Animal Citizenship?

“Whoa, back off citizen! Sheep have rights, too.”

 

Well, we already have the Nonhuman Rights Project going for personhood. This angle, explored via Vox, is worth pursuing as well:

What if domestic animals — pets such as dogs and cats as well livestock like cows and chickens — were granted citizenship rights? That may sound like a crazy question, but Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka thinks it’s a critically important one.

Kymlicka, a professor at Queen’s University, is a well-regarded figure in modern political philosophy. He’s also the author, along with writer Sue Donaldson, of Zoopolis, a book making the case for animal citizenship. Their basic premise is simple: animals are already part of our society, as pets and work animals, therefore we should formally recognize them as such.

That’s not just a head-in-the-clouds thought experiment. We already have basic laws forbidding animal abuse and regulating industrial slaughterhouses. But, as anyone who has visited an animal shelter or thought about the ethics of what they eat can attest, we as a society have not come anywhere close to solving the problem of animal mistreatment. If we really want to improve animals’ lives, Kymlicka and Donaldson argue, we need to stop thinking in terms of merely treating animals better. Rather, we need to acknowledge on a fundamental level that animals are a part of society and deserve to be treated as such. That leads you, however improbable it might sound, to citizenship.

Here’s a key point from Kymlicka, in an interview with Vox:

We need to create a shared interspecies society which is responsive to the interests of both its human and animal members. That means that it’s not just a question of how you ensure that animals aren’t abused. If we view them as members of society — it’s as much their society as ours — then it changes the perspective 180 degrees. The question is no longer “how do we make sure they’re not so badly treated?” We instead need to ask “what kind of relationships do they want to have with us?”

That’s really a radical question. It’s one we’ve never really bothered to ask. I think there are some domesticated animals that enjoy activities with us — I think that’s clearest in the case of dogs, but it’s also true of other domesticated animals whose lives are enriched by being part of interspecies activities with us. But there are other animals who, if we took what they wanted seriously, would probably choose to have less and less to do with us. I think this would be true of horses.

And if you are still with him to this point then there is a logical implication that follows. As Kymlicka puts it: “We can’t go around eating our co-citizens.”

Fair point, fair point. Read Vox’s full interview with Kymlicka here. It is a very interesting way to stretch our thinking and logic as we apply it to animals. One way or another, via personhood or citizenship or some other cultural/legal construct, we will eventually give animals the rights and protections they deserve.

 

The Global Livestock Footprint

It’s pretty massive. According to National Geographic, only 55% of the world’s crop calories are consumed directly by people. Fully 36% of the world’s crop calories are used for animal feed. And since it takes 100 calories of grain to produce 12 calories of chicken, or 3 calories of beef, that’s not very efficient.

Here’s what it looks like:

With the global population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, we have a very simple choice: we can destroy more forests and natural landscapes and put it to the plow or use it for grazing, or we can eat less meat. A lot less meat. And that doesn’t even account for the climate change impact of meat.

The (Orwellian) Language Of Pig Farming

Last week Mercy For Animals released typically horrifying video from an undercover investigation of pig farming. The video is below, but steel yourself, because this is what it shows:

MFA’s hidden-camera video exposes the following horrific abuses:

  • Thousands of mother pigs confined to filthy, metal gestation crates so small they are unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives
  • Workers beating, throwing, slapping, hitting and screaming obscenities at pigs
  • Workers slamming piglets into the ground and leaving them to suffer and slowly die
  • Workers ripping out the testicles and slicing off the tails of fully conscious piglets without the use of any painkillers

It’s hard to believe that anyone who still eats pork isn’t aware on some level that this is what is behind the cheap bacon that they love to celebrate. But maybe there are bacon-lovers who somehow just have no clue. And if there are, then perhaps part of the explanation for how this can be is the startling and twisted use of language that Big Meat uses to try and sanitize its operations for the public.

It’s positively Orwellian, and the New York Time Lede blog comes up with a classic example, courtesy of Luke Minion, CEO of the agribusiness which owns the farm depicted:

Luke Minion, the chief executive of Pipestone Systems, which owns the Rosewood Farm and others, said in an interview that he fired one employee and reassigned another as a result of the activists’ investigation. “There are things depicted on the video that are not defensible nor are they our policies,” Mr. Minion said. “We want to be better than what’s on that video.”

Mr. Minion, a trained veterinarian, also said that castrating piglets and docking their tails without anesthesia is normal procedure and defended the gestation crates, which he called “individual maternity pens.” The crates, he said, “are an appropriate option.” He added, “We who raise the livestock ought to be able to keep that choice.”

“Individual maternity pens?” But that sounds kinda nice. And note Mr. Minion’s sly positioning of the issue of gestation crates as a question of “options” and “choice” for the farms. Options and choices are about freedom, right? And we all love freedom, right?

This is the familiar language of PR and spin, which has long been used by Big Tobacco and Big Oil, among other industries, to anesthetize the sometimes willing and often gullible public to the reality of their businesses.

It also known as the Big Lie. But even the Big Lie can’t survive the persistence of video truth. So good for MFA for continuing to shock us all with the rampant cruelty tat takes place behind the guarded walls.

The Sirens Of The Lambs

The artist Banksy, in his own inimitable way, is forcing New Yorkers to think about livestock, and the transportation of livestock, with a project called Sirens Of The Lambs. How? With a transport that has stuffed animals peeking through the slats and making squealing noises. It is being driven around the Meatpacking District for two weeks.

Good one, Banksy.

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.

Meat And Antibiotics (Round 646)

Whenever an industry resists disclosing pertinent information about how its practices impact public health, it seems likely that those practices are problematic.

And when it comes to the rampant use of antibiotics in meat production, even former FDA Commissioner David Kessler is fed up (no pun intended):

In 2011, drugmakers sold nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics for livestock — the largest amount yet recorded and about 80 percent of all reported antibiotic sales that year. The rest was for human health care. We don’t know much more except that, rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste.

It may sound counterintuitive, but feeding antibiotics to livestock at low levels may do the most harm. When he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1945 for his discovery of penicillin, Alexander Fleming warned that “there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to nonlethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” He probably could not have imagined that, one day, we would be doing this to billions of animals in factorylike facilities….[snip]

…It was not until 2008, however, that Congress required companies to tell the F.D.A. the quantity of antibiotics they sold for use in agriculture. The agency’s latest report, on 2011 sales and also released in February, was just four pages long — including the cover and two pages of boilerplate. There was no information on how these drugs were administered or to which animals and why.

We have more than enough scientific evidence to justify curbing the rampant use of antibiotics for livestock, yet the food and drug industries are not only fighting proposed legislation to reduce these practices, they also oppose collecting the data. Unfortunately, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the F.D.A., is aiding and abetting them.

The Senate committee recently approved the Animal Drug User Fee Act, a bill that would authorize the F.D.A. to collect fees from veterinary-drug makers to finance the agency’s review of their products. Public health experts had urged the committee to require drug companies to provide more detailed antibiotic sales data to the agency. Yet the F.D.A. stood by silently as the committee declined to act, rejecting a modest proposal from Senators Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, both Democrats, that required the agency to report data it already collects but does not disclose.

Kessler should be very familiar with this problem. The FDA has been intimidated into inaction an antibiotics for decades, according to this excellent timeline.

Just another day in the life of a corporate democracy. I mean, what could go wrong?

Climate Change And Grasslands

Some very hard (and welcome) pushback from Robert Goodland on Allan Savory’s popular TED talk about livestock and the restoration of grasslands.

From Goodland’s “Meat, Lies, and Videotape (A Deeply Flawed TED Talk)“:

From my long experience in environmental assessment, I can identify three key gaps in Mr. Savory’s assessment. First, what he proposes is unachievable. Second, he omits to incorporate a basic element in environmental assessment, and that’s analysis of alternatives. Third, he omits to say how long his recommendation would take to implement. Yet one expert group after another has projected that reversing climate change must begin in the next five years, or it will be too late.

Read the whole thing for the blow by blow deconstruction of Savory’s arguments, and approach. One additional key point Goodland makes is that Savory is important because his arguments are being used to help PERPETUATE the factory farm industry:

At least Mr. Savory promotes his approach to farmers, policymakers and academics — and not to consumers who must choose from foods available in the marketplace today. Indeed, few if any consumers seeking meat from their local grocers that’s produced using Mr. Savory’s approach will find any such product to be available today.

However, while Mr. Savory himself cautions that most livestock today are produced unsustainably, meat promoters can be seen spinning Mr. Savory’s claims as if they apply equally to factory-farmed meat. Yet it’s no new trick to promote factory farmed meat as grass-fed. A grassland producer has himself noted that most marketing of “grass-fed” beef is a hoax. Beef marketed this way commands a 200-300% price premium — so the incentive for producers to cheat is overwhelming, as evidenced in one videotape after another.

Here’s Goodland’s argument, presented in a much lighter way: