If only Prof. Peter Singer cared as much about disabled babies as he does about farm animals*.
Nevertheless, I agree with much of what he says in Pigs, calves, and democracy
, in which he writes about two initiatives in Arizona and Florida that he says "restored my belief in the compassion of ordinary Americans." From the former comes "an act to prohibit tethering or confining a pregnant pig, or a calf raised for veal, in a manner that prevents the animal from turning around freely, lying down, and fully extending his or her limbs" and from the latter "a proposal to ban sow stalls."
Realizing perhaps that the term"animal rights" sounds absurd to most of us, including this blogger, Prof. Singer uses the term "animal welfare," which suggests Man's duties toward animals. This is the same terminology used by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully
, author of Dominion: The Power of Men, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
, in which the issue is addressed from the Christian perspective.
Especially convincing is Prof. Singer's appeal to the past:
Those who know little about modern factory farming may wonder why such legislation would be necessary. Under farming methods that were universal 50 years ago, and that are still common in some countries today, all animals have the space to turn around and stretch their limbs.
Today, however, about 90 percent of U.S. breeding sows - the mothers of the pigs that are raised and killed for pork, bacon, and ham - spend most of their lives locked in cages that measure about two feet by seven feet (0.6 meters by 2.2 meters). They are unable to turn around, lie down with their legs fully extended, or move more than a step forward or backward. Other sows are kept on short tethers that also prevent them turning around.
Veal calves are similarly confined for all their lives in individual stalls that do not permit them to turn around, lie down, or stretch their limbs. These methods are, essentially, labor-saving devices - they make management of the animals easier and enable units with thousands or tens of thousands of animals to employ fewer and less skilled workers. They also prevent the animals from wasting energy by moving around or fighting with each other.
Treating farm animals as "production units" is a gross violation of their animal nature and a sin against responsible stewardship. Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky
has written extensivley on the ecological and social destruction wrought by agribusiness and the industrialization of farming, most notably perhaps in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Benthamite efficiency advocates will no doubt raise a stink about factory farming keeping prices low. Perhaps, but at what cost? How much value are we willing to subtract from our food? Factory farming is indeed efficient, efficient at bringing poor quality and diseased meat to as many tables as possible. Given the avialablity of cheap meat, is this story any wonder: Americans Fattest People on Earth: U.S. Census
I've recently made the switch from buying imported to locally raised beef. Sure the cost is much higher, but the taste is superior and I value it all the more. The best meat I've ever tasted is the freshly slaughtered beef my in-laws procure from their connections in the countryside. Also, rather than indulge in Gluttony
, I find myself eating less and leaving the table satisfied rather than stuffed.
Religions understand the importance of food. Saying grace before and after meals is a fundamental part of Christian daily life. Our fellow Abrahamites goe even further with kosher
proscriptions, applying especially to meat. American Indians, as we all know, prayed to the Great Spirit after the kill.
We are what we eat, and I'd rather know my meat came from an animal than from a "production unit."
Again, if only Prof. Singer cared as much about disabled babies as he does about farm animals.
*See Death with a Happy Face: Peter Singer’s Bold Defense of Infanticide and A professor of infanticide at Princeton.