Friday, April 17, 2009

Meat and Karma

Walking off the bridge on my way to class this morning, a brochure was thrust in front of me by a middle aged man standing by a box of paper pamphlets. Later that night I looked at it; an animal rights group petitioning for less meat consumption. The pages were filled with graphic pictures of dead and diseased livestock, of pigs in pens so crowded they couldn't move, of slaughtered chickens hanging from hooks by the hundreds. Even though I never was an "animal lover", the pictures seemed to show unnecessary cruelty and suffering that disturbed me. Do humans have a certain level of responsibility when keeping animals for consumption?
I have never had a problem with killing animals for food, and I never considered animals as having an equal status with humans. I'm the one who shoos the neighbor's cat away from my porch. However, this is not to say that I wish any ill will on animals; and certainly don't condone any cruelty on them. Livestock are a commodity; raised for their meat, milk, eggs and hide. Like any other commodity, they can be produced on a mass scale. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Animals do not have the intellectual capacity of a human, and so their slaughter is not murder.
The animals should be provided with adequate food and water, and kept generally healthy. Meeting basic simple needs is the primary responsibility of caring for livestock.
Modern industrial animal farms have failed to meet these simple requirements though. In the brochure, it described pictures of chickens with chemical burns from the ammonia in their feces that they live in. Dead animals were left in the pens and cages with the live ones. These are examples of extreme neglect on the farmer's part. Any living organism deserves a certain amount of respect. Conditions such as these foster disease and cause pain and suffering to the animals. This would all be avoided if the pens and cages were simply cleaned of the feces and the dead animals removed. Almost 70% of the pharmaceutical industry's business comes from livestock corporations; antibiotics must be given to the animals to enable them to survive in such conditions. Does this make logical sense? Injecting antibiotics into animals so they can survive in conditions of extreme neglect? It would be less expensive to hire workers to simply keep the farms clean. Conditions wouldn't need to be kept spotless (its a farm folks...), but small improvements would make a big difference in the livestocks' well being. Forcing an animal to live in its own feces or amongst decaying corpses is cruel and has torturous results in the form of disease and infections. Keeping the livestock in such crowded conditions also fosters the spread of disease, and makes it so they can't even move around adequately. Simply giving the animals more space would also reduce the occurence of disease and would allow them to stretch and run around. With such inexpensive and simple improvements, the well-being of the livestock would reach to acceptable humane levels. In fact, it would probably be more cost-effective to make such improvements as the antibiotics would decrease in necessity and less livestock would be lost to infections and overall poor health.
It is true that the brochure handed to me is biased and its images used mainly for shock value; but its main message is still legitimate. Any farmer raising livestock has a responsibility to ensure the general well-being of the animals.

1 comment:

  1. "Animals do not have the intellectual capacity of a human, and so their slaughter is not murder."

    This is a commonly-accepted argument, but what would Peter Singer (as discussed in The Omnivore's Dilemma) say in response? Is it murder when a human infant is killed? Or when a mentally disabled adult is killed? Is intelligence where we really want to be drawing the line here?