Tuesday, March 31, 2009

omg, the horrible way these animals are treated made me cry and I got tears all over my animal welfare-approved pork chops

The Animal Welfare Society blog posted the undercover videos of the abuse by that infamous Hormel supplier in Iowa.  The conclusion the blog draws from these videos is not that people should stop creating a demand for the flesh of these animals, but that they should buy their meat from family farms.  The videos horrified the blog's commentors.  Connie says...
omg, if you can watch this video and not break down crying, I do not know what to say.
Sorry for pilfering your verbiage and your brittle feelings, Connie, but if you can watch this video and break down crying and then continue to consume animal products, I don't know what to say.  She continues...
I truly cannot believe this cruelty is allowed to happen.
But it is and you know why?  Because people like you, Connie, cry your crocodile tears and continue to have pork chops for dinner.  If people didn't consume animal products, there would be no farms like the one on the video.

Meanwhile, commentor Leigh Ann thinks the problem is BIG CORPORATIONS, which she emphasizes by setting them in all caps.  BIG CORPORATIONS.  BIG MONEY.  Please support local farmers, she says plaintively, though maybe with a little more restraint than the excitable Connie.  Family farmers raise their animals with compassion.  Over and over we hear this.  I can't see Leigh Ann as she types her comment so I can't say for sure if she manages to type it with a straight face.  Raise them with compassion?  Do people slaughter the objects of their compassion?  Painless death?  Would Connie or Leigh Ann euthanize one of their pets with a stun bolt gun that more often than not shatters the skull without killing the animal?  The blade across the neck of the frantically struggling pig is not any less painful simply because it is being wielded by the steady, honest hand of the family farmer.

Family farmers profit from the deaths of these animals.  The animals' death puts food on their table.  No wonder the family farmers are smiling in all the photos of them you see on the welfarist sites.  They're probably thinking, heck, if the animal Welfare Society and Farm Forward want to give us their seals of approval so the good progressive foodies out there will pay us double, what the heck.  We'll pose next to our cattle with good earth smiles for their promotional literature and count our money.

You read the Animal welfare approved blog babble about the compassion of the friendly farmers and you keep expecting them to say, Ha, fooled you!  We wanted to see if we could actually convince people we care about animals whose deaths we contribute to.  Man, you guys atually believed it?  It was a prank, man, a prank!

The animal welfare movement is a delusion wrapped in denial inside a lie.  People like Connie and Leigh Ann fume and wail at the corporate slaughterhouse and after they're done shaking their fist in anger, they use it to pick up their fork and enjoy the tasty, succulent flesh of the animals whose deaths they grieve.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Taking a lunch break from saving the planet

-- Welcome to Taco Bell.  Can I take your order?
-- Yeah, leafleting for the environment all day sure gives you a big appetite.  Can I have two Burrito Supremes?  Oh, and you get extra meat for 49 cents, right?
-- Yup.
-- Cool.  By the way, I know you're not the decision maker, but I see the menu board uses really bright lights.  If you used fluorescent lights instead, you'd reduce energy consumption.
-- You say you were leafleting for the environment?
-- Yeah, trying to fight all these lying hypocrites who deny their actions are causing global warming.
-- You know, meat consumption is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse emissions.
-- That's a bunch of crap!
-- Even more than automobiles and airplanes combined.
-- It's a lie!  I deny it!
-- According to a UN report, if people stopped eating meat...
-- What?  I can't hear you.  Your microphone's breaking up.
-- I said if people stopped eating meat, greenhouse emissions would be significantly reduced.
-- Sorry, dude, still can't hear you, music's too loud.  This band rocks.  The bass player has a green bass to support the cause.
-- Okay, so your order is two beef burritos with extra meat.  Please pull up to the window.
-- Look, dude, suppose what you say is true.  Here's the thing.  Say it takes me half an hour to eat my ham and eggs for breakfast.  Then say a half hour for lunch and an hour for dinner.  That's only two hours of eating meat.  Which means the other 22 hours of the day I'm fighting for the environment.  How many people are that committed to their cause?  But I'm happy to do it.  It's my duty.  The future of our planet's at stake ... Mmm, speaking of steak, could you throw in one of those steak tacos?
-- Two beef burritos, extra beef, and one steak taco.
-- Hey, I got a box of "End Global Warming Now" bumperstickers in the back of my Prius.  Want one?
-- Maybe you could get one that says, "End global warming not now but right after I finish eating my beef burritos."
-- Damn, I almost forgot.  I'm going to a global warming meet-up to talk about ways we can reduce our carbon footprints and the folks there will be famished.  Can you give me a dozen more beef burritos, extra beef?
-- You got it.  Please pull up to the window.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dr. Peter Singer on what sets humans apart from other animals

Gary Francione referenced (and then demolished) a passage by Peter Singer, Princeton bio-ethicist and author of Animal Liberation.
You could say it's wrong to kill a being whenever a being is sentient or conscious.  Then you would have to say it's just as wrong to kill a chicken or mouse as it is to kill you or me.  I can't accept that idea.  It may be just as wrong, but millions of chickens are killed every day ... What is different about humans? Humans are forward-looking beings, and they have hopes and desires for the future.  That seems a plausible answer to the question of why it's so tragic when humans die.
So humans are forward-looking beings and animals are not.  Forward-looking humans have hopes and desires for the future.  Okay but ... a murderer has hopes and desires for the future.  He hopes to kill his victim and desires not to get caught.  Point being, don't we have to assess the content of those hopes and desires before we cite the capacity to have them as proof of our existential worthiness?

But put aside whether Singer's distinction between humans and non-human animals is accurate and, even if it is, whether that provides sufficient justification for our wanton killing of millions of animals every year.  Take a closer look at the thinker doing his thinking, in his study, maybe munching on a left-over drumstick, trying to come up with a characteristic that separates humans from other animals.  Surprise!  This reasoning human comes up with a characteristic that confers greater value on the lives of ... humans.  Humans are forward-thinking.  Animals are not.  The slaughter is justified.  Pass me another one of those drumsticks. 

You know, I bet an AIG executive could come up with a characteristic of AIG executives that demonstrates that AIG executives deserve to keep every dime of their bonuses.

Suppose other animals took their turn after Dr. Singer.  Suppose they were able to list things that separate human animals from non-human animals.  What might they come up with?

-- Kills not merely out of necessity but for pleasure
-- Tortures and slaughters millions of farm animals each year because he craves the taste of their flesh
-- Tortures and slaughters animals because their fur gives an added oomph to all the latest fashions
-- Pursues animals in their natural habitats and kills them for the sheer joy of it
-- Pours toxins into the eyes of rabbits to make sure the lipstick goes on without irritation
-- Beats elephants with meat hooks so the festive circus goers can enjoy the spectacle of the elephant running around the ring and stepping onto the colorful stool

Maybe it's better for Dr. Singer's argument if he sticks with forward-thinkng as the defining human characteristic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The source of hostility toward veganism

Every vegan has encountered ridicule and hostility. Even when there's no preaching or attempts to convert, the very existence of veganism is enough to set many people off. What's the source of this hostility?

One easy surface explanation: The vegan is always at least implicitly condemning the omnivore by rejecting the consumption of animal products as immoral. When we reject animal products offered to us at someone's home, ungraciousness doubles our sin. But think of other actions people take in support of their ethical beliefs, e.g. volunteering at a homeless shelter. This too could be seen as an implicit judgment of those who don't volunteer. But nobody ever ridicules someone else for volunteering at a homeless shelter. They praise and admire the volunteer, sometimes they're even inspired to volunteer themselves. Other than veganism, it's hard to think of any behavior undertaken to reduce the suffering of others that results in hostility to the person engaged in the behavior.

Maybe it's just that people attach so little value to the lives of non-human animals. But, given the choice, most people would prefer that their meat didn't require the death of an animal. They therefore acknowledge that the reduction of suffering and pain is morally desirable. But still they ridicule vegans for acting on this belief.

Maybe non-vegans simply see vegans as overly earnest in the pursuit of an objective that doesn't merit it. They think this kind of moral obstinancy should be reserved for more appropriately serious causes the rest of the world deeems worthwhile. They object to what they see as the disproportionate intensity of our purpose. We refuse to consume animal products. Very few of us "slip" and eat meat. Anyone who does slip from time to time would not be considered a vegan. I think maybe this is what people can't stand. They see the ideals of veganism as unworthy of the moral rigidity of its adherents.

Either that, or they're all just a bunch of self-centered punks who will gladly inflict torture and pain if they get a nice tasty meal out of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Animal welfare groups demand the humane treatment of family farmers and, oh yeah, animals too.

One recurring theme in the so-called humane treatment movement is the glorification of the family farm.  The Animal Welfare Institute says...
Only family farms can earn our seal.  Families who own, labor on and earn a meaningful livelihood from their farms have a true commitment and connection to their animals that is lost on factory farms managed by distant, corporate owners and run by hired hands.
And in keeping with that "true commitment and connection to their animals," they slaughter them.  Using this logic, the animal welfare institute obviously considers the person who murders a friend morally superior to the person who murders a stranger.

Humane treatment advocates are always contrasting the family farmers to the "distant, corporate owners."  They rail against the impersonal factory farms, using the same kind of stock populist language that has always been used to demonize corporations.  They're appalled by the way industrialization of agriculture has separated us from the land and the food we eat, i.e. on the deleterious effect it's had on humans.  The suffering of the farm animals is nothing more than a support point in their indictment of greedy, impersonal factory farms and their yearning for their lost agrarian utopia.

You want proof that concern for the suffering of animals isn't the primary motivation of these self-proclaimed animal advocates?  How about this?  They eat them.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Humane treatment certification

Farming in an animal welfare friendly way can be the key to better profitability.
--speaker at the Oxford Farming Conference

It's no secret that the "humane treatment" movement is motivated by profit. Most things are. If humane treatment and free range labels were accurate, they'd say, "We treat animals in ways people consider more humane because it makes them feel better about consuming the flesh of these animals, which, in turn, earns us a bigger profit." But truth makes for bad marketing. So the producer of humanely treated meat has to alter the truth. But how much? Does he have to resort to outright lies or can he maybe get by with some well thought-out distortions? Let's re-state the truth and see. "We treat animals in ways people consider more humane because it makes them feel better about consuming the flesh of these animals, which, in turn, earns us a bigger profit." Obviously the part about bigger profits has to go. They probably want to delete the part about making people feel better about themselves too, since accusing your prospective customers of hypocrisy is not the best way to build customer loyalty and generate sales. So they're left with the first part of the proposition. "We treat animals in ways people consider more humane." "Ways people consider" is far too ambiguous. It might lead people to the uncomfortable realization that it's also possible to consider slaughter as something less than humane. So what's left? "We treat animals humanely." That's it. Perfect. Now all they need is someone to deliver the message. It can't be the farmers themselves. People do tend to associate farmers with homespun virtues and uncomplicated beliefs, but they also understand that the producing and selling of animal flesh is the farmers' livelihood, which might be considered a conflict of interest. So if not the farmers who? Third party certifiers. But not a merely impartial certifier. They need a certifier the public considers an advocate for the well-being of animals. The big names, the A-listers, if you will, are out of the family farmer's league. They offer their services to the bigger, deeper-pocketed corporations. For instance, Temple Grandin sells her glowing testimonials to McDonald's. She wouldn't even return a family farmer's phone call. So the family farmer is forced to turn to organizations like the Animal Welfare Institute which specializes in family farms. The labels are printed. The photographer comes out to the farm and takes heart-melting photos of the farmer making goo goo eyes at the steer he'll soon slaughter, maybe just a few minutes after the photorgrapher packs up her gear. But it's the image of the happy steer and the caring farmer that lives on in marketing materials, PR releases and news articles. Humane treatment is a win-win-lose situation. The farmers win because they get to charge more for their products. The consumers win because they get to consume their animal flesh with an untroubled conscience. The only losers in the happy green field utopia are the animals.