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Opinion Column
For the week of Mar. 15 through Mar. 21, 2000

Refocusing mankind’s view of the animal world

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH
Express Staff Writer


On an average day in the United States, every day of the year, year after year, 130,000 cattle, 7,000 calves, 360,000 pigs and 24 million chickens are slaughtered in the slaughterhouses of the nation to feed the appetites and expanding waistlines of America. Every day. While death is undoubtedly a welcome relief from the horrors of factory farm life for most of these sentient creatures, such carnage is an integral part and a daily fact of the life of our culture. It has an effect on the mentality, the psyche and the physical health of the citizenry, as, of course, does polite society’s self-imposed ignorance about where the meat really comes from.

The reality of wholesale killing of animals for the retail markets of our civilization bears little resemblance to the sterile/frozen/wrapped/
sliced/diced/cubed and cut up remains of those creatures that wind up in the spotless display cases of supermarkets where most people purchase their protein.

Mankind has a long history of relationship with the wild animals he has domesticated and bred as a ready source of food and other useful materials. In all that history farm animals have never been as cruelly kept, confined or slaughtered as in the present time when animals are bred, born and raised in crowded animal factories, and viewed as food machines, not as living creatures.

In a 1997 issue of Harper’s magazine, writer Joy Williams said, "The factory farm today is a crowded, stinking bedlam, filled with suffering animals that are quite literally insane, sprayed with pesticides and fattened on a diet of growth stimulants, antibiotics and drugs.

"Two hundred and fifty thousand laying hens are confined within a single building. (The high mortality rate caused by overcrowding is economically acceptable; nothing is more worthless than an individual chicken.) Pigs are raised in bare concrete cages in windowless, metal buildings or tightly restrained in foul pens and gestation boxes. Cows are kept pregnant to produce an abnormal amount of milk, which is further artificially increased with hormone injections.

"The by-product of the dairy industry, calves, are chained in crates 22 inches wide and no longer than their bodies, and raised on a diet of drug-laced liquid feed for a few months until they’re slaughtered for the ‘delicacy’ veal."

A lack of respect and a skewed anthropocentric perspective of the value, meaning and sanctity of all nonhuman life is prevalent in our society. The animal world is viewed by the majority of our citizens in the context of what use we can make of them, not as animals having rights and intrinsic value in their own lives.

Even so distinguished a naturalist as Aldo Leopold, author of the classic "A Sand County Almanac," was of the opinion that wild and domestic animals had different moral statuses. He argued that domestic animals are not free and are therefore not worthy of our regard. While one might expect more regard for his fellow creatures from one such as Leopold, he at least recognized wild animals as having intrinsic worth not dependent on the value man assigns to them.

Farm animals, both in factories and on real farms, are legally and ethically viewed as production units whose lives are turned for a profit. The Federal Animal Welfare Act explicitly excludes farm animals from protection. "Normal agriculture operation" precludes "humane" treatment of farm animals. Anti-cruelty laws are not applicable to that which is raised for food.

Whether mankind’s relationships with the myriad creatures with which he shares the earth are sick, demented, degrading, perverse and, even, inhumane, is, I suppose, a matter of debate. I would argue that a man’s relationship with the animal world is indicative of his relationship with the rest of life, human life included.

But, whatever one’s opinion on the subject, it certainly provides mankind endless opportunities to exhibit his vast array of contradictions, hypocrisies and boundless abilities to plunder the earth and its creatures.

Even the wildlife of America is viewed and treated as another profit producer. While killing for recreation—which goes by the name of hunting—is seen as morally suspect and offensive to some, it is big business to many. It is a business in which the profit product is not penned up in hog factory cages or veal growing pens, but the deer/elk/antelope/ducks/
geese/pheasant are slaughtered nonetheless. And, for the most part, they are not slaughtered for the value of the necessary protein they add to the human diet.

Hunting, like factory farming, as it is currently practiced in America is a business. It is no more a natural activity than is the production of veal. Except for those few who truly hunt for food, hunting in America is slaughter in the name of sport, sometimes more, never less.

So it was fascinating when a spokesman for a group recently formed for the purpose of getting wolves out of Idaho said of Idaho’s wolves, "They are absolutely slaughtering our big game." The spokesman, an outfitter, is right to say that wolves kill for the sustenance they need to live. He is wrong to use the possessive when referring to wild animals. They are their own creatures who do not need man in order to live, though the obverse cannot be said. For man or any man to condemn the wolf for slaughter is, at best, hilarious. It is a red herring.

Geoffrey Gorer, an Engish psychologist and historian, perhaps put it best: "The Latin proverb, homo homini lupus—man is a wolf to man…is a libel on the wolf, which is a gentle animal with other wolves."

And wolves kill for the sustenance of life, not for gratuitous pleasure.

 

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