Progress at the Cost of Our Humanity

Seth Victor

The New York Times this week published an investigation into U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and, perhaps predictably, the results are disturbing. I heartily suggest reading the whole article, but for those in a rush, here are some of the interesting takeaway points:

  • U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is pioneering ways to produce meat more efficiently and cheaply via re-engineering farmed animals through surgery and breeding techniques
  • In pursuing this research, animal welfare has taken a backseat. For example, since 1985, 6,500 out of the 580,000 animals the center has housed have starved. 625 have died from mastitis, an easily treatable infection.
  • Nearly 10 million piglets have been crushed by their mothers each year, not because this is what mothers naturally do, but because they are being forced to have larger litters of weak piglets, and the mothers themselves are artificially larger, kept alive longer to reproduce.
  • For thirty-one years, the Center worked on genetically modifying cows to regularly produce twins, noting that single births were not an efficient way to produce meat. By injecting cows with embryos from other cows that birthed twins, and then injecting them with semen from bulls who sired twins, the Center produced cows that have a 55% chance of having twins, when naturally the chances are 3%. Many of the female calves of twins are born with deformed vaginas, and the artificially large wombs create birthing problems even for single calves. Over 16% of the twins died.
  • Thirty to forty cows die each year from exposure to bad weather, not including storms, in which several hundred more die.
  • 245 animals have died since 1985 due to treatable abscesses.
  • In 1990, the Center tried to create larger lambs by injecting pregnant ewes with an excessive amount of male hormone testosterone. Instead, the lambs were born with deformed genitals, which made urination difficult.
  • In 1989, the Center locked a young cow in place in a pen with six bulls for over an hour to determine the bulls’ libidos. The industry standard is to do this with one bull for fifteen minutes. By the time a vet was called, the cows hind legs were broken from being mounted, and she died within a few hours.
  • The scientists charged with administering the experiments, surgeries, and to euthanize do not have medical degrees. One retired scientist at the Center was quoted saying, “A vet has no business coming in and telling you how to do it. Surgery is an art you get through practice.”
  • “The leaner pigs that the center helped develop, for example, are so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce; center scientists have been operating on pigs’ ovaries and brains in an attempt to make the sows more fertile.”
  • Regarding oversight, “A Times examination of 850 experimental protocols since 1985 showed that the approvals [for experiments] were typically made by six or fewer staff members, often including the lead researchers for the experiment. The few questions asked dealt mostly with housekeeping matters like scheduling and the availability of animals.”
  • “The language in the protocols is revealing. While the words “profit” or “production efficiency” appear 111 times, “pain” comes up only twice.”

Continue reading

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Newsday’s Filler Lacks Substance

Ed Pekarek

A member of Long Island’s Newsday editorial board, Lane Filler, authored an attempt at a troll droll column recently, which effectively endorsed the slaughter of American horses as food. The aptly-named columnist posits in absolutist and seemingly libertarian terms his Fillerosophy, chock full of crass cracks about the slaughter of sentient horses.  According to Filler, only those who oppose all consumption of animals as food may ever morally oppose the destruction of any animal. Anything short of that, at least according to Filler, is mere hypocrisy.

2horsesThe Fillerosophy is stated as follows: “when the subject of eating the animals we deem too charming to chew comes up – around the grill, among people who happily consume some animals but not others – the hypocrisy can be harder to stomach than a poodle-and-potato pie when the poodle hasn’t been marinated right.” Filler’s sophomoric hyperbole is telling; many horses are raised closely with humans, often perceived as part of a family and loved. He glibly notes he does not “want to eat dog. I’m pretty sure if I did, Rosie, my Boston terrier, would find out about it, and give me the look. I don’t want to eat cat, although they give me the look regardless, nor monkeys nor dolphins nor any fish species that’s ever had a featured role in an animated film.” However, he detours before taking a position whether it is inappropriate in this nation (or any other) to serve dogs and cats as entrees.

Sure, some horses in the U.S. are raised to perform work, whether to plow, or herd, race or jump, or even dance in dressage. However, the idea that highly-intelligent species so closely connected to humans may be slaughtered (and abundant evidence exists, including through the USDA, that the killing of horses is done in a manner often causing substantial suffering, with some reportedly remaining conscious in the abbatoir as they are strung up by one leg and their throat is slit) poses a grisly threat to the opposition of killing any sentient creature for human purposes. Continue reading

Planet of the Hominids

WETA/20th Century Fox: The ape rebellion in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

ANDREW C. REVKIN  (x-post from Dot Earth

6:35 p.m. | Updated 

Last weekend, I took my two sons, 13 and 21, to see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which we thoroughly enjoyed on several levels. It’s a rousing slave revolt, an entertaining techno-thriller, a drama about a dysfunctional household (chimp included) dealing with disability and job-related stresses (in the conflicted genetic engineer played by James Franco). (Manohla Dargis liked it, too, as did my sons’ favorite critics, the team at Spill.com.

It’s also a film about the troubled relationship of Homo sapiens to its closest kin, the other species in our taxonomic family, the Hominidae. Abuses have occurred from the forests of the Congo basin and Borneo to the research centers of drug companies and universities.

In the realm of drugs and medicine, there’s certain research that can only be done on apes or other primates. Where does one draw the line, in terms of which research goals are lofty enough to justify killing or causing pain to animals. Are some animals too sentient for such uses?

Meat Without Slaughter

burger                                                                               photo by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

ANDREW C. REVKIN  (x-post from Dot Earth)
Can you have a hamburger without a slaughterhouse?  Michael Specter provides a fresh look at the prospect of growing meat in labs instead offeed lots and pastures in The New Yorker this week.

In a podcast accompanying the article, Specter acknowledges there is “ghoulish” aspect to “lab meat,” but notes that industrial-scale livestock husbandry is ghoulish, as well. He then ticks down the benefits, beyond the ethical one of having meat without slaughterhouses, if this technology can prove profitable. These include less demand for land and pesticides, fewer emissions of methane and more options for developing foods without harmful health impacts. Continue reading

In Poor Taste

Seth Victor

I’ve been meaning to comment about an article I read earlier this month. As NPR’s Robert Krulwich reports, a couple of innovators from the UK have created carnivorous machines. I think the article sufficiently captures the mix of awe and  horror at the development of furniture that derives its energy from consuming animals. Sci-Fi disasters aside, the idea of inanimate objects not just killing as a pest-removal system, but actually needing to “eat” to “survive” raises questions, namely, why?

I’m all for alternative fuel sources, but this is too much. First, as I understand the process from the video link, microbial fuel cells aren’t terribly efficient. Eight flies powering a clock for twelve days may sound impressive, but we are talking about

clocks, which don’t require a tremendous amount of energy. Stealing electrons from bacteria isn’t going to power a car anytime soon. Yes, animals (and some plants) can convert bio-mass into energy, but this is the only way they (we) have evolved to create energy. Ultimately most terrestrial life relies on solar energy, so why not just go to the source. Oh wait, we already do that. Continue reading

Do You Know What It Means for a Vegan to Miss New Orleans?

Douglas Doneson

No matter how many cups of Yerba Mate I drink or how many lamps I turn on (or off) to get the right lighting, I can’t focus on my law school work. After living in New Orleans for close to six years my body knows Mardi Gras is approaching. It knows I should be there. Anyone who has been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras knows that once the thought of Mardi Gras comes to mind, so many good memories are recalled and flow throughout the brain.

One memory that always comes to mind is the amazing food New Orleans has to offer.  This is a funny thought for me because I am vegan. I actually stopped eating meat, while working at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans in 2007. But for some reason when I think about New Orleans, food is always the first thought that come to mind. Not surprisingly, New Orleans has a pretty small selection of vegan restaurants.  One of my favorite qualities of New Orleans, its stagnancy, is also its worst enemy.  Continue reading

Thinking About Pigs

Bruce Wagman

Pigs have been on my mind a lot lately.  Years ago I met several of them at the Farm Sanctuary home in Orland, California, and while I already had appreciated their complex personalities and emotional lives, getting to spend time with them changed the knowledge to revelation.  We sat on a riverbank with Gene and scratched pig bellies in the sun and watched them playing, eating, lounging.  The grunts of joy and doglike behavior was notable from the guy I was petting.  He was halfway onto his 1000-plus pound back, grunting and snuffling while I rubbed and cooed to him.  That day, probably fifteen years ago, has never left me, and my love of his species was further informed by my visits and introductions to the great pig friends I have made at Animal Place.  They impressed me as a thoughtful, prescient, and extremely playful bunch; eminently curious, very thoughtful, and wise. 

That’s a great image but mainly, for the past ten years or so, when I think of pigs, I think of mother-torture.  From dealing with the issues and cases, I now have, seared in my mind, images of “gestation crates” or “sow stalls,” those confinement technique weapons of cruelty that the modern pig meat industry utilizes for commercial efficiency, while simultaneously robbing their pigs of every sense of being an individual, a pig, a mother.    A select group of female pigs are chosen, presumably for their genetic superiority, to be turned into living machines who are repeatedly impregnated until they are worn out and wasted by the industry and then thrown out like so many pounds of trash.  During their lives they go from gestation crate (while pregnant) to farrowing crate where, after giving birth, they are placed so that their young can suckle but cannot otherwise interact with their mom, who is again kept on a concrete slab inside bars, in an area that is usually slightly smaller than the mother, so that she not only has to lie in her waste, but she is also pushed into metal bars 24-7.  Pigs in these confinement situations suffer in pain from the lack of exercise and movement, and experience psychological damage from the lifetime of deprivation and denial. Continue reading