THE ETHICS OF DIET
THE MYTH OF THE WHOLESOME BARNYARD
Seattle resident David Coats points out in his book (Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm) that our image of animals living a happy existence in the barnyard is a myth of the past. The barnyard was phased out after World War II, and the factory farming system has replaced it almost entirely. Today the vast majority of dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys spend their entire lives in windowless buildings where animals are crammed together, usually in cages. Cattle spend their final months standing and lying in manure in feed lots. In the industry they are called “CFOs,” which stands for “confinded feeding operations.” I call them factory farms. My compassionate adopted sister Betsy—who did most of the drawings in this book—calls them “animal penitentiaries.”
Hunting season is a time of terror for wild animals. The woods echo with booms, as men stalk them through woods and fields. When animals are wounded by a hunter who has not shot straight, they die a slow and painful death. And according to various sources, there are one or two animals wounded for every animal killed immediately. Nevertheless, an animal shot by an accurate marksman dies quickly after having lived a free and natural life. In comparison, modern methods of housing and killing livestock are barbaric. The area of greatest ethical concern is not how animals are killed but how they are raised—in filthy, unhealthy, malodorous and confining conditions. I do not hunt, except with a camera, and I do not advocate hunting. Nor do I fish. However, I regard hunting and fishing to be less unethical than factory farming.
Wild meat is leaner and fairly free of pesticides, antibiotics, and the diseases of factory farmed animals. If you are determined to eat meat, you should go hunting for it. Or you should raise laying hens in your backyard.
A carnivorous animal kills to survive. If a human hunts to survive, I have little objection to it. In winter in the north, there is little else to eat but hunted meat. Hunting one animal at a time is a far different thing than burning down forests to graze cattle by the millions, housing animals in filth and cruelty, and convincing millions of people through mass marketing to buy and eat animal products in order to make huge profits. An entirely different scale of moral culpability is involved.
Fishers, hunters, and vegetarians should not be adversaries. They could combine efforts in an alliance dedicated to returning overgrazed lands to wild preserves. Several hundred million buffalo, elk, and other animals could roam free in a Western buffalo commons stretching in a corridor through the western great plains from Texas to Alberta. I would not necessarily oppose killing animals in the wild that are injured, sick, or aged or when over population of a species is desertifying an area, or if a species has been imported and is upsetting the ecological balance of an area. If people are determined to eat game animals, then culling of wild animals is the way they should kill them. And they should be killed in a painless way that avoids terrorizing them. Millions of animals could be harvested yearly, producing more meat than Western cattle ranches but with no environmental damage. And let’s not forget about all the edible insects that could be harvested. Dry lands could be replanted in the piñon trees which ranchers cut down, and which would produce a small fortune per acre in pine nuts.
Beef cattle live somewhat normal lives for their first five or six months, grazing on pasture land. However, males are castrated, and the deed is not done by veterinarians. The animals are held in a huge clamp, and the testicles are cut out—without anesthetic. Infection often ensues. Another method is to fasten a thick, tight rubber band around the scrotum to cut off blood circulation. The testicles fall off after a week or so. Castration makes animals somewhat docile, turning a bull into an ox. Some believe the meat tastes better. (See Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef, for the full story.)
Beef cattle are usually branded, which means a white-hot iron is held against their rumps for five seconds, cooking the flesh, burning the hair away, and creating scar tissue so the hair cannot grow back. Because cattle are sold repeatedly, they are branded repeatedly, sometimes in the face. Life is improving slightly for branded animals: Ear tagging and freeze branding are replacing hot branding, not for humanitarian reasons but because they are cheaper.
Cattle spend their last four or five months being “finished” on corn and soy beans to fatten them up. Because they will be closely confined in stock yards and during transportation, they are dehorned. This is a very painful procedure in which the horns and surrounding tissues are cut out and then further burned away with caustic chemicals. Dehorning is necessary because these animals are going to become violent as a result of the way they will be treated.
An old federal law requires that cattle, pigs, and sheep transported by train be fed and watered. However, animals transported by truck are not subject to such regulations. As a result most animals are transported by truck and not by train. Despite the crowding, some animals fall and are trampled. They have been bred to have big bodies and small, weak legs. When such “downers” and “spreaders” arrive at their destination, a chain secured to a post is attached to them, the truck drives away, and they are dragged out of the truck. Some downers are still eligible for human consumption, but others are ground up and fed to other animals as protein supplements and pet food.
Many cattle succumb to shipping pneumonia, and to prevent this they are administered chloramphenicol, which remains in meat and is highly toxic to some humans who consume such meat.
Beef cattle pass their last weeks in feed lots where not a blade of grass grows, standing and lying constantly in mud, dust, and their excrement. They eat mostly corn, soy beans, other grains, and protein supplement, which can contain fish meal, chicken feathers, and chicken droppings. Hay is their natural food, and without it cattle develop ulcers. Eating grains without hay causes acidosis, liver abscesses, and inflamed feet. Many cattle die before they are to be slaughtered. To try to keep them alive, corporate farmers feed them antibiotics. To prevent flies from breeding in the mountains of manure which are produced, industrial farmers feed them larvicide, which kills the maggots which flies lay in the manure.
Cows have been bred for docility. They are not as intelligent as the great aurochs from which they are descended, and which survived in Poland until 1627, but they are smart enough to know from the cries of other animals that they are about to die. Some cattle are stunned with a captive bolt pistol shot to the brain. Others are slaughtered by means of the modern “kosher kill,” which is far different from ancient kosher methods.
The kosher rule, according to the Talmud, is that an animal is eligible for sacrifice or consumption only if it is completely healthy, conscious, and not stunned or bludgeoned in advance of slaughter. The shochet, or ritual slaughterer, is to calm the animal and get it to lie down. He then bends down over the animal and reaches around its neck and, with a long, straight blade that is extremely sharp and free of any nicks or serrations, quickly makes one very deep cut that severs the jugular vein. The knife must move back and forth along the single cut line. Motion must not stop until the job is done. The animal loses consciousness quickly and dies with little pain. (“Slaughter, Ritual,” Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 1939 ed.)
Modern methods of kosher slaughter make a mockery of the laws of kashrut. Animals are sometimes hoisted up by a chain attached to one rear leg without being stunned in advance, a process that rips muscle and cartilage and pulls the leg out of its socket. If the line is moving slowly, the animal might dangle in this unnatural position for many minutes. The animal bellows in pain and terror. Only then is the throat cut. Or the animal may be locked in place by heavy machinery, its throat cut, and its trachea removed. The animal is dumped out of the machine, and it struggles to get up. The modern kosher kill is really not kosher at all, because a more fundamental rule of kosher is that animals be killed in a relatively painless way. I suspect that the problem with modern kosher slaughter is that animals are being killed by the thousands and with industrial efficiency. Original rules of kosher probably assumed animals would be slaughtered in a field on grass, one at a time. Dr. Temple Grandlin has written extensively on humane methods of slaughter. (http://www.grandin.com.) Even the best seem barbaric.
For our eating pleasure 100,000 cattle are slaughtered every day in the United States, 36.5 million per year. The killing is all done out of sight because if the public witnessed the savagery, most would quit eating beef. (John Robbins, Diet For a New America, p. 134-145; Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef, p. 118 ff., 132 ff.)
America’s ten million dairy cows rarely see a growing blade of grass. The modern factory farm method is to house them in feedlots. In some cases dairy cattle are chained in stalls and the milking machines are brought to them. In the most modern operations the stalls themselves, “Unicars,” move the cows on tracks to the milking facility. The cow never leaves her stall.
Left to nature, a calf will nurse its mother twenty times a day for up to a year, and the mother’s udders will not carry much milk. However, modern cows have been bred to have udders so huge they drag on manure soaked concrete. Cows sometimes trample their own udders. Even nursing can injure them. By the time a cow is milked?—?two or three times each day—, her udders are painfully full. Such super-cows frequently develop udder infections, known as mastitis, and milk will contain puss. Cows in more normal conditions can live 20 years or more, but modern cows—fed hormones, grains, and high protein feed, which often includes ground-up meat and fish meal—burn out in three to five years, meaning that production begins to drop. The muscles holding up their bulging udders collapse, and these super-cows are converted into hamburger. C. David Coats, Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, p. 49-59.)
Certain bulls and boars have their penises redirected to exit to the side so they cannot impregnate cows and sows. These “sidewinders” are used only to determine which cow or sow is in estrus. Then the cows and sows are mounted in a “rape rack” and artificially inseminated with specially bred sperm. Sidewinders are becoming outmoded; now hormones are being used to induce fertility in cows and sows on demand.
Dairy cows must bear a calf each year in order to keep their milk flowing. Calves are removed immediately after they are born. If even a day passes, the cow bonds with the calf, becomes frantic at its disappearance, and struggles to be reunited with it. The calf bawls at the loss of it’s mother. Unless the cow is a prize breed that has been artificially inseminated with prize sperm to produce high-production offspring, her calf, male or female, is likely to be taken immediately for veal production.
The old way to produce tender, white veal was to slaughter calves shortly after birth when they weigh around 150 pounds. The modern way is to fatten them for around 100 days to a more profitable weight of 350 pounds.
Beef calves, male and female, are all fattened to full size and are generally not slaughtered young for veal. So, veal calves are almost always dairy calves. Only some of these females calves are needed for milk production, and the rest go to the veal crates. Very few male dairy calves are required to sire the next generation; most conception is through artificial insemination, and so almost all males are made into veal.
Veal crates are typically 22 inches wide. Calves can move only a few inches in any direction. The goal is to prevent them from getting any exercise that would toughen their muscles. Calves cannot even get their heads around to yield to their strong instinct to groom themselves. While calves are small they can squat down but not lie down in the normal way. As they grow, even squatting becomes difficult. Their legs atrophy through lack of exercise, and they have trouble walking to their deaths.
Factory farmers feed veal calves an iron-deficient diet so the meat will stay white instead of turning pink. Their diet is government surplus milk and butter—subsidized with our tax dollars. Veal calves are never given water to drink. Calves are helplessly weak. Water would quench their thirst, and they would drink less milk. They are given no hay, lest they absorb the iron it contains. They develop chronic diarrhea and live constantly in their own excrement. The smell would knock you down. But don’t try to visit a veal factory farm; corporate owners generally will not allow the public to see the barbaric way veal is produced.
Calves are normally very playful animals. A free calf will frolic about like a puppy or kitten. Veal calves, on the other hand, are raised in almost total darkness to minimize activity, and many go blind.
Around 20 percent of veal calves die before the customary age of slaughter, which is about 100 days old. By that point they are afflicted by numerous diseases—anemia, pneumonia, intestinal diseases, septicemia, ulcers, bloat, and diarrhea. Veal calves are regularly dosed with nitrofurazone, a recognized carcinogen.
To treat and prevent pneumonia, veal calves receive chloramphenicol, extremely minute amounts of which can cause aplastic anemia in a small percentage of humans. A plate of veal Parmesan made with meat from an animal recently treated with chloramphenicol will likely contain a dose large enough to sicken or kill a human who is susceptible. And those who are susceptible usually are not aware they are. (Food Animals Concern Trust (Fact Inc.) Newsletter; Wallace, I., et al, The Book of Lists #2, p. 240, cited by Robbins, Diet for a New America, p. 105, 117.)
Even if you are not going to become a strict vegetarian, at least quit eating veal. And because the dairy industry is so closely tied with veal production, quit eating dairy products. (C. David Coats, Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, p. 61-68.)
The story of laying hens is another scandal. Laying hens are a different breed from broilers. They are bred for laying eggs not for meat production and are skinnier. Their newly hatched chicks, never having seen their mother hens, are separated into useful females and useless males. The males are tossed into big plastic bags where they slowly suffocate. (J. Mason, and Peter Singer, Animal Factories, 1980, p. 5.) They are ground up and fed back to other chickens.
The surviving females are debeaked with a red-hot clipper. A chicken’s beak is extremely sensitive, and de-beakeding is as painful for a chicken as it would be if someone whacked off part of your nose, lips, and chin. Chicks are de-beaked because they are going to be driven mad by their coming confinement, and without debeaking they will peck each other to death. Sometimes beaks grow in a deformed way, and birds cannot eat or drink well and fail to gain weight. Four or five laying hens are housed in cages less than two feet tall, wide and deep. The hens are never able to extend their wings. When one moves the others must move. Lighting is manipulated. Chickens are very dependent on a routine of day and night, but they are subjected to almost complete darkness except when workmen need light to do their work.
When they begin laying, the lights might burn 23 hours per day. Manipulation of lighting and claustrophobic confinement drives the birds crazy. They become hysterical at the slightest noise. They scream and peck each other, and “cannibalism” is a serious problem. Although the point has been cut off their beaks, they can sometimes still peck each other to death. Cage floors are slanted so that eggs will roll down for easy collection. The weakest chicken will sometimes become lodged in this low spot in the cage and be trampled constantly. The floors are wire bars, and sometimes the birds’ toes actually grow around the bars and have to be cut off after many months when the hens “burn out” and are harvested.
Cages are stacked several layers high, so chickens below are showered with urine and feces raining down from above. The stench is overpowering. Diseases race through the chicken population, and the birds are fed a continuous diet of antibiotics. A significant number of hens are infected with the virus which causes leucosis and the leucosis tumors it causes, as well as with Marek’s virus and the lymph cancer it causes. (http://www.merckvetmanual.com.) Minerals are leached from their bones and many cannot stand. They suffer from a host of diseases—blindness, kidney damage, brain damage, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, malformed backbones, and twisted necks. The U.S. Department of Labor lists working with chickens as a very hazardous occupation since humans can contract diseases from them.
Hens in their cages do not look like hens as we would picture them. Most of their feathers are gone as a result of rubbing against the bars, and their skin is raw and red. Chickens normally live up to 20 years, but when egg production drops at 18 to 24 months, they are harvested to make soup or pet food or ground up to be fed back to the other chickens. (C. David Coats, Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, p. 81-96.)
Broilers are bred to produce a lot of meat. They are raised in giant factories like the layers, and often they are caged, with the cages stacked many layers high. Turkeys are usually raised in the same way. So called free-range chickens are not raised outside in fresh air, but in factory buildings. The only difference is free range chicken are not put in cages. That’s not much of an improvement. (See C. David Coats, Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, p. 81-96 and John Robbins, Diet for a New America, page 48 ff., for more sad details.)
DUCKS AND GEESE
In order to fatten ducks and geese as quickly as possible, factory farmers use a long funnel to force-feed grain down their necks, typically one kilogram per day for a mature bird, around one-fourth of the bird’s weight. Sometimes their stomachs burst. Their livers become diseased and swell to twice their natural size, producing as much as possible of the “delicacy” known as foie gras, which sells for $12 per ounce. (“Force Feeding Exposed: PETA Uncover Investigators Take You Behind the Scenes of a Foie Gras Farm,” PETA News, Winter, 1992, p. 5-7.) Protest this obscenity by not buying down pillows, coats, comforters, or sleeping bags, duck or goose meat, and of course foie gras. Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic have banned forced feeding of birds.
A sow is confined tightly in a cage that allows her piglets constant access to her tits so they will grow rapidly. Piglets that are deformed or that are crushed by the sow are fed right back to her, along with the afterbirth. The motto in the pork industry is “feed it back to them.”
Piglets are taken from her three to five weeks after birth, far sooner than their normal eight to twelve week weaning time, and the sow screams and struggles in vain to try to find her young. Piglets are moved to cages, which can be stacked many layers high. Eight piglets are housed in a cage less than four feet square. Urine and feces rain down onto piglets in the lower cages. The smell of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide sears their lungs. Because of pigs’ highly developed sense of smell, the stench must be particularly disgusting to them. In most animals the section of the brain committed to the sense of smell is the largest.
When pigs are housed all together in a building without individual confinement, they engage in “tail biting,” which means they eat off each other’s tails and start consuming each other’s buttocks, resulting in the cannibalistic death of many animals. Their long eye teeth are cut out so they will not be able to do as much damage. Their activity level is reduced by keeping the lights off at all times—except when workers must enter these automated buildings and need to see the grizzly work they are doing. Another remedy for tail biting is “tail docking,” cutting off the tails, a very painful procedure. Pigs are highly intelligent animals, and the conditions in which they live drive them insane.
When the lights go on the animals become frantic, kicking and screaming. Are they angry at their torturers? Or are they crying out to humans for their release?
Pigs grow very large and become hard to handle, and so for better control over them, factory farmers frequently house them in “Bacon Bins” that give the pigs only a few inches of movement in any direction. In some factory farms Bacon Bins are stacked several layers high. The floors are slatted metal, which allows feces and urine to fall through onto animals below. They live constantly in their excrement. Pigs are normally clean animals that would never soil their nests. They wallow in mud because they have no sweat glands and need to cool themselves. Mud also helps kill irritating insects. Hog magazines proudly suggest that pregnant sows can live without any feed whatsoever; they can survive solely on excrement. The cynical motto again is “feed it back to them.”
Pigs have cloven hooves that evolved to stand on soft earth. Metal and concrete floors are bad for their feet. Most are lame by the time they are sent to slaughter. This problem is exacerbated by lack of exercise and the fact that pigs are being bred to have larger bodies and smaller legs and feet.
Pigs are difficult animals to slaughter. They hear the screams of the dying, and they know death awaits them, so they fight for their lives. According to Howard Lyman, former feedlot operator, ten percent of pigs die of heart attacks, fighting furiously, while being driven to their deaths with baseball bats. A large, wounded pig running free in the slaughter house among its axes, knives, and saws can do great damage.
In a C-SPAN interview on January 14, 1995, Actor Alec Baldwin, member of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, reported that he had been targeted by companies that do animal testing. They have labeled him as a radical opponent of all animal testing. In fact, he proposes that all unnecessary animal testing be abolished as a first step, and he cites studies saying that 90 percent of all animal testing could be replaced with computer modeling and individual cell research. Rabbits are commonly used to test chemicals to be used in cosmetics because their eyes do not produce tears which would wash away the chemicals. Their eyelids are propped open and the test chemical is put in their eyes and not washed away to determine the long-term effect of the chemical. By the thousands these animals experience months and years of terrible pain.
What about your ethical obligations to your customers? Burger King and Sizzler paid out big money to patrons who contracted E. coli by eating their meat. Suits over salmonella would be more common if people did not confuse it with the common flu.
What about students who get sick eating animal-based food at school? What if you have guests to your home and you feed them animal-based food that makes them sick? Someday someone is going to be the test case in court. Restaurants are already getting sued. So far I known of no homeowner who has been sued. Does your homeowner’s policy cover food poisoning of your guests? Don’t be the test case.
THE GHOULISHNESS OF ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Chickens, pigs, dairy cows, and veal calves are confined in such conditions to minimize the amount of land and building space required, to control the animals, to allow for automation of the feeding and waste disposal process, to insulate habitat and conserve heat, which helps turn food consumed into meat instead of body heat. All of this allows the factory farm to cut its greatest expenses, the cost of human labor, the cost of leasing or buying land, the cost of feed, and the cost of energy. All other considerations are put aside in favor of profit maximization.
These animals have the same pain receptors we have. They lack our intellectual capacity, but they have much of our emotional capacity. Cow and calf, sow and piglet, hen and chick—they bond with each other, mother and child. They are very upset when they are separated, just as human mother and child would be. Animals dream; their eyes move when they sleep. Young animals frolic and play like children.
These animals have the same fear of death we do. Cattle in an open farmyard will moan in sadness and fear when they witness the death of another animal. In the same way, when these animals arrive at the slaughterhouse entrance, they hear their fellows crying out, and they understand that their deaths are coming. Animals often have to be forced into the killing pens.
In all practical ways relating to their suffering and death, animals are like us: They experience pain. They value their lives. They value the lives of animals they have bonded with. They are capable of understanding that their deaths are coming, and they fear their deaths. They appear to be able to intellectualize about injustice, as in the case of Koko, the gorilla who has learned sign language, and who tells the story of the killing of her family and her abduction as a baby.
Let’s return to the calves in the veal crates and do some back-of-the-napkin math: A dairy cow must bear a calf every year to continue producing milk at high levels. Although dairy cows can live into their twenties, milk production in factory milk barns begins to drop after five years, and dairy cows are converted into hamburger. Assume there are 100 million dairy cows around the world (a hypothetical number) producing 100 million calves each year, 50 million male and 50 million female calves.
Male calves are obviously useless for milk production. They are useless for ordinary beef production because they do not grow to sufficient size. Only very few male dairy calves are saved to grow up to be the dairy bulls that will produce sperm for insemination of dairy cows. Thus, almost 50 million male calves go to the veal crates each year.
With 100 million cows lasting only five years, only 20 million female calves are needed each year to replace cows which are “retired.” The other 30 million female calves also go to the veal crates. This is how 80 million calves each year live their 100-day lives.
Take my math further, the way personal injury lawyers do in court, when they try to help a jury to assign a dollar value to the pain and suffering their clients have experienced: Is one minute of severe pain worth ten cents? they ask. Is one hour worth $6? Is one day worth $144? Is one year worth $52,560? Is ten years of severe pain worth half a million dollars? There are different levels of severity, and the jury has to quantify the severity and make a judgment. One way to do that is to assign a per-day value to it. The money damages system makes sense because the only other alternative is for aggrieved parties to take justice into their own hands.
Apply the same calculus to the pain and suffering of animals. Think about the various levels of pain animals feel. Think of the number of months the pain is experienced. Think of the numbers of animals which experience this pain. Visualize Dante’s Inferno, with millions of sinners screaming in torture, except in your visualization there will be millions of sinless animals. Sit and meditate on it. Ask these animals, “What should I do?” You might receive an answer then and there.
These animals lack verbal skills with which to talk or write about their experiences. They could not testify about it in court. But is their terror and pain any less real than the terror and pain a human would feel in the same situation?
The only difference between their pain and ours is that they are members of the wrong species. Before you accept this as some kind of justification, bear in mind that not too long ago slaves, women, and members of certain races and religions were generally believed to be lower forms of life that had no rights. Was the pain of slaves and women and blacks less real before they were emancipated and enfranchised? It was real, but it was ignored because they lacked power.
If we were being terrorized and killed in the same way, would the fact that we can speak and write make our terror or pain any worse or more significant? No vocabulary is needed to experience terror and pain. The significance of the animals’ inability to speak and write is that we can ignore their pain and terror.
So we must ask: How can we live comfortably with ourselves, knowing the terror and pain that exists on a daily basis for the world’s 15 billion (some say 40 billion) factory farm animals? Why would we want to hire and train—through our purchases of animal-based products—a cadre of death camp managers and slaughterers to carry out the terror in our names?
We humans have enormous compassion for our pets but little compassion for the factory animals that are killed to put meat on our plates. The only difference I can identify is that pets are close at hand while livestock is kept discretely out of sight, like World War II death camps. “Out of sight is out of mind,” some say. But if a pet deserves some degree of compassion, doesn’t a cow, pig, or chicken? Should we not modify our eating behavior to take compassion for them?
Vegetarian George Bernard Shaw said that killing animals for food requires humans to suppress one of their most important emotions: compassion. The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Why do we apply it only to humans? If Jesus were here to speak on the subject today, would he not pronounce an Eleventh Commandment, “Do unto other species as we would have them do unto your own”?
The only justification we can offer for killing animals is when it is necessary for our own survival. Arguably, it is justifiable in starvation situations to sacrifice animals for food. It is possible that the ancient ritual of sacrificing animals and praying to god for forgiveness was done because humans felt guilty for killing animals for food. Or maybe it was a cynical way for priests to get their ten percent of the meat.
For certain cultures such as the Eskimo, eating meat is probably their only alternative unless they join the cash economy. Their mostly-meat diet is too high in protein, resulting in severe osteoporosis and a much shortened life span. (Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, p. 226.)
Carnivorous animals eat other animals. Why is it acceptable for them to do so and not for us? For them, it is their only alternative. For us, there are in almost all situations other, more healthy, alternatives. When wild animals kill, they kill quickly. We imprison our food animals and kill them slowly and painfully. When carnivorous animals kill, they only kill what they need to survive. We humans, on the other hand, breed and kill animals in saleable quantities and convince the gullible masses through our advertising to eat the resulting, highly-profitable meat.
Why is it wrong to kill and eat animals but not wrong to kill and eat plants? Plants may have some perception of pain, but it is at a very low level. Further, plants often flourish as they are cut back; they generally grow back stronger. Plants rely on animals to eat their seeds and excrete them elsewhere in order to spread them. Most important, it is absolutely necessary for us to kill and eat plants to survive, whereas in almost all cases it is unnecessary for us to kill and eat animals.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), saint and doctor of the Church, believed that animals had no souls and therefore no eternal life. For that reason man with his immortal soul had no moral obligation to animals. However, Aquinas did not do his homework: In Genesis (1:20, 1:21, and 1:24) the Hebrew word nephesh, which is translated as living “creature,” clearly refers to animals and literally means “living soul.” Aquinas also believed women had no souls! Rene Descartes (1596-1650) considered animals to be mere machines created by god for man’s use. Their apparent pain is merely the noise the machine makes as it breaking down.
However, Jeremy Bentham in 1780 countered: “The question is not Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but Can they suffer?” Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in his On the Basis of Morality, said in 1841,
The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality. (Quoted in C. David Coats, Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, p. 145 ff.)
Most people do not think about the ethical issues involved; for most people, meat is just something they buy in a package or on a plate in a restaurant. It is just food; it is not a piece of an animal that was living and breathing and then kicking and screaming only a few hours earlier.
Most people do not actually butcher the animals they eat, and they usually regard the killing as something that cannot be charged against them. In a court of law, there is not less but more responsibility assigned to the person who hires someone to kill a human. The same ethical analysis should apply to those who hire the killing of animals by the millions.
Nor is it correct to say that if you did not buy the hamburger that someone else would. To the contrary, every burger you do not eat is one less burger that is produced. When it comes to meat, supply follows demand.
Various animals have a sense of humor. Chimps and gorillas can now talk with us by way of sign language, while humpback whales sing lengthy songs of mysterious beauty with lyrics that seem to signify something. I hope we learn to translate their songs before we kill off these impressive animals. Most people, except the defiantly traditional Japanese, now believe it is unethical to kill and eat whales. Why do only whales, chimps, and our pets deserve our compassion?
And let’s look at this from a broader perspective: If we survive as a species, the time will probably come when we will encounter species more advanced than we are. If E.T. comes to earth, he may class humans as just another animal and cook us up for dinner. Would that be ethical? Or would a vegetarian E.T. avoid communicating with us because of the brutal way treat other earth species?
That is all the more reason why the Eleventh Commandment should apply: “Do unto other species as you would have them do unto your own.”
What about splashing catsup on fur coats? What about breaking into mink farms and releasing the unfortunate critters? What about setting fire to slaughter houses? That’s what is known as “direct action.” It’s not my method. Maybe I feel that way because my writing provides me with another way to take action.
I understand people who take direct action. They are frustrated for good reason: McDonald’s spends millions of dollars promoting saturated fat. McDonald’s makes deals with Disney and gives away toys with burgers. Some McDonald’s restaurants include playground equipment. How can a vegetarian compete with such a pervasive campaign? Direct action grabs headlines at low cost.
My sympathies are with the activist vegetarians. I do not say that their behavior is on the same level as those who smuggled slaves out of the Old South, but it does lie on the same continuum. Animals are lesser beings, but they are still sentient beings; and they are worthy of our actions on their behalf.
However, when property is destroyed, resistance is aroused. If someone were seriously injured or killed as a result of a direct action, it would make all vegetarians look bad and undermine the moral force of our movement. In most circumstances, nonviolent protest is more powerful and less threatening than violent protest. It is tricky to use violence to teach nonviolence. The change we are trying to accomplish is going to take generations. We should not give up, but we should also not become impatient and do things that will discredit our movement.
THERE SHOULD BE A LAW
We humans are not the biggest animals on the block, but we are the meanest, and the other animals are rightfully terrified of us. The Hebrew Bible seems to authorized humans to terrorize animals:
The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. (Genesis 9:2-3.)
In lawless societies the way humans deal with each other is established according to who is biggest and strongest. In societies that are truly grounded in law, humans deal with each other according to rationally based standards of ethics, justice, and natural law.
On the other hand, in almost all our dealings with other species, might still defines what is right. We are humans and we are mighty, and so we define what is right. Is this the way things should be? I think not. What is and isn’t ethical should not depend on which end of the fork you are on.
There are laws against cruelty to animals, however, the federal Animal Welfare Act covers only pets and excludes animals that are customarily used as food. (7 U.S.C. 2131-2156.)
Should there be laws against killing animals? Sometimes pests and predators just have to be killed. Some humans would sometimes go hungry without meat. Who is to decide if and when the killing is necessary?
You can argue that laws against killing animals for food would be unenforceable at this low point in human moral history. It weakens the structure of law to enact laws that are unenforceable. In such cases, should right and wrong be left to the conscience of the individual? Should those who want to change human meat-eating behavior focus on education instead of passing laws?
According to Hebrew legend, god gave up trying, at least temporarily, to force humans to quit eating animals. (See the Mining the Legends of Genesis section of this book, p. 51.) Vegetarians who are “religious” about it—as I am—would say that god is still trying to get humans to quit eating animals.
“If I were the king of the world,” I would stop all killing of all animals except in cases of our own protection or defense. But I am obviously not king of the world. Human perceived need to eat animal products will not go away quickly or easily. Until all become enlightened on this subject, it makes sense to advocate passage of laws that at least mitigate the worst offenses against the other species as initial first steps.
The torture of nonfarm animals such as dogs and cats is already against the law, and well it should be. In Washington we had the sad story of Posada, a donkey that was tortured for several hours and killed by some teenagers. This was a non-food animal, so its torture was a minor crime.
However, there are no laws against the torture of factory animals. There should be, for they suffer far more than Posada. Factory farming of animals and their close confinement should be abolished by law. The close confinement of farm animals should be forbidden by law. It should be illegal for animals to be housed in conditions of filth, in small cages with no light, no fresh air, with no escape from their own excrement, in conditions of such disease that they must be dosed constantly with antibiotics. By law, animals should not be fed the excrement or the meat of other animals.
It should be against the law for animals to be slaughtered in ways which cause them terror and pain. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 USC 1901-1907, pretends to address the issue, but is very generalized. Captive bolt stunning is allowed along with a bullet to the brain and electrical stunning. The law specifically declares that kosher slaughter is humane and exempts it from regulation, although the kosher kill in the United States involves shackling and hoisting of an animal before it becomes unconscious and its throat is cut. (See also Washington RCW 16.50 and WAC 16-24.)
It should be against the law to feed animals to animals—in order to stop the spread of disease and to lower the fat content of meat. (See the Spongiform Brain Disease section of this book, p. 280.)
By law, cattle should not be fattened on soy and corn, 80 and 90 percent of which is fed to animals, and which is grown on land that is being eroded unnecessarily. Cattle should be raised exclusively on grass. The meat grading system should be turned on its head: Grade A meat should come from the leanest, toughest, grass-fed animals, not from the softest, flattest, grain- and meat-fed animals. While it would take cattle five instead of two years to grow to full weight if they were fed only grass, the meat would be more healthy.
More antibiotics are fed to animals than are administered to humans, and as a result dangerous bacteria are evolving that are immune to antibiotics. By law, antibiotics should not be fed to farm animals. It is common to feed larvicide to cattle, so that fly larvae will not be able to grow in the manure as it piles up on factory farms. Insecticides should not be fed to farm animals.
By law arid lands should not be utilized for grazing. The Department of Interior should cancel all Western grazing leases. This land should be replanted with the native grasses that were crowded out when seeds of European grasses were carried west on and in cattle. The arid western great plains should be restored to the American Serengeti it was, and as such it would probably produce more revenue as a tourist attraction and perhaps as a hunting area than as grazing land. Until this politically unlikely event occurs, environmental groups should compete with ranchers by bidding against them and lease this land and put an end to grazing there.
It is an ethical issue that animals are killed for food, but it is a much greater issue how 15 billion animals who would not otherwise exist are mistreated in factory farms. I support proposals to create a buffalo commons on arid Western grazing land. Several hundred million bison could roam the semiarid west.
Completely banning the sale of animal-based foods would be just as impossible as banning the sale of tobacco. However, the analogy is clear: Just as there is no inherent right under principles of natural law to advertise and thus encourage the use of tobacco—because it is addictive and deadly—there is no right to advertise and thus encourage the eating of animal-based foods. They are unhealthy to consume; their production is destructive to the natural environment; and their use promotes an insensitivity to violence towards living creatures and thus lower the moral tone of our human species. Advertising the sale of animal products should be banned.
Just as life insurance rates and health insurance rates are lower for non-tobacco users, they should be lower for vegetarians and even lower for vegans.
Without the coming of a new messiah, it will be impossible to get the kinds of laws passed which I have in mind. Although the likelihood of achieving the final goal may be slim, the likelihood of making some progress is great.
Some say that animals should not be given “rights” per se because they are not subject to duties and because they lack the capacity as persons to comprehend laws and rules or assert their rights intelligently. The same could be said for infants. Do infants have no rights?
Peter Singer in Animal Liberation brushes aside rights and duties analysis and says that what matters is “equal consideration of interests.” Animals have as much interest in surviving and not suffering as we do and so merit protection.
The Spanish Parliament has awarded the great apes with certain limited rights, for example, not to be killed except in the case of self defense, and the right not to be tortured, kidnapped, or imprisoned.
In theory, guardians could be appointed to represents animals’ rights.
Regardless of the philosophical analysis made, it should be unlawful for species to be driven to extinction, for animals to be housed in conditions of torture, and for animals to be killed in ways which are terrifying and painful. Laws should be enacted which provide elephants, the apes, and all primates with protected reserves where they will be left alone and from which they cannot be kidnapped. It should be illegal to hunt these animals for bush meat or for any purpose. By law whales and dolphins should be protected from hunting. A special UN police force should be established to protect these species and serve as their legal guardians. There are other species which could be added to this list. A bill of rights or legally protected interests for animals should be built up, species-by-species and right-by-right or interest-by-interest.
I may live to see some of these idealistic proposals enacted into law. I doubt I will have complete success, but I am certain I will not be completely defeated.
I will pickup this thread again in Chapter 22, Final Speculations, p. 397.