Mark Bittman, a widely read food columnist for the The New York Times, wrote recently for the papers online blog. Mr. Bittman addressed just how skewed our scope of justice is when extended to the animals we live with as opposed to the animals we raise for food. Mr. Bittman notes the arrest by the ASPCA last week of an individual who had killed a hamster by slamming it onto the floor (the charges were subsequently dropped).
Of concern in the blog is the implication that the 18 agents working for the ASPCA (who are mandated by New York state law to enforce laws regarding animal cruelty) may be a trifle dilettante in their duties by addressing the death of the hamster. The answer is they are not. It is this fallacious ordering of life that gets us into this mess.
Cruelty to animals is not against the law for every animal. Mr. Bittman is correct, some in our view are more equal than others, some profit from our desire to protect their welfare while other identical species may not (think pet pig vs. farm pig). Our legislatures have crafted Common Farming Exemptions to laws which allow us to, as Mr. Bittman writes so eloquently, legally torture farm animals:
“I can put around 200 million male chicks a year through grinders (graphic video here), castrate — mostly without anesthetic — 65 million calves and piglets a year, breed sick animals (don’t forget: more than half a billion eggs were recalled last summer, from just two Iowa farms) who in turn breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, allow those sick animals to die without individual veterinary care, imprison animals in cages so small they cannot turn around, skin live animals, or kill animals en masse to stem disease outbreaks.
All of this is legal, because we will eat them”.
Part and parcel of this very real issue is our preference not to think about where our food comes from. The new and oh so, trendy locavore movement has raised awareness of our local food sources and now we talk about “local” and“sustainable,” the terms are all the rage on menus around town. But we never, ever talk about how we slaughter the animals we eat.
And while we are at it, let us not forget the Humane Slaughter Act and what it is supposed to do, what it does not do and how we mostly avoid talking about it or thinking about what the law actually legislates. The act defines andsets out guidelines for humane slaughter. Specifically excluded are all fowl; meaning chickens, turkeys, ducks, goose, etc. A common method to “process” or kill chickens is to crate them off to slaughter with no dictated handling concerns (which are addressed under the act) and string them up alive on a conveyer belt and dunk them in large vats of boiling water.
A few states have passed laws regulating how we keep farm animals. These "revolutionary" laws invoke requirements such an animal being able to sit up or turn around in the cage they are kept in (and lobbyists are paid to fight their passage). We nod in passing to the in-vogue classes on butchering but skip the killing part. A recent story in New York Magazine followed a pig from birth to butchery, all part of the nouveau locavore trend. Humane slaughter was mentioned in all of a phrase with no explanation as to why the method of killing this pig was humane or not.
Mr. Bitman does not discuss humane slaughter and he is not alone, it is something no one really wants to talk about or see or think about. Except for the farm animals, had they human voices surely they would. The Humane Slaughter Act has serious enforcement issues for various reasons (far beyond the scope of this article) but it is the only place where we can actually legislate and enforce humane slaughtering. Mr. Bittman notes that two states have proposed laws that would ban filming in slaughterhouses (in America, really?).
People will continue to kill animals and eat them. This has happened from the beginning of time. It is in how we do the raising of animals and the killing of them that defines our humanity. Companion animals or farm animals do not have different capacities to feel or suffer. Ourscientists study animals for their capability to feel pain exactly as we do (some have argued that non human animals actually experience emotions on a deeper level).
All animals with their complex nervous systems are built to exquisitely process sensation to survive. It is a blatant mockery of our justice system (as well as a moral imperative to address) not to allow for equal protection of each and every animal no matter where they live their lives. And when we end their lives we are never exempt from sparing them pain and horror, ever. It may be legal but it is wrong and we can change it.
The ASPCA calendars with the fuzzy kittens and fluffy puppies are fine. We need to be able to watch the videos of the slaughterhouses without the graphic cruelty warnings for the simple fact that the graphic cruelty does not exist, simply humane slaughter. That Mr. Bittman, is the point.
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"Part and parcel of this very real issue is our preference not to think about where our food comes from. The new and oh so, trendy locavore movement has raised awareness of our local food sources and now we talk about “local” and“sustainable,” the terms are all the rage on menus around town. But we never, ever talk about how we slaughter the animals we eat".
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