Keeping Our “Animal Victories” in Context

Hey all –

Just felt compelled to offer an observation about a recent news item.  As usual, I find myself cringing slightly, because I take no pleasure in the prospect of coming across like a snooty vegan abolitionist.  But hey…somebody has to do it, right?

Seriously, it seems that whenever there’s any kind of legislation, formal declaration or mainstream media coverage about the potential “improved treatment” of farm animals, everyone gets a hard-on, and all the pro-animal/vegan websites and blogs light up like the White House Christmas tree.

The latest case in point concerns a news item from across the pond.  Europe just announced that, in accordance to an article in the Lisbon Treaty, all animals, including fish and farm animals, shall be recognized as sentient beings.

For the record, the article states: “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Oh.  I see.  So you will continue to kill and exploit them, but just recognize that they are, in fact, sentient…as if this is some major news flash.

Sarcasm aside, the headline sounds promising.  “Cool,” one might say.  “This is real progress.  They are at least beginning to recognize that all of these animals are thinking and feeling beings.”  And with that, those who are in support of welfare causes might deduce that certain issues should be easier to argue to the legislators (and others) in the future.  But actually, I feel like this is just another in a growing collection of fruitless animal welfare mirages that have been getting a lot of eyeballs these past few years.

Yes – I’m glad when any entity declares the truth about something that they denied before…such as “animals are sentient beings.”  Yes – this is a step in the right direction in terms of how big industry might regard animals in the future.  And yes – I would agree that any time any of these welfare issues hit the mainstream consciousness, that consciousness has a chance to expand.  And I’m all for expanded consciousness.  However, this “expanded consciousness” often morphs into a collective sense of resolve, especially where many folks who are new to these issues are concerned.  What I have continued to witness, first-hand and otherwise, is a general consensus that goes something like this: “Great!  They are going to be treating animals more humanely!  We can now enjoy our burgers, omelets, chicken breast and milk, guilt free!”

This perspective is real.  I’ve seen this happen over and over with people who might have otherwise explored more plant-based food choices, once they were exposed to the truth about where their beloved animal products came from.  But all of this coverage, and all that it infers – combined with the kettle-banging endorsements of some of our biggest animal advocacy groups like the HSUS and PETA – create a context of end-game celebration.  Why focus on veggie burgers or soy milk when we can now have the “real thing?”

The saddest irony in all of this is that these supposed improvements are embarrassingly negligible in terms of how they truly impact an animal’s life.  And real change in factory farming?  Are you shittin’ me?  “Free range,” “cage free” and “humane slaughter” are all still unbearably cruel, and all of those animals involved with these processes are still going to die.  So, how in the hell will these gigantic, multi-billion dollar, corporate-based factory farm operations be able to make a difference…even if they wanted to?  They won’t.  Trust me.  For them to implement any significant change where the suffering of animals is concerned would cost way more than they would ever be willing to spend.  And even if they did, all of those animals are going to die, as well.

But all of this philosophical stuff still gets down to what it always gets down to, and that is this:  What do YOU believe is right, and how do YOUR current diet and lifestyle choices align with your deepest convictions?  Again, my gig here is not to try and impose my beliefs on you, to judge your choices, or to jump on any kind of “anti” bandwagon.  My only intention is to instigate an internal dialogue where you bring your own choices under closer scrutiny, based on pure reality.  That’s it.

So What Do You Really Believe?

So here’s our take-away for this entry.  What do YOU believe?  I understand that many people feel differently about various issues, and I’m not trying to box anyone into one black-and-white philosophy about animals.  However, if you HAD to choose one of the following general schools of thought, which one resonates most with you?

1. I believe that animals are here for our use in whatever capacity we as humans choose.  And while I take no pleasure in the thought of an animal needlessly suffering, I believe that we humans have “dominion” over all else, and we have to tend to our own best interests first. We should be able to kill, exploit, test on, enslave, etc., most any animal, in whatever ways necessary, for the “betterment” and “enrichment” of humanity.

2. I believe it’s acceptable to kill and/or exploit animals for food, clothing, and most other popular usages.  However, I feel like we should do so in ways where the animal’s suffering is minimized as much as possible.  Therefore, I do not condone most of the “common” ways that animals are treated – like in factory farms, circuses, etc. – and feel like we need to fight for “more humane” conditions for these animals.

3. I believe in the inherent right for every animal to live freely and peacefully, so I do not believe that animals should be killed, exploited or commoditized for any reason, at any time.  Therefore, if an “improved” way of exploiting or killing an animal is ever implemented into the system, it’s hard to view this as a victory, because the very nature of this “system” is out of alignment with my fundamental beliefs.

Again, I realize these are broad-strokes characterizations of three basic philosophies, but where would you say you stand?  And, are your lifestyle choices congruent with your beliefs?  Just something to think about.

Closing Thoughts

Regarding the above list, here are a few generalizations I’ve observed:

Number 1 represents the basic consensus of how the majority of the world thinks.  However, very, very few of these people have any idea of what really goes on behind the scenes of the various industries they are supporting.  They are generally oblivious to the extreme atrocities that take place, thinking instead that their chicken was gently plucked from some sun-soaked open field in Iowa somewhere, and their fish was reeled in one-at-a-time out of some aqua-blue lake in New England.  I’ve even heard mainstream media figureheads like Oprah and Ellen recently say things like, “I had no idea how horribly animals are treated in the factory farming world” (which represents 99% of all animal products).  It’s almost 20-fucking-10, people. So if they didn’t know about it, I doubt that soccer mom in Kansas buying that ground beef will have any clue, either.

Number 2 represents the purest definition of what animal welfare truly means.  However, many people who support welfare causes (like various vegans, vegetarians, or other animal advocates) don’t even support these industries.  Instead, they view these welfare benchmarks as strategic “baby steps” that will bring relief to animals and gradually crack the shell of mainstream consciousness, thus creating some kind of global exodus from animal cruelty in all forms…some day.   How they arrive at this conclusion, I’m not sure.  I do not happen to share their optimism, nor do I feel compelled to support any kind of welfare protocol because they are all, uniformly, out of alignment with what I believe is right.

Number 3 is pure animal rights.  This notion feels best for me.  However, I recognize that we have a ways to go before the general public stops viewing it as extreme, or unattainable, or unrealistic, or too hard, or whatever.  But I also believe that if animal rights people continue to support animal welfare causes, it sends a message to the general public that says, “Ya see, I knew this pure animal rights/veganism stuff was too impractical.  Even THOSE people are saying it’s okay for us to eat ‘humanely’ raised and killed animals.”

But that’s just me.  Let’s keep kicking it around…

All for now,

BR

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About Bobby Rock

Bobby Rock is a world renown drummer, the author of seven books, and a recognized health and fitness specialist with certifications in exercise, nutrition and meditation. He has recorded and toured with a variety of artists, released three CDs as a solo performer and is recognized as a top drumming educator. (He is currently touring with rock icon, Lita Ford.) Through speaking, writing and activism, Bobby remains committed to a number of animal and environmental causes. Bobby lives in Los Angeles.
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4 Responses to Keeping Our “Animal Victories” in Context

  1. Christine says:

    You have made many exceptional points. I will play devil’s advocate here…
    Could this be a slow evolvement of our society?
    At one time there were slaves, women couldn’t vote, etc.
    I recently saw a documentary, “Food, Inc.”. (this falls into your category #2) According to some sources it is ranked one of the top grossing specialty documentaries of 2009. 10 years ago, it would not be in the forefront as it is now. Life is a journey. Forward progress comes from a result of learning from mistakes, history and discovery through educating one self. Thank you again for another thought provoking post.

  2. Lisamarie says:

    Thanks for covering this topic, Bobby; I saw this article, too. In the comments section of the article itself I gave a to-the-point summary of what all this animal “welfare” stuff REALLY means for animals, which is now MORE animals are going to be killed than before, as more people are now going to feel more comfortable and less guilty about eating animals!
    As sad as this as and as much as this makes me question just what made them give up meat in the first place, I’ve even heard of vegetarians/vegans going back to eating animals & their products because of this “free range”, “cage free”, and “humane farming” business, and the “humane slaughter” oxymoron.
    I don’t care if an animal is raised and allowed to roam in the greenest pastures with all the food and water they could EVER want access to- in the end, they are still going to wind up on the SAME transport trucks with no food or water, go hundreds to thousands of miles with NO protection from the elements and taken to the SAME slaughterhouse with the SAME treatment and SAME killing method as their factory-farmed counterparts.
    You know, in a small, strange way I think it is just as well ,
    if you’re just going to exploit and kill a being anyway, to just raise them in the industrial-farming conditions they’re raised in now.
    At least THIS way you’re not building that false sense of security, love, and caring around an animal by letting them roam freely.
    I would think it’s a much greater shock to an animal to be raised “humanely”, letting them develop the impression that they are truly loved and cared for and that everything is always going to be OK, only to be suddenly swept away on a truck with no food or water, probably shocked and scared to death, then taken to a scary, strange place where they smell blood and death and hear screaming and loud machinery and chains. I mean do you REALLY think it matters, at that point, to the animal in terms of where/how he or she was raised when THIS is still the nightmare it ends in-strung up by one leg and then having someone slit your thhroat, likely while you’re still conscious?
    Does anyone really think about what goes through an animal’s mind when, whether they’ve lived on a factory farm or pasture, when they’re put on that transport truck for days sometimes, and they get to that abattoir and sense their fate?
    I myself DO truly believe that yes, animals ARE conscious and can feel emotion and can feel it when someone seems to truly care about them, so that’s why I’m trying to offer some thoughts from a farmed animal’s prespecive here, as I think even when it comes to recognizing animals are sensient and welfare, and debates on whether it is or isn’t right to kill, this is still something that is TOO often overlooked-what the ANIMALS would want.
    Hope what I’ve said here makes sense. 😉

  3. Christine says:

    Lisamarie, I don’t know if you still have follow-up comments selected or not. I thought you might find this story interesting. I saw it in the news yesterday. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091214121953.htm

  4. Bobby Rock says:

    Hey Christine and Lisamarie –

    Been meaning to respond to your comments here and offer a special link.

    Christine – yes, I agree that it’s all about the gradual evolution. My concern with many of these welfare issues, however, is that they might actually be more of an impediment to the trajectory of the animal right’s movement, than an actual vertical move. I hope I’m wrong. And I do acknowledge that when some people hear about factory farming (in the context of a welfare perspective) and see what exactly is going on, they go directly to plant-based choices. These instances aside, it’s what I perceive to be the more common response that concerns me.

    Lisamarie – I hear you and I share many of your frustrations about this.

    To both of you – Thanks for your input and continued participation with this blog and these important subjects. Not sure if either of you have run across this on my Veggie Zone site, but… this is a VERY lengthy and extensive essay on the rights vs. welfare debate that I wrote to the animal advocacy community (mainly here in California) last year. I largely got great feedback from it… even from many hardcore welfare folks. I will feature it on the main blog at some point soon, but scope it here for now (when you have a few minutes!):

    http://www.veggiezone.com/rightsvswelfare

    Love,
    BR

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