the production process?
  • Are your ingredients tested on animals by your suppliers?
  • Does any third party test on animals on your behalf?
  • Do you sell your products in mainland China? The reason for this latter question is that animal testing is mandatory in mainland China for foreign companies. If a company supplies there, they must animal test.

Animal testing for drugs and cosmetics exist because governments need to establish whether or not a product is safe for public health before it goes on the market. Fair enough, you might think, but does it mean that animal testing has to continue? There are over 7,000 ingredients that have already been proven to be safe, meaning no more testing. There is also technology advancements which allow us to use in-vitro testing or computer models. We can even replicate human organs on microchips these days, so isn’t it time that common sense and technology take over from animal testing?

3. Dress humanely

Being an ethical shopper doesn’t mean every piece of clothing has to be made out of organic hemp. It simply means doing a bit of research before your next big shop and getting to know the behaviours of your favourite brands. It also means looking for alternative materials, such as faux fur, pleather and faux suede, and certifications that imply a product meets certain ethical stands. H&M, for example, isn’t a fully vegan company, but it has taken measures to protect the welfare of animals by declining wool sourced from farms that practice mulesing, and down and feathers plucked from live and force-fed birds.

As a basic measure for dressing humanely, shop cruelty-free fabrics such as cotton, cotton flannel, polyester and synthetic shearling. Stay away from items made of wool, angora, rabbit hair, cashmere, pashmina, mohair, camel hair and shearling.  

4. Adopt, don’t shop

Hundreds of thousands of healthy but homeless cats, dogs and other companion animals are killed in Australia each year because there aren’t enough homes to house them. So instead of buying a pet from a pet store or breeder, rescue one from your local animal shelter. Never, ever buy online.

Once you have your animal, have them desexed. This important procedure will save many lives by reducing the number of unwanted animals.

5. Make your money cruelty-free

The best way to stay on track with your cruelty-free living is to align yourself with other empathetic and kind-hearted people. Join the thousands of other cruelty-free-driven Australians who’ve aligned their super with their values. Make the switch today to Australia’s first vegan-friendly, ethical super fund.  

About the author:
Noelle Greenwood
Noelle has been a passionate advocate for human rights since she walked her first 'walk against want' as a 10 year old. Her formative years were spent under her parent's wing in rallies, marches and kazoo-bands. All of this in the fairly conservative region of North Queensland, it's needless to say that activism is in her blood. As she's transitioned into making more conscious consumer choices across different aspects of her life, she's become more and more interested in the plight of creatures who are systematically harmed, exploited and killed for no good reason. Noelle likes to write about human rights, animal rights, climate change, feminism, indigenous issues, LGBTIQ issues, and generally anything that will spark a healthy argument with some of her right-wing acquaintances (the ones that are up for a healthy argument, anyway!).
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Noelle Greenwood
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