Reexamining our Relationship with Animals

Charlie Parke June 12, 2013 1

ChickensInBatteryCageslgWe are bombarded with information through advertisements, friends, movies and television about how to live. Rarely does this information provide knowledge of the costs involved in producing our materialistic society or its long term effects. The lives of animals are often neglected in the rush for fast food and low prices. Is our current relationship cruel? Can we keep production up with rising population? Will our methods produce disease or destroy the environment? These are among the many questions we must reexamine, each important to our present and our future.

Is our relationship cruel? This may seem like a matter of opinion. However, factory farms are increasing the fight to keep their practices out of public view through laws banning videotaping and other activities that would show the world the daily lives of animals that produce our food. In North Carolina, an animal rights advocate went undercover and obtained video of Butterball employees hitting turkeys with a metal bar, stomping, kicking and throwing them by their necks leading to animal cruelty charges and a push for the legislature to ban any videotaping of animal treatment. Video of such treatment, available here, seems to illicit a large outcry when shown to the public. Respectful treatment to reduce pain could be sought by factory farms; instead, they choose to fund a campaign to hide information from the public.

“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” Mark Twain

The population on Earth increases roughly 212,000 per day, with over 7.1 billion people sharing the landmasses. To produce enough food we have leveled forests to produce fuel and grazing land. With the loss of trees, we harm the ecosystem including the ability for nature to produce breathable oxygen. Land, once cleared, often gets developed into part of the increasing cities our expanding population uses, pushing grazing land further out. This practice has limits and some feel we’re already reaching them. Multiple solutions are possible, with some proposing limits on human breeding; others prefer switching to growing plants which use less land more efficiently. Both ideas have merit; we can reduce the demand for food or increase the production of food by switching our diet.

Factory farming brings large numbers of animals into small confined areas where they have little to no exercise or their natural food sources. “The relationship human animals take towards non-human animals is one that is hierarchical and exploitative,” says Iona Samartinean, member of Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad (PALS). “We treat them as commodities to be sold and consumed rather than the individual beings that they are.”

Forcing animals into cramped spaces in poor conditions is thought to both cause and spread illness among animals that become food, seeming to be the cause of outbreaks of E. Coli and Urinary Tract infections in humans.  Attempting to keep animals healthy in these conditions requires large doses of antibiotics and other drugs, regularly. The Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) has been calling for farms to phase out many of the drugs given to animals, as their use leads to antibiotic resistance and passes into humans who eat the meat produced. “It is critical that we take action to protect public health,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations highlights the fact that modern production of cattle creates more carbon emissions than transportation. Methane emissions due in part to the change from grass-fed cattle to factory farm feeding have produced one of the most dangerous factors in greenhouse gas buildup. Dairy cows were estimated to emit over 27,000 tons of Methane in Arizona in 2001.

Humanity must reexamine these relationships to find ways to live that are sustainable. We need to find ways to produce more with less space, to be able to live with the way we produce it. Our current use of drugs to control animal illness in factory farms creates drug-resistant diseases and the pollution created threatens our ability to live on Earth.

There are many ways for Arizonans to fight for animal welfare. Some seek to move their purchases to antibiotic-free food and grass fed beef which can be found at restaurants like Chipotle, farmers markets, or butchers like the Meat Shop.

For those who believe raising animals for human consumption is morally wrong, as does Ms.  Samartinean, action must be taken.  “JBS Slaughterhouse in Tolleson is a corporation that thrives of off the wholesale murder of 2,000 individuals a day. These individuals are brought to life by us, through artificial insemination, and then those lives are later taken away by us when we find it convenient. The asymmetric power relations these institutions create are a clear sign of the entitlement we feel towards bodies that are not our own. Say no to this exploitation and come join PALS on June 15 to protest against JBS.”

(More information here).

“Another institution that benefits from the exploitative dynamics of nonhuman relations is the Ringling Brothers Circus,” continues the PALS member. “Not only do they feel entitled to their fellow animals’ lives, but they also demand ownership of their behavior as well. They take herd animals away from their families and lug them around the country to perform for throngs of strangers in the name of entertainment. Elephants, who form distinct personalities and mourn for their dead, are subjected to beatings and cramped quarters. And this is only a small example of the difficulties these animals endure while in captivity. PALS will be demonstrating against Ringling Brothers and what they stand for when they come to Phoenix on June 26th.”

Other events include the first Animal Rights Conference in Arizona, held Sat June 22nd, and a Farm Sanctuary march in October to call for better animal treatment.

With a growing movement shining a light on these institutions, it’s possible that these animals will find relief from such cruel practices in the future.