Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beware of the Vegan Police!

Let me open by saying that most of the vegans I've gotten to know since I became a vegan a year ago are the salt of the earth. They're great people. They're kind. They're reflective and thoughtful. They care about the world, about making compassionate decisions, and - most importantly - about the well being of animals. It's a wonderful and vibrant community of kindred spirits. I am proud to be a part of it. What I'm about to say here is not applicable to them.

Oh Lord, I do get tired of the Vegan Police.

The Vegan Police is a term used to describe vegans who tend to be overzealous and take it upon themselves to make sure that other vegans are following the rules. Because they've never done anything wrong, because they've never fallen off the wagon, and most importantly, because they're so damn cool, they have appointed themselves as Vegan Enforcers, making sure that North America's infinitesimally small vegan population falls into line and does everything - absolutely everything (no exceptions!) - by the book. And if any vegans are caught making mistakes, it's crucial that they be outed.

You know the type of people I mean.

"If you do X, you're not a true vegan." "If you do not do Y, you're not a true vegan." "Whatever you do, do NOT do Z! Real vegans never do Z!"

You'd better not feed your cats non-vegan cat food.

You'd better not slip on your old leather shoes to go out in the rain.

You'd better... Oh, you get the picture.

I have a couple of Facebook friends (I won't name names) who fall into the category of Vegan Police. These well-meaning folks will occasionally appoint themselves Judge, Jury and Executioner in order to decide who's the real deal and who isn't.

All I can say is: It must be exhausting to be in the Vegan Police. I don't know how they do it. There simply aren't enough hours in the day for me to become a "Vegan Monitor," making sure that everybody who claims to be a vegan lives by the strenuous rules and regulations that I lay out for them.

I chatted with a vegan friend once who lamented what he called the "Vegan Gestapo." Frankly, I haven't run into anybody so heavy-handed that I'd use the label "Gestapo" to describe him (or her). But certainly, I have come across some people who ought to be considered part of the House UnVegan Activities Committee.

Sometimes I wonder whether there is a "Vegan Police Academy," where the righteous go for extensive training to figure out who needs to be rooted out for lacking sufficient purity.

One of my favorite vegan cookbook authors is Sarah Kramer of Victoria, British Columbia. Her books are filled with wonderful recipes and great insights. Check out her Website at Go if you get a chance. Sarah often says in her cookbooks, on her Blog and in interviews that she does not want to be the Vegan Police. As she told one interviewer:
Being vegan is a very personal choice for me and I try my best not to be the Vegan Police. I prefer to live by example and hopefully my vegan choices will rub off on the people around me and will raise their consciousness a little so they'll start making cruelty free choices. But I do have some friends who are dog lovers. They would lay down in front of a car for their dog, but they still munch away on fried chicken or steak. The connection they have for one animal and the disconnect they have for another fascinates me and frustrates me all at the same time. So I try my best not to judge (because that does nothing) and instead to gently encourage. We all have a path to walk and some of us are faster than others.
All vegans would do well to take a page out of Sarah Kramer's book. Well, not literally (because her books are so wonderful, I prefer to leave all of the pages in them). But you know what I mean. As a historian, I've studied countercultures and subcultures in United States history, and a common thread I've found is that each one contains very zealous types who like to make sure that everybody else in the group is adhering to all of the rules.

I don't know why some people feel the need to do this. Sometimes I think the policing types are so into monitoring the actions of others because they project their own weaknesses and insecurities onto other people. It is like homophobia. Ever notice the worst homophobes seem like they're closet homosexuals trying to violently repress that side of their personality? I imagine that a lot of Vegan Police have a real hankering for a piece of chicken or a slice of old-fashioned pizza or a dish of ice cream or some other delicacy made of animal products. They project their cravings onto others and become Vegan Commissars.

Of course, I'm talking about a very distinct personality type - definitely a minority within the vegan community, which is a minority within the vegetarian community, which is a minority of the North American population. As I've said before (and I'll say it again and again and again, until I'm blue in the face), most vegans I know are extraordinarily wonderful people, and what I'm saying now is not applicable to the overwhelming majority of them.

Still, the Vegan Police are a very vocal minority and it's impossible to miss them. My concern about the policing types is that their rigidity may frighten off possible converts.

Rather than policing the tiny vegan community, we should focus on the real offenders - the factory farmers, the fur traders, the foie gras racketeers, etc., etc., etc.. Ours is but a little homestead in a sea of animal exploitation, and the last thing it needs is a sheriff. Or worse yet, an entire police force!

* * *
Please note: The image used above - "The Vegan Police" - is from a T-shirt used by the wonderful folks at the Ruby Ranch Pig Sanctuary (see their Website here!). This T-shirt is reminiscent of one of my favourite shows, Dragnet, starring Jack Webb. The kind-hearted folks at Ruby Ranch do all kinds of wonderful work with pigs. Please support them! Interestingly, I found it by going to Google Images and entering "Vegan Police." It was one of the first things that came up. They are very graciously allowing me to use the image here. In return, I'd like to praise them for the extraordinary work they do and encourage you to visit their Website. There are so many wonderful animal sanctuaries across North America, and Ruby Ranch is one of the best!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Drawing attention to the tragic fire in Iowa

Thousands of pigs perished in a huge factory farm fire in Deep River, Iowa, on Sunday, October 24. Surveying the ghastly rubble after the fire, Gene Baur, the president and co-found of Farm Sanctuary, issued a moving statement. Here is a highlight of his response to the massive tragedy:
For those unfamiliar with modern agricultural practices, it can be difficult to wrap one’s brain around such a massive loss of life. Driven by profit, the pork industry crams thousands of animals into dark warehouse-like facilities with little regard for the health and well-being of the animals. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a special closeness with a cat, dog or other companion animal, knows how heartbreaking the loss of just one animal’s life can be. Multiply that devastation by many thousands and you will begin to understand the urgency of addressing the cruelty inflicted upon animals on factory farms. Pigs, like all farm animals, possess the same feelings and sensitivities as cats and dogs, and they deserve the same consideration. (Source)
After the smoke cleared and the fire crews left, it was estimated that between 2,000 and 2,500 hogs perished in this horrific fire. This loss of life was both catastrophic and - for those tragic pigs caught in this blaze - horrific and painful beyond belief.

This fire comes in a year when there has been an epidemic of factory farm fires across North America. Blazes have erupted in the United States and Canada. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of animals have perished in one of the most horrific ways imaginable. One of the most staggering of these fires occurred at the Ohio Fresh Eggs Farm in Ohio in March, which killed a staggering 250,000 hens. (Source.)

These fires also come at a time when numerous traffic accidents on highways in Canada and the United States have claimed the lives of countless animals.

On Monday, 40 cattle perished in a truck collision near Galesburg, Illinois. The scene was one of utter devastation, as the Galesburg Register-Mail noted:
Twelve Galva firefighters worked 10 hours lifting, moving, loading and directing traffic in the hard winds and rain and even in a tornado watch that was issued for Henry County.

A truck rollover outside of Toronto in early October killed 81 pigs. (Source.) In mid-October, another truck rollover, also near Toronto, killed at least 16 (probably ultimately more) cattle after a truck carrying 80 young cattle flipped over. (Source.)

These are but a few of the accidents that claim the lives of factory farm animals all the time. Not only is the system itself deadly and violent and based on the systematic assembly-line slaughter of sentient beings, but the creatures who are ultimately killed for their meat must live short, miserable lives, filled with violence and with no laws to protect them.

The tragedy of all these accidents is that they could have been avoided.

And I don't mean they could have been avoided by enacting tougher safety measures that would've protected the lives of these animals (although those certainly would've helped).

No, I mean they could've been avoided - should've been avoided - because we do not have the right to be murdering these animals, whether we do it for food or allow these beings to become the victims of unsafe conditions that are part and parcel of the factory farm system.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Good news: Hunting may soon be banned in Israel!

The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that hunting might soon be banned in Israel. According to the Post, a bill banning all hunting was recently approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, the government body that must screen all bills going before the Knesset. Right now, there is a list of animals in Israel that receive "protected species status" and therefore cannot be hunted. If this bill is passed, "nearly all animals would receive that status," notes the Post.

Of all the world's countries, Israel has been leading the way in the fight for animal rights, and this law would be yet another major breakthrough on behalf of animals. Over the years, Israel's Nature and Parks Authority has been refusing to grant additional hunting permits, and the number of Israelis with these permits has dropped from 6,000 to 2,000.

This could be a major victory.

"We praise the advancement of the bill, which includes banning sport hunting in Israel," said the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. "Development pressures already do a lot of damage to nature and therefore there isn't room anymore for sport hunting. There is a unique and rich biodiversity in Israel and it is our responsibility to protect it rather than damage it through unnecessary activities."

The bill, said the Post, is expected to go through swift passage in the Knesset.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bless Whitney Hillman, a heroine for our times...

I realize my last post on the massive animal extinction that is likely to occur in the not-too-distant future was quite grim. The news can often be very depressing. And there are times when it is impossible - downright impossible - to put a positive spin on a piece of information. Sometimes there is no "looking on the bright side."

But then sometimes you hear about a simple act of heroism that helps restore your faith in humanity.

Sixteen-year old Whitney Hillman (pictured left, with her chicken "Chicklett") is a real heroine for our times.

A high school junior (or in Canada, we would call her a "Grade 11 Student") at Concordia High School in Concordia, Kansas, Hillman made headlines earlier this month when she ran out of her high school carrying an assignment for her class.

The assignment was to slaughter a young chicken, who Whitney has since named Chicklett. As part of an assignment for her "Animal Science and Food Production" class, Whitney was supposed to take a chicken she'd been raising for six weeks, slaughter the animal and eat him.

The Kansas City Star offered a very dramatic play-by-play account of the events leading up to the Chicklett's life being saved:

Chicklett soon grew from a science project to a pet. He liked to be held and petted. She cleaned up his messes and weighed him every week. Whitney knew there was no way she could ever help the chicken cross to the other side.

As slaughter day, Oct. 11, approached, she ran the chicken breakout plan past her mother and stepfather. They went along, her stepfather even agreeing to be the wheel man.

During lunch that day, Whitney sent a text to her stepfather to green light the caper. At fifth hour, she got to the classroom before the other students, snatched up Chicklett from the cage and took off, ditching school for the first time.

“Later that day, I took Whitney back to school to turn herself in,” said her mother, Kristina Frost. “I told her, ‘This is farm country. I’m glad you’re strong.'"

Whitney Hillman was given two days' suspension for saving Chicklett's life, but she doesn't care. She is just happy that Chicklett is alive and well and enjoying the blue sky and sunshine at a beautiful farm in an undisclosed location, the way all animals are meant to live. Thanks to Whitney, Chicklett is happy and healthy and living the good life.

One can hear the cynic: "What difference does it make? Only one chicken was saved. How is that going to change anything?" There is no denying the fact that the overwhelming majority of chickens - damn near all, in fact - end up living short, miserable lives in dark spaces, lives that end violently. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 9,075,261,000 chickens were killed in the United States alone in the year 2008. More than 9 billion chickens per year equals 24,863,729 chickens killed per day. And that's just in the U.S.! (Source.)

That is staggering, when you think about it.

So why does it matter that Whitney Hillman saved her one little chicken?

The answer is: It means the world to that one chicken that someone had the courage to act on his behalf.

And it matters because a brave young woman who wasn't an animal rights activist, a vegan, or a militant protester, decided to take action out of a deep heartfelt compassion she felt for a weak and vulnerable animal. She could've gone through with the assignment and the world would've never known. Another chicken would be dead. One more statistic to add to all those billions.

The simple heroism of Whitney Hillman is so inspiring because it speaks to us at a deep level. We are all responsible to help animals. We owe it to them. We may not be able to stop the horrific slaughter of living, breathing, sentient beings overnight, but we can commit small acts of kindness and compassion, and each time we do, a little light flickers on in the darkness. A life is saved. An animal is given another chance. A small victory has been won. And millions and millions of small victories add up to a huge victory.

But enough of my preaching. I'm going to let Whitney Hillman have the last word. Just before she "chicken-napped" Chicklett, she left a beautiful note at her school explaining her reasons. It is so moving, I'm including an excerpt here:

“If you were told to cut off (a pet’s) head, pull off its fur, clean out all the guts, bag and freeze the meat and take it home for your family to enjoy, what would you do? Please don’t judge me on grounds of bad behavior, but on love and empathy for another living being.

“I will gladly accept any punishment. I will not apologize.

“I will not be telling where my chick is, but he is safe.”

Bad times for the world's animals

The International Union for the Conservation of Animals (IUCA) released some very disturbing findings today. The IUCA keeps a "Red List" of 25,000 species of threatened animals. Of those animals, a fifth of all of them - mammals, amphibians, birds, reptiles and fish - face extinction. Scientists have referred to his potentially gigantic wave of extinctions as the "Sixth Mass Extinction." In its four billion year history, Earth has witnessed five other mass extinctions. The last one wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. As the Guardian notes:

The Evolution Lost report, published in the journal Science by more than 100 of the world's leading zoologists and botanists, found that populations of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species had declined by an average of 30% in the past 40 years.

Threatened animals include tigers, Tasmanian devils, blue whales, mountain gorillas and Galapagos tortoises, to name a few.

Is there any hope? Yes, says the report from the IUCA, but it will involve extensive conservation efforts around the world. If those efforts to not begin, the waves of extinctions will take a catastrophic toll. The paper commends governments, organizations and individuals who are leading the way in conservation and showing that good people - taking dramatic steps - can make a difference.

Professor John Baillie, director of Conservation Programs at the Zoological of London, explained, "This paper is proof that conservation is working. Now we have to match the unprecedented threats faced by the natural world." (Source.)

It is important to point out that rampant "free market" globalization, with minimal regulation - of the sort we've seen for the past twenty years - is taking a ghastly toll on the globe's animal population. The "free market" has never been very free when it comes to the world's most vulnerable beings, whether we're talking about people living in poverty or animals in crisis. It's worth quoting the above-mentioned Guardian article one more time in this regard:
The co-author of his paper, Paul Leadley of University Paris-Sud, France, said the trends demanded radical change. "There is no question that business-as-usual development pathways will lead to catastrophic biodiversity loss. Even optimistic scenarios for this century consistently predict extinctions and shrinking populations of many species."
That "radical change" is probably going to enrage the Captains of Globalization, and it will likely meet great resistance. But if human beings are going to redeem themselves, Step One entails rising above our long and pathetic history of unrestrained and unregulated greed, and making concrete and dramatic plans to save animals instead of destroy them.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The award couldn't have gone to a better person...

You gotta love Queen guitarist Brian May. Not only is he a rock 'n' roll legend, he's also a renaissance man who received a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Recently, May was given an award by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an international organization with branches around the world dedicated to improving the quality of animals everywhere. May has been heavily involved in such organizations as the Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue Center in Camberley, England, and he helped create the "Save Me" campaign to end animal abuse.

May was thrilled to receive the award from the IFAW. He made a powerful statement that was both eloquent and moving: "Fighting for the welfare of our wild animals is not a task that any of us want to have to do. We do it because these magnificent animals live, breathe, see, hear and feel pleasure and pain like we do, but they do not speak our language, so in the world of humans, they have no voice." (Source.)

May is also a vegetarian and he played a key role in the founding of a group called Animals Matter to Me. As May explained the group's purpose last year:
“Animals Matter To Me represents the biggest ever global animal welfare initiative, linking the entire animal welfare movement with ONE STRATEGIC GOAL: global recognition that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and suffering." (Source.)
It's hard to think of somebody who deserves this award more than Brian May. He brought so much joy to so many people for so long with his fantastic music. And now he's fighting on behalf of the voiceless. Bless him for all of his hard work.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

More reasons to go vegan...

If you can make it through this Animal Acres video without getting choked up, you're a stronger person than I am. It shows how animals are meant to live - in freedom, with fresh air and wide pastures and lots of trees - and it shows how so many of them end up living: Short, awful lives in the factory farm system and in other industries that manufacture animal products.

We can only hope the day will come when animals are no longer treated as commodities, as so many "things" that are factored into the bottom line of profit and loss statements of big businesses. Each one of these creatures, whether they're the tiny minority who end up at animal sanctuaries and spared from slaughter, or the ones who have their throats severed and the lifeblood drained out of their terrified, kicking bodies, is a precious creature that deserves to live a long, full life.

I will soon mark the one year anniversary of going vegan. Why did I go vegan? Because of animals like the ones in this video. They are beautiful. Each one is a poem. Each one is a living, breathing example of the sacredness and tenuousness of life. We humans have no right to kill them, perform tests on them, turn them into clothing, separate them from their loved ones, or eat their flesh or secretions or any other part of them.

I am not always convinced that the day will come when human beings wise up. But I am convinced that only the hard-hearted can look at a video like this one and not feel some sorrow, or flutterings of compassion, or perhaps even a sense of empathic rapport with the living, breathing, beautiful beings captured in these scenes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Battle lines being drawn: The struggle over puppy mills in Missouri

There's a battle taking shape in Missouri. It pits animal rights activists who are supporting a ballot measure known as Proposition B, which is designed to crack down on the state's notorious puppy mills, against John McCain's former lackey Joe the Plumber (a.k.a. Joe Wurlitzer-something-or-other), who, despite his phony horse shit "populism," pretty much loathes all living beings with salaries under a quarter of a million dollars.

Proposition B, according to the wonderful Baltimore Sun blog Unleashed,
would crack down on larger-scale dog breeders, prohibiting them from keeping dogs in wire cages, requiring kennels be climate controlled and that dogs have access to the outdoors. It would also force breeders to wait a healthier time before getting a dog pregnant again.
So why would these right-wing extremists hate such a humane law? For the same reason they oppose virtually all regulations, laws and reforms that protect the vulnerable and powerless. Because they detest those groups. According to Joe the Plumber, this is part of an evil conspiracy by the to destroy the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the ordinary folk of America. Here are some highlights from Joe's "analysis":

This bill is just a stepping stone. HSUS eventually wants to extend this law to ALL animals. Their idea of utopia is a United States with NO animal ownership; NO meat to eat; NO pets; NO hunting; NO fishing; NO service animals.”

“Even the extinction of our food industry isn’t the scariest part of this whacko liberal agenda. A law is only as good as it’s enforced. And HSUS is happy to fill the void. HSUS has now become the self-appointed law enforcement of the animal world. We have to draw the line and hold these radical animal rights activists back." (Source.)
There you have it, straight from the plumber's mouth. And once the HSUS takes over, we all know that America will become a nation of socialist-supporting, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, tree-licking, bird-watching, limp-wristed, Obama-loving pinko Muslims, forced to limit their diets to fruits and veggies. So long steaks. So long pork. So long ribs. So long barbecued chicken. Hello tofu.

But not all conservatives are jumping on the anti-Prop 8 bandwagon. St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who backed Glenn Beck's Restore Honor Rally and has supported the Tea Party and Arizona's tough immigration laws, is also an unwavering defender of Proposition 8. In this Blog, I've praised La Russa for his support of homeless companion animals. He has done wonderful work for cats and dogs, mainly through his Animal Rescue Foundation. La Russa is the perfect example of how some conservatives genuinely support weak and vulnerable animals.

Sadly, Joe the Plumber lacks La Russa's heartfelt compassion for animals. Joe is trying to make a comeback, an attempt to return to the limelight he so enjoyed back in 2008. We can only hope this descent into obscurity accelerates and his inane conspiracy theories lose credibility. The guy is such a dim bulb he makes Glenn Beck look bright.

As for Proposition 8, its passage will help a hell of a lot of dogs across the state of Missouri. No wonder Joe and his comrades oppose it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Addressing the symptom, not the root, of the problem

Above: English slaughterhouses exposed: 10 minute overview from Animal Aid on Vimeo.

The British group Animal Aid has spent years fighting for the welfare of animals in the UK's slaughterhouses. Their efforts have paid off. Thanks to their undercover videos, the horrific treatment of animals awaiting slaughter - including workers beating and kicking animals and carrying at least one sheep unable to walk in a wheelbarrow - has been exposed to the public and resulted in a widespread outcry for reform. According to The Guardian (October 8, 2010), the government is "calling on nearly 370 slaughterhouses in Britain to install surveillance cameras to help enforce legislation against cruelty to animals, following a controversial campaign run by animal rights activists."

The success of this reform owes everything to Animal Aid, a terrific organization, founded in 1977, that has waged many a noble battle on behalf of the animals. They deserve praise for their efforts. They've worked hard for more than thirty years now to improve the treatment of factory farm animals. Animals are better off because of their efforts.

That said, placing video cameras in slaughterhouses misses the point. The worst part of the slaughterhouse is not the pig that is kicked in the stomach, the cow that is not properly stunned, or the diseased sheep thrown into a wheelbarrow and wheeled to the floor to have her throat cut. No, the worst part of the slaughterhouse is the slaughter itself. The worst part of the slaughter is severing the cartoid artery or the jugular vein of the cow or sheep or pig. The worst part of the slaughter is standing back and watching the life drain out animals, whether they happen to be stunned or fully conscious and kicking fiercely.

True, it is better not to torment an animal on his or her way to death. But what really needs to be changed is the mindset that tinkering with the system and improving conditions in factory farms and slaughterhouses will somehow address the root of the problem. Abusing animals is not the root issue here. The root of the problem is the belief that it is moral and appropriate to murder living, breathing, feeling, sentient beings. As long as this level of ultra-violence forms the basis of the slaughterhouse, then no matter how many video cameras are installed, no matter how many pieces of legislation are passed, no matter how many people sing the praises of "happy meat," nothing - nothing whatsoever - will change.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Animal Rights & Human Rights: Different Sides of the Same Coin

Last year, Gary Francione wrote a powerful essay comparing struggles for Human Rights to the fight for Animal Rights. It appeared on his terrific Website/Blog called The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. Even though he wrote this piece more than a year ago (on May 8, 2009), I'm drawing attention to it because his Facebook group, Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights mentions it (if you're on Facebook and you haven't joined the group, please do). At one point in his essay, Francione writes that
it is a mistake to see issues of human and animal exploitation as mutually exclusive. On the contrary, all exploitation is inextricably intertwined. All exploitation is a manifestation of violence. All discrimination is a manifestation of violence. As long as we tolerate violence of any sort, there will be violence of every sort.
He goes on to argue, very persuasively, that the same violent tendencies and ways of thinking that perpetuate human rights abuses are also behind violence against animals. It's a terrific response to those people who attack animal rights advocates for not focusing sufficiently on human rights.

On Francione's Facebook page, I posted the following follow-up message:

This is yet another superb commentary by Gary Francione. I might add the slightly less charitable fact that most of the critics who accuse animal rights activists of being indifferent to the suffering of human beings are not themselves human rights activists. Most of the committed human rights activists I know have no problem with animal rights activism. In this case, the accusers are rarely the kind of people you would find supporting Human Rights Watch or protesting against human rights abuses at home and abroad.

By contrast, a number of animal rights advocates (and I count myself in this category) have also worked in the human rights movement. I think it's important to assess the accusers and their background. Most of them are simply anti-vegan, anti-animal rights, and the whole "you care more about animal rights than human rights" argument turns out to be an intellectually lazy way of bashing those of us who advocate on behalf of veganism and animal rights.

Human rights and animal rights, as Francione points out, cannot be separated. They are part of the same struggle. It is interesting that those parts of the world where the worst human rights abuses occur, you are much more likely to find terrible and widespread instances of animal abuse happening too. Countries that treat people horribly usually lack laws or regulations to protect their animal population. The end result is that people and animals are abused. By contrast, those parts of the world where people prize human rights and have good track records also often treat their animals more respectfully.

Without doubt, you'll inevitably run into a few malcontents in the animal rights movement who feel intense loathing toward the human race. This isn't terribly surprising when you begin to survey the lengthy and tragic panorama of humans abusing, exploiting and carrying out violence against animals. Even a brief exposure to the shocking treatment of animals by the human race is enough to make one feel ashamed of our species.

But antipathy toward the human race is not the way to go. Just as there are violent people who exploit and brutalize and murder animals, there are also kind and compassionate souls - like Gary Francione and countless others - who care very deeply for animals. We would do well to remember all of our brothers and sisters who are out there making a difference, using the tools of creative nonviolence and veganism to build a better world. Sadly, the moment we forget that animal rights and human rights are inseparable, our ability to feel an empathic rapport with all living beings starts to diminish.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

... and the Minks Who Weren't so Lucky...

Yesterday, I blogged about the thousands and thousands of minks set free from mink farms in Ireland and Sweden. The critics of animal rights activists will inevitably assail the liberators in this case as "terrorists" and "irresponsible." Some of the minks released were, in fact, hit by cars on busy roads and now the minks have to fend for themselves outdoors.

But in case your wondering about the unfortunate minks who weren't liberated, please watch this video about a mink farm in Germany. Horrifying though it may seem, this film depicts the typical treatment of minks in these ghastly businesses, from what I understand. Films such as this one are not easy to watch, but they are necessary. Even if you think you have an idea of what happens on these farms, you actually do not until you see this video.

Some of those minks freed in Ireland and Sweden will no doubt be killed by oncoming vehicles or other hazards, and the minks may also feed on chickens and other farm animals. But had they remained in those death factories, there would have been only one outcome for them. They would be skinned - many of them alive while it is happening - and turned into coats for people who either have no idea or simply do not care about the suffering their choices are causing.

It's a terrible racket. It's organized crime, when you think about it. The minks deserve better. Being liberated from their cages is not the solution. Outlawing this kind of mass murder of living beings, creatures with feelings that form bonds with one another and do not deserve to die in such a horrifying fashion, is the necessary first step.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Escape of the Minks

In two countries, Ireland and Sweden, thousands and thousands of minks escaped impending death at mink farms after being released into the wilds. Five thousand minks were set free in Ireland. Of those, more than 100 were captured in traps set by hunters. Associated Press reported that hundreds more were hit by vehicles on nearby busy roads in County Donegal. (Source.) Connie Anderson, a director at Ireland's Anderson's Mink Farm, believes the minks were set free by animal rights activists. As Anderson put it: "These people are animal liberation terrorists and had no thought for the mink or the damage that will be done to other wildlife in the area." Bernie Wright of Ireland's Alliance for Animal Rights shot back:
We have nothing to do with it. However, I commend whoever risked their freedom to do this as these animals have a horrendous life.
An even greater number of minks escaped in Sweden - 17,000 in total - from a farm in Skillingaryd in the southern part of the country. News reports mention something about a busted lock on the cage. (Source.) The minks were valued at $1.2 million U.S. As was the case in Ireland, nobody's taking credit for the freed minks in Sweden. There had been demonstrations outside of the breeding farm earlier in the year, but Swedish animal rights groups aren't fessing up.

Critics of the animal rights movement will probably not miss this opportunity assail the "irresponsibility" of militants in liberating these animals (although it's still unclear that activists had anything to do with these mass releases). No doubt they'll thunder on, self-righteously, about how awful it is to let minks run free. But, whether you approve of these tactics or not, there is no denying that these minks have been given a second chance. And whatever happens to them out in the big, wide, and sometimes dangerous world, one thing is certain: They won't be turned into fur coats for vain and inhumane human beings who can easily find other ways of keeping warm.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Factory farms: Monstrously immoral institutions

For those who have any doubts about how monstrously immoral factory farms really are, I invite you to read the Erik Marcus's brilliant analysis on the Vegan. com. Marcus was prompted to write this analysis by reports from a North Carolina factory farm that a failure in the ventilation unit resulted in the deaths of 60,000 chickens. He also notes a similar equipment failure that took the lives of 3,800 pigs last year. Marcus refers to these gargantuan charnel houses very appropriately as "Factory Farm Ghost Ships."

A highlight from Marcus's column:
At issue is the fact that, by their very design, factory farms are intended to run on autopilot. Between water pumps, feed conveyors, ventilation fans, and so forth, everything is in place to keep tens of thousands of animals alive unattended for weeks or even months at a time. There’s often consequently no financial reason to keep a single employee on the premises, for the sake of guarding against something going catastrophically wrong. It makes no financial sense, since it’s cheaper to simply purchase insurance that would cover the cost of dead animals, in the event of a catastrophic equipment failure.

I am sick to death - absolutely sick to death - of reading about another factory farm that caught on fire (there have been so many that have burned down this year, I've lost track); or another factory farm where equipment failure led to thousands of deaths; or stories of trucks hauling factory farm animals to their deaths that overturn on freeways and the animals - already overcrowded in the backs of these trucks - are crushed to death or released onto the highways and hit by oncoming motorists. At the end of September, a transportation truck carrying 729 pigs across Ontario crashed (allegedly due to the driver going too fast) and 334 pigs were killed in the accident, another 30 were later euthanized. (Source.)

This is the factory farm system in a nutshell. Pack 'em in, get them on the assembly line, move them through the murdering process line as fast as possible and get 'em out to market.

But suppose these kinds of accidents never happened. Suppose there were no equipment failures, no instances of animals getting scalded alive, no overpacked trucks turning over on the freeway, no animals being kicked and punched and beaten, no tragic tales of suffering and agony. Suppose every factory farm endeavored to treat their animals well, made sure each one was comfortable, and adhered to all of the proper laws and procedures involved in what some might dub "humane slaughter." Suppose all of these things were the case and the factory farm system were as ideal as it could be.

Even if there were an iota of humanity in this system, which there isn't, it would still be an immoral system - profoundly immoral - because its very foundation is the murder of sentient beings whom we - as humans - have no right to imprison, exploit and destroy. Let's not lose sight of the fact that tinkering and reforming the system is not going to work. Dismantling it completely is the only solution.