Posts Tagged ‘animal welfare

Happy Milk

» December 17th, 2014

A few days ago I wrote about the connection between the pharmaceutical industry and animal agriculture. The gist of the piece was that there’s so much animal flesh to keep healthy that eating animals is implicit support for an industry that already makes too much money over-medicating humans.

Since then, I’ve realized there’s another angle to this topic, one that’s more sinister, one that I missed. An article on The Cattle Site reveals that the pharmaceutical industry is interested in more than antibiotics and vaccines. It’s also using animal welfare as a pretext to market new drugs for farm animals.

Leading the charge to sell drugs that will create a calmer cow is Merck. Recently the company announced the launch of “Creating Connections.” According to The Cattle Site, it’s “a new program designed to help producers better understand cattle behavior and use that knowledge to employ strategies that can reduce stress, improve reproduction and foster stronger immune responses.”

In other words, Merck has found a way to exploit welfare washing for profit. The idea here is that you drug the beasts into a stupor so they don’t express feelings of distress and in turn—the real motive—cooperate with their executioners. This is a tactic that makes life easier for ranchers and meatpacking plant workers while making Merck look like it’s in league with the Humane Society as a steward of animals.

But it’s a bad joke. The piece explains, “Since calmer cattle are easier to examine, diagnose, treat and move, the techniques shared through Creating Connections will help make iteasier for producers to improve the health of their herds.”

As is to be expected, asinine blather has poured forth to justify these happy drugs.  “The behavior of cattle – how they interact with each other and with people – can be shaped by positive interactions with caregivers, and tell us a tremendous amount about how cattle are feeling,” said Tom Noffsinger, D.V.M., a consulting feedyard veterinarian well known for his work on low-stress cattle handling practices.

It’s not about lowering stress, but hiding it. You hook cows’ udders to milk pumping machines, send their babies to the meat counter as veal chops, and turn them into hamburger when production declines. But because you have drugged the cows into oblivion they don’t seem to mind, and so you can work more efficiency, not to mention less burdened by the suspicion that you’re doing something very wrong.

But come on.  If it’s welfare that we’re really concerned about, here’s something to consider: don’t bring these creatures into existence in the first place. There will be no suffering to medicate if you just use your resources to grow flora rather than fauna. Otherwise, spare us the welfare talk.

Nobody is really that stupid.





A House Divided Part III: The Slavery Analogy

» January 5th, 2012

In 1790, an elderly Benjamin Franklin, backed by a throng of Quakers, walked into the newly seated Congress and delivered a petition calling for the abolition of slavery. His timing, while ideal for his own reputation (he died a few months later), was potentially disastrous for the first Congress, and thus the new republic as a whole.

With the ink drying on the U. S. Constitution, and with the sectional politics of slavery constantly threatening to undermine the fragile coalition forged in Philadelphia, the “slavery question” was the one that could have easily stopped the Great Experiment dead in its tracks. Fully aware that a debate over the immediate abolition of slavery would implode the federal government he helped design, James Madison ushered Franklin and his Quaker acolytes behind closed doors and convinced them to drop the petition.  Madison agreed to confront the issue.  However, he knew that the abolition of slavery would have to happen gradually, fitfully, and—as the Father of the Constitution understood better than anyone—with compromise.

He was right. It would be an error to interpret the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment as orders that immediately abolished slavery. What really matters is the dialectical process of reform that made them possible.  Slavery slowly turned from a commonly accepted labor system endemic to North and South alike into a morally flawed “peculiar institution” run by an insidious “slave power.”   What made this happen was an instructive convergence of dependent trends, one that parallels our quest to end the systematic enslavement of animals.

First, for economic reasons, Northern states began to outlaw slavery. They did so gradually. New Jersey, for example, passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1804,” but slavery persisted legally until the 1820s. Similarly, most other states kept the current system of slavery in place but ended the importation of slaves while deeming the next generation of slave-born African-Americans (or even their grandchildren) free. The important thing to note for our purposes is that, even though a vocal minority of northerners at the time abhorred slavery on the grounds of moral principle, they accepted a process of change that reluctantly tolerated slavery’s temporary continuance in order to achieve its ultimate abolition.

Second, the gradual abolition of slavery in the north inspired a development that bore heavily on the process of inching toward freedom.  Most notably, the confinement of slavery to the South—and to the Deep South especially—allowed northerners to start stigmatizing slavery after 1820 as a “peculiar institution,” an antiquated and anti-capitalist (yes, this was a tarring label in the 1820s, too!) arrangement better fit for effete manor lords than entrepreneurs and rugged individualists.

Slavery, in essence, was slowly squeezed by a containment policy, one that thrived at characterizing plantation owners as a tribe of glorified rednecks.  This stereotyping had power, turning many ambivalent moderates into anti-slavery zealots.  It was a critical part of a process that played an important role in advancing—but not fully embracing—the principle that all men and women are created equal.

Finally, capitalizing on these trends, several charismatic figures—sensing that public opinion in the 1840s and 1850s was primed for a more emotional critique—hit the nation with a morally charged anti-slavery message. The time was now ripe for principle to take center stage. Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the virtuous ravings of William Lloyd Garrison and his Liberator reminded observers that slavery was not just a political and economic issue, but a deeply moral one that should not be tolerated for an instant longer.

Then the dominoes fell.

But, as history confirms, those dominoes had been lining up for decades. It would be easy to look at the abolitionist movement alone—followed by the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, and Thirteenth Amendment—and portray the abolition of slavery as an example of principle trumping process, immediate change eschewing gradualism, and ideals triumphing over pragmatism.

The truth is something more complex. And it has something to do with the fact that the dialect of change—a dynamic blend of principle and process—fueled a process that, after decades and decades of tolerating what many abhorred, eventually reached the purity of principle. Had the Garrisons of the world not had their Madisons, and vice-versa, both process and principle would have floundered, allowing slavery to spread into the American West .

Similarly, had Franklin had his way, had Congress debated the abolition of slavery in 1790, it’s very likely the north and south would have bifurcated during Washington’s first term. Given the persistence of Jim Crow legislation in the South after the Civil War, it’s equally likely that slavery would have persisted much longer than decent Americans—Americans who knew in their heart that it was wrong for one sentient being to own another—could have ever imagined.