A highlight for many families attending this year’s Sydney Royal Easter Show will be the opportunity to meet and interact with animals.
Children are naturally empathetic and inquisitive, and learning more about other species is often very exciting to them.
But the event will do its best to deceive the children and even adults who attend. It will present an idyllic but inaccurate portrait of the ways in which farmed animals are confined, tormented, and killed. A handful of prize-winning animals will be put on display, only temporarily receiving a respite from the routine cruelty of factory farms.
Children will be able to milk a cow, walk an alpaca, and watch as pigs are paraded around in the annual pig competition. As they collect their showbags at the end of the day, they won’t be told that for millions of animals – and many of the ones on show, once they’re returned to the farm – their lives are far from happy.
People attending the show usually have no idea that in New South Wales, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 specifically excludes “stock” animals from most of its provisions. Yet the show presents children with the fantasy that all animals are treated with kindness and respect. Then they’re encouraged to eat these animals in their hot dogs, hamburgers, and steak sandwiches.
When children are invited to “pat a chick”, they’re not told that it’s standard procedure for millions of male chicks to be discarded by being minced alive or suffocated because they don’t lay eggs. Nor are they told that both pigs and chickens are confined to tiny cages before slaughter or that the ends of the sensitive beaks of hens are sliced off. The teeth, tails, and testicles of piglets are routinely removed without pain relief – something no child could bear to see.
Children may think that milking a cow is a fun experience, but no one will tell them that cows are devoted mothers, whose babies are torn away from them within hours of birth so that humans can steal their milk.
As they wander around Sheep Pavilion, nowhere will it declare that lambs may be “mulesed” (that is, the skin may be cut from their hindquarters) or that they’re often savagely beaten during shearing.
These children, who are so in awe of animals, will be completely unaware that goats have their horns cut off and that animals bred for their meat are slaughtered while still little more than babies.
As they sit in the audience of the show’s rodeo events, violence against horses and cows will be normalised. They may enjoy seeing cute puppies and purebred cats put on display, but no one will tell them about the impact that companion-animal breeding has on the health of animals or the fate of those languishing in shelters.
Of course, none of this will be shown at the Easter show. If it really aims to educate the public about agriculture, it should reveal the living nightmare that animals endure before ending up on plates or in wardrobes.