Uncertain Future for SeaWorld

Nicole Geraci

SeaWorld Killer Whale Show One WorldWhile controversy has long surrounded human-orca interaction, the recent release of the documentary “Blackfish” has sparked considerable outrage amongst its viewers.  The film captures the history of killer whales in captivity with its spotlight on Tilikum, an orca who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 and transported to SeaWorld.  “Blackfish” also portrays the tragic 2010 incident of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau who ultimately lost her life after being dragged underwater by Tilikum, the events of which were witnessed by a live audience.

In response to the trainer’s untimely death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration imposed a $12,000 penalty (reduced from an original $75,000 fine) on SeaWorld.  The pending litigation involves the general duty clause of the OSHA which requires employers to provide “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  The issue is whether SeaWorld has in fact violated this duty.  SeaWorld filed an appeal contending that it should not be required to eliminate all risk associated with an activity that is essential to the company’s work.  Labor officials have responded with safety requirements in which SeaWorld trainers would be ordered to work behind barriers or maintain safe distances between themselves and the whales, which according to SeaWorld, would undermine their shows.  Continue reading

Buddhist Inmate Denied Vegetarian Diet

Seth Victor

The Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution in Uncasville, CT is required by directive to provide “all nutritional requirements as determined by a Department of Correction licensed dietitian, without the presence of food items Veggie Fishforbidden by religious dogma” to all its inmates. Howard Cosby is a practicing non-violent Buddhist, and while not all branches of Buddhisim require a vegetarian lifestyle, Mr. Crosby identifies as a person who wishes to not cause harm to other living animals. Mr. Crosby, however, has regularly been served fish while incarcerated, because the department of corrections does not consider fish to be meat. Now to be fair, this position isn’t wholly out of line with the arbitrary classifications animals receive by the government. It is not, however, an encouraging example of semantics. If the Connecticut Department of Corrections has the authority to declare what is and is not meat, what is stopping it from saying cow or chicken is not meat? If the only criteria is its own opinion, the answer is, not much. One may think that common sense would intervene, but common sense hasn’t prevented the staff at Corrigan-Radgowski from confusing convenient Catholic loopholes with an entirely different doctrine. Now I know that once you are in prison you cease to be a person that the country cares about, your rights don’t apply, and as long as you stay out of sight it doesn’t matter how long your sentence is. But let’s at least learn what a vegetable is.

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

Bullfighting: Justifying Cruelty with Tradition

Spencer Lo

The judges on France’s Constitutional Council, a 9 member body, ruled yesterday that bullfighting does not contravene the constitution, rejecting a challenge by the animal-rights group CRAC who seeks to ban the practice nationwide. Although bullfighting is prohibited in certain parts of France, the tradition has remained popular in the south – particularly in the Nimes and Arles areas – for the past 150 years. Professor Diane Marie Amann offered a brief analysis of the Council’s ruling here. CRAC contended that an exception contained in the country’s criminal code which explicitly protected bullfighting—if it occurs in regions “where an uninterrupted local tradition can be invoked”—violates equal protection principles (“The law…must be the same for everyone, with respect to protection as well as to punishment”). In other words, because bullfighting is prohibited in some areas on animal cruelty grounds, the same practice should be prohibited everywhere, otherwise unequal treatment would result. Rejecting this argument, the judges affirmed the tradition exception as constitutionally permissible. But the decision raises the obvious question, what’s so special about tradition? Why should entrenched cultural traditions, however humanly significant, take precedent over the welfare-interests of animals?   Read more

Kansas State Fair’s Restrictions on PETA are Upheld

Image

Adonia David

It is state and county fair season.  Speaking as a born and bred Midwesterner, I can say that for many of us, there is a bit of magic associated with them. Fairs are hot summer days and evenings, cotton candy, roasted corn, and the sound of cicadas floating high above the tumult.  Fairs are ferris wheels and other scary looking rides set up by carnies overnight that look as though they may tumble to the ground any moment.  And fairs are animals.  Animals – the glory of a state fair: cows and calves and bunnies; goats and pigs; chickens of all shapes and sizes and plumage.   The animals are beautiful.  Many are gentle, hand-raised by children in 4H, and many of them are destined for slaughter.   Just what this death involves seems to be generally ignored by fair-goers.  It disturbs the magic. Continue reading

Meat by any other name would be as troubling

Seth Victor

Humans have been flirting with the idea of lab-grown, or in vitro meat for a while. We’ve commented about it previously here. PETA has a standing offer of a $1 million monetary incentive for the first successful synthetic meat that can find its way to supermarket shelves. Yesterday, FT Magazine ran a feature by William Little about a lab in the Netherlands that is poised to take the big step between the laboratory and the cash register, though that step is still years away.

As usual, many of the problems surrounding this concept have been revealed through humor. Thank you, Mr. Colbert. But it isn’t the public’s perception that I worried about as I read Mr. Little’s article. It’s the viability of this process. I’ve read articles touting the benefits of lab meat, including reduced pollution and less consumption of natural resources, if the process is profitable. I’m not arguing that replacing the CAFO system we currently employ for our meals isn’t admirable. I just question whether this is the way to do it, and if we aren’t just creating a new monster.

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Is PETA v. SeaWorld a Bad Idea?

Spencer Lo

 There is no question that, in the ordinary sense of the word, a great many non-human animals are slaves, forced to exist in extremely deleterious conditions to fulfill the wishes of their human masters. Most are untroubled by this fact—slavery over animals has been widely accepted in society for a very long time. Last October, in an effort to reverse this norm, PETA made a radical (some say outrageous) move. They filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas, creatures who have been forced to live in highly confined, unnatural environments, to their detriment, all for the purpose of performing cheap tricks. Their decades-long captivity, according to PETA, violates the constitutional prohibition against slavery (aka the Thirteenth Amendment).

While it may be common sense that the orcas are slaves, from a legal standpoint, PETA is asserting a very radical claim. Is it too radical? PETA is essentially contending that the oracas are full legal persons entitled to constitutional rights. For the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an organization dedicated to changing the legal status of non-human animals from “things” to “persons,” the move is too soon; the lawsuit “is dangerously premature” and “will damage future animal rights law cases” if it is decided on the merits. NhRP has been allowed to appear as an amicus curiae in the case, and is seeking to have it decided on non-constitutional grounds, rather than on the merits of the Thirteenth Amendment claim. The question then is why: why is failure on the merits so bad or counterproductive from the viewpoint of animal rights advocacy? Although PETA is unlikely to prevail, how could it hurt to try?   Continue reading

Elephant Death at San Diego Zoo Launches Calls for a USDA Investigation

Coral Strother

On the morning of November 17, 2011, Umoya, a 21 year old African Elephant, who was a part of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was found lying on the ground by zoo caretakers.  She had severe injuries and could not get up.  Umoya passed away before veterinary assistance could be provided.  Although the cause of death has not been determined and autopsy results could take weeks to come back, zoo officials believe the wounds were inflicted by an “aggressive interaction” with another elephant.

Umoya was born in the Kruger National Park and was one of the seven original elephants rescued from Swaziland in 2003.  In 2007, Umoya gave birth to a female calf, Phakamile, and in 2010, gave birth to a male calf, Emanti, which brought the San Diego herd now up to 18 elephants in total.  On the day Umoya died, San Diego zoo caretakers gave the herd time to mourn her death, something elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, are known to do.  Umoya stood out in the San Diego herd as being one of the most dominant females and as being the only elephant in the exhibit who walked backwards. Continue reading

Civil Penalties Assessed Against Feld Entertainment (Ringling Bros.)

Sarah Markham

A strong message of against animal cruelty has been delivered to the public, especially those who exhibit animals for profit, with the assessment of civil penalties against the Ringling Brothers.   On November 28, the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Field Entertainment, Inc., paid $270,000 in fines for violations of Animal Welfare Act pursuant to an agreement that have been reached with USDA.

The Animal Welfare Act requires that minimum standards of care be provided for animals exhibited to the public.  PETA repeatedly urged the USDA to take action against Ringling Brothers for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act.  In 2009, PETA led an undercover investigation to reveal “the saddest show on earth,” which included the exhibited animals being struck with bull hooks.  In August of this year, an elephant ‘stumbled’ according to Ringling Brothers, but an eyewitness believed the elephant collapsed when the handlers were moving her. Continue reading

Dolphins Dead Following Rave at Swiss Aquarium

Josh Loring

Police are investigating the deaths of two dolphins from a Swiss aquarium.  The dolphins died following a techno rave that was held at the facility earlier this month.  The first dolphin, Shadow, was found dead directly following the event, which led experts to suspect the cause of death was stress related due to the deafening music being played in close proximity.

It has been well documented that loud music is known to bother dolphins and other marine mammals in captivity who navigate by echolocation, which entails bouncing sonar waves off other objects to determine location, shape and distance.  The confined tank walls create an environment where the reverberations from their own sonar cause great stress.  Back in October, Senior Vice President of PETA, Dan Matthews, attended a fundraiser at the Georgia aquarium and witnessed the effect first hand.  While observing beluga whales, he witnessed one “squirming and twisting” more than the others.  He asked one of the aquarium staff members whether the music bothered them, which she replied, “Well, yes.  Especially the males―as soon as the music starts pounding, they go nuts and start attacking the harbor seals in the tanks.”  Continue reading

Workers Caught Harming Hens

More on the Sparboe mess…:

George Buchanan
  Sparboe Farms, which runs facilities in Colorado, Iowa, and Minnesota, that supply both Target and McDonalds with eggs, was dropped by the two companies due to animal cruelty. A group called Mercy for Animals filmed “hens crammed in crowded cages, workers burning beaks and one, trying to shove a bird inside the pocket of a co-worker, apparently for fun. Another worker presses his thumb against the back of a chick’s neck until it breaks

The egg supplier, Sparboe Farms, was also sent a warning letter earlier in the week by the FDA, which “found ‘serious violations’ after visiting five of the companies’ production facilities, including failure to have and implement a written Salmonella Enteritidis prevention plan and failure to prevent stray poultry, wild birds, cats and other animals from entering poultry houses.”   Both PETA and The Humane Society have complained, and released videos of the inhumane treatment that occurs at these poultry facilities in years past. But, perhaps with huge corporations such as McDonalds and Target pulling their accounts from egg suppliers, like Sparboe Farms, other suppliers will take notice and not only set standards that conform with anti-cruelty laws; but will also keep an eye on their employees to ensure the treatment that cost Sparboe Farms the lucrative accounts of McDonalds and Target, does not take place at their egg supplying facilities.    Continue reading

McDonald’s and Target Drop their Relationship with their Egg-Supplier, Sparboe Farms

Heather Schlemm

            Mercy for Animals revealed an undercover video of five egg producing farms in three states that both McDonald’s and Target purchase from. Mercy for Animals had its people hired at Sparboe farms and wired them with hidden cameras from May 23rd to August 1st to document the animal abuse occurring. Sparboe Farms is one of the nation’s largest egg suppliers and has facilities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado. Target Corp. was purchasing from the Litchfield Minnesota one and has now agreed to pull all eggs from this farm off its shelves. Target claims to have just been made aware of the facilities conditions and that is why they are immediately stopping their purchases. McDonald’s had purchased from the Vicent, Iowa plant for all its west locations and now says it will never work with Sparboe again. McDonald’s and Target released full statements on their decision to stop using Sparboe. Continue reading

The Slavery of Animals

Travis Brown

            People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is bringing suit on behalf of five orca whale plaintiffs against SeaWorld  this week in the United States District Court located in San Diego, California.  The suit, acknowledged to be unlikely to succeed, seeks to expand the boundaries of current animal rights. 

The basis of the claim is a rather progressive one.  PETA is asking the District Court to grant constitutional protection to the whales predicated upon the Thirteenth Amendment ban on slavery.  The group maintains that the Amendment does not solely apply to humans, and that the whales being kept within the parks and used solely for breeding and human entertainment is tantamount to such unconstitutional servitude.  Jeffrey Kerr, the general counsel for PETA stated that, “Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion.”

SeaWorld flatly denies any allegations of such slavery and stated that, “There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to [SeaWorld’s] care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment.”  Continue reading

University of Wisconsin is Violating the Honor Code, Oh and Animal Welfare Laws

Douglas Doneson

The University of Wisconsin has slipped a measure into the state budget bill by way of the University System Omnibus Motion. Item 27:

 Liability Protections for Scientific Researchers: Specify that current law provisions prohibiting crimes against animals would not apply to persons engaged in bona fide scientific research at an educational or research institution or persons who are authorized or otherwise regulated under federal law to utilize animals for these purposes.

Basically, the University does not want to follow Wisconsin’s Crimes Against Animal laws. The university is seeking these changes with absolutely no public discussion or debate.

According to the Cap Times, scientists at colleges and universities were granted these protections June 3 by the Joint Finance Committee in measure No. 27 in this omnibus motion, which deals mostly with UW System budget issues.  No. 27 is disguised in language which demonstrates UW’s new freedoms and flexibilities state campuses were awarded from state oversight.  This measure received no public review, comment or feedback. Continue reading

The Agribusiness Lobby Wins Again

Jacqueline McMahon

Well, there go the rights of farmed animals and whistleblowers in Iowa.  On March 17, 2011, the Republican-dominated Iowa House of Representative voted 65-27 to approve a bill criminalizing secretly recording factory farm practices.  Under the bill, House File 589 § 9, drolly named “Animal Facility Interference,” any person who produces, possesses or distributes an audio or visual recording of an animal facility without the consent of the owner is guilty of either a class D felony or aggravated misdemeanor.  The bill still has to pass through the Democrat-controlled Senate before officially becoming Iowa law, but with similar proposals popping up in other states including Florida, the idea of prohibiting these exposé recordings is picking up steam. Continue reading

“Petrie-Pork”: The Future for Meatatarians?

Rosana Escobar Brown

Test tube tacos, in-vitro veal parm, and beaker burgers—sounds like something more from a Jetson’s episode than from a leading science journal, but could it be for real?

Scientists have been developing lab-created meat for over a decade and now it seems as though this man-made meat might just become reality…someday.  PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) seems to think so also.  In 2008, PETA announced a “contest” on their website offering 1 million dollars in grant funds to the scientist who can create chicken meat that would be competitively cost effective on a grand scale and ready to market by 2012.  The funds have yet to be claimed and reader opinions regarding the PETA “contest” range from accepting, to skeptical, to belligerent.  Certain blogs on the topic fear the worst including unsafe food, and the source where cells are derived from.  One blog post even cries out that stem cells come from humans making the consumption of in-vitro meat akin to cannibalism.

Don’t fret just yet; the cells used to develop this man-made meat actually come from animals, not humans.  According to a recent article from Nature.com, a small biopsy is taken from the animal which is left unharmed; alternatively, embryonic stem cells would provide limitless supplies of meat but attempts at development have not been successful.

A research laboratory in Holland has shown the most successful progress in the field of meat-making and that is also where it is said that the only petrie-pork has been tasted on record.     Continue reading

North Dakota Measure 2 — Canned Hunting Contextualized

David Cassuto

There’s an odd debate going on within the North Dakota agriculture industry over Measure 2, which would ban canned hunting in the state.  On the one hand are those who support the measure because they believe canned hunts  reflect badly on the animal industry and also bring the threat of disease to livestock.  On the other side are those who say canned hunting is no different than other types of animal agriculture in that both businesses raise the animals for meat.   According to one measure opponent, “It would seem to me that the animal there is private property.  This (ban) is one step away from banning the slaughter of cattle, hogs and sheep, what have you.”      Continue reading

`Octomom´ Nadya Suleman is the New PETA Poster Child

David Cassuto

Nadya Suleman, the (now) self-described `Octomom,´ has a sign on her lawn urging us to heed her example and “Don’t Let Your Dog or Cat Become an Octomom. Always Spay or Neuter.”   Suleman, who had octuplets 16 months ago (in addition to her 6 other children) and has been struggling to make ends meet, placed the sign on her lawn at the behest of PETA and in exchange for $5000 and a month´s supply of veggie burgers.  She maintains that she is not doing it just for the money and that she loves animals and believes that they should be spayed and neutered.   “Humans of course are much different,” she notes.   PETA claims the arrangement is a `win-win.´   

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Justice for Sheep

David Cassuto

You know those signs in every restaurant bathroom you’ve ever been in that declare it against the law for employees not to wash their hands after using the facilities?  I want to live in a world where such signs are not necessary.  I want to live in a world where employees wash their hands irrespective of any statutory mandate.  A world where people know that good hygiene is its own reward.  Either that, or I want the statute to apply to patrons too.  Because doggone it, call me a socialist but I think everyone should wash their hands.

I also want to live in a world where there is no need to outlaw the killing of sheep by decompression.  Until I do though, my hat’s off to Wisconsin.  It’s illegal to kill sheep by decompression there.  Of course, that didn’t stop some faculty members at the University of Wisconsin (with support from the Navy) from doing it anyway.     Continue reading

Thinking About Animal Law

Bruce Wagman

Lately, I have been thinking about animal law almost constantly.  That has been the case for some time actually.  I’ve had the honor of being involved in the field for about eighteen years at some level, and pretty much had a full time animal law practice for the last five years.  I’ve been talking about animal law, reading about it, going to conferences and meeting the leaders in the field, and I have been privileged to participate in the national moot court competitions and work on a wide variety of cases.  Since I work it, live it and breathe it, I am also always talking about it.  I spend significant time explaining what animal law is – to other lawyers, to clients and to friends.  Being forced to describe and define it in ways that others understand, and so that they can get an idea of the scope of the field, requires some distillation.  Because at this point the field is expansive and has a variety of sub-specialties.  There are many lawyers who incorporate animal law into their practice and focus almost exclusively on one specific area within the field — companion animals, farmed animals, wills and trusts.       Continue reading

The Animated Fried Fish: The Latest Development in Animal Cruelty

Irina Knopp

Tired of those boring fish in the lake and that bland fried fillet you had at the local fast food restaurant? Well come on down to China and combine the two! Get the fun of torturing a live fish with the satisfaction of getting to eat it at the same time!

Sarcastic venting aside, a video has been circulating Youtube depicting a fish that was fried alive. The fish remains living for a few minutes after it is put on the plate. In the background you can hear the people at the table giggling as they poke the fish that is desperately gasping for air (or asking for someone to put it out of its misery?).   Continue reading

“BatManu”

Stephen Iannacone

On Halloween night, Manu Ginobili, a shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, swatted down a bat that got loose in the AT&T Center.  The bat had been loose for most of the game and after several failed attempts by the Spur’s mascot to catch the bat in a net, Ginobili got close enough to hit and kill it.  After the game, Ginobili said: “I didn’t think it was a big deal. Then the whole arena started chanting my name” and also referred to the bat as a “just a mouse with wings.”  The Spurs’ head coach noted, “He’s never ceased to amaze me the years he’s been here. … He just did it again.”  Some reports even suggest that this may be one of Ginobili’s “greatest athletic achievements” next to winning a gold medal in the Olympics and an NBA Championship.  Highlights on ESPN replayed the clip over and over in order to brag about his great reflexes.  Reports also say that the real burden is on Ginobili, because he now has to go through a series of rabies shots.  Does this seem wrong to anyone?  An entire stadium cheering over the death of a defenseless creature and giving praise to this person as if he has accomplished something great.

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Can U.S. v Stevens Bite Back?

Irina Knopp

barking_cartoon_dogI am currently working on a paper that looks at the case, arguments for and possible consequences of U.S. v Stevens. Recently, I’ve found several articles online suggesting that the statute in the case thought to promote animal rights in America could possibly hurt animal rights groups.

Rory Eastburg, author of the article “High Court to Consider Categorical Ban on Cruelty Images,” warns that animal rights groups should be very careful what they wish for because such groups often use film and images to expose the animal abuses that go on and the vague exemption for serious content in 18 U.S.C. § 48 may get them in trouble.

He states, “Many if not all films made by such groups falls squarely within the terms of the statute because they are recording unlawful treatment of animals.” Eastburg fails to explain how animal rights group videos/images would fall under the interstate commerce element of 18 U.S.C. § 48.

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You Would Never Raise Your Voice to Your Mother…

 Sandra Mekita

            Walking along a crowded Boston street, you can see people stopping abruptly in front of you – if you did not run into them first – glaring at the spectacle across the street in front of a McDonalds. There are five people with signs and bullhorns surrounding a person in a beakless chicken suit and another in a bloody cow suit. PETA was staging a demonstration in front of a McDonalds protesting their animal farming practices. Although this scene draw attention for a brief moment while people we passing buy, I never heard anything about it the next day, or any day following. There was no staying power in their message, in fact, I went into a McDonalds just days later…

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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

PETA’s Use of Women

PETA takes a lot of grief from the animal advocacy community and from feminists for its use of naked or sparsely clad women in its public events.  This blogger offers a contrasting view.  For my part, though I find the controversy surrounding PETA’s methods interesting and worth having, I worry that the resulting schisms in the animal advocacy community undermine the movement.

–David Cassuto

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

PETA and . . . Michael Vick

PETA continues to break new ground in the unusual approach to animal advocacy sweepstakes.  Apparently, Micheal Vick is in talks with PETA to become a spokesperson for the organization.  We can interpret Vick’s motives in a number of ways.  Perhaps he has rehabilitated himself and developed a love (or at least respect) for animals while in prison and now wants to help steer others toward the path of righteousness.  One might suspect, however, that since he has lost everything, is still young, and hopes to resume playing pro football, his reasons might smack more of opportunism than altruism.

Ultimately, I don’t know that it matters because [heaven help me] I think it’s a good idea.  First, Vick can reach a constituency that typical animal welfare PSAs don’t normally impact.  Second, he is bound to attempt to rehabilitate his image somehow; why not like this?  And third, I seriously doubt that the NFL will gauge whether to allow him back into the league based on whether he did volunteer work for PETA.  So heck; go for it, I say.

David Cassuto

UPDATE: PETA withdrew from these negotiations some time ago after learning that Vick had enjoyed putting family pets in the ring with fightingdogs.  According to a PETA spokesperson:

PETA believes that this revelation, along with other factors in the report, fit the established profile for anti-social personality disorder (APD), and we called on Vick to have a brain scan to help confirm this. People diagnosed with APD are commonly referred to as “psychopaths.” They are usually male, prone to lying and manipulation, often take pleasure in cruelty, and cannot feel genuine remorse, which frequently leads to recidivism.

See updated story here

Babies and Pigs in Diapers

cute_baby_pig_in_diaper_button-p145519727683822193t5sj_400Nadya Suleman, the California mother of 14 children, has said in a recent news interview that she is considering adopting a pet pig and/or a small dog.  PETA is urging Ms. Suleman to refrain.  According to PETA, a representative of that organization sent Ms. Suleman an e-mail dated April 27, 2009 (this is a copy, PETA says):

We’re writing to you today after reading an interview in which you said that you would like to buy a pig and a dog for your children. In today’s uncertain economy—and with all the demands that come with raising 14 children—we urge you to reconsider adding two more dependents to your family. Like children, pigs and dogs are intelligent, social beings with complex needs. They require a lot of attention, space, and exercise as well as a huge financial commitment.

You also said that you would keep the pig outside because of “the smell.” Keeping a pig outside and making him or her a playmate for your children—who do not understand a pig’s many needs and will only pay attention to him or her when it suits them—is not an acceptable way to treat an intelligent animal such as this.

I generally find PETA’s ads distasteful.  I don’t like the organization’s use of sexualized images of women in its ad campaigns (about which Ann previously has blogged; see, e.g., here).  I do admit, though, that I agree with the big substance of this particular communication: having pets or children is a big responsibility.  But in reading the PETA’s letter, I had a somewhat negative reaction.  Many thoughts swirl in my head.

Apart from the letter’s breezy “Dear Nadya” (followed by a comma, not a colon — a peeve of mine), its public judgment — of what I think should be a private matter — bothered me the most.  Yes, yes, the personal is political, the political is personal, etc. etc.  But still, isn’t it for each person or family or household to decide whether to welcome a companion animal?  For many animal rights activists, I appreciate that the answer is a resounding, “No,” just as for many opponents of abortion, it shouldn’t be for each woman to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term.

I agree that having 14 children does not seem to be a smooth route to health, happiness or financial security.  Adding a pig or a dog wouldn’t make that route any smoother.  But in the end, I would leave it to Ms. Suleman to decide.

The PETA letter doesn’t mention concerns about animal hoarding (an indication of a real psychological problem).  But there persists a way (blogged here) in which  of Ms. Suleman is viewed as an abnormal “hoarder” — first of children and potentially now of animals, as well.

-Bridget Crawford

(H/T Amanda Ambrose)

Abusing Animals and Language

Reports of animal abuse at industrial operations are so frequent that they attract less and less notice.  This recent abuse of pigs at an Iowa swine facility, revealed through a covert PETA video is but one of many such tragic instances.  And, of course, the facility reacted with shock and sadness that such events could and did occur at their operation, dedicated as it is to humane practices and a zero-tolerance policy with respect to abuse.  And, perhaps we should take an equally jaundiced view of the fact that some of the people allegedly involved in the abuse continue to work at the facility (see this story in the SF Chronicle).

I wonder if it is because I am so jaded and weary that a good part of my outrage stems from the fact that such facilities can call themselves “farms.”  When language degrades, behavior is swift to follow.  As our language shifts to accommodate the new realities of the animal industry, we must not lose the battle over the vocabulary used to describe it.

Orwell was right; words matter.  Sometimes they are all that does.

David Cassuto

What’s Wrong With Dissection Anyway?

CNN reported yesterday (http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/14/cutout.dissection.ap/index.html) that 19 year old Jennifer Thornburg officially changed her name to “Cutout Dissection.com” as a way of protesting animal dissection in schools. Her new name also attracts attention to her PETA sponsored website,  http://cutoutdissection.com/ . This story got me thinking about the wrongfulness of dissection. 

As one of the informational brochures distributed by PETA contends,  millions of animals are dissected in schools every year, including frogs, mice, rabbits, fish, worms, and insects. Obviously, I think there are good reasons to ban this practice. Thanks to technological advances, most, if not all, of the educational benefits that are reaped by dissecting these creatures can now be achieved by buying software programs that allow students to engage in virtual dissections.

It should be noted, however, that some organizations, such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), believe that the educational value of dissection sometimes justifies the practice. More specifically, the NTSA argues that dissection may be used by a teacher in order to help students develop skills of observation and comparison, discover the shared and unique structures and processes of specific organisms, and develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of life (http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/animals.aspx).

Assuming that dissection does help students develop these skills, would this be enough to justify the practice? In order to answer this question, I think that it is necessary to understand what is wrong with animal dissection in the first place. Dissection is not wrong because the very act of dissecting an animal is harmful to the creature. Since dissection involves cutting into a dead animal (if they are alive, then the process of cutting into the creature is termed a vivisection), this act is no more harmful to them than an autopsy is harmful to a human being. Thus, the wrongfullness of dissection stems not from the act, but from the unjustifiable suffering that is typically caused to animals that are destined to be dissected before they reach the classroom (they are, for example, sometimes kept in small cages and without food in unhygienic rooms for a considerable amount of time). 

If this is truly what’s wrong with animal dissection, those who – like me – are committed to reducing the amount of suffering that humans inflict on animals must ask themselves whether there are ways in which dissection could be justified. What if we only dissect animals who have died of natural causes? If the wrongfulness of animal dissection is the suffering inflicted by humans on animals before they reach the classroom, why would it be wrong to dissect an animal that died as a result of a natural process? Furthermore, assuming that earthworms don’t have the capacity to suffer, why would it be wrong to dissect them? (BTW, I’m aware that the question of whether worms suffer is controversial. There is evidence tending to demonstrate that they don’t – http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/29405/story.htm – but the jury’s still out). 

Although I’m not sure how to answer these questions, I still think that dissection should be banned from the classrooms. Even if it’s unclear whether dissecting earthworms or animals that have died of natural causes is morally objectionable, why do so if computer simulations provide roughly the same educational value? When in doubt, I’d rather experiment on a computer than on an animal.

Luis Chiesa

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