Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Bizarre Farm Bureau Poll on Animal Suffering

A friend called my attention to this Reason Magazine blogpost about a recent Farm Bureau poll. It's a strange one - check it out at: http://reason.com/blog/show/123776.html.

They have made the assumption through some faulty logic that people must not mind animal suffering and tried to justify existing farm conditions with the poll. Their conclusion is that people prefer that 11,500 animals suffer rather than one human. They didn't describe the suffering though - and certainly didn't show it. I bet if I polled the same people but gave them information about the animal suffering vs. the human suffering the result would be different. Also, the suffering to the human appears to be an implied economic one, while the suffering on animals is physical and psychological/emotional. It is interesting also to note that the question supposes there is a new technology which can only help either one human or x number of animals - a ridiculous proposition to begin with. Further, the animal suffering is needlessly inflicted by humans on animals, while presumably the human suffering is not (if it is physical suffering).

On a semi-related note, I was reading a book yesterday that described the killing of some animals for the fur trade by literally sticking a red hot poker up their asses, so as to leave no mark on the skin which would be created by a knife cut, bullet wound, or other means of killing. It seems even poison would be a kinder (though more expensive and therefore apparently ruled out) method of killing than that. The question posed was would women still enjoy wearing fur if they knew how much the animal suffered in death. Obviously, they don't mind buying fur and know the animal died, but knowing HOW it died may well impact their choices. Likewise, people buy factory farmed meat, and don't mind eating other creatures, but if they knew the conditions the animal lived in and the pain it suffered in death (many chickens being literally boiled alive, or other animals being cut apart alive when the machines in the factory don't perform as planned, or hundreds of other examples of suffering) perhaps it would affect their choices. In fact, as more people learn about farming practices more and more people try to buy free range and humane raised meats and organic products.

Too bad Farm Bureau is spending it's time trying to justify rather than reform cruel farming practices. There are many family farmers who care a great deal about the welfare of their animals and are members of that organization - every one of them should complain.

17 comments:

Animal Lover said...

Animal suffering is sad. That said why do we have the arrogance to separate ourselves from the other predators in nature that eat their victims alive? Why is killing an animal wrong if we do it but not if it's done by a tiger or shark? The fact is man's arogance has led him down a path that seperated us from nature and that has caused us to see the world in a way that is incorrect.

I agree that the red hot poker is a horrible way to die but we do the same thing and worse to other humans all the time. Why don't you spend time blogging about human suffering and worry less about the animals. At the end of the day they are food and clothing just like apples and cotton.

I do agree that the hot poker is extreme in it's cruelty but I don't think that is the norm. Too often animal rights groups grab onto extreme practices and portray them as commonplace when in fact they may have only happened a few times.

Esmae said...

We are more advanced and therefore have more options than other predators. Why should we not be responsible for using our reason to act in ways that are compassionate to others, instead of excusing bad behavior with the lame argument that we're meat eaters by nature, so it's okay to kill?

Animal cruelty is, in fact, the norm these days and not the exception. The way factory farming "raises" animals and the way they are routinely slaughtered is disgusting, horrific, and totally inhumane. If you actually look into what happens I think you'll be shocked. Watch some of the videos out there filmed in everyday slaughterhouses and ask yourself if you want to be a part of supporting those practices.

As for human suffering, there are enough people aware of that and focusing on it that it gets regular news coverage. Animal suffering does not, and animals cannot call their conditions to anyone's attention. They need people to advocate for them; humans who are suffering can at least communicate the problem to other humans. Therefore if I have an hour to spend, I'd rather spend it on animal issues than "human suffering."

animal lover said...

We are more advanced predators and our meat factories are proof of that advancement. We are able to efficiently kill animals and distribute their meet to hundreds of millions of hungry people.

Again I find it hard to believe that animal cruelty is the norm when it comes to animals in general, and I also feel that you probably have a different definition of animal cruelty than say a person that grew up hunting and fishing.

You know what creature really gets teated poorly? Cotton, I mean they run over it with a big shredding machine and then use parts of it in their clothing.

I would never allow animal cruelty to go on in my presence however I would say that a rabbit that is eaten alive by a hawk feels worse pain and fear than most animals do in commercial farming. A death a the hands of a natural predator could take a very very long time.

Esmae said...

Cotton and apples are not sentient and conscious beings, and therefore comparing them to animals, or humans, is ridiculous. While I understand that you may want to take an extreme position to make a point, let's at least keep things in the realm of sentient beings so that the dialogue makes sense.

Actually, I did grow up around people hunting and fishing, and I used to fish when I was young. I had to stop because I couldn't stand killing the fish, no matter how quickly. My brother hunts, and he is responsible and tries to make clean shots. I don't understand how killing is good recreation, but I certainly don't think he's evil or a bad person. Again, hunting isn't the kind of killing or cruelty we're talking about.

While I can understand that you find it hard to believe animals suffer in slaughterhouses, have you really looked into it? There are some books, articles and videos that document conditions, many written by journalists not "animal extremists." The sad fact is that many times the systems designed to kill chickens don't work properly and they end up leaving a portion of the chickens being boiled alive. Many times the machines designed to kill pigs don't work either, and they are butchered alive.

You can also look at the conditions of chickens in egg farms - utterly revolting with not even the space of a piece of paper to live their entire lives in. Male baby chicks are routinely tossed in garbage bags and die of suffocation - a "by product" of the egg industry. There is no excuse for this. We have come too far from family farms where people actually cared for the animals they consumed.

Roe said...

Animals being suffocated in a plastic bag, boiled alive, butchered alive? Most of these deaths sound like they would be quick, as in less than 3-10 minutes with the exception of suffocation which in the method you described would be relatively painless.

The only kind of suffering that concerns me is the kind done by sadists to animals. Actual torture for tortures sake. That is evil and should be stopped, however nothing you brought up sounds like torture at all.

In fact most of these deaths sound more humane than anything done to these animals in nature. Nature will rip an animal limb from limb and then let the animal bleed out and die over a relatively long period of time. If they aren't bleeding enough then shock will kick in and the animal will die that way. By the way shock is natures way of making sure that prey animals don't suffer too much.

Also as far as the boiling alive is concerned how would that apply to lobsters? Are they sentient beings?

So again let me restate I don't think that animal torture is the norm in factory farming. I do think that a small amount of suffering goes on. When I say small I would say that the machines probably malfunction very rarely compared with the total of number of animals processed and that when they do malfunction the results don't sound like torture. They merely sound like the animal sufferers a near natural prey's death.

Esmae said...

I'm betting the animals would see it differently. Factory farming conditions are terrible, so the animals generally live an entire life with some substantial degree of suffering, and then many of them experience extreme suffering when they are slaughtered. If you personally think that isn't a problem and it doesn't concern you, so be it, though I find that incredulous. If you could throw a bunch of helpless chicks into a garbage back and let them suffocate without a qualm, your worldview is so different from mine that we probably have very little in common at all, and will likely not ever see eye to eye on animal issues.

Yes, boiling a lobster alive is a terrible way for that animal to die, and since it is a sentient being I certainly don't approve of that practice. In fact, having seen that first hand and heard the lobster's response, I stopped eating lobster long before other animals.

It's interesting that so many people argue "nature is more cruel." First of all, this is not true in many cases. Most predators kill prey very quickly. Certain predators take longer, but those are not in the majority.

Second, predators take down the weakest animals - the old, the young and the sick, serving a biological function in keeping the healthiest animals alive to further the gene pool. Humans do the opposite, trying to hunt the biggest, healthiest animals in the wild, and in farming practices killing them all.

Third, predators kill because they have to in order to survive. We don't. It is a simple fact that while we may like meat and dairy, we do not need them to survive at this point in time.

Fourth and finally, how is that any different from a schoolyard kid saying "Well he's a bully too so why can't I be?" There is no excuse for inflicting needless suffering on other creatures when we have other options. Trying to justify this by looking to wild animals with completely different needs and options is illogical.

Roe said...

Animals that are kept in cages their entire lives don't suffer. Animals are not humans and do not have a humans range of emotion. An animal can sit and stare at a blade of grass or a drop of water all day and be content. So just because humans would consider it suffering if you were to lock up another human for it's life in a small cage doesn't mean that same standard applys to cows.

"Yes, boiling a lobster alive is a terrible way for that animal to die, and since it is a sentient being I certainly don't approve of that practice. In fact, having seen that first hand and heard the lobster's response, I stopped eating lobster long before other animals."

Lobsters can't scream so what you thought you heard you didn't actually hear. Lobsters are mentally equivilant to ants, flys and other insects and I bet you smash a fair number of them with a fly swatter or your foot.

""It's interesting that so many people argue "nature is more cruel." First of all, this is not true in many cases. Most predators kill prey very quickly. Certain predators take longer, but those are not in the majority.""

Most preditors don't care about killing thier prey quickly so to say that most kill quickly is ignorant. I've seen hawks tear into still screaming rabbits. The only thing a preditor cares about is wether or not the animal is struggeling too much to eat it.


""Second, predators take down the weakest animals - the old, the young and the sick, serving a biological function in keeping the healthiest animals alive to further the gene pool. Humans do the opposite, trying to hunt the biggest, healthiest animals in the wild, and in farming practices killing them all.""

This is wrong flat out. Preditors take out what they can. If a preditor can take the bigest healthiest of the heard then it will. There are ton's of examples of this in nature.

""Third, predators kill because they have to in order to survive. We don't. It is a simple fact that while we may like meat and dairy, we do not need them to survive at this point in time.""

I would flat out disagree with this. I can't afford to buy fancy organic vegan food nor would I want to when I enjoy eating meat.

""Fourth and finally, how is that any different from a schoolyard kid saying "Well he's a bully too so why can't I be?" There is no excuse for inflicting needless suffering on other creatures when we have other options. Trying to justify this by looking to wild animals with completely different needs and options is illogical.""

I don't think I illustrated my point very well so I'll try again. Nature is indifferent and it's actions aren't good or evil. We are a part of nature and thus subject to it's rules. Now we have emotions and a built in moral compas that tells us right from wrong and so we apply rules of right and wrong to the actions of things in nature. Keeping this in mind, one slaughterhouse can kill on average 1000 pigs an hour. That's 3.6 pigs per second. There is no way that:

1. Any suffering is being inflicted on these animals for sadistic pleasure because there just isn't time.
(granted some sick people might torture animals and this should be stoped but again we agree on this point and are addressing factory farms in general)

2. That the time it takes to kill them can't be significant given the number of animals processed in an hour.

In this situation nature causes suffering, we as humans cause less suffering on average than nature does. This does not justify the suffering caused because the suffering that we cause does not need to be justified to begin with. Humans need to eat, or want to eat, meat and this alone justifies the small amount of suffering that these animals go through, because and here's the cornerstone of my argument we as humans are part of nature!

Now if you want to argue that practices like Foi Gras cause execessive suffering then we will probably have an easier time finding common ground.

Esmae said...

I'm sure we could debate these issues forever, but it's clear that fundamentally we see the world too differently to find much common ground, and neither of us is likely to alter our worldview based on the arguments of the other person.

Animals do have a full range of emotion, which has been documented numerous times in many different species. Certainly the degree varies but there can be no doubt that they experience both physical pain and emotional pain. Certainly any dog or cat owner should at least acknowledge they notice when their pet is depressed, anxious, scared, excited, happy, etc.

I'm not saying that keeping animals in cages is bad because humans wouldn't like it. Cows are designed to run around and eat grass, not be locked in tiny veal crates where they can't stand up, or fed a diet of corn and antibiotics to fatten them up for slaughter. Chickens are designed to run around and peck for food, not to be stuck in a cage so small they can never spread their wings or even rest comfortably. Pregnant pigs in nature would never choose to put themselves in tight cages separate from their offspring, and not be able to get up and exercise. When animals are kept in situations where they can't engage in their normal behaviors, there can be suffering, and it can be mild or severe, physical or emotional, or both.

I highly recommend "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter" by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. I also highly recommend watching some of the slaughterhouse and egg farm videos taken by either reporters or undercover people trying to document the conditions they see. Of course, you may still think all the practices are just fine, but it is always good to learn more facts and to base your opinions on as much information as possible.

I'll leave it at we agree to disagree on the remaining points, with one exception. Saying you can't afford expensive organic vegan food so you eat meat is really silly. The poorest people in the world are vegetarian, and you can't beat a diet of rice or beans for economy. There is plenty of non-meat food that is affordable and if you wanted to, you could take your grocery budget and go vegan without increasing it. It's all in the choices you make and what is important to you.

I appreciate the debate despite the fact we disagree.

Roe said...

I too enjoyed the debate.

Roe said...

I know we have left this as a point where no common ground could be found, but you had said that nature was not cruel and that most animals were killed quickly. I just found another good example of how wrong this idea is and I thought you'd like to see it:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=508254&in_page_id=1770&in_page_id=1770&expand=true

Esmae said...

Yes, it's true that while learning to hunt predators make some animals suffer. However, you seem to view this as the general rule rather than the exception. Predators have to learn to hunt to survive - it doesn't indicate they are being evil or intentionally cruel. Once they develop hunting skills, cheetahs (and other predators) generally kill very quickly. Cats especially are very fast, usually strangling their prey in seconds or minutes. Killing to survive, especially by predators who have to do so, simply isn't wrong in my view.

Of course I feel bad for the gazelle - and it's always sad that some creatures have to die so others can live. That doesn't mean we can try and justify human actions of killing animals, especially in the volumes and under the conditions that we do. We're not carnivores, we're omnivores. We're also educated enough and lucky enough to have options.

Cheetahs don't. As some of the most endangered and amazing creatures on earth, I am rooting for them. Thompson's gazelles are of course cute - but not endangered, and they are likely to be here for the next generation of humans to see. Cheetahs may not be so lucky.

Roe said...

Sorry I wasn't trying to justify human evil like animal torture that does happen and should be shot. I was merely trying to get you to agree to some perspective. You keep aserting that "most" predators kill quickly but to me this is just an ignorant point of view, and you refuse to look at facts.

I agree that animals suffer when they are killed, and no matter how they are killed it can be considered suffering, even if the suffering is very brief in nature. What you are saying in this post is that the animals that are killed in factory farming are "tortured" and that's where I was trying to get some agreement. You don't seem to have a normal view on what constitutes torture. I view torture as inflicting pain because it pleases the person or animal that causes the pain. Based on this definition of torture I don't believe that torture/evil happens often in factory farming. I do believe that suffering happens in these environments and I was trying to show you an example of how the suffering that occurs in these environments is comparable if not more humane than the suffering that is caused in nature.

If you want to crusade against animal torture you'll have me standing right next to you, but you'll need to redefine your definition of suffering to be a little closer to the mainstream.

Humans that kill animals for food are no more evil than any other predator in nature, even though we may be better at it than every other predator on the planet.

Suffering is a necessary and unavoidable part of everything's life the only thing we can do is to try and lessen it.

Esmae said...

To define torture based on the intention of the one inflicting the pain is an odd concept. If someone is crazy and cuts little pieces out of someone else, believing they are helping by removing a disease, their intention may be good but the effect is still torture for the victim.

I don't define torture based on intentions. I think you can inflict suffering, rising to the level of torture, by being negligent. People who tie animals outside without food, water or shelter may do so out of ignorance vs. evil but the conditions still suck for the animals.

Much, much more severe are the conditions in factory farming. Whether these conditions exist due tot ignorance, negligence, stupidity, or malevolence doesn't really matter, does it?

Roe said...

If suffering were to go on for a long period of time like you illustrated for the dogs I would say something should be done about it, however I've not seen any examples of that in the research I've done. Most of these animals are kept in containers that will fit their most basic needs.

I will say that pigs are a good example and that they are probably over crowded in these farms, but that isn't to say that they suffer to a degree that I will stay up at night. Would I support laws that make factory farming more clean to the environment, yes. Would I support laws to make the housing of animals slightly more humane, yes.

Also dogs are a bad example because they are a pack animal and need socialization, where pigs, chickens and other animals require much less in the way of social behavior in order to be happy. So the example doesn't work because the conditions you described for a dog should be stopped but they are not universally bad conditions in and of them selves, they just aren't right for dogs.

Chickens may never take a step but they don't need to to be happy, they are not people and living in a cage their entire life is fine with them. Too many people want to apply human needs to animals and it's not appropriate. Chickens need food, water and to not get eaten. Farmers are meeting 2 out of three of those needs and the chicken is perfectly happy during it's very boring life.

when it comes to housing this is an area that we probably agree, the problem is that we (perhaps only I) were debating the suffering caused during the slaughter of these animals. I was saying that the animals are not subjected to anything less brutal than nature and you were plugging your ears and humming at this argument. For more evidence of this fact go look up the tape of the grizzly bears that killed the Bear guy and his girlfriend (please don't feel the need to listen to it, I know I didn't). Notice that it took over 5 minutes for them to stop screaming in agony!

1000 pigs an hour is the average rate of slaughter at a factory farm. There is no way that the animal is be subjected to more suffering than they would from any other predator, and if that was a single slaughter line then it's extremely humane, because a single pig would be processed in .06 Seconds. Let's assume that there are 10 processing lines so that it will process 1.6 pigs per minute. Again there isn't time for an unreasonable amount of suffering.

Anyway I do enjoy this discussion I do hope that you enjoy it also. It's always good to find someone that you can mentally fence with ;-)

Roe said...

I realized my math was wrong above after the fact but the difference between the right numbers and the numbers I presented are not statistically significant, meaning they aren't different enough to matter.

Esmae said...

Watch there and see if you think there is negligence or needless suffering. You can't compare human inflicted conditions with those in nature:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGJryC4XIdo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIjanhKqVC4

I disagree with your premise that pigs and chickens are happy in factory farming conditions. Actually, pigs are extremely smart, some studies show smarter than dogs. Their instincts are to root around, to roll and rub their backs on the ground, and to do all kinds of things they can't do in little cages - particularly these are awful for pregnant sows. Any pregnant animal of any species being confined so they can't shift to get comfortable is a form of suffering.

What about premarin horses which are kept pregnant so their urine can be used to make drugs? A life pregnant and in a stall instead of grazing or running - suffering?

Chickens need to peck and run around. The worst that happens to them is de-beaking, having their beaks cut off or burned/seared so they don't peck each other in crammed conditions. This is very painful as they have a lot of nerve endings there. Then, the conditions they live in CANNOT reasonably be defended! There is no excuse for this treatment of animals, period.

Regardless of your definition of suffering or torture, I can't believe anyone would defend these practices, or the current slaughtering system on anything other than economic grounds. Clearly there are better ways and more humane ways, but they cost more or yield less profit and therein lies the heart of the problem.

Roe said...

Again, I agree with you that housing these animals can be done better and I think we'd all like to see that, however that really wasn't the discussion as it began. Here's a quote from my first comment:

"I do agree that the hot poker is extreme in it's cruelty but I don't think that is the norm. Too often animal rights groups grab onto extreme practices and portray them as commonplace when in fact they may have only happened a few times."

My original contention is that you were playing off this extreme practice as normal and common place, and not as the cruel anomaly that it probably is.

Your response:

"Animal cruelty is, in fact, the norm these days and not the exception."

This is where there was a split, because you lump hot poke in with poor housing you lost me, and everyone even slightly right of your position.

This is where we took the discussion toward the definition of animal cruelty. If you had said to me, "Would you say the animals are housed improperly in factory farming?" I would have responded with a resounding yes. But instead you flavored the discussion with the word cruelty, and that is why we've been discussion the actual slaughter of these animals rather than their housing.

I know you want to see more people support your cause and ideals so that things like this will change, well I'm here giving you the tools, showing you how to talk to people that don't agree with you. Please use what I'm telling you and you'll make progress.

Don't show extreme practices like your hot poker example and try to pass them off as the norm, because that makes you sound like a nut, and no one will listen to a nut.

Don't use the word torture in your discussions with people that don't agree with you on this subject because you'll only distance yourself from them and achieve nothing as a result.

Do continue to work for better housing in factory farming.

Do realize that most of these factory farms probably want to reduce the number of animals that suffer during slaughter, and as a result you could work together if you showed yourself to be more accommodating.

Do realize that factory farming is never going to go away, and as a result try to work inside that framework.

Don't tell people your fishing story because again that makes you seem a bit funny upstairs, I mean come on fish are mentally the same as bugs.

Do continue your blog as I really do enjoy reading it.