Tag Archives: animal rights

This Probably Could Have Been Said Better

In the unlikely event that anyone clicks on any of the links in my articles, you may have noticed that I don’t do a lot of linking to the traditional “animal rights” sites.  While I agree with (much of) their message, I do not always agree with their arguments (or their tactics), and, because their arguments are often badly expressed, I do not usually find them to be valid references.

An example wandered across my Facebook feed today, and I felt compelled to comment.  Understanding that I agree completely with the sentiment expressed by this video…I disagree with how it has chosen to convey its message.

The message is standard: “Dairy farming makes cows sad.  Don’t eat dairy.”  What puzzles me here is — where was this filmed?  The cow and calf pictured are absolutely clean.  The field they’re in is pristine, and, more suspicious, completely empty of other cows.  One polite worker gently herds the calf away, lifts it carefully, and puts it in a clean truck?  This is absolutely nothing like what you’d actually see in a factory farm.  (I’m skipping the terror footage here — let’s look at a (more or less) ideal example.  Here is Fair Oaks Farms, a multi-farm collective which gives public tours of some of its facilities — and which I have actually visited.  Its publicly viewable facilities (video includes shots of normal birthing area, which is separate from Fair Oaks’ heavily advertised “birthing barn“) are a pretty good example of a very clean factory farm.  The cows are in barns or small pens, not outdoor fields.)  Here is a document from Ohio State University about calving, picturing the standard environment for a calving cow: a stall.  Progressive Dairyman, an industry magazine, shows almost exclusively photos of stalled cattle.  Only lucky, pastured cows get to give birth in a quiet field — this is certainly not a factory farm environment.  (Is the point here that all farms are bad?  Are all farms bad?  What about those sanctuary farms where cows are kept in warm barns and not discarded when they get old?  Small family farms?  We’re edging perilously close to the “We must give up everything in order that animals can live free and unfettered” argument.)

Speaking of small family farms, where did Mercy for Animals get access to that cow and calf?  Did they film collaboratively with a dairy farmer (this is obviously not undercover footage) while he separated a calf from its mother (why did they support him doing this?), or did they separate someone’s pet cow and calf temporarily, just for a commercial?  Did they lie to a farmer and say they were filming for something else?  Why did they need to film this anyway?  It’s not like they don’t have already have much more relevant footage.  They have plenty of terrifying shots, from real farms, on their YouTube channel, including this much better example of the same argument, which uses actual dairy farm footage.

This is NOT meant to be an attack on Mercy for Animals, which is just trying to do the best they can, and is actually doing a very good job getting a lot of multilingual (good for them!) videos out there spreading an important message.  This is more a puzzled look at one of my least favorite trends in all pro-animal advertising (and many, many groups have made ads like this, not just MFA) — weird advertisements which trip over their own feet trying to make a point.  All Mercy for Animals had to do was air, say, this footage, with a voiceover: “Is a piece of cheese worth this?”  What’s with the unreal setup and scenery?

It occurs to me that probably this commercial has been “cleaned up” for wider public consumption, to try to reach the people who haven’t already been convinced that factory farming is bad, who don’t want to be convinced they should give up cheese, and who would normally stop watching the minute they see factory farm footage.  What a sad thought on its own — we are being steered away from showing the truth, because people instantly stop listening.  (Why?)

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Book Review: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money

Meat Market: Animals Ethics and MoneyMeat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, by Erik Marcus, is an interesting, if brief, read, and a good answer to the question “What are these hippie freaks whining about, anyway?”  It’s not a perfect introduction — I’m still looking for the best way to suggest to, say, my parents that they not eat factory-farmed animal products — but it’s a good explanation of where one is coming from which doesn’t involve showing one’s audience graphic video of a slaughter plant.

The book begins with a glimpse of how and why small-farm practices become factory farm practices, follows up with an excellent, reasonably impartial, description of common factory farming practices for chickens, pigs, and cattle, and describes some options for what could be done to alter the status quo, along with what is currently being done.  It examines the three facets of the current what-the-hell-is-going-on-here movement (animal welfarists, animal rightists, and vegetarians), describes their goals, actions, and methods, looks at what is working and what isn’t, and suggests an alternative option (complete dismantlement of the system).

The book ends in a flurry of interesting essays and appendices, with subjects ranging from Starting a Local Vegetarian Society to The Ethics of Hunting.  It’s a lot of different viewpoints (although, toward the end, the vegan viewpoint grabs center stage and holds it), and, more, it’s thought-provoking material.

For example, it thoughtfully compares the relative quality of life — inasmuch as we can measure “quality of life” for another species — of various factory-farmed animals.  If you only give up one thing to make farmed animals just a little happier, Marcus says, give up eggs: the hens producing them are confined in ludicrously tiny cages their entire lives, debeaked, crippled, repeatedly force starved, and then slaughtered at the end.  The animal with the “best” relative life is the beef calf, which has a pretty good time of it (out at pasture, with mom) until about six months of age (after which it all goes to hell, but briefly compared to the two years’ close imprisonment of the laying hen).

The other thing that hit me was the reminder that, even though I am carefully purchasing milk from “certified pasture-kept” (and, theoretically, happy) cows, by purchasing milk at all I am contributing to the veal industry.  I am ashamed it didn’t occur to me before — of course!  What are they doing with all the male calves? — but now that I know I am trying to figure out how to get milk out of my diet, or at least minimize it.  Alas, soy milk tastes like liquid Lucky Charms, and unsweetened soy milk has the texture of Elmer’s glue — I am working on it.  In the meantime, I do my best to minimize consumption of milk and cheese….

If you are just starting to look at vegetarianism or veganism or know someone who is, Meat Market isn’t a bad start.  It is not overly preachy and does not use “We can’t kill animals because they are so CUTE!” faux logic — it produces rational, empirical examples which make it difficult not to listen.  I kind of wish it hadn’t ruined milk for me, but I can’t honestly blame the messenger.

“No Nonsense Guide” Contains Nonsense

In my search for What The Hell Is Going On I have been reading a lot of different books from a variety of sources.  Today I was leafing through a copy of The No Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights, by Catharine Grant, which has a foreword by Ingrid Newkirk of PETA and a definite animal-liberation bias.  I tend to avoid such books not because I entirely disagree with them, but because they tend to prefer emotional arguments over logical ones.  In their search for a black and white view of the world, they also occasionally take logic a little too far: Following a description of a visit to a pretty much idyllic little English farm, wherein the animals all had enough space, affection, shelter, food, water, and medical care, with owners who knew them all by name, the book immediately adds: “However, even organically reared animals are raised to be killed…[and so] many animal rightists believe that all husbandry is inherently unjust.”  Take that, caring and affectionate farmers who put so much time and work into your animals!

Anyway, the part that got me was in the book’s description of the farming of sheep for wool:  “Most sheep…live outside.  Free-roaming sheep are a common sight in many parts of Britain, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.  The sheep are largely left to themselves until they are herded for shearing.”  Sounds as good as sheep can have it, doesn’t it?  So what’s wrong with this hands-off approach to sheep husbandry?  The book notes that, because the sheep are left to themselves, “many sheep die of exposure or neglect every year.”

Where is the happy ground here?  If the farmers provide good (but barn- and pasture-based) care for their sheep (or cows), the sheep are healthy and protected from harm but are still captives in thrall to their evil human overlords, which is Wrong.  But if the farmers let the sheep loose to graze freely and without interference over the countryside, they are abandoning the poor defenseless sheep to the cruel vagaries of nature.

Assuming we stopped all human use of animals tomorrow, and we could just let all domestic species loose and they would be able to fend for themselves…aren’t we just abandoning them to whatever horrible death nature has in store?  Is living for 7-10 years well loved, well fed, warm, and healthy in a barn, under the care of humans, really less preferable to being eaten by a mountain lion or starving to death when one’s teeth wear down with age?  Nature does not offer a guarantee of a peaceful death.  Neither do humans right now (although such a guarantee should be a part of humans taking responsibility for an animal) — however, living with humans, even under current conditions, gives a much greater probability of a humane death than does living in the wild.

If the issue is about freedom, and freedom of choice, for the animal…would (at least some) animals not choose warmth, safety and protection with humans if given the opportunity?  Feral cats and dogs choose this option all the time, as do rats, cockroaches, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and all the myriad species who live in close contact with human habitation.

It sounds like letting animals loose to roam and not protecting them is just as horrible as keeping them in barns and pastures.  Are we required by this book’s extra-compassionate moral code to not only stop using animals but also then to spend the rest of our lives following around the wild animals and protecting them from harm?  We are all fighting together against the big, scary thing that is the universe, life, and death.  Why not do it literally?