The Ethics of Culling Wildlife — More News from GEIG

Dateline Florence (I just like saying that), where the Global Ecological Integrity Group Conference continues:

One of today’s speakers — an ecologist from Australia — asked: When is it ethically appropriate to cull wildlife to reduce the disease threat to humans?

While I am pleased that such questions get posed, they raise predicate questions which seldom get asked.  For example:

1) Is reducing the disease threat to humans an objective good?

2) If so, how much are we willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it?

a) I.e., are we willing to likewise ask when it is ethically appropriate to cull humans to reduce the disease threat?

3) What criteria do we use to ethically differentiate ourselves from wildlife?

Please understand that I am not advocating for a policy of culling humans.  I rather wish to question the ethical predicates underlying the culling of animals.

People often assume that this set of questions stems from and is founded on a philosophy of animal rights.  I believe that they first and foremost arise from environmental ethics.  Indeed, I wonder how we who embrace the Land Ethic can avoid shouting them from the rooftops.

–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

Talking Factory Farming and Vivisection in Florence

I’m in Florence at the moment and, when not gawking at the Duomo, am attending the annual conference of the Global Ecological Integrity Group (GEIG).  This conference offers a good venue to talk to my fellow enviros about animal issues.  The audience tends to be receptive, albeit sometimes skeptical — just the kind of folks I want to reach.  Indeed, one attendee told me today that after hearing me speak on ethics and agriculture 3 years ago at this conference, he became a vegetarian.

Today, I spoke on the distorted notion of efficiency within industrial agriculture and the implications of that distortion for a post-industrial risk society.  Once again, the questions were thoughtful, probing and rigorous.  One questioner, however, was an archetype.  Even though my talk was about industrial agriculture, she wanted to talk about animal testing.  Then, during the break, she again approached me — this time with the cliched question about what I would do if my child were sick.  Would I, she wondered, support animal testing to save his life?  I said,  “sure.”  She looked triumphant until I also said that if my child were sick and someone told me experimenting on her would save his life, I would support that too.  The fact that I would do virtually anything to protect my child does not necessarily have any bearing on the morality of my actions.

She was unconvinced.  I wonder if anyone has any techniques for reaching out to folks like this.  She’s a neurobiologist who conducts animal research because she believes in its necessity.  She is utterly certain of the moral rightness of her position.  I do not flatter myself that I can convince her of anything but I would like to get her (and others like her) thinking about other points of view.

–David Cassuto

Proposed Ban on Exotic Animals in Westchester Hits Wall (of Legislators)

elephantThis past Monday, at the invitation of the Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts, Michelle Land and I attended a meeting of the Legislation Committee of the Westchester Board of Legislators.  We were there to testify in favor of proposed legislation banning USDA certified “dangerous” animals from county property.  Such a bill would effectively deny circuses that use wild and exotic animals a venue in Westchester County.  For some time, the group has been attempting gently but persistently to interest the legislature in the horrific treatment of and concomitant danger to public safety from wild animals used in traveling entertainment (like circuses).

Much has been written (see, e.g., here) about the brutal methods employed in the “training” of circus animals.  I have also touched upon it here.  As a result of both this mistreatment and the fact that “wild” animals are just that, the animals are unpredictable and on an number of occasions have caused injury either to their handlers or bystanders or both.

Sadly, none of this moved the Legislation Committee.  Mrs. Hanneford, owner of the Hanneford Circus (an annual visitor to Westchester) soliliquized about her love for the animals and how she would never tolerate their mistreatment.  She did acknowledge employing Tony Frisco, a legendarily brutal trainer of elephants whose casual sadism has been captured on video.  However, Mrs. Hanneford stated that he must be okay because the USDA cleared him of all charges.  As for the tape documenting his deeds, she declared that she had not and would not watch it because he had not been charged with a crime.   Consequently, according to her, the animals are treated “correctly.”

The Legislators tabled the bill.  Despite the presence of the Bronx Zoo 15 miles away, one legislator maintained that the circus represented the “only shot” for many kids to see these animals.  Other members agreed and/or felt that this was a discretionary matter best left to the county executive or the federal government.

All in all, it was a bewildering afternoon.  Nevertheless, the battle is not lost.  The Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts remains steadfast and unbowed.  The fight continues.  Stay tuned.

–David Cassuto

Pennsylvania State Legislator Fights for Animal Cruelty Bill

ear cropThomas Caltagirone, Chair of the Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, authored an animal cruelty bill that is currently languishing in the Senate even though it passed the House unanimously in March.  The bill would outlaw ear cropping and “debarking” of dogs.   Mr. Caltagirone is tired of waiting.   He has declared that no one else’s bill will cross his transom until the Senate acts on his.  None.  Since he chairs a rather important committee, his threat carries significant heft.  I will look forward to and hope soon to hear about the bill’s forthcoming passage.

One rarely finds politicians willing to go to the mat for animals.  It is therefore a privilege and a delight to salute those who do.  Bravo, Representative Caltagirone.  Bravo.

–David Cassuto

Geese and Airplanes — Is Extermination the Answer?

Guest Blogger Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Pace Law School.  June 22, 2009.

This is my first contribution to the Animal Blawg.  I mentioned to my colleague, Prof. David Cassuto, that I was somewhat troubled by recent stories about how Canadian geese are being managed at LaGuardia Airport following the “double bird strike” which brought down US Airways Flight 1549 in January 2009.  Under New York City’s plan, up to 2,000 geese will be relocated and destroyed (largely gassed) during their June and July molting season, when they can not fly.  The ostensible reason is that the geese constitute a public health hazard.

The latest update on this story was posted just hours ago in USA — see

The stories surprised me.  However, quick research revealed that aggressive geese management is quite common.  According to the USA Today article, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Wildlife Services rounds up geese every year from golf courses, parks and other locations where landowners or cities ask for help. In 2008, the agency killed 14,041 geese in 43 states.  Permissions must be obtained for such removals, as Canadian geese are migratory birds, protected under state and federal law.

Given that this process concerned me, so I did some looking into alternatives to extermination.  The one that comes up most frequently is “egg addling” which involves removing adult birds from their nests and covering their eggs with oil. The adult birds continue to sit on the nest for two to three weeks, but the eggs do not hatch since the oil prevents respiration of the developing embryo. I’m not sure this is a satisfying alternative, since it involves disrupting a natural process for the geese.

So, I am left pondering.  We have too many geese . . . how do we manage them in a responsible and respectful manner?

Antibiotics in Your Organic Lettuce and Other Tales from the Factory Farm

I’m writing a piece about CAFOs and climate change for the Animals & Society Institute, which, as you might imagine, is not a cheerful pursuit.  Still, even with all my carping about antibiotics in animal feed, I had not realized that vegetables like corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when fertilized with livestock manure.  Usually, one hears about antibiotic transmission through meat and dairy products.  I was even more disturbed to learn (all of this from the Environmental Health News) that eating organic offers no protection — though, given the way USDA organic certification has been canted in favor of Big Food, I should have guessed.

This information about contaminated produce comes from a 2005 University of Minnesota study where researchers planted corn, scallions and cabbage in manure-treated soil and a similar 2007 study on corn, lettuce and potatoes. In each case, the crops were found to contain antibiotics (chlortetracycline and sulfamethazine, respectively).

The reason organic certification offers no protection lies with lack of USDA restrictions on using manure from animals treated with antibiotics.  Since 90% of the drugs administered to these animals gets excreted in their urine or manure, which then gets spread on soil used to grow vegetables, the vegetables absorb the antibiotics.  Eventually, so too do we.  According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, animals receive over 25 million pounds of antibiotics each year in the United States.

Recommendations abound to mitigate the problem, although none have so far been implemented.  Some mitigation strategies offer significant cause for concern.  For example, some suggest high temperature composting, which can reduce antibiotic concentrations significantly.  However, it has no effect whatsoever on concentrations of sulfamethazine, a commonly administered drug.  Such proposals terrify me because, even if implemented, they will not fix the problem while likely giving Big Food a free pass to continue using antibiotics indefinitely.

Don’t get me wrong; I favor high temperature composting. It’s part of any sustainable agriculture program and one of many steps necessary to combat climate change.  However, it will not solve the antibiotic problem.

The solution to this particular problem is simple: Ban subtherapeutic antibiotic use in agriculture, much as Europe did in 2006.  The status quo is incredibly dangerous, both to humans and the environment at large.  A ban represents a straightforward solution that no one in this country with any juice will entertain.

Big Food argues that the drugs are necessary to its continued operation.  Even if that were true (which it is not — the National Research Council estimates that a ban on subtherapeutic antibiotics would increase per capita costs a mere $5-10/year), so what?  Industrial Agriculture brutalizes billions of animals in indescribable ways and forms one of the chief sources of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 (methane) and N2O).  It also causes widespread environmental degradation and disease, including the swine and bird flu.  I’m hard pressed to come up with a reason why its continued existence should be a national priority.

–David Cassuto

Free Speech at the Margins — ALDF and Animal Law Profs File Amicus Brief in U.S. v. Stevens

In U.S. v. Stevens, the Supreme Court will decide whether a federal law forbidding depictions of animal cruelty violates the First Amendment.  Suzanne first blogged about the case here.  ALDF and animal law professors from all over the country (of whom I am one) recently filed an amicus brief in this case.  One of the issues before the Court involves whether the Court’s 1993 holding in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, striking down a municipal ordinance banning animal sacrifice (primarily because it targeted the Santeria religion), stands for the principle that animal cruelty cannot rise to a compelling state interest.  We argue that it does not.  I have written about the Lukumi case at some length and you can find it here.

I will have more to say about the Stevens case in the near future.  In the meanwhile, here’s a good post from ALDF.

–David Cassuto

Misplaced Activism?

I found the trailer for The Cove the other night while browsing the You can find it here.  I’m encouraged that this is on the front page of the trailers page; it gives me hope that it might been seen by more people than it would if it were advertised only in independent movie houses (though how wide the release will actually be, I am not sure).  Wide exposure appears to be the hope of the film makers, based on their comments in the trailer. The catch is that getting an American audience to pay attention isn’t really the point. Yes, exposure is important, and creating concern is an essential part of the animal rights movement. Unless, however, it goes to the next step, where voters put pressure on Congress to restrict trade with Japan in retaliation for the dolphin hunt, is there much point?

This slaughter already had decent media exposure in 2007 when Hayden Panettiere took part in an attempt to stop an annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Wakayama, Japan, the target of The Cove. The Japanese media criticized the event as a condemnation of their culture. It’s a fair point, actually. I don’t support dolphin slaughter, but we as Americans are being rather hypocritical (how unexpected), denouncing the Japanese hunt, but allowing subsistence whaling and pouring tax dollars into factory farming of both mammals and fish. Once again, we are arbitrarily conferring elevated rights to a species because of their intelligence or “cuteness,” while blindly suppressing and torturing the lives of terrestrial farmed animals in this country.

I intend to see The Cove when it is released at the end of next month, and it will probably make me sick with rage. It is rated PG-13 for “disturbing images.” I can only imagine. If nothing else, it will be a great look into the efforts animal rights advocates have to take simply to show what is being done to animals, even if they are not interfering. Whether it will have the impact it hopes to achieve, however, is another story, and I am not sure it will be received well, or even seen, by Japanese audiences, which is where the real exposure is most needed.

–Seth Victor

Duck Liver, Bob Herbert and the Plight of the American Worker

Zoe Weil does a fine job taking Bob Herbert to task for his cavalier dismissal of the plight of the ducks at an upstate NY foie gras facility.  Herbert concerns himself with the exploitation of the workers at the facility — which is all to the good.  But he gratuitously dismisses the gruesome existence of the ducks imprisoned there — ignoring the obvious connection between cruelty to the workers and cruelty to the animals they work on.

–David Cassuto

Industrial Agriculture and What NOT to Read During Summer Vacation

Washington State University assigned Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to all incoming freshmen as required summer reading.  The idea: to spur a debate about industrial agriculture and its impact on American society.  Great idea, right?  I guess not.  Citing “budget constraints,” the university has withdrawn the book.

According to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (pay site, but you can get a cheap day pass…), not everyone buys the administration’s explanation for this turnabout, especially since the university had already purchased 4,000 copies of the book.

The article notes:

“What we were told is that when the committee picked The Omnivore’s Dilemma, because of the politics of the agriculture industry, we would not be having a common reading, and that President Floyd decided that this was not a battle he wanted to wage,” said one person who had knowledge of the program and asked not to be named because of fear of job loss.

Jeff Sellen, an instructor at the university who sat on a committee in charge of implementing the reading program, says members of that panel were told “we could not call it a ‘common reading.'”

“I think that was important because it would be less official and would maybe fly underneath the radar,” he says. “It was obvious that it was political.”

I don’t know what the reason(s) were; I only know what I read.  But I sure wish those Washington State freshmen were reading this book…

–David Cassuto

Agriculture Exempt from Carbon Caps Under Waxman-Markey

Anyone who was hoping that the climate change bill currently making its way through Congress would have any significant impact on global warming should read this post at Grist.  As the bill currently reads, agriculture is exempt from any carbon caps (despite a carbon footprint exceeding that of the transportation sector).  Yet, Big Ag and its Congressional pals (including House Agriculture Chair, Collin Peterson) are looking to gut it still further.

Since a bill that excludes one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases from any cap or regulation is functionally useless, I’m left wondering what all the fuss is about.  Congress seems to think that baby steps will help here.  I guess they will — the same way opening an umbrella will help slow a free fall.  Me, I was hoping for a little more.

–David Cassuto

New Peer Review Format at Pace Environmental Law Review

I have mentioned before that, in my view, environmental law and animal law are inseverably linked.  In the spirit of bridging the counter-productive gulf between between the two disciplines, I note the following announcement from the Pace Environmental Law Review:

Pace Environmental Law Review is

Raising the Bar with

Peer Review

As of August 1, 2009, Pace Environmental Law Review (PELR) will use a new Peer Review process to select articles for publication.  Submissions will be reviewed internally and then forwarded to a select group of Peer Reviewers – academics, practitioners, and

experts in the field, including members of Pace Law School’s world-renowned environmental law faculty.  The Peer Review process will offer new and distinctive opportunities to foster continued debate and reflection upon some of the most pressing

topics within the field of environmental law. Articles selected for publication will benefit from:

  • Expedited editorial processing of 8 to 10 weeks from acceptance.
  • Single-article hard copy publication.
  • Inclusion in a bound volume distributed to PELR’s wide-ranging list of subscribers.

All articles submitted to PELR must be original scholarship and not previously published.

Established in 1982, PELR was one of the first scholarly environmental law journals.

We invite authors to submit articles either via ExpressO or directly in either MSWord or

PDF format to the PELR Development & Acquisitions Editor at

for more information please visit our website at

–David Cassuto

Animal Law in New York

Guest Blogger: Stephen Iannocone

It seems that animal law is beginning to evolve in the state of New York. While animal cruelty has not been on the same level as a mere traffic violation for quite some time, New York Law continues to move in the right direction. New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law even defines situations in which aggravated animal cruelty, when intended to cause severe harm, can break through the confines of a misdemeanor to be considered a felony. But the question now becomes: to what degree is the state of New York applying these laws? The answer to that question came in 2005, when the crime of animal cruelty became a finger-printable offense pursuant to New York’s Criminal Procedure Law §160.10. This means that animal cruelty is put on the same level as all other felonies and misdemeanors under New York Penal Law, but is this enough? While the people committing these acts of cruelty may not take the offense seriously, it appears that New York Law has taken a step in the right direction. The next step is educating law enforcement about these laws and the seriousness of these crimes like other states and town precincts have already have begun to do.

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

The Underbelly of Horse Racing

8bellesSummer Bird won the Preakness yesterday.  So, perhaps now would be a good time to revisit the world of thoroughbred racing (Luis first posted about it here).

A Few Basic facts:

– Horse racing is a $4 Billion industry

– racehorses weigh over 1000 pounds, but have been selectively bred to have smaller legs – you do the math

– over 3000 horses have died at the track in the last five years

(read more here)

The most prevalent race horse injuries that result from the actual race are bowed tendons, knee injuries, bucked and split shins, and various other bone fractures. These injuries are usually critical, often ending in euthanasia (more here).

From PETA’s website:

“Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,” commented one reporter.

There are trainers pumping horses full of illegal drugs every day,” says a former Churchill Downs public relations director.

Which drugs are legal varies from state to state, with Kentucky holding the reputation as the most lenient state.

According to the The New York Sun, because “thoroughbreds are bred for flashy speed and to look good in the sales ring … the animal itself has become more fragile” and that “to keep the horses going,” they’re all given Lasix (which controls bleeding in the lungs), phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory), and cortiscosteroids (for pain and inflammation).

The trainer of Big Brown, the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, openly admits to giving his horses Winstrol, a steroid that is illegal for equine use in 10 states, although not in the three that host the Triple Crown. Before it was banned in Pennsylvania, nearly 1,000 horses were tested for steroids and more than 60 percent tested positive.


In light of the above, I could do with fewer equine encomia and more oversight and regulation of the industry or — better still — less of the industry.

–David Cassuto

h/t Joe Edgar

More on Cows and Climate

fart_cow_1Following up on the post below, this article in the NYT bears a look.  Some in the dairy industry (e.g. Stonyfield Farms) are experimenting with feeding dairy cows green plants instead of corn to see if it lowers their methane output.  Guess what?  It does.

Cattle fed alfalfa and flax emit less methane than those fed the industrial ag diet of corn and soy (apparently most of the emissions come from burps rather than the other… — who knew?).  Guess what else?   Cows that eat food that they can digest naturally also live longer than those who eat grain.

I suppose I should rejoice that the dairy industry has begun examining such issues but I am too busy worrying about the likelihood that dairy and beef cattle production will double over the next three decades.  As the article mentions, the cattle industry already poses more of a threat to the atmosphere than cars and trucks combined.  Somehow, I don’t think alfalfa and flax are going to solve this little problem.

–David Cassuto

Agriculture, Climate Change and the UNFCC

The International Federation of Agricultural Producers has produced a declaration addressing the role of agriculture in both causing and potentially mitigating climate change.  The document bears reading in its entirety both for what it says and for what it does not.  It advocates creating a framework for carbon sequestration and for increased access to and better technology for the most vulnerable members of the agricultural sector.  The declaration also acknowledges the significant role of agriculture as an anthropogenic source of greenhouse gases (13.5%).

It does not, however, mention industrial farming — a significant and worrisome omission — though it does discuss the need to make agriculture more efficient.  The latter statement, while true, sails perilously close to the deceptive rhetoric of Big Food.  Unless accompanied by specific recommendations, this type of assertion could send next December’s United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) meeting in Copenhagen hurtling toward the abyss.

–David Cassuto

Week-Long Series at Slate on “Pepper the Stolen Dog Who Changed America”

Slate features an important, fascinating, and disturbing  tale of dog who was kidnapped from her home in Pennsylvania and made the subject of a grotesque series of experiments (which I will not dignify with the adjective “scientific”) by Ivan Pavlov (of “Pavlov’s dog” fame).  First article in the series is here.

–David Cassuto

Fish Feel Pain; Now What?

fishhookGuest blogger: Elaine Hsaio

One of the most common arguments for not eating meat is animal suffering, but this rationale all too often stops short at recognizing the pain of other beings.  Common example: pescatarianism.  Fish don’t feel pain or experience suffering, so we can continue to eat fish despite having given up meat because big brown cow eyes and screaming pigs break our hearts.  A recent study published by Applied Animal Behaviour Science, indicates that not only do fish feel pain, but physical experiences of pain actually alter their future behaviors:

So, if fish feel pain, does that change things?

Maybe a few pescatarians might reconsider their position, but those looking to continue justifying their dietary choices tend to respond with the question – What about plants, do they feel pain?  Touche, so become a Jain.  More power to you if you have that kind of discipline and are lucky enough to live in an environment that’s still healthy enough to sustain you.  Or can transcend geopolitical borders to follow migratory seasonal harvests, but few on this planet hold such golden passports.

So if that’s too difficult, then consider what’s necessary.  From what I understand, homo sapiens have (one of) the most diverse diets on this planet (we can consume a greater variety of things than most other species for our energy and subsistence).  And supposedly we have consciousness, civilization and free(ish) will.  So, I can choose what to subsist off of….and I know that I can obtain my sustenance – vitamins, proteins, all that good stuff – from a solely flora-based diet.  Not true of a fauna-based diet.  Oftentimes, it is also possible to harvest from plants in a way that you can’t from animals, i.e. you can take parts without killing the whole.  Many of those parts would separate of their own means anyway, maybe to nourish the Earth….or maybe to nourish me.

Either way, plant or animal, food needs to be rethought….we are over 6.7 billion mouths to feed and growing.  Malthus bodes mal….

The Continuing Impact of Proposition 2

In the wake of Prop 2, lawmakers in California have apparently been bitten by the animal protection bug.  Legislation is working its way through both chambers that would ban tail-docking of dairy cows, ban importation of eggs from out-of-state facilities that use unacceptable battery cages, abolish large-scale puppy mills, and increase the penalties for poaching wildlife.   There are also initiatives afoot in Maine and Ohio to ban veal and gestation crates and we may soon see a similar initiative in New York.  Full story here.

–David Cassuto