Editor’s Note: People in the animal rights movement long ago advanced the slogan: “Meat is Murder”. It was designed to shock a largely indifferent and willfully ignorant public into recognizing that the eating of animals is not a normal thing, no matter how we wash the matter and our consciences, that it involves very much the involuntary, painful death—for our pleasure or convenience— of a creature who has as much a right to live on this earth as any of us.
Some people will never change, and we understand that. But we do hope that the arguments presented here by Dr. Abelow, along with the video (courtesy of Mercy for Animals), will make those who read this piece think twice before continuing unperturbed with the habit of eating animals. Simply put, it’s ethically wrong, and since we’re not tigers, lions or crocodiles, and we do have many choices, quite unnecessary. What’s more, eating animals is not only an ethical question of great importance; it’s also an ecological issue. Factory farms are today one of the biggest—if not the biggest—contributors to climate change, and all that this dreadful shift in the planet’s temperatures entail. In any case, after examining this article, and watching the images on this video, ask yourself honestly: are these animal rights activists so extreme? Are they so unreasonable? And, isn’t meat just a fancy name for murder?—Patrice Greanville
The reality of meat-eating
By Benjamin Abelow, M.D.
New Marlborough, Massachusetts
A recent lead story in The Berkshire Eagle on the ammonia-treated hamburger filler known as “pink slime” drew attention to the integrity of our food supply [“Meat markets’ pink boon,” April 4, 2012]. But as consumers, we need to ask a basic question: Where does hamburger come from and, ethically or otherwise, is pink slime really any worse than the meat itself?
I recently spent time with calves on a Berkshire dairy farm. The experience was unusual, in that I got to know the calves well and personally. For six months, I visited up to four times a week, in some cases starting on the day of birth. I formed close bonds with some of the calves.
I learned that calves are warm and gentle creatures with distinct personalities. When happy, they sometimes kick up their rear legs like a foal. They express affection and show courage.
I witnessed a calf standing watch over a dying mate in a cold and dark barn. I saw another calf trying to escape her tiny pen by boldly—yet impossibly—attempting to hurdle a high fence. She failed, and ended up leaping painfully, face first, into the fence. I saw another calf slowly drop to her forelegs, deliberately lowering herself into the layer of feces and mud that covered the floor of her dank enclosure. She spent several minutes trying vainly to push herself under the metal gate that held her captive. When she stood up, filth was smeared on her torso and face.
On most commercial farms, calves are permanently separated from their mothers—some are literally dragged away—within a day of birth. They pine for their mothers and their mothers pine for them. Some of the calves become despondent. More than a few die. The male calves, which have no role in a dairy operation, are shipped off. Many are reared for veal—isolated, tightly confined, utterly alone—and killed at a few months of age.
Those females who survive to maturity endure their own particular nightmare. They are artificially inseminated on a scientifically determined schedule and have their own calves repeatedly taken away. They spend most of their lives crowded together in a small, cement world. Through breeding, tightly managed impregnation cycles, special feeds, intensive milking, and sometimes artificial growth hormones, these cows are driven to produce many times more milk than they would for their own calves. Some develop mastitis or arthritis and live in chronic pain.
The intense lactation exhausts the cows quickly. In four or five years—about a quarter of their natural lifespan—their milk slows. Their purpose served, the cows are now worth more dead than alive and so are taken to slaughter. Smelling the blood of those who came before them, they are stunned with a bolt gun, have their throats slit, and are ground up for hamburger and processed meats. Yes, this is the source of most hamburger we eat: frightened, spent dairy cows who started life as gentle and playful creatures longing for their mothers.
Is the ammonia used to make pink slime any worse than the antibiotics and hormones that are often given these cows? Is the meat that we use for ordinary hamburger ultimately any less horrific than the leftover butchering scraps that are used to make the filler?
I have focused here on calves because I know them best, but the suffering of other farm animals is equally acute. Think of times you’ve accidentally stepped on the foot of your cat or dog—and how they reacted. Now think of a piglet being castrated and having its tail cut off without anesthetic—standard practice on most pig farms.
The scope of the disaster we inflict on sentient farm animals is almost beyond imagining—incomparably worse than any “tooth and claw” they might experience in nature. Each year in the U.S., over nine billion farm animals, including 150 million mammals, are killed for food. These numbers come from the USDA. The situation has much in common with slavery, with a gulag, with a concentration camp. The scale is infinitely more vast than anything humans have ever done to other humans.
Animal products are not necessary for a healthy diet. This means we do all this for nothing more important than a personal taste preference. In fact, these food preferences contribute to rampant cardiovascular disease and cancer.
If you are moved by the plight of these animals, keep feeling. Bring your behavior into accord with your empathy and your ethics. Educate yourself. Adjust your lifestyle. Perhaps you will wish to start spreading the word yourself. If you stop eating animal products, you will save dozens of feeling animals every year from intensely painful lives and terrible deaths. You don’t need to do this all at once. Start gradually. If you eat half as many animals, you will cause half as much suffering.
To learn more, watch the 12-minute film narrated by Paul McCartney at Meat.org. Or watch the equally good short video at MeatVideo.com, narrated by James Cromwell. These mini-documentaries are graphic and hard to watch but are necessary to see if we wish to understand the consequences of our diet and farming practices.
Or read a book. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is one of many volumes on the subject that helps communicate what it really means to eat hamburger and other animal products.
Benjamin Abelow, M.D.
New Marlborough, Massachusetts
Cruel Cuts – Illegal Slaughter Exposed in Los Angeles
Courtesy of Mercy for Animals
Hidden-camera footage obtained by Mercy For Animals has led to the arrest of Roberto Celedon for three felony and 10 misdemeanor criminal charges related to his illegal slaughter operation in Los Angeles County, California. The shocking video evidence shows animals being violently pinned down, having their throats crudely sawed open, and slowly bleeding to death.
After reviewing the hidden-camera footage, Dr. Armaiti May, a practicing veterinarian and farmed animal welfare expert in Santa Monica, stated: “The blatant cruelty towards the goat and sheep at this facility is nothing short of horrifying and must be punished to the full extent of the law. My overall impression is that the facility where this footage was taken shows extreme disregard for the basic welfare of the animals in its practices as well as lack of appropriate hygiene.”
Roberto Celedon was arrested and charged with a felony under California Penal Code 597(b)which states that every person who “tortures, torments,” “cruelly kills any animal” or “subjects any animal to needless suffering” is guilty of a crime punishable by a fine of not more than $20,000 and/or imprisonment in excess of one year.
Celedon was also cited for numerous violations of the California Food and Agriculture Code for operating without a license. He not only subjected animals to needless cruelty and suffering, but also failed to meet building and sanitation standards required by California law.
During a raid of the facility, Los Angeles County Animal Control officers seized dozens sick,injured and emaciated animals. These animals are now being rehabilitated at The Gentle Barn, a sanctuary for farmed animals in California. MFA praises law enforcement for its swift and decisive action in pursuing justice in this important case.
This case graphically illustrates the cruel, inhumane and illegal abuses that farmed animals are all too often subjected to in California and across the nation. In a civilized society, it is our moral obligation to protect all animals, including animals raised and killed for food, from needless cruelty and suffering.
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