I will be followed to my grave by numerous sheep, cattle, pigs, chickens and a whole shoal of fish, all grateful at having been spared from slaughter because of my vegetarian diet.
George Bernard Shaw
The question is not Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? but Can they suffer?
In my last letter, I discussed experiments performed on animals and the “big business” connection. I also pointed out the remarkable similarities between humans and animals.
Today I would like to debunk some myths, discuss “factory farming,” and suggest ways in which we can all alleviate animal suffering.
The Fund for Animals points out that the differences between species are grossly exaggerated.
“When animals are threatened, they are afraid. When they are teased, they get angry. When they are injured, they feel pain. And when they are with someone they love, they are happy. They may not understand calculus…or know anything about American history, but when it comes to…basic feelings, they are not very different from you and me.” On the same theme, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan write about animals “…they have the same five senses, the same type of nervous system, and a brain that is similar to ours in the areas that control sensation and emotion…”
One myth that I have repeatedly heard is that it is all right to eat fish because they do not experience pain.
This is patently false. The truth is that, lacking speech, they cannot give voice to their pain. It is, therefore, not ethically justifiable to consume a can of tuna. Fish are sentient beings.
Another myth is the binary notion that we either care about animals or we don’t. Peter Singer points out that many of us harbor “two conflicting attitudes that coexist within the same individual. These are carefully segregated so that “the inherent contradiction…rarely causes trouble.”
Simply put, we may object, in the abstract, to harming animals, but, in the real world, we do just that.
Seeing the inconsistency of our actions is the beginning of wisdom. Singer tells the story about being invited to a party in order to meet a woman whom the hostess said shared much in common with him.
The “animal lover” approached Singer, informed him that she owned a dog and two cats who got along famously. While relating this fact, she “chomped” on a ham sandwich, failing to see the hypocrisy of her actions.
If we are truly concerned with animal welfare, we would object strenuously to the fact that 60 to 100 million animals are killed in U.S. laboratories; 250 million are killed by hunters; 4.9 million furbearing animals are killed by trappers; and an untold number of bears, tigers and elephants die in circuses.
My small contribution to more humane treatment occurred a year ago when I, along with my vegan son, David, picketed the Barnum and Bailey circus in Los Angeles.
Months later, I learned that circuses were shutting down due to loss of revenue and, of course, I felt I had contributed to this end — just as my campaigning for Obama in Philadelphia led to his victory.
And now for the discussion of factory farming. The Merriam Webster definition is “an industrialized farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost.”
Sounds reasonable. No one would expect Philip Armour or Frank Purdue to be in the business of losing money.
However, this is an antiseptic definition, which doesn’t take into consideration the plight of the animals involved in the process. I challenge readers to “google” factory farming and view any of the videos.
They will see why one critic of factory farming called it “an orgy of sadism and savagery.” For a fuller picture, I will describe the treatment of chickens and calves.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 36.8 billion (that’s with a B) pounds of broiler chickens were raised and killed in 2013.
“Since these animals live in such close quarters, …farm operators remove the beaks of the chickens, turkeys and ducks to keep them from pecking one another to death, often by burning or cutting the beaks off…a significant portion of them die throughout the ordeal.”
And how are baby calves treated? When raised for veal, they are placed in 24″ wide wooden crates, so narrow that they are unable to turn around. They remain there day and night for the whole of their lives.
They stand on wooden slats and, as a result, the joints of their legs become malformed. Many cannot stand or walk when taken out of their crates for slaughter.
They are fed an all liquid diet (deliberately short on iron) which gives an unnatural white color to the veal. Think of this the next time you’re in a restaurant and order veal parmesan.
The descriptions of how other animals are treated on factory farms are equally disturbing.
One final caveat. The next time you are shopping in a supermarket, check out the meat counter.
You will find in neatly packaged cellophane, the body parts of once-living animals raised in cramped quarters where the stench of ammonia from their own wastes is overwhelming and where cannibalism and disease were rampant.
Finally, what can we do to stem the tide of this horror?
Join and make contributions to any of the many organizations which daily fight for the rights of animals.
Some of you may wish to become vegetarians or, better yet, vegans. My own small contribution has been to buy eggs laid by “free range” chickens.
If none of the arguments above were persuasive and if the only vegetarians you know are “weirdo, nerdy. malcontents,” check out this list of world renowned persons who refrain from harming non-human animals:
Mahatma Gandhi, Voltaire, Pythagoras, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy, Isadora Duncan, Plutarch, Alexander Pope, Albert Einstein, Percy Blysshe Shelley, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Schweitzer, Isaac Beshevis Singer, John Wesley, Norbert Weiner and Carl Sagan.
There are severe limitations on our ability to change the world. We cannot bring about world peace, or stem the tide of jobs moving overseas, but we can determine what we will ingest and what we will purchase.
Dr. Hal Sobel,