Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Letter from a Nonexistant World

A recent post on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog, “Letter from a Vegan World,” reveals a lot about what is currently wrong with the animal rights movement. It has been co-opted by vegan extremists who will not settle for anything less than a totally vegetarian society.

The post is an attack on the humane farming movement, which seeks to escape the factory farming paradigm in favor of a model that more closely fits the natural impulses of farm animals. Its author, Joanna Lucas, claims that even in these farms, animals still suffer. She cites several examples: an organic dairy cow, a rose veal calf, and a free range egg-laying chicken.

In a highly manipulative, anthropomorphic style, Lucas explores the emotional “traumas” that these animals undergo as part of everyday agricultural practice. She points to calves being taken from cows, and eggs being taken from chickens, as if they are offenses on a level with the kidnapping of a child.

The goal of this attack is to dissuade people from consuming any animal meat (or, as Lucas prefers to call it, flesh) at all. Lucas argues that a committed vegan movement could persuade the entire world to go vegetarian, if it only tried. She condemns animal rights activists for not more actively promoting a vegan agenda, claiming that organizations larger than hers are not standing up for a vegan agenda. (Apparently, she has not heard of Farm Sanctuary or PETA.)

There are two finds I find particularly wrong with this approach. First, its goal is unattainable. The desire for meat is actually growing with the rise of industrial nations such as China and India, and demand is still strong in the United States. People around the world want meat, and nothing will change that within our lifetimes. Lucas’s approach displays all the strategic acumen of Don Quixote.

Secondly, I am disturbed by what her article omits. Although she bewails the “suffering” of animals on free range and organic farms, she does not compare their experience with the horrors of factory farming. For instance, #6, the organic dairy cow who misses her calf, grieves amid the pastures of a free range farm, circumstances that would be envied by her factory-farmed cousins. All the animals pictured in the report look clean and well cared for. Although Lucas claims the chicken has been debeaked, the pictured chicken appears to have its beak intact. If it has been debeaked, it was done very skillfully.

This is not to overlook some problems in the organic farming industry. Because of the rather loose definition of “organic,” some meats are labeled as organic while still being raised in sheds. Indeed, as Lucas notes, many free range eggs are actually laid by chickens in enclosed, overcrowded barns. Nevertheless, this is the most humane, practical solution that I am aware of.

Why then, does Lucas object so strenuously? I suspect it is because she, like many vegans, cannot accept the idea of animals being killed at all. Never mind that in nature, many of the cute calves and other baby animals do not survive to see adulthood, dying either of disease, accident, or being eaten alive by predators. Death is the converse of life, a necessary part of the ecological cycle. There is nothing more immoral about a person killing an animal to eat it than in a wolf killing its prey. The moral challenge is to kill in the most compassionate way possible.

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