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October 2006


Agree to Disagree
I appreciate Satya providing a forum regarding the pros and cons of animal welfare standards [September 2006 issue]. But I thought that showing the same photo of a piece of flesh labeled as “not compassionate,” “almost compassionate,” and “purely compassionate” was counterproductive. When I die, I will be cremated, and I suspect that my remains will look identical to those of my relatives killed in Nazi death camps. If their ashes were available, picturing them along with mine would also convey a “dead is dead” message. Oversimplifying complex issues serves little purpose.

I’ve spent the last two decades tabling at street fairs, leafleting, etc., and I always advocate veganism. I’ve distributed thousands of vegetarian starter kits and Why Vegan? pamphlets in the last few years alone. When someone tells me they only eat “happy meat” (or a different oxymoronic term for murdered animals), I don’t throw my hands up in defeat and blame Peter Singer, PETA or Whole Foods. I smile, knowing I’ve got them on a slippery slope. If this person took a stance against factory farming, there’s a good chance they will be open to learning about male chicks being murdered the day they are born, bodily mutilations being done without anesthesia, horrific transport and slaughterhouse conditions, and the other egregious cruelties involved in all animal agriculture. I clearly have a better chance of converting this person to veganism than someone who won’t even acknowledge that their food had a face, mother or bowel movement.

If I spent my life obsessed about compromising my personal purity, I’d become dysfunctional. I compromise my values every time I get into a car, board an airplane, buy food that wasn’t grown locally or organically or fair trade certified, buy a product packaged in plastic, turn on the heat, etc. But when I offer compassion to an animal, whether it’s untangling a dog from a chain she shouldn’t be on in the first place or advocating that a chicken be murdered painlessly, I’m not compromising my values. I’m living them.

Those who embrace welfare reforms as a step to abolition won’t be changing their minds soon. Nor will those who think advocating abolition is the only path and believe that small steps are counterproductive. I respect both opinions and think it’s time both sides agree to disagree and get back to the monumental task ahead.

Stewart David
Asheville, NC

Banning the Cruelest Practices
I was heartened to read the essays of my friends in the animal movement on both sides of this important debate. Such dialogue is positive and Satya should be applauded for providing a space for it.

While I certainly agree that we shouldn’t be calling alternative animal products “cruelty-free,” when we oppose campaigns to ban the cruelest practices associated with factory farming, we abandon animals to face worse misery than they would otherwise have to.

The public already agrees that animals should not have to endure battery cages, veal crates, gestation crates, force-feeding and other horrors. It’s up to the animal movement to translate that existing public support into meaningful victories for animals, which is what groups like HSUS are doing.

There’s a reason agribusiness officials are obsessed with fighting against campaigns to ban their most abusive practices. The animal movement is making strides to reduce massive amounts of animal suffering, which is something we should be proud of.

Paul Shapiro
The Humane Society of the United States

My Thoughts as they Are
What a really great/important issue of Satya. By far and above the best article in my opinion was by James LaVeck, who articulated with precision our dilemma, and then of course the interview with Patty Mark. I was uncertain of my stance on this issue before, but now my thinking has sharpened by reading this issue of Satya. I don’t think it’s a question of welfarism vs. abolition anymore, but a redefinition of the third wave of our movement. As Patty so brilliantly articulates, she has changed and is changing, which is the mark of a true revolutionary—they deal with the conditions that exist now, not concepts from 20 years ago. Another element made clear is that our movement is being co-opted to make a profit for others—the good energy of thousands of activists is being sucked into a move, not of their imagining but of someone else’s idea of realism, capitalism and compromise. I don’t think it is our job to be accepted by the mainstream but for the mainstream to come toward the concept of life before profit. To do that, we have to be clear about what our message is. It may not be realistic. We are about changing the world not adapting to the world. That may be an elitist view, but who in the heck shops at Whole Foods? Certainly not the poor and hungry.

Accommodation and compromise do ameliorate the terrible conditions in which animals exist, and the activists that achieved this must be applauded, not the animal slavers, who have discovered a new market in “compassion.” Has the animal rights movement been reduced to “consumer choice”? If you don’t like pork then how about free-range buffalo?

As for Singer, he is wrong. Cows do mourn. Any dairy farmer will tell of the mothers who just gave birth, crying for days and days when their newborn calves are taken away from them. Female human babies are killed at birth in certain African nations like Somalia because the family cannot afford another girl. No doubt this is in the best interest of that family and tribe, but does that make it right? Should not the most frail amongst us be given the most support? Why not kill the elderly who no longer can contribute their labor to society? Who does the killing? Who decides that this person has no right to live? Utilitarianism, like Marxism, is not a theory to be applied mechanically. Consistency is not always truth, it can reflect a lack of empathy and imagination. Utilitarianism can lead to untenable moral quandaries. We are not a uni-crop species of sameness, all blowing in the wind like identical blond corn cobs. Singer has contributed so much to our movement, but like anything, it has its time, and then its time passes—that is natural.

Singer suggests the countries with the most “humane” standards of slaughter would create a mass movement of vegans, but the reality is, poorer countries consume very little animal products—their diet is primarily plant-based. Animals are not well protected in Britain, contrary to what Singer says. For goodness sake, the government mass slaughtered every single sheep, lamb and pig, only a few years ago, because they could be exposed to a non-fatal foot and mouth virus, whereas in developing countries, foot and mouth is dealt with using herbs on the animal, not slaughter. So much for the bigger cages of England. It may have forwarded the consciousness of the masses but when push came to shove, millions of healthy animals were slaughtered and buried in mass pits without so much as a murmur.

The chickens were allowed a step outside onto grass, but now the government is saying those chickens who are free-range risk spreading avian influenza, so they are back in the sheds. How quickly can the concept of “humanely” raising an animal be manipulated back to ground zero, when profit is at stake. Another point which Singer misses, I think, is yes, there are billions of animals whose lives can be improved by larger cages, but the numbers are misleading. It’s billions and billions, and then more billions and billions because the life of a factory farmed animal is so short. Would not more animals suffer less if there was a decreased demand for their flesh? I cannot think of any activist I know who would be critical of raising the standard of life for a “food animal”—but I do believe there is a danger in individuals presuming to define the steps toward liberation. No one has a crystal ball as to what step leads where.

Sue Coe

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