Equine freedom, but at what cost?

Seth Victor

The blawg has previously discussed the controversy surrounding horse-drawn carriages in New York City. Now there is the potential that those idealized tours around Central Park might be coming to an end. According to the New York Daily News, both major mayoral candidates poised to run the Big Apple support a city council bill to ban horse-drawn rides. There is a concern, however, that if the practice is ended, the 200 or so horses that are impressed to pull these carriages will be sent to their deaths, not to some bucolic retirement field further upstate. The article summarizes the issue.

My question to you, dear reader, is what is the best result for the animals? Place the economic concerns regarding the proposed electric replacement carriages aside. Assuming that no home can be found for these horses, if you believe that the horses who march around the streets of New York City are suffering and are not being properly cared for, is it better to end their suffering through ending their lives, or is life so precious that between a life of hard work and death, life should prevail?

We’ve touched on this question before, and it is a divisive one between different camps of animal rights. Please vote below with your opinion. I recognize that there are many answers to this question, but given the choice between the two (and if being forced to pick the lesser of two evils isn’t American, what is?), where do you stand?

Can Farming Rhinos Save the Species?

Seth Victor

Rhino-horn-tradeKevin Charles Redmon poses an interesting thought: can farming the horns of African rhinoceroses save the species? The horns of the rhinos are used throughout the world, from dagger handles to medicine. Though the animals are endangered, and protected under CITES, there is a lucrative black market business in poaching, especially when the horns fetch $65,000 a kilo; “demand for horn is inelastic and growing, so a trade ban (which restricts supply) only drives up prices, making the illicit good more valuable—and giving poachers greater incentive to slaughter the animal.” Poachers aren’t overly concerned with the long-term extinction risks of their prey. The focus is on the immediate value. Because the activity is illegal, timing is of the essence, and it’s apparently easier to kill and harvest the rhinos versus tranquilizing and waiting for them to go down. What if, Redmon wonders, we were to harvest the horns (they re-grow over time) by placing rhinos in captivity, guarding them well, and introducing a sustainable horn supply that doesn’t kill the rhinos? Continue reading

Legal Issues with California’s Foie Gras Ban

Seth Victor

Late last month PETA filed a suit against Hot’s Restaurant Group in Los Angeles County, CA, alleging that the defendant violated the California state law that went into effect earlier this year prohibiting the sale of foie gras. The essence of the hots-kitchencomplaint is that Hot’s Kitchen, the specific restaurant in question, has skirted the law by selling a hamburger for an increased price and including with the hamburger a “complimentary side of foie gras.” Being that foie gras is sold legally at gourmet restaurants around the country for a pretty penny, on its face Hot’s seems to be blatantly rebelling against California’s ban, taking a position common among many restaurant owners. Taking the ethical debate over foie gras (ahem) off the table for a moment, is what Hot’s Kitchen doing illegal? Continue reading

Felony Conviction for Factory Farm Animal Abuse

Seth Victor

This week Brian Douglas was convicted of felony animal cruelty in Hoke County, North Carolina, and was sentenced to 30 days jail, and nearly four years probation. Mercy for Animals has hailed this conviction as “the first felony cruelty to animals conviction related to birds used for food production in US history.” Other related defendants’ cases are pending. Since the investigation into the abuse commenced last December, Butterball has maintained that as an organization it does not condone animal cruelty. Although my search for “animal rights” or “felony” did not turn up any results on Butterball’s website, the self-described largest turkey supplier in the United States does have a slide show demonstrating the love and affection each and every bird receives. I particularly enjoy the image of a mother and son handling a poult with the text, “Our turkeys need the proper care and attention from the start. This concept of well-being is essential in order for the birds to grow and thrive.” It’s true. I’m sure the turkeys do need that care. Whether they actually get it is the question. Butterball also states that “Regular veterinary exams monitor for diseases and help to ensure the health of flocks.” Again, true, but would these be the same veterinarians that tip-off Butterball prior to a police raid? Some people are skeptical. Continue reading

Don’t Look an Embezzled Horse in the Mouth

Seth Victor

I encourage everyone to read Angelique Rivard’s excellent summary of Steven Wise’s resent presentation at the Dyson Lecture Series, which explored the future of animal legal standing and animal personhood. Mr. Wise’s theories were on my mind when I heard last week’s Wait Wait. . .Don’t Tell Me.  Some of you might have heard that Rita Crundwell, comptroller in Dixon, IL, has been accused of embezzling $53 million from her town. As Peter Segal states, “Now the government wants to seize her assets that she got with her ill begotten gains and that means, according to the law, they have to file a suit against the horses themselves. So the case is on the court docket, as United States of America versus Have Faith In Money, et al.”

Getting a horse’s name on a docket is notable, but I’m sure not for the reasons Mr. Wise hopes. We’ve still a long way to go to move horses from “assets” to “persons.”

The Ghosts in Our Machine – Reflections

Donna Oakes

Last week’s post about The Ghosts in Our Machine featured insightful and thought provoking remembrances of the ‘aha’ moment from 3 of the project team members – Jo-Anne McArthur, Liz Marshall and Ananya Ohri -

Those remembrances were so honest and inspiring that I found myself going back to the post and reading them over and over  again – especially during those moments when I wondered if there will ever be true justice for animals.

Just as inspirational are the writings of 2 other team members – Nina Beveridge (producer) and Lorena Elke (researcher). These are their reflections on the project and what it has meant to them on a very personal level.

Nina’s reflections:

Working on“The Ghosts In Our Machine”  has been a unique and transformative experience for me. It is a cross media documentary so we wanted to employ cross media strategies to gain support and build community. First we built a website ‘demo’ as a sales tool to find funding partners. Simultaneously Cross Media Director/Producer/Writer Liz Marshall created a beautiful trailer with our photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. We accomplished these with a lot of hard work, sweat  and support from professionals who collaborated with us. Once our website and trailer were unveiled, we launched our social media campaign (facebook, vimeo, youtube), which Liz has done an amazing job spearheading. As our community took shape and the outreach progressed, we launched our crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo. The best part about the indiegogo campaign is that the people who donated have become really vested in our project. This is where the magic really started to begin for me. I feel like we are a big family now. It’s exciting to see so many people rooting for the project!         Continue reading

Some Thoughts on The Ghosts in Our Machine

Donna Oakes

I first read about The Ghosts in Our Machine this past May. It is described as “A film & web narrative in development about the individual animals used within the machine of our modern world”.

This project reminded me of how important images (whether in photographs or film) are in eliciting that “aha” moment. The moment when that fog lifts away and we see the truth about how animals are treated – and more importantly, the moment when we see how we have been unwitting accomplices.

I wanted to learn more about the connection that the team members have to this project.  In this post, Liz Marshall (producer, director, writer), Jo-Anne McArthur (photographer, main human film subject) and Ananya Ohri (researcher) provided deeply personal answers to the following questions:

Most people who become advocates for animals can recall having some type of ‘aha’ moment that set them on their path. Was this something that you experienced (and if so, can you tell us about it)?
Additionally, what aspect of the film do you think has the most potential for creating that moment for viewers – and why?

Ananya Ohri’s answer: Continue reading

Graphic Content

Will Sheehan

Public perception has always played a significant role in the battle for animal rights. Newspapers, publishing houses and television have traditionally served as facilitators–and occasionally unwitting allies–of the movement. Due to the persuasiveness of visual aids, it is clear that the future battleground for the public relations struggle will take place on Youtube and other online media sources. These websites have revolutionized anti-cruelty documentation through the distribution of inexpensive, visceral and uncensored viral videos depicting the inhumane treatment of animals. This has elevated animal advocacy to an unprecedented level.

Continue reading

Sex, Animal Abuse, and the Internet

Seth Victor

In Long Island, New York last Tuesday,  the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a bill, sponsored by legislator Jon Cooper, creating the nation’s first registry for people convicted of animal abuse. The online registry operates in a similar fashion to the online registration required for sex offenders under Megan’s Laws. Anyone convicted of animal cruelty will be required to submit and keep updated their name, address, and photograph to the publicly searchable database for five years following their conviction. Convicted abusers will have to pay $50 annually for the cost of the registry, and those who do not face a $1,000 fine and one year imprisonment.

Mr. Cooper is quoted stating, “We know the correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence…Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people.” In acknowledging the link between animal abuse and domestic violence, a relationship of which many people are not aware, Mr. Cooper illustrates how animal protection laws can serve both human and animal interests.

Continue reading

Fresh Faced Student at Animal Law Conference in Brazil

Gloribelle Perez

Wednesday night (8.25.10), I had the honor of attending the opening reception of the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights, which was held in the first capital of Brazil—Salvador, Bahia.  From a live band to Bahia’s movers and shakers of the political arena, the opening reception was superb.  Professor Cassuto, a Pace Law School professor, spoke at the opening reception, along with numerous scholars, all of which got the conference started on a wonderful note!

Hosted by the Federal University of Bahia, yesterday (8.26.10) was the first full day of the conference.  I had a jam-packed day of speaker after brilliant speaker.  As a rising law school 3L, I have not yet found an opportunity to take an Animal Law course.  However, after just one full day at this conference, I feel like I’ve gone to the academic edge and back.  By no means am I now an animal law expert, but I’m happy to have learned a little bit about a lot of different animal law issues.  I have always been concerned about the protection of animals (and other beings that can’t speak for themselves), and I am excited to hear from the world-renowned speakers that each seem to approach the same concern from different angles.        Continue reading

Live From the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights in Brazil

Elizabeth Bennett

DAY 1 Ola from the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights.  First, I would like to say that I am very thankful that Pace Law School and the Center for Environmental Legal Studies provided me with the opportunity to attend this prestigious and world-renowned conference and for all of the conference organizers’ hard work and hospitality.  As the presentations I have attended thus far have been informative and thought-provoking for me, I will do my best to share my experience with you.

Upon arrival, a symphony was playing.  After introductions and honorariums, Professor David Cassuto of Pace Law School and Director of the Brazil-American Institute for Law and Environment (BAILE) spoke about current trends in environmental law and the animal world.  He discussed the intersection of animal and environmental law and how they often clash, despite the many common grounds upon which they merge.  He went on to discuss the legal framework for protecting animals, distinguishing between animal welfarists and animal rights activists, stating that animal welfarists wish for stronger laws, while animal rights activists believe that humans should not use animals at all.  He also pointed out that in the United States legal system, animals are property and the laws concerning animals regulate relationships between humans about animals.  He made an interesting comparison between the appropriateness of humans making laws on behalf of nonhuman animals and politicians enacting laws on our behalf without truly knowing us, what we desire, or how we would like to be protected.  This comparison comes as an interesting response to doubts about human ability and right to make laws about non-human animals when they do not completely understand what animals want or need.

Professor Cassuto also discussed whether animals can be considered “persons” under the law and how this would change the way we protect them.  This served as a great opening to the Conference, as many of the presentations that followed addressed these questions and dealt with similar issues. Continue reading

A Little More Veg Rhetoric

David Cassuto

I have resolved that when I see a particularly well-argued piece for either side, I will flag it.  So here‘s Bruce Friedrich making the argument against meat.

AETA 4 Case Dismissed

David Cassuto

The first and so far only case yet brought under AETA (the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) has been dismissed.  It seems that the government did little more in its indictment than recite the statute and state that the defendants had violated it.  The Constitution requires more.  Without a clearly defined set of allegations, the defendant cannot possibly defend herself.  The indictment must allege with specificity how they broke the law, when, and precisely by who.  Continue reading

New Book on AETA and Animal Activism

David Cassuto

From the email, a new book by Dara Lovitz:

I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, Muzzling a Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money, and Politics on Animal Activism, which examines the silencing of the animal activist movement in violation of time-honored constitutional principles.  For further information, or to order your copy, go to the website for Lantern Books.  You can also order the book from Amazon.  

Thank you so much for your support!

Dara Lovitz, Esq.

Thinking About Elephants

Bruce Wagman

I have been thinking about elephants.  The recent disappointing judgment in the hard-fought Ringling Brothers case is really only one reason.  I’ve been involved in a few nonlitigation matters trying to help make life better for elephants in zoos in different states, have visited the elephants at PAWS in California, and have spent many hours watching the amazing interactions and overwhelming magic of hundreds of elephants in several Tanzanian parks.  There are many elephant experiences that stand out in my mind, including on the one hand one long heating-up morning when we spent about two hours watching about 220 elephants of all ages and sizes (as best as we could count) in one spot in Tarangire National Park, and on the other being shocked into outrage when I learned about the crushing pain they suffer by virtue of almost every confinement situation in America, the literal disintegration of their foot bones as they are forced to stand on them, in some of the worst pain one could imagine, without any relief.  When it comes to elephants in zoos and circuses, the news is grim. 

I had to learn the science of elephants for my job, and that requirement is one of the fantastic things about practicing animal law, especially for someone like me.  That is, in order to do a good job, I am compelled to learn not just the law, but often the biology, physiology, psychology and behaviors of whatever species is at the center of the case I am litigating.  For me that is turning work into fun or at least intellectual exploration, which is fun for a law geek like me.  Because there are “cat people” and “dog people” and “chimp people;” and when on safari in Africa some people mainly want to see the big cats; others the birds.  There is an inherent speciesism, just like when we pet a cat and eat a cow, or think it is bad to eat dog because we do not do it, but it is okay to eat a pig because we do.  But I’m a garbage-can animal lover, meaning I love them all.  So when I am in Africa, ask me what I want to see, and I don’t care, as long as it’s wild.  People say warthogs are ugly and I think they are beautiful, perfect.  And when I am home ask if I prefer my dogs or cats, and my response is: “anything nonhuman will do, I love them all.”  So the requirement that I learn about some species or other is just a joy, and something I have done literally dozens of times over the course of my career.  And you really cannot adequately litigate for animals if you don’t understand them – as well as the law.  Continue reading

Thinking About Wild Horses

Bruce Wagman

Lately I have been thinking about wild horses.  I discovered the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1340 (Wild Horses Act), when I was collecting materials for the first animal law class at Hastings College of the Law in 1996.  Like several laws written for animals, on its face it looked like it would actually protect the covered animals, and that the legislators were very concerned about the horses’ well-being.  Congress actually said that wild horses were “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that [they] are fast disappearing from the American scene.”  It sounded like a set-up for protection to me.  What a letdown when I eventually discovered that while the law arguably provides some protection, it has also been used to herd these independent beauties with helicopters and worse, then to pen them in corrals where they are unable to run or engage in any semblance of their normal lifestyles, and then to either warehouse them for years (the federal government currently keeps over 30,000 in long-term holding) or, if they are old or infirm, sell them for slaughter.  During the “gathers,” horse are obviously frightened, they may die, and once captured, spontaneous abortions of foals is common.  And if they live, they often slowly die from starvation, lack of activity, and other causes.   Continue reading

Volunteer Opportunity:Protecting Bison from Those Who Want Them Dead

David Cassuto

The bison herd in Yellowstone Park is protected from hunters.  Until the animals leave the park — which they are sometimes wont to do (bison have no pockets in which to carry a map).  As soon as the animals step over the park boundary they become prey for hunters abetted by the livestock industry who disguise their bloodlust behind disingenuous talk of brucellosis.

I just learned of an organization called the Buffalo Field Campaign, which works to protect the bison from those who think it the height of sport to shoot large, slow-moving herbivores.  And, if you have some time you wouldn’t mind spending in one of the world’s most spectacular places, the animals could use your help as well.  A little info on one of the coolest volunteer opportunities in the history of ever: Continue reading

NYC Carriage Horse Panel on 2/23

David Cassuto

More from the NYLHV email:
2/23 Panel Discussion: Protecting Animals and Humans: The Past, Present and Future of Horse Carriages in NYC

Since the 1970’s, New York City residents and animal protection organizations have advocated to protect horses used in the carriage industry and ensure public safety; however, the dangers created by animal-pulled vehicles in the streets of a major city threaten the safety of both people and animals. Horses, which weigh more than 1,000 pounds, continue to get spooked and collide with cars and pedestrians. They collapse on the streets. They die prematurely in stables. They suffer from punishing pavement, extreme weather conditions, and a lack of water.  Continue reading

Announcing “Our Hen House”

David Cassuto

Mariann Sullivan & Jasmin Singer

Mariann Sullivan and Jasmin Singer are two of the jewels in the crown of the animal advocacy movement.  Both women have labored tirelessly on behalf of the voiceless for many years and in many ways.  Now they have a new way.  Their new project is called Our Hen House and is much more than blog.  It is, in their words, “a central clearinghouse for all kinds of ideas on how individuals can make change for animals.”  Below is some skinny from an email blast inviting people to the site.  It is a great thing they’re doing.  But don’t take my word for it.  Go and see.  And then stay and help.

Dear Friends,

You might be wondering why you got this email. If you’d like, please click “unsubscribe” below, and please pardon the intrusion. But if you’re interested in learning about Our Hen House — a new project that we’ve gleefully begun — then read on… Continue reading

Greyhound Racing – The Industrialization of Man’s Best Friend

My name is Jennifer Krebs, and I am an addict.

My addiction is to racing greyhounds and advocating for them.

The first time I saw a retired racing greyhound up close and personal was in 1993 in South Florida.  I fell completely in love, but it was a full ten years before I realized my dream of adopting one.  In 2003, I adopted my first greyhound, and my husband and I have adopted five more since.

I spent the first five years of greyhound ‘parenthood’ primarily supporting adoption efforts.  About a year and a half ago, that focus changed to working to end greyhound racing.  For me, it was an evolution from supporting the Band-aid to supporting the cure.

Dog racing is a cruel and inhumane sport.  Over 20,000 greyhounds are bred to run for their lives every year.  At dog tracks across the country, thousands of greyhounds languish in small, stacked cages inside dimly lit buildings, seeing the light of day only for brief periods of time when they are ‘turned out’ to relieve themselves.  They are fed raw 4-D meat (‘D’ for dead, dying diseased or disabled), which contains denatured charcoal to discourage human consumption.  Once or twice a week, they are taken to the track to race, where they face the chance of injury and death.  They suffer broken legs, lacerations, paralysis, severed tails, cardiac arrest and heat stroke.  Every day, the ‘careers’ of racing greyhounds end when they are no longer competitive, and their lives hang in the balance.  Some of them are rescued by adoption organizations.  Others meet an untimely end in any number of ways, of which euthanasia by a veterinarian is the most humane.       Continue reading

The Voiceless Toolkit Can Now Be Yours

From the email:

Last night the Honourable Justice Ruth McColl AO, Judge of Appeal of the Supreme Court of NSW, launched the Voiceless Animal Law Toolkit. The launch was part of the Voiceless 2009 Awards Event, where this year’s Voiceless Grant recipients and inaugural Voiceless Media Prize winner were announced.

Speaking at the launch, Brian Sherman AM, Voiceless’s Managing Director, said “People often ask why animals need lawyers. With the level of animal cruelty sanctioned by the law in Australia, the real question should be ‘why don’t animals have lawyers already?’ I am pleased that Voiceless has produced this wonderful Toolkit to help build the animal law movement, which will in turn give voices to the million of animals subjected to legalised cruelty on factory farms and in other areas of Australian society.”

The Toolkit is a snapshot of the status of the animal law movement in Australia, and was produced in recognit ion of the momentum and growth of this area of law. It is a practical and educational resource for law students, legal practitioners, academics and animal advocates wanting to get involved in the animal law movement. The Animal Law Toolkit:

  • Examines key animal law issues
  • Provides animal law course offerings
  • Lists professional animal law associations
  • Contains animal law case notes, resources and other valuable information for budding animal lawyers.

In launching the Toolkit, Her Honour Justice McColl said, “By preparing such a valuable practical tool the authors of the Toolkit clearly recognise the path ahead, barely ploughed as it is, must be based on solid foundations. By creating the Toolkit they are arming the legal and general community with information necessary to ensure the animal law movement can be well and properly understood.”

Katrina Sharman, Voicel ess’s Corporate Counsel and lead author of the Toolkit, said today, “It is encouraging to see lawyers from diverse backgrounds taking an interest in animal law and wanting to use their skills to take a stand against the institutionalised suffering of animals. Animal law in Australia is no longer a fringe social justice movement. With Australia’s key academic and political institutions taking an interest in the area, it has officially become mainstream.”

Please follow this link to download your copy.

More on the Vegan Dialogues

Matthew Blaisdell

This is a summation/expansion of my comments (see post & comments here) relating to the NY Times Op-Ed in which the writer likened the killing of animals for meat consumption to the Holocaust.

I know only about as much as the general public regarding animal rights/law.  I do think that the issues involved are fascinating, difficult and complex.  What strikes me is what I will call the ‘moralizing’ tenor of much of the dialogue.  I call these dialogues ‘moralizing’ because, to me, they rely on assumptions about ethics applied to a code of behavior, and are imbued with strong judgments about those behaviors.  What has been happening is that those who focus on the ‘immorality’ of factory farming have been attacked for not subscribing to the ‘immorality’ of eating animal products.  For example, see a selection from the postings made by a friend of mine:

“Actually, I think many meat eaters are a self-righteous bunch … I long ago gave up trying to convince meat eaters to change after I realized that theirs is much less a rational choice, than a thoughtless submission to a base urge.”

To me, such statements (as well as those likening the consumption of animal products to murder or the Holocaust) are either intended to introduce the listener to this moral code by way of a provocative statement, or to communicate to a listener who subscribes to the same moral code.  I am concerned with is the first of these motives.   Continue reading

Vegan With a Vengeance

Tara Dugo

On November 22, 2009, the New York Times ran an op ed that discussed, of all things, veganism.  (Previously discussed on this blawg on November 24, 2009 and November 27, 2009.)  The op ed, which was written by Gary Steiner, a Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, really delved into the issues that vegans are faced with in today’s “meat-crazed society.”  While both entertaining and impassioned, Mr. Steiner asked the readers of the New York Times to basically think before they ate this Thanksgiving.  He also discussed that, just because the turkey that you are buying is labeled “free-cage” or “free-range” does not mean that the animal that you are about to ingest lived a long, comfortable life.  Instead, its life was “short and miserable” just like the turkeys that lived their short lives in factory farms.  One theme that ran throughout his article was the idea that nonhuman animals are exploited for man’s satisfaction and that this is the result of man’s feelings of superiority, since man is intelligent and compassionate.  As Mr. Steiner so perfectly stated, just because animals may not think on the same plane as humans, does not justify us using them as “organic toys.”

Mr. Steiner’s article is clearly a comment on the property paradigm with regards to animals.  It is the fact that animals are property in the law that they are exploited for human usage.  Enter veganism.  Strict vegans, as Mr. Steiner pointed out, have an abolitionist ideology when it comes to animal exploitation.  While this ideology is largely on the fringe of societal thought, a small shift is beginning.  More and more individuals are adapting a new attitude towards animals, realizing that they are, and certainly should in a legal sense be more than property.  The mere fact that the New York Times published the article by Mr. Steiner shows that animal welfare and veganism are making their way into minds of the mainstream.   Continue reading

The Grey Lady’s Vegan Debate

David Cassuto

They NYT recently featured an op-ed by Gary Steiner that lays out the challenges of ethical veganism in contemporary society.  I have my issues with the piece, which suffers from a rigidity that can be off-putting to people of all stripes.  More interesting, though, are the letters it generated.  Amid a few thoughtful exceptions (both pro and con), the same tired arguments against veganism get recycled over and over as if they were revelatory and/or had any intellectual rigor.

Continue reading

Mansploitation for the Animal Cause

September 24th, 2009

SeattleImage2image source: The Stranger, Sep 24 – 30, 2009, Vol. 19, No. 3

Ummm…this Seattle alt paper (think Village Voice, left-coast style) takes a page from PETA’s playbook (see here, e.g.) and then flips it, exploiting men’s bods for the animal cause.  That’s not ok, either.

The image is an interesting visual play on an affectionate name for a cat and a (sometimes-not-so-affectionate) name for a woman’s genitalia.  I imagine the guy out in front of a pet store saying, “Look at my ….”

-Bridget Crawford

cross post: Feminist Law Professors

Taking Animal Advocacy Seriously (Part 2 of 3)

A couple of months ago I wrote a post on why it is that people fail to take animal advocacy seriously. Today I want to elaborate that claim by illustrating it with a recent example. As most readers of AnimalBlawg probably know, President Obama swatted a fly during an interview with John Hardwood several weeks ago. Most viewers and commentators believed the episode was kind of funny. The President was amused by the event and commented on his Miyagi type ability to kill a fly with just one quick hand movement.

The people at PETA, however, were not pleased. Condemning the President’s “inhumane” treatment of the fly, PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich commented that “[w]e support compassion even for the most curious, smallest and least sympathetic animals…[w]e believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals.” In order to curb similar future incidents, PETA sent Obama a fly trapping device named “Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher”.

If all that they were trying to do was poke fun at the President, PETA’s reaction to the incident is amusing. One suspects, however, that PETA is actually taking this seriously. Lashing out against this conduct is misguided at best and counterproductive at worst. There are at least two problems with PETA’s position.

First, it is unclear whether flies are sentient beings. Several scientific studies suggest that flies do not have the capacity to feel pain (see, e.g., Eisemann, et al). Animal interests or rights stem from their sentience. Therefore, animals that do not have the capacity to feel pain should not have the same rights or interests as animals that have such a capacity. If flies are not sentient beings they should have the same interests or rights as other non-sentient beings such as trees and plants. If plants and trees do not have a right to life (as most people would argue), non-sentient animals should not have a right to life either.

Second, and more importantly, assuming that flies have the capacity to feel pain, the problem of insect mistreatment pales in comparison with other more pressing problems for the animal advocacy community. Most animal advocates agree that the chief evil that we should unite against is the incredibly inhumane practice of factory farming. The problem with PETA’s response to the fly swatting incident is that it provides the people we are trying to convince about the evils of factory farming (and other evidently cruel practices) with an argument against taking us seriously in general. The argument goes something like this:

(1)   PETA represents animal advocates.

(2)   PETA believes that swatting insects is immoral.

(3)   PETA’s position regarding insects is ridiculous and should not be taken seriously.

(4)   Therefore, PETA and other animal advocates should not be taken seriously.

I am well aware that (4) does not follow from (1),(2) and (3). I am also aware that PETA does not necessarily represent the animal advocacy community. This, however, is irrelevant. Regardless of the soundness of the argument, I believe it represents the way in which most people think about these issues. Take, for example, a comment posted on MSNBC’s website by a reader:

“Are you kidding me?  PETA is upset because Obama killed a fly?  Comments like this take away from their organizations credibility and make them look ridiculous.  Are there not any other situations they could make an intelligent comment about this week?”

-Rebecca Alford, Hartsville, South Carolina (June 17, 2009).

The problem with this is that we have limited political capital with the community and have to be very judicious in our use of it. We should not use up our precious resources to combat acts that – like fly swatting – are neither clearly immoral nor central to our principal anti-cruelty crusade (eradicating factory farming). The costs of doing so are obvious. It weakens our credibility with the general public. The benefits, on the other hand, are marginal at best. If we want people to start taking animal advocacy seriously we should stop fussing over minor issues that make us look silly and concentrate on big picture issues like factory farming and animal experimentation.

Luis Chiesa

What to do About our Non-Vegetarian (vegan) Loved Ones

my freezer, 7:26PM (It's not my fault!)

my freezer, 7:26PM (It's not my fault!)

I always struggle with how to deal with my non-vegetarian (vegan) loved ones. On the one hand, I love them to death and don’t want to alienate them by continuously explaining to them the immorality of some of their food choices. On the other hand, I feel that I have a moral obligation to let them know how I feel and to at least try to get them to make food choices that are morally acceptable.

As you would expect, this becomes a big problem during holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Trying to convince someone to stop eating meat when s/he  has had turkey for both holidays for the last thirty years is a daunting task.

In my case, the problem is compounded by my Puerto Rican roots. As anyone who has visited the island knows, meat (usually factory farmed) is an essential part of the Puerto Rican diet. Trying to convince a Puerto Rican to give up eating “lechón” (roasted pig) during the holidays is close to impossible.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to deal with this problem by doing two things. First, I explain to my loved ones why I decided to become a vegetarian and why I strongly believe that our food choices have significant moral implications. Second, I try to do what I can to influence their food choices. The latter is particularly difficult to do, as I’ve noticed that the only thing that seems to (sometimes) change my loved ones eating habits is asking them to at least buy meat that is humanely raised. In essence, I ended up adopting an incrementalist approach to the problem.

Has it worked? Partially. I think that my loved ones are more aware about the moral implications of their food choices than before. They also try to buy meat and egg products from free ranging chickens. On the other hand, I just checked my freezer (see picture above), and there’s still meat there, and I suspect some of it is not humanely raised (I didn’t buy it, in case you’re wondering….).

I’m curious to know how the readers of the Animal Blawg deal with this issue. Any suggestions/anecdotes/comments/pictures of your freezer are welcome.

Luis Chiesa

It Depends on the Cheeseburger

David’s post on the morality of food choices is generating an important debate. What spurred the discussion was David’s assertion that “[a]s a matter of intellectual consistency, it makes no more sense to decry animal cruelty while eating a cafeteria cheeseburger than to condemn racism while attending a lynching”.

I also find it problematic to condemn animal cruelty while feasting on a Big Mac. The problem is one of hypocrisy. It reminds me of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard arguing against gay rights while simultaneously engaging in homosexual behavior. If expressions of moral condemnation are going to carry weight, they ought to not only be uttered but also lived by. Thus, people who truly believe that factory farming is morally unjustifiable should  stop eating factory farmed products. Otherwise, they’re complicit in the very behavior they’re condemning. This is both morally objectionable and strategically ineffective.

On the other hand, whether it’s objectionable to decry animal cruelty while eating a cheeseburger may very well depend on the cheeseburger. Many animal advocates believe that it’s possible to be a responsible omnivore. It’s unclear, for example, whether eating non-factory farmed meat that was humanely raised is morally objectionable. Thus, I’m not ready to state that David’s hypothetical cheeseburger eating animal advocate is being hypocritical if the meat he was eating was humanely raised.

This is not a minor quibble. If I’m right, a person may justifiably decry the horrors of factory farming while simultaneously arguing that his willingness to eat a (humanely raised) cheeseburger should not be dismissed as mere hipocrisy. One must not forget that that although there seems to be a growing consensus regarding the wrongfulness of factory farming, there is no such consensus with regard to the wrongfulness of eating humanely raised meat (putting aside, of course, the thorny problem of defining what counts as “humanely raised meat”).

- Luis Chiesa

Kristof on Animal Rights

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an Op-Ed column by Nicholas Kristof on animal rights. The piece is titled “Humanity Even For Nonhumans”. Here’s an excerpt from the column:

“In recent years, the issue [of animal rights] has entered the mainstream, but even for those who accept that we should try to reduce the suffering of animals, the question remains where to draw lines. I eagerly pushed Mr. [Peter] Singer to find his boundaries. “Do you have any compunctions about swatting a cockroach?” I asked him.

“Not much,” he replied, citing reasons to doubt that insects are capable of much suffering. Mr. Singer is somewhat unsure about shellfish, although he mostly gives them the benefit of the doubt and tends to avoid eating them.

Free-range eggs don’t seem offensive to him, but there is the awkwardness that even wholesome egg-laying operations depend on the slaughtering of males, since a male chick is executed for every female allowed to survive and lay eggs.

I asked Mr. Singer how he would weigh human lives against animal lives, and he said that he wouldn’t favor executing a human to save any number of animals. But he added that he would be troubled by the idea of keeping one human alive by torturing 10,000 hogs to death.

These are vexing questions, and different people will answer them differently. For my part, I eat meat, but I would prefer that this practice not inflict gratuitous suffering.

Yet however we may answer these questions, there is one profound difference from past centuries: animal rights are now firmly on the mainstream ethical agenda.”

You can read the rest of the column  here.

- Luis Chiesa

Taking Animal Advocacy Seriously (Part 1 of 3)

Why is it that serious people sometimes don’t take animal advocates seriously? I believe it has to do with the sort of claims that animal advocates sometimes advance. Take, for example, my post on the value of human and animal life. The position I defended there – that it is, all things being equal, more wrongful to kill a human being than to kill an animal – is accepted by most people as uncontroversially true. Many animal advocates also believe that this proposition is sound (e.g. Peter Singer). As the comments to my post reveal, however, some animal advocates consider that claiming that human life is more valuable than animal life is speciesist. Putting aside the merits of the speciecism objection (I think it’s unfounded), I believe that defending this sort of claim does more harm than good to animal advocacy.

The people we need to convince in order to achieve meaningful reforms that will alleviate or eliminate animal suffering are understandably concerned when they hear claims that seem to suggest that factory farming is as wrongful as the Holocaust or the genocide in Rwanda (if taking animal life is as wrongful as taking human life, it follows that killing animals en masse should amount to genocide or a crime against “humanity”). I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with factory farming or that those who engage in this awful practice should not be condemned. I do believe, however, that we alienate people when we defend arguments that would lead to accepting the dubious proposition that the owner of Tyson Foods is as worthy of condemnation as Hitler, especially when the truth of the claim that animal life is as valuable as human life is by no means self-evident. This is the type of argument that we can do without if we want more people to start taking animal advocacy seriously.

- Luis Chiesa

Uncoupling Circuses and Cruelty

If you follow the news and care about such things, then you know that the long-awaited circus trial has begun.  In brief, Ringling Bros. circus must defend against charges that its use and (mis)treatment of exotic animals in its care violates the Endangered Species Act.  Plaintiffs include the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Fund for Animals.  Among the acts alleged to violate the law include using of bullhooks to “train” elephants to perform stunts that have absolutely nothing to do with their typical behavior, chaining them continuously when they are not performing, depriving them of natural habitat and adequate exercise, and more.  Some of the activities that the circus argues constitute necessary training or discipline seem just plain vicious. A verdict against the circus would be a huge legal victory, with significant changes in the way animals are used in travelling entertainment shows almost certain to follow.  Read more about the trial and accompanying issues here, here, here and lots of other places as well.

I have not blogged extensively about the trial in part because it is so well-covered elsewhere.  However, the issue of circus animal treatment has been around for a long time and it would be nice if the media’s gaze could expand to include some of the anti-cruelty efforts going on at the local and grass-roots levels.  For example, last week, I met with the Committee to Ban Wild & Exotic Animal Acts – a group comprised of people in the Westchester community lobbying for legislation that would bar businesses using wild and exotic animals in their performances from county facilities.  This group and others like it, both in Westchester and elsewhere, have had some significant legislative successes (including ordinances in the towns of Greenburgh, NY, Stamford CT, and Quincy, MA).

People working at the local level often face hostility and/or indifference from their friends and neighbors, and their work–even when successful–goes unheralded.  That’s too bad.  Like most institutionalized animal abuse, exotic animal acts are market-dependent. Without venues in which to perform, companies devoted to such endeavors cannot long survive.  People like those in the Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts are working to starve the beast of animal exploitation.  Regardless of the trial’s outcome, such groups deserve our attention and support.

dnc

Update: Check out this article on two of the members of the Committee and their efforts on behalf of the circus animals.

Hot Off the Email: National Institute for Animal Advocacy

I know nothing about this organization.  Can anyone fill us in?


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