Is it right to condone animal abuse just because the creatures involved are barely sentient? Should we allow creatures to live dreadful lives just because it benefits us to do nothing?
A group of puppies were recently discovered that had been kept in a basement since birth, and had never been allowed outside. The cellar that they were kept in was extremely small, not allowing them enough room to exercise, and it was rarely cleaned. As they grew, there was eventually insufficient space for them to move around at all.
The animals were left with a huge supply of food, but the room was artificially lit and lights were turned off for only short periods at night. As a result the puppies had little to do but to eat. With no exercise and little care and attention, they became obese as adults, and suffered a number of physiological problems. Some of the animals had developed blisters, rashes from the poor cleanliness, and some were virtually unable to walk. The animals with mobility problems were often unable to reach drinking water and were badly dehydrated.
The animals were discovered when the owners were in the process of transporting them. They had shackled their legs and dumped them in the back of an estate car. The dogs were handled poorly and one of the dogs died on the journey. The owner had planned to slit their throats before he was interrupted and the remaining animals were rescued.
I’m not really one for sob stories, and this isn’t one of those email chain letters that tell you how many more puppies will die if you don’t fwd it to ten friends. There are probably more heinous cases of animal abuse every day.
The thing is that this story is in a way fictitious. I made it up, and no poor little puppies were harmed quite in this way. The story is nearly true though. To make it a true story, you would need to add that the animals were not rescued, they were killed; the owner was not interrupted, he was paid; you would need to extend the size of his group of animals from ‘a few’ to ‘billions’; and you would have to change ‘puppies’ to ‘chickens’.
The fact that the scale of chicken farming is so huge seems to give us licence not to think of them as animals any longer, or at least not as our problem, but if people were deriving entertainment from treating a room full of pets in the way that we treat chickens, we would cry foul. As soon as we get a slightly stupider, less cuddly animals involved and add that it’s for food, we pretend that these creatures are some sort of senseless crop, unfeeling and eager to surrender themselves to the knife.
I can’t see any compelling reason why people at large should get all misty-eyed about puppy abuse and angry that certain Eastern nations enjoy a nice chunk of Maltese Poodle now and then, and in the next minute tuck into a bucket full of pre-abused chicken.
Notes and Caveats
- I’m not arguing that we should turn the whole world free range.
- I’m not suggesting every farmer loves punching chickens in the face.
- I’m not suggesting that alarmist animal welfare groups have all their facts straight.
- I’m not suggesting all chickens are abused.
- I am all for (responsible) scientific involvement in food production.
- I am suggesting that we have double-standards about animal treatment.
- I am suggesting that we ought to be more concerned than we are about what our food has to go through to get to our plates.
- I am suggesting there is a duty to be responsible with our consumption.
So what then?
Myth-busting websites, such as ‘http://www.safefoodinc.org/‘ (run by America’s beef and poultry people. Hmm…), helpfully raise issues about the problems with free range. However, their reasons are not exactly above criticism. They say (if animals were treated less like walking food),
- Food prices—especially meat and poultry prices—would rise dramatically because of the increased costs of their inefficient production approaches.
- Vast amounts of land would need to be used to raise livestock and poultry in free range systems.
- The environment would suffer from open systems lacking environmental controls.
- Many fresh fruits and vegetables, which are seasonal in nature, would become unavailable in many areas of the country for much of the year.
- Imported foods like salamis from Italy, Danish hams and many other items would become “politically incorrect” because of the distances the products travel
That’s all true, and all based on the assumption that human consumption levels (and habits) are an unchangeable factor in the calculation. It is unthinkable that people should consider not eating a gazillion tonnes of KFC and hamburger; it is unthinkable that people could survive without tangerines and strawberries all year round.
Of course we all have to eat, but we pleasure-eat more than we realise. Maybe we should be less tolerant of the argument that we have to farm animals in abusive conditions, because there are too darn many of us waiting for our third helping of Buffalo Wings.