Archive for the ‘The Ethics of Slaughter’ Category
As Steven Pinker notes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, we humans have inherited a deep evolutionary heritage of violence. Our natural predilection for dominance, predation, and revenge has not only served us remarkably well over the course of evolutionary time, but it manifests itself today in tangible expressions of inner inequity. The evidence is etched into every cranny and crevice of our brain. We have the capacity to wreak violent havoc. Read the news.
Does this macabre heritage imply that humans are inherently, irrepressibly evil? Of course not. It only means that we harbor in our neurological nutcase a hoary apparatus that, without proper re-purposing, could, with adequate propagation, send us—well, men mainly—into unchecked orgies of decapitation, disembowelment, lynching, and quartering. Followed by a celebratory banquet. If this assessment sounds hyperbolic, I advise you to consult recent history. We all have it in us to turn violent.
We’ve thus erected culture and civilization in part to mitigate these excesses and, ideally, obviate the need for quick-thinking resorts to force. But culture and civilization, for all their potential to diminish violence, can exist ahead of the evolutionary curve. One way to think of the peaceful-minded civilization we try to create is as a mansion that we live in but have yet to furnish. We’re wandering through this unfurnished edifice a little confused, grasping weaponry out of habit and preparing to indulge a mentality we no longer need. But, ray of hope, we also sense, because of the walls that protect us, that cooperation and empathy—which also have a deep evolutionary heritage—have the capacity to render our violent inclinations obsolete. Or at least some of us get that.
This realization is perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of humanity. We are a species that has reached the ability to eliminate all expressions of unnecessary violence. Consider that prospect. I have no idea how such a revolution would happen, but I know that, biologically and culturally and intellectually speaking, it could happen, or at least a surge in that direction could take place. That fact alone renders commonly sanctioned expressions of unnecessary violence—farming animals, hunting for sport, wearing leather clothing—residual habits of a lost age when violence was required more than it is today. Soon, I fantasize, these behaviors will become the stuff of mockery and shame, like whacking old ladies on the head and stealing their groceries.
Looked at from this perspective, the imperative to keep putting pressure on these normative violent behaviors becomes more intense. Advocates for a more peaceful world need to bang away at these behaviors not only because they are unnecessary forms of violence, but because they are quite simply on the wrong side of history, sloping downward toward an abyss. They can gather steam, slide in, and leave us standing on a pedestal of success, triumphant and proud of being human.
Note: please visit and share my latest Forbes piece on welfare ranchers here. Thanks!
Inevitably, you get hit with the question: if you had to eat meat what would it be? It’s not a stupid question. In fact it’s quite useful because it forces us to clarify the tenets that shape our ethics. It requires us to add nuance to the bland mantra that “eating animals is wrong” and explore the possibility that it’s more wrong in some cases than others.
Once you do that, once you let that slinky little cat out of the bag, you can start thinking about why it’s more wrong in some cases than in others. And before you know it you’re actually developing genuine insight into the foundation of your ethical choices rather than living according to a mouthpiece ideology.
Anyway, a friend recently popped the question: is there any meat that would be excusable? Not justifiable, but excusable. Roadkill, I answered. I really didn’t think much about it, but tied as I am to my own vehicle (a Mercedes I inherited and a Mercedes that has leather seats!), that’s what I blurted out while sipping an award winning beer at my favorite watering hole on earth, the Whip In. Roadkill.
My mouth does not burst into salivation at the prospect, mind you. But my mind does. Our highways are de facto slaughterhouses, ones in which the workers wield wheels rather than knives. Animals are not caught in the crosshairs of a rifle scope but the byways of a interstate. Killers are innocent and the meat is incidental to unintended vehicular propulsion. Counties and municipalities do a lot of ridiculous things with roadkill—incineration, feeding to zoo animals, and burying. A case could be made that turning these dead animals into sausage and underselling factory farms is a better option than all of these.
The danger, aside from health, is that the endorsement of eating roadkill is an endorsement for eating animals. And as long as there’s a cultural endorsement for eating animals there will always be an incentive to provide meat in lesser and lesser ethical ways. This criticism is not to be taken lightly. But given that we’re a million years away from eliminating the consumption of animals, how would you feel about meatless Mondays linking up with roadkill Tuesdays?
I might wave a white flag for that.
In a clever little contrarian article from 2003, Steven L. Davis, in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, argues that vegans seeking to cause the least harm to sentient animals would be better off eating large herbivores than plants.
His case hinges on the verifiable fact that industrial plant production, with its brute force machinery, systematically kills—as he calculates it—more sentient vermin than would be killed if we simply fattened ruminants on pasture and ate them instead. It’s the kind of argument that makes a vegan choke on his granola because, alas, if it’s correct, then our most sacred behavioral adaptation to compassionate living is, well, dead wrong.
But the ethical vegan need not worry too much over Davis’ hypothesis.
Let’s go ahead and grant that Davis’ calculations are correct (I seriously doubt they are, though, as mechanization in modern agriculture is heaviest when it comes to growing row crops that we feed to animals) and let’s go ahead and concede that, even if we grew only plants for people on a medium scale, we’d still kill untold numbers of innocent critters using current methods of agricultural production.
Ceding these points, an important fact remains: intention matters. In Davis’ plan we are intentionally structuring food production to kill sentient creatures. In the vegan’s utopia, the killing of sentient creatures is an unintended consequence of a system designed to not kill animals for food. Davis all too quickly dismisses this distinction. He writes, “it seems to be the harm done to the animal is the same–dead is dead.” In other words, intention is irrelevant.
It is here, in my opinion, where the argument crumbles. What he fails to enter into his calculation is that intentionality—even if the intentions are not borne out the way we might hope at this moment in time—is a critical moral guide to future behavior. The historian knows full well that agriculture is hardly a static endeavor. It’s marked by rapid and sometimes radical and sometimes greatly beneficial change. A calculation that denies intention altogether and relies on a back of the napkin sketch based on current agriculture practices alone myopically suggests that the evolution of agriculture is over. That’s illogical.
Tune in with what’s happening with veganic agriculture today and you’ll discover something critical at work: intentionality. Indeed, the intention to not kill animals for food is driving innovation, and that innovation is intended to reduce and perhaps one day even eliminate the unintentional critter killing that marks so much plant-based agriculture today. Take away the intention, as Davis does, cede to the seeming necessity of killing, as Davis also does, and you deny human progress rooted in moral consistency and compassion, qualities that will not only benefit animals in the long run, but humans as well.
The following essay is by my neighbor and friend Dave Brett Wasser. In it, he writes about an under appreciated 1990 essay on the distinction between contractualism and utilitarianism as it bears on animal rights. While some readers might be familiar with this distinction, the end of the essay offers a rewarding conundrum to ponder. For those not familiar with the distinction, I think you’ll find Wasser’s explication of it to be refreshingly lucid and enlightening. Enjoy.
On March 12, 1990 the journalist Robert Wright published a fascinating essay in The New Republic entitled Are Animals People Too? It’s a very clever defense of animal rights. Robert Wright is not a professional ethicist, so he doesn’t fill the essay with fancy jargon. That’s part of the strength of this piece. You don’t need to have a background in ethics to appreciate it. He lays out the utilitarian argument for animal rights in a very sensible way.
Generally speaking, utilitarians believe that actions are morally justified if they bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The big question is whom should get counted in the “greatest number” part of that equation. If we are going to count animals in that number, there has to be a good reason for doing it. The reason for counting animals is that pleasure and pain – sentience – is the basis for rights.
Wright explains: “People who would confine natural rights to humans commonly talk about the things we have that animals don’t – complex language, sophisticated reasoning, a highly evolved culture. But none of these is important, for moral purposes, in the way that sheer sentience is.”
Wright acknowledges that uniquely human attributes (language, reasoning, etc.) can magnify suffering or happiness in human beings. But that ultimately doesn’t matter in determining whether animals ought to be counted in the utilitarian equation. As he puts it, “Pain and pleasure are the currency of moral assessment. The several uniquely human attributes may revaluate the currency, but the currency possesses some value with or without them. And many, if not all, non-human animals seem to possess the currency in some quantity.”
Robert Wright is hardly the only one to conclude that animal rights are inevitable in a utilitarian system of ethics. And here is where things get interesting. Two years after the publication of his essay the philosopher Peter Carruthers wrote a book called The Animals Issue, in which he argues against animal rights. Carruthers starts from the premise that animals can’t possibly have rights because conventional wisdom says they don’t have rights. Then he moves from that (highly questionable) premise to conclude that utilitarianism must be wrong because it would entail granting animals rights they can’t have.
But Carruthers can’t dismiss utilitarianism that easily. Utilitarianism is the most popular system of ethics in the world. Opponents of animal rights are in the position of arguing against a whole system of ethics just because it reaches one conclusion they don’t like. In the long run, that is an argument they are going to lose.
In place of utilitarianism, the opponents of animal rights embrace something called social contract theory. It’s an old system of ethics, but it became popular in the 20th century due to the philosopher John Rawls, among others. Under this system, sometimes known as contractualism, human beings have implicitly agreed to a contract of shared rights and responsibilities. Non-human animals can’t understand the contract, therefore they are not parties to the contract, and thus their interests cannot matter.
Robert Wright acknowledges the legitimacy of this way of looking at ethics when he writes, “The idea of individual rights is simply a non-aggression pact among everyone who subscribes to it. It’s a deal struck for mutual convenience.” He doesn’t try to critique social contact theory. But it is possible to find a place for animals within contractualism. One could say that animals are parties to the social contract by proxy. After all, we include children and the mentally retarded in the contract even though they can’t understand the contract, or why they are included in it. (Opponents of animal rights will say that we include children and the mentally retarded because they have the potential to understand the contract. Animals do not even have the potential to understand it.)
Wright’s conclusion to the essay will surprise some readers. He says he won’t eat veal but he isn’t giving up other kinds of meat. When I first read that, I thought “huh???”
It does seem hypocritical of him. But his reluctance to commit to animal rights stems from his ambivalence about different systems of ethics. Utilitarianism pushes him into the animal rights camp, while social contract theory pushes him away from it. I do think his views on this subject were evolving at the time he wrote the essay. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wright became a vegetarian later on. Unfortunately as far as I know, this one essay, written 23 years ago, is the only thing he has written on the subject.
The essay is here:
There’s lots of journalistic chatter out there about eating insects (entomophagy). Most American media accounts have exploited a kind “ew gross” angle in order to appeal to that massive case of collective ADD known as the the United States of America. But other reports have been a bit more substantial, taking serious the proposition that consuming insects might actually be a viable option to reduce and eventually eliminate our current consumption of beef, chicken, fish, and pork while making a dent in world hunger. Much of this media attention has been generated by a recent UN report suggesting that we—as in the World—eat insects. Check it out, out, and out.
On the face of it, the logic is convincing. Sort of. Insects are everywhere (I’m looking at one at this moment, an ant with wings who has stopped to explore the bruised part of an apple sitting on my counter). Insects are relatively nutritious. If they were “domesticated,” insects wouldn’t require the resources nor cause comparable environmental damage to feed a global population nearing 9 billion. Insects evidently taste good. Or at least so say the swarm of entomologists I got to know when writing my book American Pests. I recall one seeing a picture of an asparagus beetle and saying “yum, that guy tastes like pineapple.”
The sticking point for the ethical-minded eater, of course, is that eating insects is still eating animals. Philosophically, morally, epistemologically, ontologically, (and any other “cally” you can think of), this is a rather tough sticking point. Whether or not insects matter any more or less than cows, pigs, chickens, and fish is a question that, by virtue of raising it, you make vegan blood boil. “Yes, all animals matter!!!,” we declare. And we mean it. Well, kind of. I mean, we don’t mean it enough to live according to that dictum, at least not as carefully as we live according to the dictum that we won’t eat animals. To wit: I don’t eat animals (or wear them). I could go a step further and make the decision to stop driving, taking buses and trains, and avoiding flying in order to spare the lives of billions of insects. I could do this, but—like you—I won’t. Not a chance. Why? Because it would be entirely inconvenient.
Cross the convenience threshold—which, I fear, if you are honest you have to) and you must make some hard admissions. Once you acknowledge that your approach to the animal world, however compassionate, necessarily requires (at some point) making self-interested choices based on convenience that will allow for a certain level of harm, you automatically open the door to compromise. You automatically affirm, as Mountain suggested in one of his comments yesterday, the existence of a continuum, as well as the fact that you occupy a place on it. Put differently, when you admit that your behavior toward animals (behavior, not ideology) comes down to convenience, you abandon faith in absolute adherence to a moral standard while creating space for the perpetual challenge of inching toward that standard through a series of pragmatic steps. Some people call that selling out. I call it wisdom.
If you’re still with me, you may not be for much longer. If it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that insect consumption could realistically reduce the consumption of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish, vegans should, I would tentatively suggest, support it. There’s little evidence that insects are sentient. Unlike a cow, pig, chicken, or fish, they do not make reasoned decisions to avoid discomfort (to my knowledge), most insects have very short life spans (many live less than a day), and they are the most rapidly adaptable and abundant critters on earth. As a class of animals, they resist individualism and embrace a radical collectivity that downplays their atomistic identities. I just cannot believe that a beetle’s sense of self is comparable to a pig’s. I may be wrong, but thoughtful observation suggests otherwise.
I’m just thinking aloud here. But I do wonder if this might be a cause we’d be willing, however reluctantly, to entertain as yet another strategy to wean the world off a diet that requires the slaughter of 10 billion animals a year, each and every one of whom we know for a hard fact suffers immensely?
When you see the words “China” and “meat” in the same headline you pretty much know the news is going to turn your gut. Today’s newsflash was par for the course: “Rat Meat, Treated with Gelatin, Carmine, and Nitrate, Sold as Mutton in China.” Lovely.
My initial thought when I read this story was that if you’re eating mutton in China probably the last thing on your mind would be purity. That said, we all deserve to know what we’re eating. My next—and more serious— thought was that, “of course they’re adulterating mutton with rat meat!” China, after all, has a billion mouths to feed and more and more of those mouths want meat. Maybe not rat meat, but meat. China’s diet, the more you look at it, is the vegan’s nightmare.
The quest for flesh being what it is, China has begun to commercially imperialize much of East and South Africa. The need for agrarian space to grow feed for livestock has led to massive land grabs in places such as Senegal and Ethiopia, where the Chinese have quietly blurred the line between capitalism and colonialism. We’ve known about this creeping influence for a while now. Less known, but equally threatening to the prospects of food justice, is the other weapon that China is using to colonize global biomass: trade agreements.
On April 25, China and Namibia signed an agreement that would export Namibian fish to China. The deal comes as a precursor to a pending pact between the same countries to export beef from Namibia. Environmental geopolitics being what they are, the ethical ramifications of these trade deal reverberate beyond the obvious issue of fair access. For one, when animals and animal products enter the lexicon of commerce, their morally fraught status as commodities are normalized and, in turn, further removed from the kind of questioning that leads many consumers to realize that it’s wrong to kill animals and turn them into objects of consumption. The story is here.
In one of the few reports filed on the trade deal, it was noted that, “The agreement also stipulates that provision should be made for a public-private partnership and a long-term joint venture framework for trade in animals and animal products.” Hmm. Although I’ve long been skeptical of categorical claims to keep agricultural production local, I’m coming to realize that one distinct advantage of doing so with animals is that the ethical implications of slaughtering and eating them may be better realized by thoughtful observers when the supply chain is shorter and the messiness is right under our nose, or at least closer to it.
Yesterday, for example, this story of local consumption—of an entire cow*— was covered with typical celebratory food writing pomp in Austin’s free newsweekly. It’s junk writing, and I hate to even highlight it, but it serves to illustrate my point. Yes, it’s frustrating to see such thoughtless behavior promoted as the future of responsible food. But it’s also hopeful in that the ultimate lunacy of this behavior is placed under a microscope that, in time, might very well clarify for otherwise conscientious consumers the underlying selfishness of this disgusting trend parading as a hip thing to do while stoned, drunk, and hungry.
*Somehow foodies have passed a law saying that if you eat the whole animal than everything’s cool.
Here are two stories that, taken together, are kind of thought provoking. First: The other day, while running, a friend told me that he was recently at dinner with a colleague whose daughter is vegan. When the topic of her veganism came up, the colleague said, “the problem now is that I know I shouldn’t eat meat and so, when I do, I feel really badly about it.” This awareness, in it’s way, kind of annoyed her. She now knew too much. Which can be very inconvenient.
Second: Last night, I got an e-mail from another friend with a Psychology Today blog post attached. The post was written by Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, and the topic was “why are there so few vegetarians?” The article quotes the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, on why so many humans find it difficult to forgo animal products. After reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, Haidt’s consciousness was raised. But note his reaction: “Since that day, I have been morally opposed to all forms of factory farming. Morally opposed but not behaviorally opposed. I love the taste of meat, and the only thing that changed the after reading Singer is that I thought about my hypocrisy each time I ordered a hamburger.”
As vegan advocates and activists, our initial inclination to such a confession might be to castigate it as confirmation of weak character. Morally opposed but not behaviorally opposed? I mean, come on. Lame, pitiful, cowardly, etc, etc. A more generous and productive tact, however, might be to first acknowledge that even the dimmest awareness that the act of eating animals carries moral implications is, albeit regrettably, a sign of moral progress and, next, to bore into why a man as intelligent and morally cognizant as Haidt could say what he said and not be guillotined by the logic police. Ditto for the woman—a professor—who feels bad about eating animals but still continues to dig in. What’s really going on here?
My very strong sense is that neither of the two reluctant meat-eaters noted here would apply their moral/behavioral dichotomy to other situations involving animals. If an organization of psychopaths who derived genuine euphoric pleasure from tossing kittens into the dryer declared that they were morally but not behaviorally opposed to the gratuitous torture of kittens because, you know, it made them laugh hard and feel really good, I seriously doubt Haidt and the professor would grant their approval. So then, why is the moral-but-not-behavioral opposition culturally acceptable when it comes to doing something arguably much worse—like, say, killing and eating animals? It is, I think, a critical question, one we overlook by simply castigating the people who say such things.
I’ve used the term “tyranny of taste” in other contexts. Well, I think we’re seeing it here as well. In fact, I think we’re seeing an especially virulent strain of it. When it comes to our treatment of animals, there’s something different and fundamental about the basic act of putting an edible substance in your mouth (or not, I guess) and declaring pleasure from it. In an odd but understandable way, it becomes less an animal rights issue than right to my body issue, veering perilously into the pro-choice politics and the abortion debate lane. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do to my body. That’s my business. Keep your laws off my mouth, vegan! [Please note that I am not agreeing with this perilous lane weaving. I'm just bringing it up, reluctantly, since, the last time I did, I was nearly dragged to another guillotine.]
If I’m at all correct in the claim that humans are arbitrarily quick to subsume animal rights to a false sense of a basic right to taste whatever we please, perhaps even as a right to body issue, it is worth highlighting that we do not sanction the arbitrary satisfaction of other desires, such as, most notably, sexual ones. We cannot go out and engage in sexual acts wherever and whenever and whomever we want to because it feels so good to do so. But still, the right-to-the-taste-my-mouth belief strikes me as very real and perhaps helps explain Haidt’s position. It also highlights a philosophical issue that we must bring into the public sphere.
The other thought I had is that we are, as a culture of meat eaters, working from a basic misunderstanding of pleasure. Of taste. I hear it over and over again, even from people I love and respect, that meat just tastes too good to give up. This is said, again, with a nascent awareness that there are moral implications to the act of eating animals, which only makes the assertion of the culinary euphoria of flesh that much more convincing. But I must ask: does meat per se really taste good? I’m not entirely sure we can even answer questions about something as subjective as taste with objective information, but given the work being done on sugar, salt, and fat—and our physiological response to these substances—I think it’s possible.
I’m sure there’s a lot of research out there on the physiological logistics of deriving pleasure from meat. Or not. But from what I remember, it was never the flesh of a burger that I liked so much as the texture of the bun, the condiments, the creaminess of the cheese, the smokiness of the grill, and, maybe more than anything else, the cultural message that eating a burger satisfied something deep and primordial. But even back then, in the prehistoric pre-vegan days, the idea of chomping down a naked burger was not appetizing.
I do wonder, then, whether we really do enjoy the taste of meat or, instead, have merely been sold a bill of goods wrapped in a good story and stamped with approval from those immoral and behaviorally decrepit cretins who profit from the sale of animals. But I wonder about a lot of things.
Given the gruesome state of global factory farming, animal welfare organizations are often placed in the position of having to euthanize very large numbers of very sick animals.
One theme that I’m researching for my book on the psychological and cultural origins of factory farming is the broad impact mass culling had on those who worked with newly consolidated animals in the nineteenth century. My sense is that, historically speaking, a devaluation of sorts occurred when humans oversaw collective rather than individual slaughter, and that one reason why factory farming became acceptable was the desensitization that mass killings fostered.
Contemporary research on the psychological impact of mass euthanization (often called “depopulation operations”) sheds an interesting light on this issue. It seems safe to assume that the employees of animal welfare organizations would be more sensitive to the prospect of animal suffering and death than the average citizen. It is therefore quite noteworthy that, according to a 2011 study of Animal Welfare Investigation workers who had to euthanize 5000 chickens, 77 percent of the workers reported becoming “emotionally switched off” during their participation.
This emotional alienation was partially enabled by the logistics of the undertaking. For example, 66 percent reported that “having leather gloves, a broiler suit and a mask was helpful in detaching themselves from the situation.” Understandably, 88 percent of the participants actively displaced blame away from themselves onto the farmer, seeing their task as “helping the animals.”
None of this is to suggest that the detachment was in any way permanent or complete. After all, almost 50 percent experienced a sensation of “disgust,” 38 percent underwent “extreme shaking,” 69 percent did not find that the task got easier over time, and 62 percent “experienced intrusive memories and flashbacks. ”
In other words, desensitization and emotional engagement appear to coexist when animals are culled, reinforcing the psychological difficulty not only of slaughtering animals but of making comprehensive or categorical judgments about what collective depopulation does to the psyche of those who oversee such a horror show.
Citation: Dale, A. (2011). Investigation into the psychological and physical effects of participating in a mass “depopulation” operation [unpublished Unitec Research Committee Research Report]. Permanent link to Research Bank version: http://hdl.handle.net/10652/1666
Years ago I had a dog named LeRoy who fell terminally ill at the age of 5. When his condition became so dire that he lost complete control of his bowels, couldn’t walk, and was suffering chronic liver damage due to the arsenal of drugs that were staving off the inevitable, I decided with my vet that the time was right to euthanize. It is with some regret that I later realized the time was probably right a lot earlier. I just didn’t want to say goodbye (even though, truth be told, LeRoy was no angel).
When that day came, I was a wreck. I’ll never forget the mixed feelings I experienced driving him to his death and then sitting in the waiting room as other clients patted his head and scratched his back. The poor guy had no idea. When the actual moment came I was with LeRoy and cried harder than I’ve ever cried. What really sticks with me, though, is that when I looked up from hugging LeRoy, my vet, too, was a puddle of tears.
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’d read about how vets experience high rates of depression because so much of their work involves dealing with very sick animals. Furthermore, as my own experience demonstrated, the emotionally wrought companions of those animals can be an emotional handful as well. But I guess part of me thought that, being around so much death and sickness and all, vets would become hardened to the pain that hit me with such unexpected force. My vet, fully sharing my pain, disabused me of that thought.
Unfortunately, it’s by no means clear if my vet was the exception or the rule. A recent account I read by a vet blogger named Patty Khuly reminds me, regrettably, that there are vets who take a very different approach to animals. What we know for sure about Dr. Khuly is that she is a) quite attractive and b) extremely well credentialed (Wellesley, U Penn, Wharton School). What’s less obvious is her larger view of animals in general—not the ones in her care (which she may indeed treat with the utmost dignity) but the one’s she personally owns (which, as you’ll see, she doesn’t).
Dr. Khuly posted a blog about killing her rooster, an animal she named Elvio, back in 2009. “So you want to eat meat?,” she asks. “I do,” she answers, “for a lot of reasons.” This predilection turned out to be bad news for Elvio, an animal with a name who “will sit next to you in the evenings and have his waddle stroked.” But, not content to allow “everyone else do the dirty work,” Khuly decided to take charge.
The most disturbing aspect of Khuly’s account of killing Elvio is not even her choice to kill a perfectly healthy pet because of his “4 AM vocal expressions.” It is, instead, her complete failure to understand the nature of her decision, one that, as you’ll see, she treats with a rather chilling indifference.
Here is the essential passage, from her PetMD blog:
But this rooster is so sweet and solicitous (with me, anyway). So pet-like. Could I really do it? I’d learned everything I needed to know in vet school. I’d killed dozens of chickens in my poultry rotation (for post-mortems, not for food). Since then, I’ve euthanized hundreds of pets. I’ve even euthanized my own personal loved ones, refusing to let anyone else do the deed when they could die more surely and honestly at my own hands. So why does this have to be so different? In the end, it wasn’t very different. I had my boyfriend by my side for moral support. And I made it fast, surprising myself with a long-repressed chicken-killing efficiency.
That question—So why does this have to be so different?— is terrifying in and of itself. But when it comes from a veterinarian, someone entrusted to care responsibly for our beloved pets, it’s beyond the pale. Why is killing a healthy rooster different than euthanizing LeRoy? The difference, of course, is fundamental, and it reflects rather poorly on the top-flight universities that trained Dr. Khuly: Elvio wasn’t sick. The “hundreds of pets” that she has euthanized (presumably) were. One need not be well-versed in ethics to grasp this distinction. One only needs a heart.
The truth of the matter is that there are probably as many opinions about animals as there are veterinarians who treat them. One would think, though, that the privilege of spending your life working with animals would, despite all the suffering, foster a more consistent assessment of our animal companions as at least deserving basic moral consideration. But as those who study the relationship between humans and animals know all too well, what we expect and what we find are often as distant as senseless killing is from merciful euthanization.
There is no such thing as humane dairy. I mention this after a conversation I had yesterday with a friend who earnestly believes that drinking milk is morally acceptable if the dairy cows were treated well. Unfortunately, “treated well” in our anemic welfare discourse generally means having outdoor access and nothing more. This prerequisite makes it easy for producers to rely on marketers to sell “humane” milk: just promote a few images of bucolic fields spotted with happy dairy cows. It’s the cheapest form of agricultural pornography and it sells better than chocolate and beer.
The reality, however, is something altogether different—it always is when it comes to farming animals. For one, so-called humane dairies, if they hope to sell milk, must forcibly impregnate cows whose genetics have been manipulated to produce far more milk than their bodies were ever meant to generate or accommodate. Forcible impregnation requires a cow to be anally and vaginally violated. Serially. The humane farmer inserts an insemination tube while manipulating the vaginal wall through the rectum to ensure insemination. When milk production declines, which it does after a few years, the haggard mother who never knew her children is thanked by the humane farmer by being turned into humane burger meat.
Insemination, of course, leads to offspring. If the offspring is female, the humane farmer removes her from her mother—who grieves in a way you cannot imagine—and places her in a tight box and feeds her synthetic nourishment until it’s her turn to be hooked to the “rape rack” so, like the mother she never knew, she could produce humane milk for conscientious carnivores to drink with smug satisfaction. If the offspring is male, the humane farmer takes him to an auction and sells him to an industrial farm who will lock him in a box for life, starve him slowly, and turn him into humane veal.
Three or four lactation cycles is about all a dairy cow can take before a decline in production results. When the cycles end so does the meaning of humane. Humane farmers cannot afford to feed her or allow her body to occupy pasture space because those expenses would cut into the resources reserved for the production of humane milk. So the humanely raised dairy cow is loaded on a truck and sent to an industrial slaughterhouse. The humane farmer stays behind, looking across his bright green acres, snapping a few photos for the marketers of milk to touch up so humane consumers of dairy can continue to wallow in the bliss of their ignorance.