Insight Of The Day

To continue the exploration of humanity’s relationship with animals, on a gloomy, rainy day here in Washington, DC, Matthew Scully, author of the powerful Dominion (a must-read), looks at humanity’s moral obligations to “our companions in creation.” It is excerpted from this interesting and provocative essay urging conservatives to extend the same moral calculus they apply to late-term abortion to the question of industrial farming and meat consumption:

Far from presenting any threat to human dignity, animals and their moral claims upon us — the basic obligation never to be cruel, not just the option to be kind when it suits our purposes — are a constant hindrance to human presumption. What is the mark of that special status of ours, anyway, if not precisely the ability to be just instead of merely dominant, to be the creature of conscience and bring mercy into the world? A loving concern for humanity that stops there, instead of spreading outward in a sense of fellowship and active respect toward “our companions in creation,” to borrow a lovely phrase from Pope Benedict, is too close to self-worship, and bad things come of it.

Animals are always getting in the way of prideful and willful people, who act as if all things exist for their pleasure and expect everything to yield to their designs and appetites, no matter how base or disordered. In that way, a dutiful regard for animal welfare helps keep us humble, as a natural check against all of mankind’s own endless fiats, much as the duty to put the interests of children first can steer adults and entire societies away from all kinds of destructive self-indulgence. No group bears a heavier duty of self-restraint toward other creatures than the people who farm them, and John Paul II, in a 2000 address, had a message specifically for modern agriculture: “Resist the temptations of productivity and profit that work to the detriment of nature. When you forget this principle, becoming tyrants and not custodians of the Earth, sooner or later the Earth rebels.”

 

A Cow Going To Slaughter

There’s no blood, no gore. Just a cow coming to grips with its fate, as an industrial process it can’t even begin to comprehend nudges it forward. But it does comprehend the one key fact about that process: something terrible is about to happen.

That foreknowledge, and the reaction, is at the heart of humanity’s consumption of meat. It is repeated millions of times every year (and often in much more stressful, gruesome circumstances). It is worth keeping in mind when anyone starts talking about “humane slaughter,” because this moment is part of every slaughter. And it is very hard to watch or justify. (via)

Chicken Engineering

Here’s an eye-opening look at how breeding, hormones and who knows what else has dramatically accelerated the rate at which chickens grow (allowing them to be slaughtered much sooner):

In 1920, a chicken raised for meat was slaughtered at the age of about 112 days (less than 4 months) when he weighed about 2.2 pounds.

Since then, factory farming of chickens has continued a gradual but inexorable rise. With each new decade, chickens were fattened up faster and slaughtered earlier with little regard to the suffering of the chickens.

By 1950, a chicken was fattened up to weigh an average of over 3 pounds in just 70 days, the average age at which he would be slaughtered for his meat.

By 2000, the average chicken raised for his meat grew to weigh over 5 pounds by the time he was slaughtered at the age of 47 days.

Today, in 2013, we fatten them up even faster to weigh 5.89 pounds in just 47 days. Then, we slaughter them.

Even in 1920, chickens used for their meat were likely fattened up as fast as allowed by the know-how at the time. The natural weight of a chicken at 112 days of age, therefore, is no more than 2.2 pounds.

According to the Handbook of Poultry and Egg Statistics, published in 1937, the growth of a chicken during those times was approximately linear. This means that a 47-day old chicken in 1920 weighed approximately 2.2 × 47 ÷ 112 ≈ 0.923 pounds.

According to the USDA Poultry Slaughter reports, the average weight at slaughter in the first seven months of 2013 (January to July) was 5.89 pounds. Slaughtered at 47 days of age, these modern chickens weigh 5.89 ÷ 0.923 ≈ 6.38 times their 1920 counterparts.

Click on the graphic below to see an animated version:

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(via)

 

The Power Of Activist Art: Factory Farm Edition

Yesterday I posted this mesmerizing photo on my Facebook page (click image for full size):

 

At first glance it looks like modern art, maybe Francis Bacon, maybe Ralph Steadman.

What it really is is a satellite image of a factory farm waste lagoon, that is part of a series curated by British artist Mishak Henner (hat tip to Rachel Clark for pointing the provenance out to me) that seeks to reveal the true impact of factory farming on the American landscape.

Here’s how Inhabitat.com describes the work:

Big food companies are always trying to convince us that their products come from idyllic family run farms, although that rosy image couldn’t be further from the truth. A recently released batch of aerial photographs by British artist Mishka Henner show that factory farming is taking its toll on our planet. In addition to producing nutrient-poor “food” rife with GMOs, these farms are literally carving swaths of death through the American landscape. Henner’s shocking photos provide bird’s eye proof of the destruction that follows when industrial beef farming moves into town.

The images, discovered by Henner while researching satellite photographs of oil fields, look more like post-apocalyptic wastelands than acreage in America’s heartland.

““While I was working on that series I was looking intensely at the American landscape, and that’s when I came across these really strange-looking structures, like a big lagoon, or all these dots that look like microbes,” Henner told Fast Co. “We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away.”

The aerial shots of factory farming feedlots are open source satellite imagery, so Henner doesn’t have to worry about the legal risk of publishing them. In recent years, the commercial agriculture industry has sought to hide its disgraceful practices from the public’s view, and journalists found photographing feedlots have faced arrest and criminal charges under bogus “Ag Gag” laws. It’s not hard to see why they’d rather no one know what they’re up to.

“Massive waste lagoons, which waft up dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes and can contaminate groundwater with nitrates and antibiotics, first resemble open, infected wounds,” explains Fast Co. The land on which the feedlots sit is totally barren, brown and dry. Brightly colored waste from the poor animals housed there gives off an alien glow against the neutral backdrop of dying land. The cows themselves look like ants from the aerial perspective, crowded together with no shade or comfort from the harsh conditions.

“To me, as somebody in the U.K., looking at something [like] the feedlots I was shocked on a very personal level,” Henner told Fast Co. “I think what the feedlots represent is a certain logic about how culture and society have evolved. On one level it’s absolutely terrifying, that this is what we’ve become. They’re not just feedlots. They’re how we are.”

Here’s are some more photos (full set here). Very powerful.

 

 

The Vegan Revolution?

Maybe it’s just me, but it is coming.

Here’s just one small pre-frontal gust.

Live And Let Live:

Live and Let Live is a documentary about our relationship with animals, the history of veganism and the ethical, environmental and health backgrounds that encourage people to live vegan.

The Meat Files

“The fact is that the blue planet is literally being destroyed by meat production.”

That’s a slightly more edified version of my blunt mantra: “Meat is killing the planet.” (It’s also killing lots of people, but even that doesn’t seem to get a meat-lover’s attention).

Think it’s hyperbole? Not really–though it is a very hard reality to accept:

A Food Writer’s Manifesto

We all need one, and Grist’s new food writer lays his out:

Many food controversies tend to boil down to the same debate: One side insists on the necessity of progress through the application and advancement of ever more intrusive forms of technological control. The other extreme wants to chuck it all and go back to Eden.

This looks like a stark choice in the abstract, but in application, things always end up being a mix. I think we need to make every acre produce as much as possible, but that shouldn’t be our only goal. Our food should make the world cleaner and more beautiful rather than uglier and more polluted. Our food should support a broad middle class rather than tycoons and destitute laborers. Our food shouldn’t require the torture of animals. Our food should make us healthier.

Mainstream agriculture fails to deliver on any of these counts. The question is, can we come up with something that does any better?

Sounds good to me. In many ways this is the most important environmental and ethical question of our time.

 

The Awareness/Meat-Eating Disconnect

Here’s a reader writing to Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog:

You’re completely correct about what will be viewed as the “barbarous and unimaginable” treatment of animals. Coming from the mind of perhaps one of the “new atheists” you’ve been profiling lately, I believe waste to be one of few true sins. It betrays a lack of appreciation, a failure to understand the interconnected nature of all things in the world, and a selfish hedonism that is driving our species (and others) towards some very unpleasant places. Furthermore, the careless waste of meat – of animals that (in the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases) we ourselves brought into being only to live horrendous lives of invisible suffering and leave a trail of environmental damage, simply for our unthinking momentary pleasure – is especially disgraceful.

Excellent start, right?

But then comes this:

I’m not vegan/vegetarian, nor do I believe it is unethical to eat meat or to raise animals specifically for consumption. But I choose to eat meat judiciously, from better sources whenever possible, and more consciously. The current system is so profoundly wrong that I’m not sure it’s possible to be an honest and compassionate human being without changing our dietary behavior or to continue living with blinders on to the issue. We can, and must, do better.

Hmm. If the treatment is “barbarous and unimaginable” then how can ANY meat consumption be viewed as an ethical choice. I see this all the time: people (like Mark Bittman, for example) who appreciate the fact that our meat industry is built on animal suffering that is monstrous in scale (not to mention the environmental destruction), but can’t quite bring themselves to let go of meat. I guess the meat culture is that powerful.

That means a turn away from meat and meat production will be a long and frustrating process. Which will impose additional costs on animals, and the planet, and human health. But I do take encouragement from the fact that the consensus view of the meat industry increasingly is that it is horrific in its treatment of animals. Once that is completely understood and accepted as the reality, it is only a matter of time before even the most committed meat eater realizes that the only truly ethical response is to stop eating meat. Less meat is better, of course. But no meat is the only way to live in a way that doesn’t impose terrible suffering on nonhuman animals, or contribute enormous inputs of carbon to the climate change disaster.

The AgGag Story, Beautifully Done

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When you are a journalist, you sometimes see a story and think: “I wish I had written that.” It is the highest praise for another writer’s work, and that was exactly my reaction when I read Ted Genoways powerful and devastating investigation of the AgGag phenomenon:

Using a legal cudgel to go after critics wasn’t entirely a new tactic for agribusiness. PETA first began undercover investigations around 1981—getting video of rhesus monkeys being vivisected in a Maryland medical research lab by posing as employees—and a few legislatures responded by enacting laws to protect animal research from exposés. (Only Kansas had the foresight to expand its law to cover “livestock and domestic animals.”) Then, in 1992, when two ABC PrimeTime Live reporters shot undercover video of Food Lion workers in the Carolinas repackaging spoiled meat, Food Lion sued—not for libel, since the tapes spoke for themselves, but for fraud and trespass, because the reporters had submitted false information on their job applications. (A jury awarded $5.5 million, but an appeals court reduced it to just $2.) In 1996, at the height of the mad cow scare, the Texas Beef Group launched a two-year lawsuit against Oprah Winfreyover an episode that questioned the safety of hamburger. Recently, not only has the rhetoric heated up, but so has the coordinated legislative effort. Deeply invested in industrywide methods that a growing number of consumers find distasteful or even cruel, agribusiness has united in making sure that prying eyes literally don’t see how the sausage is made.

“If you think this is an animal welfare issue, you have missed the mark,” said Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign, who served as a representative for the whistleblowers who tipped off ABC in the Food Lion case. “This is a bigger, broader issue.” She likened activist videos to airplane black-box recorders—evidence for investigators to deconstruct and find wrongdoing. Ag gag laws, she said, don’t just interfere with workers blowing the whistle on animal abuse. “You are also stopping environmental whistleblowing; you are also stopping workers’ rights whistleblowing.” In short, “you have given power to the industry to completely self-regulate.” That should “scare the pants off” consumers concerned about where their food comes from. “It’s the consumer’s right to know, but also the employee’s right to tell. You gotta have both.”

Exactly. This is a story about animal welfare AND the first Amendment, AND democracy itself. And along the way it makes clear that abuse is both rampant and the inevitable consequence of the public lust for abundant and cheap meat.

It is hard to read this story and not come to a simple conclusion: the only ethical choice is to stop eating meat.

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